Growing up, Blenda Montoro never thought she would be a gifted artist—she couldn't draw. But it turned out she had knack for capturing true emotion and natural ambiance with her photography, merging both a fine art and photojournalistic approach. Now, Blenda uses the picturesque island backdrop of Kauai to create incredible imagery that has been featured in Style Me Pretty, Pacific Weddings Magazine, Magnolia Rouge, Buzzfed, Wedding Wire, Snippet & Ink, and more. Today we're chatting with Blenda about how her upbringing in Peru influenced her start in photography, why inspiration shoots are vital investments, and the film stock she likes in low lighting, all in Richard's Photog Spotlight!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Blenda Montoro: My passion for photography was really fueled by a desire to better capture/record my own life. I grew up in Lima, Peru, and having a camera in the family was a luxury we couldn’t afford. Because of this, I only have a couple photographs of my childhood. I remember going to friends' homes and seeing little family photo albums and really wanting that for my family, as well.
I vividly remember a coffee table book we had, though, with pictures from China. Even as a young child I remember being mesmerized by the photos of another place. So, I guess the fascination with photos started at a young age—even though they weren’t photos of myself or my family. Having family in the USA, I was able to move to California when I was 24 years old. I made it a point to get my own camera and start recording memories that I could show to family and friends.
Richard: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
BM: I initially studied web design when I was at Santa Barbara City College. I always had a love for photos, however. After I took a few photography classes, I finally felt what it was like to be passionate about one’s subject of learning and realized I needed to change my major. A friend of mine who was a ‘second generation’ wedding photographer first encouraged me to explore wedding photography, saying it can be a great career if you are dedicated.
There are so many types of photography, but wedding photography has become my niche. Several people (as well as an interview I read with Jose Villa) helped steer me in this direction. Photography truly became my career when I moved to Kauai to be closer to my then boyfriend/now husband. Being in a new place, I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to being just a photographer, and I was lucky enough to have some guidance from a successful person in the industry on Kauai. There were some tribulations at the beginning, and I was taking part-time work on occasion doing things I wasn’t interested in to make a living, but my dedication paid off and now I get to do what I love full time!
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
BM: I love to photograph my family when I’m not shooting clients. As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t have a camera in my family growing up, and now I take constant advantage of my equipment to document our lives. With two young boys, taking photos of them brings me such happiness! Seeing the smiles on their faces when they are playing at the beach or just having fun at home is so priceless.
Living on the island of Kauai provides so many beautiful things to photograph, as well. Incorporating the fun my family had in these beautiful spots is my favorite, but sometimes I also just need to show these spots when they are uninhabited to appreciate how beautiful they really are. Whether it’s the waterfalls on the north shore, or the Waimea Canyon out west, or some of the amazing hikes around the island.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
BM: When I’m trying to do something a little different and creative, it’s usually during an inspirational shoot that I’m using for marketing material. I think these shoots have a similar feel to the weddings that I shoot, but I am able to do things differently then if I were on a strict timeline, using someone else’s vision. These creative sessions help pay the bills in the future, though, because I try to get all this work published online to market to brides. It’s definitely fun and creative, and there’s risk since I’m not getting paid, but it's an investment that leads to more work down the road because it shows my creative side as a photographer.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
M: My favorite camera is my Contax 645. The lighting on Kauai is rarely consistent, but there are certain moments when everything is just right—in those moments, the photos with the Contax are incredible! However, because of the constantly changing light, I use a lot of different cameras during a wedding.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?
BM: My first memory of shooting with film was at a wedding workshop on Maui—getting to shoot there and experience firsthand how much fun the different cameras were to use... and then worrying the photos would turn out terrible because it was my first time! I also became friends with another participant who was very instrumental in getting me to buy my first film camera and encouraged me to keep shooting.
Once I saw how the photos looked, I was blown away. There were a few bad photos, but I was amazed with the good ones. I felt so much anticipation waiting those two weeks to receive my photos and see what they would look like. Finally viewing them and seeing the quality was such an amazing feeling.
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
BM: I feel that continuous communication leads to consistency. After working with Richard on my Color PAC, I now get a very consistent product that I’m super happy with. At times, there are little variations, and I can call up someone at Richard and ask what happened. You’ve really helped me get to know my equipment better and made helpful recommendations on different types of film. Once when I visited the lab, the Kodak representative was there at the same time, and he gave me some Kodak 800 to try—I’ve been very happy with this film in low light conditions!
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
BM: When driving to the wedding, I like to say a prayer for the couple and for the big day. It helps me get calm before the business of being at a wedding starts.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Urban or rural?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
BM: Warm weather (that's why I'm so happy in Hawaii!).
R: Biggie or Tupac?
BM: Who are those guys? The only Tupac I know is the Inca from my country.
R: Early bird or night owl?
BM: Night Owl.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Breakfast or dinner?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
BM: Historical Non-fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: Truth or dare?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
BM: A chef. I love to cook!
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
BM: Salsa music.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
BM: X-ray vision.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
BM: "Love"—because love is my Muse.
It makes our day when shutter-happy and inquisitive photographers give Richard a call with their film questions. Seriously, it's what we live for! And knowledge is power when it comes to keeping film alive. One topic in particular that we have been hearing a lot about lately is scan sharpness. So, without further adieu, stay sharp with a few things to keep in mind when considering film scan sharpness.
What is sharpness? Sharpness is a subjective visual perception, but it is linked to the edge contrast in an image. A higher edge contrast makes an image seem “sharper”, even though the actual resolution does not become higher. When it comes to the sharpness of a digital file, sharpness is achieved by increasing the contrast of the pixel structure. We super-zoomed in on an image scanned at the softest, neutral, and sharpest settings so you can see how the pixel contrast changes:
Note: While we’ll only be delving into scan sharpness today, it’s essential to understand that there is a difference between sharpness, resolution, and grain. They are all different variables controlled by different things—resolution is dictated by the pixel dimensions of a digital image file, while grain is managed by both exposure and film stock selection.
So, can sharpness be adjusted on a film scanner? Technically speaking, yes. There is a large range of sharpness that can be achieved, from super soft to sharp as a tack! Noritsu and Frontier scanners produce extremely similar levels of sharpness; however, because the Noritsu has a superior scan structure for producing crisp large prints, it may give the appearance of being slightly sharper (this is not due to true sharpness from pixel contrast, but again, from the architecture of the scan itself). The below example shows increments across the full gamut of sharpness that can be achieved in the scanning process. The increment of sharpness used on Richard’s scans is in the middle—and with good reason.
You see, sharpness in a scanner is a mathematical equation. We’ve dialed in to that calculation precisely in order to give you the most consistent, impeccable, true-to-neg scans possible (because #negsaresacred). While we do our darnedest to always make your images look as good as possible, your negative is still the one and only accurate point of reference for how your image should look. Just like any other adjustment, veering too far away from that point of reference results in discrepancies and irregularities from the image you, the artist, actually captured.
We wish we were psychic, we really do… but, because sharpness is completely subjective and every shot is different, the lab can’t just guess your sharpening preferences accurately (whether it’s which frames you want to change or how much you want to change them). That’s why if you happen upon the occasional frame that needs softening or sharpening, it’s best for you as the artist to implement those preferences either in shooting by adjusting your focus or after-the-fact in Lightroom/Photoshop.
Let’s put it another way: if you go to a restaurant, you can order whatever type of meal you want, but the experts in the kitchen figure out how to make it. No one just hands you a bunch of raw ingredients and seasoning and makes you decide how much of each will make the best meal! The lab is your photography kitchen, and when a photographer indiscriminately requests a procedural adjustment to their scans, it's as if you are telling the chef to modify their secret-sauce without knowing how all the ingredients meld together. There are many variables working together when it comes to film, and the lab has figured out how to make them work together best because, well, it's what we do! You can always adjust the taste by communicating with the lab; some changes must be made in the kitchen, but others should be made at the table.
Note: when looking at sharpness of scans from lab to lab, you must have the same image(s) scanned and compare them apples to apples! There are a number of variables in shooting that will influence how an image "takes on" sharpness settings.
Richard is willing to do whatever it takes to help you achieve your unique image preferences. But ultimately, the most control over the look of your photos lies in the shooting process, not in scanning. So, drop us a line and tell us the style you are trying to achieve and we’ll tell you how it can be done! Simply requesting a change in what the lab is doing (like scan sharpness, or any other adjustment) instead of why oftentimes won’t yield the results you’re looking for. Happy shooting!
Give her the gift of her favorite memories this Mother's Day!
Use promo code 15LUVMOM16R in ROES and save 15% on framed prints and canvas. Plus, save 20% on no-correction photographic prints and press cards when you use promo code 20FORMOM16R—everything is homemade with love in house at Richard, so you know it's worthy of Mom.
Sale ends May 4th, 2016 at 11:59pm PST.