How do moments become a story? For Shauntelle Sposto, creating a visual memoir means immersing herself right in the sweet spot where artistry, meaning, and collaboration meet. Shauntelle's photography takes a fresh look at the "classic wedding" and has been featured in publications such as The Knot, Style Me Pretty, and Brides Magazine. See how growing up as a 90s kid shaped Shauntelle's photography, the camera she says "changed everything", and how she learned to value herself as an artist today in Richard's Photog Spotlight!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Shauntelle Sposto: I got started right out of high school. I was offered a volunteer position assisting a wedding photographer, and from the moment we walked into our first wedding together, I knew this was going to be the coolest job. It was only natural, after working for a photographer for a couple of wedding seasons, to develop the hunger for my own clients. So, I bought my first camera and started building my portrait portfolio by shooting over the shoulder of my photographer friend at weddings and shooting portraits for my family & friends in college.
R: 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?
SS: The transition was clear for me. Observing the photgraphers I worked for and gathering knowledge about how to value yourself as an artist (and charge for that artistry) came very naturally to me. However, I didn’t transition into a full-time position in photography until about five years ago. At that time, I was working other jobs and juggling my photography clients. As soon as I built up a steady clientele and was making enough to support my lifestyle & business exclusively with photography, I went full time. Not a moment before. I wanted to be smart and take a calculated risk so I didn’t burn myself out or feel overwhelmed with a loss of income in order to support my passion. It was the smartest thing for me at the time.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
SS: Travel adventures, hands down. If I’m not shooting a wedding, I’m buying a ticket to somewhere cool, packing up a camera and a bag of film, and exploring! My latest obsession is documenting my Italian family history.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
SS: I think this has to do with the line of work you’re in. Or rather, what type of photography you do. I’ve always felt creatively fueled by wedding and portrait work. Lately, however, shooting editorial and commercial work has been a tremendous outlet for me creatively. I feel that having creative control over my subject not only makes me better at my job in the field, but also challenges me to take more control in all areas of my art. Also, surrounding myself with other creatives I admire challenges me to think beyond, approach art differently, and step out of the “industry”, if you will.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
SS: Contax 645, no contest. It’s the first medium-format camera that was put into my hands in 2003, and it changed everything.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it today?
SS: Growing up in the 90s, we only had film cameras. I was the kid who was always sent to summer camp or field trips with a disposable camera. My favorite thing was to take photos of my friends, RUN to the local print lab, and drop off the camera to have the film developed. Getting the prints back was a THRILL! I still have boxes and photo albums stuffed with those memories from junior high and high school. Those images are more precious to me than anything.
Professionally, my story starts with film, dips into the digital world for a few years, and then lands back with film. In 2008, the industry I knew and the system I was shooting on was becoming obsolete (or so I thought). As film shooter—specifically of medium-format color film—I felt disconnected, uneducated, and frustrated that digital wedding photography was becoming the new standard in the industry. In fact, there weren’t even digital photography classes available when I was in college! I was young and couldn't keep up technically and creatively. So, I took a break, educated myself on a digital platform, shot a BUNCH of weddings digitally, and ended up feeling burnt out and creatively jammed. It wasn’t until I learned about a hybrid-photography workshop being offered that I even considered bridging the gap between the two worlds. I signed up, learned how to work with a modern film lab, and the rest is history!
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
SS: First of all, my lab family is RAD! I want to hang out with them and chat as much as possible… But really, communication is key in ALL OF LIFE. It’s how friendships are formed and relationships are maintained. It’s no different in the working world. Communicating your needs is so important, and working with a lab that fosters your needs and supports them is a tremendous asset.
We’re also ever changing as artists. I can’t imagine not having an open line of communication available as I shape into the artist I’m becoming. Your lab is there FOR YOU. They want to extend your artistry in their services so your product is consistent. In order for that to happen, it’s absolutely necessary to work together.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
SS: I’m the world’s worst procrastinator. My pre-shoot ritual usually involves me running around like a crazy person charging batteries at the last minute, printing out shot lists, and packing bags 15 minutes before I have to get in the car. I’M THE WORST. I think it’s time to hire an office assistant. Any takers?
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
SS: Missy Elliott's "Work It"… (Ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gniht ym tup).
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
R: Early bird or night owl?
SS: Night owl, duh.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
SS: Historical non-fiction, but BOTH...come on...
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
SS: Time travel.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
SS: "Effervescence", because I like the way it sounds and I drink a LOT of bubbly!
Hey, film shooters! Let's break down the best way to get your film safe and sound to the folks at Richard Photo Lab... and get it back fast.
Styled shoots. Inspiration shoots. Whatever you call them, there is a great debate in the wedding photography world about the merits of doing one nowadays! So, let’s cover the pros and cons of producing your own styled shoot, along with insights from a handful of top pro photographers who have experienced them firsthand.
PRO #1: BUILDING VENDOR RELATIONSHIPS
A huge portion of wedding photography jobs are booked through referrals, because every time your network gets business, you have a chance to get in on that business, too! Referrals are a result of building great relationships, and styled shoots can be a powerful way to connect with like-minded vendors.
“At the beginning of our careers, styled shoots were a helpful way to showcase our style and make friends in the industry,” Scott and Ashlee O’Malley remark. “These friendships quickly turned into working together on real weddings. For us, the goal was always to work with friends and shoot real weddings that are every bit as beautiful as inspiration shoots.”
PRO #2: CRAFTING TARGETED NEW MATERIAL
If you find that your portfolio and social media aren’t reflecting the type of aesthetic you want to be shooting yet, inspiration shoots can be a way to show off your skills. You can use these styled shoots to propel your career towards your ideal target clients/jobs.
However, it’s important to be upfront about the inspirational nature of your shoot, and to find a balance between styled and real weddings. Greg Finck cautions, “As photographers, we all need to be very careful with styled shoots and the way we use them… Clients want to see real content and are no longer impressed by pushing styled shoots in one’s portfolio. I think the time when you could fill a portfolio with styled shoots is done.”
PRO #3: EVOLVING YOUR CREATIVE SIDE
When you have a say over not just what’s going on behind the camera but what’s going on in front of it, you get to take your artistry to a whole new level. Think outside the box and challenge yourself to do something new and original! You may find that with added artistic control, you can start to stretch creative muscles you didn’t even know you had and learn more about your craft.
“Be creative, find your vision, ensure it’s in line with the type of work you are looking to attract,” advises KT Merry. “It will help you grow as an artist, build your portfolio, and stand out as a photographer.”
Image by LMarie Photo
CON #1: HIGH UPFRONT COST
Because a styled shoot is self-produced, it’s on you to foot the bill. Even if your team of vendors/contributors are donating their goods and services, you are still putting wear n’ tear on your gear, covering processing & scanning of film and/or digital post work, plus the time you put in to plan and shoot—that all adds up. Top it off with any extra styling or other costs that aren’t being donated, and you can easily spend four figures on a styled shoot.
CON #2: OVERSATURATION OF THE MARKET
Styled shoots create gorgeous photos, which is why there are TONS of them out there. With that, lots of similar content is circulating in the industry, and styled shoots can get lost in a sea of undifferentiated imagery.
“Usually, the end goal of a styled shoot is being featured in print or on a blog,” KT Merry explains. “This means that, in most cases, the intent is to create something publishable that’s on point with current looks and trends. These ‘fake’ weddings can be (and have been) done very, very well, inspiring couples and wedding professionals while raising the bar in the industry. Yet, they can also be more reflective of Pinterest’s perspective than one’s personal point of view.”
CON #3: PUBLISHER’S WON’T ACCEPT THEM
“The market is saturated with styled shoots, and media actors will barely publish them, except when they have one foot in the design,” Greg Finck contends. It’s true, publications are accepting inspiration shoots less and less as they continue to evolve/refine their specific brand’s aesthetic and curate cohesive pieces that connect with today’s brides.
Our friends at Southern Weddings Magazine did an in-depth guest blog post for Richard delving into the challenges of getting inspiration shoots published and keys to a successful approach. Check it out!
Image by Greg Finck
If you decide that a styled shoot is the right choice for you, we’ve got a few pointers that can help you along the way:
TIP #1: HAVE WELL-DEFINED GOALS
To get the most out of a styled shoot (and to keep disappointment at bay), it’s important to know why you are doing it all to begin with and remain focused.
“I keep doing styled shoots for three good reasons,” explains Greg Finck. “One, it’s a refresh from real weddings and gives me the chance to expose myself to great design content in easier conditions. It always helps me improve the way I shoot details, how I pose couples, etc. Two, I do them to develop relationships with new wedding planners. The experience of the styled shoot and providing them with great imagery and content, instead of the usual coffee date, is something I like and they value. And lastly, I do them to push myself out of my comfort zone—if I do a styled shoot, it needs to be different in many aspects from what is already done on the market. If you have good reasons to invest in a styled shoot, please do it and invest big time!”
TIP #2: HAVE A CLEAR VISION & EXPECTATIONS
Lacie Hansen remarks, “Going into a styled shoot, I really have to make sure everyone is going for the same idea or look. These shoots take a lot of time and can be costly, so you want to make sure it’s worth it! Make sure your vision is seen.”
Styled shoots are stressful! Get your team of vendors on the same page about everything ahead of time—from the aesthetic vision of the shoot to the role each vendor plays to what they get out of the experience (whether it’s images, credits, publication, etc).
TIP #3: USE FORWARD THINKING
If publication is absolutely a must-have in your list of goals (though, we believe you should really view it as the "cherry on top"—your shoot is not a failure if it doesn’t get published!), then plan accordingly. Contact publishers ahead of time to see what kind of content they are looking for, if any, and to get your name on their radar before submitting. Shoot for next season or beyond and submit your images early—stay ahead of the trends.