This Wedding Photographer Turned His Passion Into a Career
Sometimes your passion isn’t your day job.
When wedding photographer Aaron Najera first moved to the beautiful island of Maui in Hawaii, like most young people, he just needed a job to make ends meet. In fact, Aaron had never even held a DSLR before. Like so many photographers, his love and appreciation for this craft evolved over time.
What started out as a part-time gig selling DSLR cameras at Sears, turned into a full fledged love of photography and a part-time career that Aaron never even imagined he’d be doing one day.
We fell in love with Aaron’s work and creative journey. So we sat down to chat with him about this winding road we call life, and also about photography, making connections with your clients, editing, and how to turn your passion into a career.
You kind of stumbled into being a wedding photographer, how did that happen?
When I first moved to Maui from San Diego, I had to find a job just to support myself. I got a job in the electronics department at Sears, despite completely failing the interview. After one awkward encounter—a couple came in looking for a camcorder and I knew nothing about camcorders, so my sales pitch involved me just reading the information card back to them word for word—I decided to learn everything I could about every DSLR.I wrote down the model number of every single camera that we had on display and went home and researched it. Soon, I was the go-to guy for all camera related questions in the department.
That was a turning point. I finally realized, living in a place as beautiful as Maui, and having accrued all of this knowledge, that I should get a camera of my own. So I bought my very first DSLR, a Nikon D5100.
I wanted to get into landscape photography. My ultimate goal was to one day open a gallery here on the island and fill it with the landscape work that I was so passionate about. Wedding photography was something I never saw myself doing. But when an acquaintance needed a photographer for their wedding, and they asked me to do it, I tried my hand at it. The rest is kind of history. And fate, there’s always that too.
Take us through your workflow from sorting to editing
After uploading the photos, I spend a couple of hours culling, which is basically me flagging the good/workable photos and tossing the junk ones. After culling, I break up the amount of images I’ve flagged into quarters and I take my time editing them. I work with presets a lot and usually I’ll find one that works well with the overall theme and vibe from the wedding. After applying it, I then make my own adjustments to the exposure and colors.
Then I batch edit the photos in bunches and I go through each photo, straighten the horizon, heal any blemishes and move on. It usually takes me about 1-2 weeks to edit and deliver my photos to my clients.
How has Palette enhanced your workflow?
I was excited to try Palette Gear because I felt like it would make photo editing fun and more immersive than using a mouse and keyboard.
The thought of learning all of the keyboard shortcuts for Lightroom sounded unappealing. Palette allows me to put the keyboard away in the drawer and just use my two hands freely and creatively. It’s very satisfying, especially paired with my wireless Logitech G602 mouse. It allows me to hotkey different functions as well so I am truly keyboard-less when I edit.
My brother is an artist and I’ve always been fascinated with his ability to use the physical mediums of a paint brush/pencil/charcoal and create something beautiful with his hands. For me, Palette is now my physical medium that allows me to control and manipulate art with my hands.
Your setup is our workspace goals. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I just built my custom computer in the summer of 2018. RGB lighting was a huge component to the build and that’s what attracted me to Palette, aside from it’s functionality. Loupedeck was an editing controller I was looking to buy, but I didn’t like the fact that it is basically just a black board with a bunch of knobs and buttons, kind of like my keyboard! No LEDs, no cool lights or anything. Purchasing the Palette was a no brainer!
How do you have your Palette kit set up?
I use Lightroom, Photoshop, and Premiere Pro with my Palette. I have two Lightroom profiles, one for culling images and the other for batch editing.
My favorite function when editing has to be my Shift/Sync dial. Right now I’ve got one of my dials set that if I turn it clockwise it’ll sync photos with the command prompt. Counter clockwise it will sync with no prompt and then with pressing down on the dial, I use it to select the batch of photos I want to sync. That and control are my most utilized functions. I also have one dial set to choosing a basic adjustment slider and then the dial next to adjusts the level of that selected slider.
Here are my Photoshop and Premiere Palette profiles:
I also started using Palette with Spotify and it allows me to put the keyboard and mouse away. If I am in my room reading or hanging out. I just push the buttons on my Palette to select songs, mute, pause & play and then use my sliders to adjust volume and bring the brightness down on my monitor, it’s great.
Helpful tip…don’t settle. Keep arranging your Palette in a way that suits you the best. Take your time and experiment. Much like with any other tool, it takes time to learn how to use it and maximize its potential for you.
What are some of the challenges of being a wedding photographer?
Being unique and creative. I am always learning and I want to be a confident wedding photographer that can know and deliver exactly what my bride and groom envision for their wedding, while keeping that sincere, down to earth vibe. I don’t want my photos to look like any other generic photo on Pinterest. I want my photos to be unique and specific to each couple. Living in a place like Maui helps me do that. Since it’s such a small island, I end up at the same venue for almost every wedding and so I am challenged to create new work and looks for each couple, even though I am using the same locations and backgrounds.
What makes a wedding photographer stand out from the crowd?
The photographer you work with is just as important, if not more important than the final images delivered to you. The photographers that really stand out are the ones who create an amazing experience. They have no problem taking charge over families, they can work in ANY environment, they don’t get easily offended, they can have fun with the bridal party, make the bride and groom feel like a thousand bucks and earn their trust by how they handle the most important details of the day. They are the ones who don’t care if they get cake on their equipment or if the wedding coordinator changes up the schedule. The wedding photographers that are truly great are the ones who can book clients because of who they are as a person, not just on their work. It’s about character and consistency.
Oh, and a great photographer is someone who doesn’t need to think twice about their gear. They know their camera in and out. On a wedding day, you don't have time to contemplate your gear. You have to know what lenses work for each situation and environment. It’s got to be like breathing to you. Most couples get intimidated by big cameras so it’s your job to make them feel comfortable and keep the camera as natural as possible.
Follow Aaron on Instagram and check out his website to see more of his work.
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