Monday, September 22, 2008

one year photo-versary...and a Q&A!

So this week marks my one year photography anniversary! I thought I'd celebrate with a walk through my photo memory lane and a giveaway of sorts. This week last year I was FREAKING out about my first paid shoots (I charged a whopping 40 bucks) with some of my friends in Orange County. I was so nervous but was pretty happy with these:


It is all I can do to keep myself from messing with these in photoshop. I actually still kinda like the pictures, I just can't believe how flat my b/w conversions are!


shortly after I bought my first "backdrop" - a piece of black microfiber from joannes (which I still use!). I remember really digging the intense color. I was feeling pretty cool. ha!


hallelujah! aparently I figured out how to use curves, or maybe gradient. plus the unsharp mask. I still love these pictures of my little guy, more for his cuteness than the composition. This also marks the first of many photo shoots at a dumpster. Notice that I am still completely oblivious to ISO.


here I am getting down with some vintage locations. I LOVED this door shot on the right and wanted to use it for my business card. Again this is a shot that I still like a lot, I could have done a LOT to improve it though!


Early Spring marked my inroduction to weddings. I thought these shots of my first two brides were perfection!

Spring was also my first shoot in Seattle.

And summer! I was so looking forward to shooting without having to worry about the snow!

AND NOW. I have been taking pictures for a year. I have learned a LOT and have loved every minute of it! I still feel like I learn something with every shoot I do. I hope it never stops!

One thing that was hard was figuring it all out on my own. I never took a class, and most of my friends who were into photography were starting out too! We tried to help each other as best we could, but a lot of times it was like the blind leading the blind. There are very few truly pro photogs out there who are willing to help out those of us getting started, which was discouraging at times. However, there are a few out there who ARE willing to answer questions and point you in the right direction. You know who you are, THANK YOU for your willingness to give of yourselves and your talent! I personally have always believed that someone else taking a great picture doesn't make your own pictures any less good, it just means you aren't the only good photographer in the world! And besides, there's plenty of business to go around.

Which is why I am offering this.

An anniversary gift to YOU! For ONE WEEK, leave a comment on this post and ask ANYTHING. I get a lot of e-mails with questions about equipment, lighting, photoshop, locations, marketing, etc. etc. So I thought I would make an open invitation to do so here. I don't proclaim to be a photo smartie by ANY MEANS, but I am happy to share what I DO know and the way I get the job done. Ask it all and I will answer MOST anything (for example, I generally don't give out very specific locations, mostly cuz I usually kinda stumble apon these things randomly and forget how to get back there. However I will point you in the right direction- i.e. 25th street in Ogden, or Wheeler Farms in SLC.). All answers will be posted next week!

I always love to hear from my readers. Weather we have met or not, it's always nice to know whose looking. So don't be shy, leave a comment and ask away!


Erin said...

You must have just posted this since I am the first to respond! :) What a great idea! You are so awesome to take the time to do this. I don't know how you have the time in your day!

My question is why do you say "I was obviously oblivious to ISO" above? You must know something I don't. I am sure I could think of a million others too, but can't off the top of my head.

How much are you charging these days, I am thinking I may just need to hire you next time your in Seattle. When is the next time you are planning a trip? Email me at

The pictures just keep getting better and better! Good job girl!

Laurel said...

Okay, you opened the floodgates!! :)

1. How do you get such a great sharpness when taking pictures of Max? Does he really sit still for you, or do you have to be lit really well and have a super high shutter speed or something? Please, I need tips, my little guy has no patience for a camera and won't stay still to save my life. :)

2. What is your secret weapon for the great depth of field when it comes to your portraits? I know you can Photoshop that effect, but I don't feel like you do that -- it feels more in-camera than post.

3. I saw that you use a Gary Fong lightsphere with your flash, which I have, but I am curious to know when you think it's most useful and when it doesn't help you. Do you only use it indoors, or do you pull it out for darker outdoor shots as well?

4. For your baby shots, do you only use natural light, or do you have any studio lights?

5. I completely envy your black and white shots! Do you use any actions, purchased or not, or do you have different processes you use to tweak them?

Okay, I promise that's it. Well, maybe. I may remember something else that I just have to ask later. :)

You know, I've been following your amazing work from the beginning and I'm just happy to remember when you got that hand-me-down D70 all that time ago! It's been so fun to watch you become this 'blow you away with talent' photographer. So you go, Jess. Keep up the great work, and thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! :)

Zane and Lexi said...

HI Jessica! I am cousins with the Leavitts in Seattle (who adore your work) I have been stalking your blog since I saw their photos you took. They are beautiful!

I am currently starting out in photography and interested in how you do EVERYTHING, but I guess I would just ask if you wouldn't mind checking out my photo blog and spill any advice you could about ISO, aperture, lighting, etc. if you get a chance,
I am not in the business yet cause I don't feel my photos are at a point where I can charge $.

Second, I guess I am frustrated with converting my photos from PS to my blog - I feel like the color is very muted (I'm guessing this has something to do with calibrating my comp.??) Thanks for offering the advice. I would love any critique you might be able to give on my photos!
I will continue to stalk your blog for inspiration - if you don't mind!

Sunny said...

I am horrible about pricing. I feel like I shouldn't charge very much... business is not my forte. So, how do you handle the business end of things?

Amy Lou said...

What is the secret for your amazing black and whites.. Did you buy an action online?? How did you get that fresh light color in the Pic of Max at the fair.. LOVED IT!!! YOU ROCK :)

Melissa said...

Wow, you are an amazing photographer. I remember when I first commented and asked a question and you humbled stated you were just starting out. I was in awe at your work already and you had only just begun. I didn't see how you could get any better, you were already THAT good. Now I see your growth and it is absolutely wonderful. I wish could learn as quickly as you. It's been frustrating for me. When I think I know something and take a picture I figure out later the setting wasn't exactly right and then I am back to square one. I am learning a ton but it seems like I just can't get it right like I want. That and the fact that I have five kiddos who demand pretty much all my time. As they get older I know I will have more time to play around with my camera. I am still playing with it now, just not as much but I hope in the future I will one day be as good as you.

Carly said...

I can't believe it's ONLY been a year YOU ROCK!

The Elmers said...

Oh my gosh, you have already been so awesome and willing to share with me!! Hmmm...I would love to know how you do your storyboards...did you purchase a template? Also, your indoor "studio" I know is just a couple backdrops, but what is your setup like? And then more on the business you have an online proof system, or how do you determine what pics you give your you just pick the best, or do they have any say?? And did you get all the "paperwork" I am to a point where I want to get my own website and stuff but I feel like I am not "official" enough...does that make sense??? I can't wait to see all the answers! There are some really good questions before mine!! You are sooo awesome!

tanalicious said...

oh. i am so happy i stumbled onto your blog. i really love your stuff and am really excited for you to take our pictures in November. i want to know how you get the slight darkening on the edges. its just subtle enough, but makes the actual photo pop. is it an action? or do you do it by hand in photoshop? also, do you boost your color with curves or is it something else.
you are so talented. anyone can buy photoshop and mess with pictures, but true photographers just have the eye for great photos.. you definitely have that.


Kelsey said...

I can't believe you've only been doing this a year and that you never took a class?! Everyone that comes over loves Macey's pictures and they are still my favorite pictures I have of her, thank you!

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog while looking for tips and inspiration since I just started trying to learn photography. I want to know if the colors in some of your backgrounds are real (ie: a bright blue brick wall), or do you enhance them in PS? And also, what are some tips for finding great locations?

kristen said...

so yes i'm one of those photog stalkers. i found you through a friend of a friend and i love your work! you are a talented photographer!! i'm just kind of starting out, i've done a few shoots now for people, but have found that newborn shoots are so hard! so questions:
1. what is your set up like for newborns? backdrops? indoor? i've heard the best time is within the first 10 days? what lens do you like to use?
2. how did you learn so much in photoshop? i know all about curves and actions and levels and all of that, but did you do anything besides maybe tutorials? do you have any favorite actions that you use?
3. what kind of light do you like to shoot in? i find that people don't like to get up as early as the sun comes up but i'm racing around in the evening before we lose all the sunset light. is there a happy medium?
4. how did you start charging people and know how much to charge?
5. any advice on catching sun flares?

ok done with questions. your skills are totally priceless though so i have so much to ask! thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

More of a blogging question... How do you upload your pictures to make them that larger size?

And as for photography business... Do you offer the digital negatives? What's your basic pricing?

Marissa Vargason said...

wow lol your post is awesome!!! Seriously you will die when I do my one year post, my beginning pics are too funny! Sheesh, I dont have a question yet! But Im sure I will! And I completely agree with those photogs who give there time and talent how nice, and now you are one of them! Congrats on one year!

Cameron and Shannon said...

Hi Jessica, I am just starting out with a DSLR and I'm really struggling with aperture and shutter speed. I read a million different articles and I understand that it all has to do with lighting but how does this affect my photo? Like depth, sharpness, etc? I want to know how to make a car behind my subject look really blurry while keeping my subject in focus. And it seems like while photographing children or families there would be some sort of guide for what you usually use, or a range that usually works. Help in any area of this would be very helpful.

Also I'm wondering about what type of lighting you use for your studio shots?


will and tiff said...

yay! i have been stalking your blog (in a nice non invasive way) for a while now - since i have learned of your talents from several different peeps. i am a wanna be in idaho and currently charge a wopping 50 dollas. i can only hope to be what you are a year from now. i would love for you to share your knowledge on ISO - i just realized that someone has already asked about that. i get the general idea of it and mess it with on my shoots (i do shoot in manual 100% of the time) so ANY and ALL wisdom is needed. and don't use studio lights - i shoot mainly outdoors...if that helps...

and i second all praises on your B and W conversions - stunning. i have actually reached a "happy with it" point - which will probably change by the end of the week. so what are your must haves for your perfect conversion.

wow! i can't believe you will answer questions. i WISH i was in UT (never thought i would say that :>) so i could go to those amazing spots...thank you so much for sharing your time and talents with us. you are amazing - maybe when i grow up someday i can have a smidgen of your talents.
can't wait to read your answers. no pressure, right? :>

Anonymous said...

Oh Jessica you have done WONDERFULLY!!!! Isn't it AMAZING what our very first images look like & how much we do learn & then where you get to :-) Spectacular!!!!

K Riley said...

Jess, You are now the reason for many a late night at the Riley household with me and the old computer. I love your work, you do a great job. When you say you are trying to resist the urge to photoshop, does that mean that you photoshop most of your pictures?

Anonymous said...

This is jusT awesome!! You have absolutaly no idea who I, but I have ben following your work and you are so inspiring! I get so excited when I see you beautiful, creative shots.

1. How do you make your photo's POP with bright colors...I especially LOVE when you make the eys twinkle.

2. I love Vintage--anything and everything vintage, and I have got to get this down and do more with my pictures. what do you do? use?
do you use CS3 and then use an action?

I have many more to ask you but then I would be a HOG, and that would be

thank you!!!!!!!!!

Karen Scoffield said...

I love that you are willing to help out others and agree that it is okay to help out others because it doesn't threaten you as a photographer.

My question is what lens do you use the most in your photoshoots? Do you change lenses in photoshoots usually or just stick with one for ease and to not miss a shot while the kids are losing patience :)

sarah said...

Congradulations Jessica! I am so happy for you and your success. I still love the pictures you took of my kids and you have gotten so much better since then. Unbelieveable!! I have so many questions I don't even know where to begin. Seriously, I don't even know where to start. I will have to think about it. When are you coming back to cali? I have a new one that needs some pictures.

TinaBean said...

I'm another follower of your inspiring work...LOVE it! You have great taste and such a unique style. Can you explain a little more about gradient and unsharp mask? I need a little help on getting awesome BW conversions too if you can fit that in :).

Anonymous said...

What camera do you suggest for taking everyday pics..when someone can't afford the upper end cameras. Something that takes sharp images and can have similar quality to the pics you take. The images are sharp and the colors pop!


Cascio Photography said...

I am so excited that you are doing this... not many photographers would and I am really happy that you are on my "to inspire me" buddy list! I Love your work!! I would love to know how to get better at shooting in manual(ISO, etc.)... every time I try its all blurry. If you didn't take a class, where did you learn all of this? I also wonder what the difference is with using curves or levels? And also are you willing to be a mentor at all?! I have asked a few photog's down there and they have said not now and I could really use a boost! :) Thanks again and CONGRATS on your photo-versary :)

Raquel said...

Wow you seriously are so nice for doing this. I feel the same way about other photographers choosing to give advice or not! So THANK YOU! You are amazing and I am so excited to read all the answers! I've been at this for about 4 months and still have so much to learn. So...

1. How do you get your colors to pop without bringing out the red in people and any color casts? Is is also something with the settings on the camera? And if it's just photoshop how do curves work, I thought that just adjusted the light and dark of the photo?
2. What time of day do you shoot/aperature on families? Or does it matter.
3. How do you get the faded look I've seen a few times on your blog. I love it!
Sorry that was alot but it's just so rare that super great photogs to this!
I second the mentoring idea! :)

Unknown said...

Love, love love your work! You are so inspiring! I have all the same equipment that you do and I always wonder if you EVER use your flash and lightsphere. Your pictures NEVER look like you use them and I am just wondering if you do or not, and if you do, in what situations and how do you get your pics to look like you don't!? Are they a part of your oft-used equipment, or do they mostly just sit in the bag (like mine!)? ;)


{Erica} said...

Happy anniversary! I love how you posted pics from your year...awesome!

So my question...can you give me some great locations in Utah? When I'm in Utah I am in Provo a lot and although I have a lot I want to know if there's "secret spots" I''m missing... :)

Natalie Park said...

Okay! I am so excited you are allowing any and all questions. I live here in Utah and I would PAY you to set up a class and teach us a photography class. Please consider it!
1. I am a beginner with a very expensive camera and I am unsure of all the ISO, shutter speed, and aperature talk. What in the world is that? I know it might sound lame but I have no clue! Can you fill me in?
2. How do make eyes glisten and pop?
3. Name Five of your favorite places to go for urban shots?
4. When you get shots that show the sunlight beams, How do you do that? Do you just angle your camera the right way?
Thanks for your time! You are an amazing photographer and someone I look up to! Amazing!

Elsha Christensen said...

You are going to be a busy woman anwering everybody's questions! You are just an awesome photographer! I am Annie's friend and emailed you a while back. Well since then I thought you would like to know that I am now taking a Photoshop class! :) (this time if you have questions email me! hehe) I have always been impressed with your black and whites. How do you twick them? I guess we haven't gotten to the actions and curves section in Photoshop class because I have no clue what they! I also was wondering how long it took you to start charging and how much you raised your prices to now? Thanks again!

Meghan said...

Hi this is Meghan... you are doing our pictures in a couple of weeks and I definitely stalk your blog. So I was really excited to see this Q&A because I have a ton of questions. So I am obviously not a photographer but I have really always wanted to do it... and I sometimes think I have a decent eye for photography, but I just don't know how to move forward I guess. So some of my questions are??
1) Do you always shoot on manual? And did you when you first started as a photographer? Also when you first started did you go to a location first and figure out what settings to use and then take clients out there after you had figured it out?
2) How did you learn shutter speed and aperture ISO etc...? Any good suggestions?
3) I have a nikon D50 and I just have the basic lens 28-80mm... if I were to get one lens what would you suggest?
4)I don't have the real photoshop... I have elements 4.0 and haven't even used it yet... do you need photoshop to do all the neat effects that you use when you edit?
5)How did you start actually charging people and how long had you been learning all the technical stuff before you started working as a photographer?

Anyways I have always wanted to get into photgraphy, but just have been too intimidated by technical things to delve in... if you have any overall suggestions that would be awesome! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jessica! I have also been stalking your blog for about six months and I too think you are amazing. It gives me hope that I can become a good photographer with no proper training I guess you could say. I think it is so nice of you to offer advice like this. I have tried to ask some other photographers questions on their blogs and have NEVER recieved any answers. This is a very intimidating job and I feel like I can never be good enough to charge. Anyhow all the questions that everyone else has asked are pretty much the ones I was going to ask. I can't wait to read your answers. Keep up the good work and CONGRATS!!

Kelli said...

Hi Jessica,
I don't understand what you meant about knowing nothing about ISO in those pictures. Please explain what you meant. Were they grainy?

Also, transferring pictures form photoshop to blogger makes the pictures much less vibrant. What do you usually do?

How do you make your pictures so large on blogger?

Your black and white and sepia photos are beautiful. What's your sectret?

What lighting tips can you give me? Mostly natural light. When it's midday, morning, evening. What's the best direction to face your subjects, etc.

And one more, I know you told me you got most of your business via blogger, but I was wondering about any marketing techniques you used that really got you started. You've come so far in only one year, it's crazy. How do I get my name out there etc.

Thanks so much for all your help. I really haven't found any mentors and feel like you have inspired me through our brief conversations and e-mails.
If you would be willing to take a look at my blog and give me any feedback good/bad, I would greatly appreciate it!


Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

I am too late for this but I do have a question for you.

When shooting children, how do you direct them? I mean, do you do you tell the moms what you have in mind and then try to enlist their help in getting that pose or idea across or do you just shoot away and it all works itself out in the end?

When you start out a photoshoot, do you have specific images in mind - whether for a group of people or single? Do you plan it out before hand?

I guess that is two questions... :)