6 things you probably shouldn’t say to your photographer…

It’s finally happened. I’ve officially been in the photography business long enough now to hear many of the stereotypical comments and “chat” that I’d suggest are perhaps not the best placed choice of conversation topic… I’ve been amused, baffled and even slightly frustrated with some of these, so just for fun, I thought I’d share some with you…

1. Your camera takes really great photos!

I know, I know. I’m starting with the comment that seems so obvious that surely no-one actually says it? I mean, that’s what I thought. I’d heard of it, seen many a meme about it, but I had never experienced it.

Until last year.

Those wonderful words were uttered in a kind, genuine way where I fully believe the person wasn’t trying to be offensive but I was left stuck for a reply all the same. I mean, imagine someone said that about a baker and their oven, or an artist and their paintbrush?

A camera is merely an instrument. A vehicle which enables us to capture an image as we see it or imagine it. Having professional equipment makes a bit of a difference yes, but only if you know how to use it. You could put me in front of the best stove on the planet and I’d still burn something – Michelin Star I am not!

The camera doesn’t make the photograph anymore than a laptop makes a novel. It takes time, practice and a certain degree of skill to get to a professional level. Implying that it’s all in the gear is a little bit cheeky however unintentional. Best avoided if you want to keep your photographer on-side (and remember, we have access to Photoshop…ha!)

2. My camera is better than yours!

This happens at almost every event I shoot. Whether it’s a corporate get-together, a christening or a wedding, I inevitably find myself sought out by someone who wants to compare gear. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have folk who are interested in photography and want to talk about it (provided I can still do my work for whoever has hired me!) – I could chat about certain types of photography all night but I keep finding myself in a situation with someone who takes that enthusiasm over the line in to competition.

Sometimes it’s the old Canon vs Nikon schtick and that’s fine for a bit of banter but let’s keep it in good humour. I’ve also had people feel the need to tell me that they own the more recent model of my camera and I’m never sure what to say other than a polite “that’s nice!” or “that’s a great piece of kit!”.

I rarely feel the need to compare gear with people. It’s just not in my nature to try to one-up someone over camera equipment and I find myself floundering for words when the subject comes up while I’m working.

3. Well, anyone can take a good photo on their smartphone these days.

Now this one I have to agree with – in a Disney’s Ratatouille style “Anyone can cook!” that is. Anyone can take a good photo on their smartphone but not everyone. As I mentioned above, a camera is merely an instrument and if you know how to use it properly you can take incredible images on smartphones. Many are doing it consistently and making a living and a name for themselves from it.

But not everyone.

And while professional photography went through a phase of struggling against the all accessible smartphone and even the entry-level DSLR, it seems to be picking back up again as people recognise the training and dedication it takes to acquire such a skill. Yes, there are natural born photographers who intuitively know how to compose and capture a jaw-dropping image with little practice but they are the exception, not the rule.

As Henri Cartier-Bresson says “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst.” Photography takes skill and practice regardless of the equipment.

4. I don’t get why people bother with photos… I never take any.

Yeah, this one left me stumbling.

It seems an odd way to endear yourself to someone, basically telling them you think their work is pointless. And it seems particularly strange when this is the first (and now the only!) conversation you’ll be having with them.

“Hey, nice to meet you. I think your work is a waste of time.” Not a great start, is it?

I know what you’re thinking – “Surely no-one has ever said that to you?”

Believe me they have. Right smack bang while I was in the middle of working an event. Someone came up to me to tell me all about how he doesn’t understand the point of taking photos. I didn’t know what to say other than reminding him that the people who had hired me obviously thought images to remember the event were important.

Photography isn’t for everyone and that’s absolutely fine. Of course it is. Art is subjective and photography is an art form.

I’ve long been a fan of documenting my life in photos and sharing them with people. It’s a way of life for me. I see the world in photographs and I find it difficult to switch off from that. But I understand that not everyone sees the world that way.

However, it’s an opinion probably best kept to yourself instead of using it as drunken small chat with the event ‘tog. I politely entertained the notion. Many wouldn’t!

5. Can you photoshop this so I’m slimmer/have different hair/look “better”?

Eeeek! I find this one of the most awkward things that is said to me. It’s usually done in jest but sometimes there’s a real request there.

I am a “less is more” kind of photoshopper. My photography style is about natural moments and doesn’t lend itself well to airbrushing and liquifying my subjects. In actual fact, I work hard to encourage people to see the real beauty in themselves and the moment instead of focusing purely on things that we’ve been taught to see as “flaws”.

I’d much rather empower people to see their beauty than to feel the need to be artificially slimmed or smoothed thanks to unrealistic beauty standards the media has ingrained in us.

However, I completely understand that people are rarely 100% happy with how they look and are concerned that the images might amplify parts of themselves that they wish were different. The majority of us look at an image and instantly search for the part we’re insecure about.

If you’re in that situation, please feel free to have a quiet word and let me know. It’s my job to make you feel comfortable during your shoot and not left wishing that the images were altered afterwards.

6. Don’t worry, I’ll just Photoshop it when you send me the image…

Whether it’s adding a person (as was the suggestion in the case I’m referring to), removing a person, adding filters or even cropping – you’re unlikely to have permission to do this and will have signed (and of course read…) a contract that informs you that this is the case. It seems pernickety but it’s for good reason. Photographers rely on people seeing our work, loving it, and wanting us to work for them. If our work no longer looks like our own then we lose the ability to make a living. Like anyone else, we’re just trying to pay our bills.

So please don’t edit our work and talk about it like it’s no big deal. It matters!

So there you have it! A list of some of the odd things people have said to me since I started out as a photographer. I’m super lucky to have only had the occasional guest at an event who has said something strange or a misplaced, but well meaning, comment from an interested party. I know photographers who have heard much worse.

I’d love to hear the sorts of things people say to you at your work…

Mei Photo Challenge: Week 1 Favourites

Week One of the #MeiPhotoChallenge has gone by and your photos have been making me smile! Here are some of my favourites…

Day 1: Something Blue

 

Day 2: Leaves

 

Day 3: A Face

 

Day 4 : Love

 

Day 5: Upside Down

 

Day 6: Bokeh

 

Day 7: Black & White

Some cracking shots from week 1 everyone! Nice work!

Looking forward to week two! x

April – 30 Day Photo Challenge

I had a lot of fun last weekend with my “Develop Your Photography” class for intermediate photography students. I really enjoy teaching and informal education and Saturday was no different. I always learn more about myself with every class I teach.

The class participants are keeping in touch and I’ve set them a Photo-A-Day Challenge for April.  I thought it might be fun to see who else wants to get involved. Check it out! Post your photos on my Mei Photography page or share them on Instagram using #MeiPhotoChallenge. Can’t wait to see what you come up with! x

Why I Love This Shot – Cheeky Munchkin

Fifth in my “Why I Love This Shot” blog series is from my first official photoshoot with my cheeky munchkin niece.  There were many “unofficial” photos taken before this date but this shot is from the first time my sister and I had a play with different backdrops and props.  At one point I considered specialising in this style of photography but I learned that I was better at candid moments instead of posed ones.

And that’s why I love this shot. We had a few different costumes and props but the best shots from this shoot are when she’s laughing and doing her own thing. She’s an incredibly cheeky wee girl who is full of spirit and joy. This photo of her grinning at us always makes me smile.  

031_Leila Photoshoot_6th May 2013 WRCorner

Why I Love This Shot – A new blog series.

I’ve blogged over the last couple of years about the different shoots I’ve been on. I enjoy sharing shots from my shoots this way for people to see them. But I recently came across the idea of blogging about just one shot from each shoot and explaining in more detail why I love it.

Asking a photographer to choose just one shot from a shoot is an interesting challenge. To be critical of our work we have to separate ourselves from the memory of the moment the photograph was taken. To step back and look again with fresh eyes. This is something I’m not great at. Photography is creative work and creativity is personal. We pour ourselves into it and leave our mark. We photograph what we love.

So while I might not always select the best image from each shoot, I will take the time to think carefully about my favourite image.

 

Here’s one from my very first shoot in my new business as Mei Photography. It wasn’t a paid shoot, it was a trial run before my first paid shoot. I learned a lot that day!

Luckily my wonderful friend Kim’s little boy was the perfect age for a model. We set up my portable studio and I went to work. I took hundreds of shots that day with a range of props and backdrops.  When I think back to it this is the shot that always stands out in my mind.

I love this shot because it captures a moment where his curiosity got the better of him. That moment where he’s reaching for The Gruffalo’s Tail and looks like he’s trying to figure out what on Earth it is.

It always makes me smile. x

JE7A0325 WR

Welcome to BLOGtober!

Blogging.

It’s hard.

It shouldn’t be. I have lots of ideas and stories to share with you. But I almost never do it. Mostly because of timing issues which really boils down to bad planning as far as blogs go. I tend to put them off and “plan” to come back to them.

So I’ve set myself a challenge and I’m going to post a-blog-a-day for the month of October.

BLOGtober, if you will.

(Stick with me, it gets better!)

I actually have three blogs, which only adds to the confusion. But I will post links to them all here at the very least as they are all relevant to my work and being a female entrepreneur who is trying to figure out what on Earth she is doing.

You can check them out here:

https://wildlifebyjo.wordpress.com/
http://www.jofoowildlifephotography.com/about/blog/
and of course, where you are now: http://www.meiphotography.co.uk/about/blog/

And, I do have a plan… or at least a start of one… and while this is a totally lame start, I’ve made it legit by adding a photo…

A black & white photo of my list of blog ideas for the month

Blog-tober plan

Honestly. it WILL get better…

#RealGirlsRealBeauty in the Press

Well, in an exciting start to 2016, I received an email from Heather Greenaway at the Sunday Mail late in the day on Monday last week. She’d been visiting my website and my #RealGirlsRealBeauty project and wanted to know it would be possible to run a feature on it.

Naturally I said yes.

Some lovely emails, phone conversations and late messages to the girls and Heather resulted in this piece in Sunday’s paper.

What a great start to the New Year!  I can’t wait for the shoots I’ve got lined up and to meet my next #RealBeauties!

Book your session and be part of the project!xx

Real Girls, Real Beauty Press WR

2015: What a year!

I’ve made it! To the end of another year! I couldn’t have done it without you.  Thanks so much for all your support throughout 2015. I’m looking forward to an exciting 2016 and wish you and your loved ones all the very best for the New Year!

Have a great time tonight! x

2015 YearInReview - Mei Photography

12 things I’ve learned in 500 days of Mei Photography

500

FIVE

HUNDRED

The number of days since I started my own business.

That’s actually a lie.

It has now been 523 days since I started my own business.

I’d fully intended on posting this more than three weeks ago but, as I’m about to write about, things don’t always go to plan. However this next part is true – I can’t quite believe I’ve been self-employed for over 500 days. I’ve learned so much from my successes and my many, many failures! So as a little bit of revision for me and hopefully some helpful tips and advice or even just a chance for any small business owners to see that they aren’t alone, here are a few things I’ve learned…

1. So many ideas, so little time…

more focus WR

I started this business the way I start pretty much everything. Headfirst with a million ideas all jumbled about in a heady mix of excitement and nerves. I’m a planner, an organiser and I’m ambitious. My original idea was to combine my 3 loves: photography, dog training and conservation science communication. My Business Gateway Advisor’s head was spinning when I first rushed in with all my ideas. And my “elevator pitch”? At best garbled and had to be delivered on a trip up the Empire State Building to get through it all. The truth was, I knew what I wanted to do but I had no idea how to do it all.

Since then, I’ve become a bit more realistic. I couldn’t do everything all at once. No matter how much I tried or wanted to – it just wasn’t a feasible business strategy. To survive as a small business owner you have to be focused and work out how to make your idea make you money. It seems a bit basic but the reality is, if your business doesn’t make money, it won’t survive. Successful, sustainable businesses need money.

So I focused on photography in this first year with a little bit of conservation thrown in.  This made most sense for me. I love taking photos and capturing moments for people. I also love the art of it.  The creativity and ideas behind it. I’ve temporarily shelved a couple of my other ideas until life becomes a bit more stable – then I’ll throw another ball into the juggling mix.

2. Value what you dowhat you're worth WR

This has been a tough lesson. Especially when just starting out and working in a creative business. Creative work is personal. We do it because we believe it improves other people’s lives even in just the smallest way.  We do it because we want to make a difference.

Figuring out how much to charge has as much to do with confidence as it does maths.  You need to cover your costs, have good enough profit margins to be able to reinvest in the business but still be competitive and also be able to take a wage so you can, you know, live. Simple? Yes? Not quite.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there and this becomes more apparent when the product you’re selling is a creative one, it’s like an extension of yourself and the way you feel about yourself is reflected in your prices. Getting the price you deserve for your work starts with you. Know your worth and value your work, or no-one else will.

Real Girls, Real Beauty: A new photography project

A few years ago I was on the subway in Glasgow and spotted a young teenager on her way to school.  She must have been about 14 but looked years older.  Full face of make-up, hair straightened with extensions in, false eyelashes and perfect nails.  This seems to be the norm but that was the first time I’d really thought about how much effort had gone in to getting ready for school.

A few months ago I overheard a conversation where a girl, aged 13, was planning her next eyebrow wax appointment.  This seemingly simple task had been complicated with a swimming block at school PE.  You can’t go in chlorine the day after a wax… but fear not, a solution was at hand.  Her appointment would time perfectly with a party in three week’s time.  She was getting her hair done so her mum was writing a note to excuse her from class.  She wouldn’t be swimming the next day anyway.  Problem solved.

How on Earth did this happen?  Why at 13 years old is it more important to have your hair done than to learn to swim?  When did this become acceptable to parents?   I often think that there’s no way I would survive school now.  Not with that kind of pressure to look good every morning. I barely started wearing make-up in secondary and didn’t have straighteners.  As for hair extensions?  They’re for weddings and Christmas party nights… no?

At the Grand Canyon with my other half

Selfies are so much more than showing off your holiday destination.

And then there are selfies. And not selfies as I think of them.  Not “look where we are, aren’t you jealous” holiday snap selfies.  Children, girls especially, at 10 years old (and younger) feeling the pressure to spend their time putting on make-up and taking pouting pictures of themselves in attempt to get as many social media likes as they can. Some are even so instasavvy that they know what time of day is best for posting said photos to get the biggest response.

The peer pressure is enormous. And it seems to be amplifying the feelings of self-hatred and low self-esteem in children and teenagers.  From a very young age they are aware of body image and body shaming to a degree that none of us had to think about.  The images we had on TV and in magazines were bad enough, they have the constant barrage of the internet and all the joys that social media brings with very little time to switch off and get away from it all.

2015-05-01-010-Mei-Photography-Hannah-Paton-Real-Beauty-Portraits WRLast month, I was given the opportunity to work with a family member who, at 12 years old, often feels the pressure to take selfies like the ones mentioned earlier. We were keen to show her a different way to see beauty and find the beauty within herself so we planned a shoot that involved her talents and strengths. She’s funny, intelligent, caring, thoughtful and her wonderfully curious mind means she asks a lot of great questions. She’s also a talented musician, playing both violin and piano and working towards her exams.

We had a great afternoon. She was asked to wear something simple and comfortable and to have her favourite items ready as props.  Things that were important to her like her instruments, favourite books and childhood toy. We did some posed shots and some natural ones, candid captures of her enjoying her hobbies and interests. I showed her some images where the subjects weren’t trying to look beautiful but simply were beautiful because they were happy and doing the things they loved.

Blog Collage 1During the shoot we spoke a little about what she thought about the pressure and how it made her feel unsure of herself. About how she saw being different as both a good and a bad thing. About how she felt like boys were far more confident than any of the girls she knew.

It’s so important for us to think carefully about the messages and lessons we are teaching young people.  Girls in particular struggle with self image and we often forget that by telling them they’re pretty and beautiful before telling them they’re clever or hard working or kind that we’re reinforcing the idea that the former are more important than the latter.  Add to that things like the “thigh gap challenge” or the “bellybutton challenge” taking over social media, both designed to shame people in to starving themselves in attempt to be thinner and somehow more socially acceptable, and you’ve got a recipe for even more generations of girls who see their self-worth in what they look like instead of who they are.  And it seems to be starting at a much younger age.Blog Collage 2

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and as a photographer, I’m keenly aware of how people tend to look for their flaws and seek out what’s wrong with any photograph they are in. It’s never sat well with me.  I’ve felt uncomfortable with the concept of dictating what is beautiful and being asked to pose people accordingly or edit out apparent imperfections.  Of course, it’s my job to make people feel beautiful but instead of using makeovers and photoshop, I find myself looking for ways to make my clients feel more comfortable and happy so they would feel more confident with their natural shots.

And so the Real Girls, Real Beauty project has been born.  It’s in an embryonic stage at the moment but I’m working with girls and women to help them see the real beauty in themselves and to celebrate it.  Showing that a photograph which captures their loves, strengths and talents is more beautiful than any photograph purely based on poses and make-up.  That we should encourage people, both women and men to have more confidence in who they are instead of purely what they look like.

2015-05-01-029-Mei-Photography-Hannah-Paton-Real-Beauty-Portraits WR

Watch this space for more exciting updates as I meet and photograph the wonderful people involved in the project.

x