Chenin Boutwell describes photography as her “perfect career” and if you read her interview and visit her website you can see just how passionate she is about her work both in her words & images. Chenin is one of these people that you warm to immediately and would love to meet in person! She’s had a busy year with setting up a new studio, re-branding herself, launching Totally Rad Actions with Doug and an Anti-workshop so we’re more than grateful to her for putting together an interview for DBUI and sharing her work with us.
And if you’re wondering, Chenin Boutwell really is delightful!
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve been shooting for about 5 or 6 years now. I’ve shot weddings that entire time!
When you graduated from law school, why did you decide to take up photography instead of following a career in law? Any regrets?!
I shot weddings all through law school. During my second year in law school, I attended WPPI and the DWF Convention – it was life-changing. I met all sorts of people who were making a living at shooting weddings and being a lawyer was sounding less and less appealing. I came home from Vegas to a message on my answering machine. It was the Public Defender’s office and they had a job for me that, two weeks before, was my dream job. I felt physically ill at the thought of working as a lawyer and I knew I would never be happy if I quit photography and took up lawyering. I promptly announced to my parents and family that I was going to finish law school, but I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. I have not regretted it for one day!
Especially during the busy wedding season, how do you keep yourself motivated & your photography fresh?
This is so hard! I get a little stale sometimes, but I remind myself that it beats the hell out of spending my days chatting with clients in their jail cells! In all seriousness, I like to give myself little challenges. If I’m feeling a bit stale, I will challenge myself to make an awesome shot of the bride with her dad, or a really cool image of the bridal party. Or sometimes, if there’s a print competition I want to participate it, I will strive to make one image that is worthy of entering. I think, in photography, like in life, you have to challenge yourself every day, or it gets really boring really fast.
What (or who) has inspired, & continues to inspire, your work?
I love all kinds of photography, so I tend to pour over images everywhere I go. I stare intently at billboards, I study magazines, I analyze the way my favorite movies and tv shows are shot. I am inspired, in one way or another, by every image that I see. But was really inspires me is how some people approach life and business. It’s no secret that John and Dalisa Cooper are my best friends in the world. That’s because they are committed to living life to its fullest and are fearless when it comes to photography and business. I am inspired by the folks who attend The Anti-Workshops (affectionately referred to as, The Anti-Crew), because they have proven that, if we help one another, we can all improve our images, our businesses and our spirits.
Do you have a catchphrase/buzz word to describe your studio and what prompted this choice?
Earlier this year, when I transitioned from being a husband-wife team to just being me, I decided to completely re-brand Boutwell Studio. I knew I wanted something that reflected my style and my personality – retro, full of life and a bit irreverent. I have always had a fascination with under-used or archaic words – words no one uses any more – and I’ve always loved the word “delightful.” It just makes me smile. So I decided, as part of my new brand, I would include the word. It’s been a great success and it’s so fun to try and incorporate it, subtly, in to everything I do.
This year, Doug, your husband, is concentrating more on different aspects of photography such as fashion. Is this a route you plan to take eventually or is your “delightful wedding photography” here to stay?
I am here to stay! One of the things I love about wedding photography is that I get to shoot real, everyday people! The thought of shooting models, or shooting for an Art Director, just doesn’t appeal to me. Doug is a rule-breaker by nature and he disliked the rules and expectations that exist for wedding photographers. For me, the rules bug me sometimes, but I prefer to subtly and gradually subvert them 😉
Tell us one way you marketed your business when you first began and one way you market yourself now.
My strategy has been the same from Day One – be a kind person, with a reputation for excellent customer service, and make pretty pictures. If you have those two things, and make an effort to get yourself out there, you’ll do just fine! I attend lots of industry parties and mixers, make an effort to reach out to new people in the wedding world, and live by those two rules. Super simple.
What do you say or do to put your clients at ease in front of the camera?
I am a huge dork. I think that helps a lot. I chat with them, laugh with them, ask them about pets/family/jobs – anything to get them to forget that the camera is there. A lot of people comment that my work is very natural and that my subjects seem at ease; I think that is just a result of treating each client like a friend and creating a playful, easy-going atmosphere at every shoot.
You and your husband have put together one of the most talked about action sets amongst wedding photographers. What is it about Totally Rad actions that sets it apart from the rest?
I could talk about these for days! The set evolved out of our daily workflow. People started emailing and calling and asking questions about how we achieved certain looks in Photoshop, so we decided to make the actions available to other photographers. When we created them, we had never seen or used any other action sets (we’re very do-it-yourself!), which I think is a real asset. We created a set of tools that can be used at different strengths, that can be combined, that can be customized by each photographer to create their own “look” – the Totally Rad Actions aren’t your typical “throw a filter on it and call it a day” actions, they are a tool designed to help each photographer bring his/her images to fruition.
They are also damn fast for workflow! I shoot and process roughly 45 weddings and 25 portraits a year, do all my own retouching and free-hand design albums for every shoot. I could not do it without the TRA!
What action in the set do you use most?
I love Boutwell Magic Glasses – I think it’s so much better than simply sharpening and adding contrast to your images. I also love the Black and White Actions – I feel like my black and whites have really improved with the actions.
Can you show us some recent before and after images using this set and tell us which actions were used?
You, Doug, John and Dalisa Cooper run the Anti-Workshop. If someone were deciding which workshop to attend, why should they consider the anti-workshop?
Let me first say that The Anti-Workshop is not for everyone. It’s for photographers who know how to use their gear and know how to run a business, but are just looking for that extra little sparkle in life, photography and business. The Anti-Workshop is very intensive and we ask photographers to really step outside of their comfort zone; we ask them to push their work, to toss away any judgment of others and themselves, and to give 1000% for 3 days. It’s so incredibly rewarding to see people experiment and play and make friends. I am really proud to say that we have formed a little family – the Coopers, the Boutwells, and The Anti-Crew – and that everyone, including myself, has really improved their lives and their art. It also helps to have a healthy tolerance for alcohol and punk music.
Do you take time out to photograph for yourself? If so, what kind of things do you tend to shoot?
I wish I had time…. This year has been a tough transition and has left very little time for any personal work. I think, honestly, teaching is what I do for myself. I get so much from teaching The Anti-Workshop, and from those little opportunities to meet/help/learn from other photographers.
What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
Be true to yourself! If you are truly genuine, decisions about what to shoot, how to shoot, how to brand and market yourself – all of it – becomes so easy. Plus, it sucks to be constantly trying to be someone else. I have a saying that I use almost daily – “whatever package you come in, put a bow on it!”
What advice do you have for photographers who have been in the industry for a while now?
I would tell more seasoned photographers to toss aside their feelings of entitlement, competitiveness and complacency and to step it up. There are new and better photographers coming in to the market every day and they will put us out of business if we don’t learn to share with them, connect with them and be challenged by them. A rising tide raises all ships….
Have you made any new year’s resolutions for your business? in your personal life?
Have more fun. Recycle more. Spend more time with the people I love.
Which photographer would you like to shoot with for a day & why?
Ooooh…. so hard. Probably David LaChapelle – I love his color, his intensity and I have a feeling it would be a party.
Here are some of Chenin’s favorite images from 2007:
And finally we asked Chenin to show us a set of images from one of her personal favorite weddings of last year: