Carrie Swails

I'm a serial entrepreneur. Owner at Photography Awesomesauce, Rock Your Weird and Made in the Lab and I photograph offbeat weddings. In other words, I'm crazy. I have a birthmark in my armpit, and am a terrible mathematician. What I lack in understanding of complex theories such as Pi (clearly a food item - apple is my favorite) and invisible numbers (if I can't see them, why should I care?) I make up for in awesomesauce. I believe there is no right way to put the toilet paper on - I'm just happy it's available. I believe there's no such thing as a bad fortune in a fortune cookie. I believe we only live life once so we should wear costumes as often as possible. I believe wine is like the force - it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together. I howl with my basset hound every morning, call my brother to beat video game bosses for me, and love eating fried cheese.

How Palette Gear Can Help Take Your Editing Workflow to the Next Level

If you’ve been following Photography Awesomesauce since the beginning, you probably know that saving time while editing photos is something I’ve worked hard on over the years. Editing photos is one of the biggest time-sucks a photographer can have. I’ve struggled with it myself time and time again. However, I’ve always believed that the quicker I can make the editing process, the more I can gain in income. I can also get some of my life back.

When I first started taking photography seriously I learned about Photoshop actions. Wooooo! I thought these were the lifeblood of photographers. You could just make a photo look “cool” with one tiny click and voila. So I edited weddings with Photoshop actions, individually applying each one to a photo. Then I learned about batch editing and Adobe Camera Raw. Game-changer. Editing still took me hours and hours though. Finally I realized we could take batch editing to the next level with Lightroom. Again, my life was changed. Then I learned about Lightroom presets and that was it, my life was saved. Then Photo Mechanic and I met and Holy Guacamole! Now I could cull faster an Olympic sprinter. Through all of theses phases as I became a more experienced photographer I learned to save a little bit of time here or there. However, the biggest thing for me was learning to time myself and setting a rule that I was not allowed to edit photos for any longer than I took them. If a wedding was 8 hours, I only had 8 hours to edit those photos.

Over time I’ve become better and better at editing. I’ve even learned that the quicker you can process your photos and get them back to your clients (in the height of their excitement after their session or wedding) the more likely they are to be satisfied and inevitably they are more likely to buy more prints. So the faster you edit, the more money ends up back in your pocket! That means anything I can do to make the process quicker is a huge win for me. Even though that’s the case when I edited I used to do it on a laptop, the awkward placement of the track pad giving me hand cramps. So I tried keyboard shortcuts and then upgraded to a bigger laptop, then a desktop. I don’t know that a bigger computer actually made anything faster. I knew a handful of keyboard shortcuts, but every second my hand would go from the keyboard to the track pad or mouse and switched settings around, the slower I was. Those seconds are valuable and they add up when it seems like sometimes all you do is edit photos. I never really thought anything could change that. I just assumed that’s how it was and that I had reached my maximum potential for editing speed.

Not long ago I heard about something called Palette though. I think a stray Facebook Ad came across my news feed and I thought, meh, seems expensive. I bet it would be hard to program. What is it? It’s a bunch of buttons, dials, sliders you can individually place in any order you’d like and assign them various tasks like keyboard shortcuts, Lightroom or Photoshop specific actions. It sounds simple and unnecessary, but it wasn’t until Palette sent me a kit to try that I really got to see how much I needed it. I have now been editing with it for about one month. I’ve edited roughly 10 weddings and sessions with Palette and I am truly deeply in love.

I should make it clear that when a company like Palette sends me a product to test out and review, I never guarantee a positive review. I would not be writing this if I truly didn’t feel like Palette was the exact addition I needed to complete my editing workflow and make things much easier on my hands (no cramping) and far more intuitive. I’m also not paid to write this post, and I don’t get any kickbacks if you purchase one (although hey Palette I love affiliate marketing!). Just thought I’d shout that out. 😉

Here is how it works. You order one online >here<. It comes to your door, you plug it in (it just uses a simple USB) and you follow the direction to go to the website and download the software program to your computer. Once the software is there, you can connect up all the buttons, dials and sliders in any order or arrangement you’d like and start assigning each one an individual task. You’d think this would be difficult to set up, or that you’d have to worry about programming, but I think mine was set up in under 5 minutes. The only thing I’ve done since then is change button functions to whatever ones seem to work best for me. These are a few of my favorite features of Palette.

  1. You can add additional buttons, sliders and dials at any time by purchasing them individually. So if you find you need more than one of their starting kits, it’s easy to do. That means the options and settings you could have are truly endless and 100% custom.
  2. You assign the buttons tasks in a visual manner. The software program recognizes the order you’ve put your palette together and you just click on a button and select the function from a drop down menu after you chose the program you want to use (like Lightroom, Photoshop, etc).
  3. You can set up different workflows. I have one set up for Photo Mechanic, color editing in Lightroom and black and white editing in Lightroom. So I can easily switch between the workflows for different functions or editing styles if needed.
  4. The dials more than any of the other tools in the Palette allow for incredible fine tuning. It’s much easier to edit and get a photo at the exact setting you want in a matter of seconds compared to when you try and edit with keyboard shortcuts or with a mouse or track pad.
  5. If you order one you can use the Palette discount code: PhotographyAwesomeSauce to get free shipping!

If you want to get in the habit of editing faster you’ll gain so many benefits by doing so. There are tons of great tools out there, but Palette is such a great place to start with a more intuitive editing style. When you combine Palette with the use of batch editing in Lightroom, culling in Photo Mechanic, and timing yourself you will be editing faster than you ever imagined. Which will leave way more time for living life and focusing on the stuff that really matters the most like hanging out with your family. Not only that, but when you edit faster you spend less time working, which ups your own hourly wage. Not to mention that clients who receive their photos back sooner are more likely to buy large amounts of prints and products. Tools that help you edit faster really do help you make more money!

Anyway, get Palette on your list of things you need to rock the rest of 2017 and years into the future. Use the code PhotographyAwesomeSauce to get free shipping when you order. If you already have one or want to learn more you can always email me or join the Facebook group and ask me some questions. I’d be happy to share my Palette set ups and workflows with anyone who would find them beneficial!

How about more awesomesauce?

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The 4 Most Important Factors to Consider When Setting Up Your Pricing

I’m sure you’ve seen those threads in Facebook groups by other photographers. “How much should I charge for senior photography?” “How much should I charge for prints?” These groups are made up of thousands of members, from all over the US and the world. Due to that diversity, you’re going to find these threads fill up with all different kinds of answers. HEre’s what I know. Nobody else can tell you what you’re worth. You have to figure that part out on your own. We can help, but here are the four factors I find are the most crucial to figuring out your pricing anytime for anything.

1. Your experience level. What prices may work for one photographer who has been doing this for ten years may not work for you. It’s really important to take an honest look at your work and ensure your pricing reflects the level of experience you have. If you’re newer to photography and business, then your prices aren’t going to be high right away That’s okay. Sometimes I think we make the mistake of encouraging each other to up our prices before we’re worth the price we’re asking. It takes time and practice to build your experience. You will get better over time, but it’s important for your price to reflect that experience level accurately. If you price too high, clients are more likely to look at your work and decide you aren’t worth booking if they feel your experience level doesn’t match your price.

2. Your local economy. The economy is a big one. Photographer A might be from a place where the cost of living is insanely high, and Photographer B may come from an area where the cost of living is relatively low. Therefore pricing is going to look very different. When deciding how to price any part of your business do some research on your local economy first to see what other photographers’ pricing looks like in your area, and what their experience level is. This insight will help you decide where your pricing should be and what your local economy can afford at the highest price point.

3. Your personal finances. While your personal finances don’t play a huge role in your price, it’s a factor for some photographers. Maybe they have a steady income elsewhere so having high-end pricing isn’t as important to them. Maybe you’re a single parent, and there’s a lot more childcare and bills that you’re responsible for paying. You’ll have to take a look at what your personal finances are and factor that into your pricing. Consider that a portion of what you make will go back to the government as taxes, you will want to set some aside for retirement. Maybe you have student loans you’d like to pay off, or maybe you’re saving up for an extra awesome vacation. These should all be part of your decision-making process.

4. Your business expenses. The cost of doing business always needs to be factored into your pricing as well. You can’t just arbitrarily price your work based on some recommendation of a stranger on the internet, and then feel like you’re not making enough when it comes to taking out business expenses, taxes, etc. The way I like to figure out my expenses is by breaking everything down into a monthly amount. I look at the total expenses for a year and divide by 12; then I know how much I need to make to break even every month and how much I need to make to cover some personal finances, pay my bills, do extra things like vacations and more.

We could go into different pricing methods here like in-person sales, affiliate marketing, digitals, prints, etc., but I will keep this short and sweet so you can focus on the most important stuff and then decide on a pricing method that works for you after. There are all different ways to set up your pricing and make a great profit. There’s no wrong way, just a right way for you!

How about more awesomesauce?

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10 Things You Must Know Before Flying with Your Camera Gear

For wedding photographers who travel for their work, flying is unavoidable. As a photographer who flies with or without my gear many times over the course of a year I have a few tips I Thought I’d share for those who may not have flown with their gear before, or maybe you have, but not in awhile.

1. Roller bags don’t fit on regional planes. I’m sure you’ve been on a plane where they tell you all roller bags need to be gate checked. Now just imagine if you had your gear in a fabulous Lowepro Photo Stream RL (like me) and the plane is just too small to fit these overhead. Now, my Lowepro bag is made to fit some of these regional plans, but not all of them accept it. I fly some pretty tiny planes since I live in a pretty remote area. The thing is, you’ve probably carefully packed all your gear into your roller bag, and now you’re panicking about gate checking it. I’ve heard of gate checked roller bags tossed around and lenses breaking, or even luggage lost while gate checked (imagine that). Some people are willing to risk it, but when I’m on my way to photograph a wedding, I’m just not willing. I’ve made that mistake before and had to stuff as much of the valuable gear into my purse as possible. NEVER AGAIN. If you’re doing a lot of flying and you know a roller bag may have to be gate checked, consider looking into a backpack. You can get awesome camera backpacks that separate your gear and hold just as much as your roller, and you’ll be able to fit it under the seat or above you a little better if it doesn’t have wheels and all the extra doodads that your roller does. A backpack is a way to go if you want to skip the worry of gate checking anything. Or, you can do what I do which is sometimes bring my roller bag packed and then carry an empty backpack ready to put all my gear in there, and gate check my empty roller bag if I need to.

2. Your batteries go in your carryon. New rules about batteries! They don’t go in your checked bag, keep them with you in your carryon.

3. Never put anything valuable in your checked bag. Really. Just don’t. Too many bags get lost and never found. Or you get it back, but with one less valuable item than when you had checked it in. Checked bags are for clothes and things that are easily replaceable. Valuables like your camera gear, or anything special, need to come on the plane with you if possible.

4. Pack Your Gear Neatly to Get Through Security Faster. If you take the time to wrap up cords nicely or organize your gear, it’s easier for them to see what it all is when it goes through the scanner, saving you time by preventing you from having to unload everything. That said, camera gear can look a little weird and sometimes it will have to be checked by hand in security. Make sure you have some extra time built in just in case that happens. Don’t be surprised if they insist on taking a closer look either. Some people are deeply offended when they get to have a random search, or when the scanner can’t read something, and TSA has to dig in deeper. TSA, most of the time, is just doing their job and following instructions. However, preparing and organizing your gear as well as possible in advance can help you a lot with avoiding too much time in security.

5. Use TSA Pre-Check. Hate going through security and want to make your life easier? Sign up for TSA Pre-check (if you’re in the US). It costs about $85 and lasts for five years if you’re approved. You can write it off as a business expense! There is an application process, and if you have a dodgy background you may not get accepted, so make sure you read the instructions before paying to apply. Once you have TSA Pre-check, you can get through lines quicker most of the time. You also can leave your shoes and belts on, laptops in your bags, liquids in your bags and more. Ever since I did TSA Pre-Check, I never have to worry about unpacking all my gear in the middle of security. It could still happen, but the chances are less because they’ve done a pretty thorough look into my background and probably know all about my photography (they’re always watching) ;).

6. Keep your memory cards with valuable images with you and back them up as soon as you can (preferably before you fly home). After you’ve photographed someone, put those memory cards in a safe spot. Keep them away from your gear, just in case. Make sure you back them up somewhere as soon as possible too!

7. Be careful who you tell about your business, and who is watching you open your camera gear luggage. Do the same with your car and your gear. Don’t organize it out in the open in your trunk and then leave it in your car unattended. You never know who is watching and may want to grab your stuff and run. It’s best to be a little discreet.

8. If you put your gear in an overhead bin keep a close eye on it. Photographers have been in the situation where someone grabbed their bag (by mistake or on purpose), and they never got their stuff back. I’d suggest sitting in an aisle seat and paying or setting up some early boarding so you ensure you can put your bag right above you and not at the front or back of the plane.

9. Cover your gear bag in brightly colored stickers, or tape, and make sure it has your name on it. Anything that helps your camera bag stand out and not look like any others will help you keep track of it. When I used to travel with a Pelican case roller, I covered the entire outside with stickers. I think people just thought I was a musician and it was a flute inside or something similar.

10. Need to bring your flashes with you, but don’t want to deal with hauling the light stands? Check out my friends, Tether Tools, and their awesome gear to help photographers out with mounting their flashes on the go in a variety of situations. These things are why I never worry about packing light stands anymore. They’re very portable and give you a lot of options without having to worry too much about space. I also love MagMods for the same thing. They’re very portable and lightweight and make the perfect companion to a photographer who has to fly to a wedding and has limited packing space.

Good luck with the next time you fly with your gear. Some basic precautions can help you out in a scenario that can be a little risky and stressful as you’re going to and from a wedding. Airlines may vary on their policies and rules, but if you show up as prepared as possible for the worst case scenario, you’ll likely skip all the crazy extra stress that comes with traveling for work. One last tip? Stay in a hotel with a good solid bed if you’re traveling while shooting. Sleep is critical for optimal creativity.

How about more awesomesauce?

Subscribe to get awesome free stuff and emails full of useful business information that you’ll probably ignore. Watch me fail miserably at Twitter. Repin stuff I pin on Pinterest because I said so. Love me on Facebook even though numbers don’t matter, and Facebook is dying. Join the Facebook group to see my shenanigans up close and personal.

7 Tips for Deciding Where to Put Your Marketing Efforts

There is so much talk these days about Instagram shadow bans, social media algorithms, and marketing. I remember when the social media trend was to talk about how Facebook is dying. Now we’re all talking about how Instagram is screwing us all over and all our hard work will be wasted. Like you, I’ve read a bunch of blog posts on these two topics. I’ve tried the different methods to try and boost engagement. I’ve fretted over it and let it keep me awake at night one too many times.

Here’s what I know about the world as it is today, right now, at this very moment. Social media is YOUNG. In a short amount of time, it’s changed the way we interact as human beings and market as business owners. And get this. It hasn’t just done that once; it’s done it over and over again as it grows. It’s an incredibly fast-growing tool. It’s constantly changing. Not only that, it’s dictating how we will interact with other humans in the future. For now though, just think of it like this. Facebook is a pre-teen. Instagram is learning it’s multiplication tables and still doing spelling bees. Snapchat hasn’t even started learning cursive yet (don’t get me started). They have big futures ahead of them and who knows how those will be.

Remember the days of tagging parties on Facebook? Our business pages would grow like crazy. Remember when everyone who liked your business page had to see the updates you put up? Remember when it was easy to get hundreds of likes on images and get found on Facebook? Yeah. I do too. Then there was all this talk about algorithms and now look at Facebook. Most of us aren’t getting the massive engagement we used to. In fact, social media has changed so fast that young millennials aren’t even using Facebook as their primary social media anymore. You guys, it’s nuts. I feel like all that hard work that went into building engagement on my business page was pretty much for nothing. What’s my business page doing for me now? Well, it’s just sitting there. If people happen to look at it, it’s there. But, I officially just automate it and put little to no effort into its engagement. If I did, I’d have to “pay to play.”

The marketing world has changed drastically in the past few years from when you decided to take your business to the next level and sometimes it seems impossible to keep up. So here’s the thing. With social media’s drastic impact on the marketing world for photographers, I’ve put together a few tips to help you get the most out of marketing and make sure you aren’t wasting time on methods that may not exist next year.

1. Put the most effort, time and money into marketing methods that you OWN. I know it’s easy to complain about Facebook’s algorithm and Instagram’s supposed “shadow-ban.” Here’s the reality though. They are allowed to do those things. We don’t own those companies, they’re businesses, and they do what they want. We need to be putting time, effort and money into marketing systems that we have full control over and not systems which can knock us out with one single algorithm change. You own things like your website, your SEO for that website, your blog, your email list.

2. Blogging is not dead. Far from it. It may look different than it used to, but it’s been here for roughly 20 years already, and it’s probably here to stay even though it may have subtle changes over time. I think long time bloggers like to say it’s dead because it is different than what it used to be. There’s no denying that. However, blogs are still a part of everyday internet use. Many popular websites are on blog systems, and you visit them every day (think Huffpost and Buzzfeed). The biggest change in blogging has come with content. As the world changes, so will the content. However, a blog is an excellent way to build your SEO (search engine optimization). The more content you post and write about, the easier it is to find you in search results, and I don’t think Google search is going anywhere anytime soon. They may change their algorithms, but at least blogging is something you own and can adapt to the changing times as you need to. My friend, Christine Tremoulet, who pretty much coined the term “WordPress” for the creators has been a long time blogger and still teaches about its success and importance in today’s marketing world. Check her out if you need more info!

3. SEO rocks your socks, and you can do it for free or very little investment. So not only can you put SEO into your blog posts, but you can also put it on your website. You can even optimize your Pinterest posts, so they’re better found in search results. Let’s not forget that Pinterest is not social and is, in fact, more of a search engine or discovery platform. Pinterest, blogging and my website are all places I work on building SEO so I can get found in various search engines. Don’t know what SEO is? Check out my friend, Get Found with Fuse. She has some awesome free online tools and lots of blog posts loaded with information on boosting your SEO.

4. If you must be on social media, automate it. While I don’t actively engage on my Facebook business page often, I do post there to have a consistent presence in case any stragglers still want to find me. However, it’s all automated. I don’t think Facebook marketing (if you’re not doing paid ads) is worth spending a ton of time on, so I automate it and let my robots create a consistent presence.

5. Build your email list. It’s something you can take with you wherever you go or whatever platform you end up. Let’s say Facebook completely dies one day. Like it’s just gone, and that’s the end of Facebook. Millions would obviously be devastated, because where would we keep in touch with all our cat memes? Though, if it was gone and you spent some quality time building an email list, then it would be easy for you to transfer those followers from Facebook to your email list and from your email list to whatever the latest and greatest social media is. An email list is something you own that goes with you wherever you go. If you’re not sure how to build one outside of creating a newsletter that just features your blog posts, consider having a free online class or ebook on what to wear to a session. Maybe write a guide that your clients could find useful and use it as a free incentive. If they sign up for your email list, then they get some useful, resourceful free download. In exchange, you get their email, and now you have access to directly market to them until they ask to remove their email from your list.

6. Don’t worry about being on ALL the social media platforms. Are you terrible at Twitter? Skip it. The only reason I have it is to see what ridiculous things a certain politician posts. You don’t need to be everywhere all the time. Pick the top two you find you love the most and then just focus on those. Don’t spread yourself thin by trying to have an active presence on all social media platforms.

7. Don’t let social media be your ONLY marketing. Get a website and use it as the center for your online presence, build out from there. If you made your marketing look like a bubble mind map thing (you know what I mean) your website would be the center with a big circle around it. From there, little lines would go off onto things like blogging or SEO and spread from there. Your social media would be smaller and on the very outside of your marketing mind map. I often see photographers using only social media for marketing, and they come into a Facebook group and talk about their struggles getting clients. Just remember that social media is the kind of scene nowadays where you have to pay to play, so it’s best to build a presence on your website first, which you control, and then outward from there.

When it comes to marketing, overall the most important thing you can do is try to look at the big picture and focus on marketing that is an effective use of your time and doesn’t detract from it. I hope these tips have helped you put some things in perspective for where and what to focus on most with your upcoming marketing efforts this year!

How about more awesomesauce?

Subscribe to get awesome free stuff and emails full of useful business information that you’ll probably ignore. Watch me fail miserably at Twitter. Repin stuff I pin on Pinterest because I said so. Love me on Facebook even though numbers don’t matter, and Facebook is dying. Join the Facebook group to see my shenanigans up close and personal.

5 Daily Practices for Learning to See Light Better

In the midst of growing our businesses, upgrading our gear, keeping up with Instagram, trying to find new clients, and be everything to everyone we sometimes forget to work on our actual photography skills. Those photography skills are something we have to nurture.

Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed about the photography industry. We all get into this business because we’re artistic, creatives and we love using those skills. Many of us have got the photography side down, or it at least comes naturally. However, a lot of photographers feel like the business side is not their strong point. Maybe it is probably just me, but I always felt like the business side was the stronger one for me, where the photography itself lacked. Sure, I can draw well. I’m even more awesome at sculpture (in fact that seems to be something I have a knack for). Photography is okay for me. I like it because I’m impatient and I can enjoy the results of my creativity almost immediately.

That said, the photography part has never felt like where my talent truly lies. I love people, and I LOVE the business side of being a wedding photographer. The thrill of figuring out the latest marketing trend or reading through tax documents is what brings me the most joy. I know, I’m the minority. However, I figure maybe you’re a little bit like me. Maybe you feel behind on the actual photography skills sometimes. Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked at another photographer’s image and said, “WHERE THE HECK DID THEY GET THAT GOOD LIGHT?”

Let me tell you a little story about early photographs by yours truly. I had noticed this awesome trend in other photographer’s images. Where the background was all blurry, and the subject was in focus, and I wanted that. So I dove into Google and figured out how to make it happen with fancier lenses that had lower apertures. I continued to take photos, and I felt like I was improving my photography skills, but what happened is that I was less limited by my camera gear and had properly learned how to use a camera. Was I showing off my artistic prowess? No. When I look back at the photographs of that person, I see someone who largely understood how the camera worked, rocked the business side of things, but the lighting circumstances were inconsistent in the photographs.

Here’s the thing I know now. Photography is ultimately all about light. Sure, you will find all kinds of principles and elements of art and design in photography, and it’s good to chase after those things too, but understanding light is like learning how to see the world through a camera. Understanding light will help you use it to your advantage in combination with other elements of art to create beautiful and meaningful images. I am still working on this by the way.

I believe not all of us are great at seeing light. That even though we’re creative and we’re artists, our brains are tuning into one or a few other elements or principles of art. Some people notice color, some notice value, some notice texture. Some photographers shoot for the emotion. These are all incredibly important, but a little light knowledge can help enhance all these things. There are so many images I’ve looked back on and thought, dang the composition was good, the posing needs some work, the color is spot on, white balance is great, but man if the light were just different it would enhance the mood of the image. Since space, tone, color, and texture tend to be the things I see more in art I needed to work on that light stuff.

I wrote this post to help those of you who are like me. If you have ever wanted to create a more impactful image, maybe these tips will help you better take the camera skills, business skills, and other artistic talents you’ve got and take them to the next level. Maybe you’re like me, and this just was difficult for you. Here are a few things I’ve done as daily practice over the years that have helped me focus my photography and overall taken my skills to the next level.

1. Look where the light source is wherever you go. One of my favorite games (that I can’t take credit for), is to watch TV, movies, or just notice in daily life wherever the light source is. It’s the most fun with TV and movies though. If you can guess what direction the light source is from you can start figuring out how to re-create that type of light in your work. You can also start to get a handle on how larger or smaller light sources make your subjects look different. If this is extra hard for you, watch for catchlights in actors/actresses eyes and sometimes you can see what type of light source they’re using off screen, like a huge beauty dish or octobox. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to naturally identify what types of light create what types of moods and take that to your business.

2. Notice how different types of light around you affect the color and contrast of what you see on a daily basis. Oh man. I was so bad at white balance when I started photography. I didn’t even know what it was. That was not a button on my old film camera, so I didn’t get what the point was. Now, I GET IT. Watching how any light source can affect the color of the object, it falls on will help you if white balance is a struggle. Different types of light sources emit different colors. Your lamp by your couch may give a very orange or warm glow, which affects the objects lit by it. When you start marathons on Netflix start looking at the color of the light too. You’ll begin to notice how cooler or warmer tones change the vibe of a tv show or movie. Then you’ll realize you can have that too. You can use a light source’s color to your advantage, or you can alter it if you don’t like it.

3. Look through your portfolio and see what types of lighting scenarios you can see. Are they consistent? Cull your portfolio to show your most ideal lighting situations. Culling was a fun activity for me. When I went through my highlight or favorite images I had posted to my Facebook business page over the years the light was all over the place. There were images in harsh light, some in twilight, some indoors, some in very flat light, some extremely backlit photos. It wasn’t consistent at all. It was good to look through my images and see where my light sources were coming from and how they could have improved. I took the time to learn my favorite lighting scenario. As much as everyone tells you, it doesn’t have to be golden hour. Some love using off camera flash, some love twilight. Want to shoot more photos in your favorite type of light? Show more of your photography with that type of light in your portfolio. Cull out the images that may have been meaningful, but weren’t your best work or your favorite type of light. Your website and marketing will gain from a very consistent look and feel to your images. They’ll become recognizable to those who follow you. The hardest part of this is the next tip!

4. Start creating the type of light you like in every session or wedding so that you can have that handful of signature shots from every client. Once you have a favorite type of light, you love photographing in, and you cull down your portfolio to show more of that and less of other types you’ll want to strive to get a few signature shots from every session or wedding in that type of light. It means putting all these things you are practicing to good use. If you don’t like harsh light at weddings, but you have no control over the timeline you’ll have to figure out how to build in time to get your signature light even if it’s just for a few shots. For me, overcast is one of my favorite types of light so at every wedding I look for shady areas that can create that same look. If I know the timeline is a bit out of my hands, I started asking my clients if they’d mind taking 5-10 minutes outside once the reception starts to get some of that end of the sunset/twilight type light that I love. Now that’s something I strive to build in regularly in my timelines, and I seek out my ideal lighting scenarios wherever I go to help create consistency not just in my portfolio as a whole, but also in the entire set of wedding images as a whole story.

5. Practice at home as much as possible with your kids, spouse, friends, pets or just plain objects. It goes without saying that the best way to better understand light is to practice it yourself at home as much as possible. Flash used to make me nervous. I remember when off camera flash seemed impossible. Instead of practicing on my clients I’d practice on my dogs at home until I got my settings right or I had a good feel for it. I remember learning how to do off camera flash with four flashes and pretending my family room was a giant wedding reception and figuring out how I wanted to light the couple’s first dance by using my dogs as models. I’m a giant dork, but it gave me the confidence I needed to start creating better images with a much better understanding of light. It’s one thing to read about better lighting methods or instructions online, but for hands-on learners (like a lot of creatives), we need to practice it to get it and remember it!

I appreciate you reading all the way down this far about what a terrible photographer I was at the start. I know you can probably relate. I’m hoping these basic tips will help some other newer photographer build that awareness of light sooner than I did so that you can skip all the fluff I went through and get better images sooner.

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