10 Questions with Sarah Carpenter.

10 Questions is our newest interview series—Different photographers. Different paths. Same 10 Questions. Next up is Sarah Carpenter!

1. What are 3 things you take to every shoot?

2. Tell us about how you got into photography.

It's a long story! I think I was always into photography, since before I can remember. I just didn't know it until I was married, living in Maryland, and trying to “find myself.” I had been on this path of becoming a doctor for most of my life, and I had finally realized that's not what I wanted to do just before graduating with a degree in Nutritional Sciences. My husband, Ben, had a job right out of college, so I just followed him. He noticed me taking photos of random things around our apartment with a small Samsung point and shoot and ended up buying me a Canon Rebel T2i. At first, I was totally convinced that I did not want to be a photographer because “everyone was doing it,” but then I couldn't help myself. I've spent so much of my life with a camera in my hands, whether it was a disposable camera, my dad's camcorder, a digital point and shoot or now my big beautiful babies (my cameras). In hindsight, it just seems like it was so obvious how much I loved photography growing up, and I'm glad Ben noticed and encouraged me to pursue it as a career.

Ilford 3200 rated at 1600 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

3. What’s something about you that would surprise most people?

I've sometimes thought that it would be a really cool job to work as a narrator for Audible audiobooks.

4. Describe your creative process.

Before every shoot, I study my subject. I find as many pictures of them as possible on social media. I try to chat with them, sometimes I even ask them personal questions before we get together. If it's not possible to chat, I just try to find out as much about them as possible in order to have an idea of what I'm walking into. If I have pose ideas, I draw them out in my journal with stick figures. I'm not a very good illustrator, but they do the trick to remind me what I want to see from my subject or subjects when they arrive on location. Once I get to the shoot, I start chatting. I talk so much at shoots. I ask questions, I talk about my morning, I tell weird little stories to get the subject talking. I like to hear what they have to say, and I like to see the curtain come down between us. I'll shoot a little in the beginning, but it always feels like starting the car on a cold day or, to mix metaphors, like the first pancake that comes off the stove. The first images are never great because the subject and I are trying to get a sense of one another. After a few minutes, the poses start to flow, the subject starts using their body how they would if I wasn't there or if they were just talking to a friend or dancing in a rehearsal or on a stage. It's really quite beautiful how the shoot blossoms. By the end, we are just going full speed ahead, and I'm just saying things like “Stay there!” or “Do that again!”

After the shoot, I might go through some of the digital or iPhone shots and make notes about what I could have changed, what I could have done differently, angles I could have used and lights I could have moved. I send the photos off, and then once they come back from the lab, I do a second critique of my work and I try to remember these critiques for the next shoot.

Fuji400H rated at 200 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

5. What are you learning lately?

Oh gosh. What am I not learning? I'm sure there's a lot I'm not learning, but I'm always on the hunt for knowledge. I've been slowly making my way through biographies of photographers and fashion designers and recently finished one about Diane Arbus. I've been spending quite a bit of time on myself lately—trying to be more focused on being intentional with the time I devote to each of my daily tasks so I can get them done and move on, to be better at working smart and to be better and spending quality time with my family. I've been in therapy, and I'm saying that on purpose because I think it's something more of us should be doing and something we should openly talk about. I've been reading some self-help books, learning more about money and how to be smarter with it, and trying to listen to podcasts that broaden my view of the world and keep me in the loop on current events without the overwhelm of mainstream media. I've been trying to learn how to still my mind through meditation so that I can allow more creative thoughts to flow. I have been focusing on setting boundaries and sticking with them. This is tough. So, yeah, lots of different things going on in my life in terms of learning. I believe all of these things come together to make me better at photography and better at storytelling.

6. What is something you struggle with in your career?

I just want to say, right off the bat, that I struggle with so many things in my career! This answer is just one of them. And right now, what I'm struggling with is where to go from here. You might know (or maybe not) that I've left the wedding industry, and in general, I know what my long-term goals are for photography, but as it stands right now, I feel like a beginner again. I'm trying new things to learn how to network, and figuring out the right way to get where I want to go. I really feel like I'm starting over again, and that's something that is hard for me. I feel like it requires a lot of thumb-twiddling, a lot of introspection, a lot of emailing random people, and hoping for a shot. And it requires a lot of mistakes to be made—again. After 9 years of making mistakes and figuring out my path as a wedding photographer, now I'm back at it, feeling like a newbie.

Ilford3200 rated at 1600 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

7. If you could have dinner with one photographer (living or dead) who would it be and why? And what would you eat?

I'd eat with Peter Lindbergh. Hands down. He was an incredible fashion photographer, and what I love about him is that he truly loved his work and he loved his models. He wanted fashion photography to be about the women he photographed, not just the clothing. And he had this way of making you see a person through the images he took of them. I could stare at his books all day long. I'd honestly go to whatever restaurant he wanted and order what he ordered. I'd probably spend too much time listening to him tell stories and forget about the food.

8. What are 3 things you’re loving right now?

  1. Morning walks by myself.
  2. Watching my kids play together (I've been waiting for this since I got pregnant with my youngest).
  3. Taking ice skating lessons.

9. What is one piece of game-changing advice—whether for business, art, film or life?

Don't pigeonhole yourself into learning about just one thing. I thought, for the longest time, that if you wanted to be a photographer, you should live, breathe, eat and think only about photography. But I recently read a book about broadening your education and how people who are successful in their lives and careers allow themselves to be distracted by other interests, so veer off the path a bit. And I love that. You can pull inspiration for your career from so many different places and learn so much that can influence your art and the way you run your business, and those tidbits that you're learning from and allowing yourself to become obsessive over, something that's not your “main” career, are what give you a unique voice.

Portra800 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

10. What is your favorite image from your portfolio?

Do I have to choose just one?! I actually love quite a lot of images from my portfolio. Each shoot and each image tells such a unique story that I don't feel like I can choose. But if I had to close my eyes and think of one that has captured my attention, I'd have to say that it's from a shoot I did last year with a ballet dancer couple. At the time, they both danced at Pacific Northwest Ballet and had agreed to come to my neck of the woods to dance in and around freezing cold lake water at sunrise. What I love the most about this shot is the light. I didn't have any extra lights with me, just the sun rising and casting these wonderful shadows. It was probably one of the first moments of my career when I wasn't worried whether this shoot would fit into a wedding portfolio. So I let the light be uneven and truly tried hard to capture what I saw and what my heart was doing leaps over.

Sarah is a portrait, dance and travel photographer based in Redmond, Washington. She can be found at sarahcarpenterphotography.com and instagram.com/sarahcarpenterphotography.

Fuji400H rated at 200 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

Fuji400H rated at 200 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

Portra400 rated at box speed / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

Portra400 rated at box speed / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000

Ilford HP5 rated at 320 / Contax645 / Frontier SP3000