Pea of the Week

Monday, March 1, 2010

I get to be the Pea of the Week at Two Peas in a Bucket this week! I am ridiculously tickled and flattered, and as you all know, MORE than happy to ramble on and on and on about my journey and such. LOL! Dang, I am SUCH a Self-Analysis/Quiz Taking/Survey Completing Junkie... This one just happens to be focused on the photography part of the journey.

If ya wanna read my interview, I'm throwing it on here as well... Warning-- I go on and on. As usual. Ha!


1. Who are you? Please include self portrait and any links to other sites featuring you, like your blog, website, etc. Pimp yourself out!!

I am Emily Southerland, of St. Louis, Missouri. I'm a 32-year-old mom, wife, crafty girl, wannabe philosopher, big dork, lazy cookie eater, former English teacher, and semi-pro portrait photographer.
I love sewing little things, making art in various ways, playing the banjo, singing opera, taking naps, and going to movies in the theater. I am moody, generous of spirit, emotionally led, and 94% of the time, I LOVE my little life.

I've been blogging my randomness and pieces of my little life since August 2006, and love visitors to come join in the randomness at: . It is mostly my LIFE, but I integrated my professional photos into it a year ago and I kinda like the blend.

My website is , and I just BARELY updated the galleries and information, so if you've been there before, now is a great time to come back and visit and see my recent stuff.

Facebook (sorely neglected!)

And I Twitter.

2. What inspired you to get into photography? And when?

I got my first camera at age 8 or 9: a Kodak 110 film thingy- the long skinny black camera. I took a ZILLION photos, mostly of the farm animals down the street from my house. And 6 out of 10 of the photos had a finger or thumb in the frame. An AUSPICIOUS start, for sure. Ha!
I got a bit more sophisticated with my photos in jr. high, when my mom let me play with her Minolta film SLR. I ended up taking some yearbook photos that year and shooting a LOT of rolls for fun. I dabbled in darkroom at this time, but never got the hang of it.

High school and college took me away from photography, until my last year as an undergrad. It was that year I met Kate Benson , a fellow waitress at Macaroni Grill in Provo, UT. We bonded, became nearly instant best friends, and she sucked me into her world of photography- her college major and the passion of her life. I'd go with her on shoots, sit with her in-studio as she'd complete her assignments for her degree, ask her a zillion questions... And finally, when I graduated, my mom and dad had heard enough about my growing excitement that they gifted me with the old Minolta SLR as my graduation gift.

From there... well... The rest is the REAL story. But I've gone on long enough, so I'll summarize: I shot a zillion rolls of film that summer, and every time I'd get a roll back, I'd go to Katie and she'd help me understand why things went well or how things could have been better. I found willing models, shot some more, and with Katie's mentoring and my tenacious desire to get better, I improved. Most of my PBing happened between 2001-2006 with my film camera. I switched to digital on a fluke, (another LONG, fascinating story wherein I willingly gave in to the cons of a "win a free camera" scheme and came out victorious with 20D in hand. Ha!)

From 2006-2008, I re-PB'ed, getting my "sea legs" with PS and digital things, and in March 2008, I went "official" with my business and...Here I am.

(um. Wow. That was long. I am only on question 2. I can tell I am going to have to be careful about being long-winded. I am SUCH an English major-writing type. Oops.)

3. What is your education? Degree? Self-taught? Workshops?

My degree+30 is in English and education, but I took enough art, music and history classes to have minored in any of them. Which I didn't. But anyway.
As for the photography, Katie Benson was my main teacher and mentor when it came to the basics--the exposure triangle, film types and speeds, cross-processing and black and white, etc.

The rest of it--composition, mood, style, etc. was mostly-self-taught. A couple of books were instrumental in guiding my path, including, "Expressions: Your Behind the Camera Guide to Taking Extraordinary Photos of Ordinary Life" by Donna Smylie and Allison Tyler Jones (link)
And "How To Photograph Your Baby" by Nick Kelsh (link)
(Recently rewritten for digital)

The Peas (and Google) have rounded out my self-taught education, and for that, I am deeply grateful to all of you!!
Workshops: Sandy Puc, and Amber Ludlow's online course back in 2007

4. What kind of photographer would you describe yourself as?

I am a people photographer for SURE. I look at landscapes and macros in awe and I am boggled as to how they get such magnificence through their lens.

I am a "pose them, then loosen them up so they come out to play within the pose" kind of photographer. I love EMOTION, specifically silly, happy, or laughing faces.

I am an urban photographer for sure! I get more inspired by a chipped red painted wall than by a waterfall.

I love babies and seniors the most, but I am also a kid/family/couples photographer.

I am no longer a wedding photographer, as of this month when I took the offering down off of my website.

In my dream world, I'd specialize even further and just do babies/seniors... maybe. I can't ever fully make up my mind, so...

5. What kind of equipment do you use? Not every piece you own, but your favorites or use most often.

I shoot with a Canon 50D and I use my 24-70L lens the most. I have my nifty fifty, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for it, but since getting the 24-70 in August last year, it's been too easy to keep on most of the time. I'd LOVE to branch out, but for now, that's it. My main arsenal.

6. What did/do you struggle with the most?

Color (darn calibrating stress and darn color casts and darn my untrusted eye)

Exposure (Used to blow highlights TOO MUCH, now I err on the "too dark" side WAY too much. Ugh)

Trusting myself (loving something until a CC says otherwise. Often, that CC is right. Sometimes, though, I have to listen, but then go back to MY voice and decide if it is still a "fit"for MY style.)

Believing in myself (I will go in confidence waves like CRAZY. Feel on top of the world and at the peak of my game, but then look at those exact same photos 2 months later and decide they were a crap waste of energy and I am SO FAR from my desired talent level... Lots of you know this about me and are SO loving and patient with my spirals. I always come back to happy, though. Really!)

Being patient with my progress. (We will never "get there". We will always be growing. ALWAYS. I will never be "THERE". I have to be patient with the journey.)

Staying an individual. (And then, sometimes I have to crop it/shoot it/edit it MY way and love it and say "neener neener" to the "rules" and that's that.)

7. What was your biggest "A-ha" moment? Can be something technical/camera-related, something personal as it relates to photography, or something you learned about yourself as a photographer.

I have a-ha moments all the time... I am entirely too self-analytical, lol! But the one that jumped to the front just now as I read the question is an experience that I am surprised my heart is prompting me to share. But... Thinking about it, it was one of the most PAINFUL lessons, and one I am still growing from.
It has to do with Artist Envy, and how at one point last year I let myself get out of control with one particular "frenemy". We both started our business at the same time, both grew similarly, but then she shot EXPONENTIALLY to popularity suddenly, and it ATE at me. I felt I was more talented!! I whined to my husband that I had taught her some of the FUNDAMENTALS of photography. How could SHE be getting more blog hits/more recognition/more yadda yadda yadda?? She became a bit oblivious to me, like I was a "little person" left in the dust, and that ate at me too. And... Ya know what?

After enough time, I HATED how it felt. I HATED the comparisons. I HATED the envy. I HATED the poison it created in my heart and soul and how it affected every corner of my life. I let it get out of control, and I HATED who I was becoming.

So I let go. In desperation, I googled "how to deal with artist envy" (no joke!) and found THIS article:

And it was EXACTLY what I needed to read to rigorously begin healing from the poison. It took a LONG time, but I am finally at a place where I can GENUINELY be happy for this old friend and her continuing success. I truly feel benevolence finally.

And again with the long-windedness, I guess what I can pass along to others now is---- life is too short and there are too many clients to go around to waste your energy, time, and passion on COMPARING and ENVYING and WEIGHING yourself against others. At some point, it becomes TOXIC and takes away from your art instead of fueling it. The article Shanna linked the other day had so many good things to say about this that resonated with me--My 25 Biggest Mistakes
Especially #14 and #25.

Be open. Be generous. And be forgiving. To yourself AND your frenemies.

8. Biggest lesson learned? Can be either about photography, the business, yourself, etc.

I just spent a painful, math-full ( ick ) half a day revising my 2009 sales tax issues because I thought I could do it all myself in the beginning, figuring it out as I went along. BIG MISTAKE. I could have saved myself a LOT of headache if I had gotten help from an accountant with the setup of my finances BEFORE beginning to keep records. I do NOT think in numbers, so I wish now I had had an accountant from day one, advising, revising, and steering me right. Even with the relatively small amount of money I make, it is worth it to me, 100-fold.

Other biggest lesson I am still learning: DON'T TAKE WORK THINGS PERSONALLY. It is not worth the energy and guilt and worry and assumptions and all the baggage that comes from it.

9. What's your greatest triumph or achievement? Could be just opening your own business, to awards, to a compliment.

Figuring out how gorgeous garage lighting is. LOL! I'd shoot in a garage EVERY SESSION for at least part of it if I could.

Also, booking up solid for Fall 2009 back in August and for Spring 2010 already this February. I am honored to have enough business to fill my 6-8 spots a month for months in advance, and still have people emailing for more. I am grateful for that loyalty and word-of-mouth from my incredible clients and friends.

10. What is one of the most important mistakes you made that served as a basis for your progression?

I had (and sometimes still have) a tendency to overshoot and shoot sloppy. I get into the moment and love the dialogue and connection with clients, and so I shoot shoot shoot, and STOP thinking and correcting and shifting little things before a shot. I stop COMPOSING a shot, pausing, then shooting.

Some of the BEST sessions I've had recently have been the ones where I forced myself to STOP and think about EVERY SHOT. To shoot less, and shoot better. To stop hiding behind the click-click-click and actually have some quiet before the next shot.
I am still learning this, but it is a KEY lesson for me. And when I get it right, I am EXPONENTIALLY happier with the photos I end up with. (And I have infinitely less PP'ing/sorting/editing work to do in the end.)

11. What is it about photography that makes your heart sing and your mind race with possibilities?

In my dream world, I would have time, money, and resources to set up sessions with props, furniture, details, and magic... Because the images in my head that make my heart race are tea parties in the deep of the woods, chandeliers in trees... rowboats in ponds... tufted velvet couches on beaches... canopied beds in fields...An elaborate "set" where I could maximize my "pose them, then let them get loose within that pose" philosophy.

And then, once a shoot would be all set up, I would wait.

And the models would wait.

And finally, when the light was PERFECT, I would shoot like mad and my heart would sing and I'd have the image in my head actually appearing on the back of my camera.


To bring that dream back to a reality, I guess I would have to say that during a normal session, when everything combines in a perfect moment, and then the PERFECT light is there, I am filled with utter joy and I thrill to think I might just have caught that elusive "perfect" photograph. It's a constant quest.

12. Which do you like better - taking the photo or processing it? Why?

Taking it, for SURE. I'd shoot ALL DAY if I could never edit a photo again. I'd LOVE to be able to take a photo that is as rich and nuanced IN-CAMERA as I can get it in pp'ing.

13. What inspires you? Could be anything - other photographers, nature, art, music, people, etc.

Anthropologie: the catalogs, the items for sale, the in-house art displays... The smells, the fabrics...

The city: especially driving through the ghetto...which is sad, because I find amazing places to shoot, but would never take a client there for safety reasons.

Abandoned homes/buildings/peeling paint/old wallpaper/cracked windows/slanted light

Other photographers: especially THIS gal. And THIS gal's IDEAS, man. And THIS girl... And a zillion others.

14. What is something about you that we don't know? Could be something serious or silly- your choice.

I have five sisters and one brother. I am the second-oldest. I adore being part of a huge family. I will NOT be having seven of my own, but I'd LOVE to have four or even five kids of my own. It just makes Christmas louder and more fun.

15. Can you share with us your loved ones? Especially if they have been featured in your work?

my sweet baby kiddo Noah:

my sweet husband (photos by Kate)

My little family, bedhead and all:

my LARGE family:

My amazing parents:

16. Can you share your top tip/technique with us?

Garage light. I am not lying, people. So far, I have mostly only explored the flat, straight-on setup, kinda like this:

But it is consistent, pretty, and easy for non-pros to do and get lovely results. I LOVE it.


17. Who are you picking next and why?

Gulp. Can I pick 6? LOL! I want to learn so much from so many of you! I have LOVED this series!! But... Okay, in the end, I have to pick Shanna. For three reasons:

1. Her purity of color takes my breath away. Truly, Shanna, you can get some PURE whites. Love.
2. Her generosity and honesty with HHCC
3. And that one time (or several) on ILP when I inundated her with questions and let her see my terrible soft underbelly of insecurity, and she was still nice to me afterwards. LOL! Love you, Shanna!!

18. Please share some of your favorite works with us!!

(forgive me... I never was good at paring down...)

Thank you so much, Peas, for being part of my journey, and for letting me go on and on today. I am a big dork and I'm sure that cat's outta the bag by now.... If you made it to the end of this novel, thanks for sticking with me!!


And that's it, blog folks.... Now that I'm a BEEEEEG celebrity, I simply won't have time for you anymore. Farewell, goodbye.


Just kidding. Back to reality-- I have laundry to do and I should probs take a shower.... I am simply not cut out for the fame thing if it means I have to look my best all the time. haha!

Happy first week of MARCH!!! Bring on the daffodils!!!


  1. I must admit that I didn't read that whole novel, but I am THRILLED that Callum was featured twice in your favorite works! What a cutie!

  2. So cool Emily! I knew you would be a celeb some day! Loved reading all this. Thanks for sharing it all.

  3. I found you off 2peas a while ago. But then noticed that I served a mission with your Brother in Russia. Small world.

    I LOVE your work. I also LOVE LOVE garage light. I use it whenever possible. Too bad it is so cold in Utah in the winter.

    I don't come from a large family but DH does. We are aiming for 6 little ones. We are half way there!

    Maybe now that I have introduced myself I will comment more...

  4. Awesome interview, love your work!

  5. So, I was really enjoying reading this post because the lame-o MWAC in me reallly wants to be better, but I know I'll never be "great." And I'm ok with that. That's what I have you for, to take the amazing pictures I will never be capable of taking. Anyhoo, so then I start scrolling down through your photos and my beautiful baby girl's face pops up and I instantly burst into happy tears. I love that picture of her so much. I see it every morning when I wake up. So, imagine how much more it means to me to know that it's one of your favorites too. Love ya.

  6. DUDE!! I have a field! And I have woods! And I have a beach! And I can TOTALLY comb Craigslist for an old tufted couch or a canopy bed or a chandelier!!

    I'm SO on this.....

    (PS - nice interview lady! Good to see you getting some exposure like that - photography pun unintended, har har)

  7. COngratulations Em! I am over the moon! You are amazing and I cry over the fact that you cannot take my family pictures anymore :( I miss you!

  8. I read the whole thing for sure :-) I found you from 2peas - and LOVE your answers, your photography, everything! :-)

  9. I've looked at this entry over and over... beautiful Emily


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