Photography Q&A

As a professional photographer I get a lot of questions from people (particularly on Instagram) about taking photos and the business of photography. I decided to compile them into a list to offer some guidance to those starting out or those interested in the field. I plan on creating some more photography how-to's in the near future so please send me any topics you'd like to see!

So, without further ado, I give you some "real talk" about photography...

Q: What kind of camera do you use?
A: This is the number one question I am asked, hands down. It seems simple enough but it's the most loaded question ever. It's akin to asking a chef what type of pan he used to prepare your meal. If you go out and buy the same pan, it definitely won't guarantee you the same results. I think a better thing for a beginner to focus on is understanding lighting, not buying a certain camera.
I mostly use a Canon 5d with a plethora of different Canon lenses but my favorite focal length is 50mm - it feels closest to how I perceive the world through my own eyes. A lot of photos on my Instagram are taken with an iPhone 7. I'm not much of a "gear nerd" and I honestly like to have as little equipment as possible while shooting (especially when traveling)! 

Q: What kind of camera should I buy? 
A: In general I'd recommend figuring out your budget and then looking at cameras in the top of that range. It's a very loaded question - read another post I wrote about this here: "What Kind of Camera Do You Use?"

Q: How do you edit photos? 
A: I use a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop. I sometimes use iPhone apps for posting to Instagram as well like VSCO, Snapseed, or Lightroom Mobile. My best piece of advice for those looking to broaden their editing skills is to learn Adobe programs inside and out. Terry White is an Adobe Evangelist and he does some great YouTube videos. 

Q: What type of photography do you do? 
A: I do commercial work which is generally used to sell or advertise a product, service, or individual. My work appears in magazines, online publications, retail sites, and iPhone apps. This includes a lot of interior, food, portrait, and lifestyle photography. I do licensing deals as well where people compensate me for the rights to use images that I have already taken.  

Q: Do you shoot weddings? 
A: I have a lot of respect for those who do, but I do not shoot weddings or events. I've always been more passionate about creating a narrative versus following one. 

Q: How do you get photography jobs? 
A: I have been lucky enough to build my business through referrals but I think that social media has played an important role as well. I've had some incredible opportunities come to me but I work very hard for my clients so that I get hired again or get a referral. If you are prepared, energized, and always maintain a high level of professionalism - it's likely that clients will want to work with you again. I'm only happy when my clients are happy!  

Q: I'm just starting out and I'm frustrated that the jobs aren't rolling in - what do I do? 
A: It takes a long time to build a successful and self-sustaining photography business. Beginners often naively think they can do it all (I know this because when I was a beginner I thought the very same thing). This is a blessing and a curse because you should definitely try to go after all that you can but at the same time it's important to be prepared. If you botch a job or make a client unhappy they will never hire you again and may tell others about their experience. Take jobs that are challenging but within your ability. This doesn't mean you won't be nervous , I still get nervous before big jobs, being nervous is healthy!

As far as getting new jobs - you really have to put yourself out there. Use social media, build a professional website, and let people know you are looking for work.

Q: What have been some of your favorite photography jobs? 
A: This past year I started working on a project with Adobe that I'm SO excited about (which is coming out soon!). I have really loved working with American Express - the projects I have done with them have featured some very interesting and inspiring people.  I also just have so much fun shooting for the designer, Jenni Kayne - I have a lot of creative freedom there and her brand is just amazing! Food projects are always fun to style and shoot, food makes everyone happy.

Q: How did you learn photography? 
A: I am for the most part, self-taught. My dad taught me a few basics with an old film camera when I was young and Photoshop was a class offered at my high school. Learning that at an early age was very helpful. I went to art school but I didn't study photography. 

Q: Where are your favorite locations to shoot in San Francisco?
A: Outside of rented spaces, private residences, or my home studio I love shooting in Golden Gate Park, the beach below Land's End, Pacific Heights for street style photos, and my friend's art studio. 

Q: What was your first camera? 
A: A Canon point and shoot that is so obsolete, it's not worth mentioning. It had a mode that made everyone look miraculously tanner, so it was a big hit with my friends back in the day. 

Q: How do you deal with competition? 
A: I don't really see any other photographers as competition. My clients come to me because they like my style. I know that I have a unique point of view and I know that my images are distinctive to me. So, if people don't want to work with me and want to work with someone else it's because we just don't share the same vision, and that's fine. 

Q: How do you find inspiration?
A: The biggest inspiration for me is traveling. There's nothing quite like meeting new people, experiencing new parts of the world, and having a really unique experience. I'm not big on TV but I think Chef's Table is the most inspiring show, it makes me want to switch careers. 

On the opposite end, I've seen a lot of people out there (especially on Instagram) who just copy exactly what they see other people doing and that just shows a complete lack of thought and creativity. If you copy, you will always be two steps behind those who are being original and true to themselves. One of my favorite quotes is, 

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” - judy garland

I believe strongly in getting out there and doing your own thing with passion. It will make all the difference between being mediocre and being great. Really spend time finding your own voice and your own style and it will take you far. 

Q: What are your favorite Bay Area photography-related businesses?
A: Samy's Camera (ask for Mike, he's the man),  UberRush, Drive Savers in Novato (they revived a hard drive that I literally destroyed), and Fireside Camera on Chestnut (I prefer to support local business vs. big retailers). 

Q: Who takes the photos of you? 
A: My fiancé, Zack. I've taught him a few basics and he takes amazing photos! I think the key to having someone take a great photo of you is to really explain your vision. The photographer's dilemma is that you take a million photos but never get any of yourself ;)

Q: Is your fiancé a photographer? 
A: No but he's very talented in his field - he builds and develops sales teams in the tech industry. He's really creative, he writes music, surfs like Kelly Slater, and has incredible people skills that I've learned a lot from (can you tell that I'm his number 1 fan?). He is a very experienced adventure-traveler and the adventures he orchestrates are my biggest source of inspiration.

Q: Is your job super glamorous?
A: No! Not by any stretch. I often have to make a lot of uncontrollable variables work in my favor. Shoots generally never go as planned and client expectations are high. Working for myself can be very difficult at times, I have to wear many hats and juggle many things. I deal with some anxiety and am constantly going to bed worried that I forgot to answer an important email or deliver on a deadline. I think that when you run your own business you can never truly shut it off and clock out for the day. 

That being said, I really love what I do and I really wouldn't change it for anything! I have lots of freedom and I'm constantly inspired by the places I shoot and the amazing people I get to meet and work with. Photography is my passion and I'm so very lucky that I have been able to turn it into my career. 

Photography TipsJen Kay