I started J. Bell Photography with more confidence than I had earned. I had photographed friends and family and I started a website with images of exactly 3 humans before heading into Austin demanding that they demand my services. Then the worst happened. They did just that.
With a few strong images to show off, I got into a newsletter with a decent following and booked a dozen clients almost immediately. If my entry level camera with the 18-55mm kit lens didn’t convince my new adoring clientele that I was worthy of capturing their treasured memories, my high prices would. I got some great shots in those first few months some that are still on this site that I’m very proud of. Some great shots. The rest were awful. Kids heads were cut off at the forehead, brides were in direct sunlight with massive shadows on their face, and families were standing in a line on the stairs (shudder). My business rightfully suffered for more than a year as a result.
I dedicated myself to learning everything possible about my craft and owe a lot of the success of this growing company to those early failures. In the season where a lot of new photographers get their start by receiving a DSLR for Christmas, I’m going to share what I learned the hard way, in chronological order.
1. Get Great Faces- This was the easy one and the reason I got gigs. I’ve always been able to make kids laugh and doing it behind the camera was no different. I made faces and then clicked the shutter as many times as I could. The Blind Squirrel Theory. I though being goofy was enough to make me famous.
2. Good Light – After a particularly massive failure, I took a few classes and learned to bounce a flash, getting rid of the lazy and uninformed moniker of “natural light photographer.” That’s amateur speak for “doesn’t understand lighting.”
3. Catch Lights- Pick a cliché about the eyes and it’s likely true. They are what make a personal portrait and getting that gorgeous shape of pure white in a child or bride’s eyes is what makes me happy every day. Confession: In year 2, I sometimes added them in photoshop. I just cringed typing that.
4. Sharpness- I know, this one seems obvious. A photograph that isn’t sharply in focus is trash. I thought some of my grainy images made me artistic. They didn’t.
5. Composition- The rule of thirds, the golden mean and others are good starting points but I adhered to them no matter what. You want that in a square frame? Um, I’m not that kind of photographer? Sheesh.
6. Background- It took too long to learn that backgrounds weren’t simply negative space that surrounded my subjects. I blew them out, left street signs in them, and likely missed entire parades walking through the frame.
7. Posing and Gesture- I once shot family sessions the same way I shot weddings and events. All 3 suffered because of it. There is a real art to posing and entirely different set of rules with each person you add. Years of personal training from the best photographers on the planet have beaten these horrible traits out of me.
This has been the best year in the history of J. Bell Photography in so many ways and next year is booked earlier than ever. We go back once a month and look at where we came from. We look at each missed opportunity and overexposed shot carefully and vow to never make the same mistake again. I’m incredibly thankful for our history, it’s made us the shooters that we are today. After almost 800 clients, a list that now includes Texas Monthly, Cadillac, Politicians and some of the most amazing brides and families in Austin; we’re now recognized by multiple organizations as the best photographers in town. We’re proud of where we are and where we’re going. And I haven’t cut anyone’s head in half in years!