I am truly amazed at the number of photographers who call DC home. Many of them contribute to our photo pool on a constant basis; many of the photos accompanying our articles are taken by local residents who enjoy sharing their work through the Flickr avenue. And then there are others who don’t necessarily contribute through Flickr but still wander the streets, shooting as they desire, creating visual art through images of every day life here in the capital.
Many carry their art beyond images of the DC area in pursuit of a hobby or livelihood they love. On occasion, we take a moment to highlight the greater work of our area shutterbugs and this time we managed to snag Michelle Farnsworth for a quick peek into her life as a DC resident and photographer.
So who is Michelle Farnsworth? What do you do around here?
Currently, I work for the National Archives and Records Administration doing digital imaging at the downtown building. No, I haven’t imaged the Declaration of Independence, but only because it was done before I got here. If it ever needs to be done again, I’m your girl! I love that I now get to work with our nation’s federal records. And I do freelance and personal photography in my free time.
Before the Archives, I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Brigham Young University. I was first introduced to digital imaging at the BYU Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library.
I didn’t grow up in one place, but in many cities across the country and have been proud to call DC home for the past five years.
How long have you been behind a camera?
I didn’t get my introduction to photography until my senior year of high school, during an elective photography class. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my high school experience. I found myself regretting that I had not taken the class sooner. After that, things fell into place. Before I knew it I had declared it as my major in college and I was off and running.
So what are your favorite subjects to shoot?
I’m fond of saying that I like to photograph tomatoes. When asked why, my response is always, “Because tomatoes don’t talk back to me.” I’m quite introverted when I shoot, and that’s a tough mindset to be in if I’m trying to get an emotional response from people. Still life subjects are very good at responding to my introverted side. They do exactly what I want them to do!
Architecture is my absolute favorite thing to shoot. I love breaking apart a building and finding out why it catches your eye. I even love the lines and designs of square box buildings. It’s a challenge to make it look good, and to compose the building from a perspective or angle you don’t normally see.
Tell us about one of the most difficult shots you’ve taken.
Any time the weather is extreme, photography can be difficult. I’ve shot people in extreme heat and cold, wind, rain and snow. Trying to make people look good in extreme weather can be a challenge. And I’ve had to crawl into odd spaces, or perch precariously for the sake of a good shot.
But I’ve found the most difficult experiences are when you don’t really have the right equipment, and have to make it work anyway. I was shooting a dress rehearsal for a local production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (on film no less) and I just didn’t have what I needed for all the different lighting scenarios. After a bit of trial and error, I was able to come up with an image backstage that I really fell in love with. However, I strongly believe that if the photo only becomes good once you hear how it was made, then it was never really good to begin with. A title or story should merely add to an already great photo.
And what about the shot that was the most fun?
Those who know me well know that I have a love affair with the beach–preferably a nice warm one where I can lay out in the sun and get a tan. Any time I vacation at the beach, I spend some time taking pictures. During one family beach vacation, the evening brought in a storm with dramatic clouds (my favorite accessory) and soft colors. I was like a kid in a candy store photographing in my happy place with picturesque weather conditions!
Do you find it hard to photograph the DC area?
Actually, the hardest thing is deciding what to shoot. What I love about DC is how much photography is allowed and how so much of the city is begging to be captured with a camera.
Everyone’s got a photography tip to share. What’s yours?
I’m in charge of an extremely informal Photo Club with some friends and I get a lot of questions about techniques and cameras. My best tip? Composition is key, so think before you shoot. With digital, the film may be “free”, but you’ll pay for it later in the editing process. Before you fire off 12 shots of the same fountain/building/person: Stop. Look. Think. Compose. Then shoot. No need to take 12 pictures when you can get it in one. And I firmly believe that the camera doesn’t take the picture. YOU do. So read the owner’s manual and learn everything your camera can do, then get out there and take pictures.
Where’s your most absolute favorite place in DC to shoot?
Actually, I have many favorite spots in DC. I go back to all of them often throughout the year as they change dramatically with the seasons. It took me a while to make my way out to the Air Force Memorial, but once I did I was blown away by how the silver spires subtly reflect the sky. The simple design of the spires offered more than I had anticipated. I love to go back to see what else I can see in those spires.
Do you have any aspirations for your photography in the future?
I had goals in college about how I wanted photography to be a part of my life after graduation, and I’m pleased with how far I’ve come and what I’m doing now.
I think my next big step will be to commit to a project that I’ve been thinking about for the past several years. I’d love to photograph all the churches in DC. Buildings where people worship are interesting and exciting to me. They vary in size, shape, and decor just as much as people do, and many houses of worship are the result of a community that bands together with a common goal. They are truly unique works of art.
And of course, the ‘big’ questions – Canon or Nikon?
I am a Canon girl through and through. Started with a Canon film camera, moved to a Canon digital camera, and will die with a Canon camera in my hand (I’m also not a very dramatic person). But let me reiterate one last time that the camera does not take the picture…you do! So get out there and take some pictures!
If you’re a photographer in the DC area who’d like to be spotlighted, drop me an email at bhrome AT welovedc DOT com.
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great interview! I’m lucky to associate with this lady and snag photo tips from her!