So I recently got on facebook and asked people to ask me anything and you all asked me some amazing questions! so here it is, enjoy!
What emotions do you go through when doing a project?
oh wow let me think…it depends. Usually when I edit I am pretty giddy and hyper because it makes me happy to work on photography. When I use a model, I am pretty hyper and excited because seriously photography makes me truly and completely happy. I am fulfilled. While I am shooting self-portraits I usually am pretty focused on getting the image out right so it is like the one time in my life I am not overly emotional. My infertility ones are usually done when I am seriously upset [over the infertility] so I start off crying but as I think through the shoot, set it up and shoot it, I calm down and focus on how to get this emotion out of my head and into the picture. The same with the depression pieces, I usually am at a low point and the act of working the image calms me down and kinda helps me put the bulk of the emotion in the back of my head. It is extremely cathartic for me to photograph.
“another failed attempt” After about an hour meltdown and crying fit, I began shooting this image.
How did you get started in this particular line of photography?
In college, I kinda hit a creative block. Usually within a week of having my images done I hated them! I watched everyone excel in their particular genres they loved, landscapes, fashion, commercial…I felt I was missing something. I love looking at all types of photography but doing these genres bored me after a while. Somehow during this, I got a crazy image in my head of people with fabric over their faces and balloons. So I went out and shot it. I came alive! Immediately two days later I shot another series of a subject in black being approached by two in white. I was hooked on this conceptual series genre. I felt connected to it in a way I never did with other genres. There was a story to tell in the images. A piece of me will always be connected to the work I was making since my story was in the piece. It has been almost ten years and I still love those shots from college. I put photography aside after college because I [stupidly] let life get in the way and didn’t make time for it. When I picked up the camera again three years ago I tried my hand at portraits and then stumbled upon Brooke Shaden’s photography. Her creative live class got me motivated and inspired to try conceptual art again and once I did one conceptual image I quickly let go of portraits (it’s ok, I was not very good in that genre and was failing) and went full-tilt back into art. Shooting this type of photography helps me deal with my demons, cope with my emotions, depression and infertility. Shooting conceptual art is something I feel utterly whole and complete doing. Now I am older and wiser in the fact I know now I HAVE to make the time for photography and to never let it go again.
throwback! some pieces from my college days. shot on black and white film.
What’s one of your favorite images you’ve created and why?
This is always a hard question! I can never pick just one.
“Great Escape” was my first back into this genre and I love love LOVE reading. It also has a alice in wonderland feel to it so that is always going to be up there in my favorites.
The eater series is a favorite because well I don’t know… I am fascinated by these creatures and LOVE LOVE them so much. They are like a hint into this unseen world I want to get a better look into. I don’t know, I just love monsters.
“Playboy Mommy” will have a special place because it gave me closure and the ability to move on after my first miscarriage which was also the first time I got pregnant after two years of trying.
“eater of dreams” I ♥ monsters
“playboy mommy” though a devastating moment in my life during this shot I felt overcome with peace and closure
What was the biggest challenge for you leading up to this point in your career?
I would say there is two challenges I constantly battle. Time and confidence. When I first graduated college and went into the real world I didn’t make time for photography. I made excuses and let it go. Dumb I know. I just began working full time again so I am going to make it a huge effort to make the time and continue to create and get my work out there. If you don’t make the time you will never find it.
The other is confidence and a fear of failing, which I think happens from lack of confidence. I get caught up in the “omg I am NOT good enough” or the “I can’t do that!” and the dreaded “omg my work sucks no one will like this.” So just working past that and photographing anyway. Like Dora in Finding Nemo says… “just keep swimming just keep swimming…” I am slowly saying if I fail I fail, I just try again right? It’s not like someone is going to force me in jail and demand I never photograph again right? Seriously what is the worst that will happen? Nothing! I am retraining myself to think that failures are not a bad thing but are just learning experiences. It is hard but I am getting better at pushing through and continuing instead of stopping and leaving it unfinished for years.
What advice would you give to those just starting out on their photography adventure?
LEARN YOUR CAMERA! Eat up every piece of knowledge you can find on photography! Save your money and skip all the equipment and fancy “gotta haves.” You have to learn the basics of photography. Composition, exposure, shooting manual (for the control it gives you). A professional camera will not make you a photographer just like a talented photographer can still take amazing images on an iphone or even a cheap ten dollar camera. So many get caught up with gear (I am guilty of this) and then most don’t learn the basics of photography. They look for an easy button. Equipment and actions will only help you so much. An amazing image is from the photographer’s skill and knowledge, not their camera or actions that usually advertise to make your images from crap to AMAZINGLY PROFESSIONAL. Yes, actions and good equipment help you out but they don’t do all the work especially if you don’t quite understand what you are doing. So learn the basics and then PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE and for good measure practice some more. I would suggest doing a 365 project. Shooting a picture every day, even just a simple image, will really help you improve your skills.
What tools/camera/lenses do you recommend for those who are into photography as a hobby and not necessarily with professional goals?
If you are a hobbyist I definitely recommend you just stick to entry level dslrs. You can upgrade to better lenses but a professional $3000 camera is not necessary for you. To be honest, it is overkill. But something like the Canon t3i or is it the t4 now? (sorry Nikon I do not know your equivalent model to this) You will probably be looking at cameras in the 200-300 price range? Canon or Nikon are both amazing companies, it is a matter of personal preference. Seriously they are photographer’s version of Coke or Pepsi lol. For lenses, the kit lenses will be versatile but i suggest getting the 50mm 1.8 (which is one I still use). It is an amazing cheap lens that is a huge improvement in quality over the kit lenses. But as you get better, I would suggest upgrading your lenses and not really the camera body. You would be surprised how amazing your pictures will look going from a kit lens to better quality glass. But look into what you shoot. . . do you need a telephoto if you are shooting your kid inside all the time? Or if you only shoot landscapes do you really need a macro? Also if you are on a budget, consider getting those attachable lenses for your smart phone camera! They are pretty fantastic. And remember, if you didn’t learn how to properly focus or expose an image…well, sorry to tell you, but NO camera will help you take better pictures. (I am saying it, shooting in auto is cheating)
I’d love to do some awesome shots with my boys so they think I’m a “cool” mom, lol. My problem is coming up with an idea to attempt! Any suggestions on how to get inspired?
You can do soo many magical things with them! What are they into? Do they love Harry Potter? Star wars? Get some wands and add a little light in post edit and maybe some “flying props.” You can make your boys fly! You can make them battle life size dinosaurs or dragons by enlarging their toys! Get some stock photos of castles and turn them into knights! Show their hyper-ness and youthful energy by putting them upside down and walking on your ceilings! If you can’t think of something take their favorite book or movie and try to recreate a scene. You don’t need crazy props, just things you have around the house which will add charm and illustrate how we use our imaginations! And if you really can’t think of something ask your boys, let them be the creative directors!
a picture I took of my nieces, incorporating levitation.summer fun!
what kid wouldn’t want an awesome handmade twig crown and be king of the forest?!
or add some mud, vintage looking clothing and props….
and if ALL else fails…. CHALK TIME
I absolutely love your work! I have 3 boys and would love to be able to start incorporating composites into my work. As someone who has never done this, do you have any advice on where to start?
Thank you! Let’s see, take your idea and SKETCH IT OUT. Composites will be easier if you plan them out. Sketching them helps you see the image and what needs to be done to accomplish it. Definitely use a tripod or place your camera on a sturdy stool/table. You do NOT want your camera moving when shooting for composites or you will give yourself a horrible migraine when editing. I focus on my subject and switch to manual focus so it locks it. If you are using shots from different locations check your perspective and lighting, you want them to match. If you shot the location scene low then you need to shoot your subject low. If the light was to the right in one scene it needs to be to the right on your subject. If you are doing a levitating photo and have your subject sitting on a chair to pose make sure to fix the part of them resting on chair. . . the chair will cause a flatness that would not be there if they were really floating. So have them pop their butt up or round out the part in Photoshop. Paying attention to those type of details will allow you to achieve a realistic look to the image and help the images blend better. Layer masking is how I blend the images together so I highly suggest Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (I believe the later versions of elements have layer masks).
“the guardian” shot this bear at zoo while he was up in a tree in wooded area, so I made sure to shoot her from a low angle in woods facing same direction of light.
With regards to lighting, how did you learn to capture the best exposure?
A lot of my photography knowledge obviously came from my photo classes in high school and in college. We shot with film and used a darkroom so you HAD to get it right in camera. Many rolls of film were ruined with bad exposures! Also, you only had so many shots on a roll so you wouldn’t want to take 100 of the same shot and used up a whole roll. In the digital world I think it is a little easier because if you shoot it wrong you see immediately and can readjust your settings. You can also take a gazillion shots on a memory card and delete if need be. However, you really need to learn the exposure triangle; aperture, shutter speed and iso and how they work with each other to properly expose your shot. Photography is literally painting with light, so study the light. Being able to capture the best exposure comes with practice and time. I can NOT stress that enough in photography. The more you shoot the more you know. The more pictures you take the more you start seeing light better. I have been photographing since I was 16 and I am 32 now. I had a huge gap in there where I stopped so I am still relearning and trying to improve even now. Instead of deleting your bad images pull up the info look at your settings why was it bad? Was your shutter to slow? Was the aperture to wide and everything blurred too much? Did you have enough light? Was there too much light and now you have contrast-y shadows on your subject? Studying your mistakes will help you vastly in improving your photography skills.
What tool do you like best in Photoshop when you do your composites?
It has got to be layer masking! Without it I really couldn’t do what I do!
How long does it take you to edit a photo? How long does a project take?
This will vary. But probably shorter then you think. Shooting usually takes 10 minutes to a hour. If its a hour it is because I have nothing better to do and I am taking a thousand poses so I have a lot to choose from when I go into edit. (Self-portraits are hard in the fact you can’t see exactly what you pose looks like as you model) Shooting is the fastest part.
Editing will take anywhere from 2 hours to a day. (Sorry I lose track of time when I edit.) But I usually finish the image in the day I begin to edit it. However, it never feels like a long time. I worked on some for eight hours and I thought it had only been two. It is fun editing! I love it so much I don’t mind the time. The ones that take me the longest are the ones with more compositing because I want to get it perfect. I want the images to look as realistic as possible. I am horrible with colors so a lot of time is going back and forth with the final color edit. I get very indecisive with which color/tone to use even such as to the degree of how much desaturation or blue I add in shadows! I will pick back and forth for an hour lol. Too many choices!
Robin Spalding, your finished images are amazing! How many images go into 1 finished edit?
Thank you! This depends on the image. It can be anywhere from just one to like ten or more! I will take pieces from shots. Some hair from a few, the face from another, the feet from this one then some background shots to expand and enlarge my frame. My image, “the great escape” is eight images. The eater of dreams was three, the head from one shot, the mouth and then I used the wrinkles (on forehead) from a third. Sometimes when I do have an image where I use only one I feel like I am missing something lol. It feels weird to not composite anything in.
some of the shots that went into composite for “the great escape”
What do your friends and family think of your work, especially the darker ones? I absolutely love your work. I do believe one of my favorites is still the floating reader with all the books because I am a book lover!
Thanks! It is kind if funny, my husband doesn’t like my artwork because it is “depressing and unappealing” lol. But I joke that it helps keep me grounded. He is not an art person at all so I don’t mind his opinion on it. However, he is very supportive of me doing photography and knows it makes me happy. He was cool about us randomly stopping on our drive across country so I could do some shots on the side of the road! My mom thinks the dark stuff is freaky, some of my family think it’s too scary or creepy to look at. My dad might not understand it but he likes to share it with people and he is very encouraging in making sure I keep up with it and getting out there to do something with it. My sister actually is asking for some for her walls. My brother lets me have free rein when I visit with my nieces and letting me randomly shoot self-portraits around his house, his neighbors’ yards, and with his things. He even helped suggest some ideas for me when I shot at the waterfall park! But ALL of my family and friends are totally cool about me being a photographer in this genre and (usually) willingly model for me. And they are getting used to strange requests from me like when I ask for actual teeth. My husband is totally nonchalant about me coming home with torn up legs, covered in mud and being like oh I just fell out of a tree no biggie. My friend Erica laughed about how she found leaves and twigs around her house for days after I was there and photographed in the creeks.(sorry for the mess Erica!) I haven’t really sat down and had deep conversations with them about the meanings behind it but they usually know what’s going on with me and they know that photography is a part of me as much as my blue eyes are.
“something I can never have”
I am absolutely in love with your fertility images. Have you ever had anyone from the opposite sex not understand or respond negatively about them, or do they seem to understand your struggle as well?
Few guys comment on my work. The infertility images’ responses have really been from women. One of my guy friends did respond to one sending his love to me and my husband. So far, I haven’t had any negative response. Though my reach online is still pretty small, so thankfully, no trolls or rude comments have made their way to me yet.
I know that your struggle with infertility is the inspiration for many of your images (which I find so moving and absolutely love!!!)….but I’m curious, what is the inspiration for some of your other works?
If the images aren’t dealing with my infertility, then they are usually dealing with my depression, anxiety and lack of confidence. I find myself the most creative when I am depressed which in a way is good because it helps me get through it more than anything else ever could. I use photography to illustrate what is in my mind because I can NOT put it into words and I need to get these emotions out and scream them to the world.
I find myself drawn to secret dark places and the idea that things underneath are different then above. Maybe because I have this depression and anxiety but have learned to smile on the outside. I get bored with reality and want to show a peek into another world just below ours. I want to bring some of the fantastical into reality but in a photograph where maybe it’s safe.
Though a lot deals with these dark feelings like infertility, depression, anxiety, I think in most there is still a sense that there is still a little shred of hope left, that the subject is still on a journey, still moving forward, still trying to figure things out. Because they haven’t given up completely, they maybe on the edge of the abyss but they are still hanging onto life.
And how do most of your ideas come to you? Where do you find your inspiration?
I am a very visual person and my imagination is always turned on. ALWAYS. I make little movies or stories in my mind. When I am listening to music a lyric will grab me and I want to show what I am seeing in my head. Or when my emotions hit me and start to drown me out I am literally flooded with ideas. It is almost like my mind is reacting and trying to reach out and show the world what is going on inside. The thought process is a coping mechanism because once I start thinking of an image my focus is on getting it out and the emotions take a back seat to creating the image. So listening to music and when I am having serious meltdowns emotionally is usually when I find myself charged up with creative energy for ideas.
“lost my way” an image dealing with depression, about always feeling lost in the dark and constantly searching for a better place
“heart leak” an image about the painful tearing and ache of one’s heart during depression and anxiety attacks
“the specimen” an image about being worn down and knowing parts of you are broken.
Do you ever take suggestions or ideas from others and turn them into one of your works?
Usually I cannot. If I don’t see it in my head I will never be able to visualize it and create it myself. However, I was able to for “when eating an elephant” which came from a quote my friend Dacia told me about and suggested I try to do an image on it. This is why I do not believe I would be very good at commissioned work. Sometimes looking at others’ images inspires me but the problem I find is I want to almost copy it and that is NOT good. So as much as I love looking at artists online I try to make sure I do not create anything immediately afterwards because I am way too influence by their image to really create my own concept/idea then. There is a thin line to walk because you don’t want to do what I call “karaoke photography” and just replicate other’s work. It is happening more and more, probably because of social media and pinterest. I KNOW nothing is really an original idea anymore and everything has been done but there is a huge difference in coming up with an idea for a shoot vs. just seeing an image and just copying it pose, props and all in your shoot. The new American horror story promotions have inspired me into a new series since they always have such amazing promotional work and the new season promos have reminded me how much i always loved the old images of sideshows.
“when eating an elephant”
“a face you show and a face you hide” inspired by american horror story promos and antigue imagery of sideshow acts
How do you keep your ideas organized as they pop into your head?
My head is a crazy chaotic mess that make Alice’s wonderland look like the most straightforward, boring no nonsense place! Sometimes, I kid you not, I can NOT even follow my own thoughts. There is no organizing it at all. However, when I get ideas for my photos the FIRST thing I do is grab my phone or ipad and either jot a quick note down of the idea or sketch it out. Most times, its an image I can see and I draw it out. Other times it’s just words that are grabbing me like lyrics for a song or a thought and I will make the note, then once I work out the image from the words I will sketch it out. Otherwise I will forget the idea. So I always sketch it out so if I don’t get to it right away I will remember it when i see it in my sketches. Sketching also helps me plan how to shoot the image and what I need to do to get all the pieces to later composite the image together.
I’m sure that you have many ideas floating around in your head at all times – how do you decide which of those ideas to go ahead and create an image around? What is your criteria for deciding?
I have a horrible memory so I forget ideas unless I write it down or something. So I try to sketch them out as soon as I think of them. Pretty much any idea that I get I try to note/sketch down. I don’t really have a criteria for deciding. The ideals for the images sorta become alive in themselves and many are louder than others and demand I do them IMMEDIATELY. Like there is no rest or thinking of anything else except doing that image. It becomes a compulsion, I have to do it. NOW. I won’t even be able to think of another idea until I get this one out of my head. Those ones are very pushy. Many of the infertility ones are done in the “heat of the moment” and are the loud and impulsive ideas but since photographing helps me cope I don’t see any reason to wait to do them…they keep me sane and help me get to the next day. Sometimes, I have to wait until I have the right location, prop, model, or something to do it. There is a few I am sitting on until I can get the “stars aligned” for them to work out.
“grow up stupid girl” with original sketch“fake it till you make it” with original sketch
DO you ever finish a project and it not be what you had in mind?
Hahah ALMOST ALL THE TIME! I now have a thing where even if the image is not working out how I plan I still continue to work on it. This helps me practice Photoshop and allows me to start pushing boundaries of what I can do since I start playing around with the image to get something I like out of it. I might have to toss one and re-shoot because it was out of focused. There has been few that I was like ugh what the heck?! I don’t know what’s going on with this image. For those, I just play with them in editing and force myself to go through and because I don’t care I really start pushing boundaries in what I know and start experimenting in Photoshop which is a pretty awesome way to learn some new tricks. Sometimes I shoot something and just well I hate the image in post. Those I figure out why I don’t like them, usually it’s the pose or the distance of subjects from camera or the location or something, then I decide to just reshoot them another time. This happens more with images I do without sketching first, reminding me it is better to sketch EVERYTHING out even if I think of it and am going to shoot it that second.
some of my shots that i didn’t end up liking while editing, not quite failures but ones I plan on redoing/reworking.but I still finished editing for practice
Who are your favorite photographers fine or portrait?
Jerry Uelsmann, who is considered the reason we have Photoshop. He did compositing in the darkroom long before computers.
Brooke Shaden, not just for her work which is unbelievable but because she is sooo inspiring and kind. Check out her amazing promoting passion blog for some awesome motivation, inspiration and just amazing brooke shaden wisdom.
I am in love with your work! And I would love to see you edit you composite pieces!
Thank you! I am trying to figure out how to do a screen capture video on windows, when I do I plan on sharing speed edits. Also, if I start teaching classes I plan to show my editing process.
Have you thought about teaching any classes on lighting? How about teaching classes on gaining insight into one’s photographic creativity? Would you ever consider teaching a workshop? When will you be teaching a photoshop class?
Ultimately, one of my major goals in photography is to teach workshops. If I get enough interest, I am planning to start doing some sort of teaching, workshop, or class in a year or so. I suck at lighting and am trying to relearn off camera flash myself! Maybe possibly on basics of photography and exposure I could teach. What kind of workshop/class is still up in the air. But most likely sharing how I do what I do.
If you could photograph one “celebrity” as your model, who would it be and why?
Hmm if I could photography ANY celebrity… I think the obsessed nine inch nail fan in me would want to pick trent reznor, however I think it would be amazing to photograph hugh laurie if I was picking a male subject because I LOVE his face, it has sooo much character in it. The fact that he can portray so many different emotions would be so amazing to capture and invaluable in my work. man, now I really want to photograph him!!! Or maybe even Matthew Gray Gubler (from criminal minds) cause let’s face it he’s hot AND if you check out his website apperntly he is also super artistic and creative! So now I really really want to photograph him to!! sad face. . . . ONE DAY…NEW GOALS! It’s funny I picked all men but I’m tired of female “celebrities” and I always shoot females anyway and would love to shoot male subjects.
First, your work is amazing and you are crazy talented! Would love to hear when your obsession with ‘creepy things’ began??
Thank you thank you! I don’t know when but when I was young I kinda realized quickly I was an odd one. I loved horror books and movies. I was reading Stephen King when I was in fifth grade. I love rock and industrial music. Nine Inch Nails became an obsession when I was in middle school and his lyrics hit me to the core. They still do actually! I just was intrigued by dark things but up to a point, some things that are gory to be gory don’t really interest me. But the twisted dark creepy things that are a little off from reality have always fascinated me to no end. I think there were a few things in my childhood that messed up my mind a bit like that movie, Return To Oz? I do NOT remember it I just remember it giving me these images in my head that I knew back then weren’t quite right. My brother and I had those Garbage Pail Kid cards and while they creeped me out I could never stop staring at them. Artwork with creepy monsters became this secret obsession with me. Even now I see these kind of images and I LOVE them while other people are like ugh creepy! It is almost like I feel this attraction or connection to them. I don’t really paint but I have painted a series of these shadow figures that I always found myself randomly drawing. I just found myself not scared by traditional things. Except f*cking cl*wns and dentists. ugh shudder. But things like the american horror story promotions and the beginning to their show are amazing. I canNOT stop watching it. In a way, my obsession with the creepy and unusual may actually might be from the depression. Let me explain. I am usually a bubbly hyper person but I have this darkness inside me and it makes me wonder, if I am like this then the whole world must be not quite what it seems. There are things creepy, rotting, dark hiding underneath the pretty, nice, sweet things. THAT is what fascinates me and what I hope to really explore in my work.
some of my paintings, the only thing you will ever see me paint.
WOW. So that was super fun! Thank you for all the amazing questions! I hope you enjoyed reading this in depth look about me and my work! Thank you for following me and supporting what I do it really means the world to me! Feel free to leave me comments or message me!