When I was a baby, it was very clear to my parents that I hated having a camera in my face. There are no pictures of me smiling at my first birthday party because the cameras just made me scream and cry. As a joke, my grandparents gifted me a baby book called “MY CAMERA” about a boy and his dad taking pictures at the zoo. It’s one of those hard, board books and the cover is shaped like a bright red and purple camera. It was a funny joke (I’m assuming, baby-me has no memories of this) but that red and purple camera book now sits on the bookshelf of my living room as an ironic reminder of my true ‘beginnings’ with photography. Now, I’m a wedding and portrait photographer! I’m a BFA student of photography at Utah Valley University and I’ve been shooting weddings as Emily Susan Photography since 2012. When I talk to my family about my photography clients, events, or school assignments, they love to mention that baby book (no, cameras don’t make me scream and cry anymore). My roots are back east but I’m currently in Provo, Utah with my husband Jason. He’s a Philadelphia boy in the Food Science graduate program at Brigham Young University. Basically, he cooks. I take pictures.
What sparked your interest in photography?
My childhood journals are full of elaborate fairy drawings and sketches of my cat. The visual arts have always been a major interest in my life. Then in my early teen years, my parents purchased their first digital point-and-shoot camera. While they struggled to get a grasp on this new gadget, I took over as our family photographer and played with the tiny camera endlessly. Don’t get me wrong – back then my pictures were terrible, but I loved seeing what I could create through the lens.
Tell us a little bit about how you market your photography business.
Figuring out your brand is KEY. The way that an “elegant and high-end” photographer markets their business is going to be so different than how a “moody and raw” photographer should market their business! Your brand impacts everything – how you’re going to display your images on your website, how you’ll package items to mail, how you’ll express yourself on social media, and most importantly, who/what/HOW you’re going to photograph.
My most successful marketing has been to be smart with social media. I always try to have a consistent “voice” when I write. I make sure that I’m only posting images that align 100% with my brand. I be myself!
Social media is this amazing marketing tool because it’s opens up the potential for a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend to see your images in a few clicks. Oh and it’s free. That’s a major perk of social media, for sure.
Describe your photography style.
Guys, let me tell you. I’ve been shooting weddings since 2012 but it wasn’t until very recently that I finally felt 100% confident in identifying my photography style and brand. Two words — happy and bright. Happy and bright! My images, my brand, my marketing, my LIFE all revolve around happy and bright. For so long I struggled because I was comparing myself to others. It seemed so cool to have a moody, romantic, ethereal style but that just wasn’t me. My photographs are clear, crisp, colorful. My goal is to have my clients laughing the whole way through. I always want them to leave thinking, “We never had so much fun having our pictures taken before!” And I tell soooo many dumb jokes to make that happen. Every time.
What inspires you?
Okay, I’m excited to answer this one. It’s been the first question so far that I didn’t have to sit and ponder what exactly to say. I want to shout my answer… NATURE! The grandeur of nature inspires me unlike anything else. Day-to-day life, stress and obligations, editing editing and editing pictures all the time can weigh me down. Spending time outside provides a very real “recharge” for my creativity. It is my breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) and just fills me up! Nature is where I feel closest to my family and closest to my God.
I love this quote from Richard G. Scott [former apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. He’s talking about standing on the edge of the ocean and admiring the majestic scene in front of him – “As I watched this magnificent scene in reverence, a window formed in the clouds; the glistening rays of the rising sun broke through the overcast sky, transforming everything with its luminescence, its color, its life. It was as if the Lord wanted to share an additional blessing, a symbol of the light of His teachings that gives brilliance and hope to everyone it touches. Tears of gratitude formed for the wondrous world in which we live, for the extraordinary beauty our Heavenly Father so freely shares with all who are willing to see. Truly, life is beautiful.”
Who are the photographers that you admire the most?
This question is more of a struggle for me to answer! I’m really grateful for my photography education at UVU that has exposed me to so many more names and faces of photography. The images that have compelled me most have NOTHING to do with wedding photography and have NOTHING to do with my style. I’m compelled most by the documentary photographers of yester-years. James Nachtwey, W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, these brave men and women who photographed human suffering and the real emotions that come with it. Some of these images are hard to look at, but you can’t help but feel something when you see them. To see an image and have an emotional reaction – that’s the same goal I have for my wedding and portrait photography.
You’ve travelled around a bit as a photographer. Where are some of your favorite places that you’ve been able to go?
Yes! In the (almost) four years that Jason and I have been married, we have travelled all over! We’ve lived in Idaho, Utah, California, Iowa, and next year we’ll spend the summer living in Minnesota. Last summer we traveled over 8,000 miles in our tiny blue car and we’ve had the chance to fly a few other places specifically for photography trips! Some of my favorite places we have visited were just personal trips that had me crying, “I wish I had someone to photograph here right now!!!!” I should just always bring some models with me when we go on vacation or something. I really loved visiting the Olympic Peninsula and would love to use the views at Hurricane Ridge for a photo session! Same goes for Yellowstone National Park and the Salt Flats here in Utah. The thought of doing a photoshoot in those places just makes my heart flutter!
You recently did a series of dance portraits for a photography project (which I loved and wish I could have seen in person) – where did you come up with the idea? Tell us a little bit about the process for putting that project together.
I was driving across town one day and I was in a pretty sour mood. I don’t remember why, exactly, but suddenly a favorite song came on the radio and it made me SO happy! I turned the music up, rolled the windows down, and sang and danced my heart out in the car. It elevated my mood instantly! Singing, dancing, and just music in general can bring about genuine emotion. I knew in that moment that this would be the base of my project. So I started turning on music and asking people to dance. Each person responded so differently, but each person responded genuinely. It exposed feelings of insecurity, or goofiness, or confidence, or love for their partner. Nine final images became the completed series called Dance Portraits and I love them all! It has encouraged me to incorporate dancing into my regular portrait sessions whenever I can.
You’re always so chic – could you share some of your fashion secrets?
If I could go back in time and tell my 13-year-old self that someday someone would call me “chic”, I don’t think I’d believe myself!! When I was thirteen and still now, my goal is always COMFORT! I will not buy something uncomfortable or inconvenient to wear, no matter how cute it may be. I have a rule for myself that I only buy fuss-free clothing items – if I have to layer (camisole under or cardigan over) to make it appropriate or stylish, I don’t buy it. Thrift stores will always be my favorite place to shop, because even if you’re not 100% sure if you love that top – it’s only $4 – buy it anyways!
Your husband does a lot of cooking – what would you say is your favorite dish that he makes? Do you ever cook together?
It would be really cute if I could tell stories about us cooking together, buuuuut the answer is actually that we rarely cook together! I dislike when he sits over my shoulder and watches me edit photos on my laptop and likewise he is happiest with the kitchen space to himself. Part of that is because our kitchen in only like five feet wide. I wish there was an ounce of desire in my soul to be a chef like him, but there’s not. Haha!
My favorite dish that he makes? Jason is going to get upset when he reads this, because he makes much fancier things than what I’m about to say. Whenever I’m sick, he’ll make an ice cold limeade with Sprite, limes, ice, plus mint. Something about being miserable and sick 1) make the limeade taste SO good and 2) makes the sweet gesture so much more appreciated. One of Jason’s best qualities could be defined as “providing exactly the right food to make you happy”. He’s really good at that.
What do you love most about being a woman?
I’m sure some of you have heard this Zooey Deschanel quote before, but it perfectly sums of my answer and I must share,”Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a rain drop, a tea kettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all – look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love.”
In marriage I have learned how truly different, yet complementary, men and women are to each other. I love that women’s strength can lie in their ability to have tenderness, to feel deeply, and that innate desire to nurture. That is what I love most about being a woman.