Guest Blog: Portrait Photographer Sam Haddix

Guest Blog: Portrait Photographer Sam Haddix

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Obligatory awkward self portrait

The Most Productive Quarantine Ever

Wow. What a wild time we’re living in. Whether by government or corporate mandate, or simply by your own personal choice, it’s entirely possible that as you read this you’re more or less stuck at home. There’s also a strong possibility that you may continue to be stuck at home for a number of weeks.

Now listen, I’m no expert on health science or politics; I’m a photographer. I’m not here to add to your increasingly anxiety-inducing news feeds, please trust me on that. Instead I’m here to simply offer some uplifting suggestions – from one creative to another.

So what advice could I possibly be here to give you in this strange and trying time? Well, since you’re reading this on one of the world’s most popular photography blog, it’s pretty safe to assume that you’re a photographer, artist, or creative person.

Now this may be a general assumption, but I’ve found the vast majority of artistic-minded people typically have difficulty creating structure in their day-to-day lives, especially when taken away from their daily routine. Routine is extremely important for productivity, and for most people, their routine is often built around a traditional 9-5 job.

I’m lucky enough to have made a living with photography for nearly ten years. During that time I’ve had to create my own day-to-day structure, come up with my own schedule, and be my own boss. It sounds great (and it is), but the reality of it is, if you’re not wired a certain way, you may find yourself sitting around wasting your days, unsure of how to best spend your time.

So now you’re at home, looking for something to do and faced with endless possibilities. So what to do… what do to…

You could certainly binge every episode of The Office again (there are 201 episodes, approximately 140 of them good ones).

You could see how many hours you can sleep in a day, and then try to break that record.

You could finally take the time to read Stephen King’s “The Stand” (or maybe stick to the one about the clown).

Or – now hear me out on this one – you could take the extra time at home to really hunker down and improve your craft as a photographer.

There are a million things you could do to improve your photography, but in the essence of keeping this blog from reaching the length of…again…. Stephen King’s “The Stand,” we’re going to concentrate on just 6 concepts.

So without any further ado, let’s get to it.

Megan Mackenzie looking ready to inspire.

CREATE 

Your creativity is a muscle. In order for that muscle to grow, it needs to be exercised frequently. Maybe you had an upcoming photography workshop cancelled or rescheduled, or perhaps you had to postpone working with your typical clients. If this is the case, don’t use it as an excuse to not shoot. In fact, it’s the perfect time to think about what you can shoot in and around your own house.

Do you have a strobe and soft box collecting dust in the closet? It’s time to bust it out and experiment. Do you always admire the way the light streams in through a certain window in your house at a particular time of day? It’s time to put a family member in that spot and take their portrait. Essentially, it’s time for you to flex that creative muscle.

We have a special ability as photographers. The ability to capture someone’s portrait and create a lasting image that can be passed down through generations is a priceless gift. It’s easy to forget about that gift when it comes to the things (and people) we see every day. If you find yourself at home with extra time, now is the perfect opportunity to take photos of your loved ones, and to try out some new photography techniques in the process.

Look at the work Glyn Dewis is doing with his portraits of WWII veterans. Those portraits are gifts that the veterans’ families will treasure forever, and a lot of them were taken with a simple backdrop and a single light setup in a typical living room. Don’t forget that you have the ability to create treasured memories for your own family right inside your own house, especially if you live with older parents or grandparents.

A timeless portrait of Harry Billinge MBE. Photo Credit: Glyn Dewis

Check out Gilmar Smith’s composite work with her kids. If you have children at home, take some time to plan out a fun and hilarious scene, shoot the pieces, and practice your photoshop skills compositing something magical. If your kids are home from school for an extended period of time, put them to work and make something special!

A perfect example of incredibly creative work you can make entirely at home. Photo Credit: Gilmar Smith

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kaylee Greer’s dog photography (not just because she’s my fiancée, but because she’s the best in the world at what she does). I’m constantly shocked at how many photographers don’t have nice photos of their own dogs. Take some time during the next few weeks to capture a beautiful portrait of your four-legged friends.

Try to get a shot of the perfect head tilt in the backyard, or dust off that soft box and create a makeshift studio in your living room for a classic pet portrait.

Photo Credit: Kaylee Greer

If you’ve already bothered your family members to the point where they refuse to model for you anymore (it’s okay, it happens), find other things to shoot around the house. Maybe it’s the perfect time to practice macro photography on the flowers and insects in your garden, or create a light-painting in a darkened room – whatever it is, just do it. Take this time to create new work, and grow as a photographer and artist.

It only took a few minutes to capture these portraits of my friends and family in the backyard.

Whatever you create during the next few weeks, be sure to share it! I’d love to see anything you come up with, especially any dog photos.


Nobody tell Kaylee that I photographed a dog without her. Artwork backdrop by Paul Cote.

ORGANIZE 

Warning: I’m about to suggest tedious work. Seriously though, if you find yourself stuck at home, what better time to finally organize your absolute disaster of a desktop? What better time to finally add keywords to your Lightroom catalog! How about finally taking the time to properly (and I mean properly) back up all of your photos. Are these tasks fun? Nope. But will you feel better once they’re done? Absolutely you will.

Take some time to think about your work space as well. This could be the perfect opportunity to hang up new artwork, rearrange your desk, alphabetize your bookshelf, paint the wall, etc.

Whatever you do, work towards creating a space that you want to work in. You’re more likely to get things done if your desk isn’t a cluttered nightmare.

So put on a podcast (I’m currently loving Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend) or some good music (I’m on a real Bruce Springsteen kick right now), sit down, and get it done. Oh, and please feel free to suggest podcasts and music in the comments section. I have a feeling a lot of people will be interested in recommendations!

I’ve also been listening to Joe Merrick’s new album, Slow Down Sylvia, which I shot the artwork for last year.

REDISCOVER 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll get home from a shoot, flip through your photos, edit a few of your favorites, and move right on to whatever’s next. Photographers rarely go back through their old photos, but I guarantee that if you decide to take that stroll down memory lane, you’re bound to find some forgotten gems. In fact, let me do that right now. Hang on… 

Ok I’m back, check out what I found!

Turns out there were an overwhelming amount of cool shots from my portrait session with the incredible Juli Finn.

This photo has never seen the light of day, and what a shame – I actually really like it! You should go find a cool new/old photo right now. Yes, right now, I’ll wait.

Nice work (probably)! 

If you actually spent the time going back through your catalog, you’ll probably find that your tastes have changed as you’ve grown as an artist. Something you may not have liked a year or two ago may suddenly be your new favorite photo. Oppositely, you may find something you thought was excellent a year ago to be total garbage (and that’s fine). You may also look back at some favorite shots in your portfolio and think “Gee, I’ve learned a lot about editing since I took this photo.” If that’s the case, fire up Photoshop and give that old photo the sparkly new edit it deserves.

I really do hope you take the time to do this. If you do, share your work in the comments, or post on Instagram and give me a tag @samhaddixphoto. I’d love to see what you unearth!


ONLINE LEARNING

One of the best changes I’ve made to my daily routine in the last year has been to structure online learning time into my day-to-day schedule. If you’ve found yourself with more time at home, I’d strongly recommend you do the same.

The key is to find a specific time of day that you can dedicate solely to learning. Then do it. Every. Single. Day. It’s only through constant repetition that it will work its way into your routine. I can’t stress enough what a wonderful addition online learning has been to my daily life. So, when do I find time to do it? I’m glad you asked.

Personally, I watch 30 minutes of an online training video while eating breakfast, and another 30 minutes while on the treadmill at the gym (cardio is the actual worst, so learning something cool really helps pass the time). While that schedule works perfectly for me, it’s imperative that you pinpoint the time in your own routine with the least amount of distractions or interruptions. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3am, just set aside a time to get your daily dose of smarts!

I shot this image of Fro after getting inspired by watching classes from Joe McNally and Lindsay Adler on shooting with gels.

Considering this blog’s platform, it would be silly to not mention the most-excellent classes at KelbyOne, which I genuinely love and learn from regularly (hey, yours truly even has a class on there, wink wink wink).

That being said, while I think that it’s important as photographers to learn as much as possible about photography, I think it’s equally as important that we creative-types continue to learn as much about art in any form.

Don’t feel like you’re limited to watching only photography training videos. Watch a class on jazz piano. Watch a class on screenplay writing. Finally take the time to properly learn Adobe Illustrator (you know you’ve been slacking on it). Just learn something new and creative every day.

For example, I’ve been watching Photoshop training videos by Unmesh Dinda while having my morning oatmeal (pro tip: mix peanut butter and a little jelly with your oatmeal for a special treat).

During my terrible 30 minutes of cardio I’ve been really enjoying a class on screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin.

Whatever you’re learning, prepare to be amazed and surprised by how your newfound knowledge influences your creative decisions across different artistic disciplines.

Again, share what you’ve been learning in the comments section. We’d all love the recommendation!


NETWORKING

Oh man, you’re about to take networking advice from someone who is famously introverted. So here’s the thing – it’s pretty safe to assume that people from all walks of life and from all different parts of the world will be spending a lot more time online in the next few weeks.

That means that social media, forums, and even comments-sections will be buzzing with activity. It’s the perfect time to reach out to another artist who’s work you admire and maybe ask a question or two. It’s the perfect time to send your portfolio to the editor of that magazine you’ve always wanted to be published in. It’s the perfect time to just reach out to anyone you want to reach out to. Comment on Instagram posts. Ask others for advice. Send those emails you haven’t been brave enough to send yet.

The perfect place to start is here, by reaching out to others in the KelbyOne community. We’re lucky to be part of a group of some of the most genuinely kind, talented, and supportive people in the photography world, so if you want to nerd out about the latest gear, ask a hard-hitting photoshop question, or just say hi, don’t hesitate for even a second.

Just because you’re stuck at home doesn’t mean you can’t put yourself out there.


ACCOMPLISH

Ah, “accomplish,” the fluffiest of inspirational buzzwords.

Let’s fast forward a few weeks into the future. Things have slowly gotten back to normal, your house is stocked with an appropriate amount of toilet paper, and it’s your first day back to work at the office (or construction site, submarine vessel, parliament building, whatever). Your coworker turns to you and says “Do anything cool while you were stuck at home?”

Now, this may be small talk, but I implore you…. Have a good answer. An impressive answer. An answer you can be proud of.

Instead of saying, “Yeah, I finally beat Red Dead Redemption II on PS4. It was sweet.” Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could answer, “Yeah, I finally wrote some decent country songs.” Or,  “Yeah, I completed a series of portraits using experimental color gels.” Or, “I started learning how to paint with acrylics, and I love it.”

There’s an infinite number of responses you could have to this simple query, so make yours a good one.

I’ve found the best way to make sure I accomplish a goal is to write a due-date on my calendar and then tell someone who I know will hold me accountable. For example, I’ve been working on a screenplay for a horror movie for the last month or so (spooky, right?). On April 10th, I’ll sit down with my fiancée Kaylee and we’ll read through the first draft together. Without that self-imposed due date (and a bit of self discipline) it’s likely I would sit on this project forever, and never actually finish it.

Take some time today to think about something you’ve always wanted to do, set a due date, and use your extra time at home to accomplish something that you can be truly proud of.

Oh, and post your plan here and we’ll all do our best to hold you accountable. It’d be totally rad if you could finally play the guitar solo from Hotel California.

A shot of Jon Finn from an ongoing series of panoramic guitarist portraits.

So, to review:

  • Create
  • Organize
  • Rediscover 
  • Online learning
  • Networking 
  • Accomplish

Oh… whoops…lousy acronym.

Anyways, I hope that I’ve said at least one thing that inspires at least one person to create at least one piece of new art (rereading that made my head spin a little, but I’m pretty sure it’s grammatically sound). But in all seriousness, I do hope that each person that reads this will find a little time each day to take a break from all the craziness in the world and concentrate on their craft, their artistry, and their creativity.

As Bill S. Preston, Esq once said, “Be excellent to each other.”

-Sam Haddix


Sam Haddix is a portrait photographer from Boston Massachusetts, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, a horror movie aficionado, and one half of Dog Breath Photography alongside world-renown dog photographer Kaylee Greer.

You can keep up with him on Instagram and Facebook.

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