Behind the Lens | FAQ
This post has been brewing for awhile now, ever since I started receiving "frequently asked questions" through the RFP Facebook page. The first time a message came in from an aspiring photographer loaded questions and requests for advice and critique, I was a little shocked and extremely flattered. And not in a fake-humility, "awww, shucks, stop it" kind of way. I was genuinely surprised, and even more so when they kept coming in. As I go into my fourth year of business, even with lots of learning experiences under my belt, I still feel like I have so much to learn. So it's a very strange experience to be approached by a handful of people who apparently look up to me. I'm honoured, of course, but it all feels a little unbelievable. Just to clarify, I am definitely not an expert. There were some key people who really helped me along in my photography journey, answered my countless questions, encouraged me and helped build my confidence, and I will be forever grateful to them. So consider this a combined effort to both pay it forward to those just starting out by answering some frequently asked questions, as well as a place for me to compile these answers for future use! I'm also using this as an excuse to share a bit more about myself by answering some not-so-frequently asked questions! Not-So-Frequently Asked Questions:
Before jumping into the nitty gritty, I figured I'd tell you a bit more about myself with the help of this charming list of 10 unsolicited random facts about me (you're welcome).
- I love lists. Grocery lists. To-Do lists. Goal lists. And yes, self-indulgent personal lists like this little gem right here! You know those group ice breakers that most people hate where everyone gets handed a paper and is asked to write three random facts about themselves? Yeah, I love those.
- When I was little, I always wanted to teach young children (except for that brief period when I randomly wanted to be a figure skater). I studied Early Childhood Education at Canadore College and St-Lawrence College and studied Inclusive Education at McGill University before working as an ECE for 6 mostly-wonderful, occasionally-stressful, glitter-filled years. I loved it.
- When I was in grade 3, I inherited my first film camera. I brought it to school and photographed my friends at recess. I was hooked. I still have those photos, and this was the start of a lifelong passion for photography and life documentation. In highschool, I was the annoying girl who made everyone stop and take a picture. I remember agonizing during the 3-4 days it took for my film to get developed, and if my mom forgot to pick up my printed photos on her way home from work when they were finally ready, well... it basically felt like my life was over (hooray for teenage angst!). When I got my first digital point and shoot as a highschool graduation gift, I just about lost my mind with excitement. And the rest, as they say, is history.
- I got married at 19. I started my business at 23. I had my baby at 24. People have called me an old-soul, and I think they're right. My biggest dream has always been to marry my best friend, start a family and live happily every after (my apologies to Feminists everywhere). At 26, I'm going on 7 years of marriage and spend my days with an adorable 19 month old that just happens to be all mine while running my own business, which I happen to be over-the-moon-passionate about.
- I am
sometimes oftenalmost always running a little late. It's never my fault though. Promise. ;) (amazingly I somehow have the ability to show up on time for clients. phew.)
- I am addicted to delicious, freshly-ground, black coffee. If I'm treating myself to Starbucks, it's an extra-hot cappucino for this girl. Enjoying coffee and conversation is probably one of my favourite things to do.
- I am not a big movie-goer. And if I do watch movies, it's got to be romantic, hilarious, or both. No dying, no blood, no explosions, no stress - unless it's the kind of stress where everything gets resolved and everyone lives happily ever after. I'm still not over Titanic. For real.
- I am French-Canadian. I grew up speaking French at home, married a French boy and now speak French to my daughter. I spent the first 10 years of my life in Northern Ontario and the following 10 in Montreal, Quebec before coming to settle here in London, Ontario.
- I love single-camera tv comedies and get weirdly attached to fictional characters. I collect all the seasons and can rewatch them anytime, like a 3-year-old who can watch the same movie over and over again. The Office, Parks and Rec and New Girl are up there at the top of my must watch (and re-watch, and re-watch) list. I realize this makes me sound like a dork- I kind of am.
- I have a serious muffin addiction. I love baking in general, but muffins are a passion...or a problem, depending on how you look at it!
Fascinating stuff, right? And now for....
The Actual Frequently Asked (photography-related) Questions
- How did you get started in photography? >> I always had a passion for photography. I always carried a camera with me everywhere I went. Around 2008 I started trying to get artsy with my Sony point-and-shoot and
delightedbombarded friends and family on Facebook with album after album of artsy closeups of tree branches and flower petals. When my friend asked me to take some photos of her baby, I was terrified and excited. I showed up with my camera, a wicker laundry basket, some blankets and a makeshift backdrop and experimented. I will forever be grateful to this friend for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. I was officially hooked with photographing people and knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I invested in a second-hand entry-level DSLR and I started putting myself out there and offering to take photos for family and friends for free to gain experience. I second shot a wedding for free and loved it. I started reading everything photography-related I could get my hands on and scouring the internet for tutorials, detailed explanations and tips on mastering my camera. I contacted my own wedding photographer back in Montreal and asked for her advice (Thanks for believing in me and being so awesome, Sophie!). When I felt I had a nice little portfolio going, I started charging $50 for family sessions, and only progressively increased my pricing when I felt that my experience, talent and product justified it. Around that time, a good friend and business/web guru offered to put a website together for me and helped me with a business plan, branding, marketing ideas, business advice and spent hours helping me get started. If it wasn't for his kindness and expertise, I honestly don't know if I would be where I am today. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I had a lot of support getting started. I officially launched my business in January 2010 as an on-the-side venture as I continued my full-time job in early childhood education. After I had my baby, I chose to stay home and pursue photography full time. And now here we are!
- What do you use to edit your photos? Do you use actions? If so which ones?>> I use Aperture (for Mac) to edit my RAW files and then export them to Photoshop to polish em' up. Aperture does what I need it to do, but I am actively looking into other more user-friendly, efficient programs in which to manipulate my RAW files. So at this point I wouldn't specifically recommend Aperture as a program that I love, but it certainly does what it needs to do. I strive to take a good photo straight-out-of-camera (SOOC), so that all I have to do is sharpen it up and tweak exposure, levels, and white balance in Aperture before sending the image to Photoshop. The nice thing about shooting RAW (as opposed to JPEG) is that if your SOOC is less than perfect, you can usually save the image. For a long time I didn't use actions in Photoshop. My editing style is clean and natural with a bit of haze, and my personal opinion on some actions out there (not all) is that they can leave images looking over-edited, especially when they aren't used properly. That said, there are some amazing action sets put out there by some fabulous photographers and, when used well, they can beautifully transform your images. Many of my favourite photographers regularly use purchased actions, and their work is unbelievably amazing. Do whatever works for you! I experimented for about 6 months with a few free actions from The Coffee Shop Blog, My Four Hens, and some affordable and amazing actions from Jordan Voth. Some of my favourite images have been edited with these actions, and using them actually helped me learn what I could - and wanted to - achieve in Photoshop. That said, I have recently decided to stop using actions and develop my own editing process in Photoshop to truly reflect my style and to give me complete control over my finished product. I always start with some curve and level adjustments, and then add a few custom adjustment layers to achieve a consistent look with all my photos. It's pretty minimal - clean, fresh and definitely my style.
- What types of lenses do you use?>> I favour prime lenses. When I first started using my (Canon) 50mm 1.8, it totally rocked my world, and really helped me come into my own photography style. I now exclusively shoot with prime lenses. Currently I almost always use my 50mm 1.4. I also have an 85mm 1.8 and a 35mm 2.0 in my bag that I use as needed. The 35 is great for lifestyle photography when you are in tight spaces, or when you want to tell the "whole story" of a scene. It's also great for large group shots. The 85 produces some really delicious bokeh, and I really should use it more. My goal is to upgrade to L-series lenses soon.
- Canon or Nikon?>> Canon, but only because the first DSLR I purchased was a Canon. I've never used a Nikon. I know so many photographers who swear by one company or the other. I have no complaints with Canon and don't foresee a switch in my future. But honestly, you'll do just fine with either or!
- What camera do you use? / What camera did you start out with? >> I started with a gently used Canon Rebel XT. And it served me really well. It was great for building my portfolio and learning everything I needed to know. When I got serious about turning my passion into a business, I upgraded to a Canon 50D, which is a cropped sensor, mid-range DSLR. It was an amazing camera, great for transitioning out of my beginner phase without having to spend the big bucks for a full frame camera just yet. I had some good times with the ol' 50D, and still keep it as a backup. I now shoot with a Canon 5D Mark ii, and while I love love love it, I've heard wonderful things about the Mark iii (like the superior focusing system), and I am now itching to upgrade again soon!
- How do you get that golden light in your pictures?>> For me, it's all about time of day. There are actions you can buy to add artificial sunflare to your images, but that's just not my thing. I'm all about capturing real, natural light. 1-2 hours after sunrise and before sunset is my favourite time to shoot, and other than weddings, it's now the only time I will shoot. That's when the sun dips down and that warm, delicious, hazy, flattering "golden hour" light comes out to play (unless it's really overcast, in which case you make the best of it without the magic light!). I prefer to shoot my subjects backlit, which gives them that haze and glow. I don't shoot during midday, because the light is harsh and heavily contrasted, and not at all flattering. Clients might think a 2pm time slot is more convenient for them, but I always assure them that the light is infinitely more flattering during "golden hour". There are certainly ways to make midday light work (open shade is your best friend at that time!), but I choose to schedule my shoots around the best light that produces the kind of results that I love.
- How do you get your pictures to look so sharp?>> This one always surprises me. I don't know exactly... proper focus is important, and a stable stance. A good rule of thumb to avoid any camera shake or blur is not to lower your shutter speed below your focal length number (so when shooting at 50mm, try not to go slower than 1/50, and if you do, use a tripod or try and stabilize your body as much as possible). I also find prime lenses to be fast and sharp. When displaying my photos on the Web, I size them accordingly for either Facebook or my blog, and do a touch of sharpening in Photoshop.
- How do you manage to get work done and still care for a toddler everyday?>> Haha - that's a good question! Some days I'd tell you that I simply don't. Like every step of my photography journey, it's been a learn-as-you-go trial and error sort of thing. Ultimately, I've learned three things. First of all, I am a maman before a photographer. I love my work as a photographer, but I am always a maman first. That means that if my girl is having a really hard day (I'm looking at you, molars), sometimes my to-do list is left untouched. The perfectionist in me has had to come to terms with that reality. Secondly, I've learned to design my living and working space to be functional for our lifestyle. That meant turning the spare bedroom into a main-floor office/play room, where I can do a bit of work at the computer while my girl plays/colours/looks at books/has a snack in the same room, with the option to close the door if needed. Finally, I've learned the importance of scheduling my work. I now know how much office work/playroom time I can realistically schedule per day before my daughter starts getting restless. I also choose to spend nap time getting work done and pay for a few hours per week (one morning) of childcare close to home. In an effort to spend as much evening/weekend time with my husband as possible, I've also had to schedule which evenings I am going to dedicate to work and which evenings are to be work-free. On weekends, in addition to shooting sessions, I usually schedule 2-5 hours at some point where I lock myself up in the office. These are also special papa/bebe fun time bonding hours, so it's a win-win-win. :) I do what works for us, and what allows me to be present with my girl as much as possible. It's not always easy (it's never easy), and some days the editing piles up and the toddler is cranky and the maman in discouraged. But at the end of the day, I remind myself that I am fulfilling two of my greatest ambitions - to be a stay at home maman to a beautiful little girl and to be turning my passion into a career. So we do our best and tweak as we go!
Ok - that's all I've got for now.