Writing with Light


Interview with Shannon Kalahan from Seeing Spots Photography

I think that one of the most important things that we, as photographers, can do to grow and improve our craft is to learn from other photographers. Whether you’re attending a workshop, reading a book about photographic vision or techniques or learning what makes a particular photographer tick, that knowledge will propel you forward and inspire you in immeasurable ways.

I am so pleased to introduce you today to Shannon Kalahan of Seeing Spots Photography. Shannon approached me a few weeks ago to see if I was interested in being interviewed for her blog and she on mine. I’d never done an interview but I jumped at the chance especially since I’d been following Shannon’s work for quite some time.

Shannon resides in Connecticut and is an incredible travel and landscape photographer, writer and teacher. Shannon has a keen eye for composition as evidenced by her beautiful photographs. You can see a selection of her images throughout this post but I do encourage you to visit her site and explore further.

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Shannon Kalahan – Seeing Spots Photography

How did you start out as a photographer and when did you know that this was something you wanted to do?

I think I’ve been excited about taking photos for as long as I can remember.  I remember many rolls of film passing through my hands when I was a little girl.  As far as what set me down my current path though…?  My first taste of travel photography was a trip to Spain and Portugal in 1999.  I loved being able to capture all of the beautiful places and moments I encountered while I was there.

My first serious attempts at photography came a few years later when I started volunteering for an equine rescue.  At the time, they didn’t have a website and very few images of the adoptable animals.  I knew that if people could see the animals, they would be more inclined to help – they stopped being some nebulous problem and started being living, breathing creatures that could melt your heart.  So, I picked up my camera (well…my Mom’s camera) and started shooting.  Having a structured project like that, including building a website, newsletter, etc helped teach me a bit about some of the discipline and skills I would need later when I finally started “Seeing Spots Photography”.

(The name, “Seeing Spots”, by the way, is an homage to the horse “Spot” I adopted from the rescue.  He was my favorite subject to photograph for a very long time! lol)

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Did you study photography formally?

I took one black and white film darkroom class, which went over the basics of composition and camera use towards the beginning of the semester.  The rest of the semester mainly focused on processing film and developing images in the darkroom.

From that class, however, I picked up a photo mentor who was a great resource when I had questions (still is!) and continued to teach myself with online resources, the occasional workshop, and by making lots of mistakes.

Your landscape and travel images are beautiful. What inspires you?

It’s a two-fold answer, I think.  I love the idea of putting something beautiful out there into the world and I love experiencing all of the awesome stuff that our planet has to offer. I have a strong belief that if more people could travel, as a whole, the human race would benefit from it.  It’s harder to ignore problems in other places when we have a vested interest or emotional connection with the diverse and beautiful cultures/locations around the world.

I am very aware of how blessed I am to have the opportunities and resources to travel, and equally aware that not everyone is as fortunate.  I love the idea of being able to bring beautiful images from the places I’ve seen into other people’s homes.  Again, the hope is that it will both bring them some measure of happiness to see these places, similar to the joy I get from creating the images…and that it will entice them to learn a little more about whatever the subject matter is.

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Shannon Kalahan – Seeing Spots Photography

As I was going through your catalogue of images I was blown away by your long exposures. Can you tell us what your process is in creating these images?

First, thank you so much for the kind words.  I really, always appreciate feedback. 🙂

So, long exposures… Most of those long exposures are either done in low light/overcast conditions or with simple ND filters.  I have used higher stop filters, but that isn’t the norm for me.  Most of my images involve waiting for the right light and going to pre-scouted locations when I think the conditions will be favorable.  From there, I tend to use basic camera controls to get the time value I’m looking for.

In particular, I like trying varying long exposures for water (waterfalls, streams, lakes and ocean) since we have so dang much of it in our state.  I am definitely not a “water” person (because…you know…sharks and such) but I am drawn to water as a subject to photograph.  It ends up in a lot of my images, preferably smoothed out with a long exposure.

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Shannon Kalahan – Seeing Spots Photography

As I was reading through your website I learned that you volunteered at an Equine Rescue and photographed the horses. Can you tell us a little more about that? Do you plan on pursuing animal photography down the road?

Well, as I mentioned a little bit earlier on, it was definitely one of the catalysts that put my feet on the path to photography.  The idea of taking photos of the horses started out as a way to help get them placed in permanent, loving homes but it turned into a huge learning process on so many levels for me.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with horses, they are generally anywhere from about 800-2000lbs and are “flight animals” who have survived over the years primarily by running from danger.  Their eyes are very good at picking up movement (aka danger), and the only thing that usually tempers that is a strong hierarchy (faith that their alpha leader will keep them safe).  This boils down to very large animals that spook easily and can trample you if they get too afraid.

It created a unique environment for learning photography, to say the least. I learned a lot about patience, about waiting for the right moment and about the importance of good light (a camera flash is usually terrifying for a horse).  Since the idea was to get these animals adopted, I also learned a lot about the importance of flattering angles for the subject and how significant a beautiful landscape background could be.

As far as pursuing it in the future…I have no active plans for that at the moment, beyond the occasional request for portraits, but who knows where I’ll end up?

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Shannon Kalahan – Seeing Spots Photography

I love photography books so naturally I was excited when you offered your “Photography + Connecticut – The Nature and Landscape Mini Guide” as a free download. What inspired you to write this book and can we see more ebooks from you in the future?p1_cover

Ahh, now this is something I do see more of in my future!

As a lifelong Connecticut resident, I have spent a long time finding the beauty in our state and have also noticed it frequently gets overlooked by other photographers looking for locations.  It’s a damn shame, in my opinion.  I’ve felt for a long time that with a little more marketing, Connecticut could attract more “photo tourism” (because let’s face it, us landscape photographers are our own unique brand of traveler more concerned with good light and location than where we will end up sleeping).  I guess I finally just got tired of waiting for someone else to put out a good “Why you should bring your camera to CT” publication, so I decided to do it myself.

Plus, it was a great trial run for an educational ebook we have in the works for later this year.  It’ll have a lot of great tips, beautiful images and embarrassing stories in it…I think people are going to love it.

— You photograph, you write and you teach. (And I thought I was busy 🙂 ) You offer private sessions for photo editing, in field instruction and photo critiques and if that’s not enough to keep you busy I noticed that you and your business partner are going to be offering workshops. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Yeah, who needs to sleep anyway? Haha  Well, at the moment, we are acquiring permits for a few east coast locations so we haven’t announced workshop dates yet.  There will be at least one or two New England dates though, and possibly a third a little further down the east coast.  I have a newsletter which I will use to keep everyone up to date on that as it develops. (hint hint!)

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Shannon Kalahan – Seeing Spots Photography

What’s next Shannon? What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I’m currently working on another magazine article, and have an art gallery showing if you’re in the CT area.  Although, if you’re in the CT area, you know our weather has been awfully unpredictable lately and the opening reception just got postponed again.  I have a friend who photographs for a local newspaper, though he was allowed in to see the display and says it looks great. 🙂

We also have at least one educational ebook and workshops, and I’m hoping to put together at least one more mini guide in the next few months.

Beyond that, I’m always open to new partnerships, projects and friendships.  If anyone has anything in mind, contact me and we’ll see if it’s something we can make happen.

Shannon Kalahan - Seeing Spots Photography

Shannon Kalahan – Seeing Spots Photography

Where can people find you?

www.seeingspotsphoto.com or email me at seespotsphoto@yahoo.com

I’m also on 500px, Twitter, Instagram, G+, and Facebook.