Every photographer has a story to tell and their journey is continuous. I know that many new to photography struggle to find their style and voice and many times look at what other photographers are producing for inspiration. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others and get down on your own work. We have all been there. I thought perhaps it would be helpful to share my photography evolution so that you can see how I got to where I am today. My style of photography did not happen over night. It took time, practice and an understanding of who I am as a person to find my authentic voice and have it come through in my photography work.
My love for photography began in the 80s when I was a teenager. I had received the Pentax K1000 SLR film camera, along with a 50mm lens and a telephoto zoom lens, from one of my Uncles. I didn’t use the zoom lens much, but fell in love with the 50mm and pretty much just left that on my camera at all times. This was really when my love affair began with photography. It was a huge learning curve. I had to learn about film stock, aperture, shutter speed and how it all worked together for good exposure and sharp images. I pretty much only used B&W film. I practiced constantly while taking notes about my settings for each frame. There wasn’t internet at this time, so no online help back then. Instead, I sought out help from other professionals. My first photography mentor was a photojournalist at the local newspaper, The Leavenworth Times. She gave private classes and taught me so much about getting accurate exposure, rules of photography composition and she also introduced me to the darkroom. There was darkroom set up at the local library and she taught me how to develop my film and make enlargements along with the art of dodging and burning to get the finished print just the way I wanted. I am so thankful that my parents paid for those lessons. It was just the start of my beautiful relationship with photography.
I practically lived in the darkroom in High School as part of the school paper student staff. One of my good friends, who also did photography with me, told me of a great photography program with Hallmark Cards that was geared towards High School students. The two of us would travel to Kansas City to Hallmark’s studios bi-weekly. This was my introduction to slide film, which was yet another learning curve as your settings really had to be spot on since this film is not nearly as forgiving as negative film. I learned so much during this time. Photographed a lot of architecture and landscape, but also was introduced to studio lighting while working with professional models and setting up our own still-life sets to photograph. The feedback and instruction we got from Hallmark’s professional photographers was priceless.
Upon graduating high school, I attended Kansas State University for journalism. I worked for the school paper as a reporter and photographer. I was still using my beloved Pentax K1000 with the 50mm lens and that is what I used throughout college. That camera was always on me. I photographed my friends, college life, landscapes, tiny details, and anything else that caught my attention during my free time. I also got a part time job for a local photography studio where I learned about portraiture, lighting and posing.
During this time in my life in the mid to late 90s, my photography style was evolving in subtle ways. My style was photojournalistic for obvious reasons, but I still enjoyed landscape photography as well. I was beginning to photograph people in a more casual portraiture style. Loosely posed, mainly candid, but trying to bring some sort of emotion. I also started experimenting with different angles and working with shapes within my photos.
After getting married, in 1998, I worked as a video producer in St. Louis. A few years later, my husband bought me the Canon EOS-1V, along with a Canon 50mm lens, as an anniversary present. Boy was that a dream, but also a learning curve. I never had any automatic options on a camera before. I was used to only manual setting and manual focusing my camera prior to the 1V. Now, I had options for letting the camera do things automatically for me. This was a blessing, but also a curse. I immediately started trying out some of the new settings, which sometimes gave me good results, but other times the results were horrible. I read the manual front to back and got a hang of it, but in the end, went back to manual settings, except for focusing. This is the way I still operate my cameras.
During this time, I still did photography on the side and as a hobby. I photographed a few weddings, production stills for local films as well as a some headshot portraits. I still enjoyed landscape photography and was constantly reading books and practicing my craft. As friends began having babies, I started photographing tender moments between my friends and their children. This is when my focus began shifting on photographing relationships and connections of family members as well as individual personalities. I still carried my camera everywhere and went through loads of film photographing landscapes and people in my life.
Photoshop had come out while I was in college, which I had learned while there, but technology was advancing quite a bit now and I wanted to learn all that it could do in the 21st century. I also enrolled in some continuing education classes on studio portrait photography. Doing video helped me dramatically with my photography when it came to lighting and directing people, but the studio portrait photography classes were great for working with strobe lights instead of continuous lights as well as posing and lighting ratios. (By the way, I actually still prefer continuous lights today when I am not using all natural light.) It was during this time that I began experimenting more with my photography style and digital editing.
In 2006, I gave birth to my daughter and left the video profession to raise my daughter and pursue my true passion of photography as a career. There was a lot of experimentation with my photography style at this time. There were more and more online photo education sites, forums and inspirational avenues like Flickr. I purchased a digital camera, the Canon 40D, and took more pictures than ever before. Photography was all of a sudden cheaper since I didn’t have to purchase film or have it developed. I could shoot as much as I wanted without worrying about costs. I could see my settings, have instant gratification that things looked good and make tweaks when needed. I was spending more and more time in front of the computer now though too as I had to learn how to process my images digitally since I was shooting RAW. Such a huge learning curve. I spent endless hours pouring over other people’s photos and gaining knowledge from other photographers and books. I got sucked into fads a bit too at this time. Selective coloring, strong vignettes, desaturated colors and lots of contrast. Yikes!
A few years of spending so much time behind the computer editing photos, I decided that I needed to streamline things a bit, figure out a good workflow and find my authentic photographic voice. I picked up my film cameras for the first time in years and started shooting just for myself again. Went back to basics for inspiration.
Since I had to think about costs associated with film, I was forced to slow down and push the shutter only when the moment was right. This helped me tremendously with my professional work as a photographer. I wasn’t just firing away with my shutter any more during portrait sessions. I was taking my time to capture the right moments. I made sure that things were always correct in camera so that I wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time processing images digitally in Lightroom and Photoshop. I was attracted to cleaner images that looked more natural. I stopped focusing on other people’s work and just did what came natural to me. I started producing images for my clients that I wanted of my own family. The images that meant the most to me as a mother and wife was what I started focusing on for others through my portraits.
I started getting inspiration from movies such as Atonement, with that dreamy lighting and glow in the earlier part of the movie, as well as artists throughout history.
I wanted more purity in my photography work in every sense. I began focusing even more on relationships, connections and individual personalities than ever before. I wanted my clients’ images to speak to them and remind them of who they are/were at a specific moment in time.
I think we all go through a journey with our style in our personal and professional lives. We are always evolving and hopefully our styles are in sync with our true selves. I know that I can confidently say that is the case with myself. I got sidetracked for a very short time, but thankfully I got back on track rather quickly and have allowed my personal style to continue to come through in my work as a photographer.
When my personal style gravitated to rich dark colors, that reflected in my branding and photography. As my personal style evolved to favoring light neutral colors, so did my branding and photography. That is what authentic style is. Style that is true to you in all aspects of your life. The way I dress, decorate my home and the way I see life all show in my photography and business. Some things will always remain the same, but others evolve through the years and personal experiences. I am, and always have been, a sentimental and romantic person who loves the outdoors and all that Mother Nature has to offer. This is why I love timeless photos that will stand the test of time and never go out of style. Photos that I will be proud to display today and years down the road. It’s why I like to use landscapes in my photography and why I am constantly telling my clients to play, snuggle and love on each other during their sessions with me. It’s who I am to the core and who I attract to my life and business. It is all connected.
Although I am predominantly a digital photographer, I still use film cameras on a regular basis and still only use prime lenses for all my cameras. I also use my iPhone quite regularly for certain family candid images to make sure I capture all those important moments in my family’s life. It’s basically the “camera” that I carry with me all the time now. I often carry around one of my DSLR or SLR cameras, but sometimes I just want to focus on life without a lot of gear attached to me, which is when something small is what I favor. My favorite app for the iPhone is Filmborn by Mastin Labs.
As technology advances, I am noticing more and more options for serious photographers who want something small that produces high quality results for their everyday photos. I love the FujiFilm X Series cameras for their low profile and high quality, but sometimes I just want to slip something into my pocket, which is why the new Light camera has caught my eye. (check it out here: https://www.light.co/camera) Super small with what looks to be high quality looking results. I have not used a Light camera yet, but look forward to trying one out to see if it is a good fit for my every day photo needs. The Light Pinterest page has tons of tips and photos by the L16 if you wanted to take a look.
My current set-up is below.
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 35mm f/1.4L
Canon 50mm f/1.2L
Canon 85mm f/1.2L
Canon 135mm f/2L
Pentax 105mm f/2.4
Pentax 75mm f/2.8