Jean Smith | Photo Native Featured Instructor


Q: When you think of yourself as a photographer, do you feel like you’re more business-minded or more art/creativity-minded? Or are you a mix?

In the beginning, I was 98% creative, and 2% business. Of course, I wanted to actually succeed and be a profitable business, so I've had to painfully learn the business side of things. I wish I were more business minded, but I'm around 50% creative, 50% business now.

Q: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges photographers are faced with right now?

The social media "perfect life." Everything looks amazing on Instagram. He is always traveling. Her clothes are so cute. He has the coolest new equipment. She photographs destination weddings. Her hair is beautiful. Blah blah blahhhhh. Pretty images are pretty, but just remember that EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. behind those pretty images has trials, hardships, ugly hair days, and a whole plethura of other stuff you'll never know about.

Q: If you could go back in time and tell your photographer newbie self one thing, what would that be?

 A photographer friend once told me that if she could go back and do it again, she would still do photography as a business, but pursue a business or marketing degree rather than a fine art degree. I understand that all might not agree with this, but I agree 110%. I am already right brained, so the creativity and photography came easier for me. But the business. Ohhhhh the business. I imagine most photographers are like me who can easily grasp the photography side of things, but the business side is a STRUGGLE. I would guess that owning a  successful and profitable photography business is 30% photography and 70% business. Don't believe me? Look at all of the over-the-top-incredible-amazing photographers out there earning next to nothing. Why? Because they don't know how to run a business. Get a business degree. Or take classes. Learn how to market and be an entrepreneur.

Q: How do you deal with burnout? What do you do to boost your creativity when you’re in a slump?

As an entrepreneur, wife, and mother, I'll admit I struggle to implement "me" time. However, when I am feeling burned out in photography, I do personal work and it ABSOLUTELY helps me to feel new, fresh, and passionate about photography again. I try to do at least one personal photography project or shoot a month. As a side note, I know some people who ONLY show their personal work on their websites, and I think that is one of the greatest ways to attract the exact client you are looking for so you can continue to create the art you want to create.

Q: What’s the best part about being a photographer and doing the work that you do?

The fact that I get to photograph people's happiest times in their lives and get paid for it. WHAT???

Q: How do you keep yourself an artist- but not a starving artist?P

ricing has so much to do with this. If a photographer is charging pennies for their shooting and editing time as well as the digital images and/or products, they are allowing themselves as well as their clients to see them as a budget photographer. A budget photographer has a camera and clicks a button. I haven't met a photographer in the world who wants to be a button pusher. We all want to be artists creating beautiful imagery. As an artist, it is vital to charge prices that reflect confidence in his/her art work. I feel I can say this openly as I had to learn the hard way and dig myself out of a terrible pricing structure at the start of my business. It may take a few months or even a few years to get to where you want to be, but charging what your worth is absolutely necessary for your success as an artist as well as a human who needs to make a decent living.

If money was no question, what project would you pursue?Photographing travel + charities. Yes please over and over.

Q: How did you find your style? (editing, mood, lighting, etc)

All new photographers have to go on a journey to discover their style. It doesn't happen overnight and it could take years. In fact, although most photographers settle into a niche or specific style at some point, they often evolve in and out of that style over time. I guess that's called being an artist. Although I’ve had many “light bulb moments” throughout my journey, one specific way I found my style was to gather images that really spoke to me. I studied them and picked out the elements that I loved. I quickly found out that wide angles, dramatic light, and movement were my top inspirations. I tried to continually practice and incorporate those elements into my work.

Q: What is your favorite part about teaching and connecting with students?

My favorite part about teaching is creating a better and smarter community of photographers. I WISH I had someone to talk to, to learn from, to grow with when I was beginning in photography. When I started in photography 12 years ago, everything felt secretive. Photographers rarely talked about how they photographed, created their style, or built their business. The industry has come so far in wanting to create better photographers. Better and more educated photographers = photographers who value their work = charging higher prices = better for all photographers in the industry!

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

My baby will have just graduated high school, so a lot of travel somehow combined with photography would be a dream.

Q: If you are a parent, what’s one tip you have for juggling a super crazy photographer’s work schedule with parenthood?

OUTSOURCING! My kids are all in school full time now, so I have that chunk of time during the day to work. But I worked for years with babies and toddlers and know how difficult that can be. My life saving outsourcing is/was bi-weekly house cleaning, in-home nanny 2x/week, album design, editing, packaging and shipping. Yes, it costs money to do those things, but I simply raised my pricing by that much per session or wedding to cover the costs. Outsourcing allowed me 1) my sanity 2) time for my family 3) to get rid of things I didn't enjoy doing  4) more time to shoot and market which means more money!

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