Friday, June 26, 2009

PhotoFANatic Friday featuring Shannon Dodd

This week, I'm pleased to introduce you to Shannon Dodd, a fantastic children and babies photographer based in Northwest Iowa, but who also serves SW Wisconsin.

Shannon has a special love for newborn sessions and really knows how to capture these new additions! She has a thriving business and has a creative vision...and working with newborns and children, she must have OODLES of patience!

We connected on Flickr (what a great resource!) and then found out that we have a couple of CA friends in does THAT happen? As I have gone through her site and blog, I have since learned that along with her passion for photography, she has tremendous talent, too!

Ready to learn more about (and from) her? I know I let's get to the Q&A!

1. It looks like you specialize in to you overcome typical challenges like fussiness, sleeplessness, and restlessness? (enough ness's?) My attitude for newborns is to just take things as they come. Some newborns eat every 1/2 hr, some are here the entire time without eating. Some poo and pee all the time, some never mess. BUT one thing is always for sure- they will sleep. I've had one session take nearly 5 hours to get enough good shots, and then another where I had plenty on my card in 2 hours. A few of my tricks are I run 2 space heaters set to 80/85*, I also run a white noise machine. I do a lot of bouncing and shushing with the babies and I also find rubbing their forehead and nose helps calm them. If I'm holding the baby, they are usually always swaddled and facing my window light to hopefully trick them into sleeping. I work on their schedule- I'm there for the shots- not a time limit. And most important- RELAX. Babies only have their instincts to rely on and if they can sense tension, they almost always are awake and irritable. Oh- and LOTS and lots of patience. Sometimes I'll work one pose for 45 minutes to an hour- I want the details showing- I want as many fingers and toes as possible in front of my lens.

2. Your images are sharp and clear. What do you shoot with? Do you use any Actions? I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II and I have a backup Canon 5D as well. I have an arsenal of lenses, but my favorites are the 85 1.2L, used mostly for outdoor portraiture, and my 50 1.4 for indoor natural light (mostly newborns). Those 2 primes are on my camera 75% of the time. My 24-70 2.8 is used for studio sessions or the occasional wide-angle family or sibling shot. I Love my 70-200 2.8L but I don't use it as much as I'd like to- it's a fantastic piece of glass, and finally a 100 2.8 macro for newborn bits and pieces! I'm a FIRM believer in owning good glass. Image sharpness and clarity starts with light. Light is the root of all photography- without proper light, I don't achieve tack-sharp focus, pleasing skin tones or natural shadowing. I work and strive for those 3 things at every shoot. Next is exposure- the best focus, skin tones and shadowing come from a good exposure. So- the perfect combination for a sharp, clear image is good light, good exposure and a steady hand. Add in some good glass and a great camera and you can get some bonus flair! I have a basic action that I made of my own that basically adjusts the curves- I lift midtones, deepen midtones and add a bit of contrast- all 3 with masking, other than that I keep my post-processing very clean and simple. I have to get things right in camera because I don't have time to fix things later on in processing- I'm a full time mom to 2 beautiful boys and only a part-time photographer. A year ago I spent way too much time and money tracking down good actions and then learning how to use and apply them, only to figure out I wanted more control over my images and really just wanted clean, natural portraits as the end result- I've been processing using my own workflow for about 6-7 months.

3. In what situations do you opt to use studio verses natural light? I use natural light in any and every situation I can, however there are a few reason I have a small, one light 'studio' shall we say in the basement of our home. Probably the ONLY reason I have a studio space is I live in Iowa and it's cold- not all parents share the crazed visions I do for pictures in a snowy wonderland, so I use my studio from November until May (with an occasional outdoor session earlier than that) I'll do natural light with toddlers and children alone, but sibling and family shots are just really difficult to get indoors without closing my aperture- so it's off to the studio we go. Studio lighting at this time just doesn't excite me the way natural light does- partly because I haven't made more investment into my studio, but also because of the nature of my business. I want to focus on newborns and small children. For newborns, my goal is soft lighting and soft shadows and I also don't want the harsh flash or strobe disturbing them either- plus when a newborn smiles I've got to be ready to fire at 4 frames per second to capture every one of them. I LOVE shooting wide open and pushing my aperture to let the most light in. I'm a bokeh-addict if you will- and studio-lights just cannot create bokeh like outdoors. The other main reason I just don't like studio is that most children don't want to be told to go stand or sit in one place for more than 5 minutes. It's like trying to cage a wild animal telling a toddler to stay put on a back drop. I'd much rather just follow them around on an 'adventure' outside- we're all much happier that way!

4. What kind of training have you had? I've been self-taught and I bought my first D-SLR in May of last year, so for 13 months I've been consumed with photography- what started as an interest in other professionals photographing my first son, has developed into my passion. I still learn something every time I get my camera out, but I hope I am always learning when it comes to photography- I want my photography to grow and develop every day. I went to a newborn posing class in March with the fantastic Kelley Ryden and Tracy Raver out of Omaha and it was definitely a wonderful jump start to my newborn portfolio.

5. What's the best piece of advice you were given when you were just starting out? Start on Manual- it was the best way for me to learn how aperture, shutter speed and ISO correlate. I've never shot in aperture or shutter priority and I've seen photographers rock those modes, but for me- I prefer manual. The other piece of advice I got was just simply to practice. For about 4 months my camera never left my side. I was constantly trying to figure settings and get used to moving my hands and fingers around the control of my camera. Learning to think quicker, more creatively and to CATCH those quick children's moments. Kids aren't going to wait for me and they certainly are'nt going to re-do a great moment for me.

Thank you SO MUCH, Shannon, for sharing your insight and process! Working with newborns is an incredible challenge and you've provided some great words of wisdom to me and all the other photo-enthusiasts out there!!!

Be sure to tune in next week for PhotoFANatic Friday...I'm SQUEEEEEEELING with excitement over the photographer that's up next!!!


Angry Julie Monday said...

Awesome review!!!! I can't believe that this is my Shannon, the one who was wondering the next Gymboree, Janie and Jack, Gap, or Mini Boden line was going to come out 2 years ago.

She's so awesome and talented.

Living With Lindsay said...

I know, right! I'm a friend of Shannon's, too, JJ! How funny that you "found" her. She's a great find for sure!

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

Fantastic! Love the colorful pile of towels!

Nice blog you've got here, BTW.