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Behind the Lens: Cathy Mores Edition

Welcome back for round two of Behind the Lens — interviews with some of my favorite photographers.

I took photography & advanced photography in high school (which was only 3 years ago [wink wink, nudge nudge]).  I’ve asked peers and professionals for photography education throughout the last decade or so.  I’ve bought books.  I’ve subscribed to blogs.  I’ve continued to take mediocre pictures, mostly due to lack of motivation. “I am not good at photography.”  “Maybe I’ll stick to something I’m good at…like eating burritos.”

These are all thoughts that have gone through my head.

Then, I heard about Cathy Mores CONFIDENCE Workshops and I was intrigued.  I am super into Rifle Paper Co. and all it’s cuteness and low and behold, Cathy included a Rifle notebook in the goody bags for class attendees!  This is going to sound ridiculous, but getting a sneak peek at Cathy’s planning process and the goody bags?  I was SOLD.  My excitement was 20% knowing I would be the owner of a super cute new notebook, but the other 80% of my excitement came because I knew that Cathy and I had similar taste.  I would be learning photography from someone who valued design.  Her portfolio of work and the style of her photography is exactly what I’d love to work toward.  Who better to learn from than someone whose style inspires you?  [Look...I'm famous!]

You must know that there is an upcoming Confidence Workshop in Topeka and I cannot recommend this course enough.  Confidence is such a good title for her class because that’s exactly what I gained.  Not just confidence, but technical knowledge to back it up.  So without further ado, meet Cathy!

Behind the Lens: Cathy Mores Edition

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First of all, tell us a little about yourself. Who the heck are you? Hi! I’m Cathy Mores. I’m a photographer, designer, teacher, storyteller and historian. My life revolves around inspiring women and moms to remember the little moments in their family’s lives. I live in Manhattan, Kansas, with my husband and son, who constantly keep me on my toes and are the source of much of my inspiration.

How long have you been a shutterbug and what got you interested in photography? If this tells you anything, I learned how to photograph on film (gasp!) and have three-ring binders and old shoeboxes stuffed full of negatives. I was the girl in high school who thought fixer could double as perfume because I spent so much time in the darkroom. I never went anywhere — even for coffee with a friend — without my Canon AE-1 around my neck. Readers note: fixer stinks.

How would you describe your style as a photographer? Joyful. I want people to feel happy when they see my work, especially when it hangs in their home. Whether we’re celebrating a new baby, a milestone birthday or just updating a family’s portraits, my style feels lighthearted and in the moment. Our memories are tied really closely to emotions, especially the ones that make us smile over and over again, and I want that to come through in every photograph.

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What is your education background? Have you taken formal photography classes? I carry a bit of the old-school in my heart, because I learned how to photograph with only 36 frames on a film roll, and so I had to think through every detail of an image very carefully. I have a BFA from Iowa State, where my studies and my life revolved around photography and design. After that, I worked in the advertising industry for a number of years. It gave me an awesome opportunity to use my graphic design and photography skills in a happy marriage before I opened my studio in 2008. I still take workshops and classes, in addition to private mentoring, because I believe so strongly that there’s no finish line to what you can learn. It’s not like reaching the top of a mountain and you’re done — even so many years into this industry, there are still things I want to learn more about.

Your portfolio is pretty diverse, from kids and families, to weddings, to commercial work as well. Do you have a favorite subject to photograph? Why is it your favorite? Family portraits are my favorite, and I love photographing two and three year olds during family portraits. They’re so unpredictable and LOVE to be silly (which makes it totally okay for me to be silly too!). They have unbridled joy and freedom and it comes through in everything they do. That’s the age that I feel like goes by so fast. You blink and they’re a third-grader. I want your family to remember those moments before they’re gone and you’ve forgotten those special things about your kids that make them so amazing.

What is your biggest source of inspiration? How do you find inspiration if you’re in a creative rut? I look for inspiration in random places. Sometimes it’s hiding in the dusty corners of an antique store or flea market. I love the idea of up-cycling or repurposing something old into something new. It’s all in the way you see the solution to a problem. Another way I get inspired is to surround myself with sensory experiences — my favorite of which is jumping on a plane or in the car and traveling somewhere new. It’s a small shift in perspective that can make a big creative spark.

If I’m in a creative rut or low, step one is getting away from the computer. Real life is so much greater than Photoshop! Sometimes that means getting outside for a while, going for a run, working in my yard or helping my son with his soccer skills. If that still isn’t working, I use a few creative exercises to help ignite new ideas.

I find inspiration arrives when you aren’t always actively seeking it, but it’s like a faucet — once it starts going, it can be hard to shut off. My husband can tell when I’ve been in the creative zone because I start spilling out all kinds of wacky ideas for places we should go and photographs I want to create. I find lately I have more ideas than time.

Do you have a tip or trick you would share with people just starting out with photography?  Something a budding photographer could try right away and perhaps get a morale or confidence boost? One of my favorite tips is to stop telling your kiddo to say the word cheese. The moment is totally different when you ask your child to stop what they’re doing and smile at you. I have plenty of photos of my own child with his “picture face” on because I asked him to stop doing whatever it was that was making him happy (holding a lobster, for instance). I think the best photographs are where your child is fully engaged in something that brings them joy.

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What is your favorite lens in your camera bag and what do you love about it? Hands down, 24-70 2.8. I love its versatility, and it’s on my camera most of the time.

I’m trying to educate myself on different lens types. Why do you say that many photographers consider the 24-70 2.8 a “cheat” lens? Because it’s so versatile, you really don’t need to think outside the box. Using a fixed lens like a 24, or 35 or 50mm will make you think of different ways to shoot different shots. You could do the same with a 24-70, but its just easier to give in to the easier shot.

What is your favorite photography accessory, besides your camera/lenses? I’m a huge fan of Kelly Moore bags. They’re adorable, functional, durable, and don’t scream “Hi, I’m full of expensive gear” when you’re out in public.

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Do you plan on buying any new equipment in the near future, and if so, what have you been eyeing? I am drooling over a 85mm 1.4 lens. DROOLING, I tell you. And the new Nikon D810. And I love the look of the Nikon Df. My equipment budget this year is in major trouble.

What piece of advice would you give to a novice photographer, hoping to improve their camera skillz? 

Two bits of advice have carried with me since my early days. One, a camera is only a tool, and is only as good as you know how to use it. One of my favorite narratives from Sam Haskins says it best:

“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York.  As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.’” ~Sam Haskins

If I only knew how to use one burner on my stove, and it was always set on high, I wouldn’t be much of a cook. (Admittedly, this is me more often than I’d like to admit.) But if I know how to use all four burners, learn the different settings that it can do, then I’ve started to create a dinner full of texture and flavor. Photography is like that too — the better you learn your equipment, the more you can control the outcome of your images.

Second, give yourself the grace and patience to miss a moment or two as you learn. Mistakes teach us so much more than the successes ever will. As we say in CONFIDENCE workshops, “Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.” (Julia Cameron) There’s beauty in the attempt and it’s better than not catching the moment at all, because we were too afraid or intimidated to learn how to use a camera better.

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Thank you, Cathy!

To keep up with Cathy, check out her blog, like her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram (@cathymores), or better yet, MEET this lovely lady at her next CONFIDENCE Workshop.  There’s an early bird discount for signing up by August 16th.  Score!

If you or someone you know is interested in being featured on the Behind the Lens series, please email me at lovablelens@gmail.com.

Michelle

7 Simple Headshot Tips

Two years ago, I started my dream job — stay at home mom!  But before that, I had a job that was a close second…high school teacher.  Being a parent can be really tiring because it’s a 24/7 thing, but for me, being a teacher was definitely more stressful.  Stressful, but incredibly fun!  While I was there, I met one of my dearest friends, Sarah, who was the theater teacher.  She caught wind that a new teacher (i.e. me) had dance and choreography experience, so she asked if I’d help her with the musical.  And that’s where our love began.

Through my experience with musicals, I met some super awesome kids, including Prince (who will soon start his senior year of high school).  Prince is talented, confident, and incredibly self-motivated.  He recently entered a singing competition here in our city with the chance to win a $10,000 scholarship.  200 area high school students auditioned, and Prince has made it into the top 10!  As part of the final program, each finalist needed to submit a headshot.  The closest thing Prince had to a headshot were some (albeit adorbs) selfies from his laptop.  He asked me if I could help him out and I said yes, with the warning that I’d never done any posed picture taking before.  He probably thought, “Whatever lady…I’m not going to pay you anyway.  In fact, I’m going to make you buy me ched r’ bites from Sonic that day too.”  That sly little weasel.

I read up a bit online, chatted with the experts for some tips, and went on my merry way.  Here are some of the tips I found to be most helpful!

7 Simple Headshot Tips

(1) Pick good light:
I don’t have a fancy studio or a light set-up, so I used the best light ever – the sun!  I told Prince I’d pick him up at 5pm because I knew there’d be a sufficient amount of shade and we wouldn’t get any harsh light interfering with the pictures.  We drove over to the high school where the building would provide some great shade!

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(2) Focus on the eyes:
I think this is what makes a portrait different from a headshot (though this really turned into a portrait/senior picture type of session).  Portraits don’t necessarily have to have eye contact, but in my years and years of experience with casting (hardy har har), I would think looking directly at the camera is a key component of a headshot.  One of the easiest ways to make the eyes the focus of your photograph is to shoot your subject from above.  This helped get some of the diffused skylight to reflect in Prince’s eyes.

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(3) Make your subject comfortable:
Lucky for me, Prince is a total ham and loves being in front of a camera.  To ensure I captured his genuine smile, I pulled a couple inappropriate jokes out of my repertoire.  Totally worked.

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(4) Use continuous shooting mode:
You know that fancy “click click click” sound a professional photographer’s camera makes?  Yours can do that too!  Just use  your camera’s manual to figure out how to turn on continuous shooting.  This mode takes multiple pictures as long as you’re holding your finger on the trigger (is that the right name for the “take the picture button”?  I don’t know.  Don’t judge.).  This means you don’t have to awkwardly be like, “Oh, I think you blinked.  Let’s try to have a genuine smile again.”  I’m sure as you become a better photographer, you don’t need to use continuous shooting quite as often…but as a mom of a 2 year old and 1 year old, this mode is very helpful when shooting pictures with little wiggly people.

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(5) Consider different characters [what's the purpose of your picture]:
Okay, I think this might really only be applicable to shooting headshots for a thespian’s portfolio, but that’s what I was doing with Prince.  I imagine that depending on the role you’re auditioning for, you’d want to submit a certain headshot that portrays the personality of the character you’re auditioning for.  As I was using Prince as my guinea pig, I noticed that shooting him relatively straight on made him look like a grown man.  Okay, that’s not totally true…because he’s 17 and thinks fart jokes are funny (which is why he’s my friend), but I think it highlighted the broadness in his shoulders and generally showed his masculinity.

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(6) Have a shallow depth of field:
This is personal preference, but I would think if you’re really trying to focus on a person’s face in a picture, you’d really want the background to be soft and blurred.  More on how to do that can be found here.

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(7) Do a bit of editing:
Okay, so I don’t normally feel like you need to edit your pictures.  I certainly don’t take all the pictures of my children and whiten their teeth and brighten their eyes.  We do, however, need to make sure Prince can compete with all those other people out there vying for similar roles or positions.  I thought some simple editing would bring the professionalism of these headshots up a notch!  For the longest time, I used picmonkey.com for editing.  I recently got Lightroom installed on my laptop, so I’m starting to play with that.  These pictures of Prince, however, I edited a bit using PicMonkey.

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I hope this gives you some ideas of things to toy around with!  Thanks for being a fantastic model, Prince.  Everyone send him good vibes on August 24th as he competes to win KC Superstar!

Michelle

Soft & Blurred Backgrounds – Aperture Practice

I am no professional photographer…but I sure do know what I like in photos.  Maybe it’s a phase or just my current favorite flavor, but right now I’m super into soft backgrounds!

After attending a full-day photography class, I am now shooting in “manual” mode on my camera all the time, as opposed to using Auto, or the presets like flowers, landscapes, sports, etc.  However, I learned a lot right before my class simply by shooting in another mode I’d ignored — aperture priority.  Aperture controls a few aspects of photography, but one of them that I love to play with is those soft and blurred backgrounds I see in so many photos that I love.  Before I played around in aperture-priority mode, the only way I knew how to get this effect was to tap my screen on Instagram (youknowwhatI’mtalkinabout).

When you shoot in manual, you are mostly playing around with two things: (1) aperture and (2) shutter speed.  There are quite a few other things you can play with too, but that’s another conversation for another day.  Soooo, in manual you’re concerned with the two previously mentioned things, but if you switch to aperture-priority, the camera takes over shutter speed for you and lets you focus on learning one aspect of your camera.  Alternatively, shooting in shutter-priority mode gives the photographer full control over shutter speed while the camera picks which aperture setting to use.

Do you have a DSLR?  Get it out.  Right now.  If the battery is fully charged, you’re a step ahead of where I’m sometimes at.

Now…change your spinny wheely thing at the top to whatever is your brand’s aperture-priority mode.  On my Nikon, it’s the ‘A’.

Aperture Priority Dial

Okay, now…look at your screen and you’ll see an ‘F’ followed by a number.  That’s your aperture setting!  Now…of course they couldn’t make it easy and scale things by single units from 1-10 (side note: who came up with how to keep score in tennis?  I mean…what on earth??)  Each camera is different so figure out on yours how to change that number (usually some type of moveable dial or something).  Your f-stop scale (how low and high your aperture can be set) is based on what lens you’re using (I think??)…so everybody’s will be a bit different.

Okay, soooo…the lower the number you set your f-stop (aka aperture…the terms seem to be interchangeable) to, the softer your background will be and less of your photo will be in focus.  If you’re shooting something like a landscape scene and you want the whole shabang in focus, you would want to use a high f-stop.

Here…does this help?

Manual Cheatsheet - Aperture

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The lower your f-stop number (or the lower your aperture), the more soft and blurred your background will be (aka your depth of field will be very shallow).  Conversely, crank your f-stop all the way up and your background will be in focus (aka a deep depth of field).

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These delicious macaroons (frozen from Trader Joe’s!) were shot at f/1.8.  This low aperture hides the fact that these beauties were sitting on a plate…on a toy…on my hardwood floor…by my backdoor (hey…go where the best light is, right?).

On the flip side, this picture below at the park was shot a bit higher, at f/7.  I obviously was loving the subject matter (my husband and my little lady flying a kite), but I was also loving the pre-rain muted colors coming out in all the trees in the park.  I wanted to see some (but not all) of the detail in the trees…so a mid-point of f/7 seemed to fit for what I wanted to remember about this moment.

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I encourage you to shoot in aperture priority mode for a bit and play with how much you can control by playing with your f-stop!  Even though we don’t always feel this way, you ARE smarter than your camera!

Happy shooting!

 

Michelle