Looking through a camera can change your point of view. And the theory of defamiliarization—presenting what's commonplace in a fresh way—is what drives photographer Ashleigh Coleman. With her camera in hand, Ashleigh engages the southern landscapes she calls home to craft her sometimes-haunting and always-stunning imagery.
Today in Richard's Photog Spotlight, hear Ashleigh's journey from gallery girl to professional photographer, the camera that changed her career trajectory, and how film is an integral part of her family life!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Ashleigh Coleman: Even though he works a nine-to-five job, my father always had a camera in his hands. When I was younger, he talked to me about what he was doing—setting the aperture, composing, etc. I loved watching him. Naturally, I wanted to emulate him. During the spring of my "gap year" between high school and college, I went to Europe and he entrusted me with his 35mm Canon. After that, I was hooked.
R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
AC: Post university, I worked in an art gallery for several years; however, after getting married and moving to Mississippi, it wasn’t feasible to continue gallery work while living in a rural community. My husband gets the credit for encouraging me to take my passion for photography more seriously—it had been relegated to the hobby category previously. I will be frank, I watched a lot of CreativeLive courses and read lots of photography books and studied the work of other photographers, as well as talked to any photographer in the area who would give me the time of day. When I think about those first sessions with clients, I am incredibly grateful to them for trusting me to capture that season in their life!
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
AC: Oh sheesh. What don’t I love to photograph? I photograph my children, when they let me. I also love riding around—exploring small towns and dirt roads and talking to people along the way—to photograph what I see, to try to make sense of what I see.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
AC: For me, just being able to shoot film itself is creatively fulfilling. Without adding to my workload, it lets me create while juggling three children and editing work for clients (I primarily shoot digital for clients, unless they request film). The film is shot, sealed up, and kept on the counter until I have time to mail it off to the amazing and wonderful Richard Photo Lab. Then, scans arrive in my inbox all ready to go, thanks to the Color PAC process I went through in 2015. Win win!
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
AC: My favorite camera is the Hasselbad 500c/m with a Zeiss 80mm that I inherited from my husband’s uncle. The format and weight of it just fit. I was shooting a Mamiya 645e when I visited Uncle Bob in Wyoming one fall. He asked if I could still get film for “those old things.” Then, he disappeared into his office, returned with a box, and said, “I think you will put this to good use.” This past January, when I had my first two-person show at Fischer Galleries, it meant so much that Uncle Bob and his wife attended the opening to see images taken with that camera! It still floods my heart with gratitude when I think about how that unexpected gift changed the trajectory of my career.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it today?
AC: My first memory of shooting with film is in 2001—being in Rome and loading black and white film into my dad’s camera. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I loved it!
As I mentioned, I have three young kids, so shooting film gives me a creative outlet that doesn’t tether me to a computer screen. It is also the undercurrent in exploring—camera always in tow, but building memories with the family.
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
AC: Like any other relationship in life, unexpressed expectations lead to disappointment and frustration. When I communicate regularly with the lab (Albany, in particular), we all stay on the same page and we all are happy with the final results, me especially! It almost goes without saying that my work is made easier by the quality, consistency, and cheerful service of Richard Photo Lab.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
AC: I make sure I have on deodorant! Ha.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
AC: Right now it is "Aftergold" by Big Wild.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
AC: Chocolate, if I have to...
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
AC: Breakfast—if someone makes it for me.
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
AC: Cold weather.
R: Early bird or night owl?
AC: Night owl, hoot hoot.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
AC: Historical non-fiction, but really contemporary fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
AC: I’d be an interior designer with a side passion for horticulture—dreamers can dream!
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
AC: To tesser! (AKA to travel in time, from the book "A Wrinkle in Time")
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
AC: My favorite word is "grace"—we all need it.
Welcome back for another edition of “Don’t Be Lazy!”, your dose of tough love when it comes to your photography career…
It’s all about who you know. Cliché? Yes. But maybe that’s because it rings so true. Relationships are the foundation of almost any business, and our interactions with someone can influence their opinion of us even more than the quality of our work.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I am actively engaging on social media and I feel pretty booked this season, so I don’t need to worry about networking right now…”
Not so fast, buddy.
Social media and in-person networking are similar in that 1) they are both a kind of word-of-mouth advertising, and 2) the only upfront cost to do them is your time. But that doesn’t mean they serve the same functions. More and more, social media is becoming a mini-portfolio of your work for attracting potential clients, but networking is a different story.
Networking is about representing your brand personality in the flesh—yes, you need to be able to deliver the goods when it comes to imagery, but the purpose of networking is to get others keen on the idea of working WITH YOU. People are looking to connect with professional allies that will focus on mutual gain, deliver on their promises, and have the proven capabilities & resources to build success. And that’s what you need to be looking for, too!
“A lot of photographers spend hours on their phones commenting on photos and searching through Facebook groups, wondering why they aren't getting business from these interactions. Social media is an important tool, but face-to-face meetings seem to be getting overlooked! When you spend the time to actually meet in person or set up a phone call, you stay in their minds—when they think of photographers for a client, you’re on top of their list.
“In my experience, I have connected with way more people at events and created real (not forced) relationships with them—there are only a couple people who I have met from Instagram that have sent business my way. The relationships I have built face to face have helped my business a ton, and I cherish them. I make an effort to have meetings with my circle once or twice a month.”
You need to prep before you can start networking in a meaningful way, so don’t slack off! Make sure your website and social media are on point for the post-networking-event internet stalking. And for goodness sake, bring your business cards everywhere so that folks can easily get in touch with you (after you’ve had a chance to get to know each other, of course). If chatting up strangers isn’t your forte, gather up your best icebreakers so you can get a conversation started without overthinking it.
The most important preparation you can do is to develop quantifiable goals to motivate your networking efforts. Hit that target, whether it's introducing yourself to five new vendors at a tradeshow or booking one coffee date each week with a new contact! Goals will get you focused on making measurable progress and help you decide which of your networking efforts are effective and which can be kicked to the curb.
Where should you be networking? Technically, anywhere and everywhere, since you never know when you’ll meet someone who can help your business or even hire you! But, for some more targeted networking endeavors, here are a few places to start:
- On the job
- Industry trade shows
- Publisher’s events (think photography magazine releases or wedding blog events)
- Networking events (check out local artists’ groups, small business groups, and your chamber of commerce)
- Photo walks
- Gallery/show openings
“Networking has been vital to the success of my business, but not in the 'here is my business card, please hire me' sort of way. I believe people hire and refer people they know, like, and trust. The only way for that to happen is to be at the places those people are and start relationships. Be helpful and become friends with both your colleagues and competitors—exceed expectations and take care of the other vendors you work with.”
Who should you be networking with? Ultimately, you are looking for anyone who can be a true ally and have your back as a business. There are a lot of different industries that overlap with the photography world, and many diverse types of professionals can make great additions to your network:
- Industry bloggers & magazines
- Hair/Makeup teams
- Modeling agencies
- Event planners
- Graphic designers
- Interior designers
- Event venues
- Other photographers
Did you notice that we put "other photographers" last on our list? Networking with photographers can be very personally & creatively fulfilling and can yield even more awesome connections to add to your network, but if they are the only people you are networking with then you are not serving your business to the fullest. The majority of your network should be professionals that are not photographers themselves—they can provide more opportunities for you to get paying gigs, it’s as simple as that.
If you’ve had some successful meet n’ greets, remember: the work ain’t over yet! Networking is a continuous effort, and there has to be follow-up (meeting someone once does not a network make). How many times have you swapped contact info with someone only to never speak with them again? Put in the effort to build real relationships, not just add names to your rolodex. Yeah, we made that reference #oldschooliscool
“Networking can be really intimidating, especially for more introverted people, but it's a necessity for success in pretty much any industry. When I decided to move back to Los Angeles, I sent out emails to some planners I wanted to work with and never heard back. I was so discouraged! I complained to a friend, and she asked me how many people I had emailed and how many times I had followed up. I told her I contacted five people and hadn't followed up. She laughed and told me that the average return rate for cold calls was 5%, and that was after three or more attempts at reaching out.
“That night, I emailed 30 people and followed up—I set up dozens of coffees and lunches over the next few weeks. Those meetings are what led to many of my bookings for this year and next year, as well as some great friendships and even invitations to industry events where I met other amazing vendors and kept expanding my social network within the industry!”
Networking is a reciprocal process—what goes around comes around! Your network isn’t just about helping you out. If you put in the time and effort to genuinely support your fellow professionals, you can expect the same in return. So, say “yes” to opportunities to collaborate with and help your professional allies!
“Seven years ago, I showed up to an engagement session an hour away from home and realized that my Contax had no inserts! I happened to take them out for some reason and forgot to put them back. Thankfully, I remembered meeting a girl at a networking event who lived in the area who also shot film. I reached out to her and was lucky enough to be able to borrow her inserts. Lesson learned is to triple check my gear and that it's good to maintain relationships!”
Ultimately, networking is the gateway to referrals. One of the advantages of working in a community-centered industry where lots of professionals must come together to make a shoot happen is that every time your network gets business, you have a chance to get in on that business, too. Most photogs get over 80% of their new business from referrals. Don’t be lazy—ASK FOR THEM!
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Okay, that idiom is a little dark, but the point still stands—there is more than one way to scan film! It’s amazing how much variation you can get from the limited controls of a film scanner, which is why adding your scan preferences to your film order is vital if you need to narrow down the particular “look” of your film images.
There’s more to it than just saying “warmer” or “brighter”, though. We are dealing with subjective terms that mean different things to different people; maybe you think “warmer” means more yellow, but someone else thinks “warmer” means more red. Specificity matters when requesting your preferences!
First, you need to know what parameters of an image you can even request preferences for (because not all characteristics can be controlled well by a scanning machine). The first is density of the overall image, or lightness/darkness. We call it density because it refers to how transparent or opaque the physical negative is (more info here).
Another thing that can be controlled in the scanning process is color balance. But don’t confuse this with controlling specific color channels! Film scanners do not have the same capabilities to adjust images as Lightroom and Photoshop, so the scanning technician is pretty limited in their controls and is governed by “the physics of color”.
What does that mean? When working with RGB colors (as opposed to physical ink, which is the CMYK color space), opposite hues have an interdependent balance. Yellow depends on blue, red depends on cyan, and magenta depends on green—and to decrease the appearance of one color, we must increase the color it is dependent on. There is no masking or selective color in the scanning process, so these changes in color balance occur across the entire image.
A fake tan and a red-faced barfly in one shot? The film scanning technician has to work within the physics of color to get the best results for both skin tones.
What other things do we have very little or just plain poor control over in the scanning process? One is saturation—making colors more intense/vibrant within the film scanner is very tricky. This is mainly because adjusting saturation in the film scanner can make other adjustments, like density and color balance, get really funky. All of a sudden whites look pink or blue, colors get blocky and smooth gradients are lost, etc.
The other is contrast—not to be confused with density (which is the overall lightness or darkness of an image), contrast is the range of difference between lights and darks. Shadows darken at a faster rate than highlights do, and shifting contrast can be unpredictable sometimes. Ultimately, Richard wants you to get the very best version of your image, and trying to adjust saturation and contrast within the scanning process is not the way to do it. Both should be controlled by YOU while you are shooting (more on that here), or refined in post-production.
So, now that you know a bit more about scanner controls, you know that…
When you are considering the look you like, remember to think of how it applies to skin tone. If there is a person in your shot, typically they are the subject of the photo, which is why Richard Photo Lab always prioritizes the appearance of skin tone when scanning film.
Let’s take a look at some real-world examples of how different density requests affect the same image:
Image by Erika Parker
There is a ton of information stored in a properly exposed film negative. The lab can scan to show off more details in the shadowy areas or more detail in the highlight areas. Compare the two images above! Note that the one scanned for shadows holds a lot of detail in the back-lit bride and more contrast in the foreground, while the version scanned for highlights has more textures and patterns shown in the walls and window.
Perceptually, it feels like this is an adjustment in contrast—but that is really an inherited result of the highlights and the shadows shifting at different rates as we adjust the levels of lightness/darkness for highlight details versus shadow details.
Image by Kayla Barker
Try not to get confused by the terms shadow and highlight when thinking of these requests—it's tough because scanning for shadow actually produces a lighter image, and vice versa.
But wait, there’s more! If you want to take this one step further, you can request to use a pre-existing color profile... What is a color profile? It’s a set of visual guidelines and references that we build personally with a photographer, getting into the nitty gritty of their shooting techniques and fine tuning their style of imagery. While “borrowing” a pre-existing profile does not guarantee your images will look exactly the same as that photographer’s work (because, hey, they are working with different film stocks, lighting conditions, camera settings, eyes, and a myriad of other variables than you), these profiles can be more tuned in to the minutia of a “look” than density and color preferences alone.
Here’s an example of an image scanned using the lab’s best judgement and three of our most popular color profile options:
Image by Silver & Sage Studio
Once you've been able to experiment with different scan preferences and pre-existing color profiles to really define the look you love, you should really go through the process of creating your own personal, in-depth color profile as part of our Color PAC service!
How do you indicate your scan preferences on an order? First head to Richard’s Online Film Ordering Site to start your order! Then, in the cart under ORDER OPTIONS, you can write your scan preferences in the SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS section of your order, or you can opt to use a color profile.