I think many people dream of leaving their job to become a professional photographer. Read Jean’s story of she left her job as a pediatrician and created a successful photography business.
1. How did you get into photography?
While I was practicing pediatrics, snapping photos was a hobby for me. I did invest early in a dSLR, but I mostly photographed my toddler son and I shot entirely in auto mode. I have always been drawn to amazing photographic images and yearned to learn how to create beautiful photos myself. It was not until I took leave from my practice for the birth of my daughter, 5 years ago, that I had the time to satisfy that desire. During the many hours of nursing her, I held Baby in one hand and either a book or laptop in the other and read everything I could find about proper exposure, composition, and light. I placed my baby daughter by every window in our home, took lots of bad images with different settings, and learned from the results. I was nervous at first to tackle the editing side since I thought of Photoshop as a big intimidating black box, but once I actually started reading about Photoshop and Lightroom 4, I felt like a kid who had just been introduced to the biggest coolest box of art supplies in the world. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I was definitely hooked!
2. What was it about photography that made you decide to leave your job as a pediatrician?
My 14-year career in pediatrics was a deeply rewarding one. I did not leave for maternity leave with the intention of making a career change, only with the notion that I wanted to enjoy more time with my kids. Through photography, I suddenly felt like I was growing intellectually and creatively in a totally new way—and as I had taken on photographing our friends’ kids too, I still had the pleasure of working with babies and kids. I longed to explore that path to see where it would lead. My husband shares my belief that a rich life is one filled with constant learning and new experiences. With his support, I decided that I would continue my hiatus from medicine. I created Jean Rhim Photography a year and a half ago.
3. What are 3 things you wish you had known before starting your photography business?
There were many things that I wished I had known. Probably the biggest were:
1) Set your pricing, even when starting out, at a level to ensure reasonable workload and income.
2) Early on, try to find a group of photographers, online or locally, for mutual learning and support—it’s invaluable.
3) Actively block out time for your personal life, family and kids.
4. After reading all the books you could get your hands on, why did you decide to purchase Lightroom first?
I read Scott Kelby’s Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 books cover to cover before deciding to start with Lightroom. It seemed to me that my first goals should be getting good at shooting in RAW and learning how to cleanly process images before trying to get too fancy. Lightroom could do everything from keeping my images organized, to bringing those RAW images to a clean and corrected state, to even applying some creative effects. For budget reasons, I did not purchase Photoshop until 8 months later, and in those 8 months, I really delved into what LR could do. Yes, I now appreciate the ability to retouch and apply additional effects in Photoshop, but in hindsight, I feel like Lightroom was a great foundation in editing.
5. Tell us about your typical workflow for a family session and a newborn session.
I shoot in RAW with a custom white balance. I import the images into Lightroom and then, after narrowing them down to my final set of images, try to do as much of the editing in LR as I can. The ability to sync global settings across similar images is such a huge time saver.
For images of almost anyone older than 2 months of age, I am able to take images very close to a finished state in LR alone. In LR, I make slight white balance/exposure/contrast adjustments, maybe add a slight vibrance boost, and apply capture sharpening and noise reduction. Also I use the Hue/Sat/Luminance and/or adjustment brush a lot for areas of skin that need neutralizing—for example, overly red areas or green casts from grass. I bring the image over to PS for skin retouching, checking/adjusting skin tones, and patching/cloning work.
Since newborns and younger babies so often are rashy, blotchy, and jaundiced, they usually need a lot more retouching work in PS. I do my LR adjustments as above, except if they have an undesirable color in the skin, I avoid increasing contrast and vibrance in LR, which might exaggerate those unwanted colors. I reduce those as well as I can in LR with Hue/Sat/Luminance and/or the adjustment brush without sucking out too much of the baby’s skin color and then deal with it further in Photoshop. I’ll add some contrast in later after the unwanted colors are under control. I also rely on a very light use of Portraiture for newborns (20-30% opacity masked on). I always send my images back to LR and do resizing, cropping and exporting from there.
6. Since you use Lightroom for the majority of your editing, can you tell us a little more about why you would pull a photo into Photoshop?
Photoshop is my go-to place for skin retouching, more precise skin color correction, selective sharpening/enhancement of eyes, and, if needed, Portraiture. I do own a fair number of actions to add different finishing effects, but I use them only sparingly and at low opacity.
7. What are some of your favorite features about Lightroom and Photoshop?
Because I am such a LR fan, I always upgrade to the newest version as soon as it is released. I just LOVE LR 4! Besides the new basic panel sliders which feel more intuitive to me (especially the exposure control which is now weighted more towards the midtones as the former brightness control used to be), I adore the ability to paint on temp/tint and color effects with the adjustment brush (and adjust it to taste after it’s painted on)—this is GREAT for green casts from grass and adding some Fall colors into the trees. In Photoshop CS6, I love the auto save feature so my work doesn’t get lost in the event of a crash and the Content Aware patch tool which makes it so easy to remove the diaper bag or pedestrian that I didn’t notice in the background.
8. What advice would you give someone who is considering leaving their current job to pursue a photography business?
If someone were considering leaving his or her adequately paying job for a career in photography, I would say force yourself to run the numbers. I was lazy and did that exercise a bit later than I should have. Start with desired income (after taxes) and work backwards to calculate how many sessions you would realistically need to be doing and at what rates to achieve that after covering expenses. Allow for a LOT more time and expenses for that first year than you think it will take. Then decide if that sounds enjoyable and doable for you. You wouldn’t go into any other new job without knowing what the schedule and workload actually entails. This should be no exception.
9. Pick 3 words you would like people to use when describing your work?
Clean, natural, elegant
10. How do you continue to challenge yourself creatively?
I try to identify things that I find visually beautiful all around me—be it the way a scene is lit in an old movie or a color scheme in a yarn catalog—and see how I can incorporate such looks into what I create.
11. List 2 photographers who inspire you
Jean and Travis Smith—I took the He Said She said workshop taught by wife and husband Jean and Travis Smith who each have their own photography businesses in Michigan. This was the best learning investment I have ever made. They are incredibly talented, open-minded, super down-to-earth people who inspire me with their beautiful images, positive attitude and commitment to teaching and learning.
12. If you had $5,000 to spend on anything photography related, what would you buy?
If you would [pretty-please] allow me to go over budget, I’d get the Nikon 70-200mm lens and a Nikon D800. I love my D700 but would love to have a second full-frame camera so I don’t have to do as much lens swapping.
13. What are some of your photography goals?
I would like to become proficient at using off-camera flash in challenging light situations. I think that I am decent at Lightroom and Photoshop now, but I want to become much more skilled and streamlined in my editing. Finally, each year, I hope to become better at “getting it right in camera” so I can do even less editing.
14. What is the hardest part of your photography journey?
The hardest part for me is getting used to the idea of selling products and accepting money from clients who always eventually feel like friends. I have had to face up to the reality of being in business–placing proper value on my time and work and trusting that clients want to purchase my work.
15. Fill in the blank: I love photography because ________________.
I love photography because it helps me to look closely at what is before my eyes and focus on the now. One of my favorite quotes is from that excellent film, Kung Fu Panda: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.
Jean Rhim Photography is based in San Ramon, CA and offers newborn, child and family portraiture in the San Francisco East Bay and the greater Bay Area. You can visit her site at website and her Facebook page.
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