Thursday, August 13, 2015

Meet This Week's Judge: Gretchen Willis

This week, Gretchen of Gretchen Willis Photography is encouraging us to go unplugged with our photos. She has shared some of her own unplugged moments and thoughts on photography here.

tell us about yourself

I am a Midwestern gal, growing up in St. Louis Missouri but moving around between Illinois, Texas, and finally Wisconsin since I’ve been married. I have been married to Ryan for 17 years and we have 5 - soon to be 6 - children (I’m due in January). I’m a morning person so I often find my solace in the quiet hours before my family awakes. I love diet Coke and chocolate and I have to really watch myself not to overindulge! I would like to say I’m great at homemaking, but I have a garden that’s withering, a giant pile of unfolded laundry, and shelves that haven’t seen the business end of a dustcloth in months. The upside of my neglected chores is that I spend time with my family on the important things, like being together. We love to go camping, play board games, and making forts in the living room. The dusting can wait.

What ignited your passion for photography, and what fuels it now?

I’ve always loved photographs and capturing special moments, but I didn’t take it seriously until about 5 years ago. I was a lifestyle blogger and I drooled over the beautiful images I was seeing. I knew I could better than the images that came out of my point-and-shoot. I dove into learning about taking better photos and what I found was that my brain awoke. Turns out, I was hungry to learn something new, beyond the best way to make PB&J. And, as time has shown me, I continue to be hungry for that knowledge. What lit that fire in my belly is the same heat that keeps me pushing myself to new projects and discovering new ideas.

What’s in your camera bag right now, what do use the most? the least?

I shoot with a Canon 5Dmk2, with a 60D backup. My lenses include the 50 f/1.4, 100 f/2, 70-200 f/4L, Vivitar wide-angle lens, and Lensbaby composer. I’ll be honest: I don’t shoot with the newest gear. What can I say? Our family lives on a budget! But I’m a firm believer that gear is only as good as the user. I’ve yet to buy a piece of equipment that made me a better photographer. My most used lens is my 100mm lens. I love that focal length! My least used lens is my 50, but I have been trying to give it more love lately.

Besides that I also shoot film. I have a few film cameras - a Canon EOS5 which takes all my DSLR lenses, a Bronica ETRS which is a Medium Format camera, and my most-used camera is my Canon AE-1Program. I love this little guy. He’s small like a point-n-shoot but because he shoots as a fully manual camera, I get to have complete control. I take my AE-1P with me every summer when we take our annual family camping trip. It’s been fun to chronicle our vacations that have been captured on 100% film.

What’s your dream project or shoot?

Easily, definitely, my dream is to be a photographer for National Geographic and shoot people of other cultures. I would love to go to South America, Africa, Scandinavia, China, Indonesia, and all the cultures I know nothing about. I want to learn about them by watching the people in their daily lives. Even cultures that are similar to mine, but still foreign to me, call to my photographer’s heart. I want to tell people’s stories. I want to show how at our very core, we are all so similar. Even though we may live thousands of miles apart, speak different languages, learn differently and play differently, we are all created to love and be loved.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a photographer?

My biggest challenge is one that’s familiar to many - finding the balance. It’s easy to let my passion take over, and if I’m not careful I can put its importance out of order with my priorities. When I play with my children or go on a family activity, I have to remind myself to be present in the moment. I can’t play Chutes and Ladders if I’m worried about getting the right depth of field on the game board; I can’t squirt my kids with the hose if I am too concerned about getting my camera wet. I want to capture life, but I don’t want to miss it either.

If you had $500 to spend on photography... How should you spend it? How do you wish you could spend it? How would you really spend it?

SHOULD - buy some business tools or pay for marketing, purchase samples to show clients
WISH - buy a workshop seat or a mentoring session
WILL - I’m terribly indecisive, so I’d probably let the money sit for a while, and end up spending it on developing film. But in the end I probably would buy a seat in a workshop because - like I said earlier - that hunger to learn never leaves me!

Is there any one thing you wish someone had told you at the very beginning of your photography journey?

No matter how fast you’re going, it’s not going to be fast enough for you. DON’T RUSH IT. The struggle you experience, watching others fly past you with creativity and skills, will grow you. You’ll get there in your own time, and you shouldn’t overlook the things you learn along the way. You need to learn patience. “Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.” ~Wilma Rudolph

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