Featuring Jen Huang
Written by Sabrina Sabbagh
When Destination Wedding and Portrait Photographer, Jen Huang sat across from me for her interview at the ShootDotEdit booth during WPPI, we were both pretty exhausted. It was 4pm on the 3rd day of the largest wedding and portrait photography conference and tradeshow in the world. As I was setting up the recording equipment, she asked how many interviews I’d done so far. I told her she was my 13th in two days. She raised her eyebrows slightly and nodded in understanding. It had been a very busy few days for her, too.
A Photographer Against the Grain
During WPPI, many industry leaders are asked to teach classes, participate in panel discussions, and lead seminars on various topics. But, very few are asked to speak twice. WPPI organizers had confidence that Jen Huang could easily fill meeting halls on two separate topics during the convention, and they were right!
The fine art photographer’s first seminar was titled, “How Not to be an Award-Winning Photographer.” She smiled as she said the title, admitting that it was very tongue-in-cheek. She explained, “It’s mostly about understanding yourself and truly doing things differently from everyone else.” To clarify what she meant, she continued, “It’s almost doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.” Jen learned that lesson when she realized that following trends and doing what everyone else was doing was stifling her career. “Once I started going the opposite way, that’s what really started defining me.”
Another defining characteristic of Professional Wedding Photographer, Jen Huang? She identifies as an introvert.
At least 75% of the world is made up of extroverts, which can seem overwhelming and daunting for people like Jen Huang. “For my entire life, I felt weird and different, so I decided to talk about it.” Jen’s class on “Sales for Introverts Without a Sales Personality” sold out right away, which surprised her. “I know there are introverts in this industry, I just wasn’t sure if they were going to come to a class about themselves.” Jen felt passionate about her speaking topic because it’s something that isn’t covered very often and she hoped it would make an impact on other introverts like herself.
“I actually had a woman start crying during the class. I didn’t expect that my talk was going to stir those types of emotions in her.” Jen doesn’t consider herself a very emotional person, but seeing the impact of her words was incredibly moving for the photographer. “Everyone just came away with this profound new way of seeing themselves.” Jen paused to gather her thoughts for a moment before adding, “It was like they had never been told before that they were okay.”
The fact-oriented, logical, and pragmatic professional was visibly moved, and so was I. It’s not often that an entire group of people is made to feel like they belong; The photography industry is an industry that thrives on building relationships. These relationships come naturally to 75% of the world and more importantly, their competition. To attend a talk about sales and walk away with a sense of community and being understood was something incredibly powerful and I wanted to know more.
Introverts in the Photography Industry
Over the last 10 years, Jen’s work has taken her to over 20 countries on six different continents. She has been named a top photographer by Martha Stewart Weddings and has received accolades from Rangefinder Magazine, PDN, and the Framed Network. Her work has been featured on the covers of numerous international bridal publications, including Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country Weddings, Brides Magazine, Style Me Pretty, Martha Stewart Weddings, The Boston Globe, and New York Magazine. So how did someone who identifies as an extreme introvert transform herself into the confident, engaging, and wildly successful businesswoman sitting across from me?
“Before I was in weddings and speaking at events I was much more shy. But now I’m used to it and I can kind of make it happen if I need to.” Hearing Jen say she could “make it happen” if she needed to, struck a chord of understanding with me and I must have made a face because she stopped mid answer and hit me with a question, “You must be an extrovert, right?” I don’t often have interviewee’s turn the tables and ask me a question, especially one that, until that moment, I had struggled to know how to answer. Rather than my normal go-to of outwardly identifying as an extrovert, I decided to be candid with Jen.
The truth is, I am deeply and sometimes even cripplingly introverted. I was surprised by my own words, usually reluctant to insert myself in an interview. I leaned in. I told Jen that I was on “when I have to be, but then I have to become a recluse and hibernate for weeks after.” To which I got a resounding, “Me too!”
As if she could read my mind, Jen seemed to know exactly why I was hesitant to admit I was an introvert. She was well versed in the misconceptions that made me feel like I had to fit a particular mold that more closely resembled my personality. “The difference between introverts and extroverts is not that extroverts are more social or more friendly,” Jen explained. She said it had more to do with energy creation and storage.
I was both fascinated and delighted that I was in the presence of someone who wasn’t discounting my anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed in a crowd. Jen had me glued to every word she had to say. She went on, speaking more to me personally, than the microphone. “You’ll totally understand this,” she said before pausing and leaning in.
“Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. We get drained from social interaction and once we’re drained, we need to go into our little cave and recharge.” Her use of the word “we” had me hooked. “Extroverts are solar panels,” she continued. “They suck their energy from people. And so the more they’re around people, the more energized they are.”
Hearing Jen so clearly and concisely sum up what I’ve been trying to explain to my friends and family for years made me feel understood and supported. 25% of the population in the world are introverts, and finding ways to cope can prove challenging. But when we do, we can thrive in our chosen professions, despite the added difficulty of pretending to fit in. “When an introvert is well-rested and we’re not feeling stressed out, we can be just as social as an extrovert.” After a beat of letting her words sink in, and almost as if reading my mind, she said, “and then we go hide and die afterwards.”
Thriving as an Introvert in Photography
In order to continue to thrive in her business and in her personal life, Jen has several rituals that help to keep her focused and prepared. “I always go to bed early and make sure that I’m well-rested and comfortable.” For Jen, that means having plenty of snacks and water on hand. “I have a favorite sparkling water that I want to be there because these are the things that make me happy.” And when she’s happy, Jen says she can do anything.
I was pleased to hear that Jen has an active role in education because what she was able to teach me about myself in just a 30-minute interview was invaluable. She has a casual yet comprehensive approach to explaining complex topics in a conversational way. An accomplished author, Jen’s written work includes a 3-book series on natural and expressive portraiture and composition, covering couples, family, and boudoir/maternity photography.
“One of the new Focused Guides is going to cover sales and marketing for introverts and all the things that make me who I am.” Jen prefers writing books over doing workshops because it allows the reader to spend as much time as they need with each topic. When I asked Jen why she was so drawn to writing educational books instead of going the more trendy, webinar route, she told me, “I really just want all of my readers to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and my book and just be in their zone.”
Jen Huang | Introverted Professional in an Extroverted World
Jen has a lot of incredible advice for photographers that can be found in her books. But rather than focusing on posing guides and composition, Jen’s passion for helping other introverts thrive in an extrovert’s industry resonated with me in such a way that I felt it deserved its own feature. But maybe I’m slightly biased as an introvert, albeit with newfound confidence. I can thank Jen’s innate ability to inspire and encourage for that.
“Extraordinary photographers stir our emotions. Their images have the power to change us, transport us, and inspire us. They can be strikingly beautiful or feature unexpected content. They can showcase a mastery of photographic technique or be a simple snapshot. They are fascinating to look at, they make us think and feel, and leave a lasting impression.” ~ Jen Huang