OMNI is the ultimate creative tool for shooting more artistic portrait photography. Award-winning photographer Deb Schwedhelm shares advice for capturing extraordinary environmental portraits with the OMNI Creative Filter System, as well as her artistic journey to date.
When did you discover your passion for visual creation?
I was a nurse for 10 years so my academics were focused on math and science but my soul has always been rooted in creativity. I always had a special love for photography and was the girl who was never seen without my (point-and-shoot) camera but I thought that becoming a ‘real’ photographer was just a dream.
Well, in 2005 we endured a horrendous rental house situation that involved an infestation of rats, maggots, and flies. We are talking an ‘Amityville Horror’ type of situation! I complained to the President of the management company requested 2-1/2 months of rent back. After receiving the money and a discussion with my husband, I used that money to purchase my initial photography equipment. In January 2006, I began teaching myself photography and never looked back.
What are your favorite subjects/genres to shoot?
My favorite subjects have always been my children but that got thrown upside down and all around once they became teenagers — and that happened to coincide with this move to Virginia. I knew this time would one day get here but it is still a shock to the system when it happens. Suddenly, I had no one to photograph and that is when I decided to give a longtime desire to make self-portraits a go.
I still photograph my children (ages 15, 16 & 23) on occasion but nothing like I used to. I am working on a special project with my son this year, which I have entitled ‘Project Year 15’. I think this year is going to be a huge year of growth and change for him and I am so excited to photograph his 15th year. We started this collaborative project on his birthday, December 27th, and my desire is to photograph him daily, if possible, until his sixteenth birthday. So far, so good.
What’s the experience of shooting with OMNI like?
I have been a longtime Lensbaby fan, going all the way back to when Lensbaby’s only offering was a lens that you had to physically squeeze and bend. It was not the easiest lens to photograph with but I loved it. Over the years, it has been exciting to see Lensbaby grow and evolve with all the new offerings. When I saw the OMNI filters, I couldn’t wait to give them a try and I literally immediately fell in love. I had a feeling that they would be perfect for my voice and vision and sure enough, I now experiment with them almost every time I pick up my camera. I love to challenge myself and experiment and that’s what I feel Lensbaby lenses and filters do so well — they push the way one sees and the limits of what is possible.
You’ve shot some beautiful portraits with OMNI. What are your tips and tricks for creating amazing environmental portraits with OMNI?
Move the filter objects all around in front of your lens and experiment with the various objects. I prefer to use a lens with a smaller front diameter, so I use my OMNI objects with my 50mm more than my 24-70mm. We all know that great utilization of light is essential in photography, well that is the case with the OMNI also. I love exploring what is possible with light while using the different OMNI objects. Some objects bring in color, while other objects bring in reflections. Really, it’s all about playing and experimenting in a way that works for your personal voice and vision.
Did you shoot with objects in front of your lens before? If so, how is shooting with OMNI different?
I’m an experimenter at heart and love to push boundaries so I have experimented with various objects in front of my camera before. Sometimes I was successful, other times, not so much, but honestly – the ease of use and variety that the OMNI has to offer is incomparable.
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity means having an open mind and heart to act on an idea or possibility in a way that is unique to your personal voice and vision. It’s about following the lead of your inner desires to make something and putting inspiration into action.
I love this quote so much and feel it sums up how I feel about creativity:
“Creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our ‘inner’ pool of resources – knowledge, insight, information, inspiration and all the fragments populating our minds – that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world and to combine them in extraordinary new ways.”
— Maria Popova
Where do you find inspiration and motivation for your work?
Honestly, I just love making photographs and I’m inspired by my present. I look at my life as chapters and depending what chapter I’m in, I will be inspired in different ways. For example, when living in Japan, I was inspired by my children and travel because I was home schooling and we had the incredible opportunity to visit 20 countries. Our relocation to Virginia put hard, fast brakes on that but I’m not sad; it’s time to move on to the next chapter, which is all about my children and their sporting activities. It’s their high school chapter and their time to shine. Being in this chapter allowed me to shift my direction to photographing myself along with being inspired by my son’s growth and change and starting Project Year 15. So as cliche as it sounds, I am inspired by life and authentically embracing the phase that I am in.
How do you continue to push yourself to grow & evolve as an artist?
One of the things that I am super passionate about, especially in this fast paced world we live in, is taking the time to pause. Pausing was a natural part of my journey as a photographer due to our relocations every couple of years and it was during this time that I was able to reflect on my past work and growth while also thinking about where I wanted to go next. It also allowed me time to really push myself and even explore new directions for my work.
I also feel that it is so important to embrace all that YOU are. Social media has made things rather tricky. We are hit with so much inspiration that sometimes we lose sight of our own voice and vision. We begin venturing down someone else’s path versus staying our own unique path. But something that I remind my students all the time is that when you look at someone’s social media, you are seeing the curated life they want you to see. You are seeing their best. Sure, be inspired by other images but don’t let someone’s best define or guide your every day. Be the person and photographer that YOU were meant to be.