Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Interview with Melody Smith - Virginia Wedding Photographer

Interview session with one of Virginia's top Wedding, Budoir, Bridal and Studio photographers!

Melody Smith - Twilight Images

Q: What first began your interest in photography?
A: This is a tough question for me because there are technicalities involved. But, more or less, when I was about 8 I went to my aunts wedding and helped the photographer there. At that point, I started taking pictures of my stuffed animals with a Polaroid camera, and then started making my sister model for me. But, I was influenced more by old photos that my mom used to show me when I was really little...old photos of her mom, her grandmother etc. I was always fascinated with them.

Q: If you could only choose one type of photography (ie: bridals, weddings, etc) from now on, what would it be and why?
A: I would pick the bridals. I think that there is something to be said for a wedding dress...for one it's probably the most expensive piece of clothing a girl will ever buy for herself (or be bought for her). Usually, the detail in the dresses are amazing, and no matter what, ever woman looks somewhat regal in a wedding gown. More so than in other dresses. Brides become timeless in their bridal gowns, unlike in high fashion that becomes dated.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a photographer?
A: I think that the biggest challenge I faced was when I switched to digital. I almost took my digital slr camera back. I was so scared of learning how to use it... Shooting film for ages did that to me...I had never owned an auto focus type camera ever. So switching to something with dials, settings, and buttons scared me.

Q: What is your greatest strength as a photographer?
A: I think that one thing that I do is offer a custom shoot. When I meet with a client, I can gauge her style...and REALLY capture a person, not in just a candid, but in a well thought out photo. The one thing that I am often told by the family and friends of my clients after their shoots is that "I nailed their personality." I make sure I stick to my personal taste and style, but I also bring out each individual personality in the shoots.

Q: A big part of being a photographer is inspiration; both that which you receive and that which you give to others. So, who or what has inspired you most in your life?
A: I'll get all choked up talking about this... and it's the oddest thing really… and cliché… but, if you knew me, you would know that it's not just me saying this, that it's something that is truly felt and meant. I have to say that the expectation of my son inspired me to do what I dream. He just really brought out the best in me. I have been shooting for years...but for some reason, in my final trimester of being pregnant, I was like, I want to be someone that my son can look up to one day....and I was like, what can I do to achieve that...and I knew that I needed to do what I had always wanted to do...and that was make the photography thing happen.

Q: Where would your dream destination wedding be?
A: Italy. End of discussion. Yes, that was fast...but seriously...the architecture, the gardens, the verandas, the vino!

Q: Do you prefer working in the studio or on location?
A: I like both actually. But, if the location is interesting, and has great features, I prefer location. The studio does give me more control...but working on location adds authenticity to a photo.

Q: If you could become famous for one type of photography, what would it be?
A: Tough one...because I have 2 strong opinions on this. I am a portraiturist, and a lot of my work is heavily influenced by the 40's and 50's. But, I also love doing the bridal portraits. I'd love to be "known" for the work I do with brides, but I would be just as happy being known for portraiture.

Q: What is your dream gig as a photographer?
A: To photograph for the cover of vanity fair or an elite bridal magazine. but, if we want to talk about details... probably photographing several brides in couture dresses in a huuuge white house with oil paintings on the walls. with a great big giant window, almost like an English tea party scene… but that would be my dream shoot probably.

Q: Who is your favorite photographer and why?
A: George Hurrell. One of the things that I love about his work is that he was able to really stylize the Hollywood glamour period. When he photographed for example, Grace Kelly, he REALLY captured her. Her beauty, her stature, and her little quirks. Even in the swimsuit ads he did of her, you see her personality...it's as though you could read her life in one of his photographs. his work is simple, but extremely powerful.

Q: Your bridal portrait style is very unique. What type of feeling and experience do you aim for your brides to walk away with?
A: In the consult, I tell them all the same thing... when you come to me for a bridal portrait, you will walk out with a one of a kind image. But, this is what that means. When I plan the shoot, I draw from a lot of resources based on the dress, the bride, and the details of her wedding. I will concentrate the beginning part of the shoot on something artistic...the posing, the design/style of the set etc. I look for one shot, one moment to "nail" it. Once I feel I have done that, I move on to different styles of lighting and such. But, what I want for a bride to take away from the shoot is that when she looks back 20 years from that day, she says to herself "This was my day, this was the day I looked my best, and this was the day all eyes looked on me with envy." It is kind of complicated with this, because I think in a way, each bride takes something different from it. Mostly, it's a sense of awe that someone they hardly know sees them in such a beautiful way.

Q: How do you market yourself?
A: The marketing thing was something I struggled with for a while. Mainly, most of my audience is online...so it's online ads. However, what I market myself as... I market myself as vintage. Not every image from a wedding is going to have a vintage look...but the style is still there. Some weddings really do not accommodate for everything to be photographed that way...but there are always aspects...because weddings have been going on for eons, and with that comes certain traditions---whether it is carrying a beaded handbag, wearing lace, or a comb in your hair. Something is going to be vintage in your wedding in look and feel...and I notice that sort of thing right off. However, my actual marketing term is now "Modern Vintage."

Q: How has becoming a professional photographer impacted your life?
A: This I think, is probably the biggest question to answer. During peak wedding seasons...I say seasons b/c I have 2 bursts of wedding seasons...I am constantly away from my family. Most consumers do not realize the time invested into this type of work...For each wedding client who books a full on package, I spend upwards to 300 hours on each one. Emails, post processing, ordering prints, uploading proofs, framing images, creating custom albums etc. Not every wedding takes that much time, but most do. I do tons of planning and research. So I'd say that it has impacted the fact that since my business has taken off, I am extremely busy. Granted, the pay off for this is huge. I get to get up when I want, stay up late, work from home, and determine my own schedule for the majority of the time.

Q: Do you find your view of the world has changed since becoming a photographer?
A: Photography has taught me to listen to the differences in people, not so much the differences in the world.

Q: When you die, what do you hope people will say about you at your funeral? What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
A: That I was a good mother.

Q: If you couldn’t be a photographer, what would you be?
A: I'd just be a full time mom. For me, if I am not doing photography, I am with my son. And before I made this a career, it was all about my family. The photography is the first thing I have really ever done entirely for myself...and I feel that I have to have something for myself...something to make me feel like I am of substance and since I am an extremely creative person, the photography is a good outlet for me most of the time.

Q: What did you do for a living before you became a professional photographer and a mom?
A: I have had a lot of odd jobs...I was a waitress, a bartender, a manager of a hair salon. But I had not worked a real job in 5 years, I went to college. But, I have been doing photography jobs for years, just not enough to make a full time career out of it.

Q: Tell me your funniest wedding story.
A: It would probably have to be a wedding from last September. I had NO idea that the groom and all of his groomsmen were TKE's. This is one of the largest fraternities in the country...considered to be THE elite party frat. These guys were nuts. My assistant and I had stepped outside for a moment and walked back into the reception hall to find the groom blindfolded and barefoot with one of his pledge brothers doing SOMETHING to his feet. We are still not certain what they were doing, but we took photos anyway. Regardless, that was an eventful wedding!

Q: What makes a good photographer?
A: There are some amazing photographers out there...but, I think what makes a good photographer---not a good photograph, is attention to detail, being comfortable around people, and being able to relate to your clients on some level.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to become a “pro” photographer?
A: I'd tell them to be business savvy first. Get your business stuff in order and then think about being pro. Have good insurance, and make sure you can be consistent.


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About Jennifer

I am based in Milwaukee, and I provide photography services for the entire state of Wisconsin. I also am available for destination weddings throughout the country as well as internationally!

I am a member of the Professional Photographer's Association (PPA) and the Artistic Guild of the Wedding Photojournalistic Association (AGWPJA).

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