MT:First Christa - thank you so much for being our first interviewee for "Help A Momtographer Out!" (Doesn't interviewee look weird spelled out?). How did you start taking pictures? When did it become apparent to you that this is something that you would "do" for a living?
Well it’s a pretty cool story actually… I started around 6 yrs old, just loving cameras and taking pictures. Then in 3rd grade, my school’s Gifted & Talented instructor asked me what I wanted to learn during our time together, and I said photography! And so a small public school janitor room in NJ was turned into a darkroom for me, and I was allowed to experiment, play and learn. Fast-forward 30 years later, and I’ll never forget the magic of watching images appear before my eyes, the power of images – freezing a moment in time. I seriously get choked up thinking about it. My profes sional business is quite young – only 5 years – and it started when a friend had a baby and couldn’t find a good photographer. I thought, hmmm… I can do that! And I’ve been blessed to be booked and busy ever since.
MT:One of the most striking thing about your family images is how they all have a common thread of joy, even if the subject isn't smiling. How did you find your own style? Do you have any tips for our momtographers on how to capture some of that - let's call it authentic joy - in their own pictures?
Thank you so much. That’s a really great compliment. I guess when I shoot, I’m looking for the height of emotion – level 10! – w hatever the emotion is… joy, sadness, silliness, etc. And authenticity is key to that. We’re only interested in honesty. So the key to shooting authentic emotion is to shoot what’s actually happening. Say “yes” to everything – if your child throws a tantrum, shoot it in all its glory. If you want a genuine joyful smile, have your child jump up and down on her bed, eat a cookie, tell you a joke, make a silly face… give your child an activity to engage her in an authentic way… and you will get incredible results – you better be ready with your camera and shooting the entire time. :)
This is authentic joy at level 10 - my favorite! Never underestimate a child's love of "peek a boo, I see you!"
MT:As a professional, you have to build repore with your subjects at the beginning of every shoot. What have you learned over the years that can help a momtographer ignite the interest of their own child?
Perfect lead in from the last question… engage your child, truly. Don’t “take pictures” … talk, tickle, play, chase, challenge your child - the camera is incidental. It’s an appendage of you… it’s just there, documenting how you relate/see/love your family :)
Some of my favorite moments I've captured are simply the anticipation of being tickled! The best part is you can do this over and over again with the same child until you get the shot with the ultimate in joyful giggly anticipation.
MT:We've read on your blog that you take a 'less is more' approach to equipment (we share a similar philosophy - until recently, Krista Njapa was a rebel girl with just one lens too!). Do you think starting out with too much can stunt the growth of a new momtographer?
Absolutely! I’d say start with a disposable camera if I could! It’s really all about heart, seeing your kids for who they are, creating authentic moments, and taking a shot at the right time. Who cares about “how many megapixels does that camera have?!” etc. The biggest question for me when I see a moment and a shot is: How does it make me feel? Is it interesting? And do I know this child better now after having seen this picture. So what if your exposure is a bit off, the composition could be better – those are things that are easily learned. But if you don’t GET the moment, then you’re missing the whole point of creating images.
Here is a perfect example of the impact of the moment overpowering "proper" technique... Yeah, the exposure and focus is a bit off here, but this shot makes me feel good, makes me laugh, invokes memories of childhood, great friends, and the awkwardness of growing teeth :) When I look at it, I have to laugh, and I'm certainly not thinking "wow, wish I had a better faster lens."
MT:Which brings us to natural light... You're a fan of using what nature gave us? How do you find that perfect spot? Are there any unexpected places our momtographers might look to find some yummy light in their own homes?
Oh yes, natural light is a great gift… never underestimate the power of one window. Pull back the curtains and shoot near a window, open up a door and shoot in the entryway, use white sheets on the bed and shoot in the bedroom (one of my favorites!). Or go outside and find a nice shady spot under a tree. Good pictures are well lit…. and the number one thing you can do to improve your pictures is turn off your flash and find the good light.
Get sneaky when looking for good light - it's everywhere. On the drive home from our shoot, I was amazed by the light in this little boy's eyes, so I zoomed in really close and you can't even tell that we were both in the car, and he is sitting in his car seat!
MT:We hear lots of mixed things on children wearing white... how do you keep the exposure under control? For our momtographers who aren't yet shooting in manual, can you think of any drawbacks and/or upsides to wearing white or any other color or prints for that matter?
That’s a really good question. Here are my thoughts on wearing white… I heard somewhere and I truly believe in this: the brightest thing in a picture should be you – your eyes, your smile – so why would you want a bright white shirt to take over? It’s a distraction… Eliminate distractions so our focus is on what story you are telling, and undoubtedly – it’s not about that white shirt! (We could talk tons more on eliminating distractions – maybe a topic for next time!)
MT:Are there things you had to "unlearn" along the way - unproductive habits, etc that you could caution momtographers about?
Hmmmm… not really – maybe because I started shooting film… plus I think all learning is good… find what works for you. Shoot a lot, and recognize what you like, what you enjoyed, what went well, and what did and didn’t work for you. As far as habits go, the only thing I’d recommend is getting in the habit of backing up and organizing your photos :)
MT:Finally - if you could only share one transformational tip with our momtographers, what would it be?
Ooooh, just one?! That’s hard… but I guess it would have to be: Tell a story with your pictures – go with your intuition and shoot with your heart – we’re women, and we’re great at that!
Shooting from the heart is easy - just take a look around you, notice what moves you, and it's as simple as framing the story as it speaks to you... These girls weren't ready to leave the park and hid behind their dad... to me, that's just as simple and sweet as parenting gets.
You can check out more of Christa's work at www.christameola.com. Her blog oozes with great tips for photographers of all levels - and the images are just plain inspiring. Her first professional workshop is almost sold out - so be sure to check out her blog for new dates!