Today we are featuring artist Toni Pullum from Hood River, Oregon. She is a wife, mother, and primarily self-taught documentary family photographer. What struck us most about her submission was her ability to see and capture the small, daily struggles of growing up and parenting. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, or at www.tonipullum.com. Here is what she had to say about her work:
Do you find it hard to be photographer and mom at the same time and how do you balance both?
Absolutely! I’m pretty sure my attempt at finding that balance is one of the most challenging things I have ever tried to do and I have encountered many challenges in my life. I definitely don’t have it figured out for sure, but I will say that having a supportive husband has helped tremendously. One of my 2016 resolutions was actually to stop carrying my camera with me everywhere (I know this is completely opposite of the common advise you hear from photographers!) The problem I ran into after about 3 years of obsessively shooting everything was that I was completely burnt out, uninspired, and pretty down on myself. I wasn’t happy with my images, my family was tired of only seeing me behind my lens, and I was honestly second guessing whether I wanted to continue pursuing photography. Taking a break to recharge was one of the best decisions I made. When I picked up my camera again right before the holidays, I decided that I was going to stop doing free sessions that I didn’t want to do “just for practice”, I wasn’t going to document EVERYTHING for everyone just because we were related or friends, and I was simply going to do the type of work that I loved doing. Period. Making this decision and sticking with it, has so far made 2016 much more manageable. My house is a little cleaner, my family is less annoyed with me and I don’t feel so much pressure from everyone else that “wants to see the photos I made at such and such event, party, etc”.
What is the best tip you’ve gotten or learnt when it comes to documentary photography?
Oh man, there are just so many tips. Ha. It’s really hard to choose. I think one of the most important things you need to be successful with documentary work or photography in general is #1: patience & determination, #2: you need to know how to use your camera and light really really well. I tend to gravitate towards kids in my documentary work and they are so dang fast and you really do not have time to be fiddling with your settings and taking a bunch of practice shots. You should just “know” what settings you need to get the results you want and you need to understand the light you have in that moment, so that you can quickly adjust your settings without missing the shot. I think this is where that advice comes in with “carrying your camera with you everywhere”. I don’t disagree with it, I just think it should be amended to say “it’s not a race, so don’t be afraid to take a break every once in a while too”.
Who would you identify as artistic influences for your work?
Kirsten Lewis for sure, I took her 1st Family Storytelling class on Creative Live last year and that class is what inspired me to dedicate myself to documentary family work.
Alain Laboile, I first heard of him through Kirsten and I just find his work amazing. If a photographer’s work can make me laugh, I love them. Alain’s work not only cracks me up, it also leaves me in awe.
Susan Stripling, I just love her use of natural light. Anyone who wants to understand “using the light you got” should check out her case studies on creative live. Seriously.
Johanna Hood and Katie Forbis. I’ve connected with both of these ladies through the VSCO facebook group and I just absolutely love how they document their families. Both of them have a fantastic eye for light, composition, and moment.
What have you found to be the most challenging thing when moving from shooting your own family to shooting other families? And when shooting for clients do you prefer working a full day in the life, half day in the life, or a shorter time span?
I actually find shooting other families easier than my own to be honest. When I pull out my camera at home, I swear everyone starts running the other direction and they almost always stop doing whatever it was that caught my eye in the first place. I’m afraid I’ve ruined them all. Ha. I will say that when I’m shooting my own family, I tend to have more control of the environment in the sense that I am usually the one interacting. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t walk over to a room with great light, knowing full well that my son would follow me, whereas with a client session, that family is in full control of what they are doing and I do not try to guide no matter how subtle. 😉 As for the lengths of sessions, if I didn’t have my son, I’d love to shoot a 24 hour day in the life but it’s just not very realistic. He needs his mama. So, for now I’m pretty happy with offering 6-8 hour sessions. I feel it gives me enough time to really get to know the family enough that they will give me the access I need to capture great moments.
How do you decide whether to change a photo to black and white or to leave it in color?
This is such a great question. I really love B&W. It has such a classic feel to it. That being said, it doesn’t take a whole lot to push me in the direction of B&W. Basically for me, I look for a reason to keep the photo in color. Unless the colors in the photo really help tell the story or there is a color combination or pattern that will help hold the viewers’ attention, I generally go into an edit expecting to convert the photo to B&W. My biggest goal with any edit is to make sure that the colors will enhance the aesthetic without distracting from the moment being captured. I will not keep a photo in color if the colors are distracting or just generally unpleasing to the eye. In all the B&W photos, I chose B&W mainly because there really wasn’t a reason to keep them in color. I hope this makes sense