Today’s interview is with Shannon Sewell!
Please tell us, when and how did your love affair with photography begin?
It began with the birth of my son. I couldn’t get enough of him… I was taking rolls of film in every month (yes- back in the film days) and was having professional portraits done about every other month. This was in 2000 and there weren’t very many photographers, I didn’t know any personally so the thought of becoming a photographer never crossed my mind. I was just documenting life and, being a perfectionist, I was frustrated my images didn’t look like the professionals so I started reading books and researching how to take better portraits (and, of course, daily practice on my favorite subject).
What paths did you take to get to the point that you’re at today?
After I had my daughter in 2003, I met another mom who was a photographer. She saw my work at a playdate at my house and saw my love for it… she took me under her wing, introduced me to digital and to the local photography community. It was a light bulb moment that ‘Hey- I could become a photographer, too!’ It was back before actions and online schools so I relied heavily on my local photography community to teach me the ins and outs and, being there wasn’t really a guideline for what I wanted to do, a lot of guessing & just following my gut. It made for a long journey but, in the end, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It forced me to really learn photography and rely on my own instinct… both of which allowed me to create my own style and brought me to where I am today.
Your photo shoots are wildly creative. What inspires you and how do you continue to come up with new concepts?
I am inspired by everything- the color of a dress, the shape of a tree, the latest Anthro catalog, the music score of a movie… I look at the world through a camera viewfinder. Even when I don’t have a camera with me, I am constantly trying to figure out how I would take a picture to capture moments. I think it is very important to find inspiration outside of the photography world. When you allow your other talents and influences to come into your pictures, it allows them to tell your story. How can it not be unique when it’s all about you?
What do you feel has been your craziest theme for a session and how did you make it manageable?
There are many times when I am in the throws of shreds of paper, glue stuck fingers and to-do lists a mile long that I think- “Who does this??” haha! In the end though, I haven’t had any that weren’t manageable. When I did The August Collaboration I had an idea that I wanted a fairy tale princess in the woods with a ‘deer’… I wanted it to be magical and a bit different though so I decided to make the deer. Let’s just say- I do NOT recommend working with chicken wire. I formed him out of rolls of chicken wire and I was cut up from chin to toe. I had to form him by hand and he would catch my shin or chin or arm every time I tried to move- not pretty! And the moss was out of control… I was finding it in my house and car weeks after the session. Not a pretty site (& I think he only made it into 2-3 shots of the final layout). Haha- guess I can say I did it though and that’s the important thing, right? The shoot is located here for you to see.
If money were no object, where would be your location of choice to fulfill one of your ideas?
Oh gosh- I would love to shoot in Greece- all that white (white is my absolute favorite backdrop). Or with the pyramids in the desert- my camel shoot has fallen through twice. Or New Zealand… Honestly, it changes with the day. I am constantly on the lookout for new, inspiring places and have more concepts than I will ever be able to create. I am lucky that my family loves to travel as much as I do so we just set our destinations around my dream locations- win, win!
On average, how much time does it take you to put an entire concept together from idea to final images?
That is a really hard question. Collecting inspiration and dreaming of new shoots is part of my daily life. I am an organizer so I make sure to keep good notes on ideas, keep props handy… when it comes time to actually do a shoot, a lot of the leg work has been done and it is just about setting up. Set up can be anywhere from 30 min to 2 hours or so on an average shoot.
What is the best advice you’ve received about photography or business over the years?
Follow your gut. You become most successful at what you are passionate about and good at… that will be different than other peoples’ success.
When it comes to photography we never really stop learning. You’re at a point in your career where you are able to mentor other photographers and teach workshops so how do you choose to continue to educate yourself?
I have been doing workshops and mentoring for about 4 years. I started slowly with one-on-one help with people that were starting out. I had about 4 years under my belt- it was important to me that I knew the technical side and the creative side in and out before I did it. I also continue to take workshops and have formed friendships with amazing photographers that constantly inspire me and indulge me in idea bouncing & idea sharing sessions.
How do you find time for everything on your plate? Is there a team behind Shannon Sewell Photography?
I keep a strict schedule. I only block out a certain amount of sessions per week and I stick to it. As my business has grown and I have found that other sides of my business have begun demanding more time, I reevaluate and change my schedule. There are still times that I feel overwhelmed and have months of craziness but I am quick to fix it so that it isn’t ongoing. I have also started relying on a fabulous stylist to help me with a lot of the more involved sets (she has been my saving grace on more than one occasion). Other than that- just me.
Raising a family and nurturing a business can be time consuming. Any tips you could offer on balancing your business and your personal life?
Like I said, keeping a schedule is absolutely necessary. I just started homeschooling this year and I started planning for it last school year just so I knew I wouldn’t be stretching myself too thin. Plan, schedule and stick to it- I promise, it will make everything better!
Many children don’t like having their photo taken when they’re used to the camera being around all the time. Is it like that for your children and how do you get them to model for you?
I don’t think my kids know that there is an option not to have your pictures taken- haha! My daughter loves being in front of the camera and is always willing, my son isn’t a fan. I keep sessions really short with him and in the mix of something fun (usually). I do most of his sessions when we are on the road (we travel a few times a year) and I just wait until he points out a spot he thinks is cool or someplace he is having fun- pull him aside for 10 minutes and we are off. I recommend letting your kids be involved in the planning and keeping it short. I do the same with my clients. I always want the kids to feel that the session is a team effort- their ideas are just as important as mine.
In your mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment as a photographer?
Keeping it my love and passion for so long. There have been times that I have gotten burned out and there are many photographers that I have seen turn their love for photography into a job that they begrudge. I’ve been able to take a step back each time, reevaluate and come out stronger. There is a lot to be said for loving your job and I am grateful that I am still excited to wake up and do mine every day.
Do you have your eyes set on any big plans or goals over the next few years?
Yes! Always! 2013 already has plans for bigger, better shoots. Each year, I just want to be able to step it up… last year it was bringing on my stylist & cohort, this year it will be pushing ourselves to our limits and seeing what we can accomplish. I am always looking for new brands to collaborate with and new relationships to grow. I am excited to continue some of the things I started this year- doing more classes with The Define School and working with the artists on Dreamer Journal (a huge accomplishment of 2012). I am so excited for the coming year and all the fun to be had!
Thank you Shannon for spending some time with us today and sharing your insights with us!
Would you like to see even more of Shannon’s beautiful photography? Make sure you visit her website, blog, and facebook to view her images. Don’t forget to also follow her on twitter, pinterest, and instagram. Head on over and check out her online magazine too!