B&H Creator of the Week: Sidney Baker-Green

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Sidney Baker-Green was still in high school when he first embarked on his creative journey as a wedding photographer and content creator, which now spans still photography and filmmaking. Over the past seven years, he has shared a wide variety of image-making adventures, gear reviews, business advice, and tech tips with a growing audience on social media, leading us to invite him to collaborate as a B&H Creator of the Week.

By means of introduction, we recently asked Baker-Green to respond to a few questions about his work. Keep your eyes on B&H’s social media channels in the days to come for even more of his tips and tricks. And while you’re at it, consider his advice to “Keep climbing, stay inspired, and stay fabulous!”

Where are you based? Grand Rapids, Michigan

Most important social feeds/networks: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook

Jill Waterman: How long have you been making pictures and creating content, and what type of subject matter did you focus on when first starting out?

Sidney Baker-Green: I’m currently 23 years old. I started editing videos when I was 8 years old, playing a video game called flight simulator. A primary focus in my life has been and continues to be aviation, and until I was old enough to fly, I filled that void in life by editing flight simulator video clips. At age 16, during my senior year of high school, I discovered a wedding photographer named Jasmine Star. I was actually looking for a senior portrait photographer when I stumbled upon her website, and I fell in love with wedding photos. I started both my YouTube channel and my wedding photography business in my senior year.

What is your educational background, both photo/video and other studies, and how have you applied these studies to your current business?

In the world of information that we live in, I do not believe we need to go to school to be photographers and filmmakers. Art isn’t about being taught, it’s about human perception. In college, I studied Aeronautical Science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Simply put, this involves both textbook education as well as the actual practice of flying airplanes.

The first thing I learned in flight school is that, “if you run before the wind, then you can’t take off. You have to turn into it and face it. The thing you push against is the thing that lifts you up.” I’ve been able to apply this lesson to all aspects of my life, including the challenges of starting a business with no formal business and marketing education.

Did you have a role model or someone who inspired your vision at the start of your career? What is the most important thing you learned from them?

Jasmine Star had a really big impact on my style of photography at the start of my career, and even in the middle stages. While this was beneficial to being inspired during my early stages, it became a hindrance as I grew as a photographer. There’s a point in our careers where we start to grow into our own styles, and if we don’t embrace that we will not have satisfaction in what we do. That goes with any sort of growth. The problem is, we as humans love a comfort zone, and doing something different can be scary, especially when what you’ve been doing has been working. Through that growth process, I learned to never forget where I came from, but to embrace the artist I was meant to be.

My mother has had a really big impact on my view of life. As every parent does, my mom told me I could do anything I put my mind to when I was a kid; and I believed that with every ounce of my heart. This has made me very stubborn at times when I set my mind to something, but it’s that same energy that allows me to face the challenges that arise in life and in business. That lesson has allowed me to have a “Rest, don’t quit” attitude in everything I do.

You are known primarily as a wedding photographer. Do you have a favorite part of your work in this market segment, from initial contact with a couple, to photographing the events, to post-production and image delivery? And why is it your favorite?

At this time in my career, I’m focusing on limiting the number of weddings I produce annually, to be able to provide a truly luxury client experience. Currently, I only accept five to ten weddings per year. I’m also moving the focus of my business towards content creation for brands and businesses, primarily through my YouTube channel, and forming a production company as a filmmaker and educator. I hope to work with travel brands such as Hyatt (Andaz) and luxury resorts.

With respect to weddings, I love when golden hour starts, and I pull my bride and groom away from the very busy atmosphere of the wedding and give them some time to themselves. Throughout the wedding day, they haven’t had a moment to soak in the fact that they are married together. They have to divide their attention among so many things, such as greeting guests, hugging family members, and the events that continue throughout the day. So being able to give them some time together, and to capture their interactions for the first time as a husband and wife doesn’t just make for the best photos of the wedding, in my opinion; it also gives them the time together to really feel the fact that they’re married.

How do most people find out about your photography services? Has this method of contact changed over time or remained consistent?

While social media is a great marketing tool, creating a business that’s buzzworthy from person to person is the most sustainable form of marketing: because it’s free. I know it’s easier said than done; however, every social media outlet at some point becomes pay to play. With so many great and talented photographers and filmmakers entering the industry, the sea of social media is very noisy. Not to mention there’s a lot of talent out there. We all know how Facebook’s organic engagement is almost non-existent for a lot of people, and the Instagram algorithm is generally not in our favor. This is why creating a solid client experience is so important. You want to be so good that people want to talk about you to their friends. I’d even go so far as to suggest to my clients that their friends hire me as a photographer. That’s an in-person review, and that is invaluable.

How much time do you generally spend cultivating your social media feeds? Do you have any tips for streamlining this aspect of your life and business?

There was a point in my career when I posted every single day, and I do believe that’s important if you use Facebook and Instagram. However, we really want to be intentional with what we post, and to make sure we aren’t spending all of our time curating a feed. I try to plan a month of content in a day. Personally, I like to use Later.com to plan out my social media feeds.

When it comes to work / life balance, I live by the fact that I didn’t start my business to drain myself the way I did when I worked at Starbucks. Setting up personal boundaries is key. Working from home doesn’t involve a set time when you have to get out of the building. There’s no one to tell you to stop. That’s on us. Knowing that our business will survive if we take a break or a vacation is key.

How much of your time is (or was) spent traveling / on the road? Do you have any recommendations for easing the strain of frequent travel?

Well, before COVID-19 and when the act of traveling was responsible, I traveled out of the country at least two to three times per year and flew or drove within the United States more times that I can think about. My key to traveling is always to be comfortable, and to find what makes the experience both pleasurable and practical. Even as a pilot, longer flights and I don’t get along that well. So, generally, I tend to fly first class for any trip over three hours because of the added comfort and the easier ability to sleep through it. This also eliminates certain fees when I’m traveling with a lot of gear, especially when it’s heavy.

It’s not about a luxury travel experience; it's simply finding what’s practical for you. Staying hydrated is always key and wearing loose-fitting clothes helps a lot. Getting to know time limits at certain airports helps those of us who aren’t so timely in everyday life to manage stress. And lastly, be familiar with what you can and can’t take on an aircraft. Don’t travel with a lot of things in your pockets, and mentally practice getting through a security checkpoint before you arrive.

Do you have a favorite venue or geographic location to shoot in, and why is it your favorite?

The beauty of the island of Maui, in Hawaii, currently has my heart. Everything is crafted so beautifully there. I simply can’t explain the appreciation one feels when looking at the vast expanse of the ocean from the edge of the island at sunset. It really makes you appreciate the beautiful planet we live on.

What cameras and lenses do you work with?

My DSLR of choice is the Canon 1DX Mark II. I am currently in the process of upgrading all my camera gear, but the 1D series assists me in catching those very crucial moments in fast-paced settings. I plan to incorporate the beauty and nostalgia of an analog film camera in my work as soon as I find my photographic style. FUJIFILM Pro 400H, Kodak Portra 400, Portra 800, and Kodak Tri-X film stocks have my heart.

My cinema camera of choice is the Z-Cam E2 F6. The dynamic range of this camera is what drew me in, as a big part of my style is the quality of the final image I produce. This camera has blown away all my expectations, and having previously worked with the Blackmagic Design Cinema line and the Canon EOS Cinema line, it’s hard for me to look back.

With respect to glass, I shoot primarily prime lenses. The Sigma Art 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses are my current go-tos for all my photo work; however, during the ceremony I’ll use the Canon 70-200 F2.8L, since the 85mm isn’t enough to keep me out of the way. When I need to go wider than 35mm, I’ll use the 16-35mm f2.8L III, which is generally for large groups, overviews of the venue, and landscapes.

How about lighting? Do you have a preference between natural and artificial lighting? If you use lights, what is your go-to gear?

For photography, I’m all about natural light, and I hold on to shooting with natural light for as long as possible. When artificial light is needed at a wedding, I use the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT series flash. For video, I use the Aputure 120D II series of LED lighting.

Do you have a favorite lighting technique? Please describe it.

For photography, I’m always looking for a way to bounce the light. White ceilings, white walls, or a guest's white shirt have all been tactics I’ve used in low-light conditions.

For video, the cove lighting technique used by cinematographer Roger Deakins is a favorite. In brief, small lights are bounced off a large wrap of unbleached muslin, in a circular shape to mimic a natural light falloff. However, for most studio work I use a single Aputure 120D as a key light, with a ProMaster LED panel to boost the look of the existing lights in the background.

Please tell us about your post-production and workflow process. How much of your time is dedicated to post-production work?

Over the years, I’ve generally gotten my post-production for weddings and other photo jobs down to about two to three hours; however, that depends on the size of the project. This is because I shoot with intent, and I’m constantly visualizing the finished product throughout the day.

With filmmaking, I focus a lot on color grading, so I generally spend no more than a day working on smaller projects from cutting to color. For smaller YouTube videos, I grade first, and then I cut the clips into the final project. For projects such as music videos or films, I cut first, and then go in for color work second.

Is there any one shoot or project you’ve done that’s your all-time favorite? Please give us some back story about what makes it so memorable to you.

Creating this trailer for my YouTube Channel was my favorite, because it spanned three different states, and it took a while to create. Although I was working, I looked at the shoot as a passion project, as well as a vacation of sorts. When it’s something you truly love it doesn’t feel like work. I also got to spend some quality time with my mom, and we both got to rest outside the stress of everyday life. Although that project is approaching two-years-old, it’s hands-down the one that’s brought me the most joy.

Community and education are important aspects of your brand, and you have an education section of your website called the Chasing Light Community. When did you start this community, and how active is it?

The Chasing Light community portion of my website is a public failure that I love to own because the way I thought I’d build an education community didn’t turn out as I’d expected. My educational outreach is now focused specifically on my YouTube videos. That content is what I’d consider the Chasing Light community today. It’s a way I can offer free knowledge to more than 17,500 followers and counting. And for those seeking a more dedicated level of education, there’s an organic flow from YouTube into two Facebook groups. This is a new project called SBG’s Elite Colorist and SBGs Selected Colorist, described further below.

I focus on free knowledge because when I started as a full-time photographer two years into my collegiate career, I was homeless. I didn’t have the resources to go out and buy expensive courses. And when I asked someone who I considered a trusted mentor for help, they told me the best thing they could do was not help me. And, while everything has worked out in the end, I still have trauma from that time of homelessness. I will never forget that hardship and pain. I would never wish it on anyone. So, I want to be that person I needed when I started out. That involves giving freely, and not viewing such an act as a handout, but a hand up.

Do you have any upcoming projects or future plans on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?

I’ve recently created two new color-grading programs, to serve the full spectrum of education, from high end to an entry-level, affordable class.

SBG’s Selected Colorist is an education group on the Patreon platform that focuses on a different aspect of color grading each month, based on the industry standard color grading software DaVinci Resolve. It’s subscription-based and priced to be accessible to as many people as possible, with each lesson focused on a new topic or technique. What sets this content apart from traditional tutorials is that I hold a live class where students can ask questions while we go through examples. They can take control of my screen and work on examples with me. There’s also monthly homework, as well as a quiz. Think of it like a college class that you only have to attend monthly.

The high end of my educational offerings is called SBS’s Elite Colorist. This is a live course with the same online class approach as my other program but kicking up the intensity a notch. We’ll meet twice weekly for a month, during hour-long sessions when we cover everything from the foundations of color grading to advanced techniques. I hold this course live because I want my students to be able to ask questions, and work on these examples with me. Each week has a homework assignment and a quiz, and I also provide a final grade and a certificate of completion. Since students attend from multiple time zones, these sessions also include playbacks and classroom forums. Currently, live attendance is maxed at 100 people.

Do you have any questions for our B&H Creator of the Week? Please ask them in the Comments section, below.

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