what i learned from my first official D Magazine assignment.

I was published in D Magazine's March 2014 Issue!  Go check it out at your local magazine stands!

March Issue of D Magazine, pg. 29-30

This was my first official assignment with D Mag.  

Believe it or not, I’ve been secretly wanting to shoot for them for a long time. It’s almost embarrassing to talk about it.  I made countless failed attempts to connect with the editors and art directors. Why did I want to be published in a magazine? Here is the truth. I wanted to show off, to have a spread, get all the “likes,” to boast, build my identity around it, and use it to build my photography career. Really, all I wanted was my name to be printed on the pages.  I reached out to anyone that I thought would listen to me, but no one did. It wasn't because they weren’t willing to give me a chance - I just wasn’t ready. I am very glad no one listened to me because my heart was not in the right place. 

2013 was a good year for me as a photographer, but not as a person. I was a good photographer but my heart was in the wrong place. It’s so hard to admit to that. Every photo I took, I cared but my thoughts were all about getting to what I perceived to be the next level.  My portfolio was built around what the market wanted to see. I thought I was so ready, but I my insecurities about my own work showed right through my photographs. No wonder publications did not care to hire me or even notice me for that matter.

Toward the mid-end of 2013, I had a conversation with my good friend and talented photographer, Rocky Garza, of Sara and Rocky Photography. As a photographer, it’s so easy to fall in the trap of buying the new state-of-the-art and cutting-edge gear, software, and techniques. In addition to that, my identity was built around how many “likes” I got on Facebook and Instagram. I confessed to Rocky my obsession to social media and how I wanted approval through them.

In November 2013, I took a portrait of our friend and entrepreneur, Matt Alexander.  His portrait was published in the January 2014 Issue of D Magazine, which opened a door for me to shoot for the publication on official assignment a month later.

Being the good friend he is, Rocky asked me many questions. One question that really struck me was, “How do you want to photograph?” Almost in tears, I said, “I just want to take a simple portrait with one light.” One of my greatest passions in photography is to take compelling portraits.  With a single light shining on them, I want to tell their story. What had been stopping me was my insecurities about how I would be able monetize it and keep our business alive. He challenged me to do it and I realized anything is completely possible when your heart is in the right place.

The timing of this first assignment was perfect for where I am at with myself, my heart, and my photography now.

I get asked a lot about how I got to shoot for the magazine. This post is my answer.

The point of this post is not to show off or to tell you about my talent but to share what I have learned. I learned a lot getting to this point in my career because there were a lot of things I tried that failed. Also, I am not an expert nor do I think of myself as one.

Be passionate.

Photography was just a hobby. I loved it then. Since there was no money involved, it was fun and it was just something I just loved to do. When it became my job, photography also became work. It wasn’t for fun anymore and that attitude really affected my work. My photos were nothing more than an executed technique I had learned from someone else - it was not artistic nor was it my own - and I only did what worked for the business. In the end, people noticed and the business started to suffer.

Several months ago, I watched this video by Zack Arias, a photographer I really admire as a person and an artist.  His talk really made me think about the way I approached my work. I realized I complicated it way too much with gear, techniques, and trends. My work had been defined by how much people “liked” my work and the attention I received from it.  Sometimes, I did what everyone else was doing to stay “safe.” 

I knew had to simplify my photography. I literally sold a ton of my gear and kept only the bare minimum. I cut out all of the noise and photographed the way I wanted to - simple and uniquely mine. It didn’t matter what others were doing or what the trends were. I used my passion to drive my work, not the other way around. The beauty of the subject itself was what to spoke me and that was what I wanted to capture. I realized it was never just about my gear or the photograph I took but about who or what was in front of my camera.

Show your passion.

Some of you may be really shocked to hear this, but I used to be a really a private person and I still have to work really hard at being more open. I personally didn’t like sharing about myself, especially what I do for living. Since I am an accountant-turned-photographer, it was easy for me to feel like a phony. I had never taken a photography class before buying my first DSLR 5 years ago and I am self-taught. Because of my insecurities, I held back when it came to sharing my work. 

That all had to change when I became a full-time freelancer. I started reluctantly sharing my work to get jobs, but no one really cared.  But once I started taking photographs that were meaningful to me and passionately sharing the photos that I loved, people started to notice and really listened. People love seeing the passion behind your work.

No one is perfect.

Sojung and I are both perfectionists. SOHOSTORY.com is the perfect example of this. We both want perfection for our website, which is why the look of it has changed so many times, and we hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to our work. I think a lot of creatives struggle with holding themselves to this standard of “perfect.” It’s easy for us to tell others, “don’t be so hard on yourself,” but it’s so hard to give yourself grace.

I had to overcome the fear of not reaching my perfect standard and just get my work and myself out there. During this shoot for D Magazine, I only had about 15 mins to setup, shoot, and leave.  It was my first official assignment so anything less than perfection would not do for me. After the photo shoot, I was scared thinking that D Magazine wouldn’t like my photos because it hadn’t been perfect and it had gone by so fast.

One chair, one ball, one light... I'm ready to go.

In the end, D Magazine was happy with the photos and I had been too hard on myself. There were a couple of things that I could have done better, but I had put out 110% to get what the editor needed. It’s really ok to accept imperfect work, but only if worked really hard to get there and as long as you keep striving for better.

One of the favorites. This didn't get published.

Be honest.  

It’s so easy for us all to hide our vulnerabilities. Being new to the magazine industry, I knew nothing! I wanted to act and seem “professional,” whatever that means, but I knew that was not going to work. The only thing I know how to do is take photographs and light portraits really well. And so that’s what I told everyone. I bluntly said, "I am new to the industry and I don’t know the industry but I know I can light like a champ and deliver quality photography." Who knows, maybe they have thought I was a little nutty for being so honest, but I still got the assignment and delivered what they needed.

Don’t do it alone.  

Like in our last post, we talked about how isolation can cause trouble. It’s really true, especially when you are running a business. I read many books, heard great speakers, and follow blogs. That’s all useless if you are going at this alone. Thankfully, I am blessed with a great community of people who are not afraid to tell me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.  Also, they help me ride out the many bumpy roads you come across when running a business.