Photography interview with Khara Plicanic (plus a special offer and giveaway!)

Today’s interview is with Khara Plicanic!

When we learned that Khara was embarking on a bicycle based teaching tour and releasing a new book (to learn more about Khara’s book, please visit www.peachpit.com/cameralove, and use code CLICKINMOMS to save 40%), we asked her for an interview so that we could get to know her even better … and she exceeded our expectations.

Khara, your passion, knowledge, and generosity in sharing just astounds.

Grab a notebook and a cup of coffee, then sit down and enjoy the inspiration and wisdom of Khara Plicanic!

We’d love to hear a little more about your story. Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a photographer?

What a windy road it has been! I cut my chops working with film, even bringing my darkroom to college and setting it up in my dorm room, where I would often (and unknowingly) work through the night only to be surprised by the sunrise the next morning. (Romantic, isn’t it?)

My college degree is actually in communication, which I still love and wouldn’t trade for anything. Though I spent a few late nights wondering if I should switch majors or maybe run off to art school, I’m so glad I didn’t. (I’m such a comm major!)

After college I worked in marketing and PR and spent a lot of time studying design and learning more about photography. And after freelancing in cities like Chicago and taking a job out west in LA, I eventually found my way back home to Nebraska where only a few years later, I’d be in business of myself.

The first wedding I ever shot was on film (black and white only) and I developed everything myself in a makeshift darkroom I set up in my parents basement, using the closet under the staircase to load the film into the development tank—ha! I was so nervous about everything, that I swore it would be the last wedding I would ever shoot. But—then I saw one of the images and fell in love.

So, my path may not have been direct, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

How has your work evolved over time?

When I look back at my early work, sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, but mostly, I giggle. It’s humbling to be reminded of where you started and how far you’ve come in any pursuit (whether photography, writing, music, or—cooking!). Developing yourself as an artist in definitely a journey, to say the least.

I’d like to think that my work has matured over time, but what that means, I’m not entirely sure. My work definitely has more intent and purpose now than it did when I was first starting out, and I certainly have a better understanding of light than I did earlier on. (That’s one of the key things that’s a real turning point for anyone’s development.)

I think a lot of the more recent development has to do with confidence, and not being afraid to make a suggestion, as well as not being afraid to say “no” to other things (certain ideas, requests, etc. that don’t fit). Only by asking for what you want, and rejecting that which you don’t, can you really find the space and opportunity to create the images you’re after.

There are countless types of subject matter in which a photographer may specialize.  What is it about weddings that stood out to you so much that you decided to focus solely on them?­­

I feel like wedding photography provides the largest opportunity for me to make a powerful impact, not just in the images I create, but in the experience I give my clients (and their families and guests). When else do you get to put in 8-12 hours of quality face-time with clients, truly making yourself part of their family? I love it!

As stressful as it can be to photograph weddings, I enjoy the challenge the long days can bring, and wear my wedding-day sweat like a badge of honor. (Though I have to say, it certainly doesn’t do my bangs any favors… ha!)

What is your favorite part of a wedding day?

I love the heartfelt hugs of joy and appreciation I often get at the end of the night as I make my rounds to say goodbye to the parents, wedding party, and of course—the couple. It’s amazing how quickly a joyous bear hug from the father of the bride, or tears of gratitude from a groom can melt away any blisters and sore muscles the day may have created. Even after what may be a grueling 14 hours, I usually float home on a cloud of pure bliss, reminding me why I love to do what I do.

What piece of advice would you offer to those looking to get into wedding photography?

Balance, balance, balance! 😉

I’ve found wedding photography to be one of the most rewarding genres of portraiture. But—it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s easy to fall in love with the job and overlook the amount of work it requires.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at finding balance and setting limits, and as much as every seasoned professional would likely tell you the same thing, it’s one of those things that can seemingly only be learned the hard way. But don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

Achieving good light during a wedding reception is a challenge for many photographers.  Would you please share with us a little about how you get such beautifully lit reception photos? Is there a specific image that you can share as an example of your preferred lighting setup?

Because I generally work by myself, I keep my set up as simple as possible.  I shoot in manual mode with an on-camera flash as well as 1 or 2 off-camera flashes (all also set to manual mode).

My off-camera flashes are perched atop very light-weight stands allowing me to run around and quickly move them as needed. They’re usually set pretty low power wise (1/16th on my Vivitar 285s) and I aim them directly at my subjects (for the most part), without any additional modifiers—which is why I can get away with such low power settings. (This lets me fire all day long on a single set of rechargeable 2900mAh AA’s!)

With my aperture usually open to f/2.8 and my shutter around 1/30th, I control exposure mostly with my ISO, which is usually hangs out around 1600.

From there’s it’s just a matter of positioning. My lights move around all night long, but for certain things, I like to have them hit my subject from an angle that’s 90 degrees from where I am. So, if my subject is at 12 o’clock and I’m at 6 o’clock, my light would be at 3 o’clock.

But, sometimes I shoot directly into my off-camera flash (from 180 degrees).

Here, the flashes are in the corner, partially cut off by the frame) and other times I use it all by itself, without any additional on-camera flash, so it really just depends. (Hence the need to keep things light and nimble so it can be moved quickly!)

Occasionally, you can even get away with available light only, if you’re strategic. This cake shot was lit entirely from the recessed light above the table.

And by turning my lights off again in this image, I let the band’s lights be the subject of this photo.

One of the best thing I’ve started using in the past couple years has been color correction gels on all of my flashes. Seriously. They are great! There are lots of different ways to implement and attach them, but so far, I’ve loved my Sticky Filters. They make an unbelievable difference when it comes to cleaning up your white balance, and since I love to shoot JPGS (routinely making prints for clients on-site, straight from my memory card), it’s important to nail the white balance in-camera.

Your ShootShack images are full of personality and great expressions.  Any tips for interacting with your subject when operating a photo booth?

The key is making people feel comfortable. If you want them to act goofy and do all kinds of crazy things, you have to help them out and be prepared to be a bit goofy yourself. In fact, my husband and I have developed something specifically for wedding photo booths that helps both subjects and photographers alike with this very thing. We’ve been using it for over a year now with our photo booth, and plan to release it for everyone to enjoy sometime in early to mid 2012. Stay tuned!

Share with us what happens when you “combine Law & Order, sumo wrestling,
[and] cookie dough”?

You get the Pillsbury Dough Boy, on a wrestling mat, with a detective badge and some instantly recognizable sound effects. Just kidding!

Those are all analogies I use in my book, Your Camera Loves You; Learn to Love it Back to discuss digital zoom, RAW files, and the dangers of cropping. The book is written to be a snappy and unintimidating guide about how to get the most from your camera (no matter which model you have). Staying away from industry jargon, complicated schematics, and physics equations meant finding other ways to explain things, which resulted in some pretty colorful analogies. If you’ve ever had a hard time wrapping your mind around certain aspects of photography or digital imaging, a good analogy can make all the difference!

So far, the response has been great. I think people are hungry for this information, and find it surprisingly easy to digest in this fun and simple format. (Now, if only the book came with actual cookie dough… that’d really be something!)

Editor’s Note: To learn more about Khara’s book, please visit www.peachpit.com/cameralove. You can also get 40% off with coupon code CLICKINMOMS! Just enter it during the checkout process.

October 17th marks the beginning of The [UN]tour.  What is The [UN]tour?

The [UN]tour is a completely crazy idea my husband and I had, and it’s becoming a reality in less than a month!

Always up for adventure, we decided to combine our love of travel with our passion for teaching (and sense of eco responsibility) by riding our bicycles across the country on a mission to educate and inspire everyone with a camera. We’ll be pedaling 3100+ miles from California to Florida stopping in eight cities along the way to teach FREE classes to anyone who wants to join us!

You and your husband will be riding your bikes across the country on the [UN]tour.  What kind of physical preparation have you undertaken in anticipation of this event?

I’d love to say that we’ve been biking over mountains every weekend, but in Nebraska, that’d be pretty impossible! As it turns out, the only way to prepare for riding your bike 8 hours every day, is to get on your bike and ride 8 hours every day. So, we’re considering our first 9 days on the road from San Diego to Phoenix to be our training period. Ultimately, we’ll be knocking out 75 miles/day, but on that first leg of our trip, we’re only going to do 50, giving us time to adjust and find our groove. (Plus, we have a 4000 ft. climb on our first day out of San Diego, so we thought doing 75 miles in the first day might be pushing it!)

We’ve done a few 50 and 60 mile training rides in the weeks leading up to the start of our trip and feel like we’ve got a pretty realistic grasp on what to expect. Either way, I’m planning to come home with buns of steel!

You call the [UN]tour “[UN]conventional, [UN]expected, and [UN]believably awesome!” Tell us more! How are your workshops different from other offerings out there?

This is a total passion project. We’re so committed to, and excited about what we’re planning to share with people, that we’re riding our bicycles to make it happen.

In addition to being very eco-friendly, the tour is also extremely community minded. Instead of the typical corporate event spaces, our venues are small and intimate local galleries, community colleges, and art schools or associations.

Did I mention the whole thing is 100% FREE? People continually ask us why we would do something like this for free and the answer is, because we want to and because we can. This project is about educating and inspiring others, as well as ourselves, and when we talk about passion, we mean it. Plus—it makes a really great excuse to jump on our bikes. J

We’re really looking forward to getting out there, meeting new people and making new friends! (Even though we’ll be camping in a tent most nights, we promise to be showered and fresh on class days when we get to say hello to everyone!)

Many photographers are fiercely protective of the knowledge they’ve gained through education and experience. Can you tell us a little about why you’ve chosen to share your knowledge as an instructor? Are there any types of “trade secrets” when it comes to the photography (either as an art or as a business) that you choose to keep to yourself?

Maybe it’s because I’m the oldest of four kids, but I love to teach. I love to take something that can sometimes appear complicated, and break it down to its basics so that anyone can understand. When I’m able to help someone finally “get it,” that eureka moment is totally worth it.

Teach has also helped me continue my own learning process. If you think you have something all figured out, try teaching it and you’ll realize just how much more there is to know! Teaching forces me to stay current, dive deeper, and continually re-assess everything. I think it’s healthy.

I’m pretty open with most any topic. There are some things, however, that each person will just have to figure out on their own. So sometimes, my role is more about helping people find and understand the right questions to ask, rather than simply answering the wrong ones. That’s where the true magic of learning happens.

Can you share with us a recent favorite image and walk us briefly through the creative process behind it (from the way you conceived it / approached the scene to the way you processed it to reflect your vision)?

Shooting details in different and exciting ways can be a fun way to keep things interesting at receptions. Here, I was struck by the patterned design on the ballroom walls so instead of photographing the nearby jazz band in a straightforward way, I grabbed one of my lights, zoomed the head in to focus the beam into more of a narrow spotlight, and positioned it in a way that would cast the trumpeter’s shadow onto the funky wall. So simple, yet funky and elegant at the same time.

Thank you so much, Khara, for your candor and generosity in answering all of our questions!

And blog readers, we have one more treat for you! Khara is going to send a signed copy of her book to one lucky blog commenter! Simply leave a comment below for your chance to win! We’ll announce the winner here on the blog next Wednesday, October 5.

Update:

Congratulations to Celeste Jones who won the copy of Khara’s book via random number drawing!

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About the Author:

From the parent company Click & Company, Clickin Moms has revolutionized the photography industry as the first and largest organization to embrace and serve female photographers of all levels, from hobbyists to professionals.

58 Comments

  1. Ellen K Sep 28 2011 at 9:23 am - Reply

    Sounds like a book I need. 🙂 Great interview!

  2. Suzanne Dierks Sep 28 2011 at 9:38 am - Reply

    OMG, those photos are unbelievable! How on earth did you get such amazing shots in such a low light atmosphere? I am in awe!

  3. SusanD Sep 28 2011 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Wonderful interview. Excellent insight on wedding photography. I'd love a copy of the book. Thanks so much for sharing. Blessings, SusanD

  4. Freda M Sep 28 2011 at 9:49 am - Reply

    I love these shots. The photo booth shots are so fun. I just wish I was in the lower 48 so I could attend one of your classes on the tour.

  5. Chiara Sep 28 2011 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Great interview!!! Awesome pics! Love the bike tour idea!

  6. Jenn Sep 28 2011 at 10:54 am - Reply

    Thanks for doing the interview. It was great and your book sounds awesome!

  7. michaela Sep 28 2011 at 11:02 am - Reply

    a Nebraska photographer!! i hope they make a stop on their [UN]tour to their home state.

  8. pam Sep 28 2011 at 11:06 am - Reply

    What a great interview! The book sounds wonderful!

  9. Mindy Sep 28 2011 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I really appreciate the little hints imbedded in this interview.

    really? 1/30th most of the time? without blur??

    are you stopping in Chicago?!?

    would love to win the book, thank you CM!

  10. Khara Plicanic Sep 28 2011 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Hi all! Thanks for the kind words!

    Michaela: Shout out to a fellow Nebraskan! I teach right here in Lincoln on a regular basis and would love to have you come sometime! The schedule is listed on my studio site (www.kabloomstudios.com). I have one more class next week before we take off to start pedaling. I'll be back teaching locally again starting in 2012. 🙂

    Mindy: Shooting at slow shutter speeds is possible without blur as long as you're lighting the scene with enough flash to freeze the action. I'm usually right around 1/30 or 1/40 and if you've got enough flash juice (and ISO) you'd be surprised what you can get away with! 🙂

  11. Maricel Sep 28 2011 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Great Interview !! wish you were combing to New England…. Book sounds great will have to get it .

  12. Anna Sep 28 2011 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    wow, great interview and awesome photos, very inspiring! Good giveaway too 🙂

  13. Joan Fowler Sep 28 2011 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    I'd love to win a book to help improve my photography. I am also hoping it comes with a big boot to kick me outside so I will use my camera more often.

  14. Rosemary Sep 28 2011 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I'm really hoping to make it to the last stop on their tour in Gainesville, FL. Can't wait!

  15. Gabby Sep 28 2011 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Wow, great interview – beautiful pics & some great tips! Thanks for the inspiration!

  16. Tara Stallings Sep 28 2011 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Awesome interview! Off to look up the stops now 🙂

  17. Dee Sep 28 2011 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Great interview. Very inspiring. I love wedding photography and am definitely interested in this genre.

  18. Sharon Sep 28 2011 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    A wonderful interview thank you!

  19. Michelle Hires Sep 28 2011 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing Khara – I loved your story!

  20. Heidi Sep 28 2011 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    Great interview! Beautiful images!!

  21. Elle Sep 28 2011 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Such a generous interview, thank you for sharing so openly Khara!! Good luck on you [un]tour!

  22. Lacey Sep 28 2011 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    What a wonderful woman! I'm so inspired … and floored that she can bike that far! WOW! Thank you for the opportunity to win her book, too … that'd be wonderful!

  23. emily Sep 28 2011 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Incredible pictures, brilliant work! Huge thanks for the post

    Absolute RT!

  24. Ashley Sep 28 2011 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    That tour is ridiculously awesome & incredibly crazy! Love that! Based on the previous statements, the book MUST be awesome. 🙂

  25. Beth Sep 28 2011 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I love her photos! So gorgeous (especially the bride in the door way – LOVE!)

  26. Sandy Sep 28 2011 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Great interview! Thanks for a chance to win!

  27. Nicole Sep 28 2011 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    What a great adventure to take with your husband. It sounds like so much fun. Do you want to swing north and come to my town in northern Utah?

  28. Kelly Sep 28 2011 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Love this interview! Thank you for being so open and honest!

  29. Tara Sep 28 2011 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    Beautiful photos and a great interview. Thank you!

  30. Rebecca Sep 28 2011 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    [Un]tour…what an awesome idea. I want to hop on my bike and join you!

  31. Stacey Haslem Sep 28 2011 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed your interview. Your love, passion, and enthusiasm for this art is so present here. Very inspiring <3

  32. Jaimi Sep 29 2011 at 5:34 am - Reply

    I wish I lived further south to participate in the unTour! Would love a copy of your book!! Good luck on your road trip.

  33. Kim Sep 29 2011 at 6:11 am - Reply

    Great stuff here! Thanks for sharing. I'm trying to get started in wedding photography now and appreciate your info on lights!! I too feel like that's been a real turning point for me – learning how to use them correctly and consistently (still working on it though!).

  34. Terina Sep 29 2011 at 6:12 am - Reply

    This is some wonderful info! I'm registering for the untour classes today!! I would love to have the book!!!

  35. Stephanie Sep 29 2011 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Khara photographed my wedding last summer…she's AMAZING!! Best decision we made in the whole planning process was hiring her to capture our day! So of course I really want her book 😉

  36. Shauna Sep 29 2011 at 7:15 am - Reply

    I loved reading about Khara and her journey to become an amazing photographer! I hope to read her book and learn more as I start my journey in photography!

  37. Crystal with The Flo Sep 29 2011 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Long before I even knew what ISO and F-Stop even meant, I met Khara at a friend's wedding she was photographing…After meeting her I thought,"Now that's the kind of photographer I would want to have at my wedding…"

    It's amazing to hear her journey, her precision in communication and her courage as an artist, business person and a WOMAN! (GO GIRL!) With the message she speaks by being herself has taught me that learning and growing as an artist, business person and now a photographer myself, seem like a doable equation of hard work, being bold, taking risks and being myself! Something that just requires the simple act of not being afraid(or doing it scared!) Khara, you continue to be an inspiration! Thank you for sharing so freely what has been given to you, through your hard work and dedication! PS your wickedly fast workflow is rocking my world! Cheers lady!

  38. Kim Shapiro Sep 29 2011 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Woah! you go girl w/ riding your bike around teaching for FREE! wish i lived somewhere between Cali & Florida! HAVE FUN!

  39. kristin neagle Sep 30 2011 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    Beautiful story and photos! Enjoy your adventure and I look forward to reading your book!

  40. celestejones Sep 30 2011 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Great interview. Thank you so much for being so open.

  41. judy kay Sep 30 2011 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Can't wait to read the book!

  42. kayla Sep 30 2011 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Khara, wishing you the best of luck on your [UN]tour, can't wait to see some of the images ;)!

  43. Dawn Sep 30 2011 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    Wow! Thanks for sharing and inspiring! I wish I lived in one of the cities on your tour… but don't blame you for not making the trek all the way up here in Ohio. 🙂 I'm sure you'll receive a warm welcome from the lucky people that get to meet up with you on your awesome tour. Best wishes!

  44. Celeste Oct 01 2011 at 12:02 am - Reply

    This is really an inspiring blog post. Thanks Khara for sharing so much! I love your work too!

  45. petersonclan Oct 01 2011 at 3:16 am - Reply

    What a great interview! Thanks! I am going to check out the [Un]Tour. That sounds like so much fun!

  46. CeAnne Becker Oct 02 2011 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Excellent interview! Thank you for all the tips included. This interview has renewed my inspiration.

  47. christy Oct 02 2011 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Good luck on the cross country bike ride! And thank you for generously sharing your knowledge with us newbies!

  48. Brooke Oct 03 2011 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Loved the interview!

  49. Chelsea Miller Oct 03 2011 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Wow, what a fantastic interview!! Thank you for sharing your passion and some of the tricks behind it all!!!

  50. Annie Oct 04 2011 at 7:41 am - Reply

    Already I am inspied to be a better person and photographer!!! Thanks for taking the time to share!! Love the shadow image!!!

  51. Sandy Oct 04 2011 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Sounds like a great book from a wonderful photographer and teacher. I can sure use some of that knowledge!

  52. Dori Oct 04 2011 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Any Chance you'll be near Philly? Guess I'm not on the way to Florida… Bummer. Sounds awesome!! Good Luck.

  53. Katrina Gotschall Oct 04 2011 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    You know how much I love you Khara! I am so excited for your new venture and can't wait to read all about it! 😀

  54. Bruce Oct 04 2011 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Your an amazingly postive person…and a pretty good photographer (understatement) also! I would learn lots from your book.

  55. Shelly Oct 04 2011 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Khara is super awesome! I had the privilege of taking a class from her a few years back. She is wealth of knowledge and an inspiration, not to mention full of fun and spunk.

  56. Roberta Oct 05 2011 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Already registered for the phoenix classes! So excited!

  57. Khara Plicanic Oct 06 2011 at 11:07 am - Reply

    So glad to "meet" you all! Thanks for stopping by! Looking forward to seeing those of you along our tour route! (For the others… maybe we can swing by your neck o' the woods on the sequel?) Happy picture making!!!

  58. Alexis Oct 08 2011 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I love Khara! After taking a class from her at the local community college, I was hooked! She is fun and quirky in person and I can't wait to follow her along her UN tour!

    Congrats on the book finally coming out, it is on my Christmas Wish List!

    Love from Lincoln!

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