My 5 Takeaways from Teaching at Alt Summit

The Saguaro Hotel Palm Springs

Alt is where it all started for me.

Somehow two years ago I got it in my head to apply to be a speaker at Alt. I pitched a bunch of different ideas and was chosen (woot) to speak on editing, specifically "How to Develop a Consistent Style". I prepared for weeks and the classed turned out pretty good (although it could have used some finessing).  Since then I've found the courage to pitch different classes at other conferences and even hosted my own workshop, each time honing in what works and what doesn't work. 

Upon hearing Alt Summit would be in Palm Springs, I applied again to be speaker at Alt and got those magic words from the Design Mom, Gabrielle Blair, in response, "Congratulations! You've been selected as a speaker for Alt Summit 2017." I would be teaching a photo editing workshop. I literally screamed when I got the email. 

Fast forward to Thursday morning of the conference, with my hair and makeup did, I taught photo editing to my cozy class of 25-30 attendees. The hour and fifteen minutes flew by, and I felt so completely happy with how it turned out. So I just wanted to shared some takeaways I learned from teaching at Alt this year. 

1. Unexpected challenges can foster creative problem solving and better results.  

In that same email congratulating me on being a speaker, Gabrielle snuck in a little fun surprise, "The room will not have a screen or projector. So please plan your class as a true, hands-on type workshop." Yikes. Those words haunted me. How do you teach a class about work done solely on a computer without a screen or projector? What does hands-on really mean?? Blerg. Can you feel how stressed I was?

So that was my challenge: how do I effectively teach a bunch of people "blindly"? I queried one of my handy facebook groups and got several helpful suggestions which eventually inspired my final solution. I ended up asking all the students to bring a laptop and gave them each a digital folder containing a pdf of the slides of my talking points and a Lightroom catalog for them to follow along with. I made sure my entire spiel was only twenty minutes so I could spend the rest of the time going around helping people one-on-one. Overall I think this workshop was more successful than any of my other talks, and I owe it to not having a projector. Had I had a projector and screen I imagine my workshop would have been pretty dry. The way I presented ended up being completely much more effective as I was forced to go table to table to help attendees individually and see what their specific needs were. 

2. Teaching will bring out the best or the worst of you. 

Teaching is no joke. It's not easy. It's stressful and challenging for someone like me. I honestly had to learn to be a better person while I was teaching my class. There were plenty of moments when I thought I was going to go crazy. I definitely had to exercise plenty of grace and patience, but it all worth it. 

3. Ask for help and accept it when it's offered. 

Like I mentioned before, in a facebook group I asked how I could teach an editing class without a screen or projector. The help and resources I received from that simple ask were invaluable to me. I really owe much of the success of the workshop to those who helped me in that group. So often someone else has already solved your problem, so why not take advantage of their knowledge and save yourself some of the legwork. I saved so much time figuring out my pickle by simply asking for help. You really have nothing to lose by asking for a little help. 

At my workshop I had an Alt representative. I wish I could remember his name because he was so incredibly helpful. While I was preparing to speak, my Alt rep went around helping people load the workshop material on their computers. That little bit of help was really loads and loads helpful to me. Part of my personality is to always turn away help--I never want to put someone out or inconvenience them, so over the years I've really had to learn to accept help when it's offered because utilizing the people around me is really such an invaluable asset. 

photo by justin hackworth

photo by justin hackworth

4. Trust yourself. 

When I was in college I presented a multi-million dollar housing project to Bank of America for a competition. I was super nervous, but I'll never forget what one of my teammates said to calm my nerves, "You know this material. Trust yourself." To this day her words have stuck with me. Even though I'm pretty snazzy at editing, I was scared about my workshop. What if no one learned anything? What if no one showed up? What if I didn't make sense? What if my screen/projector solution didn't work? But I knew the material backwards and forwards, so I trusted that. I trusted myself. In the end that's all I needed and everything worked out. A couple people might have even told me it was the best class they'd been to at the conference. (cue happy dance.)

5. Share knowledge generously. 

I once had a mentor who shared everything about his business with me from his business practices to his insurance agent. He was generous with his knowledge and I'm indebted to him for that, so I've always used that as a model in how I want to interact with other creatives. I tell my creative friends I have no secrets with regards to my business. And I really don't. If there's something you want to know about my business I'll share it with you. 

At my workshop I was so happy to see that the attendees were learning something. Even if it was just one small thing, I was happy I could share that with them. There's no reason for me to keep this editing knowledge to myself when I could instead be helping people with what I know. 

All in all I felt like my workshop was a total success. I'm so thankful for the people who attended my workshop, their patience with me, and the really, really good questions they asked. 

 

Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs, CA. February 2, 2016 | Fuji x100s



Thriving (at least trying to)

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, 
but to thrive; and to do so with
some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
– Maya Angelou

I'll be honest, moving my business to Birmingham was not what I expected.

By the time I'd move to Birmingham I'd already grown a thriving business in the Bay Area, where I lived, a great client base in New York, shot in several other states and out of the country, and was making more than what I would have made if I was still an architect.  How hard would it be to grow another base in another city? Pretty freakin difficult if that city is Birmingham. Culturally and financially and stylistically there's overlap between New York and California. I found clients in New York who could relate to me and appreciate my style, and most importantly, find value in my pricing. Here in Birmingham it's a whole other market. It seems pretty obvious as I'm typing it, but I really had no idea.  I can't seem to navigate the wedding industry here where couples are paying tens of thousands of dollars on their weddings but only willing to pay two thousand dollars for their photographer. I don't know how to navigate through a city where everything is word of mouth, but most of my friends are married. I'm constantly wondering if people are not booking me because I'm not white. 

I had pretty good success my first year here booking shoots and weddings, mostly by the grace of God and dumb luck, but my sophomore Birmingham year was a huge struggle. I learned a whole lot about hustle. I'm having to rebuild my business, trying to remember all the things that worked for me eight years ago when I first started it. There are definitely moments I feel like a failure. I'll find myself in the middle of conversations with people about my business, and I'm too embarrassed to really elaborate on how my business has had to shift from shooting to editing. Or how I'm only making a fraction of what I used to make when I was living in California.  

Recently as I was reflecting on 2016, all this "failure" started to hit me to a point where I actually started talking about that shame and failure I was feeling, and it felt like a turning point. I'd always been open about giving credit to God for my success. (He truly is the reason I'm where I am today.) My old adage was that the plans God has for me are far greater than any I could ever imagine for myself. But those words were just a cloak to mask the fear I was actually feeling. I wasn't truly holding onto those words I'd live by in years past or really trusting God fully with my business. Would I find more work? Would I survive? All those insecurities were building up behind the happy face I was putting on. So that was it. I needed to make a change. I needed to be open with my fears. I needed to shine some light on the struggle I was living with. I'm at a place now where I'm trying to remember that God really is in control, and all I have to do is trust in Him and move forward, to take one step at a time as He leads. 

Who knows why God is leading me down this path. But now at least I'm reminded, that whatever that path is, it's part of His plans for my life, and that's a good place to be. I don't need to walk this path alone; I'm surrounded by friends and family who've supported me from the beginning and will continue to do so. So please keep me in your prayers as I try to put my trust fully in God and navigate this new frontier.  

Like the quote above, I don't want to just be surviving. I want to be thriving. 

 

Samford University, Birmingham, AL. 2016 | Canon Rebel XSN. film developed by Indie Film Lab

Today.

Before now. 

I woke up at 7am raring to go. From our study I could see the sun was just beginning to peek out from behind the giant parking structure on the hill behind us. Lance asked me why I woke up so early today because it's so rare. But I just simply responded that I went to bed extra early last night so I could wake up extra early today. There's a ton to do before Christmas. I am in a fog. A Christmas fog. Is anyone else in a Christmas-chaos-lots-to-do fog? 

But anyway.... Thanks to the early-rising I finished a wedding this morning while watching two Bravo reality shows (seriously-guilty pleasures). I also managed to prep three lightroom catalogs and three galleries. And I watched the latest blog post/video from Negative Feedback, my current obsession. 

Now.

I'm considering a quick nap-break, but a quick half-hour knitting session while watching The Holiday seems to be calling me instead. 

After now. 

I need to get working on addressing my Christmas cards, which I ordered early/mid November and am only just getting around to sending them out to my fams. I meant to hand them out personally when Lance and I went to visit them in California for Thanksgiving, but I got massively sick, so I abandoned that wishful thought. So here I am needing to address some Christmas cards. 

My goal is to also finish at least two more weddings before I go to sleep tonight. I'm thinking it's pretty doable, right? Eeee.The running tally of editing I've just received/shot this week is as follows: 6 weddings and counting (but 3 finished) and one session (and some more to shoot). Cross your fingers I'll finish all my work and housework and cleaning work and life work before Christmas. yikes!

That reminds me... I also have to pack and send my film (and chocolate) to my fave lab, the Indie Film Lab. I'm hoping I get the scans back before Christmas. What do y'all have going on today? 

 

Caprices by Sophie, New York, NY. March 7, 2015 | Canon 5d markii 50mm 1.2


Moving Beyond the Dark Side of Weddings

Between being a wedding photographer and attending weddings I've celebrated with a lot of couples.  I'm that girl who's crying during the vows and speeches.  How can you not be happy for these two people who are committing their lives together?  Marriage is such a beautiful thing.  

I admit I'm a total sap about love.  Photographing love for the past 7 years will do that to you I suppose.  Now that I'm married each engagement session and wedding reminds me of that amazing day I said, "I do," to Lance.  It's really indescribable.  And to get to be a part of that day for someone else is such a huge honor.  I don't take it lightly.  

But after a conversation with friends I remember there is a dark side to weddings.  Unfortunately I know that personally.  I remember 7 years ago when I lost my job and my boyfriend broke up with me, I sometimes found myself miserable at weddings.  I hated that I was single and all my friends were getting married.  I'll be real with you, it was a hard time. I'm so sad that I wasn't completely happy at some of those weddings.  It's shameful, really, that I made their beautiful day about myself.  

So now having gone through both sides of a wedding I wanted to encourage people to put aside themselves and remember to celebrate the couple.  Here are some explanations about a few things that people take personally and get upset about that I wanted to tackle.  

You weren't selected as a bridesmaid or groomsman. My good friend Amelia got married and she didn't pick me as a bridesmaid.  I would have loved to be a bridesmaid but I realized that the people she picked were much better friends and better equipped to be a bridesmaid than me.  I was just overjoyed she was getting married. Sometimes people take that "rejection" a little too personally.  Sometimes it's logistics (the bride may only want three bridesmaids and you were number 4) and sometimes you're not as close to that person as you think.  

I know for me if my bridesmaids didn't make me their bridesmaid I wouldn't be hurt.  Sometimes we have friendships that we feel are very close.  These four ladies who were my bridesmaids could be my closest friends but they may have friends who are much closer to them to me.  And that's totally fine. It's their wedding and they should have their besties with them whether or not that's me. 

For me I chose my bridesmaids based on a lot of factors.  There was no doubt I'd choose my cousin, Kristina, who's always been my friend and like a sister to me growing up or my sister-in-law, Alison, who's grown to become a real close friend since she married my brother.  As for my other two bridesmaids, I chose them because I felt they knew me inside out.  I felt they had always loved, encouraged and supported me over the years, and I knew that they would continue to do so in the future, even if we grew apart.  

Choosing bridesmaids and groomsmen is a very personal thing and I think as friends we have to respect the bride and groom's choices.  (On the upside... being a bridesmaid/groomsmen is a lot of work and costs a ton of money, so you can be a little grateful you dodged that bullet. haha.)

You weren't invited. This is another thing that causes a lot of drama.  At Lance and my wedding we were paying for it by ourselves and couldn't afford to invite all our friends.  We had over 100 family members to invite and could only afford about 130 total guests.  We had to cut a lot of our friends.  Weddings are really expensive. Each person invited could cost the couple $75-250+. Just because you weren't invited doesn't mean the couple didn't want you there. Sometimes it's just not within their budget.

Nowadays when I'm not invited to a wedding, I'm still excited for the couple.  I still celebrate with them.  One friend of mine sent her girlfriend a wedding gift even when she wasn't invited. I thought that was a fabulous idea so now when there's a great friend whose wedding I wasn't invited to I'll still send a wedding gift.  Just because you're not invited to a wedding doesn't mean you can't celebrate with them.  

You're single or you've been waiting for years to get engaged with your partner. I've seen this destroy people.  And all I've got to say is... "I feel you." I know how hard it can be to want to get married and see your friends get married one after another, especially if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend and have been waiting.  It's really unfortunate that you're not married yet.  Really, it is.  But everyone has their own time and this is their time.  Try to put yourself aside and be happy for the couple.  

I was once a bridesmaid with another girl who had been dating her boyfriend for years and was completely bitter that the bride was getting married before her.  She was crazy and toxic.  She made the entire wedding process an ordeal.  She was constantly complaining and spreading lies about the bride and bridesmaid.  Don't be that girl.  

Be happy.  It's not your time yet.  Be happy for your friend whose time has come.  And when it's your time, we'll be sure to party like it's 1999. 

All in all I know that these things aren't a problem for a lot of people.  Most people are happy and excited about their friends getting married.  I just know it's human to feel a little upset about these things.  I just wanted to remind people that weddings are exciting and wonderful and amazing.  Don't let the drama overshadow your happiness for the couple.  

p.s. These images are from Michelle & Gary's wedding which was really a blessing to be a part of.  They were surrounded by an amazing and supportive group of friends and family. I loved their wedding!

 

Michelle & Gary's UC Berkeley Faculty Club Wedding. August 31, 2014 | Canon 5d markii