The South 40 Creative Spotlight showcases creative talent we love to work with! Discover some of our favorite photographers, videographers and more!

In this month’s Creative Spotlight, we introduce you to Kelly Chapman, a vibrant and busy photographer and mother of 5 adorable children. These blessings have been motivation to capture the day-to-day images of everyday lives, knitting together experiences like a family’s tale and a child’s growth. Most of all, Kelly inspires us in the way she conveys pure love in her subjects: love of life, love of special moments, and love of each other. Join us as we discover what makes Kelly such a unique photographer.

What led you to photography? Was there a specific moment that you realized this was your calling?

I have always recognized the importance of little moments, but it was the birth of my first child that drew me in to seize them. I wanted to capture everything about her, holding tight to every memory. After seeing some of the pictures I took, a few friends asked me to photograph their children, and eventually strangers asked the same. Nine years later, here I am, helping people to make memories full time. And although I’m not sure if I can recall one specific moment when I realized that photography was my “calling,” I do know that every time I help someone feel beautiful, capture a baby in a fleeting moment of pure joy, or walk through both joy-filled and heartbreaking moments with my clients, I realize I am right where I am supposed to be.

You have experienced some real heartbreak and challenges in your personal life. Have these experiences shaped your approach or style as a photographer?

My experiences have absolutely shaped my approach to photography. Through my husband’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, I saw the absolute best in humanity. Friends, family, and complete strangers were the arms and feet of Jesus to my husband and me. This is what I always want my business to be—I want to return this kind of support to my clients, to offer inspiration and help. This may not be a common business-like approach, but I “feel” like a human before I “think” like a business, and I never want that to change.

Taking photos for friends and family is one thing; establishing yourself as a paid professional is another. How did your transformation begin and how long did it take for you to truly consider yourself a “professional”?

It took me a long time to have the confidence to take that step from a hobby to a professional. I took photos for about a year before my first paid client and even then, I felt completely clueless. In the beginning, I was always focused on the technical aspects of working my camera and understanding the light at each photo shoot. Once I felt like I understood the technical parts of taking pictures well enough that I could focus solely on the creative aspect of the shoot, that’s when I began to feel like a professional.

Taking pictures is almost risky with small children—can you tell me a funny story about a shoot involving kids or some secrets to making it a success?

Oh my gosh, kids are the best! I have 5 of my own, so I live for the chaos—the more, the better! It’s hard to think of one story, because my little clients keep me laughing daily. But I will say I never go into a session with a solid plan. Kids don’t typically care about plans. I let children lead the sessions because I never want anything forced–I want genuine and authentic, for them to be who they are. You will never hear me tell a child to “smile at the camera”, but you will hear some high quality toddler humor to elicit those precious belly laughs.

You are an absolute genius when it comes to beautiful light in your photos. What do you use to achieve such gorgeous colors?

Wow, thank you so much! Light is everything. No editing can fix bad lighting. Learning how to find the light, manipulate it, and how to shoot in a way that lends to my personal editing style has been key for my success. I like to slightly underexpose my images, saving as much detail as I can while also getting beautiful skin tones. This allows me to edit just enough to enhance the magic that is already there.

Shooting in the studio and shooting “on site” require different preparation. What is your pre-shoot agenda for a successful experience—for both you and your clients?

I don’t have a studio, but I shoot in peoples’ homes a lot, and it is completely different. When I am shooting outdoors, I already have general knowledge of the lighting and colors. However, when shooting in someone’s home, there are so many variables to take into consideration: lighting, color, and decor is different in every home, so I must take a unique approach every time. For indoor sessions, I love to shoot in the morning hours to take advantage of soft light, while for outdoor sessions, I live for those last 1-2 of hours of sunlight.

The most important advice I give my clients before a shoot is to avoid thinking of the session as “let’s take some pictures and be done”. I want them to look at it as an opportunity for a family date night (or morning). I want them to laugh, play, cuddle, and enjoy quality time with their favorite people while I capture it all. And while I want to give them pictures—more importantly—I want to give them memories.

Although some clients come to a photographer with a plan for their photo shoot, others are looking for guidance. How do you help them to decide what will work best for their unique needs?

I try to post on my website and social media only those photos which truly represent my style because I want to attract clients who like those type of images. For example, you will rarely see me post a photo of everyone looking and smiling at the camera. I always gravitate towards capturing their interaction, an embrace, and authentic joy. Ninety-nine percent of my clients come to me for that, and they trust me entirely with the process. I do offer them guidance on specifics like location, time of session, and wardrobe—all very important to the final shots. For the actual session, I use lots of fun prompts and games to promote interaction, while still allowing for the in-between moments where all the magic happens.

Outdoor photo shoots are growing in popularity, especially during warm weather. What are some of your favorite types of backdrops, for both small and large groups?

My favorite backdrop is anywhere with good light. Whether it be dreamy fields of wildflowers, sunflowers at sunset at South 40, rolling hills, or just an overgrown patch of weeds, I truly believe good light can make magic anywhere. I love any location that offers different textures and plenty of space to allow for movement.

South 40 offers a wide range of options for photographers of all skill sets. Can you tell us how you discovered South 40, your favorite areas to shoot, and what makes it a hidden gem?

A client recommended South 40. I went to check it out before our session and found Ann to be incredibly kind and accommodating. She gave me a tour and had me sold at the sun drenched fields. It’s a great location because there are multiple spots providing great light no matter what time of day you are shooting. I love that it provides convenience and privacy for my clients and I, and allows me full creativity to flow and my clients the freedom to be themselves. I am thankful to have such a wonderful location in this community and can’t wait to make more memories there soon!

Connect with Kelly: