October 2021

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OCTOBER 2021 | ISSUE 109

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The Perfect Senior Session From Start to Finish with Carlee Secor


Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing with Dustin Lucas


How To Decide if an Image Should Be Color or Black & White with Jeremy Chou


Conquer Creative Slumps Effectively with Jess Hess


5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits with Karen Bagley


Black & White Photography: Tips for Creating the Best Images with Monique Hoppe


Getting Started in Cosplay Photography with Ryan Sims

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Building a Strong Photography Portfolio with Sal Cincotta

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Inspirations from Our Readers

Capturing Serious and Romantic Expressions in Wedding Photography with Vanessa Joy


Final Inspiration with Ryan Sims




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MISSION STATEMENT Shutter Magazine ’s focus is on photography education. Our goal is to provide current, insightful and in-depth educational content for today’s professional wedding and portrait photographer. Shutter uses the latest technologies to deliver information in a way that is relevant to our audience. Our experienced contributors help us create a sense of community, and have established the magazine as one of the leading photography publications in the world.

Shutter Magazine : By photographers, for photographers.

PUBLISHER Sal Cincotta

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Alissa Cincotta

Alicia Simpson LEAD DESIGNER


COPY EDITOR Allison Brubaker

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Carlee Secor, Jeremy Chou, Jessica Hess, Karen Bagley Monique Hoppe, Ryan Sims, Sal Cincotta, Vanessa Joy


PHOTOGRAPHER: Brian DeMint | eyeworksphotography.com CAMERA: Sony A6300

LENS: Sony Kit Lens 16-50mm EXPOSURE: f4 @ 1/125 ISO 400 LIGHTING: Neewer Ring Light

ABOUT THE IMAGE: My wife and I created this fan and headpiece knowing it would harmonize with the aesthetics of Union Station. The shoot itself was spur-of-the-moment. Hilary (the model) was a natural poser, with exquisite cheekbones. Thus, I chose to light high and centered. When she struck this position, I needed to find the correct vantage point for the shot. I chose a low angle to shoot this powerful pose as it lent itself to both an aristocratic and ascendant expression. MODEL: Hilary Paige Cagle HAIR & MAKEUP: Hilary Paige Cagle


message from sal cincotta


Is your portfolio up to snuff? It’s time to rebuild for 2022.

- Sal Cincotta

Image © Salvatore Cincotta Photography

The Perfect Senior Session From Start to Finish | Carlee Secor

Image © Carlee Secor Photography

with Carlee Secor

The perfect senior session is always a work in progress, but I’m at a point in my career where I have created a luxury experience that my seniors and their parents truly enjoy and appreciate. Back when I first started, I was all over the board trying to get prepared to own a business. I knew that first impressions were everything, and being 19 years old at the time, it was important to me that clients saw me as a professional. I constantly dealt with the feeling of doubt. Not only did I doubt myself, but so did my friends and family. Even to this day, I still get asked if photography is my “full-time job” and people are continuously telling me to “get a degree” because I can’t possibly rely on photography forever. This fueled my determination to make it work. I was inspired by other photographers I followed and looked up to, and I knew if I worked hard enough I could make this my full-time job. During my first year of business, I only photographed seniors. I absolutely loved it, and still do. Things picked up rather quickly! I work better under pressure so I made it my mission to quickly make sure I had everything I needed to run a business smoothly. Since then I have been perfecting the best senior portrait experience, and I’d like to let you in on a few of my secrets!

The Perfect Senior Session From Start to Finish | Carlee Secor


I am a strong believer of “work smarter, not harder” and since I’m in year five of my senior portrait business, my inquiry reply emails are automated. When a senior or parent inquires for senior portraits, they are sent an automated email explaining in detail how to book a session with me. They get a link to my pricing guide and the three questions that I require to book: what school does your son/daughter attend, what month are you interested in booking, and what type of session are you interested in (VIP or standard). When I receive their reply, I send my availability for the desired month and immediately send an invoice and contract for the session. I no longer spend hours emailing inquiries back and forth over questions that could have been answered right away. This has been a game-changer in my business and I like to think my clients appreciate the immediate booking process. It is straight to the point, and most families don’t have the time or energy to email back and forth. Let’s be real, neither do I!


I have used Dubsado, my client management system, since day one. I’m forever grateful to the owners of Dubsado, Becca and Jake Berg, for creating such an incredible system. It makes my booking process so streamlined that I no longer have to worry about emails getting lost or deposits not getting paid. After I send my invoice and contract to my client, they are able to pay the invoice and sign the contract digitally right away. Whether you choose to use Dubsado or not, any client management system is crucial in owning a photography business. Professionalism, organization and streamlining tasks are all extremely important and Dubsado does all of that (and more) for me.

The Perfect Senior Session From Start to Finish | Carlee Secor


Back in the day, I never saw the point of a clothing consultation for seniors. I figured they were all young, hip and knew exactly what to wear. I quickly learned that just because an outfit or style may be trending, it doesn’t mean it photographs well. The day I started doing clothing consults is the day my images improved. I no longer had to worry about super-bright clothing or crazy patterns. Weeks before the shoot I always send my seniors a detailed email with a Pinterest inspiration board on what to look for when shopping. My advice is always: stick to neutral colors and minimal patterns, no worn sneakers or sandals, make sure all undergarments work with the clothing they are choosing to wear, no hair ties on wrists or fitness watches, watch all tan/burn lines two weeks before your shoot, don’t cut or color your hair any differently than you normally would, keep your nails unpainted or painted a neutral color, etc. The list goes on, and while some may say I’m being “too picky” by asking them to do all of this, I have never had a problem with the way my seniors show up since implementing this. They are always perfect and prepared to have a great session. Plus, this shows that you care and want them to look great too!


Including hair and makeup for my seniors has changed my life! I will never go back. While it was a mess getting to where I am as far as finding good help, I now have a consistent hair and makeup artist that works exclusively with me. Makeup for my shoots is always on point and the best part is it cuts editing time in half. Requiring that hair and makeup be done with me has completely elevated my senior portrait sessions… I truly believe that this makes the whole day feel more like a luxury experience!


On the day of the shoot, everyone meets at my studio to begin hair and makeup. During this time we usually discuss what locations we’ll go to for each outfit. It’s much easier to be photographed by someone if you feel like you know each other, so during hair and makeup is a great time just to chat. From the studio, we head to our first location. I always make it a point to demonstrate each pose to my seniors, at least in the beginning when they may not be as comfortable in front of the camera just yet. This has always helped my seniors loosen up. Another thing I love to do is to take behind-the-scenes shots on my iPhone so I’m able to share them on social media later. This is a perfect way to market yourself (for free) because almost always my seniors repost my stories! I also like to think it makes my seniors feel valued.

The Perfect Senior Session From Start to Finish | Carlee Secor


My favorite part of the whole experience is the reveal. This is when my clients come back in to view all the edited and perfected images from the shoot, and where they will also buy prints and products. I always make sure to tell my clients that they’re welcome to bring whoever they’d like and that all purchases will be made that day. Having to make decisions on what prints you’d like to order in an hour can be an overwhelming experience, so I make sure to guide my clients through making selections. I encourage anyone who is new to sales to practice with friends and family. Make sure all your pricing and packages make sense. As Sue Bryce always says, “A confused mind says no.” I highly recommend hiring a mentor or doing a sales training to feel confident and comfortable. Your confidence when selling your art is so important. If you don’t feel worthy, it will show!

Image © Carlee Secor Photography

The Perfect Senior Session From Start to Finish | Carlee Secor


When the reveal session is complete, I go home to order all the prints and products from my professional labs. I currently use Miller’s for my albums and ProDPI for my prints and standouts. Finding a lab you love is a little bit of a process but I have used both for years and have never had any issues! I then package all my prints nicely and I’m always sure to write a thank-you note to my clients for choosing me to capture their senior portraits! It took me a while, but when I finally got my branding down and all my packaging supplies organized, I loved the end result. This also goes back to first impressions. I know everyone appreciates a nicely packaged product. So this is what my senior sessions look like from start to finish! Some may say it’s a long-winded process and would rather show up on location, shoot and deliver. But I think as the years went on I began to love the full experience and being able to give my full attention to each senior client. Although it’s significantly more work, it has done nothing but benefited me positively and I now have clients who refer me time and time again.

Happy shooting and selling! It’s all so worth it.

I’m Carlee Secor, a senior portrait photographer based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I recently celebrated my fifth year in business and every year it keeps getting better! Photography has always been one of my favorite creative outlets and I love teaching aspiring photographers. website: carleesecor.com instagram: @carleesecor

©Maxim Guselnikov

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Lightest and most compact F/2.8 telephoto zoom in its class. All-new VXD linear motor provides fast and precise autofocus. Innovative features unleash your creativity Lighter, smaller, faster– true telephoto freedom for Sony full-frame mirrorless

70-180mm F/2.8 Di III VXD (model A056) For Sony mounts Di III: For mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras



Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

with Dustin Lucas

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

One of the biggest complaints I hear from photographers is how Lightroom Classic is slow when they edit tons of images. While there are many reasons why this happens, there is certainly some responsibility on the user. For one, you need to invest in the right tools like your computer and external storage. If you want to know the minimum system requirements, you should definitely check out Adobe’s website for what they recommend. A quick breakdown of what you’ll need is at least a 6-core CPU with a higher GHz speed, 32GB DDR4 Ram or ECC if available, and flash storage. If you are connected to your original files you’ll want the fastest interface available for your system like Thunderbolt 3 or 4 for Mac or USB-C for PC and preferably RAID storage for protection and performance. Keep your catalogs on your local flash storage and always work off external drives for your images. Beyond hardware, you need to focus on how to manage your software properly, and more importantly, how to run Lightroom catalogs as fast as possible on your machine. Let’s dive into the top three ways to set up Lightroom Classic for faster edits. Number one, you need to make sure your preferences and catalog settings are optimal for performance. Number two, you need to understand import settings and the right way for optimal speed. Number three, you need to understand how previews work and prepare them properly. Now that we are ready to dive into the top three ways, let’s dial in your preferences and catalog settings.


While changing preferences seems like the simplest part of the article, I feel it’s the most overlooked aspect of most photographers’Lightroom Classic workflow. Not only this but keeping your software updated properly is the only way to success. No one waits to buy new camera gear but they always fall victim to software incompatibility. Starting with Lightroom Preferences in the General tab, you’ll want to uncheck the setting Show splash screen during startup. This is subtle but Lightroom will open a bit faster yet still has the spinning wheel of death while waiting for images to load. Also, you’ll want to select Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos. This is if another camera shot in jpeg has the same name as your raw files; without this checked they won’t import. Of course, if you shoot raw + jpeg you can leave this unchecked as well. (fig. 1)

fig 1

Moving into the Performance tab, you should always turn off Use Graphics Processor. It only becomes useful for specific functions and for most of us it just slows down the editing process. I used to set camera raw cache setting to 100GB but found it clogged up my storage so I keep it at 10GB. I honestly haven’t seen any performance loss since I changed, but of course my hard drive stays clean. I check the box Use Smart Previews instead of Originals out of habit. (fig. 2) The most performance gain is editing on Smart Previews but we will cover that in parts two and three. Let’s jump into Catalog Settings to tweak how Standard Previews are generated.

fig 2

Jumping into the File Handling tab, you’ll want to set Standard Preview Size to the lowest option 1024 pixels and Preview Quality to low. (fig. 3)

fig 3

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

These setting should take effect immediately and you’ll notice when you make develop changes in grid mode your previews build faster. Last but not least, back up your Lightroom catalog every time and store it on an external volume or cloud storage. Do not back it up to the local hard drive or pictures folder. (fig. 4a) You can change the location when you close the catalog. (fig. 4b) Now we’re ready to import the right way.

fig 4a

fig 4b


Let’s jump into the import module and look at all the options we have. First, we have to select a source and choose how we want to bring these images into Lightroom. If you’ve already ingested your raw files to your external storage we can simply Add files. Of course, if you are importing from memory cards you will Copy, but do not Copy as DNG. Pro Tip: Keep your images as raw files and do not Copy as DNG. (fig. 5) Under File handling, you can set the type or types of previews you want to be built. Choosing the right setting all depends on what you want to do after importing and how long you prefer to wait to start working in Lightroom. (fig. 6)

fig 5

fig 6

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

Minimal is the fastest option most preferred for my workflow. Embedded & Sidecar is intended for culling, which I find to be useless altogether. Standard previews and 1:1 are common options but keep in mind these take a while to build from the original raw files. As I mentioned, I choose Build Previews: Minimal and check the Build Smart Previews option. (fig. 7) I want the raw files to be quickly and efficiently added to my catalog and I also want to use smart previews for editing to run Lightroom at its fastest pace. With smart previews, we can take the raw files offline/disconnect them and still be able to cull and color correct. After import and smart previews are built, I build standard previews and this process is very fast. Now we can edit the images, no problem.

fig 7

For some advanced workflows where you need 100% zoom-in ability and likely have Thunderbolt external flash storage, you’d want to choose Build Previews: 1:1 at import. (fig. 8) Understanding this could take well over an hour if you’d like to move on to other tasks. This workflow gives you a fast and most accurate way to cull images at the fit in view and zoomed to 100%. Comparing a smart preview at 100% versus the original file you can see the difference. (fig. 9ab) You don’t have to wait for each image to load this way. If you build standard previews, it’s faster to import but you’d still have to generate 1:1 previews for every file.

fig 8

fig 9a

fig 9b

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

I prefer the first option by importing with smart previews, disconnecting the raws, building standard preview and culling. Top to bottom it’s faster and typically something I can wait 15 to 20 minutes to start on. The only drawback is zooming as you can accurately get a 1:1 preview. Another pro tip is to never apply Develop Settings at import. (fig. 10) Amongst the multitude of issues like slower preview building, inability to reset to the raw preview on multiple images, missing/applying camera profile issues, etc., you are always better off applying your preset after import in Library/Grid mode. Use the Quick Develop panel—it’s there for a reason. (fig. 11) Keep in mind Lightroom is constantly generating standard previews when you make changes and not to mention it has to work twice as hard when a develop preset is baked onto your files. (fig. 12ab)

fig 10

fig 11

fig 12a

fig 12b

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

Presets are a staple in Lightroom and you can apply Import presets to keep things simple. So instead of memorizing what build preview setting for what workflow you can make them for Culling with Smart Previews, Culling with 1:1, Editing with Smart Previews, etc. (fig. 13) This also becomes useful if you are copying files into Lightroom and want the destination folders to be consistent. (fig. 14) Saving an import preset allows you a lot of flexibility and customization for all your workflows. Now comes the most essential part of Lightroom, managing Previews.

fig 13

fig 14


For Lightroom to run well you have to understand how image previews work. This is something I call the Previews Game and it’s all about making them load faster. So if you decided to go the smart previews route at import you also chose to build minimal previews as well. (fig. 15)

fig 15

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

Now you need to disconnect your raw files because if you don’t, Lightroom automatically builds standard previews. (fig. 16) In effect it will use the original raw, take longer and that defeats the purpose of using smart previews. After you take your raw files offline, you can build standard previews by going to Library in the top menu bar > Previews > BuildStandard-SizedPreviews. (fig. 17) This is where you go to force previews at any time. You’ll see they load quite fast compared to any other option.

fig 16a

fig 16b

fig 17

This is vital to do before you cull in Lightroom to avoid the dreaded loading popup every time. That said, if you want 1:1 pixel peeping ability I recommend skipping the smart preview build at import altogether and sticking with 1:1. This is more time intensive but you’ll get the performance in zooming to 100% you crave. This is why many photographers recommend programs like Photo Mechanic because you can cull instantly and it’s lightning fast. However, once you go back to color correcting I recommend building smart previews and ditching the original files.

Top 3 Ways To Set Up Lightroom Classic for Faster Editing | Dustin Lucas

Something to consider is when you apply Develop settings to an image in Lightroom, a new standard and 1:1 preview has to regenerate. It’s not as slow as the first time but still takes time. You might be thinking, then why build previews at all, or how do you overcome that performance loss. This is why I recommend keeping your Lightroom catalog local as well as your smart previews, taking your raw files offline, dialing in preference and catalog settings to keep your focus on editing as fast as you can. What I mean is you do not want to wait on the computer to catch up to you. (fig. 18)

fig 18


Boom, there you have it. The top three ways to set up Lightroom Classic for faster editing. While some of these tips may be more obvious, I am hoping you found some improvements in your import workflow and can now step up your previews game. Of course, you don’t need the latest and greatest computer to make Lightroom run well. Quite the contrary. You need the minimum hardware and a proper technique of controlling how previews generate. If you have an older machine, you might be better off with smart previews and keeping the raws offline until you’re ready to export. I can honestly say I edit on a 6-year-old MacBook Pro with 8GB raw, no problem that way. Try these steps out today. I promise you will never look back!

LEARN MORE . youtube.com/btsShutterMagazine Click here or check us out at

Dustin Lucas is a full-time photographer and educator focused on the wedding industry and the academic world. After achieving his Master of Fine Arts degree, a career opportunity opened once he began working with Evolve Edits. Through teaching photography classes and writing about photography, Dustin continues to expand his influence on art and business throughout the industry. website: evolveedits.com instagram: @evolveimaging

How To Decide if an Image Should Be Color or Black & White | Jeremy Chou

Image © Jeremy Chou

with Jeremy Chou

How To Decide if an Image Should Be Color or Black & White | Jeremy Chou

When modern-day photography was invented in 1839, the only option available was black & white. It wasn’t until Kodachrome came around in 1935 that color photography became more widely available and started gaining popularity. It goes without saying, some of the most important and iconic photographs of our generation were all captured on monochrome film. Just the mere mention of these images conjures nostalgia that echoes the ghosts of our past. Some of these images include the sailor and nurse in V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, the Hindenburg Disaster by Sam Shere, or Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. These black & white images inevitably documented our collective history in its raw form. Some of these images helped to shape public opinions and record our legacy. Some could have even changed the course of history. I truly believe we have an innate emotional reaction to black & white images because humans have been conditioned to see these images as iconic and of utter importance. Once all the colors are stripped from an image, the viewer is forced to focus on light and shadow, emotion, and composition of an image. It’s the essence of how an image makes us feel when it’s viewed. Without the distraction of the presence of colors in an image, the true intent of the photographer can be revealed. The most raw and innate response a human can have is when presented with an image. It brings our reality to a different dimension and allows our imaginations to run free. As a creative, ultimately it comes down to the artist’s interpretation of when a moment will be best presented in black & white. Although a lot of times it’s a very subconscious decision, there are often consistent deciding factors that I take into account. It usually comes down to the following: emotion and mystique, motion, contrast in shapes, pattern or lighting, or when images have technical imperfections. However, with that being said, of course color images are critical and should always be utilized when appropriate, especially in storytelling where color is of importance, such as cultural events, concerts, fashion shows, etc. Many events will benefit from colors being represented so a more cohesive storyline can unfold. For example, I am primarily a wedding and portrait photographer. I would guess my clients could be pretty upset if I decided to present their colorful bouquets and decor in monochrome.

Here are the four factors that inform my decision if an image should be presented in black & white.

How To Decide if an Image Should Be Color or Black & White | Jeremy Chou


Typically, when an image is tugging the viewer at their heartstrings, it’s usually a tender or joyous moment. These heart-wrenching moments happen regularly throughout a typical wedding day. It could be during a fleeting moment during the speeches, where the best man and the groom exchange an understanding nod and a huge laugh. Or a sweet first dance embrace between the newlyweds on the dance floor. What about a crying father who can’t quite let go of his baby girl after walking her down the aisle. All these moments, when presented in black & white, will undoubtedly have a much stronger emotional impact on the viewer. As discussed previously, once the presence of color is eliminated, black & white images naturally have the ability to draw out the raw emotions of a specific moment. Here are some examples of those emotional moments.

How To Decide if an Image Should Be Color or Black & White | Jeremy Chou

Image © Jeremy Chou


Even though I am a photographer and I don’t know the first thing about videography, I love to create movement in my images. There’s nothing more powerful than representing a fleeting moment frozen in time, while still leaving room for imagination for the viewer. Sometimes it happens serendipitously, but more often than not, it is done intentionally to create the idea of motion. These types of black & white photos tend to work best in fleeting moments, non-posed interactions that happen organically. It could be your subject walking across the frame, background movement, or an overall room image to really convey timelessness and movement.


Often when I shoot at a venue that has architecturally significant elements, I love to use monochromatic images to showcase these shapes. Also, if there’s an interesting contrast between light and shadow, or any kind of repetitive patterns, all those elements add to the interest of an image when presented in black & white. As the famed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said: “Less is more.” Without the presence of color, our eyes are forced to focus on other interesting elements of the scene.


Let’s face it, sometimes a black & white photo can save an image from going into the trash pile. To give a prime example, if you are a wedding photographer, you’ve probably dealt with the awful laser beam lighting on the dance floor. Even though it adds to the ambience of festivity, it is truly a photographer’s worst nightmare. Most professional DJ or lighting companies will turn off those lights during the first dance. However, on the occasion where you can’t avoid it, converting an image into black & white can hide a lot of these imperfections. Also, if an image is slightly out of focus, more often than not a black & white image could help to make these slight imperfections less noticeable. There is definitely a time and place for both monochrome and color images. Ultimately, the creator of the image will be the one to decide. I hope these four deciding elements will help guide other photographers in creating the most impactful black & white images.

Jeremy is a fine art film wedding photographer who has traveled extensively throughout the world capturing beautiful weddings. Trained as an architect, Jeremy has a unique ability to incorporate the environment into his images while telling a compelling story. His work has been seen in all major U.S. wedding blogs and select print publications. He also has taught workshops throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. website: jeremychou.com instagram: @jeremychouphotography

Conquer Creative Slumps Effectively | Jess Hess

with Jess Hess

Conquer Creative Slumps Effectively | Jess Hess

I’d like to start by talking about a window. A broken window, specifically. A man by the name of Nathan Howe introduced this idea with his own story of a broken window, wherein a child threw a ball through his window and shattered it, so they boarded it up. The thought of fixing the window was daunting. He’d never repaired a windowpane and he wouldn’t even know where to start. Daily he thinks of this window and how it needs to be repaired, but the idea of doing something he doesn’t know how to do weighs on him so heavily that he puts this task off for a long time, while the guilt and annoyance of the project grows. He could hire someone, but he had already convinced himself that was unnecessary because this task would be easy if he could just make time to do it. This minuscule task had become so large and prevalent in his mind, and what seemed daunting before now seemed completely impossible. That was, until he fixed it.

Fifteen minutes and one video tutorial later and he had fixed it. This year-long battle with himself was now over. No more guilt or worry. It was more painful thinking about doing the thing than it was just doing the thing. His mind made a monster out of a mouse, and it resonated with me deeply for my own broken windows. And I don’t mean that as a metaphor, I mean that literally; my house is filled with broken windows. I know his story was meant to be interpreted in a plethora of different ways, but hey, the broken window hit the nail on the head. I live in a 100-year-old church and the care of this property is quite honestly insane. I can learn to fix a windowpane just as Nathan did, sure. But the thing is that I also have a leaky belltower in need of repair. I have broken gutters, falling plaster and cracking tiles. I have an entire list of things that are equally as important as the broken windows in my home. I’ll have to wear many different hats to tackle all those projects, much like business owners who don many different hats to run the various parts of their businesses. When I purchased the property, many of the broken windows were covered in black plastic to keep some semblance of separation between the inside and the outside. The plastic worked well enough, with some obvious downfalls. There was no light coming through the windows and it felt suffocating. A gentle breeze would rattle the plastic in ways that only became annoying after hearing them every day for months. A big gust of wind would always find its way through the barrier and winter storms could come inside if they wanted to. But I couldn’t fix all the windows because I still didn’t know how. I could hire out for them, but I couldn’t afford it, especially with many of these windows being original stained glass. The windows weren’t yet important enough to be tackled, but damn, I couldn’t stand that black plastic anymore.

Conquer Creative Slumps Effectively | Jess Hess

I didn’t have the money or even the time to fix the windows, but I knew how to use a staple gun, and I had a large roll of clear extra-thick vinyl. I didn’t have days to fix the windows, but I certainly had 30 minutes to dedicate to imperfectly fixing this problem. In that half an hour I had covered the spots I needed to cover. The vinyl is too thick to rattle in the wind now. It blocks heavy breezes, and most importantly, it lets the light in. My fiancé wondered why I would waste time on a band-aid when the real problem wasn’t being addressed, and while I did expend a small amount of time and energy and it didn’t result in repaired windows, it did give me sunlight. Sunlight was enough for me at the time, and still is. Are they fixed now? Absolutely not, but they will be eventually. I am happy. I am warm and basking in the sunlight offered to me by thick vinyl sheeting and some staples. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, and an imperfect solution done now is better than a perfect solution that may never happen. And to quote Nathan directly: “You don’t have to fix it all now, just start by starting.” My tasks don’t seem nearly as daunting when I realize I can redo them any time if I fail, and they seem more manageable when I realize I can tackle them in bite-sized pieces, over time.

Conquer Creative Slumps Effectively | Jess Hess

Now that I’ve talked about windows for way longer than any sane person should, I’ll dip back into why we’re reading this in the first place: our businesses and our craft. I have a long list of concepts and ideas I want to shoot. Some of these are themes I’ve had rolling around in my head for years, desperate to see them come to fruition. Some of them are so insane and involve so much work that I doubt I’ll ever see them come alive in the exact ways I would want them to. So, for the most part, I doodle the ideas out and then let them fade into the back of my mind. That all just seems wasteful to me though. I’m a perfectionist, sure, and I’m willing to bet most of us are. That doesn’t mean I can’t shoot similar ideas while I wait for the perfect one to fall into place, yeah?

So let’s say I’ve drawn out this makeup idea I want to use for concept A, but I can’t do concept A any time soon. We’ll use the design on concept B for now and come back later. And then with concept B, we’ll add the headpiece I made for concept C since concept C is also a long way off. Now I’m left with an entirely different idea and different artwork that I just wouldn’t have had at all had I waited forever to do concepts A and C. And maybe I love the final product for concept B. Maybe it’s my best work ever. Or maybe I hate it and it’s a flop. Regardless, I have learned something from shooting and producing it, and that is now knowledge that I can carry on to my next imperfect shoot. Sometimes the tips and tricks I pick up are so specific to a shoot or shooting style that they would be impossible to learn by reading or watching videos. You must learn them through doing. So, ultimately what happens is I continue to collect skills and knowledge that I can use for the completion of big, bad concept A. Knowledge and skills that I wouldn’t even have at all if not for allowing myself to experiment in less than perfect ways. Imagine getting everything together for concept A and then completely blowing it because you lit it wrong. I’ve done it. So now, the next time I shoot a similar concept I already know how to light it. You could have zero finished pieces if that’s how you want to play it, or you could have a few OK pieces, a couple of great pieces, and one excellent piece. And the more you do this, the more likely you will be to get excellent pieces over ones that are just OK. As an example, my brother created this gorgeous thorny crown for me many years back. At first, I held onto it because it was so immaculate, and I wanted my concept to be to the same caliber. It sat collecting dust for way longer than it should have before a model came in to shoot and pointed it out. She really wanted to take just a few shots with it, but the outfit and theme we were shooting didn’t seem like a match to me. I hadn’t shot the crown yet and it was a special piece meant for a special shoot. Still, I agreed to snap a few shots of her in it. I didn’t have to use the photos if I didn’t want to. While I was culling the session, I was instantly drawn to one of the shots with the crown and knew I had fallen in love with it immediately. I tried an entirely new editing style and spent a lot of time turning the photo into an art piece to match the crown. That photo ended up being one of the very first images to start getting noticed by bigger names. It helped land me my first international publication and was one of the very first images that got super popular online and spread far and wide. It got me noticed when I was only ever under the radar. So now I use that crown all the damn time. Not too much mind you, but I use and reuse it in all kinds of concepts. I have a whole color series with it where I paint it different colors. I use it for lots of angelic or demonic sessions and I just like getting creative with it.

Conquer Creative Slumps Effectively | Jess Hess

You are literally holding yourself back when you won’t do something because you think you can’t or aren’t ready for it. I don’t quite get the idea behind doing something only one time. I like to repeat ideas and concepts and then change them as I go to get new and exciting results. It’s fun for me to think of them as a series or as a collective piece when they are all different works entirely. Doing this not only allows me the freedom to evolve my old ideas with my new skills, but it frees me of the pressure of holding on to perfect ideas. I don’t have to hold on and wait forever when I know I can always do it again, do it differently and do it better in the future if I must. I can just create freely and whenever I want. When I say “anything worth doing is worth doing poorly” I don’t mean that you produce poor work for the fun of it, out of laziness or not caring. I simply mean that you allow yourself the room to create imperfect work, because imperfect work is better than creating nothing at all. To quote another popular online post: “Brushing your teeth for 30 seconds is better than not brushing them at all when that two minutes seems exhausting. Doing 10 minutes of yoga is better than 10 minutes of sitting when 30 minutes of cardio sounds impossible. Changing clothes is good when a whole shower is impossible. Standing on the porch for a few minutes is worth it after being in the house for three straight days when you don’t have the energy to go anywhere.”

I feel like this absolutely applies to what we do as well, in that sometimes we don’t feel like we can accomplish a goal and so we don’t aim for it at all. You can expend effort and fail, and it will always be infinitely more valuable than not trying at all. You can get part of the way there if getting all the way there isn’t a viable option yet. Do what you know how to do now and build upon it later when you know more. You can try. There is no reason to fear your tasks or to fear failure. Some tasks are impossible right now, and others only seem impossible. Failure is inevitable sometimes and teaches us so much more than success ever could. Take your project and just start it, start it now. Work from your ideas as you are now, and work from them again in the future when your skillset has changed. Work, rework and rework again. You must push forward and create!

Jess Hess is a professional fine art and conceptual portrait photographer based out of Dayton, Ohio. At her Wurmwood Photography studio, she blends vibrant colors and unusual ideas with classic portraiture for her own unique take on portrait photography. Her studio is located in a large 200-year-old church (called Castle Morningstar), situated in the middle of a graveyard, making her client experience unique from start to finish (and the clients even more unique!). She spends her spare time educating other photographers, renting out her space to local artists, making costumes and props, and hosting photographic events in the “castle.” website: wurmwoodphotography.com instagram: @wurmwoodphotography

5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits | Karen Bagley

with Karen Bagley

5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits | Karen Bagley

Black & white portraits are absolutely classic. Many times, you can have a standard beautiful image but when you make it black & white… it comes to LIFE! As you may know, not just any image will work well as a black & white image. So, how do you go about creating black & white images that will leave your clientele breathless? I have composed five tips to help you create the most impactful black & white images. Let’s dig in!


Think of your location. Your backdrop plays a huge part in the impact of your image when shooting specifically with black & white in mind. In many cases, the more simplistic the background, the better it will be in black & white. For example, in studio on a solid color backdrop. Of course, this is not always the case. There will forever and always be exceptions to the “rules.” The best way to gauge this for yourself is to plan ahead. Know your location well and know where exactly you want to create a black & white image. Certain places only make sense in color, like a garden with blooming flowers. The entire purpose of gardens or any heavily landscaped area is the color that these locations carry, so shooting black & white can actually take away from those images. However, maybe in this garden there is a covered bridge that would be a perfect setting for your black & white image. Any structure—a building, a wall, maybe even a fence, really anything that has lines leading to your subject—would be a PERFECT setting for your black & white image. So train your eyes to look for spots like that.

5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits | Karen Bagley


Your camera settings are equally as important as your location. You also have to decide between shooting black & white straight in camera OR turning your image to black & white later. My personal preference is to turn my image black & white later, but I have done it both ways. Even though I initially shoot in color, I still have thought in depth of what black & white image I want to create. The settings you choose will determine the type of black & white image you create. Of course, shooting in RAW is always the best way to shoot and it allows more play room in post-production. With the technology today, you can do just about anything in post, but I am a believer in getting it as close to what you want IN CAMERA. Let’s say you are wanting a high key black & white image. In this case, your shutter speed and aperture will be set to allow an overexposed image. Of course, your lighting source will determine exactly what that setting would be. Maybe instead you are preferring a low key black & white image where there is only light on your subject. Your settings here would be opposite of high key, but you could also adjust your light source. It doesn’t end there…You can also play with just your ISO to create a unique or classic look. You can also isolate your aperture settings and adjust just that to draw your eye into the subject. There are MANY different ways to achieve different looks, so play with them all! If you are like me and prefer to shoot in color first then change it to black & white, there are a billion and one black & white actions that are available… not to mention all the presets available to us too. Honestly, the options are endless. As I mentioned earlier though, I want my image to be close to perfect in camera so all that needs to be done is changing it to black & white. I typically do this in Lightroom, but Photoshop works too. Once you have an idea in mind, your settings are the most surefire way to bring that image to life. Relying on actions will limit you… so play with those settings!

5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits | Karen Bagley


I LOVE NEGATIVE SPACE for my black & white images. Negative space adds a dramatic feel to your portrait. It also acts as breathing room for your eyes, if you will. It puts your subject into focus right out of the gate. Your eyes are led straight to your subject. You can have too little negative space, which can lead to a cluttered image with every element screaming at your eyes. There can also be too much negative space where it just takes forever for your eyes to land on the subject. I have been guilty of this! Finding a beautiful amount of negative space is subjective but FUN! Again, there will always be times when the photography rules should just be broken. In this case, it’s about finding the right balance of negative space in regards to your subject. Never forget that negative space is just as important as the positive space, aka your subject.


How your subject is posed can make or break the image. Regardless of if you are looking for a more simplistic, high key, low key, negative space or whatever black & white image… your posing will absolutely make your black & white image POP! Because there is no color, you cannot rely on the colors to be what makes your image special. It’s all going to boil down to the lines and shapes that are created. While this is true even when shooting in color, it’s even more true when creating black & white images. Where do you want your eyes to land? You will use your subjects’ limbs to create those leading lines that lead your eyes right where you want them to go.

5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits | Karen Bagley


This is probably my favorite tip! For so long, I personally hated shadows. It wasn’t until I was forced to accept them when shooting underwater that I realized shadows can be AMAZING! Your use of light is what sets the tone for the image you want. Moving your light source in relation to your subject or vice versa can determine the drama of the image. One of my top favorite lighting positions is Paramount, also known as butterfly or beauty lighting, which is where your light source is directly in front of your subject. This makes for soft, very even lighting on your subject. Rembrandt and split lighting are my other favorites. Both of these setups create amazing shadows. Split light has some pretty harsh shadows which makes for one super dramatic black & white image. You can create your own shadows using everyday objects as well. For example, if you took a piece of lace fabric outside during broad daylight and placed that lace between the light source (the sun) and your subject, you would have a lace-shadowed pattern on your subject. As a different example in studio, you could use paper or even tape on your light to create a very straight-lined but BOLD shadow on your subject. There are so many different ways to play with your light source to create shadows (or not), adding depth and creative lifeblood to your image.

5 Tips To Create Impactful Black & White Portraits | Karen Bagley

You can see there are limitless options when it comes to black & white portraits. Remember to have fun and try new things. Keep these tips in mind and they will help lead you to create your own IMPACTFUL black & white images.

Karen Bagley is an energetic Fine Art Maternity, Motherhood, and Underwater Portrait Photographer and international speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia. Known for her dramatic and powerful maternity portraits, she is one of the most sought-after maternity photographers in the world. Karen opened Significant Moments Photography seven years ago and has since grown to a thriving six-figure business with her maternity clientele alone. She is on a mission to change what people think of when they hear maternity portraiture, one client and photographer at a time. website: significantmomentsphotography.com instagram: @significant_moments

Black & White Photography: Tips for Creating the Best Images | Monique Hoppe

with Monique Hoppe

Black & White Photography: Tips for Creating the Best Images | Monique Hoppe

“If you want to shoot fashion, shoot in color; but if you want to shoot emotions, shoot in black & white.”

I don’t know who said it, but it helped me find my personal style. About a year ago, I was lost and felt disconnected from my own work. Everybody told me that nothing was wrong, that my images were beautiful. I, however, couldn’t feel my images. I was focusing on making everything beautiful but the emotional connection was missing. I read this quote and challenged myself to shoot nudes in black & white. Nothing is barer than the human body. It was just me and the model, no clothing to hide, no color to distract. I felt connected and had found my niche. When I started to shoot fine art nudes, it was all about the intimate moment. My clients felt so vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I began to feel that shooting in color was just distracting; there was something special about black & white fine art nudes. Black & white let me connect more on an emotional level, it gave me the opportunity to focus on shapes, lines, composition, contrast, light and the connection with my client, showcasing their inner beauty. Black & white photography is so timeless, impactful, elegant and powerful—my love for black & white is limitless!

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