When I seriously started to hone my chosen craft of writing, one of the first things I noticed was how closely related the approach is too many other forms of art. Whether it’s cooking, painting, composing, dancing, or taking pictures, we all start with desire and ability. Where it goes from there depends on our level of commitment, how we respond to mistakes, rejection, and criticism, and how we allow ourselves to grow. The great artists press on and realize that their success isn’t measured by fame or fortune.
In A Snapshot of Writing, I detailed one of my favorite crossover art forms, photography. After re-reading the post, the idea came to me to feature other artists and discuss their approach to their chosen art form. I decided to start with brilliant, budding photographer Michelle Smith.
Welcome to The Artist’s Corner. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m a survivor. My strength is my compassion. I’m a pet person with a rescue cat addiction. I’m destined to be the crazy cat lady, but my husband and son won’t let me.
Do you put yourself into your photography?
I do. I’ve had some rough spots in my life, so I’m trying to tell a story through what I’m taking pictures of. They reflect who I am and how I’m trying to find myself. I want to be seen, and although it’s who I am now, it’s not where I want to stay, it’s not who I want to be.
What has your experience been?
I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years before I started my career at thirty-four as an EMT and then progressed to paramedic. I worked for a private ambulance company for eight and a half years, three and a half years of that was in training and education. I currently work in the ER Department of a hospital as an active paramedic. I love it!
Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of photography?
No, actually it didn’t. My husband’s job did. He’s a detective who trained in taking crime scene photos. His experience piqued my interest in photography.
How did you develop your passion for photography?
I started going with him to take picture outside of the crime scenes. He shot landscapes, objects, places, and eventually senior class pictures. I found myself telling him what to take pictures of, and I started taking the camera from him. He’d just chuckle at me. Then he started explaining what I was looking for and how to work the settings, but I didn’t pay attention at first because it wasn’t my camera. I let him move the settings, and I took the picture.
That lasted for about six months until he gave me a camera for Christmas. We were going on vacation, and he knew I’d want my camera for the trip, so I got it in November. It was either give me my own camera or lose his!
What’s your inspiration?
Spending time with my husband because it’s something we have in common. Listening to him patiently tell me how to use my camera. Taking long car rides to where we’re going to go take pictures and chatting about it on the way.
What do you enjoy photographing?
I enjoy taking pictures of abandoned places because I feel sad for them. I think of all the things that took place there. I don’t have memories of these places so I think what happened here? I wonder about the families that were displaced, the moms who raised their kids there, and the people who lost their jobs. Where are these people now? Time has forgotten these places and no one wants to hear the stories, so I take pictures of the abandoned places and tell their story through my photography.
Where can someone find you online? Do you have a website?
I have some of my pictures posted on ViewBug under the name Just4FunPhotography. You can find them on the home page newest to oldest.
In which contests have you competed? What awards have you won?
On ViewBug, I participated in peer-created challenges and received the People’s Choice award in the categories of Lanterns, Save the Rain Forest, and Toy Planes. I also received the ViewBug Member Selection Award and Staff Winter Selection for 2015. I took first place in Nature and also in Architecture at the Portage County Randolph Fair. At the Lake Community Branch of the Stark County District Library’s Annual Photo Contest, I took first place in Nature and second place in Architecture.
Do you take photos for people? How does a client contact you?
I haven’t yet for major events such as weddings, graduations, but I’m willing to learn. I think I’m afraid to because you can’t have that moment back like you can with a landscape or object.
What is your process for photographing people?
Well, actually, my focus is on landscapes or objects. I’m not a big fan of people pictures, so all the movement in my photographs is natural: waterfalls, wind through the trees. Right now, I don’t incorporate people.
How is what you shoot for yourself different from what you do for people?
When I shoot for myself, I look at the picture with a more critical eye because I am the photographer. I’m harder on myself than when I’m shooting for others. That’s not to say that I don’t put all my effort into shooting for other people. I take their requests very seriously.
It’s a great satisfaction for me to be able to take a photo for someone and capture it exactly as they wanted. Recently, I took pictures of pigs at a fair for a friend who grew up raising pigs for 4-H. I wasn’t sure I got exactly what she wanted because I couldn’t get past the fences to take the pictures. She loved them because that’s what she remembered: looking at pigs up close through the fence. It was a successful shoot because I made her happy.
Has your work ever been used for commercial purposes?
No, but I’d definitely consider it. For National Geographic; I want that shot! It’s the dream. I’d also like to see my picture of a baseball player on a card or the electronic billboard at the game. Or maybe a hockey player because of their facial expressions. If you have patience, and capture the right moment, they have some intense expressions. But then I’d have to photograph people!
What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?
I have to choose one? I have two! I captured it on my first day out with my own camera. Picture this: With butterflies all around, capturing just one was difficult. I turned to notice the curls of a flower vine hanging just above my head. As I admired its beauty, this butterfly fluttered right down onto the dangling vine. I was filled with excitement and literally shook! I slowly raised my camera into position, took a deep breath, and then snapped the picture. Then I recalled my lessons; even though I took the picture, the settings may not have been correct for this situation. I reined in my excitement and slowly changed the settings to capture the picture as you see it. I smiled, thinking to myself, Wow that’s going to be amazing. This photograph has no post-process editing. I named it Curly Q.
My second favorite is of the 1792 distillery rickhouse in Kentucky. It’s called Master Distiller Approved. I applied the rule of thirds and vanishing points to the picture, but when I snapped it, it came out with too much backlight from the windows. I closed the aperture, and it was perfect. Plus the smell of bourbon in there was heavenly!
What’s your dream photograph?
Are you really ready? People are going to think I’m freakin’ crazy. I want to capture what was left behind after Chernobyl. After viewing other photographers’ work, I became inspired and decided that’s one of my dream shots. It’s part of the abandoned place thing. So many lives were lost, these people had no time to pack, they were evacuated in forty-eight hours, and told they were leaving for just a short time.
The other, I’m claustrophobic so it’s never going to happen, is to photograph the abandoned hulls of underwater shipwrecks. I’d like to do war ships, but you can’t get close. Talk about stories to tell!
What’s your biggest beef with photography?
Photoshopping! Lightroom, a program that fixes the picture and makes it more than it was to begin with. It’s not real, and photographers are getting awards for this type of work. The pictures are over processed, over edited. There’s a minimum of allowable tinkering. All I’ll do is sharpen, define, and noise reduction which fixes shaking. If the picture is already good, it’s not even noticeable. There is some post-processing no matter who you are (National Geographic, Victoria’s Secret, or Sports Illustrated), but you can’t make a bad photo good. Well, you can, but that’s cheating.
My other complaint is photographers who steal other people’s work.
Would you like to work full-time as a photographer? If so, how do you see your business growing?
Absolutely! To enjoy your hobby as a career could be more relaxing than the grind of an everyday job that is so-so. Not that my job is so-so. Remember, I love being a paramedic. Breaking in to the world of photography to make your name takes time and commitment. There’s the investment in equipment unless you get hired in somewhere that supplies equipment. So, I’d work for someone commercially to get started.
Then there’s the investment in your craft. I’m still learning and growing my confidence. I need to work at handling variables such as people (they’re so unpredictable!) and not putting a picture in my head and trying to make it happen.
Do you work alone or with a partner?
I prefer going with someone else. I enjoy going with other people whether they’re photographers or not because when they see something they want a picture of, I can give it to them. I don’t have to guess at what they’ll like. It’s quite confidence building to deliver a picture right then and have them be pleased. Plus I like to chat with people!