Tuesday, March 19, 2013

BEHIND THE LENS: Joni James, Sweet Zinnias Photography - Maine

I'm super excited to introduce Joni James to our Behind the Lens series.  I met Joni through a group of photographers who are crazy about Sue Bryce and Hailey Bartolomew.   Who isn't these days?  Joni and I took a video showreel class through creativeLive.  The class was amazing and Joni immediately took to it and I have to say she is a natural.  Already so talented with her stills the transition to video has been seamless for her.

I'm very interested in following Joni as she progresses to digital-only packages.  I'm leaning more and more in that direction myself and acting as a decorating consultant on the side.  I think providing a digital experience that clients can treasure and decide on using prints at their leisure to decorate their home may become the norm in this Facebook, Instagram, Flickr mobile age.

Be sure to check out her amazing portraits and also check out her Vimeo page for a growing array of beautiful, inspiring and heartwarming videos stories.  I'm pleased to introduce Joni to everyone, enjoy!

Name: Joni James     
Your studio/business name: Sweet Zinnias Photography          
Location: Maine
Website:  www.sweetzinniasphotography.com           
Follow her on Twitter: @sweetzinnias
Check out her on Instagram jonijames_sweetzinnias
See her work on Vimeo: vimeo.com/user16084663

Your Style

In 50 words or less, how would your clients describe your photography?
My photography is fun, bright and lighthearted. Sweet. I love capturing kids as they are. If they're shy, I let them be shy. If they're crazy, then that's what Mom's going to see in her photos! With my videos, some families are really spunky and energetic. Their films are fast paced and spirited. If the family is quiet and cuddly, theirs will show their quiet interactions, and loving moments.

Are you self-taught or classroom trained?
I've taken two black and white photography classes. One in high school and one in college. I've also taken several art classes. Photography classes are great, and its such a rich sensory experience working with film in the darkroom. Though, I really learn better on my own, and this is how I learned how to photograph kids and other people. For me, it's 85% instinctual reaction to my subject, and 15% all that technical stuff. Does that make sense?

How many years have you been a professional photographer?
My business is 3, going on 4 :)

Where do you want to take your photography business in 5 years?
I would love to be booking as many mini film sessions as portrait sessions. Maybe more! I'd also love to be working all over the state, maybe all over New England!

Is there a photographer who inspires your style?  Who would that be?
YES! Stephanie Rausser. I love her. I sat down one day to figure out why I love her photographs so much. I love the pops of color everywhere, the clean editing. But the biggest reason I find her work so fun and inspiring is because there is movement in every frame. How she crams so much entertainment into one photograph, is beyond me, but is something I strive for!

Favorite location to take photos?
Outside! Anywhere outside. Its so snowy here in the Maine mountains right now. Us photographers fit as much outside shooting as we can into the summer and fall months, because its hard to convince people to have their session in the freezing weather of winter, and mud season (spring).

Favorite vacation spot?
Our family loves to camp. So as long as there's a place to swim, we're happy to put up our tent! Our kids are 5 and 8, so they've gotten to and easy age for camping, so this summer, we're going out almost every friday for a campout! We are so excited!

Your Business

What was the pivotal moment when you decided to become a photographer?
Well, I was on my way into new student orientation for the nursing program at a local university. As I walked the halls, I saw student art work being displayed and thought “What on earth are you doing Joni? You're not a nurse! You're an artist!”. That night when I got home, I changed my major to photography. I attended for a semester and decided that it wasn't the best way for me to learn how to run my photography business. So I found a local photographer, who's name is Stacey Damon, and she mentored me and helped me on my way. I'm still so thankful for her friendship, it was the best decision!

What’s the best marketing tip that has worked for you?
Last spring, I had the pleasure of flying to Seattle and attending creativeLive with Jules and Joy Bianchi. They said that a great and honest way to market is to just be an active member of your community. Ive found that to be true! I'm an active parent at my kids' school and I'm a Girl Scout troop leader. The more you're around, the more people will know who you are. When they need a photographer, your name will be the one they think of! This is also the case for non profits. I do not mind shooting for free at an event! Passing out business cards and meeting new people, helps them put a face to the name. Arrange to have a gift voucher for a whole session placed secretly under a seat with a reveal a la Oprah, and you've got hype and excitement on your side at the event as well!

What’s the most surprising thing a customer has asked you?
My sister is probably my hardest customer! She sits over my shoulder and points out all of her flaws and makes sure she gets liquified LOL! She's horrible! But she's my sister, so I love her anyway. She's also gorgeous, so really, she makes my job pretty easy.

Favorite print lab?
I've used Mpix Pro almost exclusively, though this year I'm going completely digital and will be delivering my images via the New PASS! I'm so excited for this!

Your Gear
Are you Canon or Nikon (or –“other”):

If you could only have one lens on a photo shoot, what would it be?
When I was shooting on my cropped sensor 40D I would have said my Tamron 17-50. I loved that lens so much. So now it's just me and my 50mm 1.8 until I can buy the 24-70. Thats my next splurge. I'm a sucker for a wide angle...

What gear would we find in your camera bag?
Welp, right now I'm between cameras actually! My Canon 40D is busted and right now I'm shooting on a borrowed Nikon D90. I am saving up for a Canon 6D! You'd also find my fujifilm instax instant film camera (I take a photo with this at every session so the kids have a photo to go home with!), chocolate, 50 1.8, my wallet, some loose paperclips, post it notes, pens.

Are you a natural light fan or strobe fan?
Natural light all the way. Unless I absolutely HAVE to use a strobe. I'd like to learn more about off camera lighting though!

Are you PC or Mac?

Your Tips and Tricks

What post processing tools do you use?
Lightroom and Photoshop

Do you shoot in Raw or Jpeg?

Best advice you would give your 20-year old self?
Shoot more, worry less, dont rush things.

Best advice you would give a new photographer?
Shoot more, worry less, dont rush things :)

What site do you use for your photography and why?
I have a BRAND NEW Showit site. I'm in love with its super easy design. I can literally make ANYTHING I can dream up. Its amazing. The Plus Sites for clients are such a good tool and integrate perfectly with both my video and the PASS gallery.

What Else Should We Know?

What was your worst photography experience?
In general, its the worst when clients hire you, but do not understand your shooting style and as a result, are not happy with their images. I had a session last fall that turned out some of my favorite photographs EVER, and they were not received well. It was my fault. From now on, I will make sure that the client and I are on the same page.

What would surprise people most about you, whether it is photography related or not?
For years, I've worked part time on a goat farm making goat cheese. It's delicious.

Tell us something else you’d like us to know:
I'm DYING over video right now. It's something that I've just started offering to my clients and I LOVE it so much! I'm SO happy to have jumped in and started learning when I did. OH! I'm just SO excited about it. SO EXCITED!

And just because we want to know you, fill in the blanks
Three things I can’t live without…. God, my family, chocolate.

I wish I had more….. money to buy the gear I crave- L lenses, a Manfrotto monopod, etc...

The best thing about being a photographer is… running around with kids and capturing photos that will make their moms cry

The most important lesson I ever learned was…. I am constantly learning not to make big decisions too quickly. Of course I only learn it after I've done it. Hopefully some day I'll get it right.

My favorite time of day is…Dinner time with my family.

For a special treat, check out one of my favorite videos from Sweet Zinnia!

Brighter Than The Sun from Joni James on Vimeo.


  1. Thank you Tina! What kind words!

    1. Joni, what a wonderful interview. You're an inspiration to me and I just love your work!


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