A Look Back At My First “Solo” Portrait Shoot in 2007

I get asked the question "how long have I been doing photography?" all the time. Even though I get this question regularly I have to pause and think about it for a minute because it depends on what the person is referring to. I've always had an interest in taking pictures ever since I was a kid. So do I count my Kodak Instamatic experience complete with flash cubes? Probably not what the person is thinking. I then answer for about 5 to 6 years. Last night I spent some time in Adobe Lightroom 4 Beta and while I don't organize my folders by year, I can certainly see why someone would want to use that method. Instead I organize by the folder for a particular shoot. If I do a shoot with Jane Doe, then that shoot goes into the Jane Doe folder. If I do another shoot with Jane Doe then it goes into the "Jane Doe 2" folder. That has worked well for me as I'm usually looking for a picture of a person, not necessarily a year that I took it. With that said, I was curious to see what photos I took when and since I have one catalog for my "Model" Shoots containing every "edited" picture I've done, I decided to create "Smart" Collections to separate them out by years:

It was really fun taking a trip down memory lane! Some of the photos I looked at and cringed and others I said, "hey that wasn't bad for a beginner." The photo above of Mya was my first "solo" shoot. I say it that way because it wasn't my first shoot ever. I had actually started shooting portraits in 2006, but back then I was merely tagging along on other photographer's shoots. My first shoot ever was along side Scott Kelby. Scott visited me back in 2006 and he had set up a shoot for his upcoming iPod Book at the time (I was technical editor). We rented Andy Greenwell's studio here in Michigan and Andy setup the lights, Scott found the model and I just basically observed and got a shot here and there. The reason that I don't really count that as my first shoot is because I didn't do any of the work. I just pointed my camera and fired after I asked "hey what settings are you using?"


Going Solo

I finally got up enough nerve to try my own portrait session in 2007. My sister recommended that i use Mya (friend of the family) and Mya agreed to let me photograph (experiment with) her. I had no studio, no professional lighting and a consumer grade DSLR. The shoot took place in my living room. I had a Nikon D80, 18-200mm Nikon lens and an SB 600 speedlight. I also used a Westcott pop up background. My SB 600 speedlight was mounted on a stand and shooting through a diffuser. Quite honestly I had no idea of what I was really doing from a settings stand point. I just kept adjusting things until I got a half way decent image. That session showed me that I had a LOT to learn!


Renting a Studio in 2008

In 2008 I decided that I needed a larger space than my living room. So I did a timeshare with other photographers. I also started buying more gear including lighting. According to Lightroom I shot more portraits in 2008 than any other year. This probably due more to being less selective about the number of images I kept vs. doing more shooting. 



Between the years of 2009 and 2011 I would say was the timeframe that I learned most of what I know.


Not only did I improve my photography skills and lighting skills, but I also improved my editing skills in post.

I'm always learning from the photographers that I admire. Videos, seminars, books and group shoots are ways that I learn the fastest.

The number one lesson that I can say that I've learned and constantly remind myself of is "Less is more – Only show your best work." This is one that I have to credit Scott Kelby for. He basically beat it into to me and I finally got it. I now limit my galleries to 24 images. If there is a new image that I want to put in,  then it has to be better than one of the ones that's already there and it replaces it.



Although I have my own studio now and a few years of shooting under my belt, I'm always learning something new just about every time I pick up my camera. I invite you to go back through your work and feel free to share some links in the comments below. Tell us your experiences over the years and perhaps some of the things you've learned.

  • Terry

    Nice progression/path of improvement.. I recently did the same thing and am AMAZED how BAD my old stuff is. Looking at my META/EXIF.. I am astonished my clients even paid me! “What was I thinking?” is what I think to myself on some of my shots/settings. then again it’s not about settings to the client, its about the image. If they are happy, that is all that matters.

    I’ve learned two things in regards to looking back/looking forward. Recently had a discussion with another photographer friend and we conclude that:

    1. Good photographers are never satisfied and shouldn’t be in love with all their past attempts to create an image.

    2. We can only get better!

    That said.. I look forward to our future as creative professionals/photographers along with your tips, techniques and overall sharing.


    -Adam Silver

  • Renee Jackson

    What would you say is the one, or more, lesson(s) that you learned that helped you improve in your photography?

    • * Patience
      * Connect with the subject
      * Learn to pick your best shot
      * Photograph the things you’re passionate about.

  • Ha! I hate looking back to my first solo shoot… I was pretty terrible back then (not that I’m much better now) so the progression is dramatic. Your progression is very nice. Just think what your shots will look like in 5-6 more images 😉

  • Hi Terry,
    I regularly go back through my old images. I reminisce a lot.
    This is still one of my favourite photos. Taken with a 5Mp Casio point and shoot up in Darwin, Australia, in 2004 (I think). So what you see is what came out of the camera.


    One thing I always find myself doing is restricting myself. One day it might be a prime lens. Maybe only one light? Or 1 hour to complete the shoot and post. Or, just one frame.


  • This awesome!! I love the fact that your sharing your timeline. I also struggle with showing less images. That is one of the many things I will be correcting this year. Less is MORE. Thank for the inspiration.

  • kim

    problem is Terry, is that your old stuff is great!

    I agree though, my life cycle of what I think was good at one point, but cat litter the next is about 10 months. It’s cyclical though and I can just about set my watch to it. And thank gawd we can be objective and realize that it just happens and we hopefully learn from it. It is nice to know how a lot of the time it happens naturally especially when you become familiar with your gear. When you do become familiar with your gear, that IS when growth occurs. And, when one pulls ones head out of their backside sometimes too by opening themselves up to critique!

    p.S. just bought my bullet thumb drive.. cant WAIT to see it! and for 12$, i hope the thing works…!!!

  • Ted Hillman

    Hello Terry,

    I have just found your site and I think it is great – I have had so much pleasure reading through all of it – Thank you.

    You seem to be very experienced with Nikon products and I wondered if you would have time to give me your opinion on the Nikon 18mm – 105 lens. I’m about to purchase a Nikon D7000 and can’t decide whether to include this lens or to buy a body only. My main use for this camera will be mainly photographs of my four young grandsons and general holiday photographs.

    I would appreciate your comments.

    Kind Regards,

    Ted Hillman.

  • ritchie

    really inspiring…