This month’s Creative Spotlight features photographer Alaina Miller. Based out of Thompson’s Station, Alaina’s photography career sprouted out of the marriage of her technical engineering background with her intuitive sense for design and the dynamics of young families, and has since blossomed into a rich, candid, distinctive style all her own. We sat down with Alaina to learn more about her knack for revealing the connections within families and the beauty in those little moments that make your heart flutter.
When–and how–did you begin your journey to becoming a photographer?
Unlike many creative professionals, I’ve never had a specific interest in the arts – I was always more into sports, history, and family as a kid. I eventually went on to study engineering at the University of Maryland, followed by several years working in the industry.
I did eventually take a photography class after graduation because I was interested in taking pictures as a hobby, but I didn’t really get the itch until my first daughter was born. I realized that time moves quickly, and I wanted to remember those precious moments with her at each stage. After a few years of learning on my own, I started to take photos of friends, family, their friends, and so on, and then decided to venture on my own, and over the past few years, my business has grown organically out of that initial interest.
Can you tell me how your photographic style has changed over the years? What situations have you encountered which have led you to this style?
Like many beginning photographers, I was concentrating on how to “technically” take a great photo. When I would go out with families, I was much more focused on settings, lighting, and getting all the shots they were looking for. As the more technical aspects of photography became second-nature, I was able to start concentrating more on capturing images of people simply being together. I’ve developed a more candid, documentary-style approach to taking pictures, looking to catch my clients enjoying each other’s company, experiencing the moment.
I’ve also shifted my style over time as I’ve learned more about what I prefer to see in the end product I produce for clients. When I first started, my pictures were light and airy. Now I gravitate more towards deeper, richer colors, which I feel are cozier and more intimate.
In terms of the candid aspect of my photography, the images which draw me in are the ones that feel the most real, rather than “perfect.” I tell my clients “You want to capture life in that moment.” So many people put off taking photos, waiting for the right outfit, right age, right event, right weather; but life isn’t perfect. When it comes to our kids, we want to remember them at every stage and not miss out. Ultimately, I treat my photographs as art, so I make it a point to be free in creating something that my clients will appreciate, even years later.
So many of your shots feature that time between poses, where we see honesty and joy in children’s faces. How do you capture those moments?
Children can be a challenge to photograph, but they are honest. I do my best to prepare ahead of time by collecting information from my clients to learn about each family member. Armed with their answers, rather than a cookie-cutter approach, I can tailor a photo shoot to fit their family and allow that honesty to shine through in whatever form it takes.
When I first get to a session, I make sure the kids are comfortable and try to understand their individual needs. Some kids need space but will warm up over time, while others are ready to shine; I remind my clients that family photos are not just about the pictures, they are also about the experience in taking them. I do find that a lot of my clients have children similar in age to my own, and I think being a mom of younger kids helps me to connect with them. They are a bit more relaxed when they know I understand what they are going through, and amazed when they discover that—in the chaos—I captured some great pictures of their kids!
Do you have suggestions for new photographers navigating this industry?
I have found photographers, in general, to be extremely helpful and open with newcomers. My advice would be to reach out to photographers you admire and ask for advice. Instagram is great because you can find, follow, and connect with the people whose style you admire and want to learn from, which is exactly what I’ve done throughout my career. It’s also great for the photography business in general—being primarily visual—where potential clients get a good feel for your style. All the photographers I have met have been generous in sharing their knowledge with me. Since we all take slightly different photos, there is no real competition in the industry. There is plenty of work for anyone who wants it.
What are your favorite ice breakers who you photograph families in their homes? Is it different when your clients choose an outside location like South 40?
Almost all my in-home sessions are newborn-focused, so I really make it a point to give the older kids an opportunity to lead. I ask the older siblings to give me a tour of the house, and they love to show off their bedrooms or playroom, which helps me to find the best lighting for the shoot. Sometimes they will grab their favorite toys, which can help them to feel more comfortable with me. Having access to familiar items is helpful for anyone in the family.
When we photograph away from their homes in a place like South 40, I can really capture great shots while kids are exploring. They light up with all the new discoveries and I can take advantage of the different textures and lighting—and sunsets are spectacular at South 40! At home it takes a bit more work to find the best spots while keeping kids focused.
What is it that makes South 40 such an excellent location? What is your favorite memory there?
South 40 is a fantastic place to take photographs for a variety of reasons. First, there are no crowds. Although we have many beautiful public parks in the Franklin area, we usually have to work around people enjoying the park and potentially compete with other photographers who also want to use the best spots. The other advantage with South 40 is the undivided attention, especially for children. There are no distractions for kids other than the beautiful scenery around us.
I shot fall minis at South 40 this year and I have to say they all turned out beautifully. The warm weather and perfect light highlighted the gorgeous fields of sunflowers and grasses, and I felt really connected to the families I photographed. It seems like everything I shoot there turns out well.
How has Ann and South 40 been helpful to you?
Having a location pretty much all to myself is wonderful, although I admit there is so much I haven’t yet explored and utilized at South 40! Ann has been a wonderful help to me while shooting. When I shot fall minis and Ann would escort them to me when we were ready, it really made me feel like my business and clients were a priority. Her support is wonderful for last minute shoots, and she is very responsive.
Connect with Alaina: