Transforming Our Support Heroes: Behind the Scenes with Hellgirl

Last week, our latest collaboration with photographer Benjamin Von Wong took our SmugMug employees to new heights—literally. I was lucky enough to be one of those employees, though I am the unlikeliest of models. How did I end up on that rooftop with my superhero colleagues? Read on!


“Kerry, it’s your turn. Step up!” the photographer called to me, excitement in his voice.

Step up where? This ledge:

Which was followed by this drop:

And this is the safety harness that was certified to keep me — all 300 pounds of me — from plummeting to my death.

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All the other models on the photo shoot wore harnesses, too, and I saw with my own eyes how many safety precautions were taken to make us secure. Logically, I understood that nothing bad would happen to me.

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling: I’m 2 people in 1. I’m going to be too heavy to pull up.

All I could think was:

If I fall, I’m probably dead because I was too fat.

Somehow I managed to step up on the ledge, and the photographer snapped a few photos.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video of the photo shoot.
(Warning: Do not attempt on your own. The photographer is a trained stunt person. All models wore safety equipment.)

When we were done, all the other models were excited to see how the pictures turned out. After all, we were on a skyscraper dressed as superheroes, getting our pictures taken by world-famous photographer Benjamin Von Wong.

But I wasn’t looking forward to seeing my photo at all. I had this nagging feeling: I’m going to look like crap. I may be on a fancy photo shoot, but I’m still a fat girl.

Here’s how my photo turned out:

Hey, that isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.

Actually … I kind of look badass.

How the heck did this happen? How did I get to be a model on an awesome photo shoot? Models aren’t fat girls like me. But here I was, on top of the world.


Just one year ago, I was at the lowest point of my life.

Self-portrait. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

My struggle with weight began right after college when a surgery on both feet left me unable to walk long distances for exercise. I ballooned up from a size 12 to a size 22.

I gained some experience after graduating and managed to get a great job writing for NASA. I had been there for 8 years when the phone call came from my boss:

“Kerry, I’ve got some bad news. I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. Actually, you were supposed to be laid off yesterday.”

Me working from home. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

This job was all I’d known for nearly a decade. What was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to pay for my house?

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. Here I was, a 35-year-old grown woman, and I felt like a scared 14-year-old again. Completely lost.

Me with Britta. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

I’ve never liked asking people for things, but when you lose your job, that’s what you have to do — ask everyone for help. After sending out hundreds of emails and posting to Facebook and LinkedIn, I heard about an interesting opportunity. Not a full-time job or anything, just a short writing assignment for SmugMug.

As a photographer myself (and longtime customer), I loved SmugMug and had been trying to get a job there for ages. Actually, they’d already rejected me once when I interviewed there 5 years ago. But no matter. This was a chance to get my foot in the door at my dream company, and I took it.

I completed the writing assignment for them, and the article somehow got the attention of Chris MacAskill, President and Co-Founder of SmugMug. It turns out he was the one who had vetoed hiring me 5 years ago.

He told me he’d made a mistake. Oh, and would I like to join SmugMug full time?

The next day, I packed up everything and moved straight to California to start my new job.

Me in my new office at SmugMug. Photo by Schmootography.com.

Within my first few weeks on the job, Von Wong was in town and SmugMug asked him to do a fun photo shoot for the employees.

SmugMug employee — that’s me! That’s how I ended up as a model on this phenomenal photo shoot.

The SmugMug family on the skyscraper.

The whole thing feels like a fairy tale, like something that only happens in movies. I landed my dream job and moved across the country. I felt on top of the world. But looking in the mirror, my outside didn’t match how I felt inside.

That’s why this photo means so much to me. It makes my outside match my inside.

It’s a reminder that, even when I was at my heaviest, I can look amazing.

Since this photo was taken, I’ve dropped a dress size. I’m eating healthier and working out regularly. If I could look amazing then, then I can continue to look amazing.

I went from rock bottom to a superhero literally on top of the world. How is this even real? This is the stuff of movies.

But this is my life now, and it’s pretty freaking awesome.


Afterthoughts

As great as this photo makes me feel, I almost didn’t write about it. I wrote and deleted this article 3 times before hitting publish.

The Internet is cruel. I’m already bracing myself for the comments people will make:

“She’s still fat.”

Or my personal favorite that’s been popular lately — “Why is she promoting unhealthy habits?”

It’s not about celebrating being unhealthy. It’s about loving yourself so you can continue to work on yourself. If you start the journey from a point of hate, that’s where you’re going to end. You may lose the weight, but you’ll still hate yourself. The root problem is still there — that’s why so many diets fail.

Start from a place of accepting yourself, so you love yourself as you continue to make progress.


Credits
Photography by Benjamin Von Wong. Read how he pulled off this photo shoot on his blog.

Media Requests
You may quote or republish this article and its photos on your own publication—please credit and link back to the original.

Find more photos from the photo shoot on Benjamin Von Wong’s blog and the behind-the-scenes video.

Transforming Our Support Heroes… Into Actual Superheroes

My old boss, Steve Jobs, used to say, “One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”

Kaydin Carlsen, SmugMug Support Hero

Kaydin Carlsen, SmugMug Support Hero

Our heroes are photographers, from moms who capture priceless moments with iPhones, to elite pros who shoot astonishing photos like the one you see above.  To help them, we built a team of 40 support people, mostly photographers.

Working in customer support is a hard job. In most companies, more than a third of customer support employees quit every year. Which means on a team of 40, on average you can expect to lose 12 people a year. So, few people believe they’ve heard us correctly when we say that in over a decade, only one of our Support Heroes has ever resigned.

Our customers sent so many emails to them saying, “You are my new hero,” we called them Support Heroes.

What’s our secret?  We don’t have scripts or thick training manuals. We simply ask our Support Heroes to be heroic.

Which gave photographer Benjamin Von Wong an idea:  take their photos where only real superheroes would dare go. He wanted to make them into superheroes without green screens or special effects.

What do you see when you imagine a superhero?  Standing strong on top of a building, overlooking a city, hair blowing in the wind?  That’s what we saw, so we did a photoshoot on the ledge of a skyscraper.

Here’s Von Wong’s amazing story.

SmugMug Films started with a simple idea:  to tell the story of our greatest heroes, the photographers who inspire us.  The films have taken flight on their own, and today we’re excited to introduce one about Von Wong’s inspiring rooftop shoot:

Who inspires you?  Do you have a story of a photographer worth sharing? Let us know, we might just pop over to film it!

All the best,

Chris MacAskill (aka Baldy)

Co-founder, photographer, regular guy, and on this day a terrified hero wannabe.

Chris MacAskill on skyscraper

Congrats to the Final Winners of our Refer-a-Friend Contest!

There’s no announcement that makes us happier than one that celebrates our customers. And today’s the one we hope you’ve been waiting for as much as we have: The results of our Refer-a-Friend promotion!

We re-launched our Refer-a-Friend program last spring and have been giving away prizes to lucky SmugMuggers who brought friends over to join our club. Today we announce the final winners from almost a year’s worth of fabulous new SmugMug memberships.

Winners for November and December 2014

The last two winners in our monthly giveaways are Nicole Steele and Dawn Paiva. Congratulations! Be sure to capture every adventure with your new GoPro cameras this year.

Guess Who Won a Trip to SmugMug HQ?


We’re thrilled that we’re going to be able to meet Timothy Lasko in the flesh. We’ve got so many great things dreamed up for this trip to make it the most epic of all SmugMug visits, including a grand tour of the city, the full SmugMug face-painting experience, an inside look at the magic that happens at HQ, and a chance to meet our influential photographer friends who love to teach and inspire. And so much more. Come on down, Timothy!

What’s Next for Referrals in 2015?

Although the promotion is wrapped up, there’s never an expiry date on the benefits you get by referring friends to SmugMug: 20% off for you; 20% off for them; beautiful, personalized galleries; and the comfort of knowing that your photos will always be safe and sound. Also enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing our Support Heroes are always by your side.

Take your photography to new heights this year, and keep sharing your gorgeous memories with each other, and with us. Thanks for your incredible support! :)

P.S. Already have a lifetime’s worth of SmugMug account credit?  Then check out the SmugMug Partner Program where you can earn cash for introducing new people to SmugMug.

5 Easy Ways to Ready Your Website For a Busy Year

Now’s typically the time of year when you step back and re-evaluate your life. Whether or not you follow tradition (or break it), it’s always a good idea to think about your photography, your goals, and how you want to get there in the coming months.

Today we debut 5 easy questions to ask yourself to help you check your SmugMug site and be sure that it’s ready to face the next wave of photos, fans, and fame.

Read how to reboot your site for success »

Note: Some of these tips are only possible in current SmugMug, so if you’ve been with us since before July 30, 2013 and haven’t upgraded your site, preview the latest version of SmugMug now. You’ll get free access to a slew of incredible new features, because they’re already included in your subscription.

Other Ways to Stay in Control

If you’re super excited to take the tidiness to the next level, here are two more great articles we recommend bookmarking to help you sort your photos and stop the headache.

As always, our Support Heroes are here to help if you have questions. We do way more than just tell you where your Account Settings are – remember that we’re photographers, too, and we’d be thrilled to help you achieve your goals for the year. Talk to us!

8 Rules to Remember That Make More Powerful Portraits

Valentine’s Day is rolling up, which means portrait photographers are aiming to capture beautiful clients looking their best. But even if you simply want to learn to take better, more powerful portraits, here are a few tips from expert portrait photographer, Alexandria Huff As the photographic brain behind the On Creating ChiaroscuroGlare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses, and Transitioning from Point-and-Shoot to DSLR: Understanding Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors, she’s well qualified to share these 8 essential rules no portrait photographer should ever forget. 

By Alexandria Huff

There are no rules in photography. There are, however, good habits that photographers rely on when they need to quickly capture a solid image. These habits are especially important when shooting for clients rather than just for personal projects.

1) Items in the foreground will look bigger/fatter/wider than the rest.

Keep extremities away from the foreground unless you’re going for that exaggerated look. Even the elbows in the second image are too far forward for my taste.

We get fixated on faces when shooting portraits and sometimes forget about what the rest of the body is doing. Keep hands, feet, and anything else you don’t want looking too bulbous further away from the camera.

2) Cutting off hands, feet, and foreheads can ruin visual flow.

Don’t crowd your frame or cut hands off at the wrists. Watch out for this when shooting in small spaces.

Arms and legs can act as leading lines for viewers that they follow out to the edge of the frame. Cropping at ankles, wrists, and foreheads is often too abrupt a cut-off for viewers. It is generally more acceptable to crop mid-thigh for 3/4th length portraits or at the waist/above the elbow for half length portraits. Also, cropping the forehead can have a “Frankenstein effect” so crop above the hairline.

3) Anything directly behind the subject’s head can make an image look weird.

Lines directly behind the head of a subject can be distracting. Check your backgrounds.

Mind your background to avoid “brain stems” – lines, trees, or other elements that photographers accidentally place their models directly in front of. Even in the studio they’ll appear in the form of wayward backdrop creases.

4) Slide your subject to the side.

Shifting a subject’s body over in the frame can produce more engaging portraits.

Symmetrical, center-weighted images can be really cool but the Rule of Thirds still has a strong place in photography. Placing your subject along one of the vertical/horizontal lines that divide an image into thirds produces pleasing results. Also, placing your model at an angle rather than square with the frame can be “slimming”.

5) Use broad and short lighting to your advantage.

The flash here is set up for broad lighting. Short lighting would dictate moving the flash to the far side of the subject’s face.

In broad lighting, the light is on the part of the face closest to the camera. Short lighting is on the far side of the face. Broad lighting is often good for softening skin and for thin-faced subjects while short lighting is good for bringing out wrinkles/character and for thinning wide faces. Use broad lighting if you want to avoid glare in glasses.

Using broad lighting (left) vs short lighting (right) will have a huge impact on your subject.

6) Direct your model through a series of micro adjustments and expressions.

Direct your subject through incremental changes in body language and expression.

The devil is in the details and your winning shot might differ from the rest because of a slight change in expression (like a Peter Hurley-esque “squinch”, parted lips, or dropped shoulders) rather than from large movements.

7) Make the most of lousy locations.

If you can’t have the location you love, love the location you can get.

Don’t shy away from shooting if you don’t have a studio or a park nearby. A strong portrait can be taken anywhere if you you’re following other compositional rules.

8) Shooting down onto your model is more flattering than shooting up at them.

It’s very rare for a subject to look good when being shot from below.

It’s rare for a subject to look good when being shot from below, even when you’re going for a power look. Nostrils are just not very photogenic — stick to eye-level or above. Remembering these rules and practicing good shooting habits will help you create consistently strong portraits. After a while you will have enough experience to successfully break the rules and develop your own distinct style.

5 More Currencies Added to Your Site

Great news for our worldwide SmugMuggers and their fans: we’ve added support for five additional currencies!

Now when someone buys a print, gift, or digital download from your site, they’ll be able to see the price in five more options:

  • Japanese Yen (¥)
  • New Zealand Dollars (NZ$)
  • Swiss Francs (CHF)
  • Hong Kong Dollars (HK$)
  • Swedish Krona (SEK)

We’re always hearing from SmugMug photographers (and their fans) that it’s easier to buy prints in a currency that makes sense to you. Here are full details about how currencies work at SmugMug.

“Can I use this on MY account?”

Yes! The new currencies are already visible in all shopping carts on all account levels, just like before. They’re available to you, the gallery owner, as well as to anyone who buys prints and downloads from your site. You don’t have to do a thing.

Tip: If you’d prefer people to not buy your photos, you can easily hide the Add to Cart button from your Gallery Settings.

How Conversions Work for Portfolio and Business Pros

Remember that you can select your base currency in the Pricelist manager. Your fans can pick one of the 10 currency options when they buy from you, but the prices they see will be converted from that base currency you’ve set in your Pricelists. Learn more about pro pricing and earning money through sales on our help pages.

We’ve got lots of info about prepping your files for print, marketing your work, and info about how the checkout process works.

 

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