Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Focus On: Firstlight Photo

Rainy Day Flower


What comes to mind when you think of “focus”?  For me, it’s usually an image’s sharpness, you know, “tack sharp”, that sort of thing.  But focus can also mean narrowing one’s attention, excluding those things on the periphery and bringing one’s attention to the center.    

We’ve all produced those images, and a lot of photographers even specialize in closing in on the subject, but few do it better than Sue Templin, the proprietor of Firstlight Photography.  I first “met” Sue six months ago, about a month after she opened her shop, and it didn’t take me long to realize she was a talent.   I recently had an opportunity to visit with Sue about her and her photography, and I’d like to share that conversation with you.

Steve:  As a photographer, when I encounter images that grab me, I want to know more about the photographer that created them. Who is this person? Where are they coming from? What inspires them? So, Sue, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, your background, where you come from, that sort of thing?

Following in My Father's Footsteps

Sue:  I'm trying to think about why I take the photographs that I do ... hmmm I'm from a "medium-sized" town outside of Chicago and my grandparents came from a small town in Wisconsin. If I had my choice to go to Chicago or to the country it would always be towards the country.  I'm not much for the big city.

My father and his sisters are all very talented. My father was a woodworker (making all the furniture in his Northern Wisconsin cabin) in his spare time and his sisters are artists; one of them does bronze sculptures that are exquisite. My father's hobby was photography when he was young and I believe that's where my interest comes from.

Currently with my daughter taking horseback riding lessons and being out at the barn four times a week, the country is where my interests are.

Amish Hats

Steve:  OK, Midwest values, country sensibilities and creativity in your blood; sure, I can see those things in your work. Tell me, where are you today and what was the path, what were the life experiences, if you will, that brought you there?

Sue:  Well, let's see ... I went to SIU-C (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) with a major in Photography and proceeded to not do anything with it.

I had a number of jobs and ended up working for a friend who owned her own little ad agency. There I learned desktop publishing and the like.

I had my daughter and then I wanted a job with the school district so I could be there for her. I loved my little job with a middle school; I had it for seven years, but then the economy fell, I lost my job and then I got to
My cousin, a portrait photographer, told me about Etsy and here I am.

I love the images I’m creating; it’s a learning process, and I have so many fellow POE friends to thank. They've helped with their insights, helpful hints, opinions and referrals to different links to help create a broader base from which to work.

The Back Door

Steve:  Leaving photography and returning to it later seems to be a recurring theme among many photographers' narratives, myself included. I'm sure many folks would be curious, as am I; with so many programs to choose from, what was it that made you decide on photography as your major, and once you had your degree, what were the circumstances surrounding your decision to pursue a path other than a photographic one?

Sue:  You know I had an “a-ha” moment a while back. I had brought home some of my father's old photography equipment which included two cameras. I photographed it all and in doing so realized that he was the reason why I got into photography.

Growing up, there were many photos that my dad took of my mom when they were dating. They are beautiful, not the typical stuff you tend to see. I also don't remember my parents arguing with me on my choice of major at college.

Anyway, at college all the teachers talked about how we needed to go "knocking on doors" to find ourselves a job. Well for me that meant in Chicago. I did spend one day in the city with my portfolio and doing just that, going to photographers' studios, kind of out of the blue, looking for employment. I did get one interview, but in the end, Chicago wasn't for me. Neither did I want to do wedding photography in my home town. Thusly, various jobs led me to my friend's advertising agency.  And now, you know the rest of the story.

Spring Thaw

Steve:  I know what that's like! "Knocking on doors", asking for work, is never easy, especially in such a specialized field as this one. How did you feel when you set photography aside? How does it feel to once again be looking at the world through the viewfinder?

Sue:  In setting my photography aside I think I felt guilty for not doing something with my degree. My parents had paid for my education, and while nothing came of it, I don't remember any harsh words or recriminations from them.

Now, even though it’s 28 years later, it feels wonderful to be back at it again. It does something to the psyche knowing that you're doing something you love. This photography thing is a tough field, but I'm not letting it get me down ... yet.

Steve:  You know, Sue, your images are very easy to look at, the lighting, perspective, composition, they're all very pleasing to the eye. What's your approach? Are there certain themes or subjects you find yourself drawn to? Do you go out with a plan, or do you take it as it comes?

Old Country Door

Sue:  I guess I'm just a simple person who likes simple things. For whatever that's worth, I hope it shows in my work. I usually don't have a plan; I just know what appeals to me.

Steve:  I guess that's what I'm getting at; what is it that appeals to you? From a visual and thematic standpoint, what inspires you to create the images you create?

Sue:  Hmmm, that one made me think for a while. I guess just the simple beauty of the subject, whether it's a flower, an old and falling apart barn or building or anything out there in nature. I tend to see things in a close up way. I don't look at a whole entire "scene," instead I focus on one thing in the scene and do my best to capture it.

Steve:  Turning our attention to look inside ourselves is not the easiest of tasks, to be sure.

Here's an easier one, the answer to which I always find interesting: What's in your bag? What tools do you use to create your images? And, setting cost aside, what one thing would you like to add?

Aged Wall

Sue:  My bag ... ha! I don't have one, shocking isn't it? I only have my Canon XTi with the lens that came with, an 18-55 mm. But, I'm pretty happy with the photographs I've been taking, so it can't be too bad. I do, however, have a wish list. I'd love a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens. I just ordered another less expensive one to get the ball rolling. It will have to do for now.

Steve:  Which just goes to show that photography is less about equipment and more about vision, perspective, imagination and creativity. A truckload of expensive gadgetry may be nice to have and fun to play with, but strictly speaking, it's not required. It makes me appreciate your work all the more knowing that you capture it with a relatively basic digital outfit.

Every photographer I know enjoys not only creating photographs, but viewing them as well, so, what sort of images are you attracted to? What grabs your attention, what draws you in?

Sue:  Well, first of all, thank you for the kudos in regards to my work. What images do I like, hmmm ... photography's roots are in black and white and that's where we all started in school. I'd say I still love an orchestrated black and white photo. They can be so much more powerful when all the color is removed and we're left with the beauty of all the grey tones and deep blacks. I've turned a few of my photos into a sepia tone because the color wasn't working for me. Since being involved with Etsy my eyes have been opened to all the different works out there, but black and white still tops the list.


Steve:  Are there any photographers that you admire or that may have inspired you? What influences, if any, have they had on your work?

Sue:  Well, with this one I'm going to go back to my photographic roots and say those who I first learned about in college and whose images remain in my head. Photographers like Ansel Adams, the hard-core environmentalist and his images of Yosemite; Dorothea Lange and her haunting images of the Depression; Annie Leibovitz and her wonderful portraits. I remember sitting and looking and looking at those images by Ansel Adams; I have never seen better.

Steve:  What influences, if any, have they had on your work?

Sue:  Okay, now that's kind of hard. With Ansel Adams I would say it's how he found the right order in nature and created an image that stands the test of time. With Dorothea Lange and Annie Leibovitz I guess I've have to say the same ... their images can stand up to all others in their detail. I like detail in my photographs, I usually seem to stick with the close up. Though I don't do portrait work, there's still that quality of detail in Dorothea's and Annie's work.

Back in the Day ...

Steve:  Where is photography taking you, or where are you taking it? What do you see down your photographic path?

Sue:  I think I can more easily say what's not down the path. I don't want to do weddings or portrait work. Other than that, I'm just taking life as it’s thrown at me. I didn't expect to lose my job, but that ultimately led me to Etsy and all the work I've created. I want to focus more locally and see if I can get into any galleries and the like. I'm doing a couple fine art shows this summer, hopefully something will become of them. I can be disgustingly cliché and quote Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." I do try to be positive though.

Steve:  Thank you Sue, I enjoy your images, and I've enjoyed this opportunity to get to know you better!


PhotoGrunt is Steve Raley, a photographic documentarian from Seattle, Washington.  He captures images wherever he goes, and he  frequently even uses a camera.  His work can be seen on his websiteblog and his Etsy shop.


Briole Photography said...

Wonderful interview Steve! Sue, it was great learning more about you. Your work is stunning!

First Light Photography said...

Thank you, Steve. I am humbled. You do the most wonderful interviews.

KristiMcMurry said...

Great interview! I loved seeing her images. Very nice work.

TheEye said...

great interview yet again. you have a nice style Steve. Was fun to read more about Sue and what makes her tick. She's easily one of the nicest and friendliest people I've met on Etsy. Good luck to you both.

Anika said...

Great interview and photos!

KClark Photography said...

Sue-Thanks for giving us a glimpse at your perspective and Steve-thanks for asking great questions.


PhotoGrunt said...

Sue, it really was a pleasure to get to know you better! You, as with all those I am fortunate enough to interview, have a fine talent, and I am happy that you are able to share it with us.

Thank you all for the kind words. It's really an honor to be in a position to not only be able to shine a light on some of the talent in our midst, but to also have the opportunity to get to know them better. There is so much talent here; I wish there were resources available that would allow us to give everyone their turn in the spotlight. said...

I love her work....

Ann Wilkinson said...

fantastic interview! Sue, you are such an amazing talent and have such an inspiring story. i love "amish hats"; the light you captured of such a simple subject brought a tear to my eye. steve, you have such a great interview style. wow!

patk860 said...

a GREAT interview, once again steve! i've been looking at sue's work for awhile & love the focus & simplicity of the images!

Pam of Always Artistic said...

What a wonderful interview, I really enjoyed every part of it. I love Sue's photography and she is such a friendly person.

La chica en el marco said...

I hadn't seen this interview yet. I loved getting to know more about Sue. She's such a lovely person.