My Photography Story
My love for photography actually began with a love for horses. I mean, don’t most 11 year old girls go through a horse phase? Well during mine, in a rather rash moment, my dad promised me that if I got a scholarship to high school, I could have a horse. I don’t think he really thought it through, but luckily for him, the horse craze had worn off by the time I got my scholarship. Instead he brought me back a digital camera from a trip overseas. It was so basic, but at the time (2001), it was mind blowing and super cool. I remember it had a 256KB memory card and I used to save the photos on stiffy disks. If you even know what those are, it means you’re probably over thirty like me.
I loved taking photos through out high school but my passion was actually art. I didn’t see art being a viable career choice however, and I was also very good at writing, so I settled for a sensible middle ground - photojournalism at Rhodes University. It was a long and challenging four year degree. They only let you pick up a camera in the third year and then you specialise in your fourth year. I excelled in journalism, and photography in particular because I found such a thrill in being able to tell stories in such a visual and dramatic manner.
Of course my dream was to use my photography to bring world peace and change the world, like any idealistic graduate.
I graduated with a first, I had a photo story bought by a Belgian art house and flown over for an exhibition, and another photo was a finalist in The Environmental Photographer of the Year competition. I was ready to take on the world with my camera.
But straight after I gradated, I was asked to lecture for 2 years in the photojournalism department. While I lectured I also did professional photography - marketing, families and a few weddings - and after that my husband and I spent a year adventuring in Canada, and then home to Cape Town and straight on into a corporate job as a photo editor on a digital marketing team for a high end African tourism company. Working a 9 - 5 office job after a year in the Rockie mountains was so hard but man I learnt so much and made amazing friends. I also had some incredible photographic experiences like tracking and photographing gorillas in the Congo. From there I went full time as Sophie Smith Photography, doing everything from weddings, to tourism, to brand photography to family shoots.
My background as a journalist gave me the skills to capture the truth and beauty of a real moment, without needing to stage anything. But it also meant that I had very little creativity when it came to creating photos, and so my strength is also often my weakness. As a journalist, I would never alter a scenario, but as a wedding photographer, it sucks when I don’t notice the hair in the bride’s mouth or her bra sticking out! I’m also really bad at posing people and telling them what to do! But most wedding couples love that they barely notice I’m there and I capture so many natural moments.
Editing is also a huge part of photography, and I always feel like a bit of a fraud because, although I’m all for a great edit which enhances the photo, I’m not much good at airbrushing and adding in dramatic light flares and false shadows. In fact I even feel a little awkward using filters which make my photos look like film photos. Every client is different and every shoot has it’s own look and feel, but generally I want to create photos that are classic and won’t become dated to soon.
After I had children, my professional photography was put on hold for a while, with the exception of some family shoots and two beautiful weddings I shot while pregnant with my second baby. But I certainly never put my camera down, in fact, for the first time since school days, I began to take photos for myself. I loved documenting the long but precious days of Lexi’s babyhood, the small changes, the first smiles, the morning light on her face. I’ve also learnt to get in front of the camera so that one day when my kids look back, they know I was around. I feel like having kids has given me so much insight into photographing babies and families and I’m excited that my business is slowly growing again and opportunities are opening up.
I certainly have my strengths and weaknesses, and like my personality, my photography is very honest and straight to the point. I often feel like a fraud as a photographer, like maybe people will see that even after 10 years of photography, I still often feel nervous about shoots or like I don’t know what I’m doing. But I also believe in the power of harnessing those nerves and creating something beautiful out of the everyday, especially because I have learnt that if I can create magical moments out of the chaos of our day to day reality at home, I can do it anywhere. And who knows, perhaps my photos can change the world, a tiny little bit at a time as I use my images to share our honest experiences and everyday adventures.