When I was 25 years old, I was pregnant with my first child. I was the most excited I’d ever been in my lifetime because all I’d ever dreamed of being was a mother. The love I felt for this invisible being was more than my heart could hold and it would spill out all over anyone and everyone with whom I came into contact. I’d never felt more creative or inspired. At 26 weeks I was headed to my ultrasound appointment to have the results of our gender identification. It was then I learned that our sweet little dream had no heartbeat. I delivered our little baby with the most broken heart you could ever imagine and I have not one image to remember it by.
I ran into the work of Anne Geddes shortly following our loss, browsing books at the library. I feel instantly in love with the hope I felt toward my own situation and the depiction of these darlings in the most creative vignettes. I left the library and decided that all I wanted for Christmas was a camera! That Christmas I got my first camera…and Olympus Camedia point and shoot.
The Spark is Lit
There is a clear difference between taking a snapshot and making a photograph, right? So let’s acknowledge first that every snapshot is not necessarily a photograph. A snapshot is aiming a camera at a moment in time and capturing it through the actuation of the shutter. Making a photograph is the interpretation of moments, the miracle of the vision of the photographer, the mastery of light and shadow, the speckles of emotion throughout, the frame full of a story or the lack of content that screams for viewer interpretation.
My first photographs were not good. Neither were the second or the hundredth! Somehow every photograph made me hungry for more. I wanted to be more present in each image I created–my vision of the subject in his or her surroundings. The idea that “there is nothing new under the sun” is such a damning thought to me but the truth is that inspiration to create more and more artistic work came through seeing others who created artful work–the inspirational work of Annie Leibovitz, Anne Geddes, Ansel Adams, Kelley Brown. Luckily, in our world, there is no lack of visual inspiration. A simple search gets you any kind of reference you could dream up.
Fast-forward to today, my love for maternity images runs deep! After losing a child, it is so important to me that families have the celebration of moments that can be gone in a flash. Even if moments don’t end tragically, they all still end. I want to gather every ounce of all of that and give it it’s due in a still image that forever fortifies that that moment happened.
I’m Not That Technical
If you struggle with technical stuff, this is definitely for you! I’m living proof that it doesn’t have to be a stopper. From a technical standpoint, starting out, I had so much to learn. I still feel there are things that stand between the creation of my very best image and I. Picking up a camera for the first time can be extremely overwhelming and intimidating. I almost had the feeling at first that I might break it. All these years later I realize that that’s a real possibility….Ha! From the first moment I got my DSLR (an Olympus E-520) I never shot in Auto. Ever. Not one day. If there were one piece of advice I could give to anyone starting it, it would be to suffer through the process of learning in Manual. You will make fewer good images but the ones that you do make will not be an accident. You will know exactly how you made that happen! I fought the battle of which choices to make…aperture, shutter, or ISO? I screwed up all the time too. Once I shot a whole groomsman section of a wedding on a bright sunny day at 1600 ISO. Thank God, I was second shooting!! When I got back, the images looked awful! They were grainy and washed out. I knew exactly what I had done. I made that choice.
Let’s be clear, I’m not technically oriented in any direction. I avoid watching television not only because I don’t love TV but also because the remote is ridiculous! Why does it have so many buttons?!? A camera system can feel so intense, but just like a remote, use what you need to and grow into the rest of the buttons. I guess what I’m saying is that I “hung out” in ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture forever. Like for years. I didn’t do multiple-exposures, composites, star trails and second curtain flash photography or try to fine-tune every part of my menu system initially. I kept myself sane by mastering the holy trinity of photography….ISO, Shutter, and Aperture.
Creating a Photo: Combining the Technical and Artistic Sides of My Brain
The first time I created a shoot that was a concept produced from a vision I had in my head was with an 8-year-old girl who was perfect for my moment. I created a little leather outfit and a headband with a feather, bought a gathering basket and some fall flowers. We chose a location that was filled with tall grasses and where I knew the sun would be setting behind our beautiful little subject, Kyla. From the moment I saw the final images I knew I was hooked! Everything about the session made me so proud. The image was striking and different and why wouldn’t it be?!? It came from inside of me!
Ah. Photography. It asks for everything. You know you’re getting somewhere when you become obsessed with the process of creation. One of the most important things is having gear that doesn’t get in your way or make the process more difficult. I’ve chosen the OM-D EM-1 Mark II for my current works and love that it’s light, smart, and ready when I am and the final product never disappoints the original vision. I’ve also recently fallen head over heels for the Profoto line up and love both the B-1s and the B-2s.
A newish obsession for me has been the creation of movement in my work. Recently, I had the privilege of attending WPPI in Las Vegas with Olympus as a Visionary presenter in their booth. When I wasn’t presenting, I was shooting! Being fortunate enough to have friends who live in Las Vegas meant that all of our images didn’t have to exist on the strip. The final day of the conference we planned a shoot in a remote and private (sorry) dry lakebed just in time for sunset. We were lucky enough to have received a beautiful gown from Sew Trendy Accessories to use during our time at WPPI and just had a vision of how gorgeous it would be in this particular setting and application.
First, it’s important to note that most amazing things come about as a result of teamwork.
- The Subject – who must be willing to be intimate and give themselves to the moment. In this case, Brittany Randolph Kyker offered herself as our gorgeous model. Find her @CirqueBea
- The Lighting – the person who must understand the vision and be willing to tweak at the photographer’s whim to bring the vision to fruition. In this case, the amazing Tony Pollard, who mostly tolerates my crazy mind and drags my dreams out of the depths with me into our images. Find him @Tony.Pollard
- The Assistants – those willing to do just about anything to facilitate the slightest things to grind every bit of flavor out of each moment. In this case, all of us friends supported one another with dress tosses and video stories and laughter and love. In this case, Ross Kyker & Mandy Lea. Special note: for more inspiration follow them @rosskykerphoto @mandyleaphoto
Because you can create a multiple exposure in camera on the EM-1 Mark II, the moon images were so much fun as we were able to see what we could do right then and there. It just increased the excitement around the moment and made the creation process so very easy. Creating motion in our Levitation image required an extraordinary amount of running and tossing the dress! Ha! All in all, we had the most amazing experience creating this set of images, which is almost as important as the images themselves.
My work has become an eco-system of it’s own. Each image feeds the next image, each idea sprouts a new idea, and every experience spawns the evolution of thoughts and dreams that find their way into our workflow. I’m uncomfortable staying where I am and have always thought of my work as a progression. Today, I’m dreaming up my next adventure in imagery and I’m ready because I’m ok with failure.