Q&A with an Oho

Oh, photographer friends. This has been a post I’ve been resisting for a while now because… I don’t actually know everything. (Gasphorrorshock, right? No? Weird.)

I spent the first 6 months of my photography career pretending I was the photographer who had everything in control – always – and had everything and everyone that ever lived figured out and it was exhausting and certainly not who I am or who I want to be. Over the years I’ve fought really hard to find processes, methods and equipment that work for me as a photographer and I have zero qualms in admitting it’s not always perfect but everything I do in my business is authentically me. I could tell you what I do, exactly how I do it and what has worked for me but the responsibility should be to take the information and find something that is true to who you are. You will not find a single photographer that has followed the exact same path and there is a reason for that; in a business that is so much about who we are and what we can offer in client experience, uniquely, there has to come a drastically different business from even your bestie photographer friend.

I truly believe there is so much we can learn from each other but if we are just copy-pasting what another photographer is doing (even the best, most successful in the business), we are missing the point entirely. And not only missing the point but also doing a complete disservice to our businesses & this industry as a whole.

This blogpost is an ode to that photographer who is too afraid to appear as if they don’t know what they are doing so they never ask questions. A friend pointed out to me last week that for every email I have received, there are likely 10 emails that will never be sent out of fear. And I get it. I do. I was that girl in the beginning and I can tell you now, being afraid to appear like you don’t have it all together was the single most isolating thing I have ever unintentionally done. So ask. Ask a photographer you feel safe with. Ask the photographer you look up to. Go ahead, even ask a total stranger. What do you have to lose?

Onto the questions.

Do you shoot film or digital?
Out of all questions, this is by far the one I receive the most. And, to be perfectly honest, the one I dread the absolute most. The short answer? I shoot both.

The long answer is that to date, I have chosen not to specify when an image is film vs. digital. And it’s not because I’m a part of some super secret society of film shooters who get together, wear giant robes and say film chants late into the night but because film is so, so personal to me. Film is the medium I grew up on; it’s what I first learned on and those first images are the ones where I quietly whispered. “I want to be a photographer” before I ever said anything to anyone else,  There are many opinions out there about the film trend comeback (or for some, never left) and while I have no interest in the debate, I want to be clear that film is where my heart was, is and always will be in photography. I firmly believe a photographer needs to find a medium of creating photos where they find a deep connection with the look & process of the image; for some that is digital, for me it is film. (And for others and even some of my closest photo friends; it is both.) When a photographer finds a medium that they connect with; what else matters?

A quick example of why I prefer film over digital is below. I shot Sarah & David’s engagement session on both film and digital; both images were taken within 30 seconds of each other with the only difference in settings being the film image on the left was shot at f/1.4 and the digital image on the right was shot at f/1.8. Even with the slight difference in composition, my connection to the image on the left is overwhelming. I’m not trying to prove which medium is better; I don’t think there is a correct answer. All I want to do is share why I prefer film and encourage you to find whatever medium makes you want to yell, dance and throw confetti in the air because that is what it is all about.

Some may ask why I don’t shoot 100% film if I am so passionate about the difference and the answer is: I am working on it, friends. One day soon.

How do you get your clients to look so comfortable in front of the camera?
True story; the first time I received this question via email I snorted water out of my nose and had to go back to look through my images to make sure the email was really meant for me. I’m certain there are a bajillion ways to get your clients to be themselves in front of the camera and my way is very true to my personality and my style so please know that my shoddy “techniques” may not actually work for you and your target client.

My style of photography is one rooted in the desire to show someone who they are as a couple. I talk extensively about this in my potential client consultations and strive with every wedding, engagement and lifestyle session to really get to the heart of what makes a couple tick. If they are silly together, I want to capture that. If they are sweet and intimate together, I want to capture that. I don’t want an engagement session full of smile-and-look-straight-at-the-camera, grandma-is-really-going-to-like-this-one images because 99% of the time, those images are not what sets my heart on fire. To me, an engagement session should show a couple how they love each other and be a representation of who they are as a couple. I tell you all of this because I think it is imperative to know a little about how I view my style to understand why I do the things I do to get my clients comfortable.

Early in my career I found that one thing I really struggled with was giving direction to those who weren’t the most comfortable in front of the camera so I dedicated myself to finding a style of directing clients that both worked for me and also allowed my style of photography to shine. And somehow, in the middle of trying to figure out what worked while remaining true to my style, it clicked (clicked, get it?!?) and I found a way to be authentically me and still make clients feel at ease. Sometimes that is giving them space and not allowing my inner photo-ADD to interrupt a moment that is happening between them. Sometimes that is telling an incessant amount of dumb jokes that I can never really remember the endings to. Sometimes it includes accidentally falling flat on my face in a field of weeds to lower the boundaries of photographer/client, even just a little bit, and allow for a couple to realize it’s ok to be themselves. It truly is different with each client and that is why this question is SO hard for me to answer.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the number one most important thing ever to making clients feel comfortable in front of the camera is confidence and technical knowledge of your equipment. If I am fumbling around behind my camera, trying to find the correct settings, I am going to lose the connection with my clients in one second flat. Clients are exceedingly sensitive to this and rightfully so. How often do we, as photographers, get in front of a camera? It’s not easy and it’s certainly a little bit uncomfortable at first.

Know your equipment and then some. Practice until your shutter finger bleeds. (Ok, maybe not but kind-of.) And then practice some more. Read books, online tutorials and your camera’s manual and figure out how to shoot in different lighting situations. However, education is not a good substitute for real life shooting & lighting situations so the only thing left to do is shoot. Grab a friend, the dog or your child and shoot them (with your camera, duh) until they lay down and refuse to be photographed anymore. Do it until you feel confident and then practice just a little bit more.

Do you really love every single one of your clients like you claim to?
I will admit that I wax poetically about my clients and their sessions and wedding days, but here’s the thing. I really feel those things about my clients. This is a much bigger topic but the bottom-line is that I work very hard and have been exceedingly successful at finding (and being hired by) clients that I want to have in my life; clients that value my work but above all else truly connect with me. This leads into a conversation about branding and target clients and I am happy to talk about that but I think that is a (very large) single blogpost in and of itself. All to say, I really do love all my clients. And I believe you should strive to too.

If you have any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at melissa@melissaoholendt.com anytime. Night or day. Day or night. Preferably day though.

(13) Comments

  1. 1. I love you to pieces.
    2. SOOOOOOO glad to see you doing this. The world needed to hear your voice and your thoughts.
    3. You, this post, and photography make me want to yell, dance and throw confetti in the air.
    4. You go girl.

  2. Gina

    You are so awesome. Your openness is beautiful………think of a year ago. You now are more authentically Melissa than you have ever been and I love you for that. Times a million.

  3. Love it! Congrats on clicking the publish button and opening up another aspect of YOU! I for one didn’t realize you were shooting so much film :-) I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this and many things!

  4. Julia Mary

    SO proud of you!

  5. Melissa I’m SO GLAD you took the leap and went for it with this post! I love knowing how you tick/work as I know others do as well. Keep it up!

  6. I’d like to think that our conversation on Friday had even the smallest amount of anything to do with your courage to hit “Publish.” But if it didn’t, I don’t specifically mind. Because you DID hit publish, and it’s amazing. This is everything I needed to hear today, and everything I probably won’t listen to until tomorrow. But it reaffirms my theory that if I don’t ask, I’ll never know. And further, if I don’t take the first step to start a conversation (Read: post crazy, adoring, sappy blog comments) then who will? Have you been to my blog (of zero commenters). That’s right. No one. So hooray for you. For courage. For openeness. For Pinot Noir and Essie Nailpolish. (Oh. Ah. sorry. Awwwwwkwaaaaaard.) I’m so happy we’ve connected in this life and I cannot WAIT to send you message with fitymagillion questions. Every. Single. Day.

    Kidding, Melissa.

    I’m kidding.

    Kind of…


  7. Camile

    This is VERY exciting! Now I can find out what’s going on in your brain and with your camera(s) without feeling I have to find the courage to ask. This entry is great and I can hardly wait for the next! Love you!
    (And check out all the exclamation points – but it’s just SSSSSSOOOOO exciting I cannot help my silly self!)

  8. Em

    YES. love your heart so much.

  9. Claire

    NICE! It’s fun to see you open up here, and give your readers the benefit of the Mel I’ve had the privilege of seeing for over a decade now (weareold). This makes me wish I was a young photographer looking for inspiration, because I know I’d have found it here. And I will say that being honest when we don’t know something is MOST rewarding. I fear that moment in class when a student asks me something about Shakespeare that I can’t answer, but then I realize that of COURSE I don’t answer. In terms of a life time, I’m new at this (as are you), and we’ve got SOOOO much to learn… and the best part is, that’s the fun part!

  10. Kimber

    I really like that you posted this……after you photographed and posted Chas and I’s engagement session I remember reading what you wrote about us and wondered, “Does she do this same thing even with strangers?” But then after reading future posts I came to know that the people who become photographed by you aren’t strangers anymore, because you have taken the time to truly get to know who they are, and it is in doing that, that I think they are able to become more relaxed within the session and you can capture them in those moments of genuine-ness. Thanks for being the real Melissa O. :) I love you no matter how sill you think you are.

  11. You rock my world with your words, Melissa! I almost read this post over again because I was so thoroughly enjoying your writing and genuinely honest answers!! Especially to the film vs digital question which can be a tough one to address and explain to clients. Looking forward to many more Oho Q&As :) XOXO

  12. Matt Moore

    Love my sis…end of story

  13. You are amazing. and honest. and such an inspiration. I sincerely hope to meet you one day soon. I think we’d have fun ;)