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Crash Taylor Interviews Tamara Lackey


This month I welcome my friend Tamara Lackey. Tamara is a world-renowned award winning portrait and wedding photographer from North Carolina. I love her work, its so inspiring, expressive, unique, emotional, moving and just plain cool. She consistently receives national recognition in the industry and has appeared in Rangefinder magazine, Professional Photographer magazine, Vogue, Elle and many others.

Her book “The Art of Children’s Portrait Photography” is one of the top-selling books in the industry.

Several weeks ago Tamara sent me her new DVD – Inside Contemporary Children’s Photography and all I can say is WAY COOL! If you shoot kids this is a must watch, it will definitely take your photography to new heights. That’s all I’m going to say, you can watch the trailer here, which says it all.

Trailer - http://www.tamaralackeyblog.com/index.cfm?catID=35

Hi Tamara,

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Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a woman.  I have a lovely family and some wonderful friends.  I photograph people for a living and have had some great luck with my career of choice.  I like to learn, and I like to teach.  I read a lot.  I believe most people are inherently good and often surprising. Or, rather, they often surprise me.  I get too self-focused when I over-schedule myself.  I am still looking for zen-like balance.

Where is home?

Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?

In a place where mosquitos don’t ever, ever visit.  Snakes would also enjoy staying away.  I think the rivers are made of chocolate.  But, still, no bugs are drawn to that river of chocolate.  It’s a wonderful place to create a dream home:)

What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?

I just finished running the WPPI gauntlet, so I’m slightly worn out.

Did you go to school to study photography?

I studied mass communications, art history and then went ahead and added an American literature/English degree, too.  So I studied art but not specifically photography.

How long have you been a photographer?

Seven years, professionally.

How long have you been a wedding/portrait photographer?

Seven years, professionally.

What or who got you started in wedding photography?

I initially started shooting just portraits and moved into wedding photography when I got excited about the idea of shooting it in a similar freeform style.

How would you describe your style?

I like to shoot authentically, so to respond very much to my particular subjects – that being said, I think my images are expressive and focus on the beauty in people.

How many weddings do you average per year?

I started out at 45/year but brought that down to 12 in 2009.  In 2010, I closed out bookings at 4 weddings.

How many portrait sessions do you average a year?

About 90-110/year

Do you have some recent images you can share with us?

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a favorite photo

What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Canon 1D Mark II and Canon 5D Mark II

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?

My genuine interest in people.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?

85mm 1.2.  I think the image quality is unmatched by other lenses I’ve used.

What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?

I’ll have a video light with dimmer and on-camera flash ready if need be, but I usually shoot with just a single reflector.

Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding/portrait shoot?

I use video light when I am in a really tough lighting situation, and I need something extra – or when I am doing more creative night shooting.  I use flash very rarely, maybe just at receptions.  I use reflectors often, to even out shadowing and to enhance catch lights.

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?

I don’t use additional hardware accessories.

How important is Photoshop in your final images?

I often consider an image only partially created at capture, and I like to use elements of Photoshop to finish what I saw when I shot the image.

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?

I think people work hard to make great products and should be recognized.

So ... a healthy mix of actions (Kubota, totally RAD, and colorshift - as well as my own combinations) ...

I actually just finished partnering with Kevin Kubota, co-creating the Tamara Lackey Style Book, a video & look-book post-processing walkthrough (also the first in the Kubota Artist Series guide).  I used his actions exclusively.  It was a lot of work to produce, but it’s coming together beautifully – and I really enjoy working with the entire Kubota team.

Are you a MAC or PC lover? MAC all the way.

Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on? Probably the iPad.  I don’t even know why.  That’s how good Apple is.

I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow; can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?

Sure – download everything and backup in 3 separate places, external drives, multi-terabyte photo server and DVD’s – then do inclusive editing by pulling my favorites into files, running actions on them and then dragging the finished images into lightroom for final crops and tweaking.

I use Queensberry albums, what wedding albums do you supply your clients with and do you design them yourself or outsource the design?

I use Asukabook albums often for portraits and Seldex albums, Cypress albums, and GraphiStudio albums for weddings.  After working with our designer for quite a while, we feel really comfortable about outsourcing the design.

How do you feel about cropping an image?

I don’t think that the type of format (medium or otherwise) camera I’m using is always the best orientation for every particular image I want to deliver, so I love having a crop tool at my disposal.

I choose photographers for these interviews because their work inspires me and gets my creative juices flowing, hence the interview. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?

This may sound a little odd, but I am particularly inspired by kindness.  By those who reach beyond themselves to help others, whether it is physically, emotionally, spiritually or otherwise.  When I see people give of themselves this way, it inspires me to find more within myself to give – and that translates directly to how much energy I direct, and nearly always then receive, back from my subject – offering a multitude of opportunities to capture amazing imagery.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why?

I made it a personal quest to photograph President Barack Obama shortly after he became a candidate.  I was able to do so and finally was hired by the campaign to photograph him  (and then Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou) on several different occasions, and it was pretty much a dream come true.  I think he was elected because of the photographs ;)

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If you could shoot a wedding with another photographer who would it be and why?

I got kinda gooey when I met Annie Liebowitz.  I’d still choose her.  I love how nakedly she is inspired by art history.

Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on assignments?

I always bring a 2nd shooter to weddings, but I do not bring along an assistant on portrait sessions.

How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?

I shoot about 2500 or so and usually present between 800 - 1000, depending on the length of the day or whether it is weekend coverage, as well.

Where would be your dream destination wedding?

I’ve been lucky enough to shoot a couple of them.  My favorite was in Kona, Hawaii, a 4-day wedding shoot with some seriously lovely people who have since became close friends.

How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc… feel relaxed in front of your Canon 5D Mark II?

When it’s just a bride & groom, I focus a great deal on connecting with them and keeping the entire thing a very natural exchange between me and them and, most importantly, between the two of them.  With a bridal party, it’s typically a more festive thing.  I assure them this is going to be quick, painless, and that they’ll find this worth it later - and that usually wins them over more than any shining aspect of my personality.

Have you ever had anything go wrong at a wedding and if so, how did you handle it?

Yes.  I once missed the yacht that the wedding party was on – watched it pull out of the harbor as I pulled into the parking lot.  After asking several people at the dock for help, I located a gentleman who was willing to motorboat me out to the yacht for $100 in cash, with the understanding that he couldn’t actually get the yacht to stop for me.  As I jumped from one boat to the other, I was greeted by a round of applause by those watching from the upper deck.   Oddly enough, my mistake (originally going to the wrong yacht club) was translated to “look what she’ll do for the job”.  That was simply good luck.

What are your favourite images you have shot recently? Can you describe their creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc, also your thoughts when creating the images and what they mean to you?

I was teaching a shooting clinic just before WPPI in Las Vegas, and this sweet, very shy little girl was in front of me and about 20 people behind me with cameras.  I photographed this very sweet expression and then worked doubly hard to get her to trust me and open up with me, even despite the chaos of all the lenses around me.

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This was the “after” shot, when she decided she could open up to me, and that adorable smile was worth the effort.

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What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings and children?

The most challenging thing about photographing both weddings and children is the time commitment.  When you are shooting both, you are then working all week and on weekends.  I don’t ever photograph portraits on weekends, unless it’s part of a destination portrait session, and I am shooting less weddings now to keep more weekends free.

What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?

I have seen the industry change a lot just in the last few years – brides are way more involved in photography blogs than they used to be, and it makes for interesting discussions when they know your friends and where your name has been mentioned on other photographer blogs.

I read recently that the wedding photography industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next 5-10 years.  I think if people are concerned that it is crowded now, it’ll just get more crowded in time.

A wedding photographer who inspires you?

Not necessarily a wedding photographer, but Mikael Jansson’s work is really lovely and has such a sharp editorial style.  I’d love to see a wedding covered with that eye.

It’s almost that time of year for a Tamara Lackey family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say – he/she took my portrait?

I actually have a family portrait trade coming up with Tina Wilson, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she captures.  And what I do, too.

A website and/or blog you visit often?

I keep up with quite a lot via twitter.

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?

Sue Bryce, a New Zealander now living in Australia.  She photographed my new headshots when we were together in Vegas, and I really love her style of “beauty” photography, and I’m really happy with the images she captured of me.

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?

Just wrapped up a workshop that I taught alongside Audrey Woulard in Las Vegas yesterday – a full day shooting clinic.

Do you have any workshops planned?

I am just about to announce a workshop in my studio for this September, as well as another one in the Northeast this fall.

I’m also in the process of planning a workshop in New Zealand and Australia towards the end of January, 2010.  I am really getting some fantastic advice on managing that from my friend Sally Sargood, who is a champion photography workshop organizer.  So … yes :)

What photographic organizations do you belong to?

WPPI, PPA, NAPCP and DWF.  I’m luckily quite fortunate to be involved with all the organizations, too.  I spoke at PPA’s Imaging USA and the WPPI Convention these last two years in a row, I’ll be the keynote speaker at NAPCP’s first annual retreat in Napa Valley this June, and I’ve recently agreed to be one of the “portrait experts” on DWF’s expanded site focus, as they focus on portraits, as well as weddings now.

One way you market Tamara Lackey Photography?

By far our best marketing is simply word-of-mouth referrals.  We are grateful for our clients’ enthusiasm.

Do you advertise? If so where?

We used to advertise more, but not really at all anymore.  I’m just now figuring out how to advertise a product.  I’m not sure I’m very good at it yet.  It’s like my DVD is selling in spite of my lack of advertising efforts.

How important is an awesome website for your business?

Considering how open our market is with destination portraits and weddings, it’s exceptionally important.

If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying and photographing the great white shark. What would you have been?

I love writing and teaching, and luckily I get to do a great amount of that type of work as a photographer who … writes and teaches.

I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.

I feel a strong connection to children who have been orphaned.  Two of my three children were adopted from orphanages in Ethiopia and Ecuador, and all proceeds from my book, The Art of Children’s Portrait Photography, go directly to the Worldwide Orphans Foundation and Save The Children.

These couple of images were taken at the orphanage where my daughter used to live, in Cuenca, Ecuador.  The first is her saying goodbye to the mother superior who ran the orphanage, and the second one is her friend, Andrea, who had to say goodbye to Ana Elisa and still lives there today.

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Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?

I would have loved to taken a portrait of my grandmother who passed away when my father was two years old.  The photograph I do have of her intrigues me.

When I was 2nd shooting I was picking everybody’s brain, I still am actually. That’s why I love these interviews so much. Every interview I learn something that makes me a better photographer. What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?

Keep doing and finding work that feels true to you.  It sounds trite, but it’s so exceptionally true:  don’t try to be anyone else.

That being said, don’t get so stuck being you that you don’t remember to grow as you.  It’s not difficult to find that your work is getting stale once you’ve found success.  Keep exploring your own work.

We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?

I know I referred to this before, but I am often struck by genuine kindness.  That’s not the same as nice or polite or minding your manners – but people who truly care about being soft and careful with each other’s hearts.  Finding examples of this in my every day life, as well as in what I read and observe, is an endless source of inspiration to me.

Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?

I devoted an entire chapter in my book to this:  “Yes, mistakes make you stronger, but go ahead and avoid these.”  I could probably add to it weekly  :)

Name a photographer you would like to take a portrait of?

Dane Sanders was showing me photographs of his children and his gorgeous wife when we got to spend time together this past week.  He’s a genuinely great friend, and I think it’d be lovely to photograph he and his beautiful family together.

Can you tell us little about your highly acclaimed Inside Contemporary Children’s Photography DVD?

It was about a year in the making, partnering up with Rex Ballard, the exceptionally talented Principal Cinematographer of Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition.  We wanted to create an instructional DVD that was much like “being there”, so we filmed a shoot in the studio, another in a client’s home and another on location and peppered that throughout a 90-minute full feature video that focuses on lighting, composition, posing, and workflow.  I’m so very happy with the end result.

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If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...

If I’m invisible, can I also be concurrently visible?  Because, if so, I’d like to go back in time and photograph the more impactful moments of my life with those I care about in a true photojournalistic style, so I can have more detailed documentation than just my memories.

I’ve learned the most from… the painful parts of life.  Not that I’m requesting replays of any sort.

What talent would you most like to have?

The talent to see myself as others see me so as to better keep myself in check.  That would have to be a once-in-a-while thing, though.  I’d probably drive me nuts.

Something you’re still learning?

How to manage the delicate balance of keeping a heart wide open … but not taking too much to heart.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Who: my family.  They know that, too, which is incredibly important to me.  What:  the people in my life who have my back even after it’s not convenient for them.  I love, love that – people who are true, even when there is no benefit to them.

What is your greatest fear?

The loss of freedom.

Something that is overrated?

Sitting on the beach.  It always seems so great, but then I sit there for an hour, and I’m all done.

Something you’re saving up for?

My live-in personal masseuse.

What item do you wish you had designed?

The very first shoe.  An incredibly significant first design.

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?

Oh, he knows who he is.  And I have the restraining order to prove it ;)

Your favourite film (movie) of all time?

Avatar absolutely skyrocketed up there.

Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?

Veronica Lake.  When she was alive, of course.

First thing you would do if you won the lottery?

Get really nervous.  Doesn’t seem to be very good outcomes for those that do.  Rough track records, statistically.

Which five words would your friends use to describe you?

A friend says these (my comments follow).

1.  High-energy (true)

2.  Thoughtful.  (most of the time)

3.  Talented (some of the time)

4.  Quick-witted (I can’t think of anything clever to say about this. let me get back to you)

5.  Passionate (gets me in trouble more than I would’ve thought).

What ambitions have you not yet achieved?

I wanted to not just visit but genuinely spend time in all seven continents.  I hit all six a while ago and was even able to live in four of them – but Antarctica has eluded me thus far because I don’t want to go for just a week and need to really plan time around that.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?

Probably living in Antarctica (see above).

And the last question, if you had one wish… That would we all feel strongly and safely connected to each other.  I think if we could accomplish this, it would take care of so many destructive behaviors and actions.

It’s our belief that we are so separate and removed from each other that triggers us to hurt, control, and defend.   As David Augsburger said, “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Tamara Lackey?’ What would you say?

Um, really?  Have you thought that all the way through?

Your readers can find out more about me:

Website: www.tamaralackey.com

www.twitter.com/tamaralackey

www.facebook.com/tamaralackey