You want to be that photographer that can get any dog and any child to love you.
Genevieve Elaine Photography
I used to take a ton of pictures of my dogs. This was before I had kids. I had a Canon PowerShot and I’d go get all the Halloween costumes and I would dress them up and take pictures of them. My boyfriend at the time bought me my first camera, and I didn’t even know how to turn it on. It was so intimidating that I was like, “I just want to use my PowerShot… I don’t want that.” But then I learned how to turn it on and that’s what I did: I took pictures of my dogs. I had friends that were on Flickr and they were in a photography group – it was 365 Project. They give you a prompt, like “hot or cold” or it could be literally anything, and you have to be creative and it was every single day. So I did that for the year with my camera and my dogs and I posted everything on Flickr. Getty images contacted me and wanted to use the photos of my dogs. So they did; they used the photos of my dogs and they own the pictures still to this day and anybody can buy them. They started selling like hotcakes. My dog Clementine, she’s been in an Anthropologie ad, they had a PetCo ad, they’re on national greeting cards… to this day. People who know me, they’ll be like, “Oh my god!” and take a picture in Target because they’ll see my dogs.
Then my friend Mary had a baby and she was like, “Bring that fancy camera over here and take pictures of my baby!” and I was like, “I have no idea… I don’t know… I just know how to take pictures of my dogs, I don’t know how to do that,” and she was like, “Just do it.” She made me. I went over there and I took pictures of her baby, Jack, and the pictures were good! So at this point, I was like, “I need to know how to edit,” and my friends on Flickr taught me. They were like, “Get Photoshop.” Anything I needed to know, I would google. I took pictures of Mary’s baby — and I knew how to kind of edit at that point — and the pictures were good. Her friends saw the pictures and they wanted pictures and I was like, “Oh, shoot.” Mary’s like, “You have to make a website,” and I was like, “No! What do you mean?” And she’s like, “You have to!” So one of my Flickr friends helped me make a website and I guess it was just word of mouth. I was living in Texas and I was charging like $200 for a family shoot.
I remember crying… like, I would put my head down and cry because I couldn’t figure out how to Photoshop a bra strap out. Because it was all self-taught. Backstory is that I was a model for a really long time, from like 14 to 31… I was still doing it after I had Evangeline. So obviously I know my lighting because of modelling and I know how to pose people because of modelling and I know how to talk to people because of modelling. I think that helps a ton, being a model for so many years. I feel like that happens for a lot of models, switching and being on the other side, because you know stuff. But I didn’t know the mechanics of anything: the computer, the camera. I just knew how to be with people and lighting situations. So in Texas I started my business and I moved back here to be with my husband and it was great because it was L.A., and it’s great because my husband is a computer guy, so he does my website. It’s amazing when you’re married to a computer nerd because now you don’t have to have friends helping you with WordPress anymore, you have your husband! So my business started in 2011 in Texas. Thank god for that ex-boyfriend buying me the camera!
I have a Mark IV and I use all prime lenses. A lot of photographers will switch out lenses, but I don’t do that. I’m very minimalist in my life. I basically have my 50mm on there at all times, unless I’m shooting a big family — like last night, I had an extended family and they had three dogs, so then I’m using my 24/70mm because it zooms and I want that option to zoom because there’s dogs. But otherwise I don’t take my 50mm off. Or newborns, because when I go into other people’s houses, you might not have enough space so I use the 24/70mm because you don’t know what you’re going into. I see photographers when I’m shooting and they’re switching cameras… why? You’re going to have to upload that memory card and that memory card… why? If you’re a wedding photographer, I totally get it, I get having two bodies strapped to you. You can’t fully move around and chase a child if you have one swinging on you. And do you know how often I’m lying flat on my stomach and stuff? Imagine if you had gear hanging from you… you can’t. Like, I’m fully lying on my stomach; I don’t want stuff hanging from me. There’s always sand everywhere. I’m pretty bad. I don’t treat it how it should be treated. Because you’re like “Get the shot! Get the shot!” You don’t think about your stuff; you’re getting the shot. It’s just sand. It could scratch your lens, but I got the cute smiling laughing child, so it was worth it.
I mainly shoot families; I do a lot of newborns where I go to their house. I do engagement photos, I love doing couples. I do maternity shoots, which are great, but that could be family or it could just be husband and wife. I do high school seniors or college seniors and I love doing that, love, love, love. Or you could hire me for your brand, and I’d hang out with you and take photos of whatever you want. So, portraits but I’d say my main people are families.
You have to have all of those people comfortable with you. Newborn photos are harder because you don’t know what you’re going into. You don’t know their lighting. I tell them, “Take a look at your house and the rooms you want to shoot in and choose when your house is brightest with natural window light.” I’d say that’s probably the hardest when you’re going into someone’s house because you have no idea the lighting situation, and I don’t shoot with flash at all. People are often shocked, like, “You can go set up,” and I’m like, “I just need to turn on my camera and I’m ready!” I don’t have any gear. I like natural, pretty light. All you need is a window! People will be super nervous, like, “Oh, my house isn’t cute enough!” or “I don’t know if there’s enough light.” All you need is a window. I’d love to have a house with a dedicated room or have a separate natural light studio, I’m thinking all windows and a white bed and gauzy curtains and I’m imagining a beautiful mom and flowy dress and she’s pregnant and her toddler… I could do that all day long. That would be fun.
Right now I only shoot weekends because of my daughters, so I can’t wait until I can shoot every day. Before kids, I shot every day. I remember when I was pregnant with Evangeline, I remember my last shoot — I had her at 40 weeks and five days — I was 40 weeks pregnant, it was a high school senior and I told her, “We can do this, but just know that I’m overdue and anything could happen.” She was like, “Oh, both my parents are OB-Gyns.” I was like, “Can you bring one of them with you?” Because she was going to come alone, so she brought her mom. I was shooting every day until I gave birth. I think that was a Monday and I gave birth on a Thursday. I would love to be so much more available. I have to refer out to people because I’m not available when people want me all the time. I think the flexibility would help my business a lot. I feel like I would work a lot more if I wasn’t just restricted to only weekends.
I am super-fast. A mini-session is 30 minutes. My full sessions that I do at sunset, those are only an hour. If you read my reviews, most of them will say, “Genevieve’s a magician, I don’t know how she did it because my kid was a nightmare the entire time but somehow we have the most magical photos.” Because I’m fast. In a mini-session, they get like 20 photos. For a mini, I find that I usually take around 400; for a full session, like last night was a full session and I took 825. So a full session, they’ll get 50+… usually it’s like 70 to 80 photos. I’m an overtaker for sure because I’d rather cull through a bunch. I’ve never not had the photos in my entire career so I’d rather overtake the photos and make sure you have stuff you can deliver.
Clients will ask me, “How many did you just take?” I’ll say, “I don’t know, my camera doesn’t tell me but I assume I probably took like 800.” I don’t lie to them, I’ll tell them. And in their brain, they’re like, “Well, wait a minute, we’re paying you for 50…” and I’ll tell them, “You’re like this the entire time, somebody’s blinking. Me: I’m out of focus or I’m over exposed or I’m underexposed, or a lot of people will just smile like this and you don’t want 50 photos of one face.” I’ll explain all that to them if they do ask me. Me as the client, I don’t like when you get a ton of pictures. I would rather get way less and they’re amazing photos. I’d rather get 20 amazing photos than 50 ok photos. Quality versus quantity. I think people understand that. I think a lot of people are like me and they don’t want to be overwhelmed. That’s why I offer the mini-sessions. Actually, this is the first year that I’m offering them year-round. I normally offered them twice a year, very specific days. That’s what all the photographers do, they’re very strict about minis. That’s what I used to do but the more I shoot them, the more I realize they’re so easy. For example, the couple I just had was a mom, dad, and a seven-month-old baby. That baby doesn’t want to be there for an hour. That baby didn’t take his morning nap, he’s good with 30 minutes.
I tell people that they’ll get the photos within two weeks but they have them usually always within the week. I only edit when my children are asleep. So when Goldie’s napping, I edit, or at night, when I’m busy I’ll for sure edit at night. But Goldie takes a two and a half hour nap, so I’m editing that whole time. Sometimes I can do a whole session in that time. I can for sure do the mini today. I’ve been doing it for so long, so I’m very fast. I use the same preset on every single thing, no matter what it is, no matter if it’s inside someone’s house, no matter if it’s a birthday party, no matter if it’s a direct sun photo (which I don’t do, but, you know, sometimes you have to!). My preset works for everything. It’s my style and it’s my look that I’m going for. Trial and error — I tried a bazillion. You buy so many different presets and then you find the one that works for you for everything, and this one does. It works for everything. I tried to cheat on it through the years and nothing has ever even compared so I’m like, “Stop trying to cheat on your preset. Don’t do it.” It’s the way you shoot in-camera. I shoot all manual. It’s the way you expose and everything. I’m exposing for that preset; I know what that preset likes. I know what will work and what won’t for that preset, so like I said, trial and error and it’s been years. It takes time.
People ask me, “Can you make my arm thinner?” No. Kids, of course. For every photo shoot I feel like the mom shows up in tears: “They just fell down.” It happens all the time. Yeah, I can remove that because it’s not something that they normally have, but I’m not removing your wrinkles. I’ll remove your zits because that’s not a part of you all the time, but anything that’s a part of you all the time I will not remove. People ask me, and they don’t like it, but I’m very upfront. I’m not going to make you thinner. I’m not going to get rid of your crow’s feet. It’s just who you are. That’s a different type of photography, almost. I’m very natural, candid, and that’s not removing your wrinkles. I tell them that. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever had anybody get mad about that… no, I don’t think so.
My photographer that I love, who photographs us, she’ll look at her phone on Pinterest and go, “Ok, guys, try this pose.” I don’t do that. I like not knowing anything; I like going in there blind. Totally cold. If I’m like, “I want you to do this and this,” that’s not going to work for everybody. I like just blindly throwing out suggestions. And people like you to keep talking to them. I’m always talking. I think that’s what makes people very comfortable is if you’re always talking, like, “Beautiful, I love it, gorgeous, I love that, yeah turn your head like that…” I talk the whole darn time because I feel like they’re comfortable. But my photographer is totally quiet. So, different styles. I love her, I’m obsessed! But we are night and day with how we shoot. I am loud. I will do anything, I will make crazy noises, I will sing at the top of my lungs… when I shoot at the beach, I’ll lose my voice because I’m screaming over the waves. I will do anything. I will sing whatever. What’s your favorite song? I will scream it. Just now at Gum Grove, I was screaming Baby Shark.
I had this one family that had this little boy, I think he was like two, and he was not into it at all. I was like, “What preschool does he go to?” They told me he goes to the Hebrew Academy and Evangeline goes to the Jewish Community Center and I started singing to him in Hebrew and the grandma — all my tattoos, I don’t know if she was so into me! — but I started singing to him in Hebrew and the grandma LOVES me, I’m like her best friend. She was just like, “How do you know these songs?” I’m not sure, I think appearance throws people off sometimes, but she loved me. My best friend, the grandma. They said Hebrew Academy and I started singing Hamotzi and he lit up… I’ll do anything to get them to laugh because that’s your job and you can’t just not try. If you don’t try, the client is going to blame you. They’re not going to blame their kid, they’re going to blame you.
There are children — like mine, where there’s nothing that anybody could do to get her to laugh. But I can pretty much always break them. And if I can’t break them and they want nothing to do with me, suggest things that their parents can do to get them to smile. Any time a kid is like that, just pick them up and run with them. Dad, pretend you’re a horse, take them and run, “Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup-up -UP!” And that’s it. I’m exhausted. I told you — I lose my voice, I’m sweating... exhausted. It’s exhausting, especially when you’re an introverted person, you’re very drained after. You’re on; it’s like performing the whole time. That’s what you want: a photographer that can break your strong-willed child and get them to at least smirk. You want to be that photographer that can get any dog and any child to love you. That’s what I strive for.
Most of my clients are repeat clients. I’m their go-to. I’ve lived here since… well, I lived here twice; I lived here but I wasn’t a photographer and then I moved to Texas and then I moved back. Been doing it here since 2013, and I’ve had clients with three kids and now they’re all seniors so I’ve done all three of their senior… it’s crazy. The people I just booked today for March 7 for a newborn session, first I did portraits for her, she wanted some yoga portraits. Then I did her engagement photos, then I just did their maternity photos, and now on March 7 I’m doing their newborn photos.
I’m so glad I was forced into it by my friend Mary, so shout out to her for forcing me to come over and take pictures of Jack. Jack’s like 9 years old, 10. Crazy. I would never have done that. Never. Shout out to Mary and shout out to Flickr group, the 365 group. Because if you see my first photos, they suck, but my end photos are so much better. Shout out to internet friends helping you, “How do I Photoshop this?” And they’re all helping you. I don’t know if it would be like that now, but back in the day everybody wanted to help. Now, it’s more like competition, no one wants to help each other. Everyone says “community over competition,” but I don’t think anyone really follows that rule. I’ll see other people commenting on Instagram, “Where is this location?” and they won’t tell you. Which, I don’t blame them, I probably wouldn’t tell them either! It depends on the location but you want to keep them to yourself. I do have spots that I call secret spots and I won’t tell anybody where they are. But back in the day it was more community. For us who are getting paid, we’re protective. If it’s a hobby then it’s sharing knowledge, but it’s our job and that’s my special spot… I’m not telling you. I found it!
I love it, it’s the best job ever. Especially when you’re a mom and you have an amazing husband and you can work weekends. When I am waist deep in the ocean in January, I’m like, “I’m getting paid a lot of money right now to do this. This is so cool.” We’re in the ocean in January and I’m getting paid. It’s the best job ever. I love everything about it. I love the shooting, I love the editing, I love everything.