Much More than Weddings. The Art of Being a Happy Professional Photographer
Summer is peak wedding season and no one knows it better than Caroline Tran. As a highly in-demand photographer and a busy mother of two, she’s all about streamlining her process to improve her work-life balance.
One of the nicest things about Caroline is that although she’s self taught when it comes to her style and her process, she’s unfailingly generous about sharing her insights with others. Including us.
In this installment of Made in Frame, we take a look at how this solopreneur uses the new Camera to Cloud workflow made possible by the FUJIFILM X-H2S in-camera integration, and how it helps her save time at work so she can spend more of it creating her art and living her life.
Science and art
Caroline never expressly set out to be a professional photographer. In fact, she majored in physics in college but realized in her second year that it wasn’t where her passion lay. “I was looking for classes to maintain balance, both for my sanity and enjoyment, so that’s how I started to take art classes on the side.”
She stuck it out, however, graduating with a physics major and digital art minor. And because she knew that she loved interacting with people, she went on to get her graduate degree in education and became a high school physics teacher.
“I was running a full time photography business by the end of that year while I was still teaching—and I did that for two years.”
And then she got engaged. “While I was planning the wedding I discovered the whole wedding world, and that I really love people and stories. I started photographing my coworkers’ kids for fun. And then one referral turned into another. Basically I was running a full time photography business by the end of that year while I was still teaching—and I did that for two years,” Caroline says.
Having a science background, particularly when you’re talking about something as technical as digital imaging, turned out to be helpful for her. “I wouldn’t redo my path given the opportunity,” she states. “It seems like physics is disconnected from what I do now, but I think there are a couple things from both teaching and physics that have helped me a lot.”
“The biggest thing is troubleshooting—using logic and being able to come up with different solutions quickly. That comes from my science background. I also think very methodically about the way I approach an image. In some ways it’s like doing a science lab—I have my procedures and the checklist that I go through every time.”
Caroline is more than “just” a wedding photographer. She’s also a respected brand photographer, counting Teleflora and lollaland among her clients. But more than that, she’s a photographer of life. Her photos of mothers-to-be, of children, and of families, vividly capture the emotions behind the moments. “I see time taking its toll on my own parents and it makes me realize that I want to be more intentional about regularly including them in family portraits.”
What makes Caroline’s photos stand out is exactly that intentionality. “Before creating any image I always ask myself what my purpose is in this photo—why am I trying to create this photo so it’s more than just another pretty picture?”
In the way that technology can support art, Caroline’s choice of tools is important to her ability to maintain her creative intent. But it’s not because she’s a gearhead. It’s really the opposite. “I’m not the one who’s out there shopping endlessly and comparing specs and such. So for me, the Fujifilm cameras were very intuitive—the way the ergonomics are, where the buttons are, where the functions are. It makes me not have to really think about the gear and I’m able to simply create,” she explains.
“It could be because it comes from my analog film background. I shot medium format film so when I stumbled upon the [FUJIFILM] GFX it was a very natural transition—the buttons were all in the same place, and the colors on the Fujifilm camera are very similar and familiar to what I would get when I was shooting analog film.”
“That instant feedback that I get, the instant gratification when I look at it is very validating. You know that, yes, it’s looking like what I want it to look like and requires very minimal post production.”
Expanding her horizons
Caroline is also excited about the Frame.io Fujifilm integration because she recently took up producing video content in addition to her photography. She’s now got a YouTube channel where she creates educational videos for photographers of varying skill levels. “I was using the X-T4 since it came out, but then I’ve used the X-H2S a few times since it has Camera to Cloud, and I’ve really been enjoying it,” she says.
As a result, Caroline has found herself collaborating with more people. “I started off as a photographer. I have a vision but I don’t have the technical background for it, so that’s why I’ll hire a camera operator if needed. I’ll serve more as the director. I began dabbling with [shooting video] during the pandemic and did some on my own but realized that it was much easier for me to write up a storyboard and have someone who’s already technically much more capable execute my vision,” she explains.
For similar reasons, she prefers to hire professional editors for her video projects. And that’s how she discovered Frame.io. “One of my editors sent the video back via Frame.io, and I was just blown away. It was so much easier because prior to that, the way we were working was that we were sending cuts via either a Dropbox link or a Google Drive link, and there wasn’t an easy way for me to give feedback on a video. I would have to pause the video and then note the timestamp, and then even if I’m time stamping it right, it doesn’t break it down into the exact frame. A lot can happen in one second!” she says.
“One of my editors sent the video back via Frame.io, and I was just blown away.”
“I’m trying to describe, ‘It’s like at that moment, when she blinks, can you cut?’ So that was my first time experiencing Frame.io. I was like, ‘Wow, this is great.’ Just being able to leave comments and not worry about the timestamp and not having to describe the scene I’m talking about. From that point I was basically using Frame.io with whichever editors I was working with.”
Heading to the cloud
The other pain point Caroline experienced before Frame.io had to do with exchanging assets with her editors. “I would upload all the videos to Google Drive or Dropbox and send them a link. All of my editors are remote but one or two are overseas. The problem we ran into is there’s no way of knowing whether the uploads were all complete because they go in and they just see the files. Anything that hasn’t uploaded, they won’t see,” she says.
“So now if I go back into Google Drive there’s no easy way to scrub through it because there’s no thumbnail. I’d have to click on every video, find the right video, and then copy the file name or link to the specific video and say, ‘Can you use this one instead?’ It’s just a pain.”
“What I loved about moving to Frame.io is when I’m uploading videos to my editors they can see how many are on the way and how many are left. I can quickly look through all the videos to make sure they’re there. I can make notes on my favorite videos, like ‘Make sure you include this clip,’ and it’s easy, and it’s all in one place. And if there are multiple cameras, it’s all going into the same project,” she says.
It’s also handy for her when she’s working with multiple editors. “If I have one editor doing episode one and another doing episode two, for example, they all have access to the same assets. They can collaborate easily if one is doing the intro and one is working on the body of the piece, and communicate with each other, and with me.”
A sustainable model
But it’s that overall equation of saving time and increasing creative control that is key to Caroline’s business model. “When I mentor photographers, I always tell them, ‘Don’t get hung up on the gear. They’re just tools, right?’ But the right tools can make it easier to get the job done. You can hammer in a nail using a screwdriver, but your life would be a lot more efficient if you did it with a hammer.”
Caroline, like other solopreneurs, is only successful if she delivers a project. That’s part of why the tools that make it easier to do so are so valuable.
“Sometimes things never make it out of post production if you don’t have a good system. I was able to do things pre-Frame.io, sure. But it might have taken twice as long and cost twice as much in terms of headaches and stress,” she says.
“I have a business course called ‘Like Nobody’s Business’ and it’s about how to streamline your process so it’s taking the least amount of brainpower and giving you more capacity to do the creative stuff, the stuff that’s really driving your business, driving your brand.”
“And the more these tools can take off of your brain, the more capacity you free yourself up to even just free time in life, right? To go enjoy life rather than being behind the computer and pulling your hair out trying to collaborate with an editor, for example. A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you do it all?’ I don’t do it all on my own. It takes a village, so to speak, but you need a system to get that village working together.”
The next wave
As a 15-year veteran in the photography business, Caroline may not get into the weeds with technology but she does pay attention to trends. “There’s a ton of technology, and you can’t jump on everything because there are also lots of fads that come and go. You have to have an open mind, and I’m always open to new products and new ideas, but I also scrutinize them and make sure that they fit into the longevity of my workflow,” she says.
Currently, Caroline shoots her portrait photographs in medium format using the FUJIFILM GFX. But, she says, she envisions a time when Camera to Cloud is integrated into most cameras and is hopeful to see integrations with Adobe Lightroom and Imagen-AI that could create an ideal workflow of the not-too-distant future.
“I’m always open to new products and new ideas, but I also scrutinize them and make sure that they fit into the longevity of my workflow.”
Caroline already relies on Imagen to save her an enormous amount of time editing the hundreds of photos she might shoot in a given session. Because Imagen’s AI tools are trained by her Lightroom parameters, it can automatically cull photos and adjust for exposure, contrast, white balance (and more). Once the heavy lifting is done, Caroline can easily go back into Lightroom to make any final adjustments.
“I’ll always go in to give my personal touch to the album or fine-art photos,” she says. “But if you think about a wedding where you have lots of guests who want to see themselves you could, for example, put a QR code onto the invitation or menu or any of the paper products at the wedding that would link to a personal gallery. The guests could scan the code and as soon as the images are ready they’ll be able to see them edited in the gallery. They can have instant gratification.”
And, of course, there’s the ratio of effort to output. “Last week I shot three portrait sessions and a wedding.” That said, Caroline does point out that internet connectivity and speeds are still a limitation when shooting and uploading RAW. “If I’m just shooting reception photos, the proxies for video and JPEGs for photos are high quality enough,” she says. “But if I’m doing portraits and photos of the immediate family, I’m shooting RAW.”
Meanwhile, because she also shoots video for weddings, her assistant uploads those clips to Frame.io for her editor, who’s on a different continent, and can start working with the files immediately.
As a brand photographer who has actually captured some of Fujifilm’s launch campaigns, Caroline got to test out a loaner X-H2S and try the Camera to Cloud integrations before it became widely available. Her immediate impression?
“I think Camera to Cloud is definitely something that’s going to be the next wave. I think new cameras are going to try to jump on this wave as well, so adopting it early just means that you are ready for it,” she says.
All of this echoes something we’ve said in many an article over the years: the people who adopt new technologies early are the ones who find themselves having both a competitive advantage and an easier time integrating new products into their workflows—and sometimes even find themselves able to influence a product roadmap as it’s being developed.
At Frame.io, we take our customers’ input very seriously, and learn so much from your insights and use cases. In this case, the most important thing we learned from Caroline is that she is deeply empathic when it comes to her subjects. She describes how she photographs couples who go from first being engaged to getting married, and capturing the changes in them as they become one.
Or about how she helps aging women see their beauty, not just their wrinkles. She talks about new mothers, and how their capacity to love expands as they have their babies, and about one woman who, immediately postpartum, she connected with so profoundly that they cried together during the photo shoot.
If you look at Caroline’s work, you see the beauty of the images but you also feel the emotion behind it. Which, of course, she would capture with any camera. But the fact that we can help her achieve a better work-life balance while making her clients so happy?
Picturing that puts a smile on our faces.