Mama-Photographer

Why I'm Taking More Photos of Myself in 2017

Like most of us, I take photos because I want to remember moments. And selfishly I wish my husband would do that, too - he has the memory of an elephant so doesn't always feel the need to document visually. When I have to ask for a photo I feel arrogant or find myself wishing he would suggest it. And when he does I make excuses like "the light is all wrong" to avoid feeling awkward and he hands me the phone saying "these are probably all bad" to which my self conscious spirit immediately agrees and deletes all record of the previous moment. It's something we're working on.  

  why i'm taking more photos of myself in 2017

I remember the first time I put on makeup after Ruth was born and I asked him to take a photo of us snuggled but when I looked at the camera and saw one bra strap down with my nursing pads sticking out of my tank top I burst into hormonal postpartum tears. Of course, three years later, I'm so happy to have the photo now, but something that was obvious to me didn't even cross his mind - which actually resulted in a more truthful image, anyway. 

  why i'm taking more photos of myself in 2017

I'm a very expressive person and sometimes expressive people don't always photograph in a flattering way... there's lot of hand movement, big eyes and scrunched-into-your-neck laughing faces. You would think that someone who strives to make other people feel comfortable in front of the camera would have a list of tips running through my mind (all your weight on one hip, raise your shoulder, chin down a bit), but put a camera in front of me and every ounce of awkward comes out (think any Kristen Wiig SNL character).

But then I think of my favorite images of my mom or my grandmother. I've always loved looking through the old black and white images that capture my youthful grandma riding on the shoulders of some hunky high-school guy, posing in front of her new car, dancing in the kitchen with a cigarette, no less -- and now that she's passed they mean even more. It's a look into a season of life that I otherwise wouldn't be aware of. And my mother - a young, beautiful mama with Farrah Fawcett flowy hair that rocked the 80's jumpsuits like no one's business. Their life and vitality are present in the images, their personality shines through and in my mind, that's the most important thing a photo can capture. 

 why i'm taking more photos of myself in 2017

My paternal grandmother hated being in front of the camera -- in our home videos you can hear her protest and then run out of the room the second the camera turned her way. And so we are left with only a handful of posed holiday photos and I find myself longing to know her more fully.

And so, I'm determined to change my attitude about being in front of the camera this year. In the midst of these "little years" -- interrupted sleep, first ballet recital, new big girl bike, sparatic work hours and new baby brother adventures. Such a sweet season of life, of course I want to remember it. Who cares about that weird grown-woman acne (thanks, hormones), or that unidentified crusty spot on my t-shirt... that I've worn for four days in a row.

  why i'm taking more photos of myself in 2017
  why i'm taking more photos of myself in 2017

I know I'm not alone when it comes to being self conscious about my photo being taken. I work with women all the time that spit out a list of their worst features the second they step in front of my camera. When as a photographer all I see is beauty and the way you melt when your rambunctious four year old settles for just three seconds in a tender hug around your neck. The way you blush when I ask you to cuddle in a little tighter with your husband and in that moment you both realize you haven't down this in a while. I know the value of these images and it's high time I allow myself to be in them, too.

  why i'm taking more photos of myself in 2017

So this year I want to stop making excuses and take every opportunity to document this season of life with my tiny family and I encourage you to do the same. So that years down the road we both remember how wonderful this time was. So my little girl has a healthy and accurate sense of what being a woman is -- sometimes a little frazzled, most of the time with stains on her shirt, and quite often there's a double chin involved, but also so much light and love. I'd be the first to correct my little one if she were to say something negative about her body or appearance. Lead by example and be comfortable in your skin, proud to be yourself.

Let's all step in front of the camera a bit more this year. And for when you do, a few tips to make the most of it : 

Let go of expectations - your kiddo might not want to "smile for daddy." Twirl them around, ask for a big bear hug or sloppy wet kiss and embrace the truer moment.

Don't wait for an occasion - those every day snapshots are often more cherished than any posed occasion photo and reminds your kid years down the road of the beauty in the little moments. 

Move that body - hold down the camera button as you dance, twirl or tickle. This will give you lots of options and less disappointment when there's only two images of blinking and sneezing.

Embrace the mess - it's truthful and honest.

Hire a professional - someone with whom you feel comfortable and can trust with your space, family and story. This removes any and all portrait responsibility from your husband... plus gives you the opportunity to just enjoy one another and have some lovely mementos when it's all said and done.

the glass family three | by nicki sebastian

oh boy do I hate getting my picture taken. my spine locks up, my face freezes, my hands do all sorts of weird gangly things and when I see the result of my "cool, confident and sexy" face, I want to run and hide. I 100% understand when my clients share that they feel uncomfortable in front of the camera and honestly, the challenge of bringing them to a place of ease where they can be themselves is one of my favorite things about my job. but at the same time i know the importance of having your photo taken - and deeply value any photograph that exists of ruth and I. it's my desire for her to have a visual record of each season of our life and I fully believe that when a mama is present in the photos, that speaks volumes to a little girl. and even more volumes to that little girl when she becomes a mother herself. and so with this in mind, I took a deep breath, slapped on some lipstick and readied for nicki sebastian to enter our tiny abode and work her magic. and boy did she bring her magic. one minute with her and you feel completely comfortable. she allowed us to be ourselves, for ruth to be wild and perfectly captured every essence of her being -- tender, sassy, adventurous and confident. what a beautiful gift to have fresh eyes on our family -- ones that offered grace and freedom to be ourselves in our most intimate place. just a few weeks before our session i had a miscarriage -- it was quite early, so early in fact we hadn't had the chance to even tell some of our friends but there was still a very real and deep hurt present. and these photos proved to be the reminder that we needed of the beauty that existed even during this season. and now, a few months later as we anxiously await the arrival of our little boy, we are extra grateful to have such beautiful documentation of this sweet time of just the three of us. thank you, sweet Nicki for sharing your gift and your presence with us. we will treasure these always. xo

No More Free Work and Here's Why

this is as much of an "i've had it post" as it is a public proclamation in order to hold myself accountable as I move forward with my business. it's not meant to plead for your sympathy, but will hopefully give you a little pause to rethink "free work" whether you're the one paying for creative work or doing the creative work. I, personally, am done with free work and here's why :

when we first moved to Los Angeles the saturation of the photography market hit me hard. I, admittedly naive, assumed that because I had a solid portfolio this transplant shouldn't take as long as it did to build my business from the ground up in Ohio. I reached out to a list of creatives offering my services in hopes to collaborate and heard back from only a small handful. I kept making connections and offering free work in exchange for the promotion I'd hope to receive from what I thought were well-picked outlets. 

I'd get an inquiry or response with a non existent budget and reassure myself : well, that's the kind of work I want more of. Or yeah, it could get me more followers which might turn into paying clients.

Wants and mights don't put food on the table for my little one. now as a mama, my time is more precious than ever. if I'm away from my kid not only am I paying for someone else to watch her, but I'm missing out on precious quality time together. I love working and I honestly feel like Ruth and I both do better when we have a break from each other every now and then. I just want to make sure the work I'm doing is worth that decision.

let's talk about the paper. As any freelancer or self-employed creative knows, when that nice check comes in it's easy to think "whoohoo! $400!" But the second that money is deposited, a good 30-40% is shaved off and dumped right into savings for self employment, federal and state taxes. for every hour of shooting it's an hour of editing so let's cut that remaining rate in half again. there's the travel time and the correspondence to book the session. Sometimes as a freelancers things are rescheduled at the last minute which leaves a big gap in the day and no time to fill it with another session. There's insurance and liability, equipment upkeep, website, childcare, image delivery and all the other expenses that go into running your business that whittle away at that once lovely round number. so as with any handmade, well crafted product, there's a lot more that goes into it than the 10 minutes it might take to throw a pot or the price of fabric for a chair or the one hour you see me shooting.

you wouldn't ask a chef to donate food and prep or a painter to paint your portrait in exchange for "promotion."  just because the final format of my work is often digital and intangible, doesn't make it of any less value. I've taken photographs for over 15 years now in a professional setting. you're not just paying for my time and my fancy equipment, you're paying for my experience and expertise. You get what you pay for. 

and to be quite honest, that hustle and offer of discounted work didn't paid off. none of those gigs resulted in paying referrals. if people receive your work for free, they value it as just that : a good deal. they didn't fork over their hard earned money for your time. Besides, you love taking photos right? And when I compromise on my end, I'm doing you a disservice by already approaching the work with a bitter attitude because I'm not getting paid what I deserve and losing valuable time and energy that could have been spent attracting ideal clientele. 

and all this free work devalues my fellow photographers. i'm only aiding to the problem when I offer a highly discounted or free service. The next time someone says "here's my rate," that client just shrugs and says "i can find someone else to do it for free." and then people start coming to you because you're cheap, not because they love the work you do. and soon, you've worked yourself into a rut of less than ideal clientele. 

I admit there are absolutely ways and situations in which a discounted rate can be beneficial to your brand. A few things to keep in mind when offering your services at less than normal rates : 

-always make clients aware of your actual pricing so the value is set as a foundation.

-If you discount the price, discount the final delivery either in coverage, final images or product. They shouldn't receive the same things that a client paying full price will receive.

-if you're establishing yourself in a new city or building your brand, make firm rules for yourself like "only one trade per month."

-when approaching someone that you'd like to collaborate with (someone who fits your brand and in a situation that is mutually beneficial), offer a few specific ideas instead of just saying "If you have need, I'd love to work with you."

-say no. you can do so kindly, while at the same time educating the client and protecting your industry. "Thanks for thinking of me. My typical rate for a project like this is $$$. I've already accepted my limit of free/trade work for the month. if you're able to find a budget for the project I'd love to chat further. Or, I'm happy to recommend some folks just starting out who might have a lower rate." 

-if you do trade or discounted work, make sure you're both benefiting. e.g. I take family photos of a dear friend every few months and in turn she designs my lovely printed promotional pieces. we trade hours and she covers the film+processing while I cover my printed material costs.

-this spring I did a few family sessions for free because I wanted to rebuild my portfolio with images that I wanted to take - not the images I thought the family wanted me to take. I had no problem gifting these sessions to the families I hand-picked because I went into the shoot photographing for myself with the sole intention of amping up my portfolio. You've got to be so intentional with these; it's too easy to lump less than ideal sessions into "portfolio building."

Because I'm a one-gal show, it's hard to remember that I'm actually a business. When people say the rate is too high it's easy to take that personally. I pour myself into my work so if you don't think the highly calculated monetary value I've assigned it is worth it, sometimes it feels like you think I'm not worth it. I know that's not true and it's my job to separate myself from my work and to educate potential clients of it's value. Let's not confuse "hustle" with taken advantage of. You can work your tail off attracting new clients without compromising your creative work and time in the process.