One of the best things about interviewing photographers is getting lost in their work and seeing where their gifts lie. Without a doubt, Rachel Devine‘s gift is photographing real life in a simple yet beautiful way. Her photographs tell a story, whether it be her story, her children’s, or her client’s. We’re thrilled to have Rachel here with us to share her story, and a little goody!
an interview with rachel devine
You first picked up a camera when you were a teenager in the mid ‘80s and went pro in 1995. What was your journey like and what do you feel are the pros and cons in finding your passion at an early age?
Wow, I love this question because it really makes me think back on those first years. Because the journey was so long and varied, it is hard though to sum it all up succinctly. I think that finding an artistic outlet in photography was an essential part of my formative years as it allowed me to interact with people behind the buffer of my camera. That made my anxiety and shyness easier to handle and something I could work through. Having a head start on the technical knowledge made going into business easier as a young adult as I had a solid portfolio of consistently good work from day one. It was also amazing to go through art history and theory classes in school as a photographer already because I was automatically translating that information into my work. I can’t think of any cons to finding the things you love early in your life as I don’t know any better. It is just my path and I am grateful for all the time I have been afforded with photography.
Being a photographer first, how did big life changes such as marriage and motherhood affect your art?
Since the age of 14, I have always photographed my life and the important people in it. It started with my siblings and their kids and moved on through to include many of the people who have crossed life paths with me. As I became a parent for the first time, photography was kind of a canary in the coal mine for me with Postpartum Depression. I knew that something was really wrong beyond the expected tiredness of being a new mother because I had actually lost that urge to photograph anything. That became a turning point in my life and career as I forced myself to practice what I once did so effortlessly and joyfully. I joined Flickr and was suddenly beholden to others to post images there. Knowing I had to do it was what I needed to motivate myself at that point. After a few months, the cloud of postpartum depression lifted and I was left with the gift of daily life photoblogging. Had it not been for all of that, I am not sure how long it would have taken me to get into posting personal images online…if ever. Now it is a huge part of my brand. In fact last year, I finally had my re-branding done and made sure to create two separate yet visually connected identities for my work. There is Rachel Devine Photography and Sesame Ellis Photoblogging. While motherhood may not have actually changed my art, it changed my business.
Commercial and lifestyle photography is your niche. How has your work evolved over the past 15+ years since you opened your business?
My workflow has had to adapt to the changes in the format of the industry. When I began, editorial images were called for months in advance and we as photographers would submit actual photographic prints for consideration. If the image was accepted, they would scan and use that shot or maybe keep it literally on file for future use. Can you imagine that today? I still have a large printed portfolio of my work to show to art directors and creative departments, but it is all digital submissions. I have not shot film in ages for a commercial shoot. While my style has remained very similar over the years, my tools have changed dramatically. Most of my editorial work is now just bought through my representation at Getty.
You have a gift for lifestyle photography and the ability to see beauty in the ordinary happenings of daily life. What do you think is the key in taking a snapshot and making it into more, making it into a beautiful piece of lifestyle art?
In one word, simplicity. Simplicity of color, light, subject and focus. The story is more powerful, the less you show. It is also open to more interpretation by the viewer which for commercial/editorial work means that the customer can picture themselves or their children with that product. They write their story on your photograph in their mind without knowing it. Finally, real life is messy. People have enough of that mess themselves and can look to clean (yet real) life images for escape.
One side of your business is commercial photography. How does one go about getting involved with commercial photography?
That is a big question with many answers. The field is varied and there is a huge business and legal side to it that is so different from portrait work. It is imperative that a commercial photographer be great at what they do, so start by honing your skills and area of focus while researching the leaders in your particular subject. Peta and I get asked this question a lot, so we have actually decided to take the Beyond Snapshots brand into the next phase with workshops aimed at professional photographers who want to go beyond family portraits and shoot editorial and commercial work. Even for small etsy based brands, there is a need for professional photography and since the goals and process of a commercial shoot are different from that of a portrait, we feel we can help clear up a bit of that mystery.
How do commercial shoots differ from a non-commercial shoot?
There are a few ways, but the most important difference is understanding who your final customer really is and that is the person who is buying what your client is selling. You need to be able to work with not only your client (sometimes and advertising agency as well), but the viewer in mind. For a catalog shoot that could be something as basic as ensuring your colors are as true to life as possible. For advertorial it may be something as subtle as double checking there is nothing that could be perceived as dangerous. Believe it or not, the company will get calls if something as innocent as a stroller strap not done up properly slips through.
What is one piece of advice that you would offer to other photographers?
Know how to get it right in camera in as few shots as possible. Relying on burst mode and post processing is not the way to get better at what you do. I always suggest what I call the two roll rule: Shoot 72 images (that is equivalent to two professional film rolls of 36 frames each) with no deletions in camera. Photograph like the LCD on the back of your camera is broken and see if you can get at least 60+ keepers. These do not have to be shot all at once. Dedicate a small memory card to the 2 roll rule and purposefully compose and expose those photographs. It is a good practice for everyone and you don’t have the expense of film development and printing!
You recently changed up your editing routine. Do you mind sharing with us what switches you made and why?
I do have a big blog post coming up with all of the details but I can say that I have been able to combine my love of customizing the in camera JPEG settings for near perfect SOOC shots with the flexibility of shooting in RAW format by processing everything I take (Nikon only, sorry!) with Nikon’s Capture NX2 software. It is the only software that can accurately translate the in camera settings to your Nikon RAW files. I hated how Lightroom and ACR would both guess (incorrectly) what the images were supposed to look like when loaded into their software. This has changed my work for the best. I hardly touch my images in Photoshop anymore.
A few years ago you and your family made a huge move from the States to Australia. How did relocating halfway across the world affect your business?
Luckily for blogging, I was pregnant with twins at the time and I did not seem to lose followers…in fact, I am certain my readers grew as I documented the huge life changes. After arriving here, I was able to get introductions to some of the kid clothing representatives, designers and retailers in Australia who liked my work and were in a position to hire me. It was not easy, but I put myself out there with a clear vision of the kind of jobs I wanted to get and that led me to the right people.
For some, blogging can start to feel burdensome and they begin to fall behind in posting but you’ve managed to post pretty regularly over the last several years. What motivates you to continue blogging?
The sense of community I get as an ex-pat is what keeps me active on the internet in not only my blog, but all sorts of social media. It is a creative outlet that has now turned into a part of my business and I love being able to share our experiences with others. I also blog for the love of it…I blog like no one is reading and I blog my story. My site is not a client sneak peek where I try to drive sales, it is my honest journal of life. Part of that is my work so it is partly reflected on the blog in between posts about raising kids and traveling. No matter what since I blog my life, I will always have photos to share.
When you start to feel yourself fall into the inevitable ‘creative rut’ where do you turn for rejuvenation?
Well, this year, I have been a part of the 10 on 10 series of blog posts where a group of photographers shoot 10 hours of one day and then on the 10th of the month they post 10 lines of images from those 10 hours. There is a round-robin link system to keep the viewer going full circle through all the blogs back to where they started. The amazing women who are involved with that keep me going and offer all sorts of different styles to inspire. To challenge myself further, I have decided to give myself some sort of theme each month. This month is all shot with my Lensbaby. No reason except by putting rules on myself, I find that I will be forced to think harder instead of immediately going to autopilot.
Congratulations on your new book BeyondSnapshots that you co-wrote with Peta Mazey! Can you tell us a little about Beyond Snapshots?
Beyond Snapshots is my dream come true. Peta and I work so well together and bring such different perspectives to this project, all tied up with a similar aesthetic. We wanted to do something on a big scale where we could teach a lot of people how to take better photos. This book is not about creating more saturation in the market, but respecting that everyone has a story to tell and that they deserve to be able to tell it well. This book is instructional and inspirational and we hope that it will help everyone see that it takes a lot more than just a fancy camera to take a great photograph.
And where exactly can we pick up a copy?
The book will be in every major bookstore nationally March 20th and internationally in April and May (depends on the country) and is available online (March 20th ) through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound to name a few.
We would love to have the chance to give a copy to one lucky Clickin Moms reader!!!!!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Rachel! Your vision as an artist is a constant source of inspiration.
Want to keep up with Rachel and her work? Make sure you check out both her website and her blog!