What Kind of Photos Do You Like, Anyway?
Morning! I am SO excited to be back to the podcast today and to be, like, ushering in all kinds of new information for what feels like a whole new generation of photographers. Or photographers who just really freaking love photographs! Cause me? I LOVE photographs!
My name’s Lissa Chandler and I’m a professional photographer based out of Fayetteville, Arkansas. A wedding photographer for over a decade, I spent the last year shooting stock photography and am now pivoting more into family work. And this podcast? It’s all about photographs! And today? It’s about identifying what we like and what makes us stop when we see an image. In a time period where we see more images that ever before, it’s time we ask our selves: What kind of photos do I like, anyway?
What Photos Are You Drawn To?
When I was growing up, my mom put all of our family snapshots in brown binders with sticky paper that was covered in plastic. I still remember the feel of those pages and the way the plastic pages sounded as we would flip through those pages – and the feeling when I pulled the plastic up, too! As a mom, I don’t really do a lot of photo binders but we do have photographs literally everywhere: my kids have cork boards they decorate, there’s framed photos all over our walls, there’s photo collages everywhere, and we have lots of cute little photo books and a few vintage photo albums spilling over with photographs. Plus, like, baskets I need to organize.
And something my kids love that I never could have comprehend when I was their age? Googling my name with theirs to see if they can find any of their baby photographs online. Which they can! And definitely could in the past! I actually scrubbed a bunch of my old family content from the internet when my oldest was in middle school – family blogging was all the rage when he was little! – and I want my kids to be able to make their own choices about their online presence but, honestly, my kids love being able to search my name online and find a bunch of photographs that they may or may not recognize. It’s adorable and makes them so proud, too! Which as a mom? I freaking adore! It’s just the cutest!
Does that sound a little off topic?
It’s not! As we grow up, we all have different experiences with art, family traditions, and family memories. And photographs? They roll all of this together! So! Ask yourself: What are your first memories with photographs? When was the first photograph that you totally loved? Can you remember the first time you saw a photograph and thought “Holy Shit!” because you didn’t even know that was something that could be created?
I vividly remember the first time I saw a photoshoot and thought “Holy Shit!” because of the photographs and not for any other reason. For me, that happened while I was sitting in the living room of a hotel suite in Portland, Oregon. We were there for my brother-in-law’s wedding and, at that point, I’d been casually shooting for years and was six months into owning my own business. I loved photographs but I didn’t have formal training and, because of this, I’d never seen photographs that just, like, totally blew my mind.
Here’s What I Mean!
I worked my booty off on my client work and I was improving to my very best ability but, at the time, I just really hadn’t been exposed to incredible photographs. I saw things in magazines, of course, but most photographs I saw were sporadic photographs on Facebook from photographers at, below, or around my own experience level. Photography has changed a ton over the past decade and a half – so many families were still doing portraits at JC Penney’s in a non-nostalgic way! – but, as I sat in the hotel room that morning, I came across an outdoor family session created by My Four Hens Photography.
There was a blanket in the air, golden light everywhere, and happy faces filling each frame and I couldn’t help myself. I thought, “Holy Shit!!” and made my mother-in-law look through the photographs one by one with me. Like, I didn’t even know photographs like that existed. But once I knew? I knew I wanted to create images that would create similar feels for the people I was lucky enough to photograph. Like, I felt so connected to the family in the photographs without even knowing them. I wanted my clients to experience the same rush!
Why Does This Matter?
I tell this story because it was my first big “Wow!” moment in photography that had nothing to do with my own love for photography. Something clicked and I started to think about what I wanted my photographs to do for others – not just myself. As a new photographer, this was a game changer! It’s not that I hadn’t wanted my previous clients to totally love and adore their photographs – of course I did! – but, at this point, I hadn’t really thought about my work as a collective body of art. Like, I didn’t realize that it could be a vibe all on its own.
Let Me Rewind A Bit!
I became a photographer because I freaking love photographs.
Like, literally everything about them. Until that point, though, I didn’t really think about how my photographs could impact others or about photographs could make other people feel. I knew how they made me feel and I knew how I wanted them to make my clients feel but, until I saw that blog post, I didn’t really realize that I could bottle up the love I felt for photography and then, like, totally pass it on to anyone who came across my website. As in, I realized that my photographs could impact people not involved in the creation of the photographs or even people connected to the people in the photographs. Like, I wanted my brides to love their photos and their moms to love their photographs but I never really thought about other people unconnected to me or my clients coming across my photographs and just adoring them. Which is funny, because that’s really how you get clients anyway, lol.
So! I Started To Ask Myself: What Do I Like?
Isn’t this the hardest question? It sounds so simple but, in reality, it’s just a total mess in so many ways. It can be hard to own the things you like! And when you take the things you love and put them in a photograph, there’s a whole new layer of vulnerability. You have to spot it, you have to capture and – scariest of all – you have to share it!! Right? Ugh! There’s so many layers of vulnerability with photography. You have to be vulnerable to let people be themselves in front of your camera, your clients have to be vulnerable enough to be comfortable and, when you’ve honed your style, you have to be vulnerable enough with yourself to create work that just really freaking pops. Not in one specific way but in a way that feels like you. And at the end? You have to share it!! Even if you’re bad at socials like me (lol), you still have to deliver the photos when you’re done with the edits. Like, I have delivered thousands of galleries and I still feel a little vulnerable whenever I push “Send” from my Pixieset dashboard. It’s wild!
So! Let’s Reframe This A Bit!
First! Let’s acknowledge how freaking awesome creating photographs is.
Photography – whether it’s family photography, wedding photography, senior photography, editorial work, stock photography, boudoir photography, or literally any kind of photography (even food!) – is all about capturing a split second moment. With our cameras, we are able to create moments that happen so fast that people can’t even really process them in real time. The deep breath moment before the kiss, the toddler throwing their hair back and laughing while hugging their mom, the curve of someone’s shoulders as they turn around to greet you, the way light frames a subject as it sets on the horizon. All of these things happen so freaking quick and being able to photograph these things is just a total gut punch of amazingness. Ah! I love photography and love all the joy it brings into the world.
Second! Everything Worth Doing Is A Little Vulnerable.
Think about your favorite song! If you broke it down, is there something a little ridiculous about it? Most likely, yes!
Now. Envision the song writer. Do you think they’ve ever been embarrassed by one of their songs or do you think they’ve ever created work they didn’t totally love? Or, heck, even work they’re totally embarrassed about? Now! Think about an artist whose work has spanned literal decades. Do you think they’ve ever cringed over a lyric or a way their voice sounded in a recording?
Of course they have! But guess what? That artist? They STILL created your very favorite song. They had it in them! And ask yourself! Do you think anyone else out there has the exact same favorite song as you? And on the flip side? Do you think there’s someone out there who absolutely loathes your favorite song? Abso-freaking-lutely! My husband doesn’t love Taylor Swift but I’ve been listening to her, like, every day since 2006. Does that change how much I love her music? Of course not!
Know that, no matter what, there is vulnerability in your work. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s pretty freaking spectacular.
Third! And Last For Today!
Ask yourself: What do you like?
Do you like color? Do you like patterns? Glitter? Minimalism? Do you like the outdoors? Dappled light? Or do you like even light? Ask yourself these questions and write down the answers. And after that? I want you to look around your house, your wardrobe, and a bundle of your own photographs. What do you see? Do you see commonalities?
Not going to lie: Sometimes I totally rock a black legging with a black tank top. But usually? That’s paired off with a floral kimono, a crochet head scarf and glitter boots. My home? The theme is flower pattern vintage flea market mixed with a million hand me downs and DIY projects that need to be done. There’s plants everywhere, books everywhere, there’s always essential oils running, stacks of photo props taking of my office, laundry that needs to be folded, and an ostentatious amount of leftover homemade food and baked goods. It’s cozy, it’s homey, and we have no less (probably more) than seven disco balls and, like, five random ottomans that I use for shoots peppered all over the house. Like, my daughter’s favorite blanket that’s currently her comforter? It started as a photoshoot blanket! My photographs spill into my life and my life spills into my photographs. This does lots of things but, best of all, it allows me the flexibility to create images that feel like me. When I create a photograph, I am sharing part of myself with my clients, with my photos, and, if I post (which I’m currently totally bad about), I’m sharing with the world, too.
Not There With Your Work Yet? That’s Okay! It Takes Time!
Want to get there with your work? Like, want to find out what kind of photos you like anyway? Wonderful! I am here for you!! Here’s what you do! When you think “Love that!” while taking a photo, roll with it! Push it just a little bit farther. Does that feel right? No? Yes? Keep going! Keep pushing those boundaries! Do you maybe wear a lot of flower prints but your photographs veer towards minimalism? Add some flowers! Have people hold bouquets for a week or two at your shoots. What do you think? Does that feel like you? Answer the question and go from there!
And maybe most importantly? If you are hesitant about something – say you always shoot at golden hour but decide to try to shoot in harsher light – ask yourself: Are you stuck in a pattern because it feels like the “right” way to take photographs? Or are you making those decisions because it’s something you love? These simple questions are total game changers! If you are doing something because you feel it’s correct, it might be holding you back.
And One Last Thought! For Real This Time!
There is no one right way to do anything. Photography is an art form. It’s YOUR art form. The more you shoot, the more you let yourself explore new avenues, new ideas, and new concepts. Yes, it’s so important that your business is sustainable. But there’s no one right way to do literally anything. If you don’t want to photograph posed newborn sessions, you don’t have to. Don’t want to photograph night time elopements? You don’t have to. If you want to just shoot garden themed couples sessions? You can!
Find out what feels right to you! Not to your mom or your Aunt Polly or your elementary school best friend’s sister. Your photography is a reflection of your heart. Go out there and capture it!!
Welcome back to the podcast, y’all! Cannot even wait to see where this journey takes us!
Galleries + Links + More
Based in Fayetteville, Arkansas Lissa Chandler is a traveling portrait and wedding photographer. Lissa is also the owner of Opal and June where she offers unique mockup photographs, bookish + history merch, and the dreamiest photoshoot dress rentals. Additionally, Lissa is the creator + instructor of The Hue of You, an online (and rad!) four week editing course offered through Click Photo School, and the host of the podcast Your Photographer Mom.