Food For Thought: What I've learned for my business from Creative Loafing

  When I first started photography, walking around my apartment complex with camera in hand, never did I think a tip from my mail lady would turn into a few year span of freelance gigs.  Starting off as a photography intern for my favorite arts and entertainment paper Creative Loafing, I was nervous as heck, truly clueless as to what I was really getting myself into, and incredibly excited for the opportunity.  It's four or so years later I have since transitioned from interning and submitting nightlife photos for the Scene section to being one of the staff's freelance photographers, focusing on images for food reviews and profile portraits.  I learned a million things along the way that have furthered my technical abilities, strengthened my communication skills, and made some great friends along the way.  I am so thankful that Kim Lawson, Operations Editor and now long-time friend saw something in my work and gave the opportunity to work for such a great news source.  I have her and Creative Loafing to credit for helping me realize my true passion in photography and helping me build a solid foundation of work along the way.  As I plan to focus my business now on Weddings and Engagements, here are a few tips that I've picked up shooting for the paper that I plan to carry  into future sessions:

1.  Getting technical: As a photographer who started out simply shooting for enjoyment, technical skill wasn't something I was concerned with as much as I was composition.  I like to think of myself as someone who "captures" a shot as it is, appreciating emotion and blur that can come along with it.  Unfortunately, that doesn't work so well when an image goes to print.  My images needed to be high-resolution, tack sharp, and have good white balance, otherwise it was disaster.  Something I struggled with at first, but through communicating the paper's expectations with Kim, getting to know my camera better, and taking time to really make sure I got a good, clean shot, I have been able to get better at.  As always, still learning!

2.  Timing/Lighting: Just like setting up a portrait session, time of day is everything.  When I was first learning the ropes, I would head into a restaurant whenever I had time (usually in the evenings after work), and start shooting wherever the owner put the food down. Was I crazy?!?!? Seeing how much effort it would take me to fix my wrongdoings in photoshop to merely get a lack lustre image made me wise up.  After trial and error, I starting scheduling shoots earlier in the day when the light was better and placing food close to a natural reflector or window, especially in dark restaurants.  Taking the time to scope out better lighting conditions helped my work tremendously and saved several potentially wonky colored images from going to print.  Similar to a dimly lit church, the dark restaurant still scares me to death, but in those cases I have just learned to take the dish outside!  Can't really do that with a bride, groom, and pastor though!

3.  Stylizing: Again, starting off as an unexperienced photographer who appreciated and shot details just as they were, untouched, I went into food shots the same way.  Often times the owner would come out and meticulously plate each almond, usually in a way that wouldn't work for my angle.  Afraid to step on any toes, I would shoot it, regretting my decision in culling.  I later recognized that I had a vision of how the food should be arranged and the knowledge of exactly what Creative Loafing was looking for, which a lot of times was different than the restaurant's approach.  Taking control boosted my confidence and helped avoid any reshoots.

4.  Representin': Meeting award-winning Chefs and Entreprenuers, I was not only representing Ashley Goodwin, but I was there on behalf of Creative Loafing.  I had two standards to uphold, so I had to get there on time, look good, be organized and professional, and straight up rep.re.sent.  I didn't want to tarnish my brand, but I certainly didn't want anyone calling Creative Loafing on account of the girl who showed up late in sweatpants.

5.  Networking: Creative Loafing sent me around town to some of the best venues, restaurants, clubs, and events in Charlotte.  A good portion of my experiences in Charlotte were on behalf of them.  It was awesome.  I met people I would most likely wouldn't have gotten the chance to meet.  As I recognized these meetings for the great experience they were, but unfortunately I never fully took advantage of it.  You never know who you are going to meet, networking is key.  From now on I will always have a business card in my back pocket and be willing to take a minute for conversation.  You never know, one opportunity may lead to another.  And since when was I afraid to carry on a conversation??

6.  Shooting for everyone: There were several times where a restaurant would set up a shot or bring me out three additional dishes that weren't what I was there to photograph.  Right off the bat I learned that it's best to simply humor them.  Sure, the paper won't use it, but I would take a few quick shots and then move along.  No harm done, everyone is still happy, no food is wasted (and here's hoping they send all those extras home with me!).  Same thing at weddings when Aunt Iris pulls me aside and wants a photo of all of the second cousins together.  And then let's make sure we get the second cousins with their mothers.  It's not worth it to be huffy puffy.

7.  Shooting with consistency: It took time, effort, and getting to know my camera better, but submitting shots every week that were different angles but consistent is what the paper was looking for.  Consistent in lighting, vibrancy, and style.  Thankfully Kim was around for constructive criticism, which allowed me to better hone my "look" and produce better quality images every week.  They want shots from the same photographer every week that look like it.  Still learning as I go, but I find this exceptionally important to maintain with my weddings!  I can't have the look of two different photographers in on portfolio!

8.  Avoiding the rut: Like all shoots, it's sometimes easy to find yourself in a rut.  I for one relied heavily for a while on a few of my "go-to" angles for plated dishes.  When I noticed I was getting in a rut and was taking a lot of the same shots, just on different food, I began to look at other images, menu shots, and photographers for inspiration.  Pushing myself to think of different perspectives flourished my creativity and saved Kim from writing the "Can you give us some more angles?" email.  I still battle that rut.  But Kimmmmm, there are only so many angles you can take of a plate of sushi! Which leads me to my last thought...

9.  Shooting for them, but me: Shooting for the paper, it's necessary to take certain compositions into consideration.  For Creative Loafing, a wider shot always worked better for the layouts, and for a cover shot a lot of negative space was needed for text.  I had to train my brain to work in a way that I could still get interesting, different looks that were 'me', still while working within the graphic design parameters and look of 'Creative Loafing'.  I have never submitted work to a blog, but I assume it's a similar concept.  The idea of keeping shots unique and very much your own while keeping in mind their certain style and requirements.

I'm ever so grateful to have worked for such a fun, awesome, and inspiring company.  They have been generous and taught me invaluable lessons in my career!  I'm always still learning, still figuring out, and still wondering!  Excited to specialize in weddings and thrilled I got to build upon my foundation with the Loaf, hopefully it continues until my very. last. day. on the mainland!!  :)  Hope my missteps may help someone else along the way!  & Please share any of yours...I'm still figuring it out as I go!

Below are a few of my favorite (& yummiest) shots submitted to the paper.

Okay.  That's enough. Time for lunch!