2016 Review: Living in the Flow

posted on: April 12, 2017

When I do year-end reviews, I often look back at my calendar to see what actually happened during the year.  2016 was the first year I committed my efforts exclusively to commercial work for small and large businesses rather than primarily for private individuals.  No weddings.  No engagements.  I still ended up with some portraits and some events, but my focus was entirely Architecture & Interior clients.  Rather than photographing tons of small jobs and having a full schedule all the time as I had in my first full year of being in NYC, I weighted my work toward medium and larger jobs so that I could have flexibility and availability for more boutique commercial clients who need some additional flexibility in scheduling and rescheduling.

NYC Architecture & Interior Photography by Anne Ruthmann Photography

When I put it into numbers based on projects, it was many fewer projects.  However, each one of those projects was much larger in scope both in shooting and editing than the many small jobs I was doing last year.  The ways I gave back and helped others in between those jobs definitely filled up more of my calendar than years passed and helped me get through the crazy ups and downs of the 2016 political election cycle when it felt like everyone was collectively holding their breath about what would come next.

Here's a business breakdown by client type:
13 Residential Interior Design
9 Residential Renovation
9 Residential Rental/Real Estate
8 Image Licensing Clients
5 Business Portraits
4 Commercial Architecture Events
4 Tradeshow Booths & Products
3 Performing Arts Centers
2 Medical Labs & Research Facilities
2 Commercial Office Spaces
2 Retail Locations
2 Family Portraits
1 Social Media Sponsorship
1 Art Installation Documentation
1 Construction Time Lapse

Awards / Publicity:
AIANY New Work New York Exhibit - NY Aquarium Shark Tank w/ Jim Czajka & Stephen Taylor
The Digest - Design & Real Estate w/ Houseplay Renovations


Clients:
10 Returning Clients
14 New Clients

Professional Development:
30 Networking Meetings & Events
6 Architecture & Design Talks
4 Business Development Workshops
1 Photographer Retreat

NYC Architecture & Interior Photography by Anne Ruthmann Photography

Professional Giving

Whenever possible, I prefer to give creative contribution that can help other people raise more money than I alone would be able to donate directly.  Professional giving has always been a part of my work and often bridges the gap between sharing my talents and knowledge to help others when I'm not teaching, and doing creative projects that are mutually beneficial for the people I work with.  Professional giving keeps me creating and giving in ways that regularly align with my goals and passions.

Professional Giving Stats:
24 Hours of Photography & Image Production Donated to Non-Profits
(Notable: Images Donated to New York Philharmonic Archives for Inside Mahler 6 Demo)
18 Business Articles & Interviews for PhotoLovecat.com (72 Hrs)
15 Hours Hosting Networking Events for Creative Entrepreneurs

NYC Architecture & Interior Photography by Anne Ruthmann Photography

Business Growth

This year I took a deep dive into the complications of commercial pricing and licensing.  I ran into quite a few situations where I really came to see the value and importance of licensing images individually for commercial work so that each party that has access to images understand the other stakeholders for those images.  It certainly makes pricing, negotiating, and delivery more complex, however, it offers much more protection and value for designers and craftsmen who are creating unique work.  Everyone always wants the best value for their money, and licensing allows me to provide very customized solutions that don't force small businesses to pay for things they don't need, and allows me to provide custom solutions for non-profits and other budget-driven institutions.

I originally had set an intention of bringing on 30 new clients, however, when my schedule got very busy with recurring clients, I was so grateful I didn't bring on more to serve at that time.  I have some outsourcing solutions that I trust and feel confident using, however, there were also times when I needed to redo work, which set me back.  It's such a delicate dance in this industry because you want to have a dedicated team that you work with, however, the fluctuating nature of the work makes it a challenge to maintain a dedicated team unless you're building a large business full of clients who don't need schedule flexibility, don't need personal service, and don't need high-quality or accountability.

Once my former professional photography lab and online delivery solution closed shop in 2015, I had to rush to find an easy solution for image storage online and image delivery, and the easiest/fastest solution I found at the time was Dropbox.  This worked for commercial clients for a while, but often color accuracy was terrible on PDF files, which was disturbing for design clients when they checked a PDF online and saw terrible color accuracy.  Then Dropbox became inconsistent in their service and support while I ran into too many situations where clients had a difficult time downloading imagery, so I vowed to test and trial a new solution in 2017 - and so far, PhotoShelter is working out much better for my clients.  Any time there is a pain point in the business process that creates a frustrating and negative experience for a client, the number one priority is to solve it and make it better.

NYC Architecture & Interior Photography by Anne Ruthmann Photography

Reiki Journey

In 2015, I had started studying Reiki at the New York Open Center - not really sure what I would be doing with it or how I wanted to use it beyond my own energetic self-care and self-healing.  If you've followed my blog for a while, you've seen me write about various experiences in Reiki.  In 2016 my journey through this work surprised me by continuing onto the Reiki Master level (surprising because it was entirely driven by unexpected gifts and circumstances) and during the times when my working schedule wasn't busy, I accepted more Distance Reiki & Hands-On Reiki clients.

I also became ordained as a spiritual practitioner in New York City, which was not something on my radar when the year started at all either - another surprise, even to myself.  Reiki is considered a type of spiritual practice (but not a religious practice and not in conflict with religious practices), and occasionally when I do Reiki, there is some form of energetic and spiritual counseling involved when certain energetic signals or sensations come up during a session.  The most beautiful part about my journey with Reiki is simply being and letting it unfold in whatever way it wants to.  I appreciate that I don't have to make it my main source of income, but I do create a space in which to be compensated for my time, training, and dedication to the practice and my own energetic clarity, and that all of the work I do is flexible enough to allow everything to happen in the flow of life as it needs to.

Since I did take on a few Reiki clients this year, I might as well document them as well so I can see how things change from year to year here as well, quite a few of these were exchanges with other Reiki practitioners, but they are all part of my master level certification and professionalization of practice...

16 Reiki Sessions
6 Reiki Clients
1 Reiki Circle @ Yoga/Business Retreat

I ended 2016 wondering if I should establish a Reiki Circle or Reiki Sharing community in my neighborhood, but the desire never rose to the level of making a commitment to something people could count on, so it still remains a possibility but not an actualization.  I was able to practice a different type of Reiki Circle that I had an idea about, but wasn't sure if it would work, and to my surprise, it still had a profound energetic affect to the level that other non-reiki practitioners could feel and experience for themselves.  I did apply to practice Reiki privately in other spaces that felt good, welcoming, and professionally prepared.  As of this writing in 2017, I am now approved to practice Reiki at the New York Open Center- which I'm delighted to share with new Reiki clients.

NYC Architecture & Interior Photography by Anne Ruthmann Photography

Business Consulting

I did many fewer photography conferences and photo-industry specific networking events this year, I hosted no workshops for creatives or photographers and I generally poured all of my professional attention into my Commercial Photography or Reiki.  Surprisingly, I still took on two consulting clients, but with ample flexibility to allow them to schedule on an extended time frame, rather than sticking to a strict schedule.  If Business Consulting were my primary business and source of income, there's no way I'd be this flexible with these long-term consulting contracts, but only having a couple or few consulting clients at a time makes it manageable to schedule in consulting days between days when I'm not working on larger commercial projects.  As a creative, I value being able to allow consulting clients to operate in creative ways as well, and creativity doesn't always happen on a strict deadline.

8 Business Consulting Sessions
2 Business Consulting Clients

NYC Architecture & Interior Photography by Anne Ruthmann Photography

Business Overall

My biggest fear moving fully into commercial photography was initially not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from, or who it's coming from.  The wedding cycle allowed me to know 9-12 months in advance what my income would look like and if I should hustle or market a little harder to make things happen.  Having a large client who provided many small jobs on retainer gave me a security blanket in 2015 that I completely let go of in 2016.  In commercial photography, I hardly know what my income is going to look like next week, let alone 6 months from now.  Operating at this level of flow and trust in the universe is a very different way of living in the world than the one I grew up in.

For most people, this level of unpredictability would be stressful and destabilizing.  The practice of really living the Reiki principal of "just for today, do not worry" has helped immensely.  It has motivated me to save more and project regular expenses more, but I'm still always operating under the assumption that nothing is guaranteed and every client is important.  It puts the emphasis on developing mutually beneficial recurring client relationships and always providing great customer service and quality of imagery- which have always been the cornerstone of my business- but are even more important now.

In the end, it hasn't been as scary or inconsistent as I thought it would be.  The scariest thing is banking too much on one large client and putting all eggs in that client basket at the rejection of other clients.  Much like financial markets, diversity of clients is key to sustainability and continued success. When a business becomes too dependent on a major client, one small change in employment can throw years of relationship building out the window.  That actually did happen in 2016, but because I had plenty of other clients I was serving, it was only a small blip on the radar rather than a devastating blow to my ability to keep doing this creative work professionally that so many other people consider a hobby.

Untitled

Travel

Every time business gets really difficult or messy, I consider whether I need to give it up and work for someone else, and every time I make that consideration, I renew my motivation to digging into the challenges at hand because they are worth the freedom and flexibility to do this work and have the freedom to travel and be with out of state family when possible.

I traveled more during the year than I had expected would be possible and was able to combine work, personal time with family, and adventuring around new cities in ways that brought a greater balance and purpose to all of the travels.  Most of the trips I took this year had costs that could be shared with family and business clients, and that made it possible to travel more than I would have alone.

21 New Cities/Sites:
Denver, Colorado
Paris, France
Versailles, France
Glen Spey, New York
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland
Glasgow, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Luss, Loch Lomond, Scotland
Falkirk, Scotland
Sands Point, New York
New Hyde Park, New York
Montgomery, New York
Dover, New York
Doylestown, PA
Virginia Beach, VA
Voss, Norway
Flam, Norway
Borgund, Norway
Sogndal, Norway

Returned to:
Dublin, Ireland
Bergen, Norway
Kansas City, Missouri
Detroit, Michigan

Some of this travel was funded by another Enterprise CarShare Sponsorship in 2016 for paid trips and CarShare Rentals in exchange for social media imagery and mentions.  There are a lot of businesses that like to partner with active and influential social media accounts, but not all are good fits for the accounts they're pitching to.  Enterprise Car Share happens to line up with my love of road adventures and occasional need to get out of NYC, so it's a great fit for both of us.  I wouldn't able to live off sponsorships like this, but being able to travel more with them makes it worth doing occasionally.

Selfie in Versailles Garden

Personal Growth

I always debate whether to include the personal stuff, but my business is a very personal business, and it's often hard for the business and personal stuff not to have an affect on the other.  To deny the mutual connection is to fail to see the opportunities for growth and improvement on both ends.

Going through the Reiki Master Training was part personal development and part professional development as a spiritual practitioner, but since all spiritual development is personal development whether you're practicing professionally or not, I consider it part of a larger healing journey and never assume the personal study and development is done or fully mastered.

There are the things I can learn from my own healing, and there are things I can learn from working with others who are in a healing process, and they are often very different since each person has a different set of life experiences.  Friends who go through Yoga Teacher Training say the same thing and don't always come out of it wanting to build a Yoga practice or studio, but are always grateful for the experience.

2016 seemed like a larger healing journey for many people, especially as they came into awareness of how divisive views among friends and family hurt us all during the election cycle.  It was hard to rise above the divisive nature of what was happening during the election, but because of that, we all became more aware of how far we still need to go as a world in being more accepting, compassionate, and welcoming of the world around us.

Singing with Choral Chameleon has been one of the regularly healing and connecting activities outside of reiki practice and meditation, no matter what is happening politically.  When people come to our concerts, they often experience an emotional or energetic release themselves by simply being there in the presence of music being sung and shared, which speaks to the power and spiritual connection we can all have through music even if it has absolutely no religious affiliation or connection.  Most of our concerts offer us opportunities to commission and premier new choral works, and in 2016 we did a new work featuring a traditional yiddish story about gossip (video of the work below)


It took a lot more time to reflect on last year because I started 2017 with a lot more travel than usual, and it seems like it may become a trend for this year depending on how various projects pan out.  One thing is sure about this job and how it impacts my life - I rarely know what's around the corner - but I'm finally in a place where I'm totally cool with just living in the flow of life and not having or creating too many expectations about what's next down the road.  It makes it easier to be flexible for  my clients, myself, and my family.

Goals?  I used to have goals to aim for and measure, now those goals are more around ways of being.  To appreciate each day as it comes, each client as they come, each job as it comes, each moment for peace as it comes, each opportunity as it comes, and to be ready for the unexpected at all times with open arms and clarity of purpose and contribution.  To continue living as fully as possible in all aspects of my life without too many expectations or limitations around what that should look like.  Unpredictable.  Radical.  Vibrant.  Unrestrained.  Living.  Being.  Flow.

Norwegian Winter & Viking Stave Churches - Travel Log

posted on: February 6, 2017

I had set out from Bergen, Norway to attempt to capture Northern Lights and the historic Stave Churches of the 12th Century.  I had been monitoring the aurora activity and my timing aligned with an active sun spot known to produced geomagnetic events full of beautiful multicolored auroras.  I knew that I might be too far south, and that the weather might be too cloudy to get the results I was hoping for, and yet I was dedicated to making the most of whatever conditions were presented to me along the journey...


What nature provided was cold, wet, foggy, and alternating between sleet and snow during my drive.  The roads were slippery, which meant going half speed around winding mountainsides and feeling like I might never reach my destination before I'd have to turn back.

I drove for nearly 24 hours straight through the inner rural land of Norway.  I found myself hypnotized by the long mountain tunnel lights with little more to look at than the passing of florescent beams overhead and grey mountain tunnel walls.  The only people I encountered were tunnel workers, ferry workers, and the restaurant staff at AEgir Brewpub Flamsbrygga who provided a welcome respite from the dark winter isolation that comes with venturing off alone into the country when others stay cozy in their fireside homes.

In an attempt to get above the cloud line, I drove up two different mountainsides.  The first time near the town of Flåm, resulted in my car being stuck in 2ft of snow as the depth of the ground under the snow cover did not match the rest of the road.  I was alone on the side of a mountain with no shovel and no help.  Just me, the bitter mountainside wind, and two right side tires lodged into deep snow.  No cell service, no wifi.  The closest home I could see if I needed to knock on the door was at least a mile down the side of the mountain on icy road.  After a significant amount of shoveling with my boots and rocking the car back and forth to pack the snow for greater traction, I did get that car unstuck and made it safely back down the mountain.  Despite this setback, I was still determined to see if another mountain top opportunity allowed for clear sky views.  The cloud cover was low and made it appear as though an opening could still be found above.

In another attempt to get above the cloud line, I headed toward the Sogndal Airport which appeared to be on top of a mountain.  I thought, surely an airport road will be well-cared for to allow safe passage to the top of the mountain.  Half way up, my car stopped moving forward and started sliding backward on ice, even as my wheels spun forward.  My heart started racing- how far back would it slide before stopping?  Would I be able to control the direction of a backward moving car being pulled by gravity?  Would the rear end be stopped and potentially crushed by trees or would I miss them all and go over the mountain?  I asked spirit for help.

The car stopped.  I took a deep breath and collected myself and evaluated my options.  There was no safe place to turn around and the ice left me little promise of how much control I might have while turning.  Either I continued to attempt forward momentum and overcome this icy stretch, or I reversed with less control.  I inched forward, slid back further, inched forward, slid back further, and then inched forward again until the tires finally caught enough traction to recover all the forward momentum I'd lost and helped me reach the top of the mountain, albeit with white knuckles and knotted stomach.  I just felt happy to be alive.

Never once did a car come from the opposite direction or from behind.  The airport was not open and no flights were due in or out until the morning.  The whole reason I endured two snowy icy mountain climbs was lost to more clouds.  The clouds were too thick to see the night sky and by this time, I could not wait hours for clouds to pass because the drive back would likely take just as much time and I needed to return the car to the city by a certain time and get some much needed rest.

Just as I was feeling completely defeated, now realizing my next task would be to safely descend the mountain's icy roads without losing control of the car, my phone started sending me alerts.  The outside world reminded me that I wasn't really alone in this moment of defeat. Apparently there was an open WiFi connection at the airport and the phone had automatically connected.  How should I take advantage of this brief moment of connection with the outside world I had along this journey?

At the very least, I could send an update to family about my circumstance and suggest how long they should wait to hear from me again before being concerned about my safety.  I updated my digital maps and GPS orientation, viewed the roads I might take back and what different challenges they might present.  I figured out how tell the tunnel roads apart from the regular roads on the map to avoid the many tunnels that made it difficult to stay awake and focused on the road.  I checked the satellite cloud cover movement and reached resolve that I would not see Northern Lights on this trip.  That resolution also gave me the renewed drive to widen my focus from being so narrow and capture what normally would not be available in more ideal conditions.

The trip back down the mountain unfolded with much more control.  I stayed slow and measured, never letting gravity control the car so that the tires could always grip some part of the road and ice.  Slow and steady.  Meter by meter.  Safely back to flat ground and to finish the rest of this journey, embracing more of what nature would allow in the conditions provided, rather than what my humanistic determination would seek to force upon nature.  I was grateful I was safe, still had plenty of gas, working heat in the car, and renewed alertness to continue moving forward now 14 hours into my journey into rural Norwegian winter.

Having fully accepted that Northern Lights would likely not be possible, I turned my attention to the Stave Churches along my path, preserved and occasionally reconstructed faithfully by modern architects and historic preservationists.  Anything I could get of a few Stave Churches would be better than returning empty handed without images to show for all the effort and problem solving I'd already invested into this trip.

When I considered how much time I had left before I needed to drive back to Bergen, it became clear that my only opportunity to photograph any of the historic Viking Church designs in the middle of the country was going to need to happen in the dark.  Not just in the dark, but in the freezing cold winter dark.  This also meant standing outside for long periods of time to monitor long exposures, as well as battery and camera performance in freezing cold weather.  So be it.  These are the conditions I would need to create something beautiful in, regardless of what I had originally intended.

When I arrived at the Borgund Stave Church, the only light available to separate the dark church from the dark sky was essentially the light of the partial moon reflecting off the snow at a low angle.  There were a few spotlights designed to highlight  one portion of the back of the building, but not the side of the building that was most appealing to me and what I wanted to create.  The newly fallen snow covered any previous tracks left behind in the cemetery, creating a perfect blanket on which the headstones could form leading lines in the foreground to compliment the converging mountain sides falling to the river behind the church.  I found my position and was able to support the long-exposures with the stability of the stone fence and my camera resting on my gloves while my bare hands went back into my pockets.



This was the only shot that was worth all of this- and I'm still working on making it better in post-production.  What I started with was muddy and dark without much distinction between sky and mountain.  Each exposure needed to be at least 30seconds, even at ISO 25600 and f/8 for as much light and depth as possible.  Luckily the sky had cleared just enough that even though stars were not quite visible to my human eyes, the camera was able to pick up their subtle light with such a long exposure and sensitive sensor setting.  After 15 minutes of perfecting my settings and angles, my entire body started to feel the numbness of frostbite beginning to creep in, sending me back into my car to warm up and move on to find the other Stave Churches in the area.

The next Stave Church worth visiting seemed not too far away on the map, just across the river, but in the sleet and snow, curved mountainside roads, waiting for a ferry in the middle of the night when service was sparse, and getting lost a few times along the way, it actually took another 2.5 hours to access.  Time was running short and the delirium of being awake for so long in the darkness was starting to wear on me.

When I finally reached the Kaupanger Stave Church, the light on the front of the building was almost too bright to create a proper long exposure image with enough detail.  However, if I stopped down my aperture a bit more, I knew that light might also help provide some additional light for the scene.  Again, I set up on a stone fence, protected the camera with my gloves, and tested different long exposures until I could create one with enough clarity and detail to work with in post-production.



After the challenges of getting the car unstuck from snow, traveling up and down a mountainside full of ice, and resolving to do my best with what the night sky and darkness could allow, I decided to head back to Bergen on a different scenic route, hoping the soon to arrive sunrise would provide some beautiful river and mountain views along the way.

The extended forecast of rain and sleet did not provide the beautiful views I'd hoped for at all during the rest of my stay.  Instead, I resolved to spend the rest of my time in Norway documenting and participating in the Hygge activities that keep native Norwegians happy and healthy in the winter months.  I can assure you that driving icy roads and standing outside in the cold dark alone for a night exposure of an old Viking Church was nowhere on any of my Norwegian friend's lists of things they wanted to do.  Such nonsense is only for the madness of an inspired and determined photographer.

The Competition Illusion - Gratitude Journal

posted on: January 9, 2017

The election cycle added a renewed level of divisiveness, competitiveness, and intolerance into our American culture and ideas of freedom.  It's not like it isn't there all along, we just seem to get extra divisive when it comes to politics as we seek to define governing philosophy for such a diverse country of people and interests.  Our dominant two party political system with one winner takes all electorates, our competitive team against team finals bracket sports culture, and even our survivor reality show mentality all strive to create a culture of winners and losers, and increased competitiveness... but at what cost?

Where are the examples of civility and working together to make everyone stronger?  Examples of how compromise, listening, and negotiating in situations actually create more winners and mutually beneficial situations rather than people having to vote each other off of the imaginary island until we find ourselves alone, doing it all by ourself, and without any friends or family?  Does anyone actually want to be the lonely sole survivor?

Ceiling Curves and Creative Tiling - Gustavo Tile NYC City Hall

This idea of competition is something that we create and cultivate.  Life is actually far more rich, rewarding, balanced, and fun when we can share it peacefully with people who have a variety of views and cultural backgrounds.  If we can listen to one another without claiming that we are right and someone else is wrong, and instead, simply acknowledge that there are many different ways of looking at the world and that it's reasonable to have different perspectives based on different life experiences, we can approach people with different perspective more kindly and fairly rather than trying to determine who is a winner or loser in their ideals.

As a musician, I came to understand that a work of music was far more powerful when everyone was using their individual instrument or voice to their own personal best, while learning how to blend and harmonize it with everyone else around them.  When we were all able to achieve that together, the result was transformational for the audience and for us as musicians because together we created something far more amazing than any one of us would have been able to create alone- and we were all winners in the process.  No one had to be a loser in order for everyone to be a winner.  A collaboration that honors individual and diverse contributions creates a more beautiful gestalt.

One candle can light thousands of other candles, and it doesn't need to be extinguished in order for another candle to be lit.  If we can help light each other's candle, without diminishing our own or anyone else's, we can create a world that is less about competition and more about cooperation. When more people can see themselves as winners through mutual collaboration rather than through creating enemies or losers, we can work toward creating even more peace and abundance for all people rather than just a few.

This abundant sphere was designed to be shared for mutual benefit.  The ocean touches millions of people on thousands of shores without bias or deference for one shore or one people.  Can we find our bodies, made of 75% water to adopt the same level of welcoming as the ocean does at every shore?  The air we breathe is shared by all and we must find ways to continually make it clean and healthy while also working with industries that support our other wants and comforts.  While we think we own the land, it is only cultivated and built upon by people for certain durations of time, but it is mother nature and larger planetary forces which ultimately determine what is kept and destroyed over time, making it even more important to be in touch with how we all share our natural resources with each other and with the world at large.

I am grateful to have traveled the world as a witness to the many ways we can live cooperatively by recognizing ways to balance the many different needs of people and the planet.  I look forward to more of that awareness increasing with the hope that societies and governments around the world can become less focused on competition and more focused on collaboration.

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