A Photographers Interview with Leigh Caraccioli

Please tell us about yourself as a person and as a photographer.  Where did you grow up and what sparked your desire to photograph?   Were you active with the photography department in high school?  Where are you living now?

I grew up here in Dayton, Ohio in a converted green barn formally owned Erma Bombeck, rolling acres with pond, chicken coop, and horse stable with a bajillion square feet that teemed with life like a petry dish.  Ever since I remember, I’ve been a story teller in one form or another. Photography is just my newest story telling medium.

© Leigh Caraccioli

Can you describe the defining moment or image that made you want to become a photographer

Not really. But I will tell you that when you are doing what you are destined to do it wakes you up with inspiration all hours of the night. Passion keeps no office hours.

What was the first camera you ever owned and how did you come across it?  Was it a hand-me-down, purchased at a garage sale, found on the side of the road?

A Nikon D65 with kit lens. Loved it but went through film like crazy.

What was your first paid photography job?  Did you enjoy it?  Were you scared?  Did you make any mistakes?

I photographed a family (film) totally enjoyed it, scared in a game day “Rudy” kind of way, thought I did well but made nearly every mistake in the book. Client loved it and that was enough…then.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

Not trusting my gut. Maybe there is a inclination to try to be like other photographers to gain credibility in the industry. I learned how to emulate trendy composition and post processing but it felt like someone else’s gig. Once I started believing in my own style, making choices a bit against the “sameness” grain that was beginning of my success.  I have not gone against my gut since.

How did you decide to make photography more than a hobby?  If photography is your full time job, how did you make that decision?  What was your backup plan if the photography career didn’t take off?  Any regrets?  If you are not a full time photographer, what is stopping you?  What is your full time job?  Any plans to become a full time photographer in the future?

I was driving a Miller Lite beer truck making deliveries in a 10 inch snowfall on the day I delivered my son three years ago. I mostly didn’t want to do THAT anymore.  The line between hobby and profession is so murky. Ironically, my Nikon n65 completely died on that day and my husband brought me a Nikon D50, dare I day it, digital.  I was fortunate to be home with my new baby and camera and willing to play around learning.  I was getting enough requests to start a bona fide business. Often I wish that I could make photography my sole career but instead it’s garnered by writing, speaking  and teaching. My focus this year, in year 3 is to be more profitable.

What was the last straw, the final decision maker to make you go digital? What do you miss about film?

Scrap rate. I make mistakes less now but digital photography has a safety net that 35mm photography didn’t have for me.

What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for a client? What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for yourself?

  1. The mechanics. They don’t come naturally for me. It’s an ongoing joke with my {S.N.A.P} local photography network that I still don’t know the function of 1/3 of the buttons on my camera and none on my flash.
  2. The discipline. Bringing out the camera for family or practice. I need to be better at that. Love some of the 365 projects going on to encourage daily picture taking and sharing.

© Leigh Caraccioli

Do you try to help others learn about photography?  If so, please explain how.

Every single day because I felt overwhelmed as a new photographer I want to help others avoid that. I blog regularly for the wonderful group at Pay It Forward Photography Resource Blog to contribute to my industry. Also Darrin Ballman and I just created Shoot Suites as a place to find simple, cool stuff like templates, video tutorials and actions to hop up a new photographers tool box. It’s something I needed a few years back and it’s important for me to light the way for others.

What and/or who inspires you in life and photography and why?

Primary life inspiration for me comes from my husband/ hero Paul and my children. Stylistically inspiring photographers are everywhere. But more than anything, I find inspiration in people who use their notoriety and reach to make a difference. Truly giving individuals like Lindsay Yeats-Teal, Jack Hollingsworth, David Jay, Jeremy Cowart. Inspiration comes from the humanitarian efforts of Justin Lyon, spending time away from his photographer wife Amelia and family, helping Haiti in the aftermath. That bravery leaves me speechless.

Do you consider yourself an artist first before thinking about the job ahead of you?

I am who I am, and thinking is overrated ;) I kid, kinda.

What is the best advice you would give a photographer just starting out?

  1. Practice, practice, practice.
  2. Examine your failures because they can teach you so much more than your successes.
  3. Get a local and global network of photographers for collaboration and learning.

The key to creativity is…

…elusive but magic.

© Leigh Caraccioli

What is your favorite camera that you have used or owned?  What camera and lens combination do you use most of the time when photographing for a client?  What about when photographing for yourself?

I’ve only had three to date.  I would love to dabble with others. My go to combo is my Nikon D300 and the 50mm 1.8 lens. However, I’ve fallen head over heals for a rental, the 14mm wide angle.  I’m such a newbie when it comes to equipment and I can’t wait to add to my bag of tricks.

What is your favorite time of day to shoot outdoors?

Around sunset, in the gloaming, when the colors are mysterious.

How do you deal with rejection of your work, losing a job, not making a sale or a negative comment?

By looking at it critically, taking a deep breath and moving on.

Do you prefer RAW or JPG and why?  If RAW, would you prefer a system that uses the DNG RAW format?

I shoot all RAW as it gives me more autonomy with exposure…which I still screw up ;)

How do you protect your camera when not in use?  When traveling?  When on the way to a job? What if it rains?  Any specific brands you love more than others?

I have a propensity for washing things I shouldn’t. I’m just trying to keep all of it out of the washing machine!!!

Do you clean the CCD yourself or send it away somewhere?  If you send it away, where to and how much does it cost?

um… what is that?  Remember, I am new.

What music sparks your creativity?  Do you listen to that when shooting a job?  Do you listen to music at all?  Do you listen to what the client likes?

Music definitely feeds the creative in me. I typically need loud music leading into a shoot. You can follow me on blip.fm. if you want to experience a typical “leigh” soundtrack.

What is your favorite band? Movie?  Book?  Museum? Website? Who is your favorite photographer?  Artist?

Band: of all time- Dave Mathews, currently Kings of Leon.

Movie: American Beauty

Museum: Smithsonian Air & Space in DC

Book: To Kill A Mockingbird

Website: Twitter

Fave Photog: Annie Leibovitz

Fave Artist: My son

© Leigh Caraccioli

Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you push the shutter button?

I look for the real emotion in a shot, the real essence of an individual peeking out of the surface. What stops my shutter is fake.

If you could take your art in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead? What new thing would you try?

There is such a tendancy in our industry to try on the style de jour, to emulate to elevate credibility. What gets lost in the fray is our daring individuality. I condition myself to keep a finger on the pulse of photography trends without letting them define me.  Hold fast your thing. {that’s such a leigh unquote ;}

Do you find yourself always looking at the World wondering how it would look as a photograph?

Every single moment. I love this question because I believe that what’s innate in a photographer is not what camera they tote, what style they employ, who they know in the tog community but rather how they see the world. I see mine 110% through the proverbial lens. I’ve always looked at the world creatively.

If you could only shoot one thing over and over, what would it be?

Life in authenticity. Poignant & fun photojournalism. {and my family…can’t get enough of them}

When you meet someone for the first time and they find out that you’re a photographer what kind of questions do you get from them relating to photography?  What is the strangest question you’ve been asked from someone you just meet for the first time?

Easy. “Do you shoot nudes?”

Do you prefer big lighting, a strobist style lighting or mostly natural light?

Natural light, I’m just getting the hang of all that other stuff.

What radio sync system do you prefer? (PocketWizard, Radiopopper, etc)

Hmm, over my head. But I’m trying to learn them

What was the most challenging photography job you ever had?

Photographing a friend and mother with two very small children in late stages of cancer.  Thank God for auto focus because I shot that one through tears.

What do you do to challenge yourself?

Let me rephrase that “What [don’t] I do to challenge myself?” I know no other way of being.

How do you think DSLR Video will effect the Wedding Market?

It’ll make wedding photography/videography more of a hybrid skill. I believe that we’ll see much more of the fusion of video and photography in 2010. Haven’t tried it myself so I can’t claim to be knowledgeble. I’ll have to ask my favorite wedding videographer, Andrew Hsu with Studio MSV what he thinks.

© Leigh Caraccioli

Any projects you are working on currently?  Anything planned for the future?

I am so excited to be heading to WPPI 2010.  I am honored as a blogger for PIF to be a part of the Pay It Forward Photography Resource Party “Hollywood Style” in Vegas while there. And a favorite client and friend of my Amanda Hite, the visionary founder, CEO and change agent of Talent Revolution kindly offered to sponsor my trip out there.

For someone really considering a major life change is it worth it to quit an office job with a fixed salary for freelance photography?  Any advice on getting started?

That depends on the values of the individual.  Luckily in my family, my husband is salary driven which allows me to be more passion driven.  Photography while it can be very lucrative, is no instant money tree. It’s best to have multiple streams of income as you start out that way you have a backup plan.

Anything you would like to add for our readers?

Sure. Thanks for taking the time to read this and please know that you can connect with me on Twitter or Facebook.

View more photographs by Leigh Caraccioli: atfleurdeleigh.com, blog.atfleurdeleigh.com, twitter.com/fleurdeleigh, facebook.com/leighcaraccioli

Thank you for reading the interview. This interview was presented to the photographer with questions asked by me and submissions from other photographers. The photographer is asked to answer only what he/she is comfortable with. If you would like to contribute to future interviews, please submit your your questions to me on Twitter, Facebook or on the Interview intro blog post, What would you ask a photographer?. Thank you for reading and enjoy the interview.

Some questions supplied from the following Twitter users:
@pjtaylorphoto, @donkeymaster, @GrfxGuru, @thomasflight, @paulwestlake

Some questions supplied from the following Facebook users:
Brian Walter, Faylin Myhre, Leslie DeLorean, Patrick Connor

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