Tammie Olson, Minnesota

How long have you been a photographer?

I took a job working at a photo lab when I was 18 years old. I was fascinated by the process of developing and processing film. I enjoyed seeing the various photographs that came through the lab, and it gave me a good start in distinguishing good photography from bad photography. At that point, I was prompted to go and buy my first camera at a pawn shop in 1996, a 35mm Minolta SLR.

Several years later, I decided to put together a baby book for myself, but I only had a handful of pictures from the time I was born until I was married. I felt really sad about this, and I decided that I would do things differently for my children. I started doing freelance work about one year ago. I've had the privilege of photographing families, children, newborns, and graduating seniors. Last summer, I shot three weddings professionally.

What is your photography forte?

I'll take any practice I can get. When I feel like taking pictures, and if nobody is around, I practice on our family dog. Sometimes I grab one of my children and drive a mile down the road from our home and shoot until they get cranky. Here in central Minnesota there are photo opportunities everywhere—especially nature. I've been known to take a few snaps of my dinner before eating. I've ordered my husband to stop the car so that I can take pictures of windmills in the setting sun, peaceful loons on a glassy lake, or a gray, thunderous sky. However, I would say that I enjoy taking pictures of people the most. While I love doing portrait photography, shooting candid everyday moments in life is most rewarding to me. I love capturing genuine interactions between people, particularly children. My most important role in life is mothering my children, but it's very important to me that I integrate photography into that. I take pictures every day, and my favorites are always the candid ones with crooked smiles and dirty toes.

What tip or trick have you learned along the way that made the biggest difference to the quality of your photos?

Owning a digital SLR camera makes a world of difference. There is so much more flexibility and room for growth, as opposed to a fully automatic point-and-shoot camera. I study photography constantly. I keep my manual with my camera at all times so I can reference it. I go online often to admire the work of my favorite photographers and draw inspiration from them. If possible, I try to find out the shooting information for photos I love. While I try not to stage my photography, I believe there's no shame in trying to reinvent something I admire, but I try to make it my own somehow.

What photographers inspire you most?

Dave Burnett (www.davidburnett.com), Karen Russell
(www.snapshotsofagoodlife.com), and Jennie Slade (www.jennieslade.com)

They inspire me because:
Dave Burnett is a world-famous photographer. He's shot everything from presidents of the United States, to Olympic Games, to royal weddings, to rock legends. He also photographed my family for a mormon.org campaign back in 2007. I admire him not only because of his talents and experience, but because of his willingness help me when I have questions about photography. He's honest and realistic.  

I've been following Karen Russell for a couple of years online. Her photographs are all about capturing everyday life. Every one of her photographs tells a story. She is a wonderfully talented photographer and teacher, and she believes that every photographer should strive to produce the best possible images "SOOC" (straight out of camera). Because of this, she does not teach or talk about editing in her class curriculum, because she wants her students to get in the habit of producing properly exposed photos for real.

Jennie Slade is a Las Vegas photographer, and she and I went to school together. She produces beautiful images—all of which are worthy of any fashion magazine. She has immaculate taste, and I especially love her engagement and wedding photography.

Favorite camera and lens?

I currently own two Canon Rebels. I have a 35mm and the digital Rebel T2i. I hope to someday have a 7D, making the T2i my backup camera. I love 50mm lenses. I use my 50mm 1.8 most of the time. Many people want to use zoom lenses out of convenience, but fixed (also known as prime) lenses give much more clarity, and they enable you to shoot in low-light situations without using a flash because they have wide apertures. They come in all price ranges; you don't have to take out a loan to buy a reliable lens. The same can't be said for all zoom lenses. In order to get exceptional quality images from a zoom lens, you really have to spend money.

What is your favorite lighting?

I am a natural-light snob! I never use a flash anymore, and I rely exclusively on available light—even at night. This is another perk of owning an SLR camera. Sometimes you have to sacrifice certain things in order to capture the moment (such as settling for black and white instead of color, or having some digital noise), but the end result is always better without a flash.

One tip that you would like to share?

Keep your camera in a place where it can be grabbed easily at all times, and keep it on. Most cameras hibernate after a short time, so it won't drain your battery. Leave your lens cap off so you don't miss rare shots because you were fiddling around. If you have a proper filter and a lens hood, your lens glass will be protected anyway. (Does that count as one tip?)

What do you think photographers could do to help in the Church's call for photos?

Photography is inspirational. If executed properly, it tells a story and delivers the emotions of both the photographer and the subject. I encourage anyone who has photography talent to share it with the world. Photography not only preserves history; it makes people happy. Sharing our photography talent to further the work of the Church is a win-win situation for everyone.

What advice would you give to new photographers?

Save your money for a reliable camera that you can grow into, but it's not necessary to spend a fortune. Go with a digital SLR, and buy the body only. Get a 50mm 1.8 to start (which actually costs less than the standard 18-55mm lens that comes with most camera kits), but remember that with a fixed lens, your zoom comes from moving your feet. Take more shots than you think you need (you have nothing to lose with digital). Own more than one memory card and rotate them. Load your pictures to your computer at least once a week (implementing a reliable backup source just in case), and keep them well organized in folders on your computer. 

Make a commitment to being an excellent photographer and a mediocre photo editor—not the other way around. Examine your pictures carefully; decide how you will improve; pitch the bad ones; admire the good ones; make notes of lighting preferences. If you think you captured the moment perfectly, take a few more snaps as long as your subject is cooperative. Move around, and change elevations; sometimes moving just a few inches produces a much better photo. If you have to explain a photo, it probably wasn't a good photo to begin with. Keep things real. Try to enjoy life and photography at the same time. If you feel that you or your subject are becoming frustrated, put the camera away for a while and come back to it later.


Tai Gray, Utah

How long have you been a photographer?

I started experimenting with photography almost three years ago. I was looking for a new hobby during the summer of 2008, because video games and reading can only go so far.

What got you interested in photography?

I really got interested when I started using my dad’s old Nikon FG film camera and reading articles online about the “rules” of photography. Once I started applying the things I learned and experimenting a little, I saw the quality of my images improve steadily. That got me more excited to continue with photography, and it has been my favorite pastime since.

What is your photography specialty?

As of late, I tend to photograph a lot of architecture, sports, and sports cars. I like my photos to be a little over-dramatic, which works very well with those kinds of photography.

How do you feel you can use photography to build up the kingdom or share the gospel?

I feel that a photo can sometimes capture a specific feeling that no words could describe and that the Holy Ghost can speak to people through an image. That is what I try to capture in many of my images, especially those of temples. I want to convey the power and purity that is felt when you are near or inside a temple, a feeling of overwhelming peace along with a feeling of something greater and more powerful.

What part of photography is the most rewarding?

I love photography because it gives me time to create an image that I like personally and then share it with others. The most rewarding aspect of photography to me is sharing my photos.

Where is your dream location to shoot?

In 2006 I took a trip to China and traveled to many different cities. The most beautiful, by far, was Guilin. However, when I first went, I had no knowledge of photography and could barely use a camera, so I missed capturing any of that beauty. If I could go anywhere to take photos, it would be Guilin.

What advice would you give to new photographers?

Spend as much time shooting photos as possible. Try shooting different subjects, just to see what kind of photography you like. Don’t feel limited by your equipment or your lack of technical knowledge; you’ll learn along the way. Join an image-sharing site, like Flickr, and join groups that interest you. Share your images and look at the work of others for inspiration.

How much do you edit your photos?

The amount of editing depends on the individual photo. I edit my images to try to make them reflect how I saw the original image in my mind. I almost always do simple edits, like sharpening or contrast, but some photos require more work and time to be completely finished in my eyes.