Sarah Phillips Photography » Blog

Five Things I Wish I’d Known…

Photography became a part of my life almost seven years ago and January 1 will be the beginning of my fifth year in business (Where does the time ago?).  In that time, there’s been a lot of joy and more good things than I can count but there’s also been a lot of struggle and a lot of mistakes.  Here are a few things that I wish I’d realized from the start.  I hope that they help someone.

Being in business is a lot of work. Don’t rush in. Find Balance.

I’ll be the first to admit that I probably went into business before I should have. I got caught up. Everyone seemed to be getting a logo, a website, portfolio building and it seemed like the logical next step. I wanted to be in the same place and to stay at the same level as my peers. I was a stay home mom and photography seemed like a good way to help support my family and fund my photography addiction. What I didn’t think about was the fact that I knew nothing about running a business and couldn’t begin to imagine what would actually be involved and the stress it would cause. My life swung out of balance and it wasn’t something I was easily able to fix. Today, I know that the most important things in my life are my faith, marriage, family, friends and then my photography business. When photography starts to come before any of those other things, I may make more money (or not) but I also start to lose the joy and if you’re not happy, what’s the point?

These are the most important people in my world.

Sarah Phillips Photography

There’s no magic bullet. More stuff won’t make you a better photographer.
When I think about the money that I spent on actions, digital products, books, props, gear and other “stuff” that I never used, I have a lot of regret. I purchased things that other people raved about thinking it would make my work look like theirs. It never did. Rather than buying actions, learn how to get correct white balance and do a clean edit on your own, then develop your processing style. Actions can be wonderful tools, but you don’t need every set that is out there. The same can be said for just about everything else out there. Don’t take a workshop with the goal of learning to shoot like the instructor, chances are you’ll be disappointed. If you don’t know why you need a new camera, you probably don’t need a new camera. Buying an entire store of digital products for $100 is only a good deal if you use them.

Boston Newborn Photographer
Learn how to use your speedlight. Now.
I thought being able to say that I shot only with natural light was some sort of a badge of honor. That was foolish. I missed a lot of everyday moments and have a lot of blurry images b/c maxing out my camera’s ISO capabilities and shooting wide open didn’t get me to a high enough shutter speed. My speedlight allows me to create a window wherever I want and I can emulate natural light with it. I love natural light and shoot with it most of the time, but I can’t tell you how freeing it is to know that I can shoot anywhere, at anytime of the day and get a beautifully lit shot. It took a lot of practice, but it’s easier than you may think.

Sarah Phillips Workshop

It’s not a race. Don’t compare your journey to others.
A few years ago, I stopped following other people’s blogs because too often, I found myself feeling jealous rather than inspired. I’m not a jealous person and it was a new and unwelcome feeling for me. Focus on yourself. Work hard. Figure out what you love. Worrying about what other people are doing will only slow you down.

Sarah Phillips Photography

You can’t be anyone but you very well.

Be you. Shoot what’s in your heart. The best personal story  I can share with you is that four or five years ago, everyone was shooting faux studio. I bought a piece of plexi glass, fake wood floor and a background stand so that I could take similar pictures. I’d show you some examples, but I don’t actually have any. Nothing could be further from who I am and last year, I sold that background stand (that had been under my couch for three years) for half of what I paid for it. If you don’t like hats on babies, you don’t have to shoot them (and if you love hats on babies, put hats on babies). While I think it’s very important to know how to shoot in all kinds of light, if you love bright and airy, you don’t have to shoot moody and dark or backlit images. Shoot posed. Shoot lifestyle. Be you, you’re awesome at it.

jump900(Image Courtesy of Kristina Young)


Jaime - This post comes at an appropriate time for me. Very well said, Sarah. Thank you. Also, my Speedlight has sat on my shelf for 3 years and I have used it three times, if that!!!! I was thinking about selling it but your post made me reconsider. :)

meg - Thank you so much for this! They were all very helpful tips, but the last piece of advice was my favorite:)

Kerri - All great advice. I love the last one best. Thanks for this!

Lisa - Love this, Sarah! Thank you for sharing. There are some wise words here. :) I’m learning to use my speed light right now in your class and I am already SO grateful! It’s going to make a world of difference for me! Especially this coming winter. :)

Monica - Thank you Sarah, great advice! I’m going to go back over the material from the speedlite class I took from you as a SA

Megan - Thank you! I love tips and KNOW I need to learn my speed light!

Sara - Love this! Thank you!

Julie - Loved this Sarah. Thanks for your honesty. You are right about that speedlight! Number 5 is so true :)

Jes Gwozdz - Sarah Phillips, you sure are awesome at being you. xoxoxo

MrsFun - I’ve always loved you.

Jen Bantle - Great words of advice. I totally agree about the speed light. :)

parikha - This is fabulous advice, Sarah! :)


On-Camera Flash for Beginners | Register Today!

Sometimes wonderful moments happen in beautiful light, but very often they don’t. Regardless of how great your camera’s high ISO capabilities are or how good you are at working in low light, there are times when there just isn’t enough light to get the shot you want. No home has perfect light in every room at every hour of the day and some homes have no light in every room at every hour of the day (mine!).

If you’ve ever found yourself wishing that you could knock out a wall and create a window or move to a house that has better light, this workshop is for you. If you’re a professional photographer who worries about arriving at a client’s home only to find that the only room with any light is the master bath, this workshop is for you too. With on-camera, TTL flash you can create a window wherever you want (and it’s easier than you think).  Knowing that you can create beautiful light and take wonderful images wherever you are will give you confidence and take your photography to the next level.


September 23-October 20

This four week course will take place in a private online classroom that will be open to you 24/7.

What will be covered

*flash modes with a focus on TTL
*metering modes
*white balance
*getting perfect exposure with flash
*balancing flash with ambient light to create natural looking light
*focusing with flash
*bounce techniques
*using flash modifiers
*using on camera flash outside both as fill and the main light
*high sync speed

What you get

*a weekly PDF with a lesson and an assignment/exercise
*detailed and personalized instruction and critique from me
*teaching assistants  (Jessica Gwozdz and Dana Tate), will also give you feedback on your assignment each week
*access to a virtual classroom where you can post questions and I will answer them as soon as possible.
*share ideas and questions with other participants.  See their homework and read my thoughts on their work to learn even more.
*2 group video chat sessions with me (up to one hour each). The sessions will be recorded so that if you cannot attend, you can watch it later.  These sessions will take place after week 2 and after week 4.

What you need

In order to get the most out of this class, you must have a mastery of technical basics (exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc..). You will need a DSLR camera, lens and a speedlight that has TTL capabilities (Canon or Nikon is recommended) and can swivel and tilt. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments before signing up.

What people are saying

I am no longer afraid of my speedlight!  Sarah explained on camera flash in a simple and easy to understand way with perfect examples in the PDF’s!  Sarah taught us that you can use your speedlight to create a window ANYWHERE!  Thanks for a wonderful class! – Katie

I had my speedlight for four years before I took Sarah’s class. I had taken another workshop and I had read a few books, but I never really knew what I was doing with it. Sometimes my photos came out ok, but most of the time they didn’t. In the very first week I learned so much. A new world unfolded with each week’s lesson. Even though the information was quite technical, Sarah broke it down and made it so understandable. By the end of the four weeks I understood exactly how to use my flash to achieve correct exposure in just about any situation. Sarah is an excellent teacher.  Her presence in the Q&A and Picture Share threads was outstanding. More than any other workshop I’ve ever taken, Sarah was available and extremely forthcoming with information. The exchanges in those threads were almost as valuable and enlightening as the information in the PDFs. I use my flash quite often now, and confidently, and it is thanks to Sarah and this class. -Diana

Love natural light but hate when there isn’t enough? This workshop will set you free from that frustration as Sarah patiently teaches how to use on camera flash to supplement available light or even provide all the light, if needed. Sarah’s effective teaching style along with the weekly lessons and assignments , build basic lighting concepts and skills in a non-intimidating and achievable manner for speedlight newbies. If you need an kick start to understanding on camera flash lighting and using it effectively to supplement your natural light shooting, this is the class for you!- Janet


$300 for Active Participation. Active Participants will have all of the benefits listed under “What you Get”.
$150 for Silent Participation. Silent Participants will be able to view the forum and download materials. They will not be able to ask questions or submit assignments for critique and cannot participate in the video chat sessions. They will be able to see the question and answer forum, Active Participant’s assignments and critiques and watch the recorded video chat sessions.


Within 24 hours of paying for the workshop you will receive an email from me with a link to set up your workshop account.  You will receive another email the week before the workshop opens directing you the the virtual classroom where the workshop will take place.

The workshop registration fee is not refundable.

Your workshop registration is only for you!  Materials and virtual classroom access may not be shared.

Sign up here

Erin - Hi Sarah – I only have a little Nikon SB400, which can only tilt in 4 steps (60, 75, 90 degrees and horizontal). Would this work or should I upgrade my flash before signing up for the workshop? Thanks!

sarah - Hi Erin! I would recommend that you upgrade your flash. I believe that the SB400 tilts but doesn’t rotate/swivel so you can’t bounce it which basically makes it a large pop up flash. :) You’ll get much better results with a flash that swivels.

Heather Meyer - I have a canon 430ex ?? I think?

sarah - Hi Heather, the 430EX is a great flash. Many people who have taken the WS in the past use it. The materials really aren’t specific to a particular flash unit. They’re concepts that you can use with any flash that has TTL mode.

Julie VanDasselaar - Hi Sarah- I was wondering if you will be offering this class more often? Also what flash do you recommend I buy to put on my D600?
Cheers, Julie

sarah - Hi Julie! The class will definitely be offered again but probably not until January of 2014. The Nikon SB700 is a good starter flash but if you can afford the SB910, I don’t you will regret going for it. I also think if you can find a used SB900 it’s a good option (I use one and like it a lot).

Julie - Thank-you. I will keep my eyes open for the class in January. Until then I will be on the hunt for the flash :)

sarah - Sounds good! Let me know if you have any other questions!

Camille - I didn’t know anything about flash before I took this class. All I can say is that this a great class. I learned how to take photos without them looking flashy. I mainly use natural light but really there are times when there isnt enough light so I am equipped with my speedlight knowledge. Sarah is a great teacher and she explaing things very well!

Whitney - Will you be able to provide a “proof of completion” certificate or email for a full participation student who completes this course? I was planning to take this from you on the other site before, and I still want to now, but in order to be reimbursed via our tuition assistance program, I will need proof of completion from the instructor. Please let me know as soon as possible, and, if affirmative, I will register.

sarah - Hi Whitney, I’ve done these for people in the past. If you provide me with the language, I will put it on letterhead and sign it. :)

Emily Rolling - Hi Sarah! What recommendations would you have for my canon 6D? I will be on the lookout for the January class…do you have an email list?

Genevieve - Hi Sara. When is the next run for your class? I’m already doing a workshop in September. Any chances in December?

sarah - Hi Genevieve, The next run will likely not be until January. Hope to see you then! If you haven’t joined my mailing list, you can sign up here. There are some exciting things in the works and I’d love to be able to keep you updated! Thanks for your interest.

sarah - Hi Emily, You really can’t go wrong with the Canon flashes. The 430EX II is a great entry level option and will do everything you need it to do. If you think you might want to learn of camera flash it might be worth going for the 600EX-RT Hope that helps! Please LMK if you have any other questions. :)

Dana Schaeffer Stavana - Hi Sarah! I just signed up for silent participation but used my husband’s email address for the paypal. Do you need something else from me so I can get the materials? thanks!! Dana

sarah - Hi Dana! I’m about to send you an email with information about setting up an account! Thanks for signing up! I’m so excited to get started!

sarah - Hi Dana! The email connected to your PayPal account bounced back to me so I’m going to send it to the email you used to leave a comment. Please LMK if you don’t get it!

Katie - Hi Sarah. I have a Canon 6D and am going to purchase the 430exii flash before this class. I would also like to go ahead and get a light modifier and am considering a gary fong modifier. Any recommendations? I’ll be using these mostly for indoor event coverage and perhaps a wedding or two. Thanks!

sarah - Hi Katie, When I can’t bounce, I use a Gary Fong collapsible Lightsphere. Most of the time I used bounced flash and I love Neil van Niekerk’s black foamy thing. We’ll be making one in week 3.

Annie - Hello Sarah, if I signed up for the Silent Participation, just wanted to make sure I can actually watch the video chat sessions, just not participate by asking questions, etc? Thanks

sarah - Hi Annie, Yes, the chat will be recorded and you will be able to download it after it takes place. Please LMK if you have any other questions.

Mary - Hi Sarah, I procrastinated long enough to sign up for your work shop, I hope I’m not to late for the SA!!

sarah - Not too late!

Mary - Yay!! Heading over to up :). I am so excited to take your work shop!

Mary - **to sign up

Inga - Hi Sarah, I desperately need to learn how to use a speedlight and wondered if it was too late to sign up even just as study along? I have a Nikon D700 but not sure what speedlight to get, any suggestions? Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up :-)

sarah - It’s not too late! We started Monday but the first week is light and you won’t have trouble catching up. :)

Kira - Hi Sarah, when will your next class be offered? Also, I’m sure this is a super beginner question, but is off camera flash just when you use the speed light and trigger it wirelessly, or is it a different kind of flash?

sarah - Hi Kira, The next run will likely be in January. :) This class teaches you how to use a speedlight on-camera. Yes, off-camera flash refers to taking the flash off the camera and triggering it wirelessly (you can use a cable too)/

Brigette - FInally added a speedlight to my bag so I can’t wait until the next run!


On Camera Flash Workshop

Many people have asked when my On Camera Flash Workshop will be offered again. I don’t have an exact date but I promise you will see it again in the near future! If you can’t or don’t want to wait, I do offer on line mentoring. If you’re local to me, we can get together. Please email me if you have any questions or want to schedule something (

What people are saying:

“It wasn’t until very recently in my photography journey that I decided I needed to take my knowledge of flash to the next level. I had heard through various online forums and mentoring groups that Sarah was to the go-to flash guru, so I contacted her about an in-person mentoring session. Sarah was very informative without being overwhelming and taught me so many “tricks and tips” in a short amount of time. Since we were working within the confines of an actual shoot I was booked for, Sarah had to adjust her “typical” materials to the situation. She let me take the lead with my client, while standing by to offer suggestions and reminding of what we had discussed. It was a very hands-on experience and I was able to see the results of her teachings right there on the back of my camera. Like everything, it will take some practice for these techniques to become second-nature to me, but Sarah was able to give me a great foundation for introducing a hint of supplemental light into my photography when necessary, while also making me feel comfortable and have fun!” – Rebekah

“Being a natural light photographer I have always had a preference to shoot without flash. It wasn’t until recently that I was introduced to the use of flash with a natural look! Sarah showed me a way of using flash that doesn’t look ‘flashy’ or more importantly in a way that doesn’t take away from my subjects. Being a visual learner it was very difficult for me to learn by reading online or just picking up a book. Having Sarah right next to me showing me the immediate results of what we were discussing made all the difference in the world. Her humor, knowledge and personality made this otherwise intimidating experience so amazing and has shifted my mindset completely. Now that I understand how to correctly use this tool, it has opened up so many doors and expanded my creativity. If you are debating how to learn flash and you want material that will actually teach you with a teacher who is accessible, this is for you! She will without a doubt shift your vision. This investment was one of the best ones I’ve made for my business and my photography. I am so grateful for this opportunity – If you have any question about learning flash Sarah is your girl — You will not be disappointed!” – Keri

Stacy Lewis - I’m located in Florida. I’m interested in online mentoring orany workshops that may become available.
Thanks for your time.

sarah - Hi Stacy! Thanks for your interest! I’m planning to announce an online workshop that will start later this month very soon (possibly tomorrow!). I’ve added you to my mailing list and will be posting about it on my blog and FB too.

Samantha - Hi, I’ve been looking for an on-camera flash workshop to do via the internet (I live in a small town in Canada and there’s nothing local for me). Please let me know if you’ll be offering something soon, thanks!

sarah - Hi Samantha, I am now teaching at The Photographer Within. We are currently in the middle of week two of my workshop. I expect that it will run again in March or April though. :)