Today’s interview is with Sarah Lalone of Punch Photographic!
Hi, Sarah! Congratulations on being Clickin Moms’ August Pro of the Month! Let’s kick this off with a little background information. Can you please tell us a little about how you got to this point in your photography journey?
Thanks, Stacey! It’s quite an honor. I’ve always loved the idea of photography and have always owned a little camera. In my first will and testament I drafted at 18, I explained exactly to whom my photos were to go in the event of my death (I guess I was serious about keeping those safe in my family… and a bit dramatic). As my family grew, the photos grew in importance to me, but just over two years ago it occurred to me that my photos weren’t that… great. On a whim, I bought an entry level Canon dSLR and snapped on P for a year. After a lot of frustration and laziness trying to figure out how to improve my skills on my own, I was pointed toward Clickin Moms and I joined. It was like the moment those kids with the Golden Tickets finally walk into the Wonka Factory… just pure amazement and inspiration. Since then, I have compulsively learned and shot with all the information I could find in hand and went for it. I bulldogged it, as I call it. Last December I became exhausted and had a photography identity crisis. It was time to give a name to my collection of shots and follow my bliss. I realized that what I loved, what I truly valued and made on my own time was documentary-style work about what I enjoy on this planet; all the pleasurable things. So now each shot of mine you see was made with the thoughts of pure enjoyment in mind… even though they aren’t overtly cheery, I shoot only what I truly love in this world.
You are a scientist as well as a photographer. Do you find that there are aspects of your scientific side that creep into your voice as a photographer or does photography serve as a distinct creative outlet?
Funny enough, one of my most trusted photography friends said to me once that my non-portrait work was very ordered…dare she say Scientific. I think it must creep in in that overt way, but also in what drives me to shoot. A lot of my shots are taken as an exercise in “let’s see.” Let’s see how a shot of this weird object I like the look of turns out, or how it ends up looking from this angle, or with this light, or this far away. Science is exactly like that: you can’t expect your outcome (literally, you have to expect any and all outcomes) and you do it anyway… just to see. Does gene XYZ regulate this function? Look and see! I also like to show things honestly, which is so cliché, but I really do… I don’t like altered reality as a general rule (sci-fi movies, Halloween costumes (yes, I hate Halloween costumes), etc. I like things to be exactly as they really are. So documentary photography fits in with research that way, where getting to the facts is paramount.
Your portfolio is very beautiful and incredibly diverse. Many people struggle with demonstrating a cohesive point of view throughout their work when they move between genres. Is there any advice you would give to them?
Thank you! I think the answer to this is very simple: Only click the shutter when you feel moved. Tattoo that on your hand, I mean it. We’re smart creatures and we tend to like things that have personal meaning to us and that go together… colors, music, foods, geographic regions, shapes, the people we like. Sometimes you think your likes are completely unrelated but if you grouped them all side-by-side you’d see that they all represent YOU. You can shoot any and everything if you shoot it always from your point of view. If you shoot by that rule, suddenly you realize that your take on a shot of a tomato that moved you belongs in your portfolio as much as your take on a shot of your daughter that moved you.
When it comes to photographing people, you are a self-described lifestyle photographer. What is it about this documentary perspective that appeals most to you? How do you define “lifestyle” photography to your clients?
To me, Lifestyle Photography has everything to do with photographing the style in which people live their life. That is, simply taking pictures of how we live our life. Everyone has a different lifestyle; some are urban and sophisticated, some are rural and flavorful, etc. The point is capturing those aspects of our lifestyles in a photograph in a way that the subjects really identify with. I started offering “lifestyle photography” to clients because it was what I was naturally doing for my own family. I have taken it a step further than lifestyle as I’ve described it, though. My photographs will show the subjects living life, so they need to live their life while I shoot and that’s toward documentary. Feeding the goats, making dinner as a couple, walking in the woods… natural activities that a family actually engages in: that’s what I shoot. It’s hard because you can’t direct but the results, for me, are truly beautiful.
Tell us about your love for food photography. Your beautiful colors and interesting compositions add a touch of whimsy to this portfolio and lead me to believe you must also be a great cook….please confirm!
I come from an incredibly long line of amazing cooks. Quite sadly, I think the buck stops with me. You would think given that I can extract and amplify the DNA from a single cell that I could follow directions long enough to make a dinner, but I can’t even get coffee right. I manage well enough to get along, but while I can’t really say I’m a genius in the kitchen, I do LOVE food. I think that’s why I photograph it… and I guess I do it kind of weirdly now that you mention it. I typically shoot from odd angles and there is never any styling. I love the look of raw ingredients as they are actually found in a kitchen; in the sink before they’re washed, on the wooden board before they go in the oven. Again, my food work is the same as the rest; I just photograph what I love about it.
What emotions do you hope to evoke with your imagery? Is there a shot that you feel particularly emotionally attached to at the moment?
I have to say I find this question hard to answer. My photography is incredibly hedonistic… It’s really just about what I love on earth. Each image has so much meaning to me and I couldn’t pick just one. I can look at my shots until I’m blue and still feel those emotions. Whether or not that resonates with anyone else is unknown to me. I consider my audience when I shoot in that I care that the image has enough context to be understood, but I don’t have any motive other than collecting aspects of our lives (which is the same thing I do for clients). Long story short, I find every shot of mine triggers my emotions… I hope those moments look familiar to other people as well but if they don’t, the value in them remains for me. Having said that, I do hope to have a stronger voice as time goes on.
I know we share a love of travel. If wishes were plane tickets, where would you be headed next (with your camera, of course)?
I want to see EVERYWHERE. This is going to sound really odd, but I think if you gave me carte blanche, I’d be going somewhere in the jungle (despite the fact that I’ll actually pee myself if a giant bug approaches me). That is a landscape I’ve never seen and feel mystified by. I’d love to shoot it… and then go back in my bug-free tent.
Do you have any plans to go into business on more of a full time basis? What other photography-related goals do you have for the coming year?
Full time, no, only because there are a limited amount of hours in the day. To be very honest, while my passion most certainly lies with photography, I feel like it would be foolish to throw the effort I’ve put into science and academia away. If I can always do both, I will. What I am really excited to be getting involved with now is more commercial and editorial work. I’ve been asked to shoot for a historical group in Europe to augment their translation of a historical text as well as a tourism company in the Great Lakes area. That’s pretty much my dream.
I was excited to learn that you have a breakout coming out soon. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Sure! My husband actually named the Breakout for me because I was really struggling with describing in only a few words what it was about. He distilled it down to what it really is about: Mixing Genres. Just to go back a bit, when I took inventory of my sessions it became really clear that I shoot pretty much everything and I was not willing to leave anything out. Sure, I shot the kids playing, but I also shot the sun peeking through the leaves because that warm sun just felt so good. I noticed that when I did that, it ended up really complimenting the portraits of the kids. It added something more to the session… it took it from being a set of photographs to an experience. I think a lot of us are doing that, we just don’t know what to do with those shots from other genres… they sit on our hard-drives and we print out the portraits. Those non-portrait shots (still life, nature, food, landscape, etc.) that we just shoot because we feel like it can really help flesh-out the photos of people to give more of the story and make the memory more vivid. So this breakout is about doing just that: helping you identify what non-portrait shots are helpful in making the memory stronger, how to shoot other photography genres with some skill, how to include them with the portrait shots and mix them all in, and how to view your collection as a whole.
It is always interesting to learn a little about any personal projects our Pros are working on. Is there anything of this nature on the horizon for you or anything else we should be on the lookout for in the coming months?
I definitely want to continue on the path I’m on with my work, but I’d love to round it out a bit more. I just bought Celeste Jones’ breakout (Soulful) and I’ll be working on facing my aversion to directing and connecting with my subject. I’m going to TRY… I’m so used to just observing. I’d love to pair her techniques for engaging her subjects with some studio work and interesting crops… to really push things. I think having the confidence to shoot that way will help me build relevance in my work and maybe address that question of what emotions I’m hoping to evoke in others. I need to get outside myself. Once you’ve gotten good at something, it’s time to try something new even if it means feeling like a novice again.