At 500px amazing photography is at our core, but these photos would not be possible without the talented people behind the lens. The 500px Spotlight series highlights the global and diverse photographers that are part of the 500px Community. This week we are excited to introduce you to Licensing Contributor Kaitlyn Sawyer.
Kaitlyn Sawyer is a freelance photographer currently based in West Tennessee. Her style and approach to photography caught the attention of the 500px team for her creative concepts and lighting. Kaitlyn is also a prime example of a photographer who thoughtfully casts her models to include diversity. Her portfolio continues to captivate us with the unique narratives and personalities of her models.
Q: Hello Kaitlyn! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I’m a creative portrait photographer based in West Tennessee. I’ve been freelancing for over six years, primarily focusing on alternative fashion and creative lighting. I spend most of my time dreaming up new concepts and finding new ways to tell stories with my photos.
Q: Kaitlyn, when did you first pick up a camera and what made you want to explore photography as a career?
A: I first picked up a camera in my teen years. It started off as a way to document memories with my friends, take selfies—normal teen things. But my first real camera was a Nikon DSLR passed down to me by a family member who was previously a photographer.
At that point in my life, I was 20 and severely depressed. I had just been diagnosed with OCD and Bipolar 2. I had no direction and felt I wasn’t good at anything.
So, I asked myself, “What more can I do?”.
I searched for so long to find an outlet or a way I could quiet these thoughts. Then I picked up that old Nikon DSLR. It didn’t seem to mean much to anyone around me, but I finally felt the power of creating something that was mine.
It was in my comfort zone, so I began by shooting with locals in the queer community. I felt so inspired by the joy my photos brought them! Not only could I provide a safe place for expression, but I found it in myself too.
Q: The shoot you developed for this interview is stunning. Your photos highlight genuine expressions of holiday celebration, joy, and love within an LGBTQ+ family. Why did you choose this as your focus for this series?
A: Despite same sex marriage in the U.S. only being legal for eight years, we have proven time and time again that we are here, and we’ve never gone anywhere.
Personally, It is so inspiring to see an older generation of the LGBTQ+ still thriving unapologetically. These are the people that marched for our freedom and lived their truth without fear of how the world saw them—forever paving the path for us to be who we are now.
Q: Many of the photos in your portfolio illustrate themes of connection and love. The photo below, as an example, could have been shot without the models’ hands but you decided to incorporate them and thus created a closer, more intimate feel. Do you have tips for developing this level of intimacy with your models?
A: For this photo, I asked my models to get close and look at each other. I then asked them to whisper jokes to make the other laugh. In doing that, I captured a beautiful moment that was genuine!
Other ways I get people to interact is by letting them talk to each other. Even if they feel uncomfortable behind the lens, they will find comfort in each other. That’s what really matters!
Q: Your shoot was shot in low light conditions with various colored holiday lights. Your models are illuminated and clear. Can you tell us about the technical side of this shoot?
A: To shoot, I used a Canon Rebel T7i and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens.
For lighting, it was dark, and my models’ schedule didn’t allow for a day time shoot. So, I used a single Godox V860IIC TTL Flash with XProC TTL Trigger.
I also used a white umbrella to soften the hard light. This is my favorite on-the-go lighting setup!
Q: Your choice of models is always on point! How do you decide what kinds of models to work with and what’s your approach to recruiting them for your shoots?
A: When I first started, most of my models were my closest friends and locals in my area. I work on a low-budget, so finding models isn’t always easy. Throughout the years, this has become easier by reaching out with a simple message on social media or networking through friends.
I normally start with a concept and hold onto it until I see someone that fits the vibe or aesthetic of what I’m going for. I’ll then reach out to the potential model and ask them if they would be comfortable doing a photoshoot. If they agree, we collaborate to combine our styles and create something that fits how they want to see themselves. I ask what makes them authentic. It always feels most comfortable being yourself.
Q: As someone who is experienced in photographing members of the community, are there any recommendations on how photographers can politely and respectfully ask for gender identification for the purpose of titling and keywording when submitting to Licensing?
A: The best and most respectful way to ask someone their pronouns is by asking, “How do you identify?” or “What are your pronouns?”. It’s very important to establish this early on to avoid misgendering.
Q: Social media has proven to be a useful tool for self-promotion and cultivating community. We love your TikTok, and you have gained a fantastic following! Do you have any suggestions for photographers wanting to start their own TikTok?
A: I love to document my journey as an aspiring professional to show others how to do the same! I almost always have an assistant to help me with photoshoots. When my assistant isn’t busy, I make sure to ask for short 10-second clips of any new development in a shoot.
When my assistant is unavailable for a shoot, I set my phone in an area that shows my subject, the background, and clips of me shooting. I almost always forget and end up with 25-minute videos. (I’m positive there is a better way to do it, but nothing easy is fun!)
I use my phone for these behind the scenes videos intentionally. I want to show the restrictions of the environment around me and how I overcame the obstacles to get the final result.
It is ideal that you post at least 3 to 4 times a week. However, my consistency of posting content varies on what I can handle. I have worried too much in the past that the amount of likes determined my skill level. It doesn’t! It’s an algorithm.
My best advice is learning to create for YOURSELF. Create what you want. Not what everyone else wants you to. Even if it doesn’t get the attention you think it deserves.
Q: If you were given an unlimited budget to execute any shoot you could dream of, what would it be?
A: Given the opportunity, I would love to shoot underwater long exposure photography. Possibly in an aquarium or water tank!
I imagine two long haired mermaids wrapped in extra-long sheer fabric. Fish of many different sizes, colors, and shapes swimming around them. Long flowing hair in hazy blue water. I would experiment by using optic lighting woven into hair. So many possibilities!
Q: Are there any projects you have on the go or in the near future that you can share with us?
A: In the upcoming year, I plan to start a photojournalism series highlighting the coming out stories of LGBTQ+ elders and youth. Focusing primarily on the southern states of America.
I want to learn more about the differences within our own community and what it can teach us about the ever changing world around us.
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