*Warning: I don’t ever edit/proofread my blogs, so there’s a. lot. of rambling.*
**warning #2 – I saved the images in the wrong color space (I guess?) so they are all too greeny and washed out. I sorry*
Way back in August, a man named Mike was desperately trying to get a hold of me. He tried emailing, but Karis is a wonderful firewall and on my request, *sifts* through my mail before it gets to me. I HATE doing it and it sucks, but the reality is that I can’t photograph every vendor’s products, be a part of every giveaway, and travel to every location I’m asked to teach at. So when that approach didn’t work, Mike somehow (we’re still trying to figure out!) tracked down my personal cell phone number and for whatever reason, I answered the unknown caller sometime in the beginning of September.
Mike’s proposal wasn’t like other offers and requests I’d yet had up until then. He wanted me to speak at a conference. Immediately warning bells went off in my head and I, without hesitation, said no. Like NO, no. No way, no. I am a big fat loudmouth in a personal setting with a handful/maybe a dozen people. But the second I’ve ever been mic’d in the past, my throat has constricted, by face makes this awful grimace, my voice cracks and I turn ten shades of magenta. And I ramble. And stammer.
So my final answer, was a resounding no.
Mike told me to think about it and he’d call me back.
A few days later, he called again, I knew it was him because I had saved the number as “DO NOT ANSWER 4” —It’s a secret who the DO NOT ANSWER 1,2 and 3 are–but for whatever reason, I answered. I felt bad ignoring him because he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. So I tried another tactic. This time, not only did I say “NO”, but I told him WHY. I thought that if I could convince him how misguided he was in thinking I could do this, and allude to the fact that HE would be embarrassed and/or fired for having me come in the first place, he’d get the hint.
First up, he had mentioned that it was a PPA event. Guess who ISN’T a member of the PPA? This girl. Oh, I get the magazine every month because it’s pretty and kinda makes me feel legit. But I have never had any intentions of joining any kind of “club”. I have a stellar *club* of past workshop/eWorkshop girls that I adore thankyouverymuch. I’m a free spirit, and all those excuses. Mike said it was no big deal.
So I moved on to my next excuse. I’ve never done this before and I could totally suck. Mike laughed and said the convention needed someone “fresh and honest”. I told him that I was pretty sure they didn’t need a bumbling idiot who would probably puke all over the stage, but that just made him laugh again and say, “See? You’ll be great!” Not sure how idiot and puking made me a great candidate for this, but whatever. At this point I was kind of convinced maybe he was TRYING to get fired.
My big guns came out. “I hate stuff like this. I think people take photography WAY too seriously. I honestly just do it to have fun. I have NUH-THING to teach in that sense. These people want direction and pep and I’ll just tell to stop CARING so much. Which is ironic since they are at a convention, so they obviously CARE.” Mike enthusiastically replied, “YES! That’s what they NEED to hear!”
Now I’m kind of convinced that he’s legally insane and the Northern Light PPA people have no idea and he just some bored dude sitting in Florida drunk dialing people and seeing how many idiots he can convince that he’s some PPA convention chairman.
My last ditch effort was to sigh and say, “I’m the laziest photographer in the whole wide world. I hate doing print sales, so literally all I offer are digital negatives plus the session fee all rolled into one for $900.”
FINALLY, he paused. But then said, “That’s okay, if it works for you, it works for me.”
Against my better judgement, that September day, I agreed. Because March seemed awfully far away. And a two hour presentation COULDN’T be that long, right?
Two weeks and 6,000 words into my written speech, I had Googled, “How many words in a 120 minute presentation” about 900 times, hoping every time the number would be lower. It wasn’t.
Every time I practiced, I did the whole thing in under 25 minutes. I tried talking slow. I practiced for Karis (she fell asleep). I was starting to panic.
I started thinking about who I was going to take with me, as one of the deals I worked out with Mike was that I could bring someone. There was absolutely no way I was going to fly to Minnesota and speak for the first time in front of that many people alone. Again, lots of y’all think I’m this crazy confident, butt kicking, self assured woman. Not. The. Case.
But I do know someone who fits that bill. Well, as much as any woman can fit that bill. We all have our own personal crap that gets us down but that’s another blog post.
So I called the one friend I have who I’m scared for anyone who crosses me, the one who when I’ve been attacked in the past has been the loud mouth who says everything I secretly want to say. Basically, my evil twin. You guys know her as Erin Tole of Erin Tole Photography.
Last August, I flew to Portland to photograph her new little one, Veda, so I figured I could call in a favor for some moral support (see also: personal bodyguard who would throat punch anyone who tried to throw a tomato at me) and also use it as a chance to spend some grown up girl bonding time with her when she wasn’t 8 days postpartum. She didn’t even hesitate, and we excitedly texted each other screen shots of our flight plans and brushed up on our Minnesota accents, doontcha knoohw.
Then all of a mother-lovin-sudden. It. Was. March.
My nervousness was visible as anyone who saw me last week would whisper in hushed tones usually reserved for cancer patients, “How are you feeling about next week?” I would then (literally) plug my fingers in my ears like a 5 year old until they got the point that I didn’t want to talk about it.
I miserably sat on the plane to Denver (yeah wrap your mind around THAT for a second…I flew from Indianapolis to Denver to Minneapolis) wedged in the middle seat between two armrest hogging dudes, typing on my laptop like a frigging T-rex (seriously, glue your elbows to your side and mimic typing-that’s what I looked like) I questioned what the heck I was doing. Like really, I hadn’t done public speaking since 11th grade French class when I gave a speech on Dave Matthews’ biography in french. It only went over good because I was a huge Dave fan and I absolutely adore the French language. And because there were only 7 other students. Microphones terrify me, I loathe the sound of my voice, and do I need to remind you what I said earlier about the awful grimace my face makes when I’m really nervous. And I shake.
Natural born public speaker right here.
The second Erin wrapped me in a half hug (Veda was on her hip) and said, “You got this, Rachel”, though…the weekend seemed a little bit more doable.
Veda facetime-ing with her boy, Elmo.
I love this kid. Oh, and any pictures with me in them, I obvs didn’t take. Erin did, and I edited them. Thanks, skank…I guess you’re pretty good with a camera 😉
It still blows my mind sometimes, that I have such great friends. Traveling with a 7 month old isn’t easy, even if Erin makes it look effortless, and it meant the world to me that she was there. Her business is crazy busy, and she has another daughter at home and a husband. I totally get how much of a sacrifice she made to basically just hold my hand while I freaked out all over St. Paul.
I know I’ve said it a million times, Erin, but thanks. Just. Thanks.
An amazing woman, Kath, picked us up at the airport. Making us feel all swanky and legit. She was such an amazing help all weekend, our go-to woman for basically anything we needed during the trip. So Kath, thanks to you too 🙂
We got to our hotel RIGHT after the huge St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown St. Paul. It. Was. Insane. Our room wasn’t ready yet, and we were treated like absolute crap by the woman at the front desk. Like, Kath saw the look on mine and Erin’s faces after traveling all day with a 7 month old who’s jolliness was quickly being replaced with eye rubbing and screeching, and disappeared for five minutes, only to come back triumphantly holding a room key. It wasn’t our room, but the executive director of the entire conference had offered up her suite for us to hang out in until our room was ready. Cue choir of angels.
We both made a beeline for the coffee maker, and Veda happily scooted backwards around the room in her freshly changed diaper. Kid is at the adorable not-crawling-but-furiously-rocking-on-her-knees stage.
A few hours later, we finally made it to that room, and it was more angels singing and we quickly dumped our crap and Erin said, “Oh my GOSH I’m so glad that you’re one of those hotel stayers who literally trashes the room the second you walk in” and I’m all relieved because I was actually trying (and obviously failing) to be cleaner than normal because it irks Nick when I trash hotels.
Did I mention how much I love Erin?
Veda ate (i.e. bit a spoon repeatedly making her mom pretty much have to use the jaws of life every time to get it back)
And we headed out to explore St. Paul, and grab dinner at this A-M-A-Z-I-N-G restaurant called Heartland. We really lucked out on the two places we got dinner, both in food quality and the fact that Veda ended up sleeping through the entire dinners both nights.
Funny thing – I took the top shot before we left for dinner, and Erin took the bottom one without knowing I took the other one later that night!
So then it was time for me to head down to the convention’s meet and greet going on in one of the ball rooms. I was nervous and thought a little bit of Veda giggles would help bolster my confidence. I had no idea what was going to happen once I got there!
I’m literally nervous now, just remembering what that meet and greet was like. It went something like this:
I show up and chit chat with one of the other speakers I had met earlier, Blair Phillips, super nice guy. He doesn’t stay though, and all of a sudden I’m alone and people are looking at me. They probably were totally not really looking at me. I was just really really really really nervous and convinced they all thought I was stupid. Seriously. Not making this up.
So I see one familiar thing in the midst of framing companies, print companies, photographers I had never heard of and print judging…a WHCC booth. Cue more choirs of angels. I make a mad dash and smile at the friendly guy running the booth. He doesn’t even ask me my name, but says he wants ice cream, and asks if it’s all out. I tell him I can get some for him (it’s something to do) and he’s all “that’d be great”. Off I go. I’ve just demoted myself from keynote speaker to ice cream waitress.
I come back and introduce myself. I tell him I’ve been a WHCC client for five years, and love their albums. Again, I’m just happy to kind of know something about one of the booths and that someone is talking to me. He then starts asking about my packages and whatnot and I admit that *actually* I no longer do prints. Yeah. I should have lied. But I’m a really really really really crappy liar.
He actually wasn’t that awful about it and just kind of smiled in the way that someone smiles at a cute, but really stupid puppy. That’s when another photographer walked up. With a lanyard that had lots of flare. It’s kind of like pieces of flare in Office Space. The more you have, the better. And I gathered that you get a pin every convention you go to. So if you have like 62 pieces of flare, that means you know your stuff.
“She does digital negatives, Bob.*” (Not his real name)
And then for the next hour, I was pretty much passed from classical photographer to classical photographer. Each one informing me that I was throwing away money, diluting the industry. I heard, “Don’t you WANT to make money?” …”Don’t you WANT the photography world to respect your business?”…”Someday you’ll offer prints and *get* it.” (actually, I already did, and I hated it). One person even went so far as to tell me to absolutely not mention anything, anything during my presentation about selling digital negatives. Another was a little nicer and said, “If you feel you need to talk about your digital negative sales, just don’t tell them what you charge for them.” Another told me to cut back my 15 family sessions a year and just double or triple my prices.
It’s like they simply didn’t understand how happy and at peace I am with Rachel Vanoven Photography.
I like my clients. I already have to turn so many people down for sessions. And honestly, I think my prices are totally fair on both sides. The skill and actual work time on my part, and the images and moments I capture for my clients, which I in turn give them all of my digital negatives for them to have forever. Forever ever. And I’m cool with that.
Ten Things I don’t do, but I’m cool with other people doing:
1. Selective coloring. If you get your jollies from converting an entire photo to black and white except for a red, red rose. Rock on with your bad self.
2. Charging $90 for a 5×7.
3. In person sales.
4. Attaching any sort of googly eyed monster to my camera lens.
5. Having 8 different lenses and two camera bodies, a reflector, speed light, and 6 different filters for an outdoor family session
5. Using any sort of muslin backdrop.
6. Using any sort of plastic fake wood backdrop.
7. Leather bound photo albums
8. Any Lucinda font
10. Crocheted newborn hats (weird, I know, I just don’t like how they look!)
I could go on. Fact is, in my opinion, (which I realize isn’t considered valid by many since I only have five years under my belt, but this is my blog so neener neener neener)…in my opinion photography isn’t a one trick kind of gig. As much as it makes me scratch my head, there are people who go bonkers for selective coloring. I have been asked exactly four times ever if I could do it. (I said no exactly four times, for the record.) The majority of my clients are not wanting this service. Sure, there’s a market for it. I am not taking business from classical photographers. Sure, maybe about 8 years ago, the first digital photographer who was all, “I’m SO not slapping a black vignette around this” and started shooting more lifestyle is the one to blame. But not me, and not my fellow natural light photographers with no formal training.
Erin put it best when she said, “Does Saks Fifth Avenue get upset at Walmart? If your clientele is interested in that sort of work then you need to a) produce better work and set yourself apart b) market to a new demographic. Whether you are print based or not, there’s a lot of people out there who suck at their jobs or don’t do things the right way. But that doesn’t mean it should impact too much those who go out of their way to set the bar high for the quality of their art and their businesses.”
Speaking of Erin. She wasn’t there during all that cornering going on. Thankfully there were some amazing photographers that I so wish I was better at names at so I could properly thank them. Julie, a photographer, walked around with me looking at all of the photos up for judging and better explained to me exactly what this conference was about. I am so thankful to her, not only for being open minded towards me, but genuinely helping me grasp this side of photography I seriously had no idea still existed. By existed I mean people so hardcore in their belief that *their* photography methods were the best/only way.
Then, I saw an empty chair and thought I’d take the chance to sneak in some sitting time. Fun fact, I have a bad back…like a *really* bad lower back. Probably because I slouch because I hate being tall. But that, again, is another post. 😉
I was just going to grab the chair when someone grabbed me on my shoulder, and I turned around and was greeted by two SMILING and excited faces. But like, they were happy and I just got this vibe that they knew *me* and all I could think of was that I wanted to hug them and cry but I couldn’t do the crying part because then they would be scared and think I was totally crazy.
They introduced themselves, Brianna was 17, a high school student, and Kayla a married mom of two (right? two?) who was 25. They were there just. to. see. me. All the way from South Dakota. Which, actually I haven’t checked to see if it’s far from Minnesota since I’m completely unfamiliar with those states, but I got the feeling it wasn’t like three hours or anything.
I know I didn’t know them before, but it felt like I had. Well, except people I’ve known don’t randomly blurt out, “I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M REALLY TALKING TO YOU” every five minutes 😉 But besides that, it felt totally normal. We chatted a bit, but then I realized that Erin was back up in our room waiting for me to bring her ice cream (uh, two hours ago…) so I sadly had to scoot, but we promised to touch base the next morning.
As I walked up to the room with my melty ice cream, all the feelings of happiness from my most recent conversation started to melt as well and I was a wreck by the time I walked through the door. Erin could tell something was up and I think I said something like, “omigoshicantdothis” and “someoneisgoingtoshootmedeadtomorrow”. Erin said something that I can’t type because my mom reads this, and I think at one point threatened to wake Veda up and march downstairs and, um. Not be nice. We laid in the dark eating ice cream and I said everything I wish I would have had the guts to say and Erin said everything she was planning on saying tomorrow.
And now you see why I needed her there.
The next morning I pulled open my laptop and started writing notes. Because stupid me had my presentation “plan of attack” on my computer. Which had my slideshow on it. So I had to handwrite my notes on hotel stationary post it notes. But as I was doing it, I started mentioning that I was just going to skip the price part. Or altogether not even say that I sell digital negatives.
You would have thought I told Erin I was going to stab puppies (I DIDN’T) because she literally flew across the room and was all, “RACHEL DON’T YOU EVEN THINK OF TAKING OUT ANYTHING THAT YOU PUT IN THAT EFFING SPEECH. SCREW THEM. SCREW THEM FOR MAKING YOU FEEL LIKE THIS RIGHT BEFORE YOUR PRESENTATION. ARE YOU SERIOUSLY CHANGING THAT?”
I’m all, “no. please don’t hit me”
But seriously it went something like that and in the end I left everything the same, and off I went to give my presentation.
Remember earlier when I talked about what happened when I spoke in public? If not, here it is again:
“My throat has constricted, by face makes this awful grimace, my voice cracks and I turn ten shades of magenta. And I ramble. And stammer.”
Yeah. That still happened. But only for like ten minutes. I totally screwed up my childhood and how art played a role in it. But that’s okay since no one was there to hear that my mom doodled on napkins (like REALLY good doodles) because I forgot that part. But about 15 minutes in, I was all “This is easy—I got this.” and I tried to look at ALL of the faces I could. And there were a lot of nice faces. That sounds weird, but until you’ve stood in front of that many people (maybe 200?) you don’t realize how relieving it is to see someone smiling and nodding. Or just smiling. Just not frowning. Or God forbid, sleeping.
Creepy giant Lucy from Peanuts freaking the heck outta Veda while I taught about how to get the most out of Facebook.
And in the end? It was amazing. Like afterwards I wish I had at least three hours to spend time with all of the photographers who came up. But like a kid after a Christmas pageant, I found Erin and caught her look and big smile all, “You nailed it, Rach.” And I kinda wanted to cry, and all people kept saying was they loved how honest I was, and if they only knew that a few hours before I was going to change the parts of the program that they were telling me that they needed to hear. I’m just so thankful Erin was there.
And Veda, because she’s a pretty cute distraction, too.
(these tub pictures were ones taken by Erin/edited by me. Yes we love each other enough that she can dangle my 8,000 camera/lens combination over bath water and I can process pictures that she took!)
And then, way way way too soon, it was Monday morning and we were making a mad dash to the airport. Then, way way way way too soon they were boarding.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. And I’m hoping it’s not the last because already I have met so many amazing people, both those who worked/ran/spoke at the conference (Mike Aulie, Nicole Bugnacki, David Grupa, Fabulous Jen, Blair Phillips, Nate from StickyAlbums and many more). People who even if I didn’t fit the mold of what has been the norm, still gave me a chance and encouraged me–probably have no idea how much you helped!
To the woman who found me hyperventilating in the bathroom with paper towels sticking out of my armpits, about to cry, five minutes before I went on. Thank you, for making me laugh, and I think you even said that you would be praying for me. It’s amazing the people who just popped out of nowhere this whole weekend right when I felt completely defeated!
Sorry, this is turning into a Sally Field acceptance speech, but I have to thank Karis for being the person who back in August said I should do this. My mom for setting her alarm to pray for me every ten minutes on Sunday. My dad, Amanda, Courtney, Angie, Kate, Nick, Brandy, and Crystal for texting me the day of with all sorts of encouragement.
Kath for being our unwavering rock in Minnesota <3
And Erin, for the note, the necklace, the indignant rage on my behalf, the crying laughing over dinner and the level 5 conversations about crap and the goodness in both of our lives that have really made us into the women we are today. Thanks for all of it.
Again, so sorry for the thank yous, but I don’t want anyone for one second to think that I just jetted off to St. Paul and was all kicking butt and taking names on my own. Not even close. And the moral of the story? Be yourself. Whether you’re selling digital negatives or a crap ton of prints. Love what you do and own it. If not, hunt down Erin and make her be your friend and she’ll slap some sense into you.