Amy Shutt learned photography almost 2 decades ago on analog cameras, film, and in the darkroom. She switched to digital in 2006 and is now a full-time professional photographer and instructor going on five years. She specializes in nature, animal, and commercial photography and is baed out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A published photographer, Amy also teaches various photography classes and workshops throughout the United States and beyond. When Amy is not shooting in the studio, her favorite things to photograph are flora, fauna, landscapes, and all things nature. She especially loves the swamps of Louisiana, the coast and deserts of California, and the savannas of East Africa.
Based on your galleries and your bio it looks like photography has taken you on some adventures, do you have any stories about shooting in Africa (close encounters, rare animal sightings, etc.)?
I don’t have any crazy stories per se of photographing wildlife to be honest! No close encounters or anything like that as I strive to be very careful and respectful in my approach with any wild animals. I think the craziest story I have is just the story of the beautiful places I've been able to visit and the great people I have met as a direct result of photography! Sometimes I have to pinch myself; it makes me smile just thinking about it.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue photography as more than just a hobby?
I went to school for photography almost 20 years ago. It was all analog cameras, film, and the dark room. This was at a time when digital was just starting out and I really resisted the switch. And a bit after graduation my camera got packed away as life got in the way. Around 2007 though I sat down one day and asked myself a few questions: ‘What have you always felt driven to do? What is the one thing that never bores you? What keeps you hyper-focused?’ And the answer was photography. From that point on I invested in a DSLR and I decided to work towards going full-time. By 2012 I was doing just that.
What advice do you wish you had when you first started out?
I wish I would have had more advice on the business and marketing sides of photography. Many creatives are great at the creating part, but the other stuff may not come as easily. This is definitely true for me!
Tell us about your experience transitioning from an amateur to a professional photographer - what were the biggest hurdles and misconceptions?
The biggest difference is that in the commercial world you are shooting for someone else, so there is a level of pressure and expectation that is not present when you are still an amateur. Self-motivation, time-management, business aspects, and networking are all really important when you are a professional photographer and these were definitely all hurdles for me. These are things you can not neglect and things you have to work on every day.
In your growth as a photographer, what has been the hardest thing (concept, piece of equipment, mindset, etc.) to learn that also provided the greatest reward once you learned it?
The business of photography is the thing that’s been hardest for me, but I get better at it every year. Realizing there are things that I am not so great at, no matter how hard I try (accounting in my case) and admitting you need help in it is the best thing you can do, it will only help your business grow. Also, I still struggle with having 100% confidence in my personal photography at times, and that can be a hindrance as far as getting my work out there and seen. This is a still a work in progress and I feel like the more I engage the public, the more confident I become.
What advice would you give someone just starting their photographic journey today?
Shoot a lot and often. Learn your gear. The better you know your gear the better you will be able to use it creatively. Challenge yourself to shoot creatively by limiting yourself in the lenses that you bring on an outing, on the amount of angles you shoot of a particular object, or trying Lensbaby lenses, for example. Learn how to properly curate your images; Show only your best. Before you shoot, ask yourself: ‘What is the story I am trying to tell with this image?’. Go from there to tell that story exactly as you see it in your mind. And lastly and most importantly: practice, practice, practice.
Share a moment when you broke the rules of photography and created something spectacular. How were you introduced to Lensbaby?
I love my Nikon D810 and wouldn't trade it for the world. I also love my extremely sharp prime lenses. But, one thing I have noticed is that through this digital camera age, I struggle more than I ever did with film and manual lenses as far as creativity is concerned. I think about this a lot and try to pinpoint exactly what it is, and I think it lies in the fact that we are using such incredibly powerful gear and technologies these days that we just may have become hyper-obsessed with technical perfection. We also have programs now that help us to enhance images in a way that was impossible in a darkroom. And often, unfortunately, I notice that many of today’s technically sound photographs lack a soul. The first time I used a Lensbaby, I was in love. I immediately fell into some state of nostalgia. Something about the imperfect manual focusing, the manual aperture ring, the quality and feel of the bokeh, the bit of hazy grain, the way it felt in my hands just resonated with me. I was shooting more like I did in the days of film, taking more chances and breaking more rules. It felt like the the days when light, tones, hues, atmospheric aspects, and emotions weighed more heavily than how sharp an image was. Lensbaby gives a photograph the soul it needs to be truly successful.
Can you tell us a bit about any projects that your working on now or have on the horizon?
I will be leading Africa Safaris in the Maasai Mara with davidlloyd.net in 2016 and am really looking forward to adding some Lensbabies to my camera bag for these trips. In late September and early October of 2016 I will be leading a Lensbaby Route 66 photography tour from Texas to Arizona. I just got back from my scouting trip and I am really excited, it's going to be great! I am also working on a personal project using my Nikon F5 film camera and Lensbaby lenses throughout 2016. I'd like to finish with a book and exhibition. I don’t want to give too much away but it will focus on all that is wild. Look forward to sneak peaks in the first half of 2016. This has given me lots of ideas for Lenbaby with film camera workshops I‘d like to start offering towards the end of 2016 or early 2017.