I had an incident earlier this year that I felt perfectly illustrated the journey of a young or new photographer. Young meaning, “in the first few months or years of getting into photography”.
We were in San Diego, and I really wanted to get some inherently “California” shots, and nothing says California to me like a REAL LIVE SURFER. My friend Brad had brought his waterproof point-and-shoot, so I had the option to get out in the water and give it a shot.
I had three things against me:
1) I’d never done this before. Do surfers mind if you take their photo? How close can I get?
2) The water was FREEEEEZING, like take-your-breath-away cold—“I’ll never let go, Jack!” cold.
3) The waves were breaking really far away, so I knew it’d be a lot of rough swimming just to even get in a position to POSSIBLY get a good photo.
I stood on the shore with the camera in hand, full of both fear and ambition. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try. But man, that water was SO COLD.
Finally I just made myself run straight out into the water—the “band-aid” method, if you will. The problem with this method in this context is that you can’t just jump all the way into the water when you’re running into the ocean. The water hits your legs and works its way up as you awkwardly attempt to keep forging ahead at full speed.
Really dramatic, I know. But I’m telling you, it was COLD.
I finally get to the point where I’m not touching the ground anymore and I realize that I’m nowhere near the surfers. I begin swimming and immediately realize how out of shape I am. I quickly become tired as I try to fight through the breaking waves to get to the other side of them so I can try to catch one at the same time as a surfer.
This took forever. I quickly became very tired and even more cold. I thought that all the physical activity would warm me up, but this frigidity was too much to overcome. My swimming weakened and my breathing became more labored, and I started to struggle to even stay above the waves long enough to breathe. I started having really dramatic thoughts like, “What if this is how I die?” (My fears were later somewhat validated by a seasoned surfer who said, “You should be careful—it’s really dangerous to be out there without fins or anything!”)
I finally break through to the other side and there’s some calm water, although it’s still very cold. All that just to get here and not know what to do next!
I decided to try to track a surfer and body surf into the wave that they chose. Here’s my first attempt:
How funny is that?! haha…such a well-documented swing-and-a-miss.
And here’s a selfie I took of myself laughing at how badly I had failed:
I learned two things on that first try:
1) I need to get a lot closer to the surfer
2) I need to take a deep breath right before the wave hits
Ok, let’s try this again. I took a few more stabs at it and finally ended up with the shot I risked my life to get:
I really like it and I’m so glad that I took a chance and went out and gave it a shot.
Here’s the thing: every new photography opportunity I’ve had has followed this pattern.
- Fear and hesitancy
- Ambition that finally gets me moving
- Obstacle greater than I could have anticipated and made me think “this is EXACTLY why I was afraid to do this!”
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Determination not to quit
- “Ok I’m learning, I think I’m starting to get this now”
- And finally, “ok wow that was crazy but I love the shots I got”
That was the process at the first wedding we did photography for. And the first one we did videography for. You don’t want to see anything from either other of those.
It was the process I went through the first time I tried doing a photo session with a couple by myself. I found out that I only had two pose ideas: smile at me, look away and don’t smile. I freaked out and thought, “Man, I dragged them out here in the snow and I have no idea what to do!” I just kept moving, and eventually settled into some things that I liked.
It was the process I went through the first time I did concert/event photography at a big venue, wondering how do I get dynamic shots that stand out?
Same process for a photo assignment I took recently for documenting a university’s campus orientation, following tour guides around as they introduced freshmen to their new life on campus.
It was the process I went through earlier this year when I shot a wedding without Karissa for the first time.
My encouragement to you is that there are great photos and great learning opportunities on the other side of those crazy waves that are seemingly insurmountable!
Maybe for you it’s a family or newborn shoot, or even just portraits of your friends, or you’re taking a stab at sports photography…when it’s new to you, there’s just going to be a learning curve.
Keep swimming, push yourself farther, be courageous—this is the only way to learn and get better! And this is a process that every photographer has to go through—there’s no substitute for experience.
Keep clicking and keep learning.
I’ve probably shot over 60 weddings so far, but I’ve never shot a wedding without my wife, Karissa. Until now.
We’ve been shooting weddings together for about four years and she has always been the point person, and I’ve always been the “second shooter”.
Her relational approach to photography earns the trust of her clients, and as a by-product they often end up relying on her to make sure the day goes as planned! And she’s great at it….detail-oriented, task-oriented, a planner…just fantastic.
This time I shot a wedding with my friend Brad for his cousin, who got married near Springfield, Illinois. Brad and I have both been second shooters, but neither have ever really been The shooter for a wedding.
We had a blast, especially once we got into a groove and the day got going. But there were many things throughout the day that made me appreciate Karissa’s leadership and talents on a wedding day.
Here are the three biggest ones.
Karissa is fantastic at finding a way to make people look flattering yet natural. There were many times when I was in a moment where I was frantically trying to remember the things I’ve heard Karissa tell people to do for pictures.
I’ve got my “stand by the window and kind of smile but not really” move and then after that a lot of improvisation. Karissa has a huge library of ideas, both reliable stand-bys and new things she’d like to try.
2. Relating to the women
Usually it’s the women that run the show on a wedding day, and Karissa does a great job of developing relationships with them throughout the day. She’s the kind of girl who brings out the best in other girls. They trust Karissa.
I, on the other hand, am a male….so…yeah, pretty much had zero relationship with the mother of the bride, mother of the groom, bridesmaids, and bride all day. That’s a big deal! I can do my best to be thoughtful and encouraging, but no matter how fun or friendly I am, they’re not going to let me past a certain point emotionally, and that’s another thing that Karissa does well. They let her in. And that allows Karissa to do things and get shots that I never could.
3. Social strength
This is perhaps the most underrated aspect of wedding photography: managing a huge group of people. All day.
The grooms can especially be exhausting. Some of them wear out on pictures very quickly, and some of them don’t want to be in pictures at all, and then the bride has to try to act like he’s not always a butthead…and we’re never allowed to say, “It’s your freaking wedding day, could you at least ACT like you’re glad to be here?”
The photographer basically has to stay “up” all day. Always excited, always optimistic, always energetic. Because if they don’t, that will start to wear off on people and come through in the photos. It also will impact people’s view of the photographer and the way that they interact with them.
Karissa has incredible social strength, an ability to maintain a positive, engaging, forward-moving vibe through the course of an entire wedding day—often ten or twelve hours!
The expectations and tone of this wedding weren’t intense because it was basically a favor/gift for a family member, so I had a great time with Brad trying some new things and solving problems on our own.
But at the end of the day, my take-away from shooting a wedding without Karissa is that she’s in a different class of photography, and the value that she brings to a wedding day goes well beyond what most people can see or know.
One thing I really enjoy doing is using outtakes and bloopers as intros in my videos to show people the personalities of our staff at Genesis Church.
It humanizes them and makes them relatable, and it chips away at the squeaky-clean perception that some people can have about church leaders. In a small way, it creates a culture of authenticity and of being able to laugh at yourself. It says, “We’re not perfect, and we know that.”
And isn’t that humility what you want from someone who is leading you? Don’t you want to know that they have a balanced view of themselves?
We’re asking people to come and be vulnerable and open themselves up to others and to God, and even something small like leaving in the silly mistakes in the videos is one little way to create a culture of transparency.
Danielle is fun, funny, and easy-going, but most of our church doesn’t get to see that because she’s always back in GenKids taking care of business! When I edited this little recap I decided to show people a little bit of her personality.
Kevin had just arrived from Kentucky to join our staff and this video was basically our church’s first on-screen exposure to him. I had already found him to be a sweet, charming guy and I wanted people to begin to connect with him. I thought that he showed humility in asking how to start, and charm with how he responded to my demand that he not say “ya’ll”
Paul is one of the best communicators that I’ve ever met. He rarely makes verbal mistakes and he usually nails his videos in one take, so I wanted to make the most of this opportunity to show people that even in his gifting, he makes mistakes, too!
We showed this video as a treat to our volunteers at our annual volunteer appreciation party that we call “The Big Event” and it was a HUGE hit!
We decided to make it an annual installment—the content creates itself any time I shoot a video with a staff member!
Karissa and I got to shoot the wedding of our dear friends Isaac and Shelby, and it was such a wonderful way for us to finish 2013.
There are two memories that stick out the most to me from their wedding day.
One was when Isaac and I were walking to his car in the parking garage to head to the church. Isaac is usually super even-keeled and always in a good mood, and he seemed just slightly off. Ever so slightly. I asked him if he was nervous about his wedding day and he calmy said, “I’m not looking forward to being the center of attention”.
It was a believable answer, coming from one of the most humble, gentle men I know, and it further endeared me to him.
The other stand-out memory was when I walked onto the stage at the beginning of the ceremony with Isaac. I had the honor of playing the one role that I had never played in a wedding before: officiant. There’s a little internal alarm that sounds and lets me know when I’m experiencing something extraordinary or for the first time…and when I got to my spot, turned, and looked straight down the aisle, that alarm went off. I’d been to many weddings, but this was the first time I’d ever had the best seat in the house.
All of these loving, supportive people who have poured into Isaac and Shelby’s lives, here to celebrate the union of this beautiful couple. Bridesmaids attempting to maintain a graceful strut as tears streamed down their faces. The sound of live music being played my some of Isaac and Shelby’s worship leader friends. A strong-hearted, faithful man to my left, awaiting his bride. A delicate, faithful woman, being led down the aisle by the man who had prayerfully raised her to be the woman she is today.
At the rehearsal dinner Shelby’s dad said one of my favorite things I’ve ever heard anyone say. We’d had some “open mic” time for anyone to stand up and tell a story or two about Isaac and Shelby, and it was so fun to hear the way that they were loved by so many different people. At the end Shelby’s dad stood up and He talked about how we’ve all contributed to Isaac and Shelby’s life in some way and how we’re all, therefore, connected to each other. He acknowledged the joy and the love that had filled the room, and then he said, “This…is the fullness of life.” And you could almost tangibly feel everyone agreeing with him in unison with full hearts.
That was what I felt, standing on the stage, watching this ceremony play out before me. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.
I’m very thankful for our friendship with Isaac and Shelby. I’m very thankful for the amazing group of people we got to go through that weekend with. And most of all I’m thankful for Jesus, whose love binds us all together.
An important part of my creative process at Genesis is the fact that nothing I make for Genesis Church gets all the way to the screens/public without being run past two or three sets of eyes for honest feedback.
Two important notes about seeking feedback:
1) Learn who to ask.
Certain people will always suggest you change something simply because they have stylistic differences. Certain people will say “looks great” because they don’t enjoy analyzing graphics. FInd people who are invested and have a purpose behind their suggestions!
For me my three main people are Steve Wallen, Robin Lee, and my wife Karissa.
Steve is great at analyzing what something communicates subconsciously, and he’s great at seeing things from a 30,000 feet view, within the context of our work as a whole. For example, he’ll say, “Didn’t we have a lot of orange in the last series graphic?” or “That swirly shape in the corner looks a little too much like a swastika.”
Robin is our Director of Operations, and she’s a great test for how a normal, unartistic person would respond, and she’s also great at making sure that pieces don’t get so artistic that they lose their function. She’ll say things like, “It’s cool, but I don’t know if people will get the point”.
Karissa is somewhere in the middle—she’s an artist who also sees the world in a very practical way.
2) Don’t take it personally
The most important part is that I trust all three of them from a relational standpoint. We have healthy, strong relationships and I know that nothing they say is based on how much they value me or like me.
So yes I’m a sensitive artist and I still take it personally at first when they criticize my work, but I’m learning to shake it off, clarify what they’re saying, and try to adjust the piece to reflect their suggestion.
As an example, I wanted to post an in-depth look at the process for the graphic I made for our series called “The Secret to Being Rich”.
Last year I made a recap video for 2012, and while it was cool to see a lot of my best shots all in one place, for me the real value of that video is that it reminds me how blessed we were with relationships and opportunities.
Truthfully I wasn’t looking forward to making the 2013 video, even though I knew I’d be glad I did someday. 2013 was a tough year for Karissa and I…it was good, but it was hard. Between shooting 25 weddings and dozens of other engagement, family, and newborn shoots as CarisDesign, Karissa was in pedal-to-the-metal survival mode all year, which took a big toll on her.
And between shooting weddings with Karissa, learning how to manage the changes that come with being a growing multi-site church, and trying to help Karissa cope with her overwhelming feelings of busyness, 2013 took a toll on me, too.
So when it was time to make this video, I thought, “I’m not sure how much that of that I want to remember!”
But I’m so glad I decided to go ahead and do it, because this video reminded me again how rich our lives are. It was a tough year, but we came out on top because of the incredible community of friends and family that we have supporting us.
I wanted to give just a little insight on a few of the shots and why I chose them:
I love this one of Karissa because this trip to Sarasota was one of the only times all year that I saw her really let go and relax and enjoy life for a few days.
All of the bicycle shots are from South Haven, Michigan, where we spent our anniversary for the second year in a row. That was the only time all year that I really felt like I could exhale and just sit still for a few days, and it was fantastic. The bike rides through the neighborhoods of South Haven was one of the most therapeutic things I did all year.
This shot makes my heart heavy. This was my friend Scott’s last Sunday at Genesis Church before he moved his family to Arizona. They had been there a week when his 5-year-old daughter Ellie was rushed to the ER after they found her unresponsive when they went to wake her up.
On the right in the picture is my good friend Nate Miller, who is very close with Scott. Nate and his family were in Michigan at the same time we were, so they came to South Haven to hang out with us for the day. Karissa and I were with them on the beach when Nate got a phone call from Scott informing him that Ellie had passed away.
It was a surreal moment, watching Nate’s body language from a distance as he took the phone call. It was awful. We were so glad that we were with the Millers though because K and I got to play with their daughters Gracelyn and Ainsley as Nate and Angela walked away to process everything.
The shots of Ainsley swinging and Gracelyn doing down the slide were shortly after that, and to me they represent innocence as the girls had no idea what had happened yet. Their playfulness was such a stark, but necessary, contrast to what we were all feeling.
As tragic as it was, it was a very rich time also, because I never felt closer to many of the people in my church. We were unified in our grief for the Kaschner family.
The three guys in the picture, Jeremy, Scott, and Nate, were core members of the team I inherited when I came to Genesis, and they loved the guy I replaced, so it was kind of an uphill battle to win them over! I’ve been so humbled as they’ve accepted and loved me, and I felt the reward of our relational investment as we navigated that valley together. It made me realize how far we had come as friends.
This sequence of dancing shots was intentional—Hillsong United (in the first shot) have inspired and taught me to have more expressive freedom and to be more undignified in worship, and now that’s something that I get to inspire and teach others to do. The third shot is from my amazing trip to Haiti.
Also, we had front row seats for Hillsong United, which is how I got that shot. It was awesome.
This shot was from the day my old sandals finally fell apart and I walked out to the car barefoot at the end of the day. I wrote a post about what I felt like God was teaching me that day. I accidentally recorded it with vertical video (don’t ever do that!) and had to rotate it and stretch it, which is why it looks like crap. I still included it because I wanted to remember how God was growing me in 2013.
I love this shot of Keenan…the whole experience of riding this ride is everything Disney World is all about, forgetting your worries and just having child-like joy for a little while. This was from our Disney Oz Fest trip.
In January our good friends Josh and Heidy Tandy left Genesis Church to go plant a church in Northern Kentucky. We only got to see them a couple times this year. This shot was in December when we went down to help them with their first Preview Service for Movement Church. Heidy has been a huge support to Karissa, even from a distance, and I love seeing my wife so celebrated and loved.
I’d had Karissa film some footage of us driving up to where we were going, so the camera was out and available. When I realized that Heidy was giving Karissa such an enthusiastic greeting I grabbed the camera and filmed this from the driver’s seat. So glad I did…I love the pure emotion on Heidy’s face.
These are my friends Andrew and Melissa from our connection group! Their wedding day was wonderful and I had the honor of doing videography for it.
I also love this shot because we see Pastor Steve Wallen’s silly side. He does a great job of being an emotional person without letting emotions get the best of him, and of being a wise person without taking himself too seriously. He’s a great leader and I’m so grateful to have him as my boss and our campus pastor.
After years of wanting to be parents, my sister and her husband adopted a baby boy! You should check out this video I made telling the story…it’s a good one.
We had Mam in Indiana with us for the holidays for the first time in years, and she brought all the warmth and charm that we remember from our childhood. We still miss Grandaddy (he passed away July 2012), but Mam is healthy and vibrant and we love seeing her this way!
I love this shot because it represents how we’ve found people that we “get” who “get” us. Karissa and Shelby are a lot alike, and they were both thrilled to be going to a haunted corn maze! I wasn’t at first, but I knew Karissa wanted to go, and it ended up being a blast.
Many of the shots in the video are from our “Connection Group”…some churches call them “small groups”…either way, this group of friends has been our primary support system all year.
Every Monday night we could show up just as we are, whether we’re bouncing off the walls with optimism or we are so empty that we barely decided to even show up, and we were accepted and loved.
We prayed each other through job changes, cried with each other through losses, celebrated as several couples got married, and we laughed a LOT. It’s amazing how we can go from a serious moment to a hilarious, crying laughing moment back to a deep moment again. These people are everything we could ask for and more as friends.
We feel like we clawed our way through most of 2013 but we emerged stronger and more grateful, and we couldn’t have done it without the love of so many wonderful people in our lives. That’s what this video celebrates.
Click the “vimeo” logo in the bottom right to watch it bigger and in HD!
My first day of working at Genesis Church was three years ago today. I remember that Lead Pastor Paul Mumaw was gone that day and I started my morning working with our Director of Operations, Robin Lee, who I was a little intimidated by because she’s a very confident person, and I don’t understand confident people.
I was there to “replace” the previous Creative Arts Director, Ben Crouse. These were big shoes to fill because Ben had the heart of his people. It was a little bit like trying to replace a bald, acoustic-guitar-toting version of Braveheart.
For a while I joked that no one was allowed to say his name anymore, calling him “He Who Shall Not Be Named” and pretending to have a profound disdain for him…but truthfully I admired him greatly, and he knew that.
Ben was so sweet and gracious in welcoming me to the Genesis family on his way out (he left to serve as an associate pastor at a church in Michigan) and he and I developed a long-distance friendship. I’d call him every so often to ask questions, and he’d call every so often to ask how things were going. Ben was always more concerned about how my relationships were developing than what songs I was playing, or what software I was using.
That value would continue to reveal itself as a crucial one as the years passed.
As I look back on the things I created in my first days here at Genesis I’m a little embarrassed. Ok, more than just a little. My graphic design work had all the markings of someone new to Photoshop, and my videos (shot in Standard Definition on the church’s tape-based Canon GL2) were unimaginative, poorly composed, and awkwardly edited.
I didn’t know who Genesis was, and I didn’t really know who I was yet.
Over the last three years I’ve been given the time, the resources, and the grace to develop as an artist. My friend Dane Benton graciously spent time with me to teach me the virtues and benefits of Adobe Illustrator (HUGE improvement in efficiency), and the leadership of the church empowered my videography by giving me better tools and letting me experiment with new ideas.
I think I’ve also developed as a communicator. Hanging around Paul Mumaw for three years will do that to you! Though I still have a lot to say (this is a two-part post, after all) and can be long-winded sometimes, I’ve learned to be confident in using fewer words. And in my speaking segments during worship I’ve learned to “put a period on it”, as Paul would say.
It’s been fun and rewarding to develop as an artist and a communicator, but I can whole-heartedly say that the biggest and best way I’ve grown in the last three years is in compassion.
Compassion for the sheep that the Lord has entrusted us with as shepherds of the church.
Compassion for the moms, dads, husbands, wives, daughters, and sons that volunteer their valuable time to serve as volunteers.
Compassion for the older generation that longs for the simplicity, familiarity and richness of a good hymn.
Compassion for the non-believer who isn’t sure who they believe God is but likes a church where they wear jeans and play modern music.
Compassion for the life-long believer who thinks they’ve seen it all, but struggles to see past themselves and their own needs.
Compassion for the husband whose wife is all in, but who just comes to church just to appease her.
Compassion for the car-less guy who attends because our church is within walking distance of his apartment, and it’s the only shot he has for social interaction all week.
Compassion for the band member who would rather listen to Led Zeppelin than Chris Tomlin.
Compassion for the person who doesn’t “get” Gungor but does relate to The Beatles.
Compassion for the college graduate still living at home and trying to figure out what they should do with their life.
Compassion for the mother of four who finds a way to round up all her kids and serve in GenKids on the same morning that her husband has to be at church early to play bass guitar.
Compassion for the person who has been coming for years but never talks about Jesus, and you’re not really sure why they’re here.
Compassion for the mother who thinks that if her teenage son or daughter would just get involved with church, they may turn away from some of the temptations they’ve been dipping their foot in.
Compassion for the father who is concerned about his son or daughter’s “love” interests.
Compassion for the awkward middle schooler who doesn’t really know how to carry a conversation with an adult.
Compassion for that couple that finally had a baby after years of trying.
Compassion for the single mom of five kids who is giving church one more shot after years of feeling judged and rejected by Christians.
Compassion for faithful Christ-followers who don’t worship the way I expect them to.
The truth is that when I came to Genesis, my mindset was typical of most young worship leaders: Why won’t they just do what I think they should do?
Why won’t they sing this song with me?
Why won’t they raise their hands?
Why won’t they just let the hymns die?
Why did what I said before that song seemingly have no impact on their response?
Why aren’t they as excited to worship Jesus as I am?
Those are selfish questions cleverly disguised as honorable pursuits.
I have a lot of answers to those questions now, which I’ll answer in part two of this post, but the over-arching theme of what I’ve learned in three years?
Knowing, and being known.
When I came to Genesis Church, I quickly realized that I didn’t have compassion for the people I was leading; more directly, I didn’t know the people I was leading.
I prayed for compassion, that God would mingle the roots of my heart with the hearts of the people of this church, that I would feel what they feel, and they would feel what I feel.
Do you think that my examples of the kinds of people I’ve developed compassion for seem a little specific?
You’re right, they are.
I’ve got names.
I’ve got faces.
I’ve got stories. For each one of them.
I’ve shared tears, laughter, joy, heartache, success, and failure with the beautiful, flawed people of Genesis Church. And as a leader in this church, there is nothing I have accomplished or experienced in the last three years that has been more valuable than that.