A conversation about the Whys, Whats, and Hows of my photography
I recently was talking with a gal I knew from a former job about my photography. We were chatting away about what I do, how I photograph things, stuff like that. This made me think, "why don't I have this conversation with my readers?" Of course it will be one-sided. But I'll pretend to be talking to you like we're out at Panera or something and you're asking questions about what I do. And if you have questions after you read this, you can comment below or send an email and I'd be happy to chat with you.
How long have you been doing this?
That's actually a hard question to answer. I won't really count the dabbling I did in college with my first film slr, because it was just me taking some pictures, and I soon got busy doing other college things. I began taking photography more seriously about the time I turned 40 and was back in college getting an advertising/design degree—there was a photography class I took that sparked my interest again. Then about six years ago I started taking online classes through Bryan Peterson School of Photography (BPSOP.c0m). He has a book and teaches a class called Understanding Exposure that was really fundamental (literally and figuratively) in fostering my growth as a photographer. At the time I wasn't thinking of trying to make a go of it professionally, I just enjoyed it. Other classes followed, and my photographic path began with nature photography, pets, people, and now I'm back to focusing on nature and creating fine art photography.
Did you go to school?
I went to school, but not formally for photography. I have a bachelors degree in psychology, with a minor in gerontology. I went on to get a masters degree in child development and family science which focused on family therapy. Somewhere around the time before I turned 40, I suddenly got this creative streak. (I mean I didn't think I had a creative bone in my body. I was not the kid in school that people would say "oh yah, she'll be an artist".) I started beading and sold jewelry for a short time. Creating my website for that short lived jewelry business led to an interest in design and me getting an associates degree in advertising design. Of the three degrees, I only actually worked in advertising. (Life has a way of creating unforeseen choices that need to be made.) I love school and learning new things. And the energy of a college campus is really cool. Education is a powerful tool and I would not change a thing about those choices.
As for photography, which has been an informal education, I've read a ton of books, subscribe to magazines and read their articles and study the images, I read blogs, and have taken online classes and I attend photography workshops every so often. And I shoot, shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. The learning is never-ending. Partly because of the skills needed, and partly because the technology changes.
How do you decide what to photograph?
Sometimes I think what I photograph finds me, rather than me choosing my subject. But I'm obviously very fond of flowers. There is so much wonderful texture, color, curves, and prettiness (yes, I said prettiness). They just resonate with me.
Besides pretty things, I also like to photograph edgier, and sometimes emotionally darker, concept images. For example, take the word "despair" and figure out how to create that feeling in a photograph. It's just a different way to be creative. You won't see too many of those images on the website, maybe in a blog post every now and then. It's a separate thing I do.
What is your process of creating the images we see?
Finding a subject that is interesting to me, whether it be it's textures, lines, softness, or something else that moves me is the first step. (This can be a pretty random process, by the way. I know some people would like to know a really formulaic procedure for image making, and I don't know that you'll find it.)
Then choosing a lens to convey what I want to communicate about my subject, as each lens has it's own qualities that will help me emphasize or de-emphasize certain things. And I don't always photograph with a vision for the outcome. I'd say most often I'm in the moment and say to myself "this could be something; I'm going to explore it further". Seeing the possibilities in front of me is sometimes the hardest part.
When I'm finished shooting, I import my images to the computer and cull them. My first pass through the images I'm just looking for a positive first impression and missed focus, so basically "yes, no, no, no, yes, no, no....".
The next pass through my images I'm looking at the ones I accepted, and now I'm really being nit-picky about composition, the degree of impact (vs. bland) and zooming in more to check focus. This second culling really weeds out the majority of the images from the first culling. Not every "session" yields a photograph I'll decide to edit further and actually decide to sell. Maybe it's just something nice that I want to share on my blog or on Facebook. I had read somewhere that culling images is like going through your refrigerator. No amount of cooking or sauce will fix bad food. Same can be said for a photograph.
But for those remaining images that I have a plan for or start getting ideas of what to create, then I get down to the editing and creation part. I mostly use Lightroom, and then if my image gets more complicated because I'm planning to composite other images with it , I'll also use Photoshop Elements. Often it's a matter of exploring and playing digitally. I call it my "special sauce". :)
There are so many ways you can edit a photo. How do you know what's right?
I think after you've done some reading and studying, and have personally done a lot of crappy editing of your own work, you have a basic understanding within yourself of what you like and don't like. At a certain point it comes down to a gut feeling. You eventually develop a style that you like. Until then, you experiment. And don't limit yourself to just looking at photographs for inspiration. Movies and paintings are two other sources of inspiration for me.
How do you determine which images have turned out well?
My answer might sound odd, but the photograph kind of talks to me. This can be my work or other artists’ work, but there is this feeling of recognition of something I like. I really wish I had some fancy explanation for you, but I try to just believe what my gut is telling me. And while recognition from someone else is good and nice, you will likely get as many opinions about your art as the number of people you ask. At a certain point you have to trust your own vision, while still listening what other people have to say. It's a bit of a balancing act, but sometimes ideas that other people have are things you hadn't noticed or considered as an option.
How is your work different from other photographers?
This is the defining question, isn't it? And it's the one every artist hates to try to answer.
The fine art nature photography that I create are extensions of my joy, pain, imagination, and all the complexities I bring to the world just by being me. I never really thought of it this way before, but if you think of an actor, they often draw on their inner world (imaginary or real) to bring a character to life. In a way, that's what I'm doing with my "characters", my photography subjects—I'm drawing on my reality and imagination to create them.
On the occasions when I'm creating a portrait, what I create is an extension of the person, or pet, that is in front of me, bringing their inner character to life. I let them be themselves. I always tell people that I won't ask you to smile. (Which by the way is a great way to get a natural smile from someone.)
What is that "special lens" you mention in your artist statement?
A Lensbaby. You can see it attached to my camera in this photo. There are different lenses that can be inserted into the lens housing for different effects. It's really a lot of fun. And for anyone in a creative rut, it's worth trying one. What makes it different from your usual lens is that you can move the lens up, down, left right; it's just not fixed on the front of your camera. It's also manual focus, so that can be a challenge depending upon your eyesight.
Why do you do this?
Because photography is great for introverts. The camera makes me feel invincible. I feel like I can't stop. The act of photographing takes me out of my head and gives my brain a singular task. And I love creating.
I expanded on all this more in the blog post titled "Creating an Oasis; Or, Why I Make Art".
Well, I think it's time to pay our lunch bills. It's been great having this "chat" with you over our virtual lunch! If you have questions about things, either to clarify what I've said here, or something new, just comment below and send me an email.
~Barb Kellogg, photographer, tea drinker, and dark chocolate lover