There Will Always Be Somebody Better…

It happened today. The feeling of sinking into a pocket of frustration, of being generally annoyed with imperfection. You know those times when you use your skill, knowledge, and creativity, and you try something new, and you NAIL IT? That did not happen today.

I’ve made some huge changes in my business lately, and it’s been a roller coaster of excitement, fear, inspiration, desperation, frustration, and all other ations. The changes were necessary, because I was bored to death with my own work. Like, if I had to look at another couple in a park with back light, I might hurl. I want to rip those images off my office wall. I just want something BETTER. After my shoot with Micheal in San Francisco I lamented over it while driving to The Mission. I was so frustrated because his work is so beautiful and original, like no other, and I felt my work had gotten repetitive and boring. He said it happens to all of us, to him also, which I know on a logical level, but still… The strange thing was, even after shooting Mary and James’s unique, urban engagement session in San Francisco, AND after shooting Violet’s divorce shoot (us climbing over fences and breaking laws), I was STILL bored with myself. I felt myself rolling my eyes at my work, like a sullen cheerleader who’s cool because she thinks everything is boring and stupid. One night I was watching TV, and I thought, ‘OMG this is so boring,’ picked up VOGUE, ‘OMG this issue is so boring,’ got something to eat, ‘OMG I’m so bored of this food.’ Then I stopped and thought, in horror, ‘Oh good lord, I’m turning into a Hipster.’ I mean, I even bought a necklace made out of a recycled SPOON on Valencia in The Mission that day when I was in the city. Oh, the humanity!

So the first thing we did was buy me a vintage Polaroid 195 land camera. I had wanted to get serious about instant film for a while, feeling stagnant with my 35mm film. I fell in love with Micheal’s 195 during our shoots, and saw what it can really do, and had to have one. It was, by far, the best purchase we’ve ever made for my business. It completely takes the film vs digital variable out of the equation, because now, clients can literally walk away from their shoot with prints. PRINTS! Not digital teasers a few days later, but REAL, tangible prints. And it elevates your work to a whole new level because the possibilities are ENDLESS.

The second thing I did was turn our spare bedroom into a boudoir studio, and start tearing my dining room apart to turn that into a studio as well. I really need more than one room because I hate shooting the same backgrounds over and over, and this way I can change things up quite a bit. This is all quite funny, because for twenty years, when people asked me if I had a studio, I said no, I’d never work in a studio. I hated studios. I felt they were limiting and boring. I don’t understand strobes. All the wires and how do you hook this up and….. I mean, I forgot how to scan a photo the other day. Come on. I’m that photographer who wipes the scanner glass with her t-shirt then gets pissed when there’s dust spots all over her Polaroid.

I’m in LOVE with the bedroom space. My friend Amanda and I built an amazing lighting fixture inspired by a chandelier I saw on Pinterest and a DIY dude on YouTube. I’m not gonna lie, it was a HARD thing to get right. The first version got torn apart and I went back to Hobby Lobby and bought more of this, and one of that, and then we started all over again, kneeling in Amanda’s garage, the smell of spray paint making me dizzy. I called Mark and said, “I’m not going to be home for a while. I’m in studio-building hell.” But it was all worth it…


There are many more photos to come, I promise. The light in that room is so beautiful on film I want to cry. But Corina hasn’t seen all her photos yet, and I’d like to wait to post her blog until after her fiance receives his album. Watch my Instagram feed for sneak peeks though: @dawnkellyphotography

In addition to needing more photos that showcase that room with it’s crazy lighting, I needed to practice with my Polaroid 195, so my model friend Ashley came over today to take some photos. I shot a roll of black and white film in the studio, and we KILLED it. I can feel it in my bones. I know those images will be epic.

But the instant film… Not so much.

First I tried to replicate a shot I did earlier this week, but the window light was horrible today, and it’s a difficult shot to begin with, and I NAILED IT the first time, so why is this so hard?! I also wanted to attempt double exposures with the instant film. Yeah, that didn’t go so well. The first two were total busts. We ditched that idea and moved on to a different type of double, and the third was close, but dark, and I said, “OK, we’ll do it one more time, but if it doesn’t work, we’re moving on.” I didn’t want to burn through the film I need for Saturday’s wedding. The fourth one was so/so, in my opinion, but overall I felt it was a fail.

This evening, looking at settees in Cost Plus with Mark, I was wiped out. Tired, frustrated, hungry (why didn’t I grab a snack from home???), and I showed him two of the Polaroids we took that I posted to Instagram. I said, “I dunno, they’re not as good as Monday’s.” He liked them and had the same opinion as Ashley, that they have different affects but are both beautiful in their own ways.


We came home empty handed, everything either too expensive, too big, or too small for the studio, and I PMed my friend Jason to get his opinion. He said the same thing, both beautiful in their own ways, and he loved the double exposure I did, saying all the Polaroids from today are more “moody” than Monday’s and I love “moody” images, so that helped me gain perspective. Plus I had a snack, which made me less grumpy. But the really hilarious thing is, I just scanned the third print for this blog, and I love it! The print was too small and too dark to see, but it’s got a ghostly quality, a witchiness about it that makes you wonder what she’s thinking.


And I did learn from it. The most important thing that sunk into my hard noggin is this: I shoot film because it’s imperfect, so why am I trying to perfectly replicate something? The beauty of the Polaroid is the uniqueness, rawness, and imperfection. The way it changes it’s mind like a woman.

Tonight I remembered something my father taught me shortly after I started playing the clarinet and Samantha Paxton wanted to challenge me for First Chair in the orchestra. I came home crying, the idea of losing my top position terrifying, and he stopped me in the kitchen, got down on one knee, and grabbed my shoulders. “Babe,” he said, “No matter what you do in life, and no matter how good at it you are, there will ALWAYS be somebody better than you. Do you understand?” And I eventually did, after five minutes of crying and him saying, “So what? Let her challenge you. In life, there will always be somebody better.”

I think about my dad a lot, having lost him almost ten years ago, all his wisdom like a time capsule in my heart. I didn’t fail today, I challenged myself, stretched my brain, tried something different. Was it a total success? No. But who cares? There will always be somebody better than me, somebody I’m chasing like a little girl after a balloon. THAT is what makes me better.

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