::[About Wesley Smith]::
Normally this is the part of the website where the photographer puts "Hi, my name is Wesley Smith, I have been doing photography for five years and am very passionate about it. I specialize in cosplay photography, convention coverage, senior"....blah blah blah. The same thing you see on hundreds of other photographer's pages and the same thing that tells you absolutely nothing about why you should choose me to do your portraits. It doesn't tell you anything about me at all really and I feel it is vital to get to know your photographer because if you "click" with you photographer it will show in your end product.
That reason alone is why I chose to call myself a Portrait Artist instead of a professional photographer. Do I do photography? Yes. Do I get paid for my artwork? Yes. Am I a professional photographer? Absolutely not. If you are looking for a photographer who will just do a half hour shoot, sell you some pictures and never hear from again then I can say with a fair amount of certainty...I'm not your guy. However, if you are still reading, then grab a cup of coffee (or if you're like me, a cup of cocoa) and give me a few more minutes of your time to explain why I do what I do.
::[Before the camera]::
In 2005 I had the privilege of working for a local professional photographer as his Photoshop guru and general office guy. His love of photography and knowledge of his craft was infectious to say the least because until that point I had never really thought about pictures anymore than the occasional disposable 35mm camera you picked up at WalMart for vacations. It really opened my eyes to not only what was possible with a camera, but I got to see the reactions on his client's faces when they saw his work. For one reason or another I never pursued photography and a couple of jobs later I was talking to two of my cousins and learned both were coming up on major milestones in their lives and were not planning on getting any pictures taken. I told them if they would go together and help me get a camera I would do both their shoots for them. They agreed and that's how I picked up my first camera which leads to...
My first shoot was my cousin's senior session. To be honest I had no clue about the ins and outs of how the camera works and was just trying to get some cool angles. I stumbled into a few great shots and actually set up a few more intentionally so all in all I was happy with how the shoot went and my aunt and cousin was happy too. (Click here to check out this shoot) After that I did another cousin's wedding. (Click here for that shoot)
I was pretty excited about some of the shots I had got so I put them on Facebook and instantly got a few people asking how much I charged for my pictures. So far I had only received payment in cameras for my work, so I had to find a color lab and figure out some prices to tell people. Over the next few months I did another six Senior shoots for good friends of mine with my little camera, posted some of the choice images on Facebook and continued to get people asking about my work. I was having fun and found I had an eye for really getting people to open up and capturing shots that show their personality. (At least that's what all their moms told me when they picked up their pictures!). I was pretty content with how things were going and never would have thought about stepping up my photography any more than what it was until two major things happened that made me take another look at how I had been doing things:
1) I got a seriously NICE camera given to me as well as backdrops, studio lights and a couple lenses.
2) My first two paying clients (other than friends I had already known for years).
::[Blessed and a little freaked out]::
To say I have been blessed in my life (and photography dealings) is an understatement. Out of the blue I had another old photographer friend of mine call me up and say that he had just upgraded his studio gear and felt led to bless me with his current setup. I was grateful, blown away and a little freaked out of course, and even moreover when I saw he was giving me a truly professional grade camera, backdrops, props and a lot of books with posing tips, business guidelines and information in them. Everything seriously took up an entire room in my house for a long time. After the initial shock wore off of having been given this massive gift, I started using my new camera more and more and that year when we went to Myrtle beach I took it along with us to get some sunrise pictures of the beach. I woke up every day and was down on the beach half an hour before sunrise every morning fiddling with settings and having no clue how to shoot with this beast of a camera, but knowing that there was a way to capture the beauty that I saw to share with my friends back home. After three or four days of this I was approached on the beach by a lady I had seen every morning when I went out to take pictures.
She told me that she and her daughter had come to the beach together before her daughter went back to medical school. Her daughter had been growing her hair in dreadlocks for nearly eight years and was getting ready to cut them off and was pretty bummed. She asked how much I would charge to meet them on the beach the next day and do a shoot of her so she could have some pictures to remember their trip together. At this point I had been looking at getting my own website to host my images because Facebook just wasn't cutting it anymore. I had been reading up in some photography magazines and decided that Zenfolio was a great fit for what I wanted. I had done the research and knew how much a year hosting and a .com would run me, so that's the price I told the lady. The next morning I got to meet her and her daughter on the beach and we had an AMAZING shoot together. Here is what Erin had to say when she saw her images on my website and signed my guestbook:
"Wes, thank you sooo much for the awesome pictures. I felt like it was totally random that mom my found you on the beach that day but now I know it was something that was meant to be. I look at my photos everyday and they have helped me tremendously while going through this life changing time. You helped me capture a very important and special part of my life and I thank you!! My friends and family all think they turned out great! I hope your photography continues to blossom, great job!!! - Erin Painter"
I remain friends with Erin to this day and we still talk back and forth on Facebook. Once I saw how the pictures turned out I told my parents and my brother and his wife I wanted to do pictures of them on the beach too and they turned out great (though I have to admit tell my parents to kiss over and over and over so I could get the shot just right WAS a little weird...hahaha). Back in Ohio I continued working at my day job and doing picture on the side and it was one day in Lancaster while doing a senior shoot for my friend Alex that I was approached by a family saying they had been looking for somebody to do their son's Senior portraits. They had seen me and Alex during a few of our poses and liked what they saw and wanted to know what I would charge. This was a huge moment for me because it was the SECOND time somebody had approached me about taking pictures while I was just having fun doing what I do. I had pricing worked up, we found a package that worked, did the shoot with Derek and everything turned out fantastic!
Derek's shoot was one of the last ones I did that year, but the following year I did over fifty shoots including nearly twenty Senior shoots, two homecomings, two jewelry shows, a couple of VBS events, the Jackson band alumni get together, the Secret Keeper Girl tour in Chillicothe, a handful of weddings, LOTS of pictures of my own kids (they are ever the willing guinea pigs) and a lot more than I would have ever thought possible. Sometime during all this madness I realized that I really, REALLY loved doing photography and wanted to get more serious about it. I bought some gear for my camera, I bought books to learn how to use it and how to pose people, I spent hours upon hours searching the internet for tutorials and inspiration and a lot of time in prayer because I knew God was doing all of this for a reason, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was!
I kept studying, practicing and improving with my cameras. I got some business cards, upgraded and expanded my web site and was pleased to find that I had a LOT of clients return for more shoots with me. One of the band alum was getting married and he wanted me to do their pictures because we had really clicked at the first shoot. We contacted each other a couple more times, met and did the paperwork and it turned out to be one of my favorite weddings yet. Another repeat client is a Senior who heard about me through a friend (best advertisement in the world!) and has since done no less than three shots herself, one with her sister, one with her best friend as well as bringing her camera and helping out on a couple of shoots that I was doing. It was around this time that I figured out I most definitely was NOT in this business to be able to book 20 people a day, sell them a portrait package and never hear from them again. I build relationships with each of my clients and want to get to know them, because when you take the time to do that you can give them the portrait they want and not the portrait that you think they want, or what's the latest and greatest fad in the photography world. Needless to say that year was huge for me and I did over FIFTY shoots in about a seven month time frame. When you consider that I have a full time 9-5 job and had a lot of other stuff going on with my family that was pretty significant for me!
Currently I have a regular nine to five job like most of you out there and do my photography in the evenings, on the weekends and (occasionally) I will wake up at two or three AM and that idea I have been rolling around in my head for a shot will suddenly fall into place and my wife will find me setting up my gear in the bathroom or kitchen in the middle of the night.
Currently I do a LOT of cosplay photography (i.e. costume play) and costuming photography at conventions (comic, anime and gaming conventions). I travel around the country to a lot of states, shoot some absolutely amazing people and make some lifelong friends. *shrug* It's a pretty amazing hobby, I gotta say. All that being said I am pretty sure that nearly all of you are thinking "That's the longest "About Me" page I have ever seen in my life". Good! The more you know about me, the more you will know that I will be the right dude to take your picture.
If you are looking for the cheapest photographer around or for somebody who is going to pose you just like I pose everybody else, make the sale and you will never hear from me again - well like I said before I am not your guy. Follow me on Facebook, send me an email. I am confident that when we get together for your session that you will not only be happy with the end result, but you will be dying to show you new pictures off to your friends.
Gotta jam guys, peace out and see you at the next con.
The Portrait Dude