Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Jessica Blaine Smith

"I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase. You know, horses... taking pictures of your feet." I heard this line in the film, 'Lost in Translation' and it made me giggle because it's kind of true. I went through my photography phase in high school and it never stuck. Lucky for me, there are girls like Jessica Blaine Smith that can capture a whole story in one image. She breaks it all down for us and tells us what it's like to make a living as a photographer.

What made you want to become a photographer? 
I just seemed to have a natural knack for it from the beginning. Photography simply felt natural to me. It started with a high school yearbook class and assisting for a small town wedding photographer. From the get-go, I was hooked.

How did you start getting work? 
I decided early on that I loved photographing people in all situations. In order to build my initial portfolio, I photographed everyone I knew. I would approach anyone that I found interesting and ask if I could photograph them. Often they were flattered and quickly agreed. From there, word started spreading. I still often approach people that I find interesting to this day. It is a great way to make new connections.

What are some of the perks of being a photographer and self-employed?
There are the obvious perks of being self-employed like setting your own hours and working when you choose to. Vacations can also happen at anytime which I love. One of the perks of being a portrait photographer is that it gives you access to people that you would not normally otherwise get. It is amazing what people give of their personality when there is a camera involved.

What is your typical day like?
There is no such thing as a typical day! This past week I flew to Miami for 24 hours to photograph a job, shot an eleven hour Indian wedding the following day and the wedding reception the next evening, The next day was spent doing post-production at my studio and the day after that I photographed portraits for a non-for-profit organization. My days flip from photographing either on-location or in my studio and then spending days doing the post-production of the images. Occasionally, I get a day off for myself. 

What are some of the disadvantages of your job, that maybe we don't think about?
Being self-employed means you have to be dedicated to what you do. You have to pull yourself out of bed and put in the hours of work, even when there is no boss there to tell you to. I photograph a lot of weddings so a disadvantage is working almost every weekend during the summer months. Another disadvantage is when the bulk of your jobs are seasonal, the winter months can be slow. You need to be very good with managing money to make it work throughout the year.

Can you demystify the fact that being a photographer is more than just being able to buy an expensive SLR camera?
There is way more to photography than a camera! My biggest pet peeve right now is definitely the number of people that purchase a DSLR and instantly call themselves a photographer. There are no formal qualifications that you need to have to call yourself one, unlike, say, a doctor, so everyone does it. I studied photography at Ryerson for four long years and earned my BFA in Photography there. At Ryerson I learned about the history and theory of photography and I fully believe that this knowledge has brought me to where I am today. As a photographer, you need to not only understand your camera settings or the way the light is falling but you also need to understand why you are creating a specific image and what story you are telling with it. You cannot just point and click, there is way more to image-making than that.

What separates the amateurs from the professionals in your line of work?
A professional photographer knows how to edit their images. They know what the good photographs are to show their viewers. An amateur does not understand this. There is also a consistency in a professional photographers images in terms of their style and the way they process their final images. When you see a photograph, you should be able to name the photographer by looking at it.

Where do you travel for work? 
Anywhere that I am paid to travel to! :) I have photographed clients in places all over including Trinidad, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Australia.

If you weren't a photographer, what would you be?
I always joke that I would be fixing escalators, specifically for the TTC because they always seem to be broken! Seriously though, I would be a writer. Maybe one day I will write a book.

Where are your favourite places to hang out in Toronto? 
The Dakota Tavern is my ultimate favourite bar in the city. I live for live music and the Dakota always delivers. I also love places like the Horseshoe, Three Speed and Victory Cafe.

Best places to shop in the city?
True confession: I'm not a big shopper. While I like nice things, I am not a fan of the process to get said things. I was recently at ShopGirls though and love that everything in the store is Canadian-designed. I also love getting jeans at Over the Rainbow because of the great service that they offer there.

Tell us about your neighbourhood and what you like best about it.
I divide my time between two neighbourhoods: the studio is located in Riverdale and I live in the St. Clair & Bathurst area. Riverdale is a really up and coming neighbourhood. New condos are being built so some great restaurants and bars are opening up. I cannot believe how quickly the area has changed in the seven years that I have been here. I love living in the St. Clair & Bathurst area. It has a real neighbourhood feel and I love the market at the Wychwood Barns on Saturdays. I am happy that I am able to spend so much time in two very different parts of the city. I also love this separation between my home and my work.

Where would you go on your dream vacation?
My dream vacation is always changing. Right now I would say I would love to travel to Kenya and climb Kilimanjaro.

What would you tell your 20 year-old self?
Don't you worry, it will work out. Everything that you set out to achieve will happen, but not without a lot of work and determination.

What life advice do you have for hip + urban girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?
You have to always follow your heart. If there is something that you have always wanted to do, get out there and do it. Life is short and precious. The only thing holding you back from accomplishing things is often yourself. My goal is to always live with no regrets.


Feeling inspired? Meet a few more of our featured Hip + Urban Girls of the Week!

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