Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Smith.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Karen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My mom was a portrait photographer, so I grew up with a darkroom and a makeshift studio in the house. I learned 35mm photography from her and enjoyed it as an occasional hobby. I was writing articles for a horse magazine in 2007, and they asked if I could do the photography for my own articles and offered more money if so. As a result, I switched from 35mm photography to digital. My original intention was only to sell fine art photos, but as people began to see my photos in the magazine, I was approached more and more for portraiture. The natural outgrowth from that became what Top Shelf Photos is today, a full-service portrait studio ranging from senior photos to boudoir shoots with the occasional equine or commercial product shoot in between.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Because I was never a photographer only, but also was a full-time freelance writer and editor, finding a balance between photography editing time and writing time was often a challenge. Working for yourself creates a situation where you are always looking for the next gig and trying to keep many balls in the air at once. Six years ago, I let the majority of my writing business go when I returned to teaching school full time. That means I also don’t take as many photography projects as I once did, but I take the ones that I find most interesting or challenging, the ones that let me grow in the direction I want my art to go.
Top Shelf Photos – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Because I’ve always been a writer first, I focus on the story in the photos I take. I’ve had many people tell me they find my photography moving. One of my most popular photos is of a very young army wife, wearing a camo tank- top and jeans, sitting on the railroad tracks looking at the camera as her husband, dressed in full fatigues, walks away from the camera. The pain on her face was real. He was shipping out to Iraq the next week. After I took the photo and was editing it, I had the thought, “What if he doesn’t come back? I shouldn’t have taken that photo.” Fortunately, he did come back, and they have a beautiful little girl now.
For me, doing a boudoir shoot is also telling a story. So many women are ashamed about, or at the least are uncomfortable with, the way they look. I love boudoir photography because it is all about that particular woman and making her feel special. I want her to feel sexy and beautiful and know that she has unique qualities that create her beauty. My boudoir clients are not all stick-thin models. I have done shoots for plus-size women, women over sixty, women with scars and stretch marks, and yes, the perfect size 2. I have never had a boudoir client tell me she didn’t like her photos.
Instead, I’ve had women with tears in their eyes when they see themselves as my camera sees them.
I think what sets me apart from others is that I don’t take every project that comes along. I consider the situation and make sure I can devote the time and energy it requires, and I make sure the project fits my style. People have stories to tell, and I want to tell them. It’s what I do best, I think.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
When I think of the word success, it doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it did twenty, thirty, years ago. Back then I defined success more as a tangible thing: money, position, recognition, possessions. Today, I have enough possessions. More than enough. Possessions require maintenance. These days, I think about how much time do I have to do the things I really want to do in life: travel, spend time with my friends and family, make music, and focus on the things that make me a better person both physically and spiritually. Success to me means I have enough time for all those things.
Do I like seeing my name on a magazine article or photo credit? Absolutely! But I’m no less of a person if I see my name in a thank you note from a happy customer or an appreciative student. And pretty much everywhere I go, my camera goes. Because I want to be successful in documenting the stories, mine as well as other people’s.
- My wedding packages start at 1850.00 and go to 4,000.00
- Boudoir shoots: 350.00 for a two hour shoot with four changes of clothing
- Website: www.topshelfphotos.com
- Phone: 817-771-4010
- Email: email@example.com
Karen Mitchell Smith of TopShelf Photos