Where do professional photographers fit into a world where everyone has a camera in their pocket?

Photographers remind us that there is art in the everyday. A talented photographer sees the world, quite literally, through a different lens. She will wait for the right light, just the right tilt of the head. And she will capture a moment that would otherwise be lost.

Truthfully, one great photo in large format on your wall is worth a thousand saved in your iPhone camera roll.

GoGirl Finance caught up with Saint Petersburg photographer Daniela Thompson to learn more about the art of natural light photography and what it’s like to build a business from the ground up.

natural light photographer St. Petersburg

Interview with St. Petersburg Photographer Daniela Thompson

Q: When did you really fall in love with digital photography?

A: Well, I actually grew up in a family of photographers. My mom was a film photographer, and we had a darkroom where she developed pictures. That’s how I knew photography – in a studio, with the lights and the darkroom and the solution. But, then photography became something else. Everything was digital. I didn’t think that digital photography required any skill until I saw a picture by Elena Shumilova, a Russian photographer who photographs her children using natural light. I didn’t even have a child, and looking at those pictures made me so emotional and so – I couldn’t stop looking at them. She inspired me to buy a camera. I started learning everything I could. I wanted each picture to be better than the last. If you see a picture from when my son was born, and one now, you can see how my technique and my skill has developed.

natural light photographer St. Petersburg

Q: What is natural light photography?

A: Basically, if you don’t use flash photography, you’re a natural light photographer. The more I learned about photography, the more I realized that I don’t like flash photography. Sure, I can admire good studio pictures using flash, but I find it’s more of a challenge to capture natural light. You have to constantly watch the sun, the time, constantly look at the best light in a house or wherever you are outside. My new camera is more sensitive to light, so I can take more pictures in lower light, which are my favorite. I love taking photos by the window curtains. The shadows and the light together, really highlights the face and brings out the best expression.


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Q: Tell me about your biggest challenge in developing your photography business.

A: (laughs) Everything I do at first is a big challenge. And then once I get over it, I realize it wasn’t such a big deal. Truly, my biggest challenge was when my first camera broke. That weekend was a turning point for me. If I was going to continue photography seriously, I needed a good quality camera, not the amateur camera that I had, which meant I needed to invest several thousand dollars in the camera and lenses. If you buy this expensive equipment, you jump in. You’re committed. It’s just a lot of money. What if you never make that money back? Taking that leap was a huge moment for me.

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Q: How do you balance growing your business with being a stay-at-home mom?

A: It’s actually a lot harder than I thought. Staying at home is a full time job. And no one really thinks of that until they actually do it. You pretty much have to say no to sleep and no to me-time. Because when do you get me-time? When they nap. So your me-time turns into a focus on business. It only works because I’m passionate about what I do.

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Q: What advice do you like to give your clients before a shoot?

A: I tell them to pretend I’m not there. Just be you, and be relaxed. Be in the moment. Especially with children. Don’t tell the child how to act during a photo shoot. Instead, tell them: We’re just going to go have fun. And someone’s going to be there with the camera, but don’t worry about them. When I take a photo of a child at the beach looking at the waves, that image is powerful and full of emotion. And it’s different from when they’re looking at me.

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Q: What would you say to a woman who is interested in starting to learn photography and maybe even start a business?

Take it one step at a time. If you want to become a professional overnight, it’s not going to happen. You’re going to start hating it. First you learn manual, then editing, then how to build a website and attract clientele. Don’t rush it.

Also, you have to discover your own style. Try not to compare yourself to others. I had periods when I didn’t want to pick up my camera, because I was comparing my photos to other photographers. But you don’t see how much time they put into learning their craft. Now I don’t follow photographers as much, because I need to focus on my own style and I don’t want to be influenced.

Photographer Daniela Thompson is a Romanian native who lives in St. Petersburg with her husband and her young son. She specializes in natural light photography of children and families. She loves the many opportunities for both rustic and urban photography in the Tampa Bay area. Her next big project is a series using the eclectic murals of St. Petersburg as a backdrop. You can learn more about Daniela on Facebook at Daniela Thompson Photography or on her website.