Photographer Spotlight: Kara May

We are so honored to welcome Kara May to Rock the Shot today!   Her mastery of light is AMAZING, and her expertly styled sessions are absolutely stunning.  Take a moment to learn more about Kara and visit her website Kara May Photography today!   Thank you so much Kara for taking the time to share your work with us!

Where did your inspiration for photography begin? 
When I was in high school I became very interested in photography.  I wanted to preserve the things I saw and the way I saw them.  So I got my first Nikon F601s/N6006 35mm SLR in high school.  I practiced on my parent’s fruit trees and loved the creamy bokeh. I loved practicing but practicing meant keeping a notebook, writing my settings and keeping track of what I did manually with the camera on each image.  It also meant developing film, which wasn’t cheap (for a high school student who didn’t have $).   So I did what I could but could pursue my passion with as much enthusiasm and zest.  So when digital became available my passion reignited. 

What is your style and how did you create it?  Was it something you had from the beginning or something you grew into?
Oh good question.  My style has been described as classic yet modern, real but dreamy, soulful, ethereal  & whimsical.   I guess it’s a combination of all of these.
I think my style can change and evolve but still look like it’s mine and has ‘my look’.  So it’s always changing depending on the mood the photo evokes and how I want people to see and feel the mood of each of my images or a session of images.  But ultimately I think it always has an element of ‘me’ in it.  Does that make sense?  I know confusing lol.

All of your images are pieces of art.  How do you create such masterpieces?  
Wow, thank you.  That’s very flattering.  I’m glad you see them that way.  I’m a little harder on myself but each image has a unique meaning to me.  So to me they are art since they are all special to me and evoke feelings for me.  I never know how the viewer feels when they see my images but if they evoke a feeling for me then I’m happy.  And how do I create these?  I try to get to know my subject and pull true emotions, feelings and reactions from them.  When the emotions are real the image says so much.  I also like playing with light to provide mood….the hazy hot summer days when the light is lower on the horizon provides a really cool vibe.  And then I like to add depth and increase a bit of the drama in Photoshop to finish off the image.  

Do you have any tips for photographers on finding the light when taking pictures?
Very good question with many answers ;o)  I love dreamy light that envelops my subject so most of the time I look for a location where there is plenty of sun (not hard to do in Arizona).  Usually the magic hour is ideal for getting the light I love.  But sometimes a location doesn’t have that light and that’s okay.  As long as there is enough light to see catch- lights in your clients eyes your images will feel alive.   I would avoid hard overhead light; it creates unflattering shadows and ‘raccoon eyes’.  I know this is a matter of preference, but I never use a fill-flash.  I will use a reflector in situations where a fill-flash is really needed.  It’s difficult when you’re working with children since they’re on the move so it takes some practice. 

How do you approach your sessions? Do you like to tell a story or do you create it.
After booking a session I  like to get an idea of what the client is looking for in their final images – a look, a style, a location.  95% of the time they ask me to choose and I love that.  Then we talk about clothing.  Clothing is so important to my sessions – they really make a session.  If my client asks for recommendations I send them links with clothing ideas, similar looks from previous sessions, etc.  Some of my clients send me pictures of their outfits, some will describe them over the phone and sometimes I’ll even go to a client’s home and we’ll go through their closets together.  The latter happens a lot with ‘family sessions’ since there’s a lot more coordinating involved.  So once I have an idea of their clothing, I can mentally plan the session and the look we’re going for and the story we’re going to tell.  Every family, and every child has a personality that’s revealed through my images and that’s how their story is usually created.   If I’m planning a commercial shoot it’s different.  I create the story and the scene I want to capture.  I love it!  It’s freeing and I’m in my element when I can do that.

Are you a Canon or Nikon lady?  What is your most used lens?
I started out as a Nikon girl when I first began photography but once I switched to digital I moved to Canon.  I currently shoot with a Canon 5D MkII and my favorite lens is my 24-70 f/2.8 L lens.  It’s a great all around lens and I love that it’s a zoom.  I haven’t fallen in love with a fixed lens yet so until that day (which I know will come) I’m loving my zooms and their flexibility.

How important are the right props, clothing and accessories?  Do you have any favorite websites or stores you like to shop from?
Props, clothing and accessories are so important.  Sometimes it’s great to have a lot of props and accessories and sometimes less is more – it depends on the session.  But making sure the props mesh properly with the client’s clothing is key.  A boy in a polo shirt in front of a vintage car just wouldn’t evoke the feelings and look that makes the picture complete.  But a boy with suspenders, rolled up jeans and a newsboy cap in front of an old rusted vintage truck looks right.   Sometimes props aren’t needed at all.  The person or the family along with the location is enough to make an amazing session.  Most of my clients buy outfits from the designers shown on my blog.  Other popular sites I recommend are Crewcuts,  GAP, Banana Republic, ModCloth and Shabby Apple.

How do you sell value to your customers when the price tag may be higher than they expect?  
Oh that’s a tough question.  One I don’t have a magic answer for.  I’m not a sales person AT ALL.  I don’t do ‘in-person’ ordering – I use a program that allows my clients to go on-line after they’ve viewed their gallery.  They can see images side by side, enter coupon codes if applicable, add comments to their specific order, etc.  And with that, I don’t influence anything my clients order and they don’t feel pressure to order specific items/images since I’m not in the room with them.  Prior to our session however, I make sure they have seen my pricing and understand my rates so there are no surprises when it comes to ordering their images.  I don’t have an order minimum anymore (I did briefly but quickly eliminated it – since I don’t think that’s necessary).  I am very thankful that I have amazing clients that value photography, art and preserving memories of their children and family.

Do you have any tips for marketing and getting your business out there? 
The best tip I have for marketing and getting your business out there is perfecting your craft and making it ‘your’ style.  With that, word of mouth will spread quickly.   Of course a blog is very important so past clients, friends, etc. can easily refer people to your site where your most recent work is displayed.  And Facebook is important as well.  Social media is mass communication and simple marketing.  That doesn’t mean you need to advertise, hold contests, do give away’s, and promote your business on Facebook.  It means having a Facebook presence and showing your work so it sells you and your art and your passion.  If your passionate about what you do and have worked to refine your art, it will attract clients who see the value in your art.  I don’t have a business page since  my inspiration is derived from my personal life & daily experiences. And since I don’t do giveaways, hold contest or have a separate niche like weddings at this time, I didn’t see a reason to separate my business from my personal.  Someday I may have a separate business page but it’s not necessary for your business to separate the two.
If you encourage new photographers in one area (editing, business, marketing, etc..) what would you encourage them with?
Another great question!   I would have to re-iterate perfecting their craft – the technical aspects, shooting in difficult situations, making yourself ‘uncomfortable’ in order to learn more.   I also think the business side is very important.  It’s the part I like the least but it’s one of the most important parts of having a business.  Making sure you’re legal, properly reporting earnings, and expenses. Having the proper software to facilitate this for you and your accountant is essential.  And knowing what you need to protect yourself and your assets {insurance, proper license, etc}. This is an area you don’t hear about every day but it’s so important to the success and growth of your business.

What is one lesson you’ve learned and want to share?
One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is to price yourself right to control your workflow.  When I first started out I had a busy season that was so booked that I neglected my family, friends, and barely got sleep.  It was insane!  The last thing I wanted to do was disappoint my clients so that wasn’t an option but I suffered and my family suffered.  I vowed NEVER to do that again.  It was a defining moment in my business {a moment when I almost decided to leave the industry} and that’s when took a step back and really thought about how I can balance family, being a mom and running a successful business.  My priority is to my family and missing important moments in their lives really affected my business outlook and me.  Now I really limit the amount of sessions I book and I have a holiday order cut-off that I stick to so I can enjoy the celebrations, the festivities and the everyday fun activities with my family and friends.   I will take on less to spend time with my family and to see and experience those moments with my kids and husband that I will never get back if I decide to let work get so busy that it controls me.  I’ve learned to have set boundaries on what I allow myself to take on, I have priced myself appropriately and with that I make sure to do all that I can for the clients that I book. 

Where do you see your business in the next few years?
I honestly don’t know.  LOL I know, how wacked of an answer is that?  The industry is changing so fast, the technology is constantly shifting and I will have to adapt accordingly.  Since I don’t know where this industry is going in the next several years, I’ll continue to delve deeper into my passion, expand on my art and love what I do. 

About Kara:  Hi my name is Kara May.  I’m a children, teen, family & commercial fashion photographer.  I began shooting professionally in 2004 and in that time I’ve lived in 3 different states.  Moving so much has taught me to adapt and learn to grow my business where ever I may be.  I’m currently serving clients in the Phoenix Valley as well as clients in Southern California and Seattle, Washington.  I live with my husband, two entertaining children {Tyler 8 years old and Brielle 6 years old} and our sweet puppy in Mesa, Arizona.  When I’m not photographing I love to spend time playing with my kids, going to the movies {all of them have been kids movies lately so I’m itching for a good chick-flick}, antique shopping and ‘trying’ to decorate my home.  I’m obsessed with ‘Pinterest’ and  think I may actually need an intervention.  And I love meeting other photographers who share my passion.  

Visit Kara at Kara May Photography | Blog

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Tara - September 6, 2011 - 9:41 am

great post! Love her work!

Jessica Yvitty - September 6, 2011 - 9:58 am

Amazing artist, she’s now one of my favorites thanks to your fab interview with her.

Robin Smith - September 6, 2011 - 10:36 am

What a beautiful interview! I’ve learned so much from it, and especially happy to read that I’m not the only person who made the mistake of spending too much time away from my family. I’m still learning how to “cut off” the work day! I had an “aha” moment when she talked about a fb page. I’ve totally neglected my website, and counted on fb to bring me business, holding contest, offering specials, and definitely “short changing” myself!! Now, I have to get an updated website, and do what I know I can do! Thank you so much for this article about an awesome photographer who does the most amazing work! :)

Haleigh Rohner - September 6, 2011 - 11:11 am

Kara is one of my favorite photographers. I’m also lucky enough to call her a friend. She’s beautiful inside and out, and her work reflects this. I truly believe that her photography comes from her beautiful soul! :) Great Interview!

Amy Williams - September 6, 2011 - 11:49 am

Wonderful interview Kara!!! The pics are absolutely stunning!!! Every time I read an interview about you, I learn something new and interesting about you that I didn’t know before and you are my own sister! lol Very proud of you. :) xoxo

Kristen Shea - September 6, 2011 - 11:55 am

Every time I read an interview that Kara has had I want to be friends with her. I feel like I know her and I get her. I like her business outlook. I like that she’s real. I like that her ‘art’ and her passion sells her work. Awesome interview!!!

Yvonne K - September 6, 2011 - 2:14 pm

Love hearing the insight Kara has. Her images take my breath away, very soulful. I’m a new fan!!

kellytonks - September 6, 2011 - 10:20 pm

Breathe taking work, great interview, nice to meet you!!

Jonathan Barnes - September 6, 2011 - 11:25 pm

Really incredible work and true talent. So unique in this industry. Great artist to interview. Thank you!

Kara May - September 7, 2011 - 9:41 pm

Thank you so much for the fun interview! Your site is fantastic and I can see why so many photographers gravitate to it. You guys are awesome! xoxo

Corry - September 12, 2011 - 11:00 pm

Trying to add the Off Camera Lighting Workshop and it doesn’t have that option to add-Help:) I need this workshop

leanne - October 14, 2011 - 11:15 am

Love the article and beautiful images, very inspiring!

Nina Louvier - February 22, 2013 - 8:31 am

WOW!!! this work is AMAZING!!! i love to work with Kids & Newborn. I’ve always have. I was a babysitter before became photographer! Thanks for share!

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