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Q & A with Michelle Newell

Tell us a little about yourself/your business:

Where to begin? I have been a professional photographer going on 10 years (that number seems crazy to me!) We recently purchased a new studio space, which is located downtown Monroe, WA (approximately 30 minutes from Seattle, WA). My first studio space was in my home, then we moved to a commercial building, and now are studio owners, which is exciting!

I first started out in the industry primarily as a Wedding and Family Photographer, and began my journey as a Newborn Photographer approximately 8 years ago. "Back then" newborn photography wasn't as prevalent as it is now. There were no online forums, no "how to" blogs, and only few were offering workshops. So, I am 100% self-taught.

In 2010 I felt the need to write a newborn guide on the importance of newborn posing and safety, which has been sold world-wide. In 2014, I wrote my second Guide to Fine Art Newborn Photography, which has also been sold world-wide and continues to go strong.

I have had the opportunity to speak at multiple Photography Conferences including BLINK! and PhotoLush, which is a local Pacific Northwest Conference.

My work has been featured on BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan Online, Le Mgnifique Blog, and Capture Magazine - Australia's Top-Selling Pro Photographer Magazine.


What are you most known for?


In the photography industry, I would say my newborn and maternity photography work is what people think of when they hear my name.

How long have you been mentoring?

I began mentoring approximately 6.5 years ago.


What all is including in your mentoring and what kind of experience do your students receive?

I offering a few photography mentorships ranging from 1:1 Portrait Mentoring to my full day 1:1 or 1:2 Newborn Mentoring. My Newborn Mentoring is a full 8-9 hour day of learning. During the 1:1 or 1:2 Newborn Workshop with me, attendees will learn everything from the basics of proper lighting {using a soft box and natural light}, composition, newborn soothing, to safely posing newborns. Each attendee also receives a copy The Art of Newborn Portrait Photography, which is my guide to safe and smooth newborn sessions, as well as my Newborn Session - What to Expect Client Guide PSD files to customize for your clients! Attendees are also added to my private Facebook Mentoring group where post-mentor where post-mentoring continues.

1:1 Newborn Mentoring allows the attendee to have hands on learning while I assist and coach. I want attendees to have hands-on experience and also learn visually.


At what point did you go from seeing yourself as someone who enjoys taking photos as a hobby to seeing yourself as a photographer?

For me, it was never a hobby. I chose to pursue this as my career 11 years ago, and took on my first client almost 10 years ago. I have always been a photographer, starting back in high school. However, when I chose to enter into the industry as a photographer, I considered myself a "professional" from the start.

What is your learning objective for your students?

Entering the photography industry can feel extremely intimidating. EXTREMELY. It is easy to get caught up in "things" and I want students to know that I am a safe place to ask questions, to learn from, and that we're all on a journey to continue to perfect our craft.

It doesn't matter HOW many times my work has been featured or where I have spoken, I am learning daily. I am critiquing my work daily. It's a journey. To say one has "arrived" is to put an end to learning. And I truly hope I never have the attitude of "arrival."


Do you offer in person or online mentoring or both?

I offering both in-person and online mentoring. However, the majority of my mentoring has been in-person. However, online mentoring is always available!


Tell us about your gear and your one must-have lens.

I currently shoot with a Canon 5d Mark III. That is my baby. It's a beautiful piece of equipment. My MUST HAVE lenses for shooting newborns are my 50mm f/1.2 and my 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Those are the two primary lenses I shoot with. Eeeevery once in a while I will use my 24-70mm f/2.8, but it is not as crisp as my prime lenses. For maternity and other portraits, I have to have my 70-200mm f/2.8. Looooove that lens!

Who in the industry do you look up to and why?

I love learning from everyone in the industry. I can't say that there is "one" person that I look up to. When it comes to business strategy, I look outside of the photography industry and really love reading Gary Vaynerchuk's books on social media marketing. He is a guru. Definitely look him up! I also love reading Entrepreneur Magazine and learning from other successful business leaders that may not be in the photography world.


What do you do when you feel unmotivated or uninspired?

I go outside or I shoot sometime entirely outside of my "norm." Personal projects are a great way to rejuvenate and bring the excitement back.



What do you think is the most challenging part about being a photographer in today's industry, and what do you do to overcome those challenges?

I think comparing yourself to others is the most challenging part about being a photographer in today's industry. And I use to do this A LOT when I first started 10 years ago. I would look at other people's work and immediately feel inadequate. I do not do that any more and haven't for a LONG time. It is refreshing and helps me to stay true to myself.

What is your personal measure of success as a photographer?

 Success isn't a monetary value for me. I truly believe God is the one who opened the doors for my business as a photographer. The moment I start looking at $ signs as a point of "success" is the moment it has lost its value. Of course monetary value is important because I do have to pay bills, but success for me is looking at the lives I have had the opportunity to photograph. The memories I have frozen in time for people, and the lives that I have had the opportunity to impact. That for me, is success.


What do you look for in your locations when seeking the "perfect" spot for your sessions?

Light. Contrast in colors (i.e. dark trees, tan grasses) etc. There really isn't a "perfect" spot. I shoot in really odd locations, especially for Maternity and Family Portraits. Some of the "weirdest" locations end up being some of my most favorite. For example, there is a feed mill near my studio. It's dirty and grimy, but oh so awesome because of the different textures on the walls. It also depends on the shoot and what look we're going for.



What do you believe is the best marketing tool for photographers to attract their ideal client?

Social Media: blogging, Instagram, YouTube. 2 years ago I had one of the busiest years of my life re: photography. It was craaazy. And during that crazy season I stopped blogging because I chose to not make the time. Well, 2015 I noticed a huge difference. I wasn't receiving inquiries and was starting to freak out. I heard a social media guru mention the importance of having a presence online and how Blogging wasn't dead. I gave myself a 6 month trial period to see if I could turn things around and low and behold, IT WORKED! So, social media, for me, is how I market. The 3 primary places are Instagram, Facebook, and my Blog.


If you could go back and give yourself advice from when you first started, what would you say?

One of the biggest things that helped me when I first started was my mentor, who happened to be our wedding photographer and had been in the business for 20+ years before I had started. He helped put things in perspective on what to focus on and what not to focus on. I feel like I had a really good start when jumping into this crazy industry. I spent almost 1.5 years business planning and learning online before I shot my first client. I wanted to be prepared. The ONE piece of advice I would tell myself though, looking back, is YOU'RE WORTH IT when it came to pricing. I majorly undercut myself and should have had a better pricing structure. Pricing yourself too low only hurts you AND the industry. Because when you finally realize that you're not going to sustain a business on those prices, it's hard to adjust that. Trust me, it took me a few years to get my pricing to where it NEEDED to be.


What’s your guilty pleasure? Dark chocolate peanut butter salted caramels from Trader Joe’s

What’s your guilty pleasure? Dark chocolate peanut butter salted caramels from Trader Joe’s

What do you like to listen to while you edit? Jazz, to classical music to Tori Kelly. I’m all over the place with music!

What always makes you laugh? Really good sarcasm. It’s my love language. LOL

What always makes you cry? Military homecoming videos. They get me EVERY time!

Least favorite food? Fried foods.