An Interview With a Photographer (tips, tools, and following your passion)

Today I have a treat for you! Are you interested in photography? Did you recently acquire a DSLR and want to learn how to shoot manually? Are you an amateur looking to hone in your skills and take your photography to the next step?

My friend, Christina, a professional photographer and blogger at Route Bliss sat down for an interview with me. We got into the nitty gritty details about her photography passion, tips of the trade, and shooting and editing equipment. 

christina-at-routebliss
I’ve linked to her photography many times before, but you must check it out! Christina is a talented photographer who not only captures beautiful and scenic landmarks but knows how to find the beauty in everyday sights. 

Let’s get started! 

1. How long have you been a photographer?
Forever so to speak as an amateur — but as a business-owning photographer, almost seven years. I applied for my DBA through the local county clerk in August 2007 and according to the state comptroller’s office, went into business September 15, 2007.

2. Where did you learn your skills and how do you continue to educate yourself to take better pictures?
During my sophomore year of high school I took a film photography elective where I learned the bare bones basics + how to develop my own film and the printmaking process. Before that, I played with my dad’s SLR on occasion, always on auto.

I didn’t get serious about photography until I bought my own DSLR in 2005 and began looking at tutorials and forums as well as Flickr for inspiration. From there I’ve went to a few seminars that were portrait-related, otherwise everything I’ve learned and continue to learn has been from photography books, magazines, online workshops, blogs, forums, and the trial and error of tinkering around and figuring it out as I went.

3. What kind of gear do you use?

  • Camera body – I own three camera bodies currently — the Canon 6D is my newest and now my primary body; before that my primary body was the Canon 5D original. I also have a Canon 40D that I keep around as a backup. The first two are full-frame camera bodies and the 40D is a cropped sensor body. I also have two Canon Rebel G film bodies + a old Canon 28-135 mm lens that came with one of the film bodies that I use occasionally.
  • Lens – I have several lenses at the moment I rotate between depending on what I’m photographing. My go-to lens is the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L since its so versatile. I also have the Canon 40 mm f/2.8 ‘pancake’ lens, the Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens, the Canon 70-200 mm f/4L lens, the Canon 17-40 mm f/4L lens, and the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 wide angle lens. I’ve owned several other Canon lenses as well as Tamron lenses in the past.
  • Tripod – I have a Manfrotto brand tripod and ballhead that cost a pretty penny but is sturdy and will hold the weight of my heaviest lenses & not blow over when hit by wind gusts.
  • Filters – I have B+W brand UV filters on most of my lenses and sometimes use a graduated neutral density filter or a polarizer filter depending on my goals/needs. The last two are either B+W or Hoya brands; spend more to get a good quality piece of glass when it comes to filters 😉
  • Flash – I almost never use the one I have, but I do own a Sigma brand flash I purchased in 2007 for the rare indoor photography that my older cameras didn’t have the ISO capabilities to expose properly.
  • Camera bag – Currently I have an emerald green Jessica Simpson purse I found at Marshalls that holds my camera, the 24-70 lens, either the 14 mm or 17-40 lenses, and the 40 mm lens, plus pocket space for spare batteries, memory cards, my wallet, phone, chapstick, a snack, and a lens cleaning cloth. I also have a Kata camera backpack I use while traveling that’ll hold more gear. In the past I’ve used a Shootsac and the Epiphanie Lyric bag in Plum among other photography-specific bags.
  • Any other essentials? Memory cards (Sandisc’s Extreme line are my go-to’s), a microfiber lens cleaning cloth (buy them in the eye care section of a store, far cheaper and identical to what’s marketed as a camera lens cleaning cloth!), wet wipes (great for wiping down gear, your hands, or a client/photo subject’s hands or clothes when you ask them to pose somewhere that’s not pristine!), a wireless remote (for night/long exposure photography, group shots, and self portraits), a usb card reader, extra batteries, and patience!

4. Do you carry everything with you all the time? What about when you go on a trip?
Rarely — I can’t fit it all in my backpack! If my brother is traveling with me, he has an identical backpack I bought him years ago when he assisted me with sessions. Since he rarely shoots and sticks to a single body + lens on trips, I use the extra space in his to shove in extra bodies and lenses + necessary accessories.

If I’m out for the day or a short weekend trip, the stuff I mentioned that I can fit in the JS purse is the most I’ll have with me — typically just the 6D, the 24-70, and 40 mm lenses unless I go somewhere where the extra 10 mm that the 14 mm or 17-40 mm lenses provide. I rarely take my macro lens with me since I have a love/hate relationship with it.

For my 2013 roadtrip, this is roughly what I had in just my backpack:

  • Canon 5D body + (1) Canon Rebel G body
  • Canon 24-70, Canon 40 mm (on Rebel G), and Rokinon 14 mm lenses
  • Battery Charger, Card Reader, External Hard Drive, Air duster, lens/end caps, power inverter
  • Memory cards, extra batteries, lens cleaning cloth, antibacterial gel, wipes, Kleenex
  • Mini journal to record notes
  • iPod Touch (served as a point and shoot) + charging cable
  • Laptop + power cord + mouse + mousepad
  • (a few other misc items, none photog related)
  • The bro had my other film body, his Canon 30D + 28-135 lens (formerly mine), the Canon 70-200 and Canon 17-40 lenses + my old point and shoot that he uses + his laptop & power cord all in the other backpack.

5. What is your favorite subject to shoot?
Florals + landscapes are my absolute favorites, followed by dogs and urban areas. As for favorite portrait subject, its a tie between dogs and maternity sessions. I love getting down and playing with dogs while photographing them + photographing a glowing mother to be that is so excited to meet the life she’s creating is … for lack of better adjective coming to mind right now, so awesome and wonderful.

6. What kind of tools do you use for post processing? Explain your work flow. How long does it take to finish one editing project? (for example)
When using my DSLR’s, I’m shooting in a file format called RAW. When you download the images to the computer, the files cannot be viewed as images until converted into .jpg or .png formats, which I do with either Adobe Lightroom (I have v4 on one computer and v5 on another one). When I import images, I have it set up so I can automatically embed my copyright info into the metadata of the image files.

I typically just do basic edits (adjust exposure, contrast) in Lightroom, but I’ve also done full edits with presets as well.

I then export them (jpg format, size 10, 100 quality, 300 dpi) to an external drive. Sometimes I also use Adobe Bridge to view/basic edit images if I only have a few I’m working on, like the recipe posts I do on Route Bliss. All my final edits (action filters, any retouching, resizing, and watermarking) occur in Photoshop (I have CS4 on my main computer, my new one I just added Photoshop CC but haven’t used it yet). I have a brush set up with all three of my watermarks (my name + the website url) depending on which site/business they are representing.

When I’m resizing for the web, I typically size images to 900×600 at 72 dpi. For print, I leave them at the full size at 300 dpi unless a client purchases images for a smaller print size package or for web use. Watermarked proofs to clients are 600×400 at 72 dpi. If I’m batch resizing for a client, I use a program called FastStone Photo Resizer + I use Adobe Bridge to batch rename files.

Depending on what the subject is (my personal work or commissioned portrait work) determines how long it takes me to edit/process images. My stuff … as I feel like it. I’m still editing my May 2013 trip photos + a few other sets of spring 2013 images right now and I have other even older stuff that I’ve processed from RAW to JPG but haven’t gotten around to doing artsy edits or prepping for my web portfolio or to sell on fine art print sites.

Stuff that goes on my blog (non travel, that is) usually gets edited within a day or a week depending on how long I’ve planned ahead or procrastinated. Once I’ve imported them into Lightroom, its just a matter of my desired outcome for the photos, usually minutes up to an hour if I need to do retouching (i.e. removing dust spots, power lines, etc).
Portraits/commissioned work, my goal is always to be done + launch the gallery in two weeks, depending on my schedule and how brain dead I am in the evenings from sitting at a computer all day at work, I can usually finish faster than that. What can I say, money and word of mouth referrals motivates 😉

7. In the field, what are your settings?

  • Aperture – Usually between the widest setting my lenses have — f/2.8 — and f/4 unless I’m shooting in bright sun or at night (which could be anywhere from f/2.8 to f/16)
  • Shutter Speed – I typically keep it around 1/250 but will increase it higher if shooting action stuff (i.e. my dog) or in bright sun or snowy settings. For motion or night photography, I’ll drop it anywhere from a full second to 30 seconds.
  • ISO – I keep it set between 100 ISO and 200 ISO when shooting outside, but do increase it as needed at sunrise/sunset, on overcast days, and indoors. Night photography, anywhere from 3200 ISO to 6400 ISO.
  • White Balance – Auto WB all the way. I’m too lazy to set this in the field. #sorrynotsorry. I adjust it in Lightroom when post processing if it happens to be off (i.e. fluorescent lighting or soft white light that gives a yellow cast, especially on skin tones).
  • Focus – Manual/Auto … it depends. With my 5D, I back button focused, so I alternated between the two more frequently. Auto with fast moving kiddos and dogs. Manual with still(er) subjects or where I needed more control on focal points, especially with my macro lens. I haven’t set up the back button focusing on the 6D yet, so I’ve done a lot more manual focusing with it since I got it last November.
  • Image Format – RAW/JPEG — RAW! If I forget to adjust settings between changes in location/light and royally mess up an image, I can usually recover it in post processing or do something artsy to save it. Blow an image in JPG format … and well, it may not be recoverable. #insertsadpanda I do convert a lot of my photos for the blog into PNG format, especially if I’m uploading to Facebook so I can retain as much of the image quality as possible.

8. What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Oh geez … hmm. Understanding the combo of settings to get the perfectly exposed image. We learned what ISO, aperture, and shutter speed were in the class I took, but no examples of ‘in this setting, you’ll want to … ” to see the outcome for itself. I’m more of a hands-on learner, so trial and error has done more to help learn settings than anything. A few formally trained pros have looked down/mouthed off on how I learned photography … but not everyone learns the same way …

9. What motivates you to continue taking pictures? (Why do you do what you do)
I love capturing moments in time … whether its a destination I want to remember years from now, a moment I want to be able to share with someone that’s not there, or capture a loved one that someday won’t be there anymore, I want those moments documented for myself as well as anyone else that has hired me for a session.

10. Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?
I want the viewer to feel as if they were there in my shoes looking through that viewfinder and feeling the moment as I did, whether its people, pets, florals, landscapes, or a scene on a city sidewalk. I don’t know how I achieve that per se other than hitting the shutter button at the right moment in time and almost always visualizing a scene as if I have a viewfinder to my face. I try to look beyond the ‘big picture’ or the obvious whenever possible.

11. Share your top 3 favorite photos you have taken.
I have so many that I picked the first three that came to mind, I have many many more:

#1: It’s a series of images taken at an air show in Fredericksburg on December 7, 2008 when the Pearl Harbor Survivors Group had their annual reunion there (Admiral Nimitz was from Fredericksburg) … it was one of the last reunions held so getting to meet, thank, and hear the stories from our greatest generation was pretty special.

military1

#2: This was my (and my brother’s) Pokie girl that passed away last year after 18 years here on earth. She was quite the diva and loved the camera; if I had it out, she’d pose for me and be all dramatic. I had gotten home from a session and left this chair on the back porch while I was putting everything else in the house. When I came back out to grab the chair to go put in the storage building, there she was sitting it on like this. Until I took about 10 photos, she didn’t move. Once I stopped, she hopped off and went on to check out something else.

IMG_0146a
#3: This kiddo was one of my two favorite kids to photograph before I put my photography business on hiatus, he was such a ham and a natural in front of the camera. I handed him the sign and told him to stay still until I got into place. I barely got to where I knelt down to start shooting before he began hamming it up (having no idea what the sign said either!) … I think I shot 100 + in a row (all with different expressions) before we finally got him to calm down so we could start the family portion of the session!

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I certainly learned something new and hope you did as well! Be sure to follow Christina on Social Media to keep up on her latest photography and posts:

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