Career in Focus

When you think about your career, does it have you brimming with excitement?  I’m fortunate to say YES!!!

Hello there. My name is Jess and I am a photographer.  I’m a Westfield State Owl and will be graduating with a BA in English this coming May.

Photography has always been this great possibility for me.  When I was little, my parents couldn’t buy enough disposable cameras to satisfy my needs.  We always had kittens in our house so they were my main subject. I’m sure if I looked, I could find a bundle of old Brooks Pharmacy developed pictures of the little puff balls.  My parents were also my subjects if I grew tired of photographing my Barbies. A lot of photos of my dad looking unamused exist in our family albums.

Fast-forward a few years and every trip to the mall included a look at the cameras in Best Buy.  Only my mom knew how enamored I truly was with photography. I was shy and didn’t like to talk about how much I liked it because I felt scared people would want to see my work, which admittedly, there wasn’t much of.  I couldn’t buy a camera and knew I needed the structure an instructor could provide. Looking back, I wish I had been shouting it from the rooftops! The universe might have responded by plopping a camera right in my lap!  

My senior year of college is when I got my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel T6.  I’ll forever be grateful for that little camera. I learned the exposure triangle on it.  Finally I understood what letters and numbers like f/4 and f/10 meant. I got why fractions (my arch nemesis in middle school!) were so important and I was beginning to understand why some compositions were more compelling than others.  The last part, like all of the others, I am only beginning to hone.

I developed a love affair with boudoir and maternity photography immediately after I picked up my first DSLR.  My professor, Janet Garcia, has a friend who is a maternity and newborn photographer. She came in to talk to our class about her experience as a photographer and her work inspired me.  The women in her photos looked so feminine and ethereal, but also real and authentic. There was something truthful and timeless about her work and I thought, “I want to do that. Create that.”

By the end of the year, the little T6 and I won Best in Show at the Arno Maris Art Gallery for the exhibit my photography class put on to showcase our work.  My friend had agreed to a boudoir shoot with me (my first one!) as the final project for the art show. I feel ecstatic by the changing attitudes towards women claiming their sensuality, integrating it back into their lives and feeling safe to do so.  I believe that the connection between photographer and model is important in creating a safe place for vulnerability and sensuality to flourish.

After tip-toeing around photography for years, I made the decision that I was going to pursue it professionally.  Can I make a career out of this????? Now I know I really want to! I can! But like with all things that I want to get better at, sooner or later a higher education for the subject becomes necessary.  I started asking one of the internship coordinators, George Layng, if a photography internship was possible. He had me search around for photographers nearby and BAM! The first photographer to show up online as near me was Andrea York Photography.  After stalking her portfolio and website, I let George know I was done searching and he contacted her. The rest is history.

This internship has far exceeded anything I could have imagined.  I had no idea what to expect when I began but first and foremost, it is a healthy environment.  It doesn’t just look good (which her office is adorable and her studio is beautiful!) but Andrea and her co-worker create a space of integrity, respect, and teamwork.  That translates directly to their approach to clients. Andrea makes it her mission to go above and beyond customer service for every client and it’s one of the biggest lessons she’s taught me as I enter this profession.  

Through my time here, I have come to trust myself and my decision making skills much more than before.  That goes back to the environment of trust and respect that is here. When I am given my list of goals to accomplish for the day, there are times when I get to make design and creative calls.  Running a business is hard work and Andrea can’t always hold my hand through it. But I feel trusted and like I am capable of making the right choice.

It is clear that Andrea is a seasoned business operator within and outside the world of photography.  Her approach to business is to streamline the processes you do over and over again to save time. That is a biggie.  When I first began interning here, I was of the mind that knowing how to take great photos was the be-all, end-all of being a photographer.  I thought we would be doing a lot of shoots and that I would be expected to know all of her equipment like the back of my hand.

My world was shook as I delved deeper and deeper into what it really takes and I am up for it!  I began interning during the winter which is her “down-time” from shooting. The colder months are when she buckles down and puts most of her energy into marketing. The amount of marketing that goes on was one of the most eye-opening aspects of this internship.  The details, the little things, matter so much in this business- and they are what can take the longest time to get perfect. I feel happy to be prepared for this and because of this internship I have an arsenal of ideas to pull from when I start my own marketing.

A good portion of my time has been spent in front of the computer.  I have learned about so many amazing programs that will help to streamline every process; 17Hats as the one-stop place to keep track of client info, email templates, and invoices; ZNO to create beautiful albums; Animoto to reveal images to clients are just to name a few.  Being a millennial photographer who is just starting out in the rapidly changing world of Instagram and Facebook algorithms has its challenges; Andrea has been a great teacher in how to navigate this terrain. Education, Education, Education is the new Location, Location, Location of photography.  Where you live is not nearly as important as continuing to learn tips, tricks, and golden rules of social media.

In the final weeks of my internship, I have things I really look forward to! I love days when I get to design for social media and help to come up with post ideas.  I love getting to assist on shoots and put together initial photo layouts for albums. Also, trouble-shooting social media mishaps always makes me feel great. These are just a few things I have loved doing thus far.  As an intern, you’re going to enjoy a lot very quickly.

There is also going to be the occasional frustrating moment or day, and that’s ok! Sometimes, a task that should be so easy will not get resolved until the end of the day because technology doesn’t behave.  This is a technology-based career so it will not always work how you imagine it to. My advice to that would be to just roll with the punches. At the end of the day, you’re creating art that will be cherished for a long time. I’ll leave with a few tips that were helpful to me:

  • Always have a pen and paper on hand. Trust me.
  • Andrea is a wealth of information about this business.  Listen to every recommendation about equipment, furthering your education, and programs.  Some of them will be considerable investments, especially for photographers who are just starting out.  But the investment is worth it. She would not be wasting time or money on it if it wasn’t.
  • Some days will be crazy: Andrea will have you researching some weird things, like memes 😛 Just go with it.  There is a method to her madness.
  • WRITE — USEFUL INFO DOWN.  THE INFORMATION COMES FAST AND YOU WILL NOT REMEMBER IT OTHERWISE. Everyday you will learn something invaluable; could be how to do something faster on a mac; a great computer program that is worth looking into for after your internship; the best ways to organize and keep track of photos, etc.  
  • Keep a separate planner that is specifically for this internship.  It is super helpful to keep track of your hours and activities without being distracted by other class work.  It is also in here where I recommend you write down anything you find useful from the above tip. For me, I would write Good Tip: in the weekend boxes of my planner.  
  • There will be a list of things to get through every day- IT’S OK IF NOT EVERYTHING CAN GET DONE WHILE YOU’RE THERE.  Do your best. L
  • It’s ok to not know how to do something.  That’s what Google is for. Stick with it and you’ll be surprised by how much you learn by researching an answer.  I have learned a lot of self-sufficiency by figuring something out by myself and learning from Google.

This internship taught me that my passion for photography has only grown.  The thought of taking what I have learned from Andrea York Photography and applying it to my own business has left me with a newfound confidence.  

I am capable.

I am a photographer.   

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