Photography Case Study: Monica Dominguez Carlson

I have another photography case study for you today: the ultra talented Monica Dominguez Carlson.  Monica is another long time reader of the blog, and I so delighted to have her here, because she is an absolutely amazing photographer who has come so far.  

I started doing these case studies a few months as a way to show you the different journeys people take to get to where they are, and to shed some light on the ways you can grow your photography skills too! If you want to read more photography journeys, there's links to more at the bottom of this post. Hope you enjoy them.......Audrey x

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

My journey has been such a slow roll that I needed to do a little research to remind myself what happened and when! Ha!  On to a little about me….my family and I live in the suburbs of Atlanta in Cumming, GA.  I have three kids ages 9, 7 & 5.  I’ve been married to my love for almost 12 years.  I became a stay at home mom almost 10 years ago when my first child was born.  Before that I worked as a media buyer in New York, Miami, and Atlanta.  Fun fact:  In college I was an intern for the Late Show with David Letterman. 

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Before getting married or having kids I was a big snap shot taker.  I never had an actual camera only those disposable ones.  I was not even remotely interested in anything technical or creative.  I really just wanted to document where I had been and with whom.  My husband and I purchased a point and shoot before we went on our honeymoon in 2005 and that was my primary camera until my oldest was a year old.  At which point I started wondering, why the heck can’t I take a picture of this kid that isn’t blurry.  I carried on with that point and shoot for some time and just hired people to take my kids photos. 

About six years ago, I decide I needed a DSLR and asked a friend who was a family photographer what I should get.  Quite frankly she said, “It doesn’t matter what you get if you don’t learn to shoot in manual” and she recommended that I purchase the book “Understanding Exposure.” I had no idea what she was talking about but I bought the book and my first DSLR, a Canon EOS Xsi.  

First Images with new DSLR

First Images with new DSLR

First Images with new DSLR

First Images with new DSLR

First Images with new DSLR

First Images with new DSLR

It took me about two years to really commit to shooting in manual full time.  During that time, I really fell in love with the process of learning.  Also, I didn’t know it but I really needed a hobby.

In 2013, I started paying more attention to light and composition and also began to edit in Photoshop Elements.  The next year I joined Clickin Moms and found Live Snap Love.  I spent as much time as I could reading about photography.  There was so much I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know! 

I took a few classes through Clickin Moms in 2015 and really started feeling like I was creating art not just snapshots anymore.  I also purchased a full frame camera, started shooting in RAW, and upgraded to Lightroom and Photoshop.  

In fall of 2016, I felt like I was technically and mentally ready to start a business.  I still have a wee one that is only in school part time so I kept things small and manageable.  I also went to my first photography conference, Click Away, which was huge for me.  I had never left my kids for more than 24 hours and here I was flying across the country for a “just for me” experience!  It was amazing! When I came back I decided to apply to Click Pro and THEY ACCEPTED ME! I am still in a little giddy about that one. 

Here I am 7 years, after purchasing my DSLR…still learning but feeling mighty accomplished. 

2.    What was your biggest challenge when learning photography? 

Making time to learn and edit! I love reading about photography and I am a slow editor…it is always a challenge to find/make time.  My youngest is in Pre-K and is only in school part time.  I have A LOT to do in that window of time.  I try to prioritize reading and editing during the hours when everyone is at school but it’s a challenge.  Shooting is not a problem because I am actively engaged with my kids but if I sit at the computer or try to read something …. forget it, my kids are not having it. 

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

I really felt like I started putting everything I had learned, technically & creatively, together around the time I took Kate T Parker’s class “Turning Lifestyle into Art” in May of 2015.   It really helped me define what it is I like to photograph and how I present my stories.  I came out of it feeling really inspired and full of ideas.  I still go back to those materials and reread them sometimes. 

I also did a mentorship with Melissa Gibson that year.  Those talks I had with her really did wonders for my confidence.  It’s great when friends and family cheer you on but I really needed to hear from a photographer that I admired that I had the goods. 

4.    Is there any advice you received that stuck with you?

Get back! I have a tendency to cramp my subjects.  A lot of my early work had dismembered limbs around the edges of the frame. 

5.    How would you describe your photography style?

I would describe my work as fun & honest with a touch of whimsy.   I love to photograph my kids as they are and doing the things they love.  I want to remember all the fun and the wonder of the world as they saw it.  

6.    What gear do you shoot with, and do you have a favourite lens?

I shoot with a canon 6d and my favorite lens is my Sigma art 35mm.  I also have a Sigma Art 24mm, and a Canon 100mm 2.0.  I just got the 100mm to get a little closer to the action at my kids sporting events.  I haven’t used it much yet. 

7.    How do you get inspired and stay creative?

I like to take my camera everywhere with me.   It’s a challenge to shoot in a new place and I think it’s fun to figure out a way make a scene work within the frame.  Recently we took the kids ice skating and the place was VERY crowded.  Most people would have put the camera away but I wanted to use the crowds to frame my kids and add to the story.  It took some time and I only got a few frames that were “keepers” but I love those very much.  Also, trying a new technique like multiple exposure or panning is also a fun way to mix things up. 

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

Don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others. It can be a confidence killer and really only slow your progress down. 


Monica Carlson is a lifestyle family photographer and stay at home mom living outside Atlanta in Cumming, Georgia. Monica is married to her husband of 11 years and mother to three crazy kiddos. The Carlson household/zoo also includes two dogs, a hamster, six fish & a snail. In addition to chasing her kids around with her camera, Monica enjoys yoga, Starbucks, family movie nights and going to the beach for vacation.