Today’s interview is with Erika Ray!
Tell us a little bit about you and your photography journey, and maybe a little about what’s in your bag too!
I live in Columbus, OH and married my next-door neighbor from college. Nine years ago, he pushed for kids. A year later, I pushed out our first son, Cooper. Three years later, we had our second son, Becket. I’ve always been crafty and inherited my Grandma’s art gene. I can draw a mean giraffe, but photography only popped up about 4 years ago. I just upgraded to a Nikon D600, but the all of these photographs were shoot with my Nikon D90 and a 35 mm lens. Poor thing never came off the body.
You’re not shy about letting the world know that you refuse to clean up the mess before you snap the shutter. Can you tell us a little bit about this approach to your photography?
I won’t clean because I’m lazy. Our house is fairly tidy but isn’t spotless. If I cleaned or sanitized before each picture, I’d never get anything done let alone photographed. It also isn’t real-life. Our life isn’t pretty or sparkly. It’s messy because we live. Me showing anything else would be a lie and no one likes a liar. I approach photography the same way. I’m going to show you my life because I’m happy with it. I’m also lazy and trying to construct a frame to show a lie is too time consuming. I’ve got spreadsheets to fill out, laundry to fold, and boys to entertain. My life is what it is and that’s what you see.
Can you share what visually appeals to you as a photographer and why you shoot what you shoot?
I want real life. It’s that simple. Some people take amazing portraits, but I can’t look at portraits all day. Show me what happened on the way to the session! I’m inspired by a photo that tells a story, not just a pretty face. I have a major in journalism and a talent for gab. Both of those skills translate to my style of photography. And it’s those things that I look for in a good photo. Make me care and I’ll come back to your photos. I want to do the same. I want you to care.
What or whom are your photography muses and what inspires you?
I’d be an awful Mom if I didn’t say my sons, wouldn’t I? There’s the default Good Mom answer. When I see a good story, I fall in love with the photographer. I’m not putting down portrait photographers, there’s some amazing ones out there. It’s a talent I don’t have. I just need more to get my juices flowing. I love CJ Nicolai’s style and blunt honesty about the craft. I love David duChemin’s ability to share his skills and his emphasis for vision and not just shutter snaps. I think it’s extremely important to find muses outside of photography. For me it can be dangerous to let photographers be your muse. It can be overwhelming, almost dilutes the talent pool, and eventually crushing to your own creativity. Cheryl Strayed, Caitlin Moran, and Howard Stern’s unapologetic honesty about life really does shape the way I photograph just as much as some of my favorite photographers.
You are a wife and mother in addition to working full time. How do you find time for and balance photography and blogging?
Ahh, the full time working gig… The day after Valentine’s Day, I was laid off. So let’s pretend like I still have that job, because for the past four years, I did photography and blogging with that job. Photography and blogging are things I must do, not “have to do” so that makes it easy to create a balance. I didn’t work in an office so that helped. I also spent a lot of time on the road. Long car rides help draft blog posts and hotel stays can act as uninterrupted editing time. More important, I have an equal partner in parenting. Just because I’m MOM doesn’t mean he can’t give baths, fix dinner, play games, act as referee. My kids have two parents and I believe in being as close to 50/50 as you can get. No matter how equal we aim to be, being MOM still means I handle more of the parenting duties. Trust me, I push them off when I can and squeeze in some edits and blogging. Some day we’ll get to 50/50… but back to present day where I’m unemployed! My readers are either going to get sick of my ramped up postings or they will love it! Being unemployed means I need to figure out my next move in life. And when I don’t know what to do, I photograph it and I write about it. It’s going to be a fun little journey on my blog.
With such a busy life, how do you keep up your momentum in shooting almost daily and then blogging about it?
Everyone has a busy life, it’s what we choose to be busy with. My kids aren’t in after-school activities, so that helps. But I’m guessing that’s going to change soon. I choose to be busy with photography and blogging. It’s how I remember our life. It’s how I get through our life. When I wasn’t blogging or photographing it, life seemed to get very narrow: motherhood and work. That’s it. But picking up the camera forced me to look at life and made me appreciate the chaos or the narrowness that I was staring down. Writing helps me to connect with other people in the same rat race. Those two simple acts made me see that my mundane life was a vast pool of
gorgeousness. I had to change my perception and the camera did that for me.
There’s definitely an art to making something honest and artistic to lifestyle photography versus just snapshots of everyday life. How do you achieve this and make it look so effortless?
I’m not sure. I’ve been struggling with this for a while now. Someone will ask and I’ll shrug and say, “I just shoot my life.” Let’s be honest, the details of my life aren’t breathtaking. We don’t have a house full of vintage objects and wooden toys. We’re full of plastic battery-operated toys and Ikea furniture. Nothing is truly special. Maybe it’s recognizing that fact and saying, “We’re good enough to be art.”
What advice would you offer to photographers that would like to get into lifestyle photography?
Shoot in your house. And shoot some more. Think the light is crappy? Shoot anyways. Push the ISO. Learn and use spot-metering. And please don’t think that you can shoot clients in a Lifestyle manner because you shoot your own family “lifestyle”. You know your family. Practice on a different family and go with a plan. And then practice some more. With your own family, put your iPhone away and use your camera. Yes, the iPhone is a fantastic camera. Please don’t smack me or send hate mail via your iPhone, but use your big camera in your house. An iPhone can scream “Snapshot!” I’m not putting down those photos. We have tons of them and I cherish those photos. But if you want to make your life art, treat it like art and use the best possible camera to showcase it. Use your camera.
From time to time many photographers find themselves in a creative rut or uninspired to shoot. Does this ever happen to you and if so how do you overcome these phases?
Recently, I wallowed in a huge Rut. It made me question the hobby: Did I care enough? Was I good enough? What makes me different from the thousands of photographers out there? Where did the passion go? There is nothing worse than facing those questions. Lingering with them for too long or trying to shoot out of it pulls me down harder. For myself, I have to make a cut. I have to put the camera down. I definitely need to stop looking at photographers online. I need to push photography away. If not, I’m doing it like a resentful habit, sort of like flossing my teeth. I want to look at it as a necessary habit like good food or long chats with a friend. So I just stop and trust that all the passion will come back. I read, quilt, or just veg out not worrying about snapping frames. It always comes back because it’s a part of me. I just need a break.
How many clients do you typically take each month?
I didn’t take clients. That’s a lie. If a birth client called, I did everything I could to make their birth. If a friend asks me or refers me, I’m more than happy to pop over. But sessions were never my focus. I have a family, had a full-time job, friends I enjoy seeing, photography, a blog, and a ton of other things to keep me busy. Marketing and building a business wasn’t something I could handle. It’s so much hard work that you need a desire in order for it to succeed. There’s also a ton of photographers around who are really on top of the business end of photography. But with no job, I need to figure something out. Does that mean take family sessions? I’m not
sure. I do know that I’d love to take on as many birth clients as possible. I believe so strongly that this is the one moment in a family’s life that absolutely should be photographed.
What’s on your photography horizon for 2013, any special projects you’re working on? Maybe a breakout session for Clickin Moms?
On January 1, it felt like 2013 was going to be electric. I had no concrete reason why this was the case. Maybe because our family was in a new home, but something made me feel giddy about 2013. I’m not a giddy or optimistic person, but I couldn’t talk myself out of it. You’d think losing a job you’ve had for 13 years might squash some of that excitement, but it hasn’t. I still feel something bubbling and I just need to tap into it. On the day we close on our old home, I’m going to start my third 365. Nothing pushes me like a 365 (I like the torture…). I figured the closing day is a symbolic date for me to start photographing our daily lives in a new house.
I am working on a break out session and I’m really excited/nervous about it! Clickin Moms is letting me talk about Honest and Real photography! Seriously? If you were sitting across from me, you’d see me doing a little dance just because I mentioned it. It gives me the perfect amount of fear and happiness. It will be part motivational and partially packed with some info I’ve picked up. I think building your confidence and accepting yourself as an artist is key to bringing honesty to your photos. Saying to people, “This is who I am, flaws and all. Love me or don’t” isn’t easy for everyone, but I wish it was. Imagine how kickass the world would be?!
Thank you Erika for spending some time with us today and sharing your insights with us!
Would you like to see even more of Erika’s beautiful photography? Make sure you visit her website, blog, facebook, and instagram to view her images. Don’t forget to also follow her on twitter and pinterest!