Today’s interview is with Michelle Turner!

How did you get started in photography?

I became a photographer in a roundabout way.  I studied international law and global security at Georgetown and worked for the government/the defense industry for a few years.  While I loved many things about that job, I found it unfulfilling in other ways and I found myself back in graduate school.  I had always been a photographer (I was the kid in high school that always had a camera), but it wasn’t until a professor at Dartmouth saw some of my work and suggested that I try opening my own business that I saw it as a viable profession.

That was the turning point – I’ve never looked back since that day!

woman sitting in a field by Michelle Turner

Is there any particular person that has been an artistic influence in your life and how have they influenced your career path? Anyone you would love to go on a shoot with?

So many people have influenced me along the way!  David Anthony Williams made me think about creating believable and emotional interactions between my clients, Jerry Ghionis started me on the path of merging fashion with weddings, and Ben Chrisman really made me look for unusual compositions.

If I could shoot with anyone, I’d go with Mark Seliger or Annie Liebovitz.  I’d love to watch Mark Seliger work through some of his shots from start to finish, and I’d really enjoy watching Annie set up and shoot groups.

What is the most challenging thing about being a photographer for you? What fuels your desire to want to get up and go shoot each day (besides the amazing locations!)?

I’ll admit…the locations don’t hurt!  🙂  I think one of the most challenging pieces for me is working with subjects who really resent being photographed.  Fortunately it isn’t something that I run into often – after all, I shoot weddings and commercial clients, so I’m working with brides and grooms (who are generally happy!) and models (who have signed on for a particular shoot). Every once in a while, however, I’ll come across someone at a wedding (generally a family member) or in a corporate headshot who resents being photographed.  I find that tough – I get such a high from photographing, and belligerence and/or resentment is something that is difficult for me to be around while I’m working, since it can mess with my game if I let it.  When it DOES happen, I give myself a mental shake and counter their lack of enthusiasm with my own enthusiasm.  I find that I have enough for both of us.  🙂  Most people find it difficult to remain dispassionate or angry in the face of boundless enthusiasm.

bride and groom at the beach by Michelle Turner

boy sitting on rocks next to a tree by Michelle Turner

The locations you shoot at are amazing and one of a kind! Does your client find them or do they look to you to find them the best location? Do you ever shoot at the same location more than once?

A little of both, I think.  There’s a bit of freedom to allow me to unleash my creativity in every shoot, whether I’m photographing a wedding or a commercial project.  I might have a general location where I need to shoot handed to me, but what I do with that location is usually up to me.  I look for hidden spots – those can sometimes have more of an impact that the “obvious” spots with a view.  Although I definitely welcome collaboration with my clients and with art directors, too – 100 people can look at a single location and be struck by 100 different things, so I always like to hear what moves people about a specific spot.  For example, if I’m shooting a wedding in Jackson Hole, I might ask why the couple chose Jackson Hole.  If they mention the mountains and the parks, that’s going to drive me to look at that location and for shooting spots a bit differently than I would if they had mentioned the western vibe.

Oh sure – I’ll shoot the same locations more than once – I sometimes have clients specifically ask for locations that they’ve seen me shoot.  I’ll give them a similar shot/setup/location, but then I’ll create something different from that location as well.

bride and groom portrait by Michelle Turner

Your family travels with you often when you are shooting abroad. How do you achieve balance between being a photographer and being a wife and mother? How often do you travel? Do you homeschool? Where is home?

I travel a lot – I actually looked at the days and counted it up last year, and I’m out of the country for 1/4 of the year. I’m generally on the road (domestically) for another 1/4 of the year.  I could happily live out of a suitcase for the rest of my life, I think!  I love traveling.

I do bring my kids whenever I can – I don’t homeschool, but I’ll work with them when they are taking time off of school to travel with me.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have very supportive school systems and teachers who have supported my belief that what my children experience all over the world can be an education in and of itself.  And if they don’t support it…well, I can be pretty persuasive and bull-headed about this, at least.  I grew up traveling with my parents, and I believe that all that time I spent immersed in other cultures gave me a great world view – I want my children to have that as well.  When their teachers talk about the Roman Empire, I want them to remember not only the ruins in Rome but also that we saw the remnants of the Roman Empire so far afield.  When they study global warming, I want them to remember the crisis of the polar bear in Svalbard. When they discuss political conflicts, I want them to remember the cost of war and the fields pitted with mines in Croatia. When they learn about diversity and meet people who speak a different language, practice a different religion, or look different than they do, I want them to remember the hundreds of people that they’ve befriended on our trips all over the world.  In short, I want them to become good global citizens and stewards of the environment.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would that be? And in regards to your work, what location would be your dream wedding to shoot including how small or large of a wedding party, the type of venue, etc?  

Oh, this is a GREAT question – I love it when people ask me this!  My family plays this game around the dinner table, too – where would you live and why?  I love seeing how their answers change from year to year after they visit new spots.  I love so many different places that it would be difficult to choose just one!  It would have to be fairly close to the mountains, that’s for sure!  Grindelwald, Switzerland would probably be my top choice.  I also love Verona, Italy.  I don’t think I could live in Patagonia year-round, but I could live there half of the year…Jackson Hole (Wyoming, Banff, Zermatt, Chamonix – they’d all make my short list.  The Alps, the Rockies, the Dolomites, the Andes – I’d take any of them.  I adore big mountains (and great skiing).

My ideal wedding is an intimate destination wedding – 70 to 80 people, no wedding party, a two to three day event in a beautiful location that combines a gorgeous natural environment with some urban interest as well.  I love all-in-one venues where the ceremony and the reception are in the same spot!

boy standing by a wall by Michelle Turner

woman sitting in a chair by Michelle Turner

off camera lighting of a couple by Michelle Turner

Many of your images make one feel as if they’re right there in the crowd enjoying the fun with the wedding party. Can you share some tips on how to create such dynamic images? Which leads to the next question, of how do you make your clients feel at ease?

I find that the only way to get into the mindset of the crowd is to actually BE in the crowd.  I shoot with wide angles for a lot of the day, so I’m right in the mosh pit with everyone else!  I’m not looking through the viewfinder for a lot of those photographs – I do a lot of shooting from the hip and over my head – it allows me to get right in the action without actually putting the camera in someone’s face.

When it comes to putting my clients at ease, I try to be what they need me to be.  If they are really nervous and they need me to talk to them to get them to relax, I will.  If they are comfortable interacting with one another and ignoring the camera, then I’ll take more of a “fly on the wall” approach.  Every client is different and reacts differently to the camera – I just give them what they need in order to let them loosen up and adjust my style accordingly.  When I work with children, it’s common for me to just put the camera down and play with them.  When I work with couples, I like to get them talking about themselves and their relationship.  I’ll ask models about their interests and dreams.  By the end of the day, we all feel like old friends.

wedding reception dancing by Michelle Turner

bride and groom dancing by Michelle Turner

In wedding photography there are never any do-overs; how do you prepare to make sure you capture the most important and emotive moments so perfectly?

Having the information I need is key – I’ll definitely need the timeline, but I like to know things beyond that.  How is the venue lit?  Are they planning any surprises (fireworks, fire jugglers, belly dancers, etc)?  Preparation is so key, but so is the ability to adapt to any scenario as it arises.  If the power goes out (that’s happened), can you light your photographs with off camera flash?  If the ceremony runs late and you are suddenly shooting a sunset/dusk ceremony rather than a golden hour ceremony, do you feel comfortable changing things up on the fly?  If a riot breaks out and it’s no longer safe to go outside (this has also happened), are you comfortable changing up the location for the formals and shots of the bride and groom quickly, efficiently, and without panicking?  I find it all boils down to three things:

  1. preparation
  2. ability to adapt to anything (and keeping a cool head if you need to adapt)
  3. knowing your camera and your lights inside and out

Beyond that, it’s imperative that you have backup gear for every essential piece of equipment that you’ll use on the day. Things DO break in the course of the day, and it can be a disaster if you aren’t prepared – everything from cameras to lenses to lights to memory cards – be ready for anything.

bride and groom watching the fireworks by Michelle Turner

What is one piece of advice you have for someone who wants to break into wedding photography?

Project a calm confidence – not only will it make people trust you to get the job done (and that trust needs to come within seconds of meeting you, which is important), but you’ll be a port in the storm when things (not photography related) go wrong on a wedding day.  And when things go wrong on the photography side of things (a camera breaks, a memory card corrupts, your flash won’t fire), take a breath and don’t panic.  Keep calm and you’ll have an easier time troubleshooting.

You’ve already authored 2 photography books and teach several workshops. What’s on the horizon for you in the near future? What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?

Exactly what I’m doing, I think!  My job is finally right where I want it to be – I shoot to unleash my creativity and to capture beauty, but I’m also in love with academia.  Watching students finally understand a tough concept is such a high for me, so I really enjoy teaching – seeing students finally grasp a difficult concept is such a high!  My job as the Director of CMU lets me expand on that – I get to review, approve, brainstorm, and monitor the educational programs at Clickin Moms, and I find that gives me the perfect balance in my professional life.

woman standing near columns by Michelle Turner

At Click Away this year you’ll be speaking about finding and creating beautiful light in every situation. Does a photographer need to have a lot of different gear in order to create beautiful imagery like you do? What is your light setup when on location?

That’s such a misconception in our industry, so I’m glad that you mentioned it!  When people think of “creating light,” I think that so many photographers think of studios full of equipment.  So many people worry that they need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get started.  In reality, you can work with a minimum of gear, especially once you’ve found the kit that works for you!  I think the problem arises when people don’t know what to buy and then they end up getting something that they won’t use (or don’t know how to use) – spending money for something that always sits on a shelf is so frustrating!

Most of the time I work by myself, and I only bring what I can carry and manage on my own when I am working.  I travel for most of my sessions, and I travel light.  My gear bag (including lights) is smaller and lighter than many photographers who aren’t creating light.  Just as you don’t need every lens ever made to create gorgeous images (and you may find that you only use one or two lenses with regularity), you don’t need a lot of equipment to create light, either – a handful of good, multipurpose pieces will often suffice.  And the best part is that it’s easier than many people think it will be.  If you have a basic understanding of exposure and natural light, you can learn to create light as well!

boy in a cowboy hat by Michelle Turner

woman sitting on rocks with the stars by Michelle Turner

mom lifting daughter with reflection in the water by Michelle Turner

Thank you Michelle for the fantastic interview! Make sure you head over to Michelle’s website, facebook, twitter, pinterest, instagram, and google+ to view more of her amazing work and keep up with her happenings!