Behind the Story: Photographing “Choosing Joy”

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“‘Mom, is this from the same bullet that killed daddy?’ In the middle of this, I didn’t even bring the viewfinder to my eye. I saw the moment, almost peripherally, and I lifted my camera and snapped it, hoping it was in focus.”

Betsy Lackey is an international wedding photographer who produces some amazing work. Betsy has served as a photographer on the Story Team for a couple of years, and has formed a wonderful creative partnership with writer Traci Barrera, with whom she produced this story. Betsy was kind enough to walk us through her experience on this story.

Read the story Choosing Joy.

Story Team: One of the habits you’ve developed in photographing stories is that you work very closely with the writer, to the point of attending each meeting and interview with the subject. How does being that involved with the story process help you, as a photographer, tell the story?

Betsy Lackey: Traci and I both try to meet up with the subject over something like coffee or lunch for the first meeting. I don’t bring my camera. She doesn’t bring a pen and paper. We truly just get to know the person(s) and even share about our own lives. Then, we plan the interview and shoot. Sometimes the shoot and interview are on the same day and sometimes our schedules don’t allow it. One of the best parts about working closely with Traci is hearing her thoughts on the story after the actual interview. We are able to hear the other’s thoughts and perspectives on the story as a whole, and we get to determine the vision and direction for the story as a team. This helps when I’m shooting, because I can recall what we’ve discussed and purposely look for those things when I’m photographing.


ST: What aspects did you consider that were unique to this project (scheduling interview, traveling out of town, connecting senses with imagery, selecting location/environments, etc.)? Did you plan to bring anything out of the ordinary gear-wise?

BL: While Kimberly was sharing her story, she mentioned that she hardly ever visits her late husband’s gravesite. When we asked her why, she said the place brought a lot of heaviness instead of beautiful memories of her husband, so she liked to visit the last place he was alive, where he was murdered. After we finished interviewing her, I asked if she would want to show us the area she visits. I asked her this because I knew the actual environment can bring a lot of different emotions, and overall, it would be special for her to share this part of her story with us. I didn’t plan this location, but I’m always considering/hoping for something unique like that to come up while the subject is sharing his or her story.


ST: One image that stands out is of Kimberly’s daughter placing her finger in a bullet hole on the wall. How did this image come about?

BL: Across the street from that brick wall is the apartment complex where the shooter killed Kimberly’s husband. As we were walking around the site, I was gently asking Kimberly about different parts of the scene: the timeline, the exact spots, the commemorative plaque on the tree, etc. My camera was down at this point, and as we walked across the street, she told me about the bullet holes in the brick wall. She began to point out the different bullet holes, telling me about them, and her daughter ran to the wall and put her small hand on one of the dents asking, “Mom, is this from the same bullet that killed daddy?” In the middle of this, I didn’t even bring the viewfinder to my eye. I saw the moment, almost peripherally, and I lifted my camera and snapped it, hoping it was in focus.


ST: What programs do you typically use to select images and edit? 

BL: Photomechanic, Adobe Camera Raw, and Photoshop.

ST: What is something you learned about the interview process from this project? What tips would you give someone who is learning to use photography to illustrate stories?


  1. I guess—kind of like what I said above—always have your camera by your side while you are LISTENING, but if the moment calls to throw your tool up and shoot, do so!
  2. Trust your writer. Be on the same team, with the same mindset.
  3. Start the interview by praying.
  4. Always communicate with your writer (yes, during the entire process).
  5. Be gentle while interviewing. A story is fragile.

Images by Betsy Lackey

Story Team

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

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