Rachel Shomsky is a portrait and wedding photographer from Detroit, Michigan. Her photography philosophy is to love people and life and that memories should never be lost because today will be gone tomorrow. Her goal is to help her clients remember the past through her work. We sat down and asked her some questions about her work to share with our delightful Lensbaby fans.
How would you describe your work?
Personal, timeless, and (I hope) emotional.
How has your work evolved over time?
As a young teenager I was obsessed with fine art and fashion photography, I shot my sisters dressing up with an Olympus auto-film body and my very first photo classes were in film, but the digital age brought a new feeling to the table. I was sucked into the mainstream and to be honest I shot what was expected. I stopped experimenting and working on my vision just to please the masses. It took a good few years for me to remember why I was doing this. I stopped looking at other photographers work and started focusing on what I wanted to say with my images. I went back to my past and pulled out part of my childhood, I just kept shooting things that I felt. I didnt make it back to that fashion world that I was playing in, but I did take my style back there. It feels like I was going home to the real me.
Tell us about a new project you're working on, and how you're executing it.
Ive got the wheels in motion to launch a new separate childrens' portrait website. My main site is all about weddings and that keeps my couples interested, but I LOVE working with kids and I never get to show that off so Im taking it this next level. The last 3 years Ive been working really hard on my kids' portfolio so Im really excited to share it!
You own quite a collection of old cameras, vintage lenses, etc. How did that come to be, and how do you decide what equipment to use on a given shoot?
Ive always been drawn to film. I will never forget shooting with an old cheap auto-film camera in my teens and waiting with baited breath for the film to be developed. It was always worth waiting for! Fast forward to my film classes at community college; I got to develop it myself and witness my hard work paying off. It was incredible, some day I hope to be able to develop my own film again. The old cameras and lenses, they take me back a step. Nothing makes you work harder for a shot than a manual focus ring. I mean really, you havent lived until youre shooting a two-year-old with a manual focus lens and you just nail the shot. Because kids are tough! I want to master that challenge, I love it.
Digital cameras are AMAZING. The technology, sensors, and the ISO capabilities are something incredible. I love them but the truth is, they make us all a little lazy. There is no waiting or wondering. We are all able to know right away whether or not weve nailed something. These old cameras take me back and help me learn how to nail it when you shoot it because film is expensive, and these old lenses that I pair with my digital bodies help me to SLOW DOWN, use my brain, make the shot worth it.
My other main objection is to keep myself ahead of my own game. I need to one-up myself at the next shoot. I need to look back at previous work and remind myself what I could have done to make it better. Make it more unique. All of these old lenses do different things they have specific focal lengths, sure, but there is so much more character to the older lenses than their focal lengths. The things they do when rendering light, with bokeh. once I know what a particular lens is good for, my objective is to focus on this one main thing: What am I trying to accomplish here? If we have an interesting background with bokeh or contrasty light, Im going to reach for the lens that best fits my needs. With the wedding day, you are mostly shooting for the lens with the right focal length, but with portraits (and even wedding portraits that are more laid out) you have the ability to prepare more. These old lenses are all about art, and Im less concerned about focal length and more focused on the scene/environment/lighting provided before I make my decision.
Where do you see the portrait industry going?
Look, everyone knows its on the decline and completely flooded but I feel like it could turn around as fast as it fell. Im stretched to my limit with the limited number of clients I have and I am offering premium services. Nowadays anyone can take their own photos with a nice camera or their phone. This isnt unlike the films days, people have always had cameras, but the difference now is with social media, they can share and share and share and get that instant gratification that they need. Endless comments of how beautiful the photo is, even if it is so-so on a professional level, the general public is obsessed with updates and likes. I have hope that the clientele that is looking for something more, something that they cant create on their own or get from the chop shop down the street, that client is still willing to keep us floating. Ultimately those are the only clients that I want to have. I wish more people appreciated the art, and I do hoe that it will turn around or make the right shift to suit the artists and appreciators.
What are your own personal goals for your photography career?
I want to spend more time with my family and friends. I love animals and I wish I could be more help with local rescues. I dont work a 40-hour week, I am at 60-80 and I so want to scale back! I would be thrilled to shoot more destination events. I would love to be at the place where Im only shooting what I love, to have established a name for myself that allows me to find the best clients for me (and them), and to spend those extra hours working more on personal projects. Shooting film and exposing it! These are big dreams. Im ready to put them into action.
Who inspires you and why?
Oh goodness. I have my few photographers that really inspire me to be a better photographer, not because I want to emulate their work, rather that they are in their own right; beating their own drum and encouraging others to do the same. Parker Pfister is a huge mentor of mine, if you dont know who he is you need to, and go to his workshop! It will change your life. I also really respect Jeff Ascough and Sue Bryce. Amazing artists and souls. I have always looked to other mediums to gain inspiration, a scene in a movie can really inspire me with a photo idea. A recent Disney film starring Angelina Jolie-Pitt has given me so much energy to work on some concepts. I wont divulge any more now, but definitely stay tuned, the Lensbaby Velvet 56 is really going to help with this concept! I can gain inspiration from a few lines in a song, from a scene in a book, maybe the color of a fabric, these ideas are garnished from my imagination after reading/hearing others art.
Ultimately my family has always been my biggest source of inspiration. I remember sorting through old film prints when I was younger and wondering where all of our baby photos were. I am one of six children and family is very important to me. My sisters are my best friends and we are all very close. It was only natural that I wanted to shoot them, to document our lives. With authors they say: write about what you know; well its the same concept, shoot what you know. I started writing my familys stories from a pretty young age in my mid teens. My early portfolio was based on my loved ones, and to this day the most rewarding projects to me are the personal ones. I have so many nieces and nephews that have given their time and energy over the years to learn and grow with me. They have helped me build this dream and business only for me to realize that it has come full circle right around them.