10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda

We love photography interviews and today we are excited to bring you an interview with an amazing California photographer, Kelly Sweda!

by Megan Cieloha

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

We’d love to hear what drew you to photography and a little about what makes your journey through this art form unique to you.

I grew up in front of my dad’s 35mm Nikon camera. He took it everywhere we went, so I never remember pictures not being a daily part of my life. My sister began studying photography in high school and I’ve watched her over the years become a talented artist and businesswoman. For me it began in 2000 when I studied photojournalism in grad school. I shot with a Canon Rebel, learned to develop B&W in the school darkroom and worked with a color lab in town. But the whole time I never felt confident in my abilities or inspired by anything I did. And so I put my camera down all together. I didn’t miss photography at all and felt pretty passionless for about 10 years. Then in January 2013—I will never forget the moment—my sister and I were about to go for a hike and as we approached the trailhead she started chatting about this thing called Instagram and this app called VSCO and I don’t know what it was, but in that instant a fire lit inside me. It was one of those zero-to-100 moments and I’ve never looked back. I hadn’t owned a camera in years so everything I shot was with my iPhone. I began to retrain my eye, recognize light and composition and my daughter, then two, became my muse. In April 2013 I got my first DSLR and stared at it uneasily until the fall when I got the courage to take it out of the box. Everything said, I’m in about the eighth month of my photography journey and I guess that’s what’s unique about it: I’m a 35-year-old married mother and full-time employee in a totally unrelated field and I’ve got the passion (and stars in my eyes) of well, maybe a kid who’s newly in love. My journey is unique because it’s brand new and unfolding. What it is today it wasn’t three months ago and where it’ll be three months from now I don’t know but am excited to discover!

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

Your opening gallery includes many images without eye contact from your subjects; yet both your images with direct eye contact and the many without convey a strong sense of emotion. Is this approach to shooting (not demanding eye contact) conscious? Why do you think you shoot this way?

I don’t demand eye contact, that’s sure and conscious. My whole approach to shooting is standing by the wayside and capturing moments as they unfold naturally. I think one of the ways I failed as a photojournalist is that I was too awkward and shy to approach people and ask to take their picture. I actually thought if I bought the longest zoom lens I could find, I’d be able to capture people without them ever knowing it! Of course this didn’t work, but my supreme introversion really hindered me. In recent years I’ve come out of my shell to some extent, but at my core I’m still most comfortable being a fly on the wall. This works very well shooting children because they’re so involved in their own heads anyway they seem to quickly and easily forget about me. And I think that’s when I capture some of my most raw and emotive images.

What do you hope that your photography communicates to the viewer?

Carefree moments. Movement. Real life. I’m constantly aware of location, lighting and composition – and set myself up according to those things – but then I tend to stand back and capture what unfolds itself. The result may be an awkward posture or a less than perfect facial expression, but for me, it’s what’s authentic.

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

Centered compositions are a predominate force within your portfolio. What draws you to this method of composing images?

The funny answer, which may have some truth to it, is a conscious effort to get out of the textbooky, rule-of-thirdsy way I learned photography. I’m an extremely left-brained person who fixates on the technicalities of everything from my camera’s settings to the editing process to ensuring my email correspondence with clients and contracts are perfect. I have a very hard time letting my creative juices flow until I’m confident everything else is as it should be. But is technical ‘perfection’ how it should be? There is a constant pull inside me. So I think that’s part of it: a ‘good’ image employs the rule of thirds… so I shoot centered ;)

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

What is your most important photography related goal for 2014? For the next 5 years?

To continue putting my best work out there and trusting the right clients will see it and find their way to me. I’m still in the early stages of not just developing my business and clientele, but my style, my mission and my vision as a photographer. By the end of the year I hope to have settled into my skin a bit more. In five years I hope to have quit my job and built a viable business taking pictures for a living. That would be a dream come true for me.

Many of your images carry an infectious sense of movement or pending movement. What is your one best tip for capturing an image that gives the impression that the subject is about to move off of, or out of, the frame?

I feel highly under-qualified to give technical advice, as I’m still barraging my photo mentors with questions every day. But I’ll give it a try: when my subjects, especially children, are moving around quickly, I’m sure to shoot on AI Servo mode and simply follow them with my lens. I also shoot with the quickest shutter speed I’m able to achieve while maintaining the widest aperture possible for the shooting conditions. I have a weird thing with focus; I want a crisp shot every time, but also often seek that sense of movement. The result, twirling hair or dresses frozen in time, things like that are some of my favorite moments to capture.

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

Golden hour or moody indoor light? What is your favorite type of light?

It’s funny, I would say golden hour with my camera and window light with my iPhone. I honestly haven’t shot a whole lot with my “big camera” indoors, so I’m a little scared of it. But the bottom line is no matter what I’m shooting with, I am addicted to light through and through. I look for it everywhere, notice it all the time and want to understand it better. I feel there’s so much further I can come.

Where do you find your creative inspiration? Mostly from within the world of photography or from another source? What do you do when you’re feeling that burdensome lack of creativity?

Definitely from the world of photography, and particularly the world of photography at the tips of my fingers on Instagram. I hope to find inspiration in other avenues as I continue to grow and mature, but as of now, I feel like I could look at beautiful images all day long and never tire of it. I’m also perpetually inspired by my three-year-old daughter, which anyone who follows me on Instagram probably knows way too well. She’s my first creative muse and since she’s with me in nearly all my free time, it’s like I’ve got constant inspiration wherever I go.

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

Now for a dreaded question. If you could only have one, an iPhone or a DSLR, which one would you choose and why?

I think I’d have to say my iPhone for its size, instant sharing capabilities and overall ease. I’m the type of person who does much better the fewer options I have, so there’s a lot to be said for composing, tapping once to focus and once for the shutter. Now if I could just get my hands on the 5s…

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

I hear that you’re a fan of homemade soup. It seems like the States are clutched in a never ending winter and I’d love to hear what your favorite soup is for a cozy evening at home. Care to link us up to a tried and true recipe or two?

Ha! Well here in California we had no winter at all, but I do love soup year-round. This recipe is a family favorite of one of my sister’s best friends, who then passed it along to me. I like it because the instructions are so loose you can really add whatever you want or whatever you have lying around the house:

  • 4-5 large chicken breasts
  • 1 diced yellow onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • diced carrots
  • diced celery
  • small red potatoes
  • bite-sized kale leaves (enough to cover the rest of the ingredients in a nice layer)
  • salt, pepper, dried herbs/other seasonings to taste

Stick all ingredients in an oversized pot with raw chicken on bottom and the rest piled on top. Add cold water or broth to cover ingredients. Add layer of kale on top to fill circumference of the soup pot. Bring to a boil. As the water boils down, evaporates and is soaked into the ingredients, keep adding more cold water back in to make as much broth as you desire. Simmer 30-40 minutes. Voila!

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

Thank you Kelly for the fantastic interview! Make sure you head over to Kelly’s website, facebook, google+, and instagram to view more of her gorgeous work.

Read all photography interviews here.

10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda photo

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9 Responses to “10 questions with photographer Kelly Sweda”

  1. Jessica
    May 14 2014 at 8:22 pm #

    Thank you for sharing!! Your story is so inspiring.;)

    • May 21 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Thank you so much Jessica! Apologies I hadn’t seen these comments until now. It was my pleasure to share; such a fun experience. Thank you for your kind words!

  2. Tina
    May 14 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    Thank you for the article, I enjoyed it reading.

  3. May 15 2014 at 12:23 pm #


    Do you still shoot with a Rebel? Your iPhone photos are out of this world!

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • May 21 2014 at 3:11 pm #

      No, no more Rebel! I have a Canon 60D but have my eyes on an upgrade. Thank you so much for your compliment on my iPhone stuff. I really enjoy shooting with my phone :)

  4. Kristin Dokoza
    May 20 2014 at 1:36 am #

    I love Kelly’s work on IG – this was a great article getting to know more about her. Thanks!

  5. Kelly Gibson
    Jun 12 2014 at 11:31 am #

    Loved this article. I am inspired and feel it’s never too late to follow your passion. You are one of my favorite photographers on instagram. I just love your images! I know you love your iPhone, but what is your favorite lens to shoot with?

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