Today’s interview is with Khara Plicanic!

When we learned that Khara was embarking on a bicycle based teaching tour and releasing a new book (to learn more about Khara’s book, please visit www.peachpit.com/cameralove, and use code CLICKINMOMS to save 40%), we asked her for an interview so that we could get to know her even better … and she exceeded our expectations.

Khara, your passion, knowledge, and generosity in sharing just astounds.

Grab a notebook and a cup of coffee, then sit down and enjoy the inspiration and wisdom of Khara Plicanic!

We’d love to hear a little more about your story. Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a photographer?

What a windy road it has been! I cut my chops working with film, even bringing my darkroom to college and setting it up in my dorm room, where I would often (and unknowingly) work through the night only to be surprised by the sunrise the next morning. (Romantic, isn’t it?)

My college degree is actually in communication, which I still love and wouldn’t trade for anything. Though I spent a few late nights wondering if I should switch majors or maybe run off to art school, I’m so glad I didn’t. (I’m such a comm major!)

After college I worked in marketing and PR and spent a lot of time studying design and learning more about photography. And after freelancing in cities like Chicago and taking a job out west in LA, I eventually found my way back home to Nebraska where only a few years later, I’d be in business of myself.

The first wedding I ever shot was on film (black and white only) and I developed everything myself in a makeshift darkroom I set up in my parents basement, using the closet under the staircase to load the film into the development tank—ha! I was so nervous about everything, that I swore it would be the last wedding I would ever shoot. But—then I saw one of the images and fell in love.

So, my path may not have been direct, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

How has your work evolved over time?

When I look back at my early work, sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, but mostly, I giggle. It’s humbling to be reminded of where you started and how far you’ve come in any pursuit (whether photography, writing, music, or—cooking!). Developing yourself as an artist in definitely a journey, to say the least.

I’d like to think that my work has matured over time, but what that means, I’m not entirely sure. My work definitely has more intent and purpose now than it did when I was first starting out, and I certainly have a better understanding of light than I did earlier on. (That’s one of the key things that’s a real turning point for anyone’s development.)

I think a lot of the more recent development has to do with confidence, and not being afraid to make a suggestion, as well as not being afraid to say “no” to other things (certain ideas, requests, etc. that don’t fit). Only by asking for what you want, and rejecting that which you don’t, can you really find the space and opportunity to create the images you’re after.

There are countless types of subject matter in which a photographer may specialize.  What is it about weddings that stood out to you so much that you decided to focus solely on them?­­

I feel like wedding photography provides the largest opportunity for me to make a powerful impact, not just in the images I create, but in the experience I give my clients (and their families and guests). When else do you get to put in 8-12 hours of quality face-time with clients, truly making yourself part of their family? I love it!

As stressful as it can be to photograph weddings, I enjoy the challenge the long days can bring, and wear my wedding-day sweat like a badge of honor. (Though I have to say, it certainly doesn’t do my bangs any favors… ha!)

What is your favorite part of a wedding day?

I love the heartfelt hugs of joy and appreciation I often get at the end of the night as I make my rounds to say goodbye to the parents, wedding party, and of course—the couple. It’s amazing how quickly a joyous bear hug from the father of the bride, or tears of gratitude from a groom can melt away any blisters and sore muscles the day may have created. Even after what may be a grueling 14 hours, I usually float home on a cloud of pure bliss, reminding me why I love to do what I do.

What piece of advice would you offer to those looking to get into wedding photography?

Balance, balance, balance! 😉

I’ve found wedding photography to be one of the most rewarding genres of portraiture. But—it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s easy to fall in love with the job and overlook the amount of work it requires.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at finding balance and setting limits, and as much as every seasoned professional would likely tell you the same thing, it’s one of those things that can seemingly only be learned the hard way. But don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

Achieving good light during a wedding reception is a challenge for many photographers.  Would you please share with us a little about how you get such beautifully lit reception photos? Is there a specific image that you can share as an example of your preferred lighting setup?

Because I generally work by myself, I keep my set up as simple as possible.  I shoot in manual mode with an on-camera flash as well as 1 or 2 off-camera flashes (all also set to manual mode).

My off-camera flashes are perched atop very light-weight stands allowing me to run around and quickly move them as needed. They’re usually set pretty low power wise (1/16th on my Vivitar 285s) and I aim them directly at my subjects (for the most part), without any additional modifiers—which is why I can get away with such low power settings. (This lets me fire all day long on a single set of rechargeable 2900mAh AA’s!)

With my aperture usually open to f/2.8 and my shutter around 1/30th, I control exposure mostly with my ISO, which is usually hangs out around 1600.

From there’s it’s just a matter of positioning. My lights move around all night long, but for certain things, I like to have them hit my subject from an angle that’s 90 degrees from where I am. So, if my subject is at 12 o’clock and I’m at 6 o’clock, my light would be at 3 o’clock.

But, sometimes I shoot directly into my off-camera flash (from 180 degrees).

Here, the flashes are in the corner, partially cut off by the frame) and other times I use it all by itself, without any additional on-camera flash, so it really just depends. (Hence the need to keep things light and nimble so it can be moved quickly!)

Occasionally, you can even get away with available light only, if you’re strategic. This cake shot was lit entirely from the recessed light above the table.

And by turning my lights off again in this image, I let the band’s lights be the subject of this photo.

One of the best thing I’ve started using in the past couple years has been color correction gels on all of my flashes. Seriously. They are great! There are lots of different ways to implement and attach them, but so far, I’ve loved my Sticky Filters. They make an unbelievable difference when it comes to cleaning up your white balance, and since I love to shoot JPGS (routinely making prints for clients on-site, straight from my memory card), it’s important to nail the white balance in-camera.

Your ShootShack images are full of personality and great expressions.  Any tips for interacting with your subject when operating a photo booth?

The key is making people feel comfortable. If you want them to act goofy and do all kinds of crazy things, you have to help them out and be prepared to be a bit goofy yourself. In fact, my husband and I have developed something specifically for wedding photo booths that helps both subjects and photographers alike with this very thing. We’ve been using it for over a year now with our photo booth, and plan to release it for everyone to enjoy sometime in early to mid 2012. Stay tuned!

Share with us what happens when you “combine Law & Order, sumo wrestling, [and] cookie dough”?

You get the Pillsbury Dough Boy, on a wrestling mat, with a detective badge and some instantly recognizable sound effects. Just kidding!

Those are all analogies I use in my book, Your Camera Loves You; Learn to Love it Back to discuss digital zoom, RAW files, and the dangers of cropping. The book is written to be a snappy and unintimidating guide about how to get the most from your camera (no matter which model you have). Staying away from industry jargon, complicated schematics, and physics equations meant finding other ways to explain things, which resulted in some pretty colorful analogies. If you’ve ever had a hard time wrapping your mind around certain aspects of photography or digital imaging, a good analogy can make all the difference!

So far, the response has been great. I think people are hungry for this information, and find it surprisingly easy to digest in this fun and simple format. (Now, if only the book came with actual cookie dough… that’d really be something!)

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Khara’s book, please visit www.peachpit.com/cameralove. You can also get 40% off with coupon code CLICKINMOMS! Just enter it during the checkout process.

October 17th marks the beginning of The [UN]tour.  What is The [UN]tour?

The [UN]tour is a completely crazy idea my husband and I had, and it’s becoming a reality in less than a month!

Always up for adventure, we decided to combine our love of travel with our passion for teaching (and sense of eco responsibility) by riding our bicycles across the country on a mission to educate and inspire everyone with a camera. We’ll be pedaling 3100+ miles from California to Florida stopping in eight cities along the way to teach FREE classes to anyone who wants to join us!

You and your husband will be riding your bikes across the country on the [UN]tour.  What kind of physical preparation have you undertaken in anticipation of this event?

I’d love to say that we’ve been biking over mountains every weekend, but in Nebraska, that’d be pretty impossible! As it turns out, the only way to prepare for riding your bike 8 hours every day, is to get on your bike and ride 8 hours every day. So, we’re considering our first 9 days on the road from San Diego to Phoenix to be our training period. Ultimately, we’ll be knocking out 75 miles/day, but on that first leg of our trip, we’re only going to do 50, giving us time to adjust and find our groove. (Plus, we have a 4000 ft. climb on our first day out of San Diego, so we thought doing 75 miles in the first day might be pushing it!)

We’ve done a few 50 and 60 mile training rides in the weeks leading up to the start of our trip and feel like we’ve got a pretty realistic grasp on what to expect. Either way, I’m planning to come home with buns of steel!

You call the [UN]tour “[UN]conventional, [UN]expected, and [UN]believably awesome!” Tell us more! How are your workshops different from other offerings out there?

This is a total passion project. We’re so committed to, and excited about what we’re planning to share with people, that we’re riding our bicycles to make it happen.

In addition to being very eco-friendly, the tour is also extremely community minded. Instead of the typical corporate event spaces, our venues are small and intimate local galleries, community colleges, and art schools or associations.

Did I mention the whole thing is 100% FREE? People continually ask us why we would do something like this for free and the answer is, because we want to and because we can. This project is about educating and inspiring others, as well as ourselves, and when we talk about passion, we mean it. Plus—it makes a really great excuse to jump on our bikes. J

We’re really looking forward to getting out there, meeting new people and making new friends! (Even though we’ll be camping in a tent most nights, we promise to be showered and fresh on class days when we get to say hello to everyone!)

Many photographers are fiercely protective of the knowledge they’ve gained through education and experience. Can you tell us a little about why you’ve chosen to share your knowledge as an instructor? Are there any types of “trade secrets” when it comes to the photography (either as an art or as a business) that you choose to keep to yourself?

Maybe it’s because I’m the oldest of four kids, but I love to teach. I love to take something that can sometimes appear complicated, and break it down to its basics so that anyone can understand. When I’m able to help someone finally “get it,” that eureka moment is totally worth it.

Teach has also helped me continue my own learning process. If you think you have something all figured out, try teaching it and you’ll realize just how much more there is to know! Teaching forces me to stay current, dive deeper, and continually re-assess everything. I think it’s healthy.

I’m pretty open with most any topic. There are some things, however, that each person will just have to figure out on their own. So sometimes, my role is more about helping people find and understand the right questions to ask, rather than simply answering the wrong ones. That’s where the true magic of learning happens.

Can you share with us a recent favorite image and walk us briefly through the creative process behind it (from the way you conceived it / approached the scene to the way you processed it to reflect your vision)?

Shooting details in different and exciting ways can be a fun way to keep things interesting at receptions. Here, I was struck by the patterned design on the ballroom walls so instead of photographing the nearby jazz band in a straightforward way, I grabbed one of my lights, zoomed the head in to focus the beam into more of a narrow spotlight, and positioned it in a way that would cast the trumpeter’s shadow onto the funky wall. So simple, yet funky and elegant at the same time.

Thank you so much, Khara, for your candor and generosity in answering all of our questions!

And blog readers, we have one more treat for you! Khara is going to send a signed copy of her book to one lucky blog commenter! Simply leave a comment below for your chance to win! We’ll announce the winner here on the blog next Wednesday, October 5.

Update:

Congratulations to Celeste Jones who won the copy of Khara’s book via random number drawing!