Photography interview with Erika Ray

  • photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

Today’s interview is with Erika Ray!

photography interview with lifestyle photographer 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.

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

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.

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

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.

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

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.”

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

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.

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

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?!

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

photography interview with lifestyle photographer Erika Ray

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!

About the Author:

Known for her dramatic use of light and admiration of black and white photography, Maryland photographer Celeste Pavlik has a gift for capturing a wide array of emotions in her honest and organic imagery of her subjects. While the subject of her lens is most often one, or all four of her sons, she also immerses herself in the quietness of macro and still life photography. Receiving acclamation in several juried shows, she is finding herself happily pulled in to the fine art world. Celeste is a Canon photographer, Lensbaby lover, freelensing fanatic and enjoys processing 90 percent of an image in ACR with a final polish in Photoshop and or Lightroom. Besides photography, Celeste likes to spend time with her boys, explore new places, bake and snuggle in one of her well loved quilts.


  1. Vaune Mar 26 2013 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    I love your work! And I love it when I get ‘permission’ to shoot in my normal, messy, 2-kids-and-a-dog house. Thank you!

    • erika Mar 26 2013 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Thank you! And permission granted everyday. Way more fun.

  2. Jennifer Mar 26 2013 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    This was amazing to read and I thank you for it.

    • erika Mar 26 2013 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Yay! I’m glad you liked it!

  3. Celeste Pavlik Mar 26 2013 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing more about you Erika!

    • erika Mar 26 2013 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      You are welcome. I’m an open book. Much to my husband’s sometimes-disgust… 😉

  4. heidi Mar 26 2013 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Oh this is just perfect perfect timing for me as I have been trying so so very hard to be more honest in shooting my family, shooting that clutter…loved this interview-so inspired. 🙂

    • erika Mar 27 2013 at 2:58 pm - Reply

      Shoot that clutter! It’s never as bad as we think.

  5. Heather Clark Mar 26 2013 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I am so happy to have found you through CM! When I saw your breakout session and then your blog and fb page, I thought, “Now there’s someone I can relate to!” Thank you so much for bringing a different feel to the lifestyle genre!

  6. Mindy Mar 26 2013 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    I am so encouraged by this interview. Your work is amazing and so real. I am just starting to get into photography and your style is so unique and relatable. I like everything about it.

  7. Cathie Calder Mar 26 2013 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love your photos and blog and follow you and some other amazing ladies on flickr avidly. 🙂 I love how you mentioned that you have to give it up and walk away when the dreaded rut kicks in. I do it too, and my husband actually worries if I haven’t been near my computer or picked up my camera in a while. So many things above ring true for me. You have an amazing way of capturing your boys and every day life and can’t wait to take part in your breakout session.
    Oh… and I think I registered interest twice, the first time was on my iPhone and don’t always trust that little gadget. Sorry about that.
    Cathie. (Smee72 on Flickr)

  8. Nancy Mar 26 2013 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    This: “I choose to be busy with photography and blogging. It’s how I remember our life. It’s how I get through our life. . . . Those two simple acts made me see that my mundane life was a vast pool of gorgeousness.”

    You put into words perfectly what I have known and felt with out maybe saying in the right words. As a mother to six young kids, I occasionally get comments like, “How do you manage to keep up on your blog?” etc. It is asked almost accusatorily — as if, surely, I am letting other things go, etc. But this is it. We all find time for some things. There are many things I don’t do. But this? Writing, shooting and documenting my small little world is something I do make time for because, as you said, it helps me find and realize the beauty of my simple life.

    Lovely. Thanks.

    • erika Mar 27 2013 at 2:59 pm - Reply

      Wow! 6! My hat is off to you Lady!

  9. Mabel Mar 26 2013 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    Love your honesty just like your photos.

  10. Michelle Mar 26 2013 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    I love the idea of shooting life as it really is! Can’t wait for your breakout!

    • erika Mar 27 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      thanks! I can’t wait to see what people think about it.

  11. Lucy K. Mar 27 2013 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Amazing interview! Thank you for your honesty, really inspiring. I can’t wait for your breakout session!!

    • erika Mar 27 2013 at 3:01 pm - Reply

      CM’s interviews get to the heart of a person no doubt.

  12. Jodi Mar 27 2013 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Erika, I’m definitely drawn to the authentic way you capture your life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here and I can’t wait for your breakout!!!

  13. Ashley Mar 27 2013 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Well this just made me happy…as I sit reading it in front of a pile of laundry with my three year old hanging upside down off the couch watching Thomas and my camera staring me down from its perch on top of the fridge 🙂 Thanks for the honesty and inspiration!

    • erika Mar 27 2013 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      mine were upside down yesterday too! New thing around here. Then they fell on each other and started wrestling. Not new…

  14. amybader Mar 27 2013 at 10:22 am - Reply

    always good to see you, your images and your words. xo

  15. Angie Mar 27 2013 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    I’m new to your work and I’m really enjoying it so far. I may have to check out your breakout!

    • erika Mar 27 2013 at 3:03 pm - Reply

      I think it will be fun… And “hey” to new people!

  16. Jennifer Tait Mar 27 2013 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Awesome interview! I am so glad I read this today. It really resonated with me. So funny when I need a push or some motivation/inspiration there is a new post on the blog and it’s what I need to read/hear. It’s like Erika knew the things I was thinking about in my head and answered them aloud for everyone to hear. She is describing my life. It is comforting to hear that someone is going thru and juggling the same things you are. And to me it makes it more ok for how I prioritize things in my life and also the way you live your life. Funny cause it reminds me of a thing my friend said to me once – your house is always messy. That is true but we try to get out and live life actively not just sit on the sidelines and watch it go by. We have the experiences and memories instead of a spotless sink. Priorities right?!

    Thanks again for a great article!

  17. Audrey Mar 28 2013 at 11:01 am - Reply

    This made my day – I always tidy up the clutter when I’m taking photos but I feel as if you have given me permission to photograph the mess too and still get great shots!

  18. suzanne Apr 02 2013 at 6:49 am - Reply

    love the photos you chose and the words you wrote. I read it twice. Thanks for being so kickass and such an awesome friend and inspiration. xo

  19. Ana Apr 02 2013 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    This *really* spoke to me and was an inspiration for me today. Totally feel like I’m in a rut. Thanks for sharing.

  20. cynthia Apr 03 2013 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    love your candidness!!!! i truly can relate on all aspects. thanks for sharing. 🙂

  21. suzanne Apr 09 2013 at 11:45 am - Reply

    i love all type of photography, and i love people doing their creative thing. thanks for sharing your insightful observations about life!

  22. Jacci Morgan Jun 01 2013 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    YES!!! Oh, man. A million times. Yes.

    I took a really fabulous course in January of this year… great in so many ways, EXCEPT one. The instructor kept nit picking on the clutter in my shots. She wanted me to kick dolls out of the way before snapping my toddler or move a plate full of crumbs before nabbing the shot of my son at the kitchen table. I was there to learn… I wanted to be teachable… but everything in me said, “No way!” I’ve been a mama for 12 years now, and I *know* I want all those details in our photographs. Life is in the details. It’s not clutter… it’s life!

    Everything you wrote resonated with me. I was literally sitting here nodding my head 🙂

    Wish you did mentoring days! I live in Dayton and would hop over to Cbus in a heartbeat!

    Thanks so much for this excellent interview!

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