One of the major benefits I get in teaching Beyond the Lens Photo Workshops is meeting really wonderful people and learning about how they are achieving success in their own photography. Knowing that the knowledge I’ve shared has added some value to their work is tremendously rewarding, not to mention what I learn in return.
Adding to my growing list of student profiles, today I’m featuring professional lifestyle photographer Dawn Sela. She has a gift for capturing special moments, whether a new born baby, playful siblings, or the connection between parent and child. Dawn has attended several workshops, and I’ve also had the privilege of printing some of her work on canvas. It is always a thrill to see one of her photographs as a large print, another example of the many ways beauty and emotion can be captured with a camera. Regardless of your subject matter, there is always something to learn from someone’s personal vision.
1. How did you get started as a photographer?
I discovered photography as a young child when I received my first camera at 10 years old from my Grandparents. It was a 110 film camera, like the one pictured.
My Mother would buy one roll of film and I knew I had to be very careful in choosing which pictures to take; knowing that I only had twelve exposures. I think this led to my ability to see the photographic image in my mind before I even snapped the picture. My favorite subjects as a child were friends, pets and of course, my Barbie dolls. I continued to take pictures and graduated to my first SLR with various lenses while completing my Pharmacy Degree from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy. As you can imagine with a curriculum of chemistry and math, this didn’t leave any time for the photography courses that I wanted to take. Instead, I began to teach myself the art of photography while capturing images of family and places of travel.
When my first son was born in 1996 I found myself trying to capture every moment with my photography. I was never without my camera as I felt compelled to freeze every image, every thought and every gesture before they were only memories. After two more children, many unhappy experiences at photography studios and a continued love for capturing my own everyday moments I decided to purchase professional equipment and learn as much as possible. Somewhere between 2003 and 2005, I began my photography career with friends asking me to do their family’s photos. Word soon spread and that initial circle of friends that I was taking pictures for expanded rapidly. I soon realized that I needed to make a choice between my love of photography and my pharmacy career, which turned out to be not such a hard choice after all and Dawn Sela Photography was created.
Dawn Sela Photography continues to expand its business and creativity. I am honored and humbled that my business has grown by word of mouth only.
2. What motivates you to photograph children?
Children are FUN and challenging! You can be silly, sing, do crazy things, run and have fun with them. Sure, there are times that require patience, and quite a bit of psychology, but the rewards are immense. When I receive those phone calls from parents who are in tears after viewing their gallery, I know I’ve succeeded in creating cherished portraits that will bring memories of the beautiful nuances of their children. Many clients say that I not only create beautiful portraits, I somehow capture their children’s true essence.
3. What are the three elements that define your style?
Emotion: The first key element is emotion. When choosing which image to show my clients, the image must grab my heart, make me gasp or smile upon first sight.
Eye contact: Second would be eye contact. I am drawn to images that have children looking right at me. The expressiveness, the long eyelashes and the beautiful catch lights constitute the foundation of my photography.
Creative direction: Another key element that I bring to my work is my unique creative direction. I look for extraordinary subtleties in every moment and image. I love when I’m told that my work belongs in magazines or advertising campaigns. I have been fortunate to be published in some local publications.
4. Where do you see yourself going in the future as a photographer?
My photography has given me the gift of professional contentment due to the emotions my images bring to families. How many people are lucky enough to be able to say that? I’m not sure what my professional future may bring, although I do know that it will definitely include a camera, new opportunities and the amazing families that have allowed me to share in their precious moments.
5. What do you enjoy most about working in the Hudson Valley?
The Hudson Valley is my home. I was born in Beacon, NY, a small city on the Hudson River. I have enjoyed growing up here and appreciate the natural beauty of the area, which is one of the reasons that my husband and I never plan on leaving. The Hudson Valley offers so many interesting and beautiful places to work – on the banks of Hudson River, at local farms and gardens, and at client homes. I love having the rural feel, but also the proximity to the excitement of NYC and surrounding areas. I’ve conducted sessions in Central Park, the Hamptons, Montauk, and the NJ shore, servicing families from across the tri-state area. I’ve loved introducing families to the beauty of the Hudson Valley.