I am giddy to be featuring my friend Sherri on the blog this week. We met 8 months ago when we took a workshop together and now she just can’t get rid of me. I have had a front row seat to the incredible growth she has had in photography in the last year. If you follow my Letters to Our Daughters or Let Them Be Little blog circle then you have already seen her work. Simply amazing.
Colie: How long have you been doing photography?
Sherri: I got my first slr for a college class in 1987 (yes, I am showing my age). My Mom made sure to get me one that was completely manual so I wouldn’t be able to fall back on auto mode. There was a battery for the light meter, but that was it. We did 2 months of shooting, developing and printing b&w film. Photography remained a hobby until my son was born in 2007, and like many other mothers, my creativity blossomed and I got more and more involved in it.
Colie: How long have you been in business?
Sherri: People starting telling me on facebook how amazing my photographs were and that I should go into business. Of course I thought they were right and in 2008 I took my first payment for a family session. In 2010 I got really serious and got a business number, increased my rates and became a legitimate photographer.
Colie: How did you come to decide to close your business and shoot solely for yourself?
Sherri: In late 2012 I was taking an online class through Clickin Mom’s called Composition & Creativity. One of the assignments was to take an honest look at your older work and give yourself an evaluation of how far you have come. So I went no further than my own website and my world dropped out from underneath me. I could not believe what I saw. I was a terrible photographer. Crazy white balance, crooked horizons, blue skin, green skin, pink skin. You name it, I had it out there for everyone to see. I was so embarrassed. Some of my compositions showed potential, and some of my more recent work wasn’t horrible, but that didn’t make up for the rest. I was the photographer that everyone loves to hate. I have no idea how I never got negative comments on my facebook posts. Or how anyone could have paid me money. Hard earned money. I wouldn’t have hired myself. My facebook page was the same. So much mediocre work. I shared the worst of the worst with my classmates and let it all out. It was one of the most emotionally painful experiences of my life, but it was something I needed to do. I needed to own that I sucked. But that process of realizing I wasn’t as good as I thought was a moment of epic growth for me. I spent days deleting. Everytime I thought I got it all, I would find more. I cried myself to sleep more than one night. I’ll be honest and say that I did seriously consider giving it all up, but I had worked so hard the last year and I really was getting better. And I was growing.
I decided then that there was no way I could possibly take money from another person. Not the way I was feeling. My soul was broken and needed to be nurtured back to health. I knew that I had to take an honest look at my work and where I needed to improve. And then do it. But I also needed to pick up my camera and get back to shooting, no matter how painful. Photography is ingrained in my soul. I started shooting in RAW and I switched from awb to Kelvin. I started learning Lightroom and learning how to edit skin by numbers. I picked a few photographers who I really admire (Emma Wood, Deb Schwedhelm, Pink Sugar Photography and Ginger Unzueta) and really studied their work. In every one of them it was their use of lighting that I loved (and I think makes them stand out). It was that kind of lighting that I began practicing with at home photographing my kids as we lived our normal lives.
As of right now, I am shooting mostly for myself. I have done one family session and one maternity session in the last few weeks for people that I would consider more friends than clients. And I have 3 more scheduled for the next couple of months. Again for people I know and who want me to be creative with them. I am actually looking forward to those for the creativity aspect. After that, I’m honestly not sure what I am going to do. I’m doing a lot of thinking right now about if it is possible to balance my need/desire/want for creativity with what potential clients want.
Colie: Tell me about shooting with your Lensbaby, truth be told looking at shots from a Lensbaby often makes me dizzy.
Sherri: Some lensbaby shots make me dizzy too. Lots that I have taken do too, especially when I was first starting out with mine. I had it for a few months and was pretty unsuccessful with it. The manual focusing with my 44 year old eyes was frustrating and my compositions were really lacklustre to say the least. In the winter I had some really awesome late morning/early afternoon dramatic light streaming into my kitchen and livingroom. My 3 yr old daughter was dancing in one of the streams one morning and I was stunned with how beautiful it was. I grabbed my camera, threw on my lensbaby composer and shot my favourite image ever. I really think it defines me. I don’t know if my lifestyle girls remember me posting how excited I was when I chimped and saw that shot. I hadn’t even uploaded it yet and I knew that was THE shot. It is blurry, but I love it. It is simple but dramatic. Imperfect but perfect. It was that shot that made me decide to give my lensbaby another try. I shot with it exclusively for the entire month of February for my daily project. I really struggled with the manual focus at first, but by the end of the month it was second nature. I prefer lensbaby shots with dramatic, directional lighting which really helped me to learn to find light in unexpected places and be really creative with my subjects and composition.
Colie: What personal photography projects do you have going?
Sherri: I am still doing my daily shooting project with no plans to end it. I don’t call it a 365 because there are days when life gets in the way and I don’t shoot. Last month I tried to use a reflector for my daily shot for the entire month but quickly discovered I don’t like reflectors, so I put it away. I’ve started using my composer lens again last week and this week for my daily shot because the weather has finally started to warm up a bit so we are able to get outside a bit more. I’d like to experiment a bit with golden hour and backlighting with it.
Colie: What was the single decision that impacted your photography growth the most?
Sherri: I would have to say taking a good honest look at my work without any goggles on. And being honest enough with myself on my strengths and weaknesses that I could make a plan on how to improve.
By Colie James – Boulder, Colorado
Colie is a storytelling lifestyle photographer based in Boulder, Colorado serving all areas between Ft. Collins and Denver. She is an on-location photographer who loves to tell the true stories of her clients, just as they are. While her love of photography started long before the birth of her daughter, Chloe, it has taken on a life of its own as she strives to capture all of her own moments and now her clients. Colie equally loves espresso, her husband of twelve years, James, and her daughter who is two going on twenty.