Sarah Lee: Blog Takeover
About Sarah Lee: Anything in the water. This is the simple response one gets when asking Sarah Lee what she wants to photograph. This laid-back and nonchalant water baby was born and raised in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Most of the time she lived on a Kona coffee farm (although she prefers tea over coffee), and the past 4 years between Orange County, California and Gold Coast, Australia. At 21 years of age, she has been doing photography for the past 6 years and is primarily self-taught. Her passion emerged for underwater and surf photography because of her years in competitive swimming, beating all the boys in butterfly and open water long distance events and later surfing in her teens. Even when the waves are pumping, her passion lies behind the camera, capturing lifestyle, underwater, and surf photos. Her Hawaii roots give her a light-hearted and care free attitude which are evident in her photos as she has the ability to keep things casual while magnifying the best in what surrounds her. In the future, she hopes to use her photography to document the ocean, environmental issues, and water people whose stories need to be told around the world.
Sarah Lee Top Tips
Learning The Basics: Though I wish I could say that I learned the basics of photography from a 35mm camera, I honestly didn’t. I grabbed the cheapest DSLR I could buy and started snapping away about 7 years ago. I didn’t know anything technically about photography, so I just started experimenting, testing all the settings, and reading up about it online (www.digital-photography-school.com is a great place to start). The basics of composition and lighting, I learned through my years of studying film and documentary production at University. From my hours in cinematography class, film history and set photography on narrative film shoots, I adapted what I learned to my photography and visual aesthetic.
My water and surf photography emerged about 4 years ago because after spending my entire life in a swimming pool and the ocean. I wanted to be able to explore and capture the different ways people interact with the water, whether it be swimming, diving under waves, or surfing. I was never able to afford a proper surf housing until 2 years ago, so I started out with an Ewa-Marine waterhousing and progressed from there.
Shooting in RAW: I believe that shooting in RAW (not just JPG) and basic colour correction is a big part of digital photography. Basic levels, contrast, and white balance adjustments in iPhoto or Photoshop’s Camera Raw feature can make a world of difference.
Buy a different lens: I get so many emails from people asking me “what camera do you use” … and rarely the question “what lenses do you use”. I think it’s a big mistake to spend a ton of money on a camera body when you’re just starting out. Get a cheaper body and invest in some quality lenses! I started out with a kit lens (I broke it in a few months, don’t tell anyone), and eventually got a Canon 50mm f/1.4. Because of that lens, I learned SO much about aperture, depth of field and the basics of portraiture.
Water photography equipment: Grab a pair of good fins and get started with a GoPro and Dive housing. Cheapest and easiest way to give it a go.
Finding people to shoot: You’d be surprised how the way people look in real life isn’t just like they look in photos. 90% of my best photographs are of close friends. The more you photograph one person, the more natural and comfortable they will feel. That’s the reason why so many of my best photos are of friends, it’s because we’ve worked together to get to a level where “trying too hard” becomes effortless. Most of my favourite photographs were taken when I just let things “be” and and use my camera as a way to interpret what is happening at the present moment, rather than orchestrating and controlling it.
Getting noticed: Honestly, I have no idea. From what I’ve learned, there is no formula or method to “getting your work out there” other than word of mouth within your personal networks and finding a niche that sets you apart. For me, it’s my water photograph. A basic principle I have learned is that you have to give a little before you get anything, so when I was just starting out 6 years ago, I would jump on any opportunity. I got to do photography for someone, paid or not, whether it was a 1st birthday party, concert, wedding, cheerleaders in a studio, film shoot, etc … just so I could try it out, learn about that genre, and decide whether or not it was something I enjoyed doing.
Social media can also be helpful. Upload your photos to a site like flickr or 500px and get some feedback. Back in the day, I would upload everything I did to share with friends and get feedback from others on the site. It was an awesome way for people to discover my work, share the photos, and to see what people liked and didn’t like.
Shooting on a budget: Lighting is key. You can have a low end DSLR and kit lens (or even a point and shoot!) and make beautiful images if you have the right lighting. Most of my photos were taken in natural lighting situations, or with a basic $30 reflector. Unless you’re going for a super high contrast studio-look or night photograph, take the time to find locations with nice, soft lighting and ideally a sunny spot where you can place a reflector to add contrast to what you’re photographing. Some of my favourite locations/times to take photos are: Right before/after sunrise and sunset, outside in the shade between lightly textured, light-coloured buildings (massive reflector!), and inside rooms with big windows.
Selecting the shot: It’s up to you. For me, I ask myself: “which one of these resonates the most” … “does this person look his/her best?” … “how is everything lit and composed in this photograph?” … “is it in focus!?”
To sum it up: Those moments in-between are where the magic is. Learn the basics, roll with your “mistakes,” and keep on practicing!
Inspired? Grab your camera and get involved with our Through The Lens competition! We have a huge £3400 prize pack up for grabs, nine runners up will also receive a copy of their print and will feature on our new photography category! Enter the competition here: http://bit.ly/TTLComp and for more information check here: http://bit.ly/TTLMoreInfo