Sara France is a successful wedding photographer, Apple Aperture teacher and photographer’s photo accessory designer. I had the pleasure of meeting Sara at Skip’s Summer School in Las Vegas last month. She’s a real go-getter who takes a big bite out of life and absolutely leaves an impression wherever she goes. Photofocus.com would like to welcome this month’s interview subject – Sara France.
1 – Scott Bourne: Please tell me how and when you got into photography/Photoshop.
Sara France: I have always loved photography, but from the other side of the lens. I had done a little modeling when I was younger and always loved being photographed. But I never dreamed I could be the one taking the pictures. When the bug hit me, I was still in the stage in life where I was not sure what I wanted to do. I had studied business for a couple years, got tired of college and being broke, and decided it was time to figure it out on my own in the real world. I was working in Sales for technology companies when I had some photography done for me by Monique Feil, an incredible San Diego photographer. I offered to work in her studio and quickly became emersed in the world of photography. I was helping her get organized and doing anything I could just to be around her. Monique took me out on a wedding shoot with her one day to carry her bags. Much to my surprise she handed me a camera and said take some pictures. I remember her saying two things. 1. “Press halfway down to focus and all the way down to shoot.” 2. “Don’t worry, whatever you get is just bonus” Immediately I was hooked, later that night she had to drag me out of that wedding; I was having the time of my life! The next day she called me while she was looking at the film and said, “you have to do this for a living!” I thought she was crazy, but when I went over to her house later she was sitting with another photographer saying “she took this picture too, and this one”. Looking back I realize not how talented I was but how incredibly blessed I was to have someone that selfless and encouraging in my life at that time. She changed my life forever. A couple days later, I went to a local college and bought all the textbooks about photography. I emersed myself in learning the technical aspect of photography and went out every chance I had with any photographer who would let me shoot with them just for the experience. I shot my first wedding on my own a few months later. I saved my very first business card and it is so special to me. It has and image on it from that first wedding that Monique took me to. Those images always take me back to that day when I discovered my passion for photography.
2 – Scott Bourne: What is your favorite photographic location or subject?
Sara France: My favorite subject is easy, couples in love. There is something so powerful about the chemistry and beauty that you have to work with when you are working with a couple that love each other. That is what got me into photography and no mater where I go or what I do I always want to take that incredible scene and add the romance of people in love to it. When it comes to location, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, San Diego. However, I am so stimulated by the beauty I see when I travel to any European country. There is something about the unfamiliar that sparks creativity for me. Some of my favorite places have been Italy, Holland, and Ireland, and of course France. I love them all because they are all so unique to each other. If I had to pick one it would be Italy!
3 – Scott Bourne: Can you recall the first photograph you made that caused you to think WOW – that’s a good shot and if so, what was it?
Sara France: It seems that shots we remember the most are a lot of times the ones with the best stories. Here is the one that comes to mind. I decided to take a trip with one of my friends Jared Bauman, who is also a wedding photographer, but is really into landscape photography as well, and takes a trip at least once a year just to shoot some landscapes. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what landscape photography is all about and learn something new. I am always up for an adventure, so I flew over by myself to meet him there and on the way over I started up a conversation with a woman in the airport who turned out to be a wedding dress maker in Ireland. Imagine the odds. Anyway, I showed her some of my images on my Video iPod (there were no iPhones back then) and she agreed to let me come to Valencia Island where her shop was to shoot pictures of her dresses. We made it to her house and she had not been able to get a model but her niece made a great model for the dresses so, we were set. The day of the shoot we had very little time because we had gotten a late start but we were in these ruins and I was in heaven but you could not tell that they were right on the water in Ireland so I had the bright idea to climb up on the top of these crumbling walls in crazy winds for this shot. Jared went up with me to hold onto my leg while I shot just so I would not fall off. What I got ended up being one of my all-time favorite photos. To this day, I am not sure if it is my favorite photo because of the image, or because of the moment. I guess that is part of what makes it a great image is how it makes you feel. I realized that great images do not just happen when you are sitting at your house in front of your computer. You create them. You create the opportunities, you create the moments, and you create the images that make you go, WOW!
4 – Scott Bourne: Do you have any formal training in photography, Photoshop or a related field and do you think that’s important for aspiring serious photographers?
Sara France: The only formal training I had was the textbooks I bought from the local college the day after Monique called to tell me I needed to be a photographer. I read that thing cover to cover but besides that I had a lot of help from Monique and another local photographer, Ron Hughes. They both stressed that I needed to understand how my equipment worked. I had an eye for great images and I just had to start to understand why following my instincts worked. When you are passionate about something you can learn anything you need to know. Formal training is just someone creating the structure of what you need to know and providing teachers to help you learn the information. It can definitely speed up the process to have that and sometimes fill in the gaps you might have trying to figure out what you need to know on your own. There are also a lot of things that you end up spending time learning that you may never need to know or never use. Since the day I dropped out of college I decided that I would continue to learn but that it would be on my terms. I wanted to be able to learn the way I wanted to, from who I wanted to, and about what I wanted to learn about. There are SO many great resources out there for learning that you can often learn so much quicker by just learning what is relevant to what area you want to grow in. Formal education is great because it makes you take the time to learn. But for me, self taught was the way to go. It just depends on your learning style, your level of self discipline, and your goal.
5 – Scott Bourne: Are you more of a technical or an artistic person?
Sara France: That is a hard one. I really think I am pretty evenly balanced in both those. I love the technology stuff but I am not super technical when it comes to shooting. I love to play! At the same time I shoot on manual a lot. I love having the control and understanding the how to create the image that I see in my mind. I think for me my strength lies in my balance of those two.
6 – Scott Bourne: Who has inspired or influenced your work?
Sara France: Oh wow, I am inspired by so many different things and people. I would not even be a photographer if it were not for the inspiration and influence of Monique Feil. Her work is incredible and she is so filled with inspiration and passion. If I need inspiration I can spend and hour with her and totally be filled and ready to go! Others wedding photographers who inspire me on a daily basis include, Nate Kaiser, Jim Garner, Jesh De Rox, Pepper Nix, Lauren Hillary, David Jay, Jessica Claire, Carlos Baez, Yervant, Joe Bussink, Mike Colon, Gene Higa, Jose Villa. These days I love to look outside the wedding photography industry for inspiration to Chase Jarvis, Nick Onken, Vincent Laforet, Steve Winter, Parish Kohanim, Peter Lik, Donald Miralle, and of course Annie Liebowitz just to name a few.
7 – Scott Bourne: What has been the most interesting or surprising thing to you about how people react to photography?
Sara France: I think the most interesting thing to me is that people can see an image and really love it but unless there is a personal connection to that image they are not compelled to own it or keep it. It makes sense to me, but I think because of that some really incredible images don’t make money. The most surprising thing to me is how personal photography is. I am a wedding photographer so it is a very different kind of photography because so much of it is in the relationship between you and the client. You really become a trusted friend, almost part of the family. So many of my clients become life long clients and within a couple year I have been part of the most important events of their lives. I have been there for their engagement, wedding, pregnancy, sometimes even the birth of their first child. When they see the images of these very emotional days these images become such a huge part of their life. It is a really powerful thing to be a part of all of these moments in their lives. On top of all of that I get to see them re-live those moments when they see the images. I am always surprised at how grateful they are to me for capturing them. Seems like a roll reversal of most professional / client relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I love it!
8 – Scott Bourne: How would you describe your style of photography?
Sara France: The closest I can come to describing my style is Passionate and Alive. I love to photograph people because I love the interaction that creates the image. Either the interaction between the subjects, the subject and the envoounment, or the subject and me. My style depends very much on what or who I am shooting and for what purpose. However, in every image I hope people feel my passion and they feel the emotion of that image even if it is just the thought of wow or beautiful.
9 – Scott Bourne: How do you decide what to photograph?
Sara France: I decide a lot of it dependant on the inspiration I get from the client. I feed off of the things they like to do together. The way they look. What kind of vibe I get from them. A lot of times at the first meeting I have an idea right away that I think would be so cool and we create that. If I am shooting for myself I go in stages of things I think would be really cool. Lately it has been old scooters. There is a scooter store behind my house so I see all these really cool scooters all the time and there is so much personality in each scooter. There are colors and stickers and baskets for their dogs…every scooter tells a story about their owner without even seeing the owner. It makes me want to do a site that just says match the scooter with its owner. That would be so much fun! I am sure next week it will be something else. I love themes or what I would call props. They make the shoots so much fun!
10 – Scott Bourne: Of your many projects, which is your favorite and why?
Sara France: Destination Weddings are my favorite because they combine two things that I love to do which is travel and shoot weddings. I am heading to Puerto Rico for a wedding in a few days and I am so excited just to experience the new location, have an adventure and get completely submerged into the whole wedding experience. Shooting a destination wedding is different than shooting a wedding in your home town because there are usually three days of events that you are covering and if you are not covering them you at least going to them so by the wedding day everyone knows who you are and you have a much better idea of who they are so it makes the whole experience a lot more fun. I also really love to do the Post Wedding Fashion Shoot a day or two after and be able to really play around with the couple and get some great images. With the freedom to go other places for the shoot it really opens up the possibilities. Then we take a few days after the wedding to just enjoy the area. It is really my favorite thing to do!
11 – Scott Bourne: Is there any photographic discipline that you wish you knew more about?
Sara France: Oh for sure. There is a ton that I want to know more about. I never want to stop learning. In wedding photography we do not use a lot of strobes so I have been playing with those a lot more lately when I have free time. I just had lunch with one of my commercial photographer friends and convinced him to take me out on his next shoot with him so that I could get a better understanding of how he does his lighting. I have also really been wanting to learn more about design as well. I get frustrated when there is something that I feel like should be so easy for me that isn’t. Those are the things that I pick up and learn. There are so many easy ways to learn what you want to know these days. It is like an endless playground. I love it.
12 – Scott Bourne: After all these years as a photographer/teacher and author, do you ever find it hard to remain passionate about your work?
Sara France: You know when I got started in this I really thought that someday I would have to burn out. I would have to wake up one day and say I just don’t want to think about photography today but that has never happened. Actually the opposite has happened. The more I learn about photography the more I want to learn. The more I teach, the more I want to teach. I think if you are truly passionate about something it is always with you. The real problem is when you don’t know your limits. When you spread yourself too thin because you just want to do all of it. I am guilty of that and I have had to refocus at times to make sure that my passion is not running my life, I am.
13 – Scott Bourne: Everyone will ask me why I didn’t ask this question if I don’t – so here goes – What cameras/lenses do you use and why?
Sara France: I am a Canon girl. I started out with Nikon film cameras and when I went digital I tried to stick with Nikon but at the time the Canon camera was producing a better image. I love Canon cameras. I shoot on a 5D right now and I am playing around with a 5D Mark II. For lenses I love prime lenses because they are sharper and usually have wider apertures. Those two things are very important to me because of the type of photography I do. You get used to being the zoom. I would say in the beginning when you are still getting a sense of what focal length you want zooms. It was not till a few years in that I went to prime lenses. It takes some getting used to but I was hooked the first time a saw an image shot with the 85 1.2, yum! I have a ton of lenses but the ones I keep on me at all times are the 24 1.4, 35 1.4, 50 1.2 and 85 1.2. I am pretty much set with those lenses. When it comes to the whole Canon vs Nikon thing, I think the important thing is not to get too wrapped up in it. I know some great photographers that shoot Nikon and some great photographers that shoot Canon.
14 – Scott Bourne: What’s the biggest mistake you made when you first started out as a photographer?
Sara France: Not giving myself time when I was on a shoot to really think about the best way to set up and shoot an image. There were a lot of images that I think back on and I think that was a good image but if only I had done this thing differently or taken a second to think about the whole scene I could have created an incredible image. There is a huge difference between a bad image and a good image but there is a much smaller difference between a good image and a great image. Take the extra second to take that image to the next level.
15 – Scott Bourne: Would you like to give any final words of advice to photographers who want to improve their photography?
Sara France: There are a few elements I look for in every image.
Don’t be afraid to do something that doesn’t work. That is how you create. It is part of the process. Play with light. Creative lighting can make any image and really make it a stand out image. The last bit of advise I would give is learn about business. As artists we want to create great images but you need to know how to sell those images and run a business in order to make a living at it for more than a couple years.
I’d like to thank Sara France for taking time for the interview. For more information on her activities –
Pages Templates & Aperture DVD: shop.sarafrance.com
GO|BEE Bags: www.gobeebags.com