Articles Tagged: photography journey

DCP Client Tracy Allard Places at International Photography Competition

We love celebrating DCP clients’ photographic achievements. Longtime student and client Tracy Allard placed second in the Assistance Dog Category of the 2019 Kennel Club’s Dog Photographer of the Year contest. Tracy recounts her photographic journey and how she captured this winning photograph:

Tracy’s winning photograph: ‘Laying Down on the Job’; Assistance Dog Category 2nd Place Winner

When I was offered an early retirement package, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d been on a very fast career treadmill in the corporate world for quite a long time and I was ready for a break. My exit package gave me two things that I’d never had at the same time before: free time AND money! One of the first things I wanted to do was finally take a proper photography class and so I started searching the Internet for local options. I was pleasantly surprised to find Dallas Center for Photography. I started at the beginning with the DSLR series of classes, then Lightroom. If it involves a camera, I’m interested and I went on to take classes on travel, macro, panorama and tabletop photography, studio lighting, natural light portraiture, dog photography and more. But it was two multi-day, immersive workshops from Sam Abell and Ed Kashi that really changed me as a photographer, both in my personal documentary-style work as well as my client portrait work.

Sam taught me patience, to compose and wait, and the importance of composition – that every photo has a macro and a micro-composition and to pay attention to both! I learned about internal framing and to carefully watch the horizon line. I learned that flawed and interesting is better than perfect. An image needs to give life to a still life and include a setting, expression and gesture.

The strongest lessons I learned from Ed were how to tell a story through images and to ruthlessly self-edit. We photographed for 4 days and had to tell the story of our subject in no more than 20 images. I became fascinated with reportage photography and to this day I’m always looking to challenge myself with succinctly telling a story with thoughtfully captured images when photographing family and local events. “It doesn’t matter what you had to do to get that image, if the story isn’t in the frame, it doesn’t make the cut” is an “Ed-ism” I’ll never forget. That and “Don’t insult the viewer by photographing signs. They shouldn’t have to read text to know what you wanted to convey in the image. It’s your job as the photographer to capture that in the frame.” Tough love for sure, but that week improved my photography twice over.

Fast forward to present day; I decided to enter the Kennel Club Dog Photographer of the Year contest this year. It’s the largest dog photography competition in the world, receiving in excess of 10,000 entries every year. I had client work to submit in other categories (which didn’t place) but needed to photograph specifically for the Assistance Dog category entry. I knew this therapy handler and dog team so asked if I could photograph him at work. That kicked off a few weeks of permissions from the school and parents, but I finally got the go ahead.

I attended three 2-hour reading sessions with multiple children coming and going throughout. The kids entered the room and sat down without any prompting or posing from me. I had to make the most of what was in front of my camera. I tried multiple angles and heights, constantly moving around the room and took almost 400 images over the course of those sessions, but there was one image that popped up on my screen that I knew this would be my submission. It had a clear setting. It had expression and gesture. The composition holds the viewer in the frame and tells a story. There’s both macro and micro internal framing and a harmonious color palette. The Kennel Club awarded it 2nd place, and I traveled to London in October to collect my award.

Tracy (left) receiving her award in London

Tracy Allard
Instagram: @pennywhistlephotography
Website: www.pennywhistlephotography.com

Beyond Pretty Part 2: Finding Your People

It’s been a year so I thought I’d update the 5,000 people that read this blog. ????

Shortly after I published the first part of my story, I found Clickin Moms. It’s an online community of women photographers where you can talk about your experiences and photos, swap tips and tricks and take classes. Our Director encouraged me to share my journey in the forums. I chatted with some people who helped me put a name to what I was falling in love with – family documentary photography. My ah-ha moment!

I used to think people posted sink bath photos to show off their fancy subway tiles. Then I had a baby who refuses to bathe any other way.

I spent the next several months combing Instagram hashtags and collectives on this topic. Over time I’ve found my people. Here are just a couple of the photographers that are at the top of my inspiration list:

  1. Jessica Thompson
  2. Ginger Unzueta
  3. Terra Fondriest

Before Instagram put photos in the palm of your hand, people have always looked to the masters in their genre to learn and be inspired. And inspiration doesn’t mean replication. Especially in family documentary photography, you don’t have to worry about copying them unless you’re going to travel to their house and follow their family around. That’s a tad too creepy even for me.

Although nothing is too creepy for my daughter. A little Diane Arbus influence here.

But seeing how other photographers capture their world helps you to view your experience a little differently. It doesn’t happen overnight. But keep your eyes open for your people. Use the hashtag feature on Instagram. Start broad and find photos you like. Look at their hashtags and drill down to more refined communities. You’re going to find a lot of crap and a lot of bots. But ignore those and keep going. You’ll eventually discover pictures that are so damn good that you put your phone down for the night because you’re angry you never even thought of that shot. But don’t stop – keep shooting and keep looking at photos. It’s all part of the journey.

Who’s your Instagram inspiration? Or maybe they are on a different site? Or no site at all, you’ve just been lurking outside their studio. However you found them, share them with us. Message us on Instagram or Facebook or even shoot us an email from our Contact form.

I was even brave enough to try out a little off camera flash. It worked on this image, not sure why or how, but it worked! I was going for a British royalty family photo look.

Beyond Pretty: The evolution of my visual literacy

When I joined the staff at Dallas Center for Photography in December 2015, I’d been shooting regularly for about 5 years. Mostly of my dogs and later my child and occasionally for friends with poor vision and cheap taste in photography. I enjoyed taking pictures. I had a gut instinct as to what I thought looked good but I would never classify myself as a “photographer” or claim to have any real knowledge of the subject.

I also had no shame.

I spent a lot of time looking at pictures but found myself lacking the ability to describe what I liked about them. They’re just…pretty! I could spend hours drooling over Dog Breath Photography’s portfolio. And how fun are these images from Loose Leashes?! (I told you I loved dog photography!) After my daughter was born I gravitated towards mommy bloggers who shared their parenting experience with both candid and posed visuals.

But as I immersed myself in the photographic world that DCP opened up to me, something unexpected happened. Instead of being inspired by all of these incredibly creative people, I was confused and insecure. I put my camera down for almost 6 months.

I was seeing images from both professional and beginner photographers that had real depth. My photo of my daughter looked nothing like the stunning portraits that came out of our natural light classes. I was also being exposed to genres of photography that I never really paid much attention. When I accompanied the street photography workshop and tried to capture some street scenes, I didn’t know what the hell to focus on. I felt like I was constantly failing.

After trying for 20 minutes on Halloween to get a pretty picture of Hannah in her costume, this is what I got. I was disappointed because you can’t see her face and considered the whole shoot a failure. When I showed it to Peter he completely disagreed. He explained that it’s strong because it captured her personality perfectly and was a moment any parent could relate to.

By the end of 2016 I had two key realizations. The first was when I realized what’s been holding me back from truly appreciating some photos: my ego and its default reaction of judging. When I am looking at a photograph displayed on a gallery wall my brain wants to quickly dismiss it as “there’s nothing special about that” and not really SEE the picture. But if I’ll turn that voice off for a second, I’ll notice there is a lot more to that photo. Sometimes it’s the interesting compositional elements or it’s capturing a unique experience that only the photographer had access to at that moment in time. As Peter once told me, comparison is the killer of creativity.

Not all intimate family portraits have to be taken outside during golden hour.

My next important discovery was realizing I was developing a vocabulary to describe the photos I was seeing. Sitting in on National Geographic photographer Sam Abell’s image critique gave me my first words to describe how a strong image comes together. I’ve been lucky enough to spend many hours discussing and dissecting photography with Peter. So now instead of a photo just being pretty, I appreciate the lighting, the defined spaces of the subjects or the photographer’s ability to capture the decisive moment in that event.

10 minutes into naptime.

I also started exploring photojournalistic style photography with the work of photographers such as Ed Kashi and Dorothea Lange. I’ve been moved to tears more times looking at Dorothea’s photos of migrant farm families and Japanese internment camps than in the entire year I had the movie E.T. on constant repeat. These photos are far from pretty. They are intense, emotional and necessary.

Fast forward another few months and I’m still frozen. I’m now intimidated by these photojournalists being able to capture impeccably composed photos amidst chaos and disaster and I still can’t figure out where to point my camera. And then Dorothea spoke to me. OK, she spoke to everyone watching that American Masters episode on PBS but it truly resonated with me.

In her early 20’s Dorothea was a successful and busy portrait photographer in San Francisco. When the Great Depression began to take hold of our country, soup lines developed in the streets below her studio. Looking down at this scene one day she said “I will set myself a big problem. I will go there, I will photograph this thing, I will come back, and develop it. I will print it, and I will mount it and I will put it on the wall, all in twenty-four hours. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning.”

Even during our daily rituals I’m learning to see the details.

So that’s what I’ll do. I will look outside my window and photograph what I see. With constraints from family life, daily commitments and social anxieties, I won’t be traveling to exotic places or immersing myself in the important movements of our current society. But there are still pictures to be taken from my role as a mother, my activities at DCP and every place I may stop in between. I will take these photos, I will process them and although most will not get printed and mounted, I will likely post them on Instagram which is basically the modern equivalent but with a lot less chemicals. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning. I’ll settle for a spark.

I’ll even allow myself to capture the un-pretty.