Tim Dodd ::: what makes a good professional photographer?

Tim Dodd, a photographer based in Cedar Falls wrote a blog post that I thought would be beneficial to share with all of you.  He addresses the ever-present questions, “What makes a good professional photographer?”  Have a read, it’s informative, yet entertaining : )  Click the image below to link to his blog post.


collaboration ::: why it’s so beneficial

I’ve had several people ask me why I, a photographer, am blogging my knowledge and secrets for the world to see.  Several people have told me it’s unwise and risky.  I am well aware of the possibility, but I value the benefit behind this blog much more than I fear it.  You see, collaboration among photographers is a powerful thing.  It is something that many photographers never get to experience because they fear someone will steal their ideas, their wisdom, and ultimately their clients. We can learn so much from each other when we share about our experiences and the latest technological advancements with each other.  There are thousands of weddings every year, even more families, seniors and babies, and there are plenty to go around for us photographers.   The benefits of forming relationships with other photographers far outweigh the possible negatives.

As believers in Christ, my husband and I have decided to view the photography business I operate as something that is not ours, but something that we have given to God to control.  I believe that God will bring me the right amount of clients when I need them regardless of my efforts.  It is a very difficult but freeing choice.


Laura, Cara, Emily and Sarah are all photographers in the Iowa City area who find collaboration with each other invaluable. They meet together on a regular basis to share stories and experiences about their work, clients and just life in general. Watch to get a taste of the chemistry and hear about their appreciation for collaboration.

See the Photo Girls’ work:

Laura Eckert
Cara Hocking
Emily Crall
Sarah Nebel

To hear more of Jenny Mayhem’s music, click here


Rachel Yoder is a young and up-coming photographer based in Farley, Iowa. She is currently attending Ashford University for visual arts and graphic design. She is passionate about her art and loves to share her passion with other photographers. Have a listen as she describes her experience collaborating with other photographers and why she values it so much.

To see Rachel’s work, visit her website or Facebook page.

To hear more of Allison Crowe’s music, click here


Click the map below to get a taste of the different photographers located in the Iowa City area. Just by searching on Google you can find other photographers in your area and contact them to find out if they might be someone you could work with!

A timeline of beginnings

Starting, branding, building and growing a business is a big project.  It’s one that requires perseverance, patience and passion.  I’ve created a timeline that outlines my photography beginnings to give you a little idea of the time and steps it takes to get to where I am now.  And, believe me, I have so far to go from here!  It’s just the beginning!  I hope this encourages you to press on! Click on the image below and you will be redirected to the interactive timeline.

A moment with photographer, Emily Crall

Emily Crall is a portrait photographer based in North Liberty, Iowa.  Emily loves what she does and gives a passionate description of that in this video.  As we visually follow her through a portrait session we witness the fun interaction between Emily and her subjects.  Abby Hayes and Mike Mitsche, the couple being photographed, share about their positive experience with Emily and their appreciation for her ability to make them comfortable.

To see more of Emily’s work visit her website: www.emilycrall.com
You can hear more of Nobody is Nobody’s music on Jamendo.

branding ::: part 1

Recently I have had the pleasure of helping a good friend and Faux Pas follower revive and re-brand her photography into a fully functioning business.  At first, she was a little overwhelmed by all the different aspects of creating a brand, but has powered through it.  Props to her for persevering!  As we were making a business plan and writing out preliminary logo designs on a napkin in Starbucks, I realized that this was an incredibly important topic that I needed to address on this blog.

When you first hear the term “brand” what do you think of?  Names like Nike? Stores like American Eagle?  What about Facebook?  Or Geico?

Your brand is not just your business name and it is not just your logo.  Your brand is the identity of your business involving all things graphics, personality, company/store culture and the product or service itself.  Take Nike for example.  When you hear Nike, your mind immediately goes to the Nike “swoosh.”  What else do you think of?  “Just Do It,” their easy to remember tag line, strongly associated with the brand.  You’ll think of athletics and you’ll eventually think of shoes and other athletic apparel.  Nike has a strong brand that encompasses their mission statement: “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”  I’d say they’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to their mission statement throughout their brand on all levels.

A photography business is no different.  In fact, it’s probably even more vital that you have a strong and consistent brand that encompasses the personality of your art.

Let’s start with square one.

Before we go any further, for those of you who want to create, revamp, or reevaluate your business and your brand, the first step is to examine and define your business.  In my experience, a creative atmosphere and a hot cup of coffee help the process along… : )

Consider the following questions to get the creative juices flowing:

What words (likely adjectives) would you associate with your photos?

What do you want people to think of when they see your photos?

What do you want people to feel when they see your photos?

What is your “mission?”

Why do you take photos?

Why do you love photography?

How would you describe your photographic “style?”

What colors do you associate with your photography?

What colors do you just plain like?

What other brands/logos are you drawn to?

Here’s a quick look at how my branding identity changed as my business developed:


A huge thanks to Haleigh Steere for helping me with my re-branding last year!

Check back for Part 2 to find out what to do with the answers! With questions or comments, share your thoughts below!

A moment with photographer, Sarah Nebel

Sarah Nebel is a photographer based out of Riverside, Iowa.  She has been in business for over 5 years and has developed a unique photographic style, which has set her apart.  Sarah focuses on children and families because it’s what she loves most.  Her love for her photography and her clients is made evident through her images.  Visit her website – sarahnebelphotography.com – to see more of her work.

Click here to hear from Sarah Nebel

SNP photos courtesy of Sarah Nebel Photography.
All other photos © Expressions Photography.
To see individual images, visit www.expressionsphotog.net
Transcription of Audio:
I’m Sarah. I love people, I’m so interested in how people work, how people work together. I love love, I like to watch people happy, I like to see fun before me, I just enjoy it.  Kids fascinate me, just the way they light up.  Everything is so new and exciting for kids and I love that.  That never gets old to me. 

I love that when I first started taking pictures, it made me see things through a completely different perspective.  I found myself being far more creative than I ever thought I could be, and I also of course love the fact that the photos, that’s a moment in time that you can never get back and a lot of times you can never even recreate that.  That photo is that photo.  

I have always loved taking pictures, appreciated other people’s photography but never thought it was something that I would actually do.  It all just happened very organically, I did daycare in my home and I got my first DSLR at the same time and I just found myself on the floor playing with the kids and getting fun shots and really that’s, I mean I’ve kind of wavered a little bit throughout, but that’s what I always go back to, that’s what I love to do, is just sit down with the kids and capture photos. 

I just got to a place where I felt like my work was worthy, and friends and family were asking me to shoot for them,.  I did a lot of free sessions in the beginning just to get my feet underneath me and yeah, I don’t know, it just sort of fell into place.  I never remember a moment thinking “wow I’m legit now,” until I got my studio, I guess when I got my studio I felt like “wow I am legit!”  But it seemed like it just fell into place right at the right time. 

The business side of things, taxes, all of that is not my cup of tea.  I’m hoping to get to a place where, I heard somebody say one time, “do what you do well, and the rest of the stuff, find somebody else to do.”  So I have to get to a place where I can just find somebody else to do that, and then I will focus on the part that I really enjoy. 

When I started to love photography it was with children, and it was watching them wonder and their interests, and I love that.  I did try weddings for a while, and that was not where it was at for me and I learned that quickly.  I’m just a very natural, organic, go-with-the-flow kind of person.  I am comfortable now telling someone that I am not the photographer for them because I just really like relaxed, comfortable images, letting people be themselves, trying to orchestrate that the best that I can.  In doing that I usually get a photo that I couldn’t pose or that I couldn’t set the stage for. 

It’s my personality, it’s who I am, and it just led me to where I’m at!

mailbag ::: the different routes to professional status

I recently received an email from Amanda, a Faux Pas follower and photography student who will be graduating soon.  She shared that someday she would like to have her own business, but for the time being, would be happy to work for a more established photographer.  She also shared that it seems many photographers are a one or two person team with not many “entry-level” positions available.  She asked if I had a mentor prior to starting my business and what I might suggest for students like herself.  Here are my thoughts.
My Background
I did not have an official mentor relationship with one individual before I started my business.  I did, however, have several people critiquing my work from the beginning of my photography career which started at the Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University’s student newspaper.  Before I started working for the Daily, I had not used a DSLR camera with manual settings.  The photo editors at the time, especially Rashah McChesney, taught me about the settings and lighting and throughout my first year constantly challenged me to improve.  My time at the Daily was invaluable and I am so thankful for the skills I learned there!  While working at the Daily, I began to take photos for fun on the side and eventually started doing sessions by request, which led to the beginning of my business, Expressions Photography.  I will be graduating this May with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Iowa.
*You can see my work at the Daily here.  You may enjoy that this photo was from my first ever photo assignment.  It brings a little smile to my face…oh the memories : )
Choosing Your Adventure (please excuse the cheesy ISU reference)
There is not one right path or even a better path to having a successful photography business.  Although I can’t give you the answer, I can help you critically think through your options to help you choose a route that is best for you.  Depending on your status in your education, you may or may not have as much flexibility.
  • If you have not started college and feel very confident that you would like to be a professional photographer, it would be a great idea to look into photography schools or programs.  Unfortunately, if you live in Iowa, there are not an ocean of options.  Hawkeye Community College in Northern Iowa has a great professional photography program that I would highly recommend looking into.  Another great option is a Journalism degree with an emphasis in photojournalism at any accredited university.  If you plan to do weddings, this might be a good option for you as the trend now-a-days for wedding photographers is to have a journalistic approach. Journalism is also helpful as you will learn about multimedia and how to effectively use it.  Lastly, blogs have become quite the trend in photography businesses, and a journalism education will prepare you to write.  Get experience while you are in school and if possible, start doing official sessions before you graduate so you have some clients to help you build your business when you graduate.
  • If you are only partly through your degree, I would highly suggest you join a student publication or photography club and consider taking some photography classes as electives (depending on your school, this may be limited, but anything helps!).  Regardless of how far into your major you are, it’s important to get experience to build a portfolio, whether you’re looking to start a business or work under another photographer or company.  Practice Intentionally and find someone (an instructor, a more experienced peer, photo editor of a publication) to critique your work and help you to grow.  Get experience while you are still in school and if possible, start doing official sessions before you graduate so you have some clients to help you build your business when you graduate.
  • If you are about to graduate, you have a few options.  If you have done some sessions (paid or unpaid) and feel like you’ve built up a client base, I would start your business full-steam ahead!  Realistically, you may have to have another job until you’re making a steady income through your photography.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of being an entrepreneur…it’s a lot of work!  If you have not had much experience to this point, I would highly recommend looking for a mentor or a position as a photo assistant or second shooter.  Be aware that this may take quite a bit of inquiring and perseverance as, like Amanda said, many photography businesses in Iowa are a one or two person team with little ability to hire.  If you are willing to relocate, bigger cities have more opportunities for photo assistant jobs and would be a good place to look.  If you want to stay in Iowa, there may be photo assistant jobs, but like I said before, they may be hard to find, but keep looking!  Other photography jobs that would give you experience and portfolio work include: Mall/Store portrait studios (Flash Digital Portraits, Sears Portrait Studio, PictureMe Portrait Studios – in Walmart) and college campus photography positions (Foundations typically have a photographer on staff).  You could also look around for corporate businesses who need photographers.  Exhaust your resources and remember that connections are powerful, so ask around!

Have a question of you own?  Comment on the blog or email me:  expressionsphotog@gmail.com