From the time I was a little girl, I would search for the extraordinary in the ordinary. I even remember making up stories from the texture on our walls as I lay in bed picking out faces and shapes of animals. I loved noticing how the light would change the moods of things throughout our home. My childhood friend and I would pick wildflowers, build forts and play at our neighbor’s farm, letting our imaginations run wild and finding the beauty in the often unseen. Nature and wildlife were a large part of my upbringing. We had horses and whenever I got to ride I felt so free, so connected with the world around me. It was as if time stood still. I was fascinated by fantasy and I loved dreaming up great adventures that would feed the desires of my soul.
My mom has always been a nature lover and my dad is an amazing western artist, so they really sparked a desire in me to create and do what I love most. The surrealistic work of Salvador Dali opened up my eyes to appreciate art even more by creating in unique ways and seeing things from a different perspective. I learned the value of allowing your soul to shine through your art. I also worked at the Montana Film Office for several years and I think it spurred that intrinsic desire to tell a story. I met many inspiring creatives during that time and took in some incredible films, which really taught me about storytelling and communicating your passion through images that can inspire, move and educate others. Currently, I am a momma of three sweet kids and a self-taught photographer and by no means am I perfect at either of those roles. I am a Montana native, who has a heart for people and the west and I have a deep desire to serve, bring joy, and inspire those around me. I absolutely love what I do and I am constantly learning. I wanted to start this post here because I think reflecting on your roots and remembering your journey that made you who you are today is an essential part of defining your artistry. With my God-given talents, I just want to share little pieces of my heart with the world and hopefully inspire others to see the beauty in themselves and the beauty that surrounds them.
My business motto is “imagery that captivates the soul”. I want my photography to do just that. I want it to be captivating and different enough to draw you in, but I also want people to something when they look at my photos. I want the viewer to see my soul and my subject’s soul in my work. I want them to connect and to see the beauty that I saw in that moment, the beauty that is there if you just look a little closer. Whether it be staring into the soul of a horse through its eyes, freezing the wind whipping through the tall grass, or feeling a father’s love for his family through a simple touch, I strive to find the beauty in those real moments that often pass us by.
Everyone has a soul and that soul wants to connect with others. It wants love, understanding, acceptance, and it is my job to creatively express that soul through the emotions my subject is evoking and let their story unfold.
I know this may sound a little cliché, but I do so by leading with my heart that speaks fearlessly to my soul and overrides the mind’s unapologetic way of overthinking (which is a great release because I’m a total over-thinker). Along with listening to those heart tugs, it is important to be ready to start snapping so you don’t miss those emotive moments. From the second I have my camera in my hands, ready to explore my surroundings or get to know my subject, it doesn’t take long for my soul to connect and draw me in to start capturing. Although, sometimes it does take patience and stillness to capture those intriguing moments. I love using my long lens to give space between me and my subjects so they can relax and be themselves. Motion always makes an image more intriguing as well. For example, wind blowing hair across the face or a child dancing in the field will add that extra emotion to any image.
Touch and connection between subjects gives images their own emotive voice as well. As humans, we desire connection, so it’s very relatable when we see this in an image. When I’m shooting family portraits, I will do some posed shots to try and direct the family until they warm up a bit, but then I really like using prompts to pull those real human moments out so their true selves will be translated in their images. For example, I may ask the daughter to sit on her mother’s lap and whisper in her ear what she loves most about her and vice versa. Or for couples, I will have the husband whisper the ABC’s in the wife’s ear as romantically as he can, which always produces a few chuckles. I love just following kids around as they explore and getting down on their level to connect with them and immerse myself in their world.
I purchased prompt cards from a company called Superfeel (superfeel.com) and they have changed the way I approach my family sessions. I highly recommend checking them out. When you see an image, you know if it’s a forced shot or if it’s authenticity coming though and more often than not those natural moments are what my clients are head over heals for. And don’t forget the details!!! They love those just as much!
I like to capture things in their raw, authentic state and allow the viewer to use their imagination to unlock those feelings of wonder and connection. In my ranch life, western and landscape work (you can see some of my work here on Etsy), I really search for rawness. What I mean by that is, I look for things that might not always be interesting or beautiful at first glance and I try to capture it in a way that triggers a story to unfold in the viewer’s mind or allows the viewer to see something in a different way. For example, I was out hunting with my husband when I came across this old, barbed-wire fence. It wasn’t until I was crossing under it that I saw the unusual perspective of the barbed-wire and the fence posts crossing that really drew me in.
Another photo of a rusted barn door I took has triggered conversations about what’s lurking behind it or the history or treasures wrapped up inside. Capturing that rawness takes the viewer on a journey that actually awakens their souls and allows them to connect in their own way. The world that surrounds us gives us endless opportunities for us to authentically capture, we just have to be aware and be still long enough to uncover them. I find that animals are so easy to connect to because they aren’t trying to be anything but them selves. They are the truest forms of authentic beings. As I mentioned before, I LOVE horses. When I look into a horse’s eyes, I feel instantly calm and connected to their soul. Maybe it’s because of my childhood connection to them, but they certainly speak peacefulness and trust to me.
That saying that “the eyes are the window to the soul” is so true. I believe the eyes are so telling to the depths of a person and their emotions. In my portrait work and (when I can) in my wildlife/livestock work, I focus heavily on the eyes. And finally, in order to successfully capture authenticity you have to be an authentic human being as well. You have to be willing to be genuine and real with people. You need to gain their trust in order for them to open up to you. And don’t forget to look people in the eyes when you’re having a conversation! Something as simple as this builds trust. I’ve found many blessings in showing gratitude and pouring out my light to others and into my work.
I think it’s important as a photographer to develop your own style. I am still working on mine, but my approach is often a dreamy/romantic, moody, rustic, and vintage-inspired look. As I said before, I have always loved fantasy movies and I especially dig the incredible imagination of Tim Burton (Big Fish is one of my favs). I would love to delve into more of this type of work in the future, but I do think it’s ok to find work that inspires you and then create something that you can put your own stamp on.
Just like when I was dreaming up things as a little girl, sometimes I like to tell a story with an image that gives the viewer a chance to do a little daydreaming of their own. I try to tell a story that each individual viewer can also be the author of. To do that, sometimes I will use what I have around me. For example, this fence post I incorporated in this shot of the horses leaving (in my mind) gives the feeling that something is watching them and they are making their way to safety across the skyline.
Even the wind or clouds can give an image a more dreamy/dramatic/romantic feel. When I’m out in the field I love capturing those puffy clouds as a storm rolls in, and finding those dramatic shadows and beautiful, glowing light that highlights my subject, but doesn’t overpower it. I also shoot as wide open as I can to create blur and bokeh in the background/foreground and I love using textures and layering to give my images a more interesting aesthetic. I love when the unexpected tantalizes your creativity, like a thick fog.
I look at photography like a blank canvas I’m starting off with and I think about what kind of picture am I going to paint for my viewers. Editing is also a huge part in creating an emotive, dreamy image. I tend to keep my colors a little muted and earthy (hey, it’s in my name, right?!) and I try to keep a similar tone to all my images. I like when my viewers get a sense of calmness and peacefulness from my images as well. I also love converting to black and white to give things a classic, timeless feel. Adobe Photoshop is my go to for most of my editing and I have an arsenal of presets and actions that I use to achieve my style.
In closing, don’t be afraid to go after those daydreams and be the hero of your own story! Your story is a beautiful one too and deserves to be told. About this time last summer, I was feeling very stuck in a rut. I didn’t really even like my style or the imagery I was creating. I felt like I had been doing it that way for so long, I couldn’t change now! I was so wrong. I decided I wasn’t going to let fear get in the way of my dreams and I ended up joining a few groups on Facebook like Hello Storyteller, P52 Clicks and Clickin Moms and by golly I found my tribe of amazing, talented, supportive artists, who some of those I’m becoming great friends with. Once I started staying true to who I am deep down and stepping out of my comfort zone a little, I began posting and engaging more on Instagram. I even got up the courage to reach out to a few photographers I admired and they actually added me…yes to their loops. It was a huge encouragement and now I’m part of a few different loops and communities that are challenging me and helping me to grow as a photographer. And I would have never thought I’d be asked to write a blog post for Hello Storyteller…like ever! So, keep dreaming, be your authentic self, trust and have gratitude for where you’re at and where you might be headed. You ARE extraordinary and people will be captivated by your authentic soul if you’re willing to open up and show it! If you have any questions for me or just want to say hey, please don’t hesitate to send me a DM @sageduboisphoto on Instagram. Goodbye storyteller!
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