Every so often I feature a photographer here on the blog to show you all 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! Today, we are featuring an amazing photographer called Rachel Brokaw. I loved reading her story and I'm sure you will too!
Over to Rachel....
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your photography journey?
I’ve always loved taking pictures. But it really started when I became a mother in 2006. I wanted pictures and videos of their growth. I fell in love with my firstborn son’s tiny feet and the sparkle in his bright eyes. It made me panicked to think of not preserving the tiny details that would be lost to time. Within a few weeks of being born me and my husband invested in a cheap Fuji digital camera camera. I have at least 5 picture albums flowing with prints just from my son’s first year when I got that camera.
But my interest soon expanded beyond just my children and into nature. We upgraded to a Canon camcorder in 2010. I always used automatic mode, I had no idea what the other settings were for and at the time wasn’t even interested in knowing! It worked for me at that time just snapping pictures. I would plan out family trips around some of my favorite places in Colorado and try and get some good pictures. I didn’t even know what I would do with them, it just made me feel proud to see my work. I would get frustrated at times when I’d see SO MUCH GRAIN! I had no idea how to change it.
At the end of 2010 my photography took a drastic turn when I lost my younger sister and best friend, Rebekah. She was diagnosed with leukemia at 17 and after a few years of intense battle she passed away December 29th, 2010. I experienced the deepest sense of loss I had ever felt up to that point, my whole life felt like it had lost all color.
To say my photography took a back shelf would be an understatement. As did most everything else in my life. It became a journey of survival and I went through a deep depression with the extreme grief I felt in her loss. All my outlets of creativity felt like they were completely shut down. My journaling, classical piano and composing, poetry, art, calligraphy and photography became untouched for some time. Looking back I’m in awe that somehow I made it through the next few years. My faith although faltering at times was something I clung onto and when my Dad gave my first actual camera (Canon Powershot SX20) as a gift in 2015, I felt a little spark that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I soon discovered that photography was extremely therapeutic. I would spend my evenings walking again which was something I did often with Rebekah. Somehow photography helped me find her again. Soon after I started my account on Flickr and started uploading my pictures. I can clearly see her footprints and the deep loss I felt for her all over my images from 2015.
Slowly my heart began to heal and my creativity began gain momentum. I realized how much Rebekah’s presence in my life had fueled a certain kind of emotional creativity that affected the way I saw and interpreted things. Even in her absence she was deeply affecting my life. I began trying harder to capture love, and RAW emotion. It became beyond important to me to capture a moment of my children or even a moment of nature that touched my soul. If I felt that stir in my heart no matter how tired I was or busy I tried my best to capture it and keep it. I took my Canon Powershot everywhere!! In 2016 my husband bought me the Canon M3. It was a big learning curveand that was when I slowly began to figure out how to use manual mode! The awesome thing about your photography journey is the ability to look back and be able to visibly compare your progress.
People started asking to use my work through Flickr. I received requests from different parts of the world for permission to use my images in blogs, school & work projects, asking for custom LR presets and even prints. It REALLY boosted my confidence and gave me something to think about as far as doing it as possibly more than a hobby. March 2017 I started my photography business. It has been one the best things I’ve ever done! I still believe my work reflects my love not only for my sister but also a deep yearning for connection, emotion and capturing a moment that might otherwise be lost.
Presently I have 5 kids and homeschool them as well as running my portrait photography business. It can be difficult but it has been amazing so far! My children provide an endless outlet of inspiration to me!!
What was your biggest challenge when learning photography?
Mostly time and energy. I used to get so discouraged because I just felt like I couldn’t get out of the house and shoot enough. I took my kids with me everywhere and I just didn’t feel like I’d ever get enough time to have what I was studying truly click. I would try to study my camera settings, get interrupted and then I’d be stressed and frustrated and just end up putting the camera away for a week.
Did you have a turning point where everything clicked, and if so, what was it?
One day I was rereading the interviews of a few of my two of my favorite photographers (Lisa Holloway and Jake Olsen) and with Lisa Holloway she has way more kids than I do! And I was re-admiring all of her work and it just struck me that a huge amount of her portfolio was her children. And I felt so silly all of the sudden because I realized I didn't have to go out into a golden field at sunset all the time to learn or even get better. In fact if I just practiced daily with the people I had on hand and with where I was at in THAT moment, it would probably be even better practice because I’d learn to think on my feet. When I read that Jake Olsen had been an alcoholic and just gotten out of rehab when he picked up a camera. He talks in his interviews about getting better and the one thing that he recommends is taking pictures ALL THE TIME of everything. Just do it! When I learned to accept my surroundings and go with it, everything came so much easier. I started making a serious effort in learning Manual Mode and literally learned it in my tiny front room with my newborn either in my arms or as my subject. The pictures below are all from when I was learning inside our 1000 sq ft apartment.
Is there any advice you received that stuck with you?
One day when I was venting to my Dad about not seeing the progress I wanted to see and he reminded me of that quote, Your first 10,1000 images are your worst! I think the quote came from the days of film as it would be easy to get to 10,000 digital images but the lesson remained the same. He advised me to think of it as interning or studying trade and to imagine the hours required it would take to become a professional. Basically greatness doesn’t happen over night. It happens with lots and lots of practice. I’ve made it my goal to never go a day without shooting something, anything just to continually keep in practice. I use my Homelife, children and even food to practice on in between clients. It keeps me fresh and constantly thinking.
How would you describe your photography style?
Moody & Evocative.
What gear do you shoot with, and do you have a favorite lens?
My baby is still my mirrorless Canon M3. I selected it because I wanted something light, easy to learn and very easy to take on my shooting trips with 5 kids! It’s even smaller and lighter than my Canon Powershot! It was very affordable and was perfect for me to grow on. I am currently in the market for the Canon 5d Mark IV as I finally feel ready to upgrade to a professional body but I will definitely keep both the Powershot and the Mirrorless. I honestly don’t think it’s your gear that makes you or breaks you. You can master even something like the Powershot and produce awesome images. Theres a reason why iPhone photography has made such a huge breakthrough. It’s the person behind the camera not the camera!
Canon Powershot SX120 IS - 2015
Canon Powershot SX20 IS - 2015
Canon M3- 2016
Canon M3 - 2017
As far as lenses I strictly use Prime. I like doing the footwork, finding new positions and keeping my mind sharp because I am constantly adjusting and adapting to distance and finding fresh perspectives. My most favorite lens are the Canon 35mm f1.4 andthe Canon 85mm f1.8.
How do you get inspired and stay creative?
When I find myself in a slump I try really hard to find the cause. A lack of inspiration sometimes come from being too hard on myself, comparing myself to other photographers and gauging my success based off of other people. When I need to feel inspired I have a few different things I do. One of them is to force myself to stop thinking about anything else. I turn on my music and start going through my library of images on Lightroom. I connect really well with music. It is always behind my editing, it’s in my head when I’m taking pictures… photography and music go hand in hand in my brain. I will force myself to pick an image and then I will go from there and start playing with it. I will challenge myself to make the image speak what I am feeling in that moment. Some of the images come up as a flop but other times some of my best edits were the result of coming out of a slump. I will look at an image and still remember the exact song I was listening to and the emotions that were on my heart at the time.
Another way is to go out and take a walk WITHOUT my camera. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Suddenly when I’m there without my camera I start seeing all sorts of things I want to capture. I force myself to think about WHY I want to capture these things. What are they stirring up in my spirit? What am I feeling? Sometimes after a walk like that I”ll come home with a new idea that I’ll be stuck with for weeks and it will end up being amazing! But even if it’s not amazing I still get a rush, I feel newly encouraged to try and replicate that moment or find something that makes me feel similar. And last but not least I am unable to do either of those at the moments(5 kids, hello!!) and my issue is more of a creativity one, I will make some tea and curl up with tablet and seek out my Pinterest boards. One rule I have for myself when looking at images for creative ideas is to make it my own. I don’t want to copy someone else’s vision. But if I can look at it and figure out what about the image is making me tick then I can make my own vision and figure out a way to create something I love thats ME. I got stuck on candles once and really had a lot of fun exploring different aspects and moods.
Browsing Pinterest for inspiration and creativity was actually how I stumbled across Audrey Ann’s website and blog. She offers a wealth of information here!
What would you like to learn next on your journey?
I would love to get better with long exposures!
Do you have any tips or advice that you could pass along to any new photographers?
Don’t put yourself in a box! You don’t have to be surrounded by a field of sunflowers at sunset to take great pictures. Ask yourself, What is it your wanting to get out of this session or the time you’ve allotted to yourself to shoot? If you can’t find anywhere beautiful or your low in inspiration or even homebound for a short time, you can still practice! Practice using manual mode, experiment with your aperture, learn your camera inside out, watch youtube videos and most of all SHOOT! No time spent with your camera is wasted if learning photography is truly what you want. Don’t forget that some of the most special moments are the ones that come quickly, the ones you will miss if your not looking.The unplanned moments, the real smiles, the tears, these are life and those make the best kind of moments to keep.
You can find out more about Rachel (and see more of her amazing photos) by visiting her website, or following her on Facebook or Instagram.