How My Business Evolved – Cameras ……..{Virginia Professional Photographer}

My first SLR camera was a Konica. Back in the film days. I worked part time in a camera store after school and on weekends to get discounted film, lenses, and my first ever flash. I learned to develop film, and yes, had a darkroom in our bathroom at home!

I carried that camera everywhere. It was mostly manual – but I always shot on manual anyway. I remember the first “portrait” I took deliberately – ironically, it was of a little girl about 1. I captured that expression of fun, laughter, and contentment that made her mom melt. I was so proud! I achieved a well exposed photo AND an in focus photo of a little girl that didn’t stop moving the entire time I was there!

Fast forward – got married at 20, had my first child at 22. Husband and I were living in NOVA trying to make it on just one salary, so money was beyond tight. Not a dime left over for film, or developing. We saved our pennies to call home once a week. Long time ago, right?

There wasn’t extra money again for a serious hobby until my kids were in 2nd and 5th grade. At that time, I asked for a new camera – this time I wanted a Nikon. So my amazing husband bought me a Nikon N70. That camera was amazing! Still film, but I used that camera until it died. Literally, the back fell off of it. I cried and cried. (We did get it fixed, and I still have it). While I was crying, I discovered the N100 – so I purchased that as an “upgrade”. But digital was everywhere, and I wanted to give that a try instead, so I quickly exchanged the N100 (film) for the brand new D100 – Nikon’s first “consumer” priced DSLR.

I HATED the D100. I couldn’t get anything right with it. The buttons, the need to “develop” the photos digitally, everything just was horrible out of that camera. Back then there wasn’t a Lightroom, and Photoshop was for true geeks. We had cheap software that was basically nothing more than a downloader product so I quickly put that expensive camera aside and bought a pocket Canon. That was around the year 2000, I remember because we were building this house at the time.

The D100 collected dust for years. Finally, I decided I would take a class on Photoshop and learn how to digitally develop the images. In essence, that was my hook back into it I think. I realized what I had been doing wrong with the D100 all those years ago – White Balance! Something I never had to worry about in the film world after I purchased the film, so I never worried about it. The first Nikons had yuk color out of the camera, so my frustrations weren’t unfounded, just uneducated. It really was me being completely unaware of something so very important in the digital world.

In 2007, I sold the D100 and bought the tiny, ultra consumer level D40. A “cropped” sensor camera that I now refer to as a “baby camera”. I had that camera for 2 months before I realized I had made a big mistake.

The D40 was sold quickly – it seems like I “day trade” in equipment sometimes! I keep my equipment pristine, and I keep all original boxes ALL THE TIME. When I sell equipment, I sell it for a fair price, because I’m upgrading.

So for my birthday my husband took me to B&H in NYC and bought me the Nikon D300, and a new lens. I was in HEAVEN! Once again, I was making pretty pictures.

Well, it really wasn’t just the camera – see what I did there? I had learned Photoshop! And once Lightroom was discovered, I truly understood so much more. Because you know, the camera doesn’t take the photo, right? These little black machines are wonderful, powerful, with potential, but the person holding them has ultimate control over a great image, or a grossly underexposed and unfocused image. Some of that can be somewhat “fixed in Photoshop”, – but some of it just can’t. Images are taken deliberately, not by mistake, and so, it isn’t the camera that takes the photo.

I spent every waking minute learning everything I could about Photoshop – spent a TON of money on actions others wrote and said were GREAT! FANTASTIC! EASY RESULTS!. Yup, wasted money again. Actions can’t help if you don’t know what they are doing, and if you don’t have the image in the first place to use the action on. Otherwise, it’s just a camera phone photo with a filter. Blah. I have actions, templates, filters, and more…all sitting on a hard drive that I almost NEVER use. Lots of wasted money….

Next change was about a year later. I had the chance to shoot a professional headshot, but it had to be indoors. I knew I needed a full frame sensor to get as much out of my lenses as possible in width, because it was a tiny space. Ultra wide lenses distort the edges at the wide end, so using a crop sensor camera in that space would only make that worse. I only had the D300 – a crop sensor.

So back to the drawing board. But about this time I was realizing that the great D300 had a few other limitations, too – so I bought the D700, keeping the D300 as well. Wow! Two camera bodies in the bag! I was something, right?

So now I had the D700 and D300. I LOVED that D700 but alas…I like to try new things too. I decided to try this true professional camera – the D3s. So I sold the D300 to help fund it, but man, it was expensive. What a jump off a cliff I took then! So I did my research to validate it’s worth. The sensor would last three times as long, so that meant every “click” of the shutter actually cost me less. Insurance was more, because it was a more expensive camera…so the only other way I could “justify” it was to prove it could help me be a better photographer.

So I did. Bag now had the D700 and D3s, and a lot of lenses I’d been accumulating and a handful of Nikon Flashes. (Lighting is the next blog). The D3s gave me ease of changing controls, and better grips. Batteries lasted a LOT longer, but…the downside – that sucker was heavy! And, no more pop up flash. Which meant I had to learn to trigger my lights – again, check out the lighting blog next.

But it didn’t matter. I loved it so much, when the D4 came out, I sold my D700 and invested more money into a second Professional camera body.

And so it goes, right? Build the lenses to be only pro, and keep up the equipment. I regularly get my equipment checked out by Nikon- I’m a member of Nikon Professional Services and I’ve used them many times to fix and check. As a matter of fact, I quickly learned the value of buying only professional lenses when I dropped my beloved 24-70 lens on my concrete basement floor…and it was able to be fixed for only $400. Seems like a lot, right? But the lens was $1600 to buy new at the time, so being able to fix it meant I didn’t have to throw away my original investment. (Better if I didn’t drop it at all though, which of course I did – a second time! And it was fixed again). {SIGH}. Lesson learned : Buy the professional equipment, it’s sturdier and fixable!

Now the bag holds the Nikon D5, D4 (still), and the little crop sensor D500. (Was a cute add on, right?). I have a lot of lenses – but here is where I am more picky now. I only buy a lens if I know it will actually make me money. That can be defined by saving time, getting faster focus, crisper images, and/or being available to be easier (like a second version to keep in studio, and one in the bag all the time). If I can save time by having a packed bag, ready to go, that’s valuable. Because it also became clear, that a sole proprietor, my time was a very valuable asset.

Actually, that was the mantra from about year 5 on – only buy what would help me make money, save money, or save time. For EVERYTHING. If I bought something and it didn’t have an actual need or purpose, I resold it. Impulse buying was out – and not being able to justify it in the business, well, that was stupid.

Year five. I learned a lot about business finally. I’d already invested almost $40k by that time with all of my income reinvestment, and my angel hubby. So I had to really “get real”.

And I did. Because you just cannot justify spending $6k (Nikon D5) on a camera body alone if you aren’t “getting real” with your business. The taxes and insurance will kill you if the original cost didn’t give you a heart attack ack ack …(See what I did there?)

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