I think it’s really easy to find a pretty image and scream to the heavens “How do I made my stuff look like ___________ (insert famous photographer here)”. And when you can’t figure out how you cover yourself in ashes and wail at the sky in defeat. I remember the first time I saw Elizabeth Messina’s work. I had never seen photographs that looked like that before and I felt like if I didn’t learn how to shoot like that I would simply die. Not dramatic at all right? To say the least, my first attempts shooting like her were laughable, because as any seasoned photographer knows…it’s more than F/stops and equipment to create a unique and beautiful image. Even if you manage to emulate your mentors, it’s not very satisfying to create replicas (and they probably don’t really appreciate it either).

So how do we find inspiration without being copy cats? Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon was a game-changer for me.

This is what he has to say:

“Copying is about reverse-engineering.”

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Was it Shakespeare that said there is nothing new under the sun? If so that is scary because that was a LONG time ago folks. When you see something you love, don’t despair that you didn’t create it…put your own spin on it! I knew I wanted to successfully photograph a mother and baby laying down together, but I didn’t want to just copy a pose. So I found a way to put a new twist on it, not only with the pose itself but in the tone of the photo as well. Was I inspired by Elizabeth Messina’s flawless, soft, vulnerable posing – you bet I was! Yet, I found a way to make it bright, cheery with a bit of goofiness…which better represents me as a person as well as my work.

 

“In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.”

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I think Coco Chanel said women with great style know to remove one accessory before they leave the house. Editing ourselves is so important while we develop our eye and style. My favorite photographers understand simplicity and natural moments. They don’t force things and they know how to edit themselves. I think of the image by KT Merry on the left constantly when I shoot, reminding myself that keeping it simple and removing distraction makes me a better photographer. If you find yourself setting up a styled shoot or a pose that is a direct copy, edit it down! Remove some stuff…find your own voice through subtraction.

 

“You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”

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If we create images to look just like our favorite industry professionals, we’ll be left pretty discouraged. But if we learn to think more like the people we admire, then we can apply new life into our work. Jonathan Canlas and myself work really differently but I love how he sees potential for art in every moment. He cares nothing about wardrobes or styling or even scenery…it’s all about bringing out emotion and picking up that advice from him has really changed how I approach photographing people. Like Kleon suggests, don’t shoot just like my idols, but rather get inside their brain a bit.

Strangely enough, I think it’s actually way harder to copy people exactly than to wind up in your own space, your own vision. So here is to growing and learning as artists, we can do it!

You can learn more about Austin Kleon and his books HERE.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life + Thoughts

A thoughtful brand puts your own personal stamp on all the little touches your clients receive along the way. Whether it’s your business card, a thank you note, even your response to an inquiry email with your attached PDF – these are all early seeds planted to quietly communicate to your client what your business is all about. To develop a brand identity also forces you to really think about your business goals and the kind of work you want to produce. It’s a lot like spring cleaning – it clarifies and once completed, is a real time saver!

Where do you start? Here are a few things I think really work. This list is geared specifically to creative entrepreneurs based on my experiences working as a designer, though it may be applicable elsewhere too!

ONE – Get inspired – what visually represents your business?

Go to places you love, study people who do things you respect, ingest art + music, read books and lastly…look online for photos that really communicate something to your soul. Don’t JUST look online, get out in the real world. Create a journal and/or Pinterest board and collect the imagery and thoughts that really inspired you. Take as much time to do this as you need, you are in charge..nobody else. Narrow down your choices to a few strong images that really indicate where you are going with your business. Certain vibes, colors or thoughts should become pretty clear if you edit your collection down to only images that you truly adore.

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This (below) was my brand identity mood board. The best discovery for me during this time was that one of my own images was actually what most inspired me! It was exciting to see that I was growing and finally creating work I was proud of.

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TWO- Hire a designer.

I know I know. You don’t like this part because designers cost MONEY. And you are thinking, “easy for you to say Jenni, you ARE a designer”. You are right, I designed my own brand identity because I’m trained to do so. But guess what? I hired a web developer because I don’t have those kind of skills. I saved for 2 years in preparation for this because I didn’t want to screw around with WordPress and Squarespace anymore. But that is another story.

Here is the thing: we ask our clients to trust us and invest in us for what we do. Therefore, we have to think about things this way when we need services. A good designer will listen to you, create a steady and enjoyable process for editing and getting things to look just how you were hoping they would. They also will guide you towards good design and sometimes that involves you letting go of ideas that just aren’t going to work. Many freelance designers will give discounts if your business interests them, or may offer payment plans. Designers that are in school still may even take on your work for nearly free for the sake of their portfolio. It’s okay to save a few years while you wait for your epic make over – Just remember: make sure you enjoy them as people and like their overall portfolio. Don’t just hire the cheapest person you can find!

 

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THREE- apply your brand identity.

If you spent all the time and energy to develop a brand, don’t just upload the logo to your website and call it good. Use the fonts and colors on your business materials and web site if you can. When posting your images publicly, ask yourself if they represent where you are going with your business and the brand you just worked to develop. Have your designer develop your business materials for you (cards, PDF’s, catalogs, communication materials, packaging, etc) with your brand if you can’t do it yourself. These items don’t have to be elaborate, just consistent.

MOST IMPORTANTLY!!!!

Is it okay to have client consultations in my home if the paint out front is chipping? Am I fashionable enough to be a fine art photographer? Will wedding clients with higher budgets still want to work with me if I drive a 1998 Honda Civic?

These are actual questions I’ve found swirling in my head at night while thinking about my business goals and my brand identity. Remember, you may need a brand but you don’t need to BE a brand. I see the trend of people turning their life into a brand and it worries me. You are a living breathing person…a human. You have this one life, and to fully experience it you have to be present. So I refuse to style every moment or worry too much about every little thing. Over the last two years I’ve slowly prepared my living room to be a more inviting place for consultations…and it’s finally nearly finished! But you bet I’ve met with clients in coffee shops or at my house praying they don’t need to use my bathroom because I can’t remember if it was clean or not. More than your brand and logo, your clients connect with YOU. So be you and let yourself be imperfect. Can’t afford a brand make-over right now? No problem! Do the best with what you have now and slowly save up. Is your work good? Are you kind? That’s all that matters – if you don’t care about being perfect your clients won’t either. So embrace that cluttered kitchen and that extra 25lbs. Do your best, work hard and be at peace.

There’s always time to have a brand identity – there’s not always time to truly live. Thanks so much for reading this, means a lot that you stopped by.

Credits: 

Brand Identity + Web Design: Jenni Kupelian

Web Development: Jim Krill 

Mood Board Photos (left to right, top to bottom): Karen Rosenlund, J. Astir Brinkmann, Martha Stewart, Jenni KupelianRebeca Yale via Once Wed, Feather + Stone via Once Wed

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life + Thoughts
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Last summer, I had the honor of photographing Lindsay Helzer Floral Design’s brand shoot. Lindsay’s florals have a unique edge and she is not afraid of color. All her work, (even the softer palettes) have a pop to them that is so fun to be inspired by. So imagine my delight when I was offered the opportunity to create a full brand identity for her with all that beauty in mind. Lindsay was actually featured on the cover of Magnolia Rouge this year — you can see that full shoot from her and Cassie Roch HERE.

A little known fact? My degree is in Graphic Design and my original plan was to become a stationary designer and sell wholesale to boutiques and larger companies like Anthropologie. I operated a small freelance company under my name and did small contracted jobs while pursuing a custom line of stationary… before deciding to pursue photography full-time a couple years ago. I have found myself really missing that creative time at my notebook, and often wish I’d have kept that dream alive awhile longer.

I think as humans we are always evolving and changing…which pulls our focus and goals into different spaces every few years. I feel a new pull back to my roots in order to pursue some old dreams I thought had died. To say the least, it was wonderful to work my old design muscles in creating this brand identity for Lindsay.

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If you are a creative business owner, particularly if you are a wedding vendor — I still take on brand identity freelance work and am always up for collaborating on a styled brand shoot. You can contact me at jennikupelian@gmail.com for information on custom pricing and options.

To see Lindsay’s beautiful work you can find here online and on instagram.

All Images shot by Jenni Kupelian in Portland, Oregon, unless otherwise noted.

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I’m gearing up to photograph Lindsay and Shawn’s downtown portland January wedding in just a week or so and I could not be more excited. This couple have such a warm and fun dynamic together on camera and I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic day. Over the summer we did a little hike to Government Cove, a secluded space in the Columbia River Gorge. The dramatic sunset environment was the perfect space for their engagement photos.

Canon 5d Mark III | 50mm F/1.8 Lens | Kodak Portra 400 Preset + My Tweaks 

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Congratulations to Lindsay and Shawn! You guys are the best clients a girl could ask for!

Posted in Photographs
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Styled shoots can be a lot of work and sometimes there just isn’t enough left over in my budget for the year to plan anything elaborate after workshops and equipment upgrades. That being said, I used to become bitter and jealous and say things like “I don’t know how all these photographers do styled shoots all the time.” The truth is there is always a way to create with the tools you have in the moment. So a friend and myself put together a last minute bridal portrait session near the Columbia River Gorge simply because we were inspired by the golden light of the day. I happened to have a rather outdated white maxi dress in my closet and I knew my mom had amazing florals growing in her front yard. Styled all a certain way, while not the most amazing styled shoot that ever happened, we were able to highlight our gorgeous model Malaika’s sweet spirit and create some lovely work for our portfolios. Sometimes that’s all you need!

Mamiya 645af | 80mm F/2.8 Lens | Kodak Portra 800 | Scans by PhotoVision 

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All images shot near the Sandy River Delta in the Columbia River Gorge

Co-Styling + Location Assistance Gina Neal Photography

Model Malaika Mcnamara

Posted in Photographs