Frequently Asked Questions...

This week, I thought I'd answer questions that I am frequently asked.  I get emails, and facebook messages  asking question after question mostly from other photographers.  First off, everyone has their own style of shooting.  Everyone will use a different lens for a different job, everyone edits differently, and lastly- everyone is priced differently.  For the most part- this has been a very expensive and calculated game of trial and error.  These questions are in no particular order.

Q:  What camera do you use?
A: My husband and I both shoot with Canon 5D Mark II's. We have a 5D classic as backup, and also shoot with our Fuji.  We are upgrading our main bodies next year and will use our Mark II's as our backups.

Our non-human babies.

Our non-human babies.

Q:  How did you start shooting weddings?
A:  I started out helping my really good friend with his weddings years ago; he is the one who showed me the 'ins and outs' - what to watch for, best places to position yourself, don't be afraid to get in and get the shots you need, things like that.  It was a priceless experience; I shake my head when I see posts on Facebook that start out as "I'm shooting my first wedding ever next month, what lens should I use?"  I think it is very dangerous to shoot a wedding without having the proper experience, without having the opportunity to shoot alongside someone else, without having the right equipment.  

Q: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you first started out?
A:  That is a pretty loaded question.  Naturally I wish I knew everything- it would have saved a lot of time and money!  I think the biggest thing was the 'lens game.' Many people were telling me what lens they thought I should get- without really telling me why I needed it.  I had no idea why I "needed" certain lenses.  I hadn't yet focused my photography to certain areas- so it was hard to purchase anything because I wanted to shoot "everything."  It wasn't until I started narrowing my focus that I realized certain lenses worked very well for certain things.  I have used primes for a long time and I love them.  I will break out my 24-70 or my 70-200 in certain situations but the important thing is that I know WHY I need to use them.  I know what will work for me, from a flash to a stand to a light modifier.  If I know I can't use something on a regular basis, then I don't buy it.  Since my husband also shoots with me- every purchase is discussed from two points of view which is really nice!

Q: So you have four kids!  You must photograph a lot of kids because you have so much experience with kids!
A:  Funny thing.  I don't!  It seems logical to assume that- but I don't photograph kids, babies, or newborns.  I don't cover birthday parties or any child-related occasions.  In the beginning I thought I wanted to focus on that type of photography- but chasing a child down the sidewalk with my camera is not something I want to do.  My kids have grown up in front of the camera, so I have been fortunate enough to direct my kids at very young ages to pose in certain ways with little effort.  They are so used to seeing cameras that it is really not a big deal to take a quick snap, or even stage a photograph with them.  I will post funny or cute pictures of my kids on social media but you will not see any of them on my website.  Taking photographs of my kids is important to me (like it is for any parent) just to have memories of certain milestones.  I love silly staged photos, but I also love the mundane of everyday life.  Their little lives are everything to me.  

Samantha at age 3

Samantha at age 3

Q:  That is so awesome that you and your husband shoot together!  How did that start?
A:  Well... it was definitely unexpected.  I had spent so many years talking about cameras and lenses, and setting up so many shoots that it was hard for him NOT to be involved.  If he was available to hold a light on a windy day- he would.  If he was around to help set up a shoot, he would.  So even if he didn't want to be involved he was.  He had the advantage of living and breathing photography before he ever started shooting.  Three years ago I hired a second shooter for a wedding and he came along as a third shooter.  The shots he got from that wedding were awesome; he has a natural talent-one that I had to really work hard to get.  After seeing what he shot from that wedding I knew that my life partner was now my shooting partner.   Our goal is to shoot full time 7 days a week, but until that happens he is a truck driver (his other passion is driving).  

My handsome partner. During his down time he likes to sunbathe with the reflector. LOL  

My handsome partner. During his down time he likes to sunbathe with the reflector. LOL  

Q:  What is your most favorite lens?
A:  I love my 50 f/1.2.  I use that lens the most and have almost shot entire weddings with it.  It's pretty versatile, and if I need something wider I will use my 35mm.  

Q:  What is one fad in photography that you wish would die?
A:  The Tilt.  It is terrible.  I think everyone goes through that phase though, I did it- but I haven't done it in years.  I think any photograph with people and a horizon line in it that is tilted makes me feel dizzy- it looks like the people are going to fall right off the page.  Now detail shots are different-if it's a ring shot (or something close up) and it's tilted-it could work; shooting people tilted is not a good look.  

Q: On the business end, what is the first thing you thought was really important?
A:  I applied for an LLC, started collecting sales tax, and hired an accountant.  In that order.  I felt like it was really important for me to start out as a legitimate business early on and respecting it as such.  I know there are thousands of photographers out there who work under the table but I wanted to work with professionals in the community- and I felt (and still feel) that a professional (lawyer, doctor, business owner) will more likely hire another professional.  Of course there are thousands of professionals who are NOT professional- but I'm not worried about them.  lol

Q: What do you like most about this job?
A:  I never would have met the people I have met- had it not been for this job.  I think any professional photographer that has been doing it long enough will agree that we find ourselves in really amazing places, working with truly amazing people.  There are many benefits in this line of work, I get to make my own schedule 90% of the time which is important when we have a house full of kids.  I get to volunteer for their field trips, I get to network with other photographers and meet clients during the day- which are all things I couldn't do if I were working for someone else.  

Q:  How do you handle the stress of a wedding day?  I could NEVER do it!!                                                      A:  Yes, weddings can be stressful, but I can handle it.  I honestly believe having my four wonderful kids has helped prepare me for any wedding day.  If I can handle them and herd four kids through life, then I can certainly control a wedding party! :-)  Taking charge, and being (for all intents and purposes) a 'day of coordinator' is really something I was born to do.  I've made timelines for weddings, I've taken charge of the entire day!  Of course I only step in if/when the bride wants me to- I would never dare walk into a wedding with unsolicited tips and timelines! If the bride and groom need help- I will step in.  If everything is under control-than I hang back and document the day.  Most of the time brides will look to me asking for help though.

Behind the scenes.  We will do everything in a short amount of time, light testing, photographing dresses, arranging formals, coordinating first looks... you name it- we do it.  I think that's why we're so exhausted the day after. :-)

Behind the scenes.  We will do everything in a short amount of time, light testing, photographing dresses, arranging formals, coordinating first looks... you name it- we do it.  I think that's why we're so exhausted the day after. :-)

Q:  What are you doing the night or day before a wedding?  Your prep must be stressful!                              A:  The day before a wedding I am cleaning lenses, checking equipment, charging batteries... it's not stressful- it's fun.  I enjoy it and can't wait for everything to start.  You have to understand, I have worked so closely with most of my brides over many months that by the time their wedding day comes they have become my friend.  We are so comfortable around each other I really feel like this is just another day together, only they are wearing gorgeous clothes.  

Q: What is the first lens I should buy if I'm just starting out?
A:  It really depends on what you want to shoot and what kind of a budget you are working with.  I started out with a Tamron 28-300 because I wanted the versatility and at that time-I could afford it.  I think once you figure out what you want to take photographs of- it is easy to see what lenses work best for that job.  If you want to photograph portraits in a studio- you probably don't want to use a lens most used for landscapes.... You just have to get on the internet- research- ask questions- network- etc.  

Q:  What was the first L lens you bought?
A:  It was my 24-70.  I still have it and use it on occasion.  It took me 5 years to save and buy my first L lens.  

Q:  What lenses do you use now?  
A:  I use primes, my husband loves zooms.  We have a variety of both.  

Q:  Craziest question you have ever been asked by a potential client?
A:  Years ago, I was approached by a lady who flat out told me that she really liked the style of another photographer here in the city but she couldn't afford her prices, so she asked if I could copy her style.  That blew me away lol.  

Q:  When did you know you 'made it?'                                                                                                                   A:  I think 'making it' is a work that will always be in progress.  I don't think I've made it and can just sit back and relax with a fruity umbrella drink.  I think that I have really worked hard to get where I'm at and while I do enjoy certain successful moments in my career I don't think "I've arrived."  I don't know if I'll ever "arrive."  I sit up really late at night thinking about what my next step will be.  My brain never stops.  I have insomnia and most nights can't sleep before 2 or 3 a.m. I'm not sure if my photography business is what started my insomnia or what- but it's really hard for me to just sit back and relax.  I'm always thinking of the next client, the next shoot, the next technique, the next this or that.  

Q:  Did you ever want to give up?  
A:  In the beginning, yes.  Quite a few times.  Did people tell me I couldn't do this? Yes.  Was I told my photography sucked (in the beginning of my career) and I have no right to be called a 'photographer' yes.  While I moped around the house for a few months after that, I realized that I wanted this more than anything so I studied and worked my ass off.  Years later here I am.  Looking back I'm glad those other pros pushed me.  If someone pushes you, you either give up or work harder.  I chose to work harder.  It was the defining moment of my career- I almost don't think I'd be the same photographer had I not been through that tough wakeup call.  

Packing up and leaving my full time job was not an easy decision- but I was bound and determined! 

Packing up and leaving my full time job was not an easy decision- but I was bound and determined! 

Q:  Was it easy to give up your full time job to pursue your photography business?                                         A:  No.  It wasn't easy at all.  To leave the security of a steady income was very frightening- but my husband encouraged me to take the plunge.  

Q:  Your kids must all want to be photographers!
A:  Only one of them.  My oldest daughter has shown a lot of interest, I am going to start showing her the basics this year.  Who knows, maybe one day she'll take over!  My son wants to be an artist, my middle daughter wants to be a dentist,  our youngest daughter just wants to be happy and eat macaroni and cheese everyday.

Q:  What is one thing you wish you could photograph?                                                                                       A:  I wish I could photograph an entire wedding in black and white.  I love how black and white photos really just focus on the subject- colors or surrounding objects can sometimes be distracting and take away from the subject but black and white really just keeps things simple and classic.  

Q:  What is ONE piece of advice you would give to anyone new starting out- something you wish someone would have told you?
A:  There are so many things.  Here is one: It's ok to look to other people for inspiration, advice, etc. but at the end of the day you have to shoot in a way that makes you happy.  You will never be able to fully copy someone else; learn and keep learning.  Research and keep on researching.  It never stops.  Don't look so hard at what other people are doing or NOT doing.  Look at yourself, keep your nose to the grindstone and work hard. We have all compared ourselves to other professionals in whatever job we have at one point or another-but I think if we're not focused on what we are doing, constantly comparing and watching everyone else will destroy you.  If you want this bad enough, you will find a way.  It's what I tell my kids.  If you want it, you will find a way to get it.  Oh, and be nice. :-)


***It's been nice to take care of FB messages and emails all in one blog post!  :-)
Hope you all have a fantastic week!

Leia Smethurst

Leia Smethurst Photography, PO Box 18694 , Oklahoma City, OK 73154, United States