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Kelly Lawson: “Look for open shade”

Look for open shade — I think most people fail to acknowledge that the most important thing when seeking to take a great looking photo is finding the right lighting. Most people, myself included, look for a fancier camera, or a lightbox or another gadget. But in reality, you can take a great looking photo with an […]

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Look for open shade — I think most people fail to acknowledge that the most important thing when seeking to take a great looking photo is finding the right lighting. Most people, myself included, look for a fancier camera, or a lightbox or another gadget. But in reality, you can take a great looking photo with an old generation iPhone if you know what to look for. I always recommend for people starting out, to look for an area of open shade. This means go outside on a bright sunny day, and look for a big area of shade next to a tall building or treeline. It will need to be earlier in the day or later in the day so the sun isn’t directly overhead. In the open shade you’ll find that the light is softer, there aren’t as many shadows or contrast, your colours will stay true to what they really are and your photo subject won’t be squinting if it’s a person. Also, using natural light will ensure that you don’t get any strange colour casting from artificial light sources. You might find taking photos indoors throws yellow tones on your photo, if this is the case, flick off your light switch, get close to a window, or head outside!


As a part of my series about “5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Lawson, Entrepreneur and Photographer. Kelly Lawson turned in her title as Occupational Therapist for 6 figure entrepreneur after she bought a camera on eBay and unleashed a new life of freedom. Since then, she’s had her work published in numerous magazines and has expanded to provide online education and coaching for other entrepreneurs.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working as a healthcare professional, and my work life began to feel very repetitive. I felt unfulfilled. There was no room for creativity and autonomy in my line of work, and I yearned for it. So I picked up a DSLR camera on eBay for 600 dollars, which was practically one week’s pay in those days, and I began to figure it out.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’ve had the opportunity to photograph celebrities and shoot magazine covers. I’ve also photographed things from inside helicopters with the door off, which is all totally exhilarating. But still the most exciting thing for me was when I gave my friend Shelley, who owns a shoe store, a how-to guide for her product photos and she followed the steps in the guide and then showed me her before and after when I ran into her at a coffee shop later that day and my mind exploded. Like, I taught her how to do that! It was a super magical moment for me when I realised I could not just do this for myself, but that I could also help other people get beautiful results and find their own version of success from it. (Before and after photos below). If you want the guide for yourself -> https://kellylawson.ca/freeguide

Before After

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I started out, I photographed a lot of kids. They are hilarious to photograph. I always say that every photographer should start with kids, they are so honest and genuine and they teach you a lot. I was photographing two sisters under the age of 5 one day and I asked them to ‘touch your cheeks together” meaning I wanted them to press their faces together, side by side. I looked up and each little girl had their hands on her sister’s cheek. It was cute, and a moment of learning how perception is key to everything.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I truly believe that it’s the entrepreneurial journey behind my company. It’s what got me to where I am today and it’s the reason why I am so passionate about what I do. In 2010, I walked away from the career I had worked toward for 11 years. That’s 7 years of university, two science degrees and 4 years of practicing Occupational Therapy to pick up the camera I bought on eBay and follow my heart. As I’m sure you can imagine, there were doubters and people who thought I’d lost my mind. But I did it anyway. And that healthcare salary? I quadrupled it. Doing what I love.

What a lot of people don’t realize is being a photographer isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting to be on your feet for hours at a time, carrying all of that equipment. You have to love what you do and I like to think that my clients see and feel that passion and energy, in every session.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

As a people pleaser who has trouble saying ‘no’ to anyone, setting clear boundaries, having ‘non negotiables’ and structured processes has helped me a lot. There are certain things in the business that I am responsible for, that can only be done by me, and everything else gets outsourced. When I took a good look at what things in my business needed me, I was surprised to learn that there were only four things: the person who shows up to most shoots, the voice on the podcast, the face in the promo photos, and the overall visionary. That’s it! I would encourage anyone reading to take a deep dive into their own business and really figure out what business tasks are essential to you, and what can be delegated. You might be surprised.

None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Oh gosh there are so many. Noel Chenier was the first person who taught me how to use a camera. He deserves all kinds of credit — he is an amazing teacher! More recently, my coaches Erin Trafford and Caitlin Bacher ring in my ears. Caitlin’s been coaching me on mindset and I can’t emphasize enough how powerful mindset coaching is. As of lately the thing that she said that is playing on repeat in my mind is this: as a CEO of your company, you have two responsibilities: manage your emotions and measure your results. So simple yet so powerful and true. Now, let that ring in your own head for a few days and see how it changes things for you.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I am heading into the slow season, and this is always an exciting time for me because it’s a time when I get to turn my focus to working on the business instead of in it. I am working to bring new educational products to the market, the kind that can get the average person excited about photography, moms excited to photograph their children, pet owners excited to take better photos of their furry ones, business owners excited about taking better photos of their products, or services, or themselves!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

It was such an exhilarating moment, the day I realised I could take a beautiful photograph. I wish for every human who wishes to feel that same high to get there more quickly and easily than I did (it took me 3–4 years to finally get to the point where I was excited about my photos). My mission is to help anyone who wants that — to get there ASAP! Photographs are so important. They are pivotal to your life story, your journey. It’s how you remember things — it’s how to hand stories down to future generations. Without great photos our past would be left entirely to imagination.

Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each.

1 . Look for open shade — I think most people fail to acknowledge that the most important thing when seeking to take a great looking photo is finding the right lighting. Most people, myself included, look for a fancier camera, or a lightbox or another gadget. But in reality, you can take a great looking photo with an old generation iPhone if you know what to look for. I always recommend for people starting out, to look for an area of open shade. This means go outside on a bright sunny day, and look for a big area of shade next to a tall building or treeline. It will need to be earlier in the day or later in the day so the sun isn’t directly overhead. In the open shade you’ll find that the light is softer, there aren’t as many shadows or contrast, your colours will stay true to what they really are and your photo subject won’t be squinting if it’s a person. Also, using natural light will ensure that you don’t get any strange colour casting from artificial light sources. You might find taking photos indoors throws yellow tones on your photo, if this is the case, flick off your light switch, get close to a window, or head outside!

2 . Clean your device lens — It sounds so simple, but I see it on social media every day. Most of us are taking our day to day photos using what we’ve got — our smartphones! And yes, these devices are only getting better and better at taking a decent photo, but it can only do as good a job as you enable it to do. And, because we are carrying these things with us everywhere, and constantly handling them, the device lens is almost always dirty, and photos taken with a dirty lens appear hazy. So before you take any photos, make sure you are giving the lens a good cleaning with a soft dry cloth or lens cleaner first. It will make a world of difference for the clarity of your shot. (see lens clarity before and after below)

Dirty Lens
Clean Lens

3 . Steady your device — Motion blur and camera shake are often the culprit of a blurry, out of focus image. I hear students say all the time that they struggle to get a ‘crisp, clear’ photo. This is often the result of using a moving target to photograph a moving target. You will get the best results when both the device and the thing you are photographing are as motionless as possible. So, if you can, I encourage you to use a solid stable surface, or even better, a tripod to steady your device. You can take it a step further and use your device’s built in timer to take the shot so you can avoid the shake that comes from pressing the trigger button as well. Trust me, it makes a difference. (See motion blur before and after below)

Motion Blur
No Motion Blur

4 . Create thirds — Think about how you can arrange the subject matter in your photo to achieve thirds. This is a classic composition that is pleasing to the eye. Most devices have a grid overlay that you can turn on while taking the photograph to assist with this. It can also help you to make sure your horizons or any linear lines appearing in the frame are at right angles. There are so many photography composition techniques to learn, this is the simplest and will give you immediately great looking results.

5 . Tweak with editing software — Most of the time it is really truly difficult to get the result you are hoping for straight out of the camera without some tweaking. I generally like to adjust the exposure of my photos and the colour saturation. Also, I really struggle to take a photo in which the horizon is straight when I am freehanding it, so I generally adjust the tilt and cropping in post processing as well. There are so many great free editing apps available on the market today. I would recommend starting with Adobe products, Lightroom or Photoshop Express. These are credible products and they are very robust. If you decide to go with the full professional version of these softwares, it will lessen the learning curve for the full desktop version of the product down the road. Not an affiliate, just a fan!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that every person deserves to document their lives in photographs, and I believe every person deserves to feel beautiful in photographs. I want to help people to be self-sufficient here. Think about how photographs have impacted your own life. Your knowledge of your ancestors, your memories of your own past. Now imagine if you didn’t have any of those.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/kellyslawson/ ← free resources in the link in bio

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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