Americans snap more photos than ever these days. Camera-equipped phones rest in our pockets and cameras are embedded in everything from tablet computers to handheld video games. But do most of us really use those cameras as well as we could?
Photos are especially important to military families. While we’re missing our loved ones, we want to gaze at their faces. And while they’re gone, we want to document all the big and small moments they’re missing. Military Spouse magazine spoke with three talented military spouses who offer advice for aspiring photographers-including the ones who might just turn professional. Read on for expert advice that can fuel your hobby and maybe even launch your new business.
One, Two, Three… Cheese!
Former dental hygienist Melissa Englehart Calhoun couldn’t help but be inspired by the smiles she encountered each day at her job. “I love smiles,” she tells us. “Everything about them. The silly ones, the flirty ones, and even the toothless ones.” >>
When she and her family PCS’d to Naval Air Station Patuxent River last year, as a new mom Melissa decided to stay at home instead of returning to her career. In search of a hobby and wanting to capture daily life with her son, Levi (now 21 months), she tried photography.
Just a few months later, she opened “I Love Smiles Photography” in southern Maryland. So far her lifestyle photography (maternity, newborns, children, and families) business has been thriving, thanks to positive word-of-mouth from the military community. Melissa encourages other spouses to try photography as a career if they love it: “Do it!! Being a military spouse, you have a wonderful network of people. My business would not be where it is without military spouse support.”
Melissa’s Creative Photo Tips
Keep a camera handy at ALL times. When loved ones are away, they want to see daily life and not just the “let’s smile for the camera” moments.
For big days (especially homecomings!), get back-up. I’d recommend having a friend help or hiring someone to take the photos. It’s such an emotional day when mom or dad returns, you want to capture all of it-not just the posed “after” photos. And you, as the spouse, want to see them just as bad.
Melissa’s Photography Business Tips
Make sure you know your state/county tax laws. They can vary.
Organization is key. Keep track of every purchase and a good record of income.
The Pitter Patter of Little Feet
A picture of a sleeping newborn will melt just about anyone’s heart. But actually securing that perfect shot is a whole other story. Many of us would simply throw our hands up in frustration, but Karen Ortiz has perfected the art of handling little ones with care. Her patience often yields the perfect image.
How does she do it? “I honestly believe that it can only come from my passion for what I do.”
Wanting a portable career she was passionate about, Karen did serious soul-searching. “I quickly enrolled in photography school, and began researching and discovering the type of photographer that I wanted to be. I made newborns and maternity my specialty, simply because I have such a passion for this genre of portraiture.”
Stationed at Hickam AFB with her husband, Air Force Capt. Hiram Ortiz, she has clients all over Oahu who love her natural approach. “Everything from the lighting I use to the emotions I capture is purely natural. I patiently wait for natural smiles instead of requesting them, and I use natural lighting instead of studio lighting,” says Karen, 26. “My goal is to produce images as art; art that will emit warm and fuzzy feelings and be proudly hung on walls.”
Karen’s Creative Photo Tips
Learn your camera. The first and possibly the most important step is… (drum roll)… getting off AUTO mode! Pull out that user manual or go to YouTube and learn about your camera.
Be “consistently inconsistent.” Don’t just shoot what’s always been shot. Change it up a bit! Take a few images while tilting your camera slightly to the left or right, or from the side instead of the front. Place the things being photographed to the side, bottom or even top of the image… anything other than framing them dead-center. You can also increase the exposure in your settings to lighten up the picture for a hazy look. Another approach: Instead of standing back and zooming IN to get a macro shot, zoom OUT all the way and then moving in closer with your camera. >>
Karen’s Photography Business Tips
Choose your specialty. What type of photos fulfill you the most? Weddings, families, newborns, maternity, or something else?
Write a business plan. Not fun, but crucial. Online you’ll find free examples of business plans. List goals for running the business and potential prices you’ll charge. How much do you need to earn? How will you market?
Invest in equipment. You can start with basics, then as your business grows, you can upgrade your camera and buy lights, tripods, backgrounds, props and more.
Build your portfolio. Ask friends, family, or anyone else to allow you to take their photos. Typically, these photo shoots are free in exchange for all rights to the photos.
Marketing. Spread the word via Facebook, Pinterest, a website, business cards, and perhaps a newspaper ad, fliers, and/or posting on local bulletin boards.
Photography Gone Bad!
A disastrous experience with her own wedding photos set the wheels in motion for Lauren Nygard’s career in photography. “We were on a pretty strict budget for our wedding, and I’m sad to say that the photography took at hit,” Lauren says. “All of the ceremony images had been inexplicably lost and the remaining images left much to be desired! I knew there had to be a way that budget brides like me could afford fabulous wedding photography.”
With that, Lauren Nygard Photography was born. She describes LNP as “a boutique photography business located in San Diego County, California, providing unique portraiture and wedding photography to modern families.” In her three years in business, her photos have been met with rave reviews. She and her husband, 1st Lt. Clayton Nygard, are based out of Camp Pendleton. She is a big fan of social networking, giving great customer service and always learning more about photography.
Lauren’s Creative Photo Tips
See it all. Capture every emotion, not just happiness! Focus on the moment to capture the emotions, rather than worrying about having an image that’s technically sound.
Position yourself. Be on the same level as the person you’re photographing. With small kids, that might mean lying on your stomach on the ground.
For homecomings, capture everything. If your son is drawing an image for your husband’s welcome home poster, catch him in action!
And get help. A friend may be best at capturing the moment when you and your family see your hero for the first time.
Lauren’s Photography Business Tips
Practice, practice, practice! There’s always more to learn and try out! Never be afraid to take a girlfriend out to a park to practice a technique you just learned-she might be in need of a new profile photo or an image to send to her hubby!
Don’t get caught up in comparing your work with other photographers. Digital cameras have made everyone think they are a photographer. It’s best to just let go of that hang-up and focus on how you can improve your images.