Interview with Laura Penley

What a treat to get to learn more about Laura Penley, known on Instagram by thousands as @lauraslensonlife, and get some amazing advice from her! I have been so inspired by her vision and her way of reaching across the web and making me feel like we are friends in real life! I am sure so many of you who already follow her feel the same way. Thank you Laura for sharing here!

Meet Laura

I was born and raised on a farm in Central Indiana and loved the country life.  My curiosity, however, was too great to keep me contained by a rural lifestyle. Following college, I made a move to New York City to work as an Operations Manager at Tiffany & Co.  After about a year, I transferred to the Chicago flagship location so that I could be closer to my family.  While I’m a country girl at heart, I fell in love with city life and eventually with a city boy.  The two of us have been blessed with a pair of beautiful brothers and reside on the north side of Chicago, where I am fortunate to spend my days with our youngsters while my husband works to support our family.  I’m a lover of white, pretty spaces, fashion and photography.  By nature, I am a very private person, so sharing my photography publicly was not an easy thing to do.  With the support and encouragement of friends and family, I made that leap earlier this year and opened and Instagram account and am so thankful that I did.  I absolutely love sharing the beauty of my life and the people in it with you all.

What I wish I would have known about photography years ago:

My single regret in life is that I did not pick up photography sooner.  I thought that you had to be a certain breed of person to be a photographer and that learning to shoot in manual was a skill that I could never acquire, so I never even considered trying.  So foolish.  It is so much easier than I ever could have imagined and if I hadn’t let the idea that it was too hard, or that I could never capture compelling images get in my way, I would have everyday photos of both of my boys from the time that they were just born, and I don’t.  With my first, my Blackberry and Galaxy Blaze (yes….old school) were frequently used and then my Nikon1, in Auto, as he got a little older.  With my youngest, I was fumbling my way through learning manual for several months, so there were many missed captures then as well, but I’m doing what I can to make up for all of those missed moments now.

I’ve always loved pictures and have a huge collection of them in shoe boxes at my parent’s house.  My parents actually gave me a Nikon N80 for one of my birthdays when I was younger; I was crazy excited about it, but never took the time to learn how to take it out of Auto and use it; it actually sat, collecting dust most of the time.  In college I always had my trusty little Canon Elph in my pocket almost everywhere I went.  I’ve never believed in having too many photos and actually, I feel as though I don’t have enough from various points in my life.  When my first child arrived, photos were a must; every 3 months until 18 months and then a 2 year shoot and after that, annually.  Same with my second.  I had two newborn shoots for my second, actually.  Crazy, right?  Most people think so, but I don’t.  I’ve always told my husband that I don’t need to be gifted with jewels, I just want photos.  Well, he indulges me this, and he actually decided to purchase me my first DSLR just before the birth of my second child.  I almost returned it thinking that I would never be able to learn how to use it and it sat collecting dust until after the second of our two newborn shoots when my photographer told me to give manual a try; “it’s super easy.” she said.  I was skeptical, but thankfully I was blessed with a baby who needed to be held in my arms all day and night to sleep for over half of the first year of his life, and while I held and rocked him, I studied up on Photography on my phone or iPad.  The Pioneer Woman and Ashley Campbell were my go-to sources for learning.  I’d study the different lessons on Ree Drummond’s site and then look through every single image on Ashley’s, taking note of the settings used (she’s awesome about posting these!) and after a night full of learning, I was anxious to begin each sleepless day giving some of the things that I had learned a shot and you know what, it is easy.  In the beginning it’s crazy frustrating, but after a ton of practice, it all becomes second nature and you’re adjusting your settings faster than you could have ever imagined.  I look back at photos that I was taking a year ago, still pretty new into manual, and I can’t even believe that I ever kept those as “good”.  It’s amazing how much you can grow with practice and thankfully I have two subjects (three if you count my husband) who let me do this. 

Some tips

  1. As I’ve already mentioned, practice when you can. 
  2. When first starting out, don’t think you can begin shooting your 50mm 1.8 at 1.8; don’t even try it.  First, get the basics down, starting out at at a minimum of f/2.8-3.2ish on a 1.4 or 1.8 and get your settings and focus right.  Once you get good there, then you should try opening up some more.
  3. If you are practicing on your family members, be sure to respect them; if they don’t feel like being photographed, put the camera down.  I often get asked how I capture so many candid details and it’s because I am great at anticipating my children and I wear my camera for a majority of the day (or have it close), but just because it’s always nearby or on me, doesn’t mean I’m always snapping.  If you go all paparazzi style on your children, they won’t let you take pictures of them at all, so find a balance.  When my oldest tells me no pictures, I take my camera off and set it on my countertop.
  4. Challenge yourself to capture more than a snapshot; find the emotion in the image or make your reason for capturing it stand out by trying different perspectives.  I love to lay on the floor for shots or take shots from above.  Close-ups/detail shots accompanying long shots are great for story-telling.
  5. Let photography be a tool for helping to ease anxiety in stress inducing situations; let it help you to let go.  So, photography isn’t just about holding onto memories for me.  That’s the biggest piece of it, but it’s also about helping me find the humor in a memory.  There are so many times in life when things seem stressful or hard, but then when you’ve passed that point and look back, you laugh.  Let your photos help you be more present with your children; let photography help you with allowing them to be children, allowing them to make messes.  I promise if you take the time to capture the joy on their faces mid-mess, you’ll see that the mess was so worth it, and what they are getting out of that experience benefits them for a lifetime.  Every mess can be cleaned up (almost every) and instead of getting anxious, capture it and hold onto it.  These are the moments when my children are at their happiest and while it’s no fun to clean up, when I look back at the photos taken during the chaos, I can’t help but smile.  I’d rather remember their smiles than my frustration and photography helps me to do this. Force yourself to be present with them instead of letting your mind take control and fret about the chaos and the clean-up.
  6. Get in the frame.  I didn’t start doing this until a few months ago, because again, I thought it would be really hard.  It’s not; it’s not at all!  Most cameras have a timer, use it!  I started using mine a few weeks ago and am obsessed.  I still like using my remote as well (these can be purchased on Amazon for around $20 or if your camera has wi-fi, you can use an app on your phone), but there are some situations that are hard to capture with a remote in your hand or from the distance that the remote can reach.  Also, when you’re in the frame, don’t think about it, just be who you would be if the camera wasn’t on you.  Interact with your loved ones, enjoy them, love on them; those are the moments to hold onto.  Go into with the idea that you may not get a shot though; they don’t always turn out.  If you have fun loving on your children and you don’t get the shot, you still have the moment.  It’s better to have had the moment than to have been so focused on the shot that you don’t have either.  The moment is first, and the photo is second.  If you’re present in the moment, you’re bound to capture something that’s worth holding onto.


For more amazing photos and tips from Laura check out her Instagram account @lauraslensonlife

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