Mental Health Exercises For Photographers

Yesterday I talked about how photography helped me with my own personal mental health. Today I would like to talk about specific ideas and exercises one might do, as a photographer, to improve their own mental health. Now, before we get started let me be clear, these are just suggestions, not law. The difference between an idea and law is that ideas are moldable. They can be changed, evolved, improved upon, and made better. So I encourage all of you reading to take my ideas and make them your own. I would even love to hear about how you have improved on these ideas on my Patreon, Twitter, Instagram, or Vero. So without further ado here are some mental health exercises for photographers.

Go On A Photo Walk-About

The first time I ever heard the term walk-about was watching the movie, Crocodile Dundee. The main character explained that it was a time to just walk around and think. No real direction or destination. You just kind of go where your feet take you. Going on a photography walk-about is not much different. You just pick a place and walk, camera in hand, and take pictures as you go. Some of my favorite walkabouts were in Cleaveland OH while there on a work trip, a local nature trail here in Orlando, and weirdly enough Disneyland. Some of my best photos ever taken have come from walkabouts, and I always feel a little better afterward both mentally and physically.

Work Through You Emotions With Self Portraits

In 2019 I decided to start taking self-portraits. I did this because I did not have a lot of good photos of myself, and I wanted some, and there were things I wanted to express that I thought I could through self-portrait photography. After I had created my first 5 or 6 self-portraits a friend told me something that I will never forget. She said that while the photos were good they lacked depth, emotion, and vulnerability, and that is what she wanted to see. So I sat down and wrote out some emotions that I have always struggled with. Emotions that I often tried to hide, but occasionally bubbled up to the surface in unhealthy ways, and decide to take a photo of those emotions. The one that really stuck with me was the photos I took of anger. Taking the photo and talking on Instagram about how anger had affected my life in the past brought a great deal of peace and closure to me. It helped me to see things about myself I had not seen before and helped me gain even greater control, in a healthy way, over my emotions.

Learn To See Art In The Ordinary and Mundane

There is this idea that we only see a small percentage of the world around us. We are bombarded by so many things that our brains can only process so much, otherwise, we would get overwhelmed and die. Because of that filter, we have on the world we often overlook or miss small things that carry great beauty. A few months ago I started taking the time to find those small items that we often overlook and turn them into beautiful works of art with nothing more than my camera and a bit of light editing. My favorite image that I have created in this endeavor so far is the one below. My wife had been doing some arts and crafts earlier and had left some colored pencils on our coffee table. I gathered up the pencils and put them inside a shot glass so they would all be held together. Using a chair I took a photo of them from overhead and this image turned into one of my most liked photos on any social media platform I am currently on. Art…made from the most simple object…a pencil.

I hope you enjoyed these mental health exercises for photographers. These are a few ideas I employ to help my mental health and I have found them helpful. What are some ways that you have used photography for your mental health? I’d love to hear! In the meantime make sure you are signed up for my newsletter where I share things that are newsletter exclusive. For example this week I will be sharing 3 great tips to take great photos with your phone!

Till next time – Keep taking great photos.

Can Photography Help Mental Health

I always thought it a weird joke the universe was playing on me when I think back on the worst day of my life. It was April 1, 2009 (April Fools Day), and I was planning to kill myself.

I have struggled with mental health most of my life. Growing up I never really felt safe. School was honestly a form of cruel and unusual torture as I was plagued by both students and teachers for most of my grade school and middle school career. And while some people had the blessing of being able to go home and find peace I was not graced with that option. Home was a place of violent emotional outbursts, unrealistic expectations, dishonesty, and religious brainwashing. So when I tell you I grew up in survival mode you can at least have a vague understanding.

When someone grows up in survival mode it’s extremely difficult for them to be present in the moment. Their brains are operating at 110% all the time analyzing every interaction, motion, word, and phrase. Looking for dangers, and planning out how they will react when the inevitable danger appears. It is an exhausting way to live, and one of the most difficult trauma responses to unlearn.

I carried much of this flight or fight hyper-vigilance into adulthood and I will be honest it ruined a lot of relationships, friendships, and opportunities. So when my world came crashing down around me on April 1, 2009 I thought I was done. I was tired, exhausted, and just didn’t see a way out. More importantly, I just didn’t want to live like that anymore. So I pulled out my gun, loaded it, and decided to have one last night before the end. I ordered my favorite Chinese food (sesame chicken with fried rice & a coke), cleaned up my apartment (no idea why), and decided to listen to some music. Now at the time, I had a 500-disc CD player, and it was fully loaded with CDs from 500 different artists. I picked up the remote and hit shuffle…what happened next will forever be one of the biggest surprises of my life!

This is the bullet that was supposed to take me out in 2009. I have carried it as a reminder of that night ever since.

Suicide rates are something no one really talks about. Out of 100,000 people, 13 will commit suicide. That comes out to 130 suicides per day and men have 69.98% of that statistic. Now that is just how many succeed in committing suicide. In 2020 there were 1.2 million REPORTED attempts, and we can assume that that number is higher because not everyone reports their attempt.

I never reported mine, in fact, I didn’t talk about it or tell anyone about it for years. It took me a while to come to grips with what happened. How it happened, and why it happened. Why me?

So there I was, sitting on the couch, eating sesame chicken and sipping on a coke. I had just hit shuffle on my CD player and the VERY FIRST song to come on was a song called Birthday by The Cruxshadows. Now I won’t quote the entire song to you, but I will quote the lyrics that hit me like a ton of bricks…

“So look at your life
Who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life
And what do you want to do?
Look at your life
Who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life
You haven’t got forever”

The Cruxshadows

I heard those lyrics and realized I did not want this to be my last night on earth. I wanted more, and to live a better life. So I unloaded my gun and put it away.

Now I wish I could tell you that the next day I woke up a changed man…I didn’t. I wish I could tell you the next day was better…It wasn’t…in fact, it was worse. But I knew I wanted to get better, and I had a long journey in front of me. I started going to therapy, reading good books, and making changes in my life. It did not happen all at once. It did not even happen quickly. But eventually, those small changes had a compound effect and my life started to improve.

One of the changes that came into my life a few years later was photography. Social media had introduced me to so many beautiful and stunning images online, and I desperately wanted to create beautiful images myself. I had no idea how, or what I was doing, but photography had sparked something inside me. A fire that was never going to go out. I started taking pictures of anything and everything. Some were good, most were ok, and a few were really bad. But I didn’t care. Picking up a camera was a near meditative experience for me.

See when you grow up in survival mode, and eventually, learn to live in survival mode your brain never stops running. It moves at the speed of a supercomputer always looking for danger and popping out ideas of how to deal with that imagined danger. But when I put a camera in my hand my brain stopped looking for dangers. It took a break and for the first time in my entire life, I could be present 100% in the moment. No what ifs. Just me, my camera, and whatever I was shooting.

After living a lifetime in survival mode this reprieve from my brain was/is an experience I have difficulty describing. I remember trying to explain this to my best friend once and saying “Is this how normal people live?! Because if so they have no idea how wonderful their lives are!!”

So can photography help people suffering from mental health? Yes! It has not only given me a haven to help ease my troubled mind but has allowed me the opportunity to express difficult emotions that I could never express before.

I will never understand what happened that night on April 1, 2009. Why out of all those CDs did the machine pick that one CD and that one song? Was it a higher power? If so why me?

I will probably never know the answers to those questions, but what I do know is I am grateful I did not pull the trigger that night. I am grateful I eventually discovered photography, and I am grateful I now get to create beautiful images and share them…Just like I wanted to so many years ago.

What Do Photographers Do?

Film photography has been out of mainstream favor for many many years. And despite film making a resurgence most professional photographers will still rely on digital over film. This means a photographer is not limited to the number of shots they can take, and often most digital photographers can rack up an impressive number of shots from a single photoshoot. I myself can range anywhere from 100-1000 shots inside one photo shoot. So what do photographers do with all those photos?

Now I can not speak for everyone, but I will share what I do. I store them. Simple as that.

Why?

Because I might want to come back to them someday. As photographers, we are constantly learning. This hobby and profession always have new cameras coming out, new lenses to explore, and brand new software to experiment with, and with each passing year, we as photographers get better little by little.

With that new skill comes the opportunity for us to revisit old photos and ideas and see if we can improve upon our older work. Let me give you an example…

The photo below was taken 07/21/2020 with Maeve in Tampa FL. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with the photo. The shoot had some issues due to a lighting issue and I was forced to use harsh undiffused lighting that showed off parts of the client’s oily skin. In post, I worked to edit in a way to minimize those effects the harsh lighting had, and honestly, I think, for that time period, I did a pretty good job. The client was happy with the photo and shared it everywhere.

Now fast forward two years later. In those two years, I have had a lot of practice when it comes to editing, and I have learned new techniques and skills I did not have before. So, the other day I decided to revisit this shoot and see what I could do…

Same photoshoot. Same lighting conditions, but you can see a BIG difference in the editing. Before I relied too much on Lightroom recommendations for editing and didn’t trust my own unique creative skills. Today I rarely use any of Lightroom’s automatic recommendations and adjust and edit the model and the lighting in a way that shows off my unique creative vision for a photo.

So the next time a photographer tells you how many full external hard drives they have…Don’t give them a hard time. There might be a literal work of art in there, patiently waiting for the artist to learn a few new skills.

Photographers Near Me

Just Married

It was just a few days before my wedding and something happened. The photographer I had hired to take pictures had to cancel and I was left without a photographer. You can imagine my panic, being a photographer myself, at the possibility of not getting good images on this very important day. So I did what roughly 135,000 people do every year…I pulled up Google and typed in Photographers near me. Want to know what popped up? Two Boudoir studios, a picture framing business, and two “family photography” businesses.

This was NOT a good sign and I was concerned, VERY concerned. Eventually I gave up on Google and decided to try Instagram. Going to the search feature on IG I tried “Orlando Photographer” and “Florida Photographer” and guess what?

If you guessed that I got nothing you would be correct.

See the problem I was facing here is a problem that I don’t think is talked about enough when photographers decide to strike out on their own and become a freelance photographer. Being a freelance photographer means RUNNING YOUR OWN BUISNESS, and running a business requires skills outside of photography.

When you run your own business you need to learn how to…

  1. Find and retain customers – This means sales, marketing, Google AdWords, and picking up the phone and cold calling potential clients.
  2. Organization – Running a calendar, keeping appointments, doing the edits, etc.
  3. Presentation – Delivering a quality experience to the customer from start to finish.
  4. Finances – Invoicing, billing, taxes, ect.
  5. Social Media – Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and more.

Now why do I bring this all up? Because if the local photographers in the Orlando area had all set up a Google Business Profile I would have seen more options on my “Photographers Near Me” google search then I did. I would have been able to secure and find a photographer more easily, and I certainly would have had less stress in the days leading up to my wedding.

So to all my fellow photographers near me and far far away from me…If I have but one tip for you it is this…Go set up a business profile on Google. You can thank me later.

Just Married

Unsupportive Photographers

Unsupportive Photographers
A candid shot I took and edited at my Cousin Hannah’s wedding

I want to share a story with all of you about an experience I had over ten years ago with a group of unsupportive photographers. It’s an experience that has stayed with me, and even now, 10 years later, when I think back on it the memory remains clear.

When I started learning the art of photography I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. At the suggestion of a friend of mine I bought a couple of Scott Kelby books on photography and learned enough to try my hand at aperture photography. What I mean by that is I shot in aperture priority mode, because at the time shooting in manual scared the hell out of me.

I knew I wanted to shoot people, and thankfully I had two friends who agreed to do a shoot in a hollowed-out abandoned building. I took the shots and I knew they needed work, so I posted a few of the shots to a Facebook photography group I was a member of. I probably should have known better, but the feedback I got from literally hundreds of unsupportive photographers was overwhelming. I was called amateur, newb, pathetic, childish, and more. The number of negative comments from unsupportive photographers was enough for me to pull the post down, and NEVER comment or share in that group again.

Now keep in mind…The photos I posted I knew needed work, and I said in my post that I was looking for feedback and advice on how I could improve. The post received 203 comments and not one single person offered me any kind of advice. No one talked to me about lighting, posing techniques, or editing suggestions. Not one.

Fast-forward 10 years later. I am an accomplished photographer. I’ve worked with a variety of clients, businesses, and settings. I am in no way perfect and continue to learn, but I am certainly none of the things those unsupportive photographers called me 10 years ago. How did I do it? How did I improve? By following the advice of supportive photographers like Peter Mckinnon, Sorelle Amore, Jeremy Siers, Denny Den and so many more. Denny as a matter of record owes me nothing yet has always found the time to answer any questions I have ever sent his way on IG. That level of encouragement and support is the kind of photographer I think we should all try to emulate.

Being a supportive photographer is remembering we all start somewhere. Everyone starts at the beginning, and everyone has to learn. So the next time you see a photo from a photographer asking for advice, help, or support…choose to be kind.

Unsupportive Photographers
A shot I took at my Nieces dress rehearsal for Into The Woods

Is Instagram Dead

Is Instagram Dead
Taken as a promotional photo for Player1 Bar

So if you have been paying attention to social media news recently you have probably seen a lot of people asking “Is Instagram Dead?” Or at least that is what everyone using the platform is predicting. For those of you not paying attention to social media news, let me catch you up…no, no, there is too much…let me sum up.

Instagram is dead because Instagram is trying to copy/be like TikTok. Therefore it is giving more priority to video content than it is to still images.

It is not the first time something like this has happened. In 2017 Instagram copied Snapchat by introducing “stories” which I will admit I think Instagram did better than Snapchat. Then in 2018 Facebook tried to turn Instagram into another version of Facebook and started prioritizing ad spending over natural account growth. This meant if you were not willing to spend ad money with Instagram your account was not going to grow or get engagement. Now in 2022 with the rise in popularity of Tiktok, Instagram is once again trying to copy the cool kid, instead of having its own unique style and presence.

Now, why is this a problem you might ask…Well for one thing Instagram was founded on the idea of posting photos. Photographers of every kind made Instagram popular for what it is today. Ignoring where you came from, and worse ignoring the people who helped make you is a terrible thing for any person, business, or social media platform. It alienates your core base user group in favor of a new, younger, hip user. But here is some harsh truth to anyone reading this…Companies have been doing this for years. Think back to internet providers, cell phone companies, insurance companies ect. They are ALWAYS having promos for NEW clients. “Sign up now and get 50% off your first order!” or “Switch today and your first two months are on us!” or “Buy this month and get this nifty service absolutely free!” Every single one of us has heard these kinds of sales pitches before because companies don’t usually care about you after you’ve signed up.

When was the last time you heard of a company offering a promo, special, or offer to customers who have been with them for 10 years? How often has a company called you up and said something like “Hey we see in our records that you have been doing business with us for 5 years so we would like to say thank you by paying for your next month of service?” It does not happen because business owners focus WAY too much on new business rather than existing business.

I recently worked for a company where the CEO was a perfect example of this mentality. He would sign any contract, make any deal, and say anything to anyone (including lying) if it meant closing a new business deal. Meanwhile, he largely ignored and neglected his main base customers.

Instagram is dead because they are doing this exact same thing.

Now, that being said what can be done about it?

Nothing! Natta! Zippo!

Harsh I know, but the reality is there really isn’t anything we can do. We the people do not own Instagram or Facebook, and therefore we can beat our chest and scream our opinions and they will mean absolutely nothing. We have to accept that Instagram is changing because we don’t pay for Instagram. Perhaps it would be different if we all paid some sort of subscription fee to the platform, and Instagram’s profit was tied into those subscriptions, but that is not the case.

So how do we get our content out there? What app do we go to? Is there an Instagram alternative?

As long as you share your content on FREE platforms you will always be subject to the changes that platform makes. However, if you choose to share your content on your own website you will ALWAYS have control over how your content is shared. Now let me be clear I am not advocating for you to leave Instagram. I still have an Instagram and plan to continue to share content there, but I don’t count on Instagram’s FREE model to EVER work in my favor or interest. Even its paid options are not very reliable. But I do count on my website to always have the content I want because I created it and shared it the way I wanted to.

That being said if you would like to follow my social media platforms check out My Patreon, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, and YouTube.

Is Instagram Dead

Taken as a promotional photo for Player1 Bar

Thoughts on Freelance Photography Resources

I always thought if I ever became a published Author this Self Portrait should be my authors photo

I decided this month that I was tired of working for other people, and to pursue freelancing photography. This is/was a very scary decision as it means I will not have a “stable” income stream at the beginning of this new adventure. But I simply can not continue working for people who make bad choices, see their employees as slaves, and feel trapped in a job for the sake of a paycheck.

So here I am, once again trying something new and different. Something that honestly scares the living shit out of me, but something that, I hope, in the end, will be worth it.

Now, like probably so many others before me, as I pondered the idea of going freelance I did a lot of Google searches looking for articles, resources, and guidance on how to be a good freelance photographer, where to find work, and how to keep good clients. You would think in today’s world and with the vastness of the internet I would be able to find some good solid resources…but alas, I could not.

That is not to say that I did not find a plethora of articles and blog posts, because I did, but I could not find any that were of use or help to me.

Why? Well because they all said the same things just using different words. Every single article, blog post, online magazine article, etc all said the same things that freelance photographers needed to do. Here let me summarize them for you.

How to be a Freelance Photographer

  1. Buy a camera – Really? No shit Sherlock. Are there really people out there who don’t own a camera who wake up one day and think…”I want to be a Freelance Photographer” and then need to be TOLD to “buy a camera”?
  2. Set up a website – Again this seems like a no-brainer right? If you are going to become a Freelance anything you are basically starting a business population 1, and that business will need a website so clients can find you.
  3. Build a Portfolio – OK so I will be honest I was surprised at how many photographers try to “become photographers” without any kind of a Portfolio. TBH I was even more surprised at how many people don’t even know what a portfolio is or how to use a portfolio. So rest assured this is a topic I will be covering in a future post. Bottom line my advice to anyone is to get 10 good portfolio pieces BEFORE you go into photography as a business.
  4. Get your first client – Wow really?!? I need a client?!!? I NEVER would have thought of that! There were SO MANY sites that had this on their articles, but when you drilled into the HOW you find clients the material was surprisingly lacking.
  5. Create a schedule – This was often an advertisement for some sort of calendar app that was sponsoring the post.
  6. Edit your photos – OK but who is giving clients unedited RAW photos?! Anyone? Bueller, Bueller, Bueller? Again these kinds of articles usually advertised software like Adobe Lightroom in these posts, but I am often surprised how few photographers talk about the importance of editing. Taking the shot is honestly only part of the work. Editing is just as important as taking a good picture.

Pretty basic stuff to be honest, and if you ask me these kinds of articles lack the fundamentals of running a business, which is what Freelance is. Thankfully I have run my own company before when I ran my own gym called Geek and Gamer Fitness, plus I have worked in business, sales, and marketing for over a decade. So I plan to write a bit about the real fundamentals that I think are important about being a Freelance Photographer. Some of these topics will include…

  1. Basic & Advanced Sales Techniques
  2. What is a CRM and how/when/should you use it
  3. Cold call techniques
  4. Where to really search for clients
  5. How to set your rates, and how to find clients that won’t make you discount yourself
  6. The care and feeding of editing photos

So stay tuned to this blog for future articles. Also don’t forget to check out my Instagram, Twitter and my Patreon for all my updates, thoughts, photos, BTS, and more.

Some promotional photos were taken at Paddywagon Irish Pub Lake Buena Vista