Photography Case Study: Briana / Northern Way of Life

There was so much positive feedback on the last photography case study we had on the blog (Jan Johnson) that I decided it would be fun to have another one!  Briana is again another long time reader of the blog, and I love the story of her photography journey because although she started out just wanting to take photos of her kids, she has branched out many other different types of photography, with a LOT of success! Let me pass you over now to Briana to tell you more about her photography journey....

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your photography journey?

Hi everyone, I'm Briana! I'm a registered nurse turned stay at home mom, in my mid-30s, living in the wilds of northern Michigan! 

I remember always enjoying the chance to use the family camera when I was growing up, and as I got older would try and always take "creative" photos—firstly with disposable cameras (Gasp! It was the nineties!) and then with various mediocre point and shoots. I was always left frustrated though, as the end results were never what I actually saw.

But the real turning point occurred 4 years ago after a disastrous photo shoot of my children! I came out of the session telling my husband that it was time I got that DSLR I had been longing for. He agreed and said to me, "Just make sure you use it and it doesn't sit collecting dust on a shelf!" Haha, famous last words he likely regrets as I now always seem to have a camera in hand!

I was so "green" buying my first camera. I fully expected to pull it out of the box and start churning out amazing shots! In fact I was so uninformed that I only bought an 85mm lens to go with my Canon 60D - a crop frame - and could not for the life of me understand why I had to stand so far away to take a photo of the kids! It's funny to think about now, but those early days were full of frustration! Looking back, my first attempts make me cringe:

(Oh my. All I can say about the technical aspects of this photo is that at least I got the toy in focus!!)

But I kept trudging along and trying to learn everything I could. I found Audrey's blog and website and it was immensely helpful! I've said it before and I'll say it again: Audrey explains things like no one else can! There were techniques that completely stumped me, but she made them seem like a piece of cake and I found myself being able to actually put them into action.

I also joined the Live Snap Love Project 52 and let others start critiquing my work and learned from the feedback these talented photographers gave me. It was scary to put my work "out there" for the first time, but the information and friendships were essential in getting me to where I am today.

Ultimately I found my own niche and style and have never looked back! Along the way I also rediscovered my love of shooting landscapes and actively pursued that—so much so that I have turned professional and now have a thriving photography business!

What was your biggest challenge when learning photography?

My biggest challenge was by far learning artificial lighting. All I can say is if you want to learn it, don't be scared - dig in and do it! It's mainly been all experimentation for me, though I have bought some tutorials (Nichole Van's is a favourite) and certainly had to invest in a Speedlite and some other gear. Check out my haphazard setup:

But the photographic results are up on a canvas in my home!

Truly, you can read about using artificial light all day long, but until you start actually trying techniques, that's when it will click. Believe me, there will be plenty of throwaway shots along the path! And that's ok.

Did you have a turning point where everything clicked, and if so, what was it?

For me it was going RAW and switching to Manual mode. I had shot with JPEG/Auto for the first year of having a DSLR and still wasn't getting the photos I wanted. One day I changed the settings on my camera and never looked back. Have I had some really wonky and awful shots because my ISO or shutter speed were off? Of course! But more often than not, they are spot on and capture the scene perfectly. It's important to remember our camera doesn't know what your brain has in mind when you see a scene. So it's up to you to guide it as best you can through specific settings to achieve amazing results!

(This was my first attempt at RAW and artificial light all at once. Go big or go home, I say!)

Is there any advice you received that stuck with you?

The best advice I was ever given was to only photograph what speaks to you. Don't get wrapped up with things like, "Will this get a lot of likes on social media?"or "It's a beautiful butterfly, but I only take photos of people." Shoot for yourself and don't worry about the rest. Nothing will kill your passion for photography faster than capturing things that don't inspire you!

How would you describe your photography style?

My style is all about portraying things as they were. When I shoot a beautiful sunset, I certainly want to bring out the best in the image, but only to the point where it looks as it did to my eyes when I saw it. Same for people, I want to make them look top notch in their images, but I also want them to look at the photos and think, "Yep, that's me!".

I also really enjoy blending my styles—there's nothing better than when I can capture a person or family in the midst of an amazing landscape!

How do you get inspired and stay creative?

I have to admit a lot of my inspiration comes from the Leelanau peninsula, the place I'm lucky enough to call home. Even after a decade of living here, I still marvel at its beauty.

Each day, each season, each shift of the weather brings new life to the landscapes surrounding me here in northern Michigan. I can go to the same location over and over again, and it looks and feels different every time. The water can switch from dark, angry and churning, to calm, placid and blue. The rolling countryside evolves from snow covered starkness, to blooming fields and fruit laden orchards, then blaze with fiery reds, oranges and yellows before returning to winter once again. 

What gear do you shoot with, and do you have a favorite lens?

Oh boy, I've got quite the mess of gear as I really like camera gadgets and accessories! It's a joke between Audrey and I about how much of it is stashed under my bed! Due to the fact that I shoot so many different types of photos, I have collected a variety of lenses. So here we go!

(My original kit was a Canon 60D with 24mm/2.8 and 85mm/1.8 lenses. Only the 85 still remains with me!)

Canon 6D body with battery grip

GT Road Underwater camera (like a GoPro, but cheaper!)

Canon 16-35mm/2.8L

Canon 50mm/1.4 lens

Canon 85mm/1.8 lens

Canon 100mm/2.8L macro

Canon 75-300mm/4-5.6

Extras: Speedlite, 2 softbox lights w/stand, Gary Fong lightsphere, Various Neutral Density and Polarizing filters, Remote shutter, Photoshop Elements

(Now you see why I say her head must hit the ceiling when she wakes up - Audrey)

I can easily say that the 16-35mm is my powerhouse lens. I can take snapshots of my kids, shoot a colorful sunset, and capture the northern lights and milky way all with this one lens! If I was solely a portrait photographer I'd have to choose my 50mm or 85mm, as they have the yummiest bokeh!

(The Northern Lights captured with my 16-35mm this Spring at the end of my driveway with my son viewing them for the very first time!)

Do you have any tips or advice that you could pass along to any new photographers?

I would encourage all of you newbies to try different things -you do not have to be just one type of photographer! Try different styles and techniques, see what you like and don't worry about what is popular or trendy. The fact that I shoot so many ways (portrait, landscape, macro, architectural, etc.) means I rarely hit a wall or get bored. Tired of editing faces? Then I'm off to shoot a sunset at the beach! Tired of landscapes? Then I head out to capture the Milky Way! The possibilities are endless. Find your passion!

You can see more work from Briana on the links below - be sure to follow her on Instagram if you are on there, she has an amazing feed! 

Website / Facebook / Instagram