Today I've got a case study for you that I think you are going to LOVE! I asked Live Snap Love student Whitney Charles to come on the blog to share her story with you, because she has moved forward SO far in such a short period of time - she's come from being a complete beginner in Spring 2017, to having her own photography business (and taking amazing images to boot) a mere 12 months later.
I've been following her progress with awe, so I'm delighted to welcome her to the blog today! In this post she's sharing with you what she did, what challenges she faced, and what she wished she had done differently. Plus there is a heap of then / now images so you can see the difference in her images in just 12 months.
I think you will find it incredibly valuable and inspirational, so let's dig in!
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and why you wanted to learn photography in the first place?
Hi there! My name is Whitney Charles. I have two little ones (3 y/o boy, 1 y/o girl), so I am very busy but when I do have free time I like to hike, run, and I actually enjoy yard work (it’s so satisfying!). Like many of you, the reason why I picked up my camera was to capture my children.
More than just capturing events and milestones, I want to capture the essence of their childhood, which is something I don’t have of my own childhood. I hope that as my kids grow older and we exit this stage of life, we can look back at our pictures and instantly be reminded of everything we felt in that moment.
2. When did you start to learn photography, and what was your turning point where everything clicked?
I bought a camera for a trip back in 2013, and I quickly browsed the manual, but never retained any knowledge. Fast-forward to spring of 2017, when I dusted off my camera (and manual) and gave it another go. I wasn’t happy with the results so I turned to the next worst thing to the owners manual….Google.
Once I realized I was in WAY over my head, I started looking for some online classes.
This isn’t meant to be a plug for Audrey’s courses, but if you ask me when the turning point was, it was after finishing her courses!
When I started out, I decided that I was going to do this the ‘right way’ and not try to rush through anything. I read through all the material and practiced each technique immediately after reading about it. I did this for about a month, dedicating all my free time to practicing.
I moved into full manual mode, and really started to understand my camera at that point. After that, I felt like I had already made huge improvements. Every improvement that I saw renewed my excitement. Even looking back through old photos for this blog made me excited for learning more and more in the future (and it also made me cringe, because, oh boy...there are some bad ones in my collection!)
3. What made you decide to start a photography business?
I have a long personal story (which I will spare you of!), but the end result is that someone encouraged me to start my business.
This person was someone that had one of THE biggest influences on my life way back in high school. When I reached out to finally thank that person for all that she had done for me in high school, she once again gave me the push I needed to do something very scary, and start a business. Guess I’ll have to thank her again!
The great thing about the Live Snap Love community, is that we all have the same level of encouragement at our fingertips. We are all here as beginners trying to learn together and gain the confidence that we need to push ourselves to the next level. Even the professionals started somewhere!
4. What challenges did you face starting a business for the first time?
What challenges HAVEN’T I faced?
I did not realize the logistical nightmares of starting a business. By no means do I say that to deter anyone from starting their own business. However, I wish I had known just what I was getting myself into before I started.
I still spend time rearranging my website, and spending countless hours trying different systems for managing my work flow. I’ve probably spent DAYS trying to figure out the complex world of web analytics. I am very far from where I want to be, but I don’t regret any of the time I’ve spent on my little business.
I am very grateful for the challenges that I’ve faced because it has allowed me to grow in ways that I would have thought impossible 9 months ago. I also find tremendous joy in creating something that is my very own.
5. Do you wish you had done anything differently?
I do wish that I had waited a little longer before starting my business. I wish that I had spent more time on my portfolio and website before putting my name out there. I mentioned that I wanted to learn photography the ‘right way’ and not rush through it. But when I started thinking of the idea of having my own business, I got way too excited and did rush through that part. I wish that I had at the very least, found my style before beginning a business.
6. What gear do you shoot with, and do you have a favorite lens?
I shoot with a Nikon 810 and still have my first lens I ever bought (aside from the kit lens), my trustee 50mm 1.4. I do occasionally rent lenses if circumstances require a different lens. I am sort of a minimalist, and I find that I don’t have time or headspace to mess around with gear on a shoot. If I had the chance to purchase another lens, it would be a 35mm 1.4.
I also have an old film camera that I just purchased. I have yet to use it (a whole ‘nother learning curve!), but I am very excited to try something new!
7. How would you describe your photography style?
Finding my photography style is something that I still struggle with. I really, really wanted to call myself ‘dark and moody’. But whenever I shot client images, they would always come out light and airy. Instead of being frustrated with my client images, I realized that I just have two different styles. My own personal style is dark and moody, but I still lean towards light and airy for my professional pictures, and I’m totally okay with that.
Some advice that came to me while I was trying to figure this out, went something like this:
When shooting clients, take a little time at the end to do something just for you. It might not turn out to be anything exceptional, but that’s ok because you’ve already gotten all the shots you need to please the client. But every now and then, you’ll find something that works and then you’ll have another go-to strategy for great images.
How I applied this to myself, was to capture ‘dark and moody’ images at the end of a session just as an experiment. I do this for every session now, and it rarely works out, but still this method has been very helpful. It has led me to the conclusion that I only shoot bright images for clients. I have also learned some new ideas for posing clients and different angles that are a little more daring. The picture of the girl with her hair in her face is an example of using this method. I didn’t send her this image, but it was interesting to try, and I personally love the look of it. I had to get down low and shoot up into the sky to crop out the water tower behind her. Just then, a gust blew her hair into her face. The end result is that there are no distractions in the background, and she looks very natural serene.
8. How do you get inspired and stay creative?
I struggle with staying creative as well. I am actually less creative and more studious and analytical. And I’ve learned to accept that! Much like when I was first started to study photography, I study being creative (which is realize is ironic). I study different creative techniques and practice them repetitively.
I have also started to keep a note of what small details I want to capture of my kids, and then I’ll wait for perfect moment to happen when the opportunity presents itself to capture those details (for example, a spontaneous sibling hug). I have learned the hard way, that if I try to force the opportunity to rise it is always a flop (if I tell my kids to dance or skip, they instantly sit down and frown). I have fun trying to find different ways to capture the same small detail.
Above all, I try to make my photos my own. Sometimes it means bending ‘rules’ and doing something unpopular. There is no creativity in recreating someone else’s image. And how boring would the world be if we all emulated the same images!
9. What would you like to learn next on your journey?
Shooting in harsh light….and not turning it to a dark and moody image. That is, shooting bright images with minimal shadows and highlight blowouts for clients in the middle of the day. Looking forward to getting a lot of practice with this over the summer!
Also looking forward to using my film camera this summer and learning all the ins-and-outs of film.
10. Finally, what advice would you give to anyone who is struggling to learn photography?
There are so many ways to struggle with photography. Everyone faces different challenges (but the point is that EVERYONE faces challenges). So I think my bottomline piece of advice would be to first figure out your ‘why’. Why do you want to learn photography? Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll have the motivation you need to overcome the challenges that you’ll inevitably face.
The second piece of advice I have, is to not get caught up in the competitiveness of social media. Instead of trying to re-create images you see on Pinterest or Instagram, try to find the light around you and adapt your creative vision to fit the light.
Finally, never give up. Try something new, keep practicing, and do something daring that might not turn out! I guarantee that whatever happens, will not be any more frustrating than if you give up all together. And most likely, you will learn something in the meanwhile!
Hi! I’m Whitney (or just Whit) and I’m just starting feel comfortable introducing myself as a photographer. I have two (little) kids, two dogs, and not enough time in the world for all my hobbies! My family loves to cook together, hike, and really do anything outdoors.
I am now a stay at home mom, but previously I worked for a large investment bank (hence my lack of creativity!). And it was boring!! I took my first photography class (from Live Snap Love) in August 2017, and even though photography is a LOT of work, this is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed working. I think a lot of moms choose photography, and arts in general, for the outlet that it provides. I love being able to put my brain to work, and spend time with my kids at the same time.
You can see more of Whitney's work right here: