February is here and that means it’s time for another CMpro of the Month. This month, we are thrilled to have Texas photographer Jennifer Dell as the CMpro of the Month! Jennifer is a wildly talented, natural light children’s photographer. We love that we got to see inside her head a bit with this interview and, of course, to see all her gorgeous work here!
february cmpro of the month | jennifer dell
interview by Melissa Koehler
You’ve always had an interest in art and the creative side, even as a small child. At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to be a photographer and what pushed you in that direction?
I grew up drawing and painting… both my Mom and my Grandmother were artistic so it was natural for me to follow in their steps. When I was in high school I took my first photography class where we shot on film and developed everything ourselves in a darkroom. It was a great learning experience, but back then I didn’t think I could pursue it was a career.
When I was working on my graphic design degree many years later, photography became an integral part of my projects and I, at that point, took several photography classes and learned all about Photoshop and the digital darkroom. This was also when dSLRs were becoming quite popular and it seemed much more accessible to pursue photography than it did when I was in high school. Then, while in school, I was offered a position as an art director for a magazine and I saw how important photography was to telling a story and I was always on the hunt for the perfect photos for each article, so I think photography has always been a part of my life, it just took me some time to channel it and take it in a direction that worked for me.
What was the turning point in which you decided that you wanted to make photography a business and not a hobby?
Honestly, it was because I wanted to have a career and wanted to do something for myself.
I tried hard to be a stay at home mom, but I always felt like something was missing. I missed interacting with others and having a career. Photography is so much about the connection that was so important to me and it helped fill that hole I felt when I wasn’t working. I love meeting new people and learning about them while shooting, when I get that connection, there’s nothing better. Having a hobby was wonderful and freeing and there are, of course, days that I wish I could shoot for myself only but I know I would miss working with my clients, especially those that have become more like friends than clients.
Tell us a bit about your education in photography and why you think it’s helped you develop your style.
I learned the basics shooting on film when I was 17. My photography class in high school focused on lifestyle and photojournalism photography. So I know that’s where my love of lifestyle photography comes from. In college, I was easily able to apply the film basics to digital. ISO, aperture and shutter speeds always came easily to me. That said, I learned more about the artistic side here on CM and I think that has helped me grow as a photographer. I think that breaking the rules has always been hard for me, so that is something that I’m currently working on and furthering my style and education. It’s important to keep learning and growing and stretching yourself creatively.
You are a mother and a successful photographer. How do you find a good balance between the two?
It can be challenging, just like with any career. My children go to school Monday through Friday and when they are in school I work. Then once they come home, we spend time together until they go to bed. Then I go back to work once they are asleep! My kids are always my top priority and I’m very thankful that I can have a flexible schedule that allows for me to have that time with them and do something I love as a career!
There is some styling in your sessions. Do you do this for every session and how do you decide how to style the session for the particular family?
I don’t necessarily do it for every session. There are some sessions that are a little more relaxed and don’t have any styling. That said, I think the sessions where I get to dream up a fun story line or incorporate family traditions to base the session off of are my favorite. Even if it’s something as simple as photographing a family reading their favorite book, I love when I get to incorporate things that are important to the family and help them preserve those intimate every-day moments.
We’d love to know what your favorite subject to photograph is and why.
Children, ages 6 months to about 10 years. At the six month stage they are starting to sit up and are almost always happy and bubbly. At that stage they are so easy to work with and so much fun. As they grow up and they develop their personalities and start learning about the world around them which always makes for very fun images. Then, as they get even older they start to have a fabulous imagination, and that is something I especially love to photograph of my daughter. I love to get a little peek into her world. It’s always so interesting to see what children think and how they communicate their thoughts. It’s usually pretty black and white and honest and that’s another aspect of child photography that I love… the honesty.
Your images have such beautiful light. If the lighting situation is less than ideal do you ever reschedule the session?
Yes, I do. I tell my clients that if they love what they see on my website we do have to shoot under certain conditions. So if I see overcast skies or yucky dark clouds, I always call my clients and give them the option to reschedule. Most of the time they do, some cases are harder since a few of my clients travel to me from other cities and states. But I love to get that yummy gooey light!
Describe your ideal location?
Somewhere tropical with gorgeous beaches and lush landscape. I think it would be somewhere like St. John, where half the Island is actually a nature preserve. That way I would have the richness in the forest and open softness of the beach. So… if anyone is heading to St. John anytime soon, I will travel. *hint, hint*
What has been your most challenging thing related to your business?
Saying no. It is so hard when you want to please everyone. But realistically you can’t and learning when and how to say no is important. I am still working on it…
What is the best advice you’ve been given and how did you apply it to your business?
Worry about yourself and your art – Not what everyone else is doing. It’s hard in a saturated market to not worry about how your business is going to be doing each year, especially when you commit to a studio lease. But honestly the only way that I can keep growing is to focus on myself and my artwork. It’s important to learn as much as you can and to keep learning and when you do this, you have little time to worry about anyone but yourself. Also, be friendly and kind to others, especially other photographers that you meet, you never know when one may become one of your closest friends and having a good friend (or more) in the industry is invaluable.
Goals and dreams are so important whether personally or professionally. Share with us some of your goals for this year.
This year I am hoping to mentor more and reduce the amount of client sessions I take on. Right now I shoot about 10-12 a month and I want to change that to a max of 6-8. I will no longer take sessions unless they make my heart sing, which can be hard when running a business, because I still have to think about those aspects… but I believe it can be done.
I want to develop my photography and start exploring techniques and styles that I feel like I am missing in my own work. I’ve set up a personal project where I studied artwork and photography that I loved and wrote out 12 different aspects of what it was that I loved about the work, and I’ve divided that out into 12 different months of exploring. I’m hoping that it helps me to refine my style even more.
You’re working on a breakout session for CM. Can you give us a little teaser?
Yes! I am! I’m so excited and honored to do this! It’s on backlighting – my favorite kind of lighting to work with. I love flare and haze and even just the sparkly bokeh that you can get by filtering backlighting to achieve a cleaner image. When I was in college I worked on a golf course and I always remember the way the light would pour through the trees and how it sparkled in the early morning hours. I think that might have truly started my obsession with light and bokeh, I just didn’t know it yet. Since then, I’ve become only slightly obsessed with light and I have built my breakout session around that obsession. It is a 72 page PDF and includes all kinds of goodies like 10 of my workflow actions, 5×7 diagrams for how to use backlighting with the corresponding image, almost an hour long editing video and a 30 minute long shooting video. Between the two videos I walk you through my whole workflow from shooting to editing and how I find and work with backlighting to get the images that I want. There is a TON of information, I don’t hold back!
Thank you Jennifer for the lovely interview! Make sure you head over to Jennifer’s website, blog, facebook, twitter and Instagram to view the rest of her gorgeous work. You can also view one of her sources for inspiration on her Pinterest board and if you have a question for Jennifer please visit her ‘ask a pro’ thread within the photography forum.