Meet the Writers is an SLR Lounge series that interviews each of our writers with which we hope to bring you all closer into the SLRL community. So many of you readers are with us on site day in day out, and we want to get to know you all better and vice versa. We’re always happy to get your comments and emails, and with this series, we’ll introduce and each of the writers and editors so you get to know us more personally. Previously, we interviewed our Managing Editor, Hanssie and are working on more, so stay tuned!
Meet the Writers – Tanya Smith: Wife, Mother, Photographer, Writer and Author of ‘Time Out With Tanya’ Series
Tanya Smith is a busy lady. She just returned from a week long humanitarian trip to Jamaica for Great Shape!, Inc, she is a wife and mom of three kids, runs a photography business, is a consultant for a cute bag company called Thirty-One Gifts, and is a regular staff writer here at SLR Lounge. I had a chance to ask Tanya all the questions I wanted for this interview and get to know her a bit better. I’m still in a bit of awe with how she manages three children much less have time for anything else. Tanya lets us in on how she juggles it all (hint: she doesn’t sleep). Read on…
From the Time Out With Tanya series on SLR Lounge, we know that you used to be a graphic designer. How did you get your start in photography? Do you still do graphic design?
My interest in photography goes way back to when I was 12 years old and my mom gave me her old Kodak 110 point-and-shoot. I would take my little sister out to our yard and take her portrait and then be very disappointed when the photos didn’t turn out as I had envisioned them. Fast forward to high school, where I learned to roll black and white bulk film into rolls and develop it in the dark room, then create layouts for the yearbook. I’m a classic introvert, so photography became a way for me to be present and involved in large groups and social activities without actually having to talk to anyone…
When I went away to college I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but having to actually talk to strangers to interview them terrified me, so I ended up on the layout staff at the newspaper and went with Graphic Design instead. When I attended FIDM in Los Angeles for a year, to further study design, I really grew to love graphics, and had a 10+ year career developing brand identities and marketing for companies including GUESS, HP, Microsoft, Kodak and many small businesses across the country. (Fun fact, SLR Lounge partner, Justin Lin, went to FIDM too!)
I took an intro to digital photography class at FIDM and always saw photography as a hobby. It wasn’t until freelancing as a designer became too demanding to fit into my life as a mom of two (and eventually three) kids that I started seriously considering charging for portraits. At this point, I’m no longer offering Graphic Design services, but my knowledge of design principles influences all my creative work.
Well, I definitely see the graphic design come out in your article feature images – they make me envious that I can’t make cool graphics like that with my limited knowledge. So, how did you transition from graphic design to photography to writing and doing a bit of all three?
After I had my second baby, my freelance load was stressing me out. I knew I needed a change. I had been doing portraits for family and friends and thought maybe this would be less stressful (I was very naive about the business of portrait photography, ha!) So I jumped in with both feet and started learning all I could about taking a better portrait. I went to workshops, watched a bazillion hours of Creative Live and eventually found SLR Lounge.
I also went through a period of introspection, thinking about what I really wanted for my life and trying to figure out what my true talents were. I never felt like a talented designer. I don’t even feel like a talented photographer (maybe I shouldn’t admit that, LOL?). But writing has always come naturally to me. It’s the thing I’m most afraid to do, because if I’m rejected, it will hurt the most. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment, because I decided I needed to start writing again. I just happened to see SLR Lounge was looking for writers so I applied.
Thankfully, I’m not afraid of talking to strangers anymore and I have a lot more to say than I did when I was 18! While I love journalistic writing, my goal is to eventually be a published children’s book author and illustrator. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a novel or screen play some day! I have so many ideas…
You’re also a full time Mama and wife. How do you juggle writing for SLR Lounge, Photography and everything else you do?
Well, basically I never sleep! In addition to raising three kids and being a hot trophy wife (hahahaha!), I’m taking a children’s book writing class online, and shooting portraits occasionally. I write for SLR Lounge at night after my kids are in bed or during a rare hour I get to escape to the library. My husband is a big help and spends his days off watching the kids so I can do my thing, which I appreciate beyond words. He has never stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do, even if my ideas were absolutely crazy or impractical. I live by my calendar (if my phone dies and my calendar gets erased, I’m in serious trouble!)
Why do you think I switched to paper calendars?! I have that same fear! So, what have been some notable success moments in your career? Tell us a bit about your journey – what are some pitfalls and things that slowed you down? What are some things that kept you motivated?
When I had my graphic design business, I felt most successful when clients came back again and again because they loved the service and product I provided. Several times they would tell me about negative experiences they had with other designers, which is why they wanted to work with me over and over and were willing to pay more. It was hard to walk away from those loyal clients. Really hard. The business of portraiture has been a struggle for me. I just want to take pictures. I don’t want to have to deal with the money and the marketing and price shoppers and tax laws and an over saturated market.
One pitfall I fell into early on was feeling I needed to buy a ton of gear. Most of that gear is gathering dust in the corner of my office and now I need to sell half of it. I have somehow managed to avoid comparing myself to others too much. I think that comes from my design training and years of art school. Every artist has a unique voice. If you find yours, comparing yourself to someone else is pointless.
I think my commitment to staying home with my kids has slowed me down. Sometimes I lay awake at night imagining what it would be like to have a full time job or 8 hours a day to dedicate to the many ideas and ambitions I have in my head and my heart. An Art Director position opened up at a local design agency recently and I seriously considered applying. I would have had an excellent chance at getting the job. I was certainly qualified. But I just couldn’t. I don’t want to miss my baby’s first words or leave them with someone else to kiss their boo boos or not have the opportunity to volunteer in their classroom. I’m glad I have the luxury of staying home with them, even if it means putting off my goals for awhile.
Motivation comes from somewhere within me, I guess. I often wonder what keeps me going when I’m not getting paid for the millionth charity event I’m photographing or when someone calls and asks if I’ll design a logo for $50 or when my babysitter bails on me 10 minutes before I’m supposed to meet a High School Senior for her session. Why do I bother? Why can’t I be content to just clean toilets and fold laundry all day? I have an author friend, Brooke Moss, who says in her bio that if she doesn’t write, her head will explode and ruin the drapes. That’s exactly how I feel. If I don’t take pictures, if I don’t write stories, if I don’t connect with interesting people, I’ll die of boredom. If I don’t follow my curiosity and feed it, I don’t feel alive at all. Inspiring others to be better artists or better people motivates me, too.
What is your dream job? If money, family, etc were no object, what would you be doing?
I would be the next Dr. Suess. A household name author/illustrator. Someone who created something so different that authorities hated it, but the rest of the world eventually loved it. It sounds like a lofty goal, and I’ve never actually said it out loud. Now that thousands of people know about it, I’m going to have to make it happen. Yikes!
What’s in your camera bag? And I know you run a group called the Bag Junkie. Tell us more about that and more importantly, what bag do you carry your gear in?
Oh, yeah, I’m a consultant for Thirty-One Gifts mostly to support my shopping habit. Seriously, I have a bag addiction and I have about five different camera bags and literally dozens of handbags floating around at any given time. I use a different bag every day. It’s a problem. If you love tote bags and organizing things, join my exclusive Facebook Group, The Bag Junkie. I use several Thirty-One products to organize my photography accessories and carry my sample canvases and things. Ask me for more info (I loooooove to talk about it!).
For camera bags, I primarily use a Lowepro backpack style for on location shoots if a lot of walking is going to be involved. For weddings, I use a Tamrac Aria 6 bag, which is really utilitarian and not too big to lug around. I’ve thought about getting an UNDFIND bag to try out. Maybe I could review one (hint, hint). I love, love, love my Aide de Camp Valencia bag. It’s versatile, light weight, rugged and chic at the same time. Read my review of it here. Anyway, one of my “projects to do someday” is to create a blog dedicated entirely to bag reviews. Swoon…
Inside my “bag of the day,” I have a Canon 5D Mark III body, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II and a couple Canon 430 EX speedlites. That’s what I use primarily. I also have a 50mm f/1.4 lens and 85mm f/1.8 lens that rarely come out of my bag. I would really like to get a 100mm macro to play with and maybe a better 85 (I bought mine used and it has always had some focus issues. Time to go shopping?) As I mentioned before, I have a pile of light stands, background stands, clamps, LED lights, etc. that were exciting to buy and try out, but when push comes to shove, I can create stunning images with just my 5DMII and 24/70.
Do you have any tips for busy moms to that are trying to manage a photography business?
Educate yourself. Yes, you may be “good” at taking pictures according to your mom (and she’s probably right) but there’s a certain level of skill you need to sharpen before you can call yourself a pro. Set clear boundaries. Decide what kind of photography you want to do and don’t bother with any other. Just say “no.” I offer this advice because I myself have difficulty following it. I’m learning though.
Don’t feel guilty about taking time away from your family to create. Don’t feel pressured into turing your love of photography into a business if you aren’t prepared to deal with the headache of taxes (sales tax, B&O tax, income tax, employee tax…), licenses, insurance, websites, sales, marketing, etc. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. When my kids are older and I’m able to dedicate more time to my photography business, the first thing I’m doing is hiring a business manager. Then I’ll hire a maid :)
What has been your most memorable/notable story/feature for SLR Lounge?
Without question, my article about not taking portraits on railroad tracks. Prior to this article, most of my posts were getting about 1000 page views in the first 10 days, which I thought was pretty cool. Imagine my surprise when, the afternoon after posting this article (which I agonized over and researched for days, by the way) I just happened to check in and see that it had received like 40,000 page views and had ignited a pretty heated debate in the comments. It was thrilling, and nauseating (people can say some pretty mean things!) at the same time. I have since been dubbed the ‘Railroad Police’ around here, and I’m totally ok with that. If you have photos of kids on railroad tracks posted online, I highly recommend you delete them, by the way…
If you had only one SLR Lounge product to recommend, which would it be and why?
Hands down, the Lightroom Preset System Workshop. Before discovering the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System, I was 100% anti-presets and actions. I felt like they were just cookie cutter copies of a style some other photographer had developed and I didn’t want that for my work. What I love about the SLR Lounge system is that it’s simply a way to develop your own style in a quick way. It really sped up my workflow and has allowed me to get more creative with my work, depending on the mood I want to portray. Plus, I just love listening to Pye talk. He’s so funny :)
On that note, I’m super excited for our new product, Photography 101. All my friends are constantly asking me for tips on how to use their cameras and how to take better pictures, and I just don’t have the time to teach them. Now I’ll have something I can offer them that is affordable and they can learn at their own pace at home.
Thanks for forgoing a few hours of sleep for this interview, Tanya! I look forward to meeting you someday and trading mom stories! To read more of Tanya’s articles, subscribe to her popular ‘Time Out With Tanya’ series and also read one of her other very viral, very highly debated articles, “How to Pose So You Don’t Look ‘Fat’ in Photos.”
CREDITS: All photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.