I have also learned that the best way to encourage vulnerability in someone else is by being vulnerable yourself. I’ve been through a rough situation recently, and was able to share what God was teaching me about his grace, faithfulness and provision.
Natalie Price is a second year resident for The Austin Stone Story Team. She is a talented writer, photogorapher and musician who wears many hats on our team. Natalie sat down with us and talked about how she photographed our latest story, Feeling Joy.
Story Team: This particular story was not originally assigned to you. You came in at the last minute to help complete the assignment—how did that affect your planning for the shoot?
Natalie Price: I needed to shoot and have edits back within the week, so my first action was to email Lyndee and see what her week looked like and when I might be able to schedule a shoot. I had no idea if she worked or stayed at home.
Step 2 was to read her story and jot down any visuals that came to mind like “sitting in her car” and “sleeping on a friend’s couch,” paying attention to things like seasons of self-harm and knowing that these parts of our stories often leave physical scars. (I later ended up printing her story and making notes on the paper cut. That was most helpful because I brought it with me to the shoot and Lyndee could see the context and give me background details.)
Step 3 was to try and go visit her before the actual shoot. I ended up going the next day. There were several ideas I had for shots that were potentially very personal, and I wanted to talk through them with her, but not as a stranger. I called her to introduce myself, walked through a few ideas, and then went to meet her later that day. I asked about scars—if she had any and if she would be willing to let me photograph them. She was open and honest when she wasn’t comfortable sharing something or photographing something.
This story covered specific kinds of self-harm and seasons of depression—how did that play into preparing for the shoot?
This was a topic I wanted to talk through with Lyndee. It’s personal, potentially sensitive and vulnerable. It’s not something I wanted to take lightly, and felt like my best preparation was to meet her in person.
As I thought through a potential shot list, I wanted to somehow represent this part of the story, but wasn’t sure how she felt about sharing her scars, or how I felt about capturing a weapon or objects of self-harm in an image. Lyndee was open with her scars and also helped me come up with a couple other ideas—a bandana that she used to wrap around her wrist to cover her cuts, a candle like she would use to heat up objects to burn herself, and the record player that she played a record on the night she overdosed on aspirin.
What aspects did you consider that were unique to this project? Did you plan to bring anything out of the ordinary, gear-wise?
She lives a bit outside of town, so I needed to make sure I was able to get to her during daylight hours and not during traffic. She and her husband are also fostering an infant, so I wanted to make sure to be sensitive to whatever needs or responsibilities she might have. I knew most of the images would be darker, so shooting in her home was my first instinct and main goal (which meant I was planning to bring a wide lens to help get enough of her surroundings in certain images, and I brought a 16-35mm). As for the bright images at the end, I knew we’d need to be outside with sunny weather, which meant I needed Lyndee to help me find a good location near their house, and I needed God to pause all the crazy rain for an afternoon.
Did you talk through any particular shots?
I talked through my shot list with her. Some shots were general, and Lyndee was able to fill in details I didn’t know or ones that the writer didn’t include (like the bandana, the shirt she wore all the time, the candle, her tattoos, the record player). Then we picked spots in the kitchen and living room to shoot. The scene that took the most time was probably in the car. I had trouble directing the right angle and expression. But it was also fun, and she even snapped a picture on my phone of me when I crammed myself down on the floorboard for a better angle.
How did you seek to build trust in such a short time? How do you think coming in at the last minute affected the quality and authenticity of the shoot?
In a perfect world, I would have been at every interview with the writer from the beginning. But this is not a perfect world. Because of the circumstances, the original photographer was unable to shoot during the wedding season, so I took the baton and ran. I’ve learned that even when you don’t have the ideal amount of time to prepare for something, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. God is a big God, and he answers impossible prayers.
I have learned that you never know how open or vulnerable people will be with you until you start talking with them and asking questions. I was so thankful for the chance to meet up with her before the shoot, because I got to see the baby they are fostering and ask Lyndee questions about her life and hobbies and to feel out parts of her story. I have also learned that the best way to encourage vulnerability in someone else is by being vulnerable yourself. I’ve been through a rough situation recently, and was able to share what God was teaching me about his grace, faithfulness and provision. I’ve also struggled through seasons of depression, so it was cool to talk with her and see how depression affects people in so many different ways and seasons of life.
What do you consider as you select final images to submit?
I try not to submit more than 2-3 shots of a particular angle, and I try to keep the total number of images under 50. The focus is important, and so are lighting and composition. By that I mean, even if I love the image, if it’s a little too soft or out of focus, I don’t include it. The lighting is important to me, too. I want the lighting to add to the feel of the story, and not distract. Composition is also important. If I have an image with great focus and lighting, but poor composition, I won’t include it. Sometimes you can get by with cropping in post-production, but the best thing is to catch it in the moment and adjust your framing.
What tips would you give someone who is learning to use photography to illustrate stories?
Preparation: Pray, listen, write (write down visuals that come to mind when you read their story/hear their story)
The Shoot: Pray, talk, listen, laugh (at yourself, and encourage your subject to laugh at themselves too), focus (mentally and literally with the camera)
Post-Production: Pray, take breaks, check the white balance with the theme of your story (for this story I used cooler hues for the darker parts of her story, and warmer hues for the brighter parts of her story).
Other tips: Transfer files from your camera ASAP, and save them. Then I recommend keeping a copy of your current projects on a thumb drive that you always have with you or in your purse or wallet. Save iterations of your photos, don’t change original file.