Hi Rachel. I'm sure you've been asked before, but how did you get started in photography?
It seems like every photographer has a story about how they started shooting when they were four years old and haven't put down a camera since. I don't remember taking pictures at four years old, but all through grade school and up to high school I took an insane amount of pictures. Then, when my family moved from Ohio to Nebraska my junior year of high school, I was able to take a photography class for the first time. After that, I started photographing sporting events for the school newspaper/yearbook. When I went off to college, all I'd known was sports photography and I didn't really want to do that professionally, so I dropped photography (plus I didn't own my own SLR). But a few years into college I realized I didn't like what I was doing, started looking at photographers for my own wedding (not yet engaged, of course!), and somehow stumbled across Jasmine Star and Michelle Moore. They both showed me that portrait photography could be incredible and that you could make a living doing it. I saved up, bought a Canon Rebel, switched my major to Entrepreneurship, and the rest is history!
That's awesome. I always enjoy hearing other's stories.
What was your first camera?
The Canon Rebel XSi with 50mm f/1.8
You mentioned a couple names earlier, but who are you currently most inspired by?
These days, I am most inspired by Patrick La Roque (a Fuji shooter!), Sam Hurd, Brian Kraft, and Keith Lee. Their styles are all quite different from mine, but they inspire me to think and shoot differently and to get out of my comfort zone.
Can you share one of your proudest moments as a photographer?
A while back I was talking to a former client of mine, and he was saying how one of his siblings got married and their photos didn't turn out very well. He told me he was so glad they hired me to shoot their wedding and that their photos were worth every penny. My heart just about burst from happiness. I love it when clients are that happy with their photos!
That is awesome!
So I noticed on your website that you are primarily a wedding photographer, but you also do a lot of photo sessions. Can you tell us a little bit about your style.
I like clean images. True to life colors, good contrast (but not excessive). I'm not so much into black and white photos but there are some exceptions. I also am most comfortable shooting with longer lenses (my favorite is my 100mm f/2.8, but my DREAM is the 135mm f/2L), but I'm learning to shoot wider and am slowly becoming friends with my 28mm f/1.8 for portraits.
I noticed that our approach to our photos are similar and our affinity to using prime lenses as well!
I saw on your blog that you have a Fuji x100s. Congrats by the way. What made you interested in that camera and was it all you hoped it would be when you got it?
I was sick and tired of carrying around my big DSLR only to not even take it out and use it when we were hanging out with friends. Maybe I was a bit shy to whip out this massive camera? People get a little weird when you have a big camera in their face. But I really wasn't documenting my life like I should. I heard about the X100 (original) on BH's website, then Zack Arias started using it and I really wanted it but couldn't swing the cost. Then the X100s came out, I read about how most of the quirks were fixed, and I knew I really had to check this out. I rented the original X100 for a couple weeks when we had a few trips and I loved loved loved the images from it, so I ordered the X100s and waited 5 weeks for it to ship. It is amazing. I carry it with me everywhere I go, and people are forever oogling over the retro-ness of it.
That's awesome. From your blog I can see that you are really enjoying it.
I really like your travel photos and hope to see more of your travels. Do you have any more trips planned for this year?
I actually am shooting a wedding in Cabo San Lucas later this year, which I am super pumped about! I'm hoping to do some snorkeling and whale watching while we are there, too, so I'm planning to order a waterproof case for my X100s. Brian Kraft took his X100 to Hawaii a while back and I'm excited to introduce my X100s to a tropical destination!
That sounds like a lot of fun!
I see that you specialize in wedding photography and you take some really beautiful photos. Tell me a little about how you got into wedding photography. Was it something you always knew you wanted to do or did you just happen to get into it by chance?
It's funny because at first, I didn't think I wanted the stress/pressure of shooting weddings. But then I realized that's where a lot of the money is, and I also became so obsessed with Jasmine Star's wedding photos, and I knew that I wanted to document people's love like that. I second shot and assisted wedding photographers for about six months before I shot my first solo wedding, and I actually love pretty much everything about weddings!
I know exactly how you feel.
I noticed on your site that you cover destination weddings. That is so exciting. Do you have any in 2014 and where?
I will be shooting my very first destination wedding in Cabo in December. Destination weddings are a hard market to get into, and a lot of it is really just luck and letting people know you're interested in traveling. So often people won't even consider me to come to the next state over because they think I don't shoot outside of my own town, so it's really about getting the word out as much as possible.
I really enjoy visiting your website. I see that you cover a variety of topics on your website and not just paid gigs. How important would you say it is to have original content and a variety of topics on your site?
I think it's ridiculously important to put yourself out there. I blog a lot about myself - my life, my dog, random stuff - and I've had so many brides email me and say, "I feel like I know you already!" If all I had on my website was all of my recent weddings and shoots, they'd know I have good images, but that doesn't really make me stand apart from other photographers she's considering who also have good images.
Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
This past winter I purchased the Canon 50mm f/1.2L (my first L series lens!) and it is unbelievable. Crazy awesome.
If you could only take one lens with you when traveling which would you take?
I only take my Fuji X100s with me when traveling! I spent 12 days in Europe with just this camera and wouldn't change a thing!
What is one of your long term goals with your photography?
As vague as it sounds, I want to always keep growing and learning. Sometimes we, as photographers, hit these plateaus and we don't ever really keep moving forward. I've been trying to push myself lately with using off-camera flash, composition, and using my wide angle lens for portraits more. I want to always be striving for greatness.
Do you enjoy taking on personal photography projects? What have you done or would you like to do?
I do, but often times I never follow through with them. Sometimes I'm terribly unmotivated! I started a self-portrait series last year and I think I've only done two or three so far. I really need to get back on that! But I do enjoy experimenting sometimes. Over the Fourth of July I did some crazy fireworks photos, and I like to experiment with studio work.
Given that you also use a mirrorless camera how do you see the future of that segment in the photography world?
I really think there's a future in mirrorless. I think Fuji has some incredible image quality and I'm excited to see what they come up with in the next few years. And I'm really glad mirrorless is taking off because my Canon gear is HEAVY!
What tip can you offer someone who is just starting out in photography. Are there any myths or lessons we should ignore?
This is going to sound bad, but trust me, it's tough love. In the beginning, everyone always praises your work even if it's not that great. They think it's great because they don't really know. Find super crazy awesome photographers who inspire you and strive to be great like them. Never stop pushing yourself. Dissect images to figure out how they were created. Then try to use those techniques on your own images. Study as hard as you can, ask for help, learn as much as possible. And practice every day. Shoot every day. Take a real look at every shoot, every wedding, and evaluate it honestly. I still come away from weddings saying, "Okay, next time, X and Y need to happen so that Z can be better." It's the only way you'll improve.
Great words of advice. Sounds like I'll be visiting your website many times in the upcoming months. Its always nice to see what's new with Rachel Ruffer Photography.
Rachel Ruffer Photography - Cedar Falls, Iowa - Wedding Photographer
Please enjoy a couple of her photos.
Hi Jenna. I'm sure you've been asked before, but I was very curious as to how you got started in photography?
In 2007 I took a couple candids with a point and shoot of flowers, and decided I liked taking photos.
I shot candids and took lessons up until Spring 2009, when I started shooting portraits.
In 2010 I got super serious, started my business and it just took off from there.
I am very fortunate in that I was disciplined enough to want to learn the camera before I wanted to work with people,
so by the time I starting taking photos of people I was "really good" from the general eye of others.
Still to this day people have a hard time looking at my work and believing I have only been shooting for 7 years.
I also know that you have experience with designing and marketing from our conversations, but how did you come about learning so much about it?
In 2009 I met my husband, who is a very famous marketer and graphic designer.
He studied fine art in the 80s, marketing in the 90's, and then internet marketing and web design in the millenniums.
From the moment we met, he has been teaching me everything he knows.
It's sort of a "Here's something for you to be able to do if I am ever gone and can't support you" with a mix of me really wanting to learn everything.
It's really fun to take people's ideas and turn them into a design for them, and to be able to teach people who marketing works with the web.
What would you say you specialize in?
Babies and Children. Eventually, I want to specialize in newborns, but, I really love babies, children, and just capturing those big eyes and wonderful smiles.
Since picking up lighting techniques, I love working with babies in the studio and small children outdoors.
If you could do any kind of photography what would you do?
Babies - but in all different parts of the world. Like National Geographic family style.
For a long time I've had an image in my head of a book filled with all the different cultures splayed out on and around small children.
It's that "dream" thing I have that I want to do... If I ever get rich enough to travel everywhere.
Tell me a little bit about your style.
I've never, ever had someone ask me about my style. I have to think about how to explain it.
I'd probably say, intimate and emotional. I've been blessed with this little trick where I can be looking in the camera,
and all I see is the gorgeous lighting in a baby's eyes, but once I snap the camera, the photo as a whole is gorgeous.
And I plan things out, like, I don't stick a kid in a pile of garbage or have trees coming out their heads or anything like that.
But sometimes I prefer to look at the face and the emotion and get that, rather than worrying about things in the corner of a picture.
You spend too much time analyzing a photo as a whole and you miss the intimate moments because they only last milliseconds.
I just love how once I'm done taking a really great photo, you can look at it, and all you feel is what the person in that photo is portraying.
My clients call them "happy tears." Seriously, like 60% of the time the mom writes back to me telling me she's crying while looking at the gallery.
And I like that a lot.
That's awesome Jenna and very powerful.
So here's a gear question for you.
What kind of gear do you use and what are your favorites?
This is where all the pro photographers shake their heads and fingers at me and scold me.
I shoot with a prosumer camera! (Prosumer is the nice term my mentor taught me that basically means, DSLR made for the non-professional).
I have a Nikon D5100. I also have a 50mm 1.8D lens. And I love it, too.
It's not about your gear, it's how you use it, and I cannot stress enough how much that is true.
Starting out I used the kit lens and you would never know it. Everything takes a good shot if you know how to use it.
Really cool. So I know you know a ton about marketing, but what are two big marketing tips you can give a young photographer.
1. Don't use those silly names. No one cares about "Star Studded Photos". Be yourself.
You can pick a nice name for your business, but if it takes you longer than ten seconds to think about it,
or if it sounds like you are trying to be a little too cheesy, drop it. If your goal is for people to know you and to want you...
YOU. That is what you want people to know. Not your biz name. So focus the small parts on the biz name and the large parts on your name.
Just yesterday I was looking up some inspiration and I used her name to Google her. That's what's more important, whether people know you by name.
It's more personal and intimate.
2. Hire a designer. I cannot stress this enough. Design has this entire psychology behind it. Some colors sell, some don't.
Whether it is your logo, your watermark, your website, your paper marketing... Everything needs to go to a designer.
Not only will your work be more personable to you, but they know how to design to speak to the masses, and to sell.
I hate it when someone comes to me and says "I want a green website because green means go on a stoplight, so they will 'go and buy' my stuff."
No, it doesn't work that way. Green means go on a light. On a website, it stops people. Green doesn't sell. Other colors do.
And you have to work with someone who knows how to sell. Hiring a designer will get you farther in your business than doing it yourself or hiring some amateur.
To continue on the topic of marketing, how important is blogging to a photography business?
There's two parts to this.
Part one: Potential clients. You want people to hire you as a photographer, so you need to show them your work.
Besides having a gallery, blogging every session possible lets them see your current, consistent work.
It tells them "Hey, here's something other than a stagnant gallery which I only change out every few months. Here's shots from last week. Yesterday. This morning."
And it makes people feel like you are "fresh" and they trust you.
Part two: Search engine optimization. The number ONE thing Google wants to see you do is update your site.
There is no better way to do this than to blog! Although there are other parts to the SEO thing, if you blog at least 3 times a week, you are off to a good start.
Thanks for those tips Jenna.
So let me ask you, what are some of your short term or long term goals?
Short term: I want to save up for a 24-70. All my photo friends are sick of hearing about it, but that lens really is unmatched for what I want to do with it.
I also want to enter some summer photos I have taken in some contests and see what I can win. They're just such amazing, intimate, personal and emotional photos.
Long term: I want to learn more. I'm dying to find out the best way to light in studio using 4 lights. I only use two right now.
I also want to learn how to be better at in person sales and to get more print sales. I don't care about sales right now, but eventually when I go full time, I'll need it to pay for my studio I will get.
Ok lets continue with a slightly harder question.
What would be one piece of advice that you wish you had when you got started that others can benefit from today?
An easy to understand, simple definition to shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I had a 50mm 1.4G lens for a year and never really knew how to use it.
After it got stolen, and I bought a new one two years later, I knew so much more, and I really realized how lucky I was that I was gifted that lens.
It was an amazing piece of equipment and I never knew how to use it fully.
Most of the problems I see new photographers have are all related to not knowing those settings.
They get frustrated and revert to Auto and don't know how to use the full potential of their lenses and bodies.
As you know already Jenna I'm a huge fan of prime lenses and particularly the 50mm focal length as well. Like minds!
So, we are seeing a ton more people picking up cameras nowadays and wanting to make a business of it. And I think that's great. What do you find most people struggle with nowadays when starting a photography business?
Starting a business too early. I was blessed to be able to start photography before this big boom, before everyone was in it.
And I shot for two years without shooting a person. And I learned SO much more than if I had also been trying to run a business.
Put down the business cards. Stop building the website. Delete your fan page.
Take a class, watch YouTube, attend Creative Live, and buy a book on Photoshop.
Practice how to shoot, how to edit, how to make your photos look "good" and not over-processed.
THEN start a business. You can't learn and run a business at the same time and be successful. It just doesn't happen, except if you get lucky.
Great insight Jenna. It is very easy to get caught up with the fun of photography and finding people WANT you to take their photos.
So now, after several years in photography, what was your most rewarding moment as a photographer?
I took this photo of a newborn. And being so hard on myself, I didn't feel like it was "as good" as other work I had seen online.
And I stressed about it, even though mom liked it, and even though friends and family liked it.
But then I entered it in this contest, and it beat out like 100,000 other photos for the number 10 spot for newborns.
And that appreciation from the photo community, and from strangers who were totally unbiased about my work, that helped me a lot.
I wasn't just getting this favorite comment from the client, and from family and friends - which, while good, can sometimes come because they don't know any better from the technical aspect of it.
But this award came from voting that was a result of people who understood being behind the camera, and they knew how to judge based on that.
When other photographers like you work, that's when you feel like you are "somewhere".
But, I strive to keep getting that, and that means constantly changing, making new things happen, learning more. And I like that about this career.
I'm always learning more.
Fantastic Jenna. I totally agree with you. We cross small milestones as we continue to grow in the business and at times its good to think back at where we were last year at the same time. Thanks again for answering these questions.
You can find Jenna at www.photostudiovegas.com or on Facebook.
Thanks again Jenna!!
Darwin to begin why don't you tell me how you got into photography.
I grew up always wanting to create memories everywhere I go. I always had a camera on all family trips. I started off with a 110 camera and collected photos all throughout my childhood so photography was always part of my life growing up.
Who were/are you most inspired by?
On the business side, my parents inspire me. They are successful in every venture they start and I want my photography business to be successful just like their businesses.
On the Photography side, I'm inspired by Susan Stripling & Cliff Mautner.
I see on your site that you not only do weddings, but also enjoy event and portrait photography. What was one of your proudest moments as a photographer?
My proudest moment as a photographer was when I first booked my 1st wedding & my 1st destination wedding.
That's very exciting and I'm sure maybe even intimidating at first. But, I've seen your work and it really shows that you love photography.
Tell me a little bit about your style and how you came about it?
I would say my style is photojournalism. Documenting the event in a creative manner and providing couples with beautiful portraits they can share for many generations.
So what are some of your plans for your business for 2014?
I'm looking to continue expanding my business and training a new photographer.
We both know photography wouldn't be as fun without amazing gear. What is your favorite piece of gear and why?
As you know I shoot with Nikon gear. My favorite piece of gear is my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. It is my main go to portrait and event lens. It always gets the job done and is sharp!
What are you most excited about (gear wise) for the near future?
The Nikon D4s. I plan on upgrading soon!
What gear do you find indispensable? An item that is not a camera or lens.
Off Camera flash! Lighting is key!
Earlier you mentioned that you have done some destination weddings. Tell me a little bit about your experience.
Amazing and something id like to get into more! But very tiring and stressing due to all the paperwork needed to
prepared especially in foreign countries. Then, you have to scout out locations and work twice as hard because of challenging environments.
I'm also looking to do some destination weddings and aside from trying to book them it seems like they do require a lot of hard work. But, they also seem extremely rewarding.
Given that there are so many young photographers out there what message do you have for those looking to get into
Don't give up! Aside from taking great pictures work on people skills because they client needs to feel comfortable with you.
So do you have any important short term goals?
I want to book more destination weddings and more local weddings. I want to be in the 40-50 weddings per year range.
I didn't mention it earlier, but I found Darwin a while back doing research via Youtube. He had a great video on recommended Nikon gear for wedding photography. He followed that up with a few more interesting videos. But, he is now more than twice as busy as he was back then.
So, my question is, are you planning on some more videos on your Youtube channel? I enjoyed watching your previous ones.
Yes, hopefully soon. As in a week or two.
Thanks Darwin for taking the time to answer these questions. I wish you the best in this wedding season and hope you can reach those goals you have set for yourself and your business.
Colin I've been visiting your website regularly and I am really enjoying your site. It's obvious you really enjoy photography as it shows in your images. So tell me, how did you get started in photography?
I bought a Nikon D60 as my first camera with a 18-105 lens, then booked a trip to iceland and shot in manual the whole time, this then lead onto more landscape and some work shooting bands to shooting a wedding for a friend and so on.
I see that you do weddings, would you say that is what you specialize in?
Documentary Wedding photography mostly, I also do landscape and a bit of everything else but weddings are the main subject.
Tell me a little bit about your style and how you came about it?
After reading many books and magazines about wedding photography a Stumbled upon the idea of shooting a wedding using only a documentary approach, reading and seeing Kevin Mullins talk about this was what really made this my style as it gave me the confidence to know that people do want it and you can make a business out of it.
Given all the fantastic photographers out there who were/are you most inspired by?
Kevin Mullins, Zack Arias, Benj Haishe, all awesome photographers in their own right.
Ok, on to a tougher question. What is your most memorable photography related experience?
Thats a hard one, I think its always changing but my favourite feeling comes from at the end of a wedding where you have people saying what a wonderful job you did before they have even seen any photos, that always tells me I have done a good job.
Of course we all like to talk about gear. What is your favorite piece of gear and why?
Fuji X100, Its simple, light and takes great photos.
I'm also really enjoying my Fuji gear, but tell me a little about why you chose Fuji.
Fuji being my main cameras was a gradual change for me, I started with the x100 then quickly moved to the XE1 and 35mm lens, I used this along side my Canon 5Dii but always found the photos from the fuji to have that little something extra, the fuji cameras are also very light and inconspicuous which helps a great deal given the style of photography I do. What sealed the deal for me was the option to second shoot a wedding [which i like to do as much as possible] where I chose to only shoot with the Fuji XE1 and 35mm, I was so happy with the results that the progression into using only fuji cameras naturally followed.
The wedding industry continues to change with new gear, new styles etc. How do you see the future of wedding photography?
Again a head question, more photographers are about thats for sure but I don't see this was a problem just a challenge, people will always get married and camera phones aren't that good just yet, plus people know the value of having a wedding photographer so I don't think the industry is going anywhere yet, it may get harder but at the same time the harder it gets the less people will do it. Kind of a cycle sort of thing.
In regards to the future, where would you like to be career-wise in 5 yrs?
Haha another hard question, my main plan is to get to about 30 weddings per year, then see where I want to go from here, I've given myself about 4 years to get to this stage, after that I'd love to mix in some travel photography. My main goal is to make it as stress free and easy to shoot weddings as possible, which involves a lot of preplanning but also making sure I'm not wasting time with certain tasks. Simple things such as having a stack of pre-printed contracts mean I'm not printing one each time i go to a meeting, small changes to make a big difference sort of thing.
I'm based in the US, but am always interested in knowing more about the various photography industries around the world. I also follow Kevin Mullins and a handful of other UK based photographers. What can you tell me about the wedding industry in the UK presently.
In the UK is see a mix of different levels of photographer, but I believe that over the next 5 years a big change will come in, technology is king and the older generation who have not adapted to this will soon fade away, as far as other photographer go that I've met they have all been incredibly friendly and easy going people, it's not a ruthless industry if you ask me.
Colin I want to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. Of course, we'll have to stay in touch as I'm very interested to see how you continue to progress with your photography business. To end what message do you have for young photographers?
Practice, learn new techniques, read endless blogs but never compare yourself to another photographer, be inspired for sure but don't ever try to be someone else, oh and don't focus on the gear, better cameras don't make you a better photographer.
You can find Colin via his website: www.colinnichollsphotography.com
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