An Interview with Jim Harmer [IP41]

In this week’s episode, join Jim as he is interviewed by Chris Smith from a new podcast called Shoot For the Thrill. After the interview, Jim takes a few listener questions as well, so be sure to check those out!

If you missed Jim’s webinar this week, check it out right here to see how Jim created some amazing shots from his recent trip to Canada. He’s been employing a new technique where he views his photography from a painter’s perspective and composites photos to create a stunning final result.

And now, on to the interview!

[6:02] Chris: Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in photography in the first place?

Jim: I attended school at BYU-Idaho for my Bachelor’s degree. This is where I got in to photography in the first place, as something to do during Idaho’s cold winter months.

Later, my family and I moved to Florida where I attended law school. Law school for me was an endless barrage of soul-sucking, depressing, disheartening encounters with humans and their ability to tear each other apart through law suits. Photography was my escape, and every night after my wife and kids were in bed I would sneak out and do night photography.

While in Florida, I started ImprovePhotography.com. I also taught some local photography classes. People started coming to the web site, and it has grown so much that it is visited by millions and has over 250,000 social media followers!

Just a few weeks ago, I found out that I passed the bar, but I am planning to continue working with Improve Photography because that is my passion.

[7:55] Chris: What was it about the medium of photography that drew you in?

Jim: After all the negativity of law school, being able to go out in nature and see things that only God has touched really won me over. Also, I really like the technology and photo gear. I’m not going to say that you have to have all the most expensive gear to be a good photographer, but that doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t skip a beat when I see an Amazon box on my doorstep.

[8:55] Chris: Do you remember a time during this journey when you said “I’m really good at this – I could do this”?

Jim: My first successful photo was soon after I moved to Florida. The feeling of being offered cold, hard cash for my creativity was really a great feeling, and very validating. I’ll never stop learning, but that was one of the moments that made me feel really good about my photography.

[9:37] Chris: Do you look at your law degree as something to fall back on if your photography doesn’t pan out, or have you just not looked back?

Jim: No, I’ve never looked back. I’ve realized that this is the place for me. I love photography, and I could never stop doing it.

[10:28] Chris: Who do you draw inspiration from?

Jim: Especially when I was starting, I listened to a lot of photography podcasts and read a lot of blogs. There are so many great educators out there who have helped me as I’ve learned photography. As far as photographers, I like a lot of less-known photographers. One in particular is James Neeley – he spends most of his time on Flickr. He does a workshop here and there, but I’ve never actually had the pleasure of meeting him. His photography inspires me because he is consistently bringing home amazing photography. Like everyone, sometimes I get stuck in a rut and it’s so inspiring to see someone who is consistently producing such incredible work.

[11:35] Chris: Have you had to overcome any major hurdles?

Jim: The biggest struggle was in the instant I started ImprovePhotography.com and started sharing my work online. There really are some trolls out there, looking for ways to tear people down. It was really disheartening for me when I would pour everything into a photo that I just loved and then someone would just tear it apart.

[12:55] Chris: How much do we allow other photographers and things we see online to influence our photography?

Jim: While I think it’s good to take everything anyone says about your photos with a grain of salt, I think there’s something to be said for listening to criticism and trying to learn from it. This doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to every negative comment someone makes about my photos, but if someone is generally courteous and kind about my photo but points out some things they didn’t like, that’s when I’ll consider what they’ve said. It’s tough, but you have to try to be humble about your photography.

[14:50] Chris: What three things would you tell an emerging professional photographer?

Jim: Learn lighting, get your legal setting in place, and be really careful with your pricing.

I think it’s such a shame to see photographers who don’t understand lighting. There is SO much you can do with lighting if you know how to manipulate it and work with it. You can absolutely be a professional natural light photographer, but that should never be an excuse for not learning how to work with light. Get a flash and just start learning! Your photography will get SO much better.

With my background in law school, getting the legal setting in place is very near and dear to my heart. I’ve seen too many new photographers get slammed with tax or legal issues simply because they didn’t put the foundation in place before they got started. If you’re interested in the legal side of photography, check out the Photo Attorney Blog and this interview we did with Carolyn E. Wright from the Photo Attorney Blog.

If you’re charging the wrong price, you won’t make any headway in your career. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with those beginning photographers who are charging $100 to shoot a wedding. The market can bear a lot of different price points in photography. But be honest with people – let them know why you have such a low price. If you’ve only got one camera, let them know. If this is your first wedding, let them know. If you’re honest with people you will find the right people who are willing to go with you in spite of your inexperience or weaknesses. And then as you build up your experience and your business you will be able to charge higher prices and feel justified in that increase.

[19:50] Chris: Can you recommend some resources for photographers to learn photography?

Jim: I’m a podcast fanatic. I think you can learn so much from podcasts – there’s so much out there. And I love blogs – they are a great source of information. You can find a lot of information on blogs for free. But don’t discount the more traditional methods – check out some books on photography. Workshops and classes are a great option. I teach online classes and that works really well for a lot of people. Don’t become one of those photographers who ignores everyone else. There’s always more you can learn from other photographers. Don’t look for one great source of information – get your information from different sources because you learn different things in different ways.

[22:00] Chris: Talk about the classes that you offer.

Jim: We have seven online photography classes. We sat down and outlined all the things about a specific topic that beginning photographers need to learn in their first few years, and then we condensed that into 30 ten minute videos. Our classes are 30 days, and we give our students access to us for those 30 days so they can get advice, help, suggestions, and feedback on their photography.

[23:00] Chris: What has been the single most important reason for your success?

Jim: I think it’s probably being willing to work with individuals. It’s tough when you start getting so many visitors to your website to remember to pay attention to each individual. But I spend time each day answering emails, interacting with my followers on Facebook, answering photography questions, looking at photos, and just generally trying to help other people.

Chris: Absolutely. I think looking at other people’s work is a very important thing to do.

Jim: Yes – I think your photography study should be like a “T” – know a bit about a lot of things, but go really deep in one area. Learn everything you can about your specialty, but don’t ignore everything else. You’re going to need all those skills at some point.

[26:55] Chris: What is a book you would recommend to a new photographer to inspire creativity?

Jim: If you’re interested in flash photography, I really like David Ziser. He’s great to learn from because he’s a very practical photographer. If you’re looking for a crash course in understanding your camera, I’ve got an e-book to help you along there. I like looking through the photos from Joe McNally. There are so many good resources out there.

[28:25] Chris: What are your parting words of advice for fellow photographers?

Jim: One thing that’s really been on my mind lately that really impacts everybody is working with natural light. A little deeper study of natural light can really do a lot for us as photographers. Watching sunrise and sunset is a great way to learn about natural lighting. The light is changing all the time, and it’s wise to understand when the lighting will be best for your specific kind of photography.


And now, on to listener questions!

[33:25] When I photograph men who are losing their hair, a lot of the time they are concerned about their head looking shiny. What can I do to help them feel more comfortable?

A polarizer, while it won’t remove the glare completely, can take the edge off. The larger the light source you include, the less noticeable the glare is going to be. It will still be there, but it will look a lot more natural than if you have one very defined hot spot of light shining off the head. If someone is really self-conscious about the shine on their head, you can use a bit of powder (makeup) to get rid of that shine – that’s what they do on TV. Just be sure you approach this topic tactfully with your subject.

[37:38] Can you offer some suggestions for mini-workshop style meets for intermediate photographers?

You have to have a time during the meeting where people can share their photos. More than anything, that’s probably what people are coming for. Also, let members of the group share with each other. Provide a forum where members of the group who are a little more advanced can share the things they are learning. There may be some really interesting skills that you’ll find in your group. Meetup.com is a great place to look for local groups in your area.

[42:00] Doodad of the Week

Jim’s doodad of the week is a bracket from Custom Brackets available at B&H Photography. This is really handy for any time you need to use two cameras (even your point and shoot will work on this). Check it out here. It’s maybe a little expensive (about $40), but still a really cool little doodad.

[44:05] Prizes for reviews!

The winner is vikesfan21. If that’s your username on iTunes, email us at prize@improvephotography.com to get your free online photography class.

To be entered to win the online photography class each week, simply go to this podcast on iTunes and write a one or two sentence review. While we appreciate a 5-star review, any review will get you entered to win a class for free (a $98 value).

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The free audio download of this episode is available on ImprovePhotography.com.  If you’re reading via RSS or email, please click the title of the article to listen to the show on the site.

New Podcast

We’re going to be starting a new podcast, so stay tuned for information about that coming soon!

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Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. Lara says

    Hi

    I love your podcats! Always used to download them to my PC directly from your webpage. But now, horror of horrors, I cannot find that option anymore????
    Please advise.

    Regards

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