Richard Photo Lab

Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Sandra Coan

Sandra Coan has over 15 years experience as a maternity, newborn and family photographer. She loves sharing her passion for the medium of film with others both as co-founder and editor of Little Bellows, an online community celebrating the beauty of film photography, and as an educator teaching at workshops (registration just opened for her latest online workshop with Click and Company, "Getting Started With Film").

Her award winning work has been featured in a variety of publications including Click Magazine, Lemonade and Lenses, Seattle Bride, Plum, Bump and The Knot—you can even see her images in part of the Seattle Museum of History and Industry’s permanent collection!

Today in Richard Photo Lab's Photog Spotlight, we're chatting with Sandra about how she "accidentally" went pro, how she preps for working with newborns, and the camera that's giving her Contax a run for it's money...

Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?

Sandra Coan: My dad loved photography and we had a darkroom in our basement. One of my very first memories is of sitting down there and watching him make prints of some photos he'd taken of my brother and I at the park. Seeing the images appear on the paper was magical—I became obsessed.

I remember getting my first camera for my 10th birthday. I loved it! I would spend hours setting up backdrops in my room out of blankets and bedsheets and take roll after roll of my dolls in various poses. I guess I've always been been drawn to portraits... ha!

Image by Sandra Coan

R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big oneŠ... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?

SC: My photography career was sort of an accident. I grew up with a camera in my hand and was always photographing my friends, but I had never even considered it could be a career.

In 2000, I was fresh out of graduate school and teaching kindergarten. I was single at the time, living in Seattle (which is a very expensive city), and I had a mountain of student loan debt. Getting by on my teacher's salary was hard! That same year a good friend of mine was pregnant with her first baby and allowed me to take some maternity portraits of her. She loved her photos and suggested that I start offering my services to others as a way to supplement my income. So, I made some cards and put them in coffee shops and maternity stores around town. People started to call. Within a few years, I quit my teaching job and launched Sandra Coan Photography... best decision I ever made!

R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?

SC: Well, I love photographing my kids, but sadly they hate it. I have to bribe them with Legos in order to get our holiday photos every year. I also love shooting flowers. They're quiet and they sit still...hahaha! But really, it always comes back to portraits with me. I recently took some photos of my 87 year old mother-in-law that I love, and would like to do more work photographing other people her age and hearing their stories.

R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?

SC: Luckily I really, really love what I do! Photographing newborns and their families inspires me. It drives my creativity every day. And honestly, shooting film helps with that, as well. It's challenging (especially when working with a toddler), and that challenge pushes me to learn more and find better ways to do what I do.

Image by Sandra Coan

R: What is your favorite camera and why?

SC: My go-to camera is the Contax 645. That camera is just beautiful! But, I recently got a Rolleiflex 2.8 that may be giving the Contax a run for it's money. I've been mounting the Rolleiflx on a tripod and tethering it to my strobe, which means I can't really move around like I normally do. It's a new way of shooting for me, but I'm really enjoying it! And the images I'm getting are lovely!

R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?

SC: Well, I've been shooting film since I was a little kid, because back then that's all there was. I made the switch to digital in 2007 and never really got the hang of it. Coming back to film has made all the difference for me. I love the process of it. The cameras, the slowness, the work-flow... it's all good.

The real reason I'm sticking with film is that try as I may (and I have), my digital images just do not look as good. Film has a quality to it that is hard to explain. But I see it, and so do my clients. I often hear that people chose to hire me because my work doesn't look like everyone else's. My look, the look of film, sets me apart form all of the other newborn photographers in my community, and that's great for business!

Image by Sandra Coan

R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?

SC: I truly believe that as a film photographer, my lab is my creative partner. Working closely with a lab and having good communication insures that my work will consistently look the way I intend it to. That consistency is good for my clients and good for my brand. It guarantees that everyone who walks through my door will receive images like the photos I show on my website and in my portfolio. That consistency builds trust. And that's a big deal!

Having good communication with your lab also helps you grow as an artist. That's one of the reasons why I love Richard Photo Lab so much! Even before I had my own Color PAC, I knew that I could call the lab and ask questions, trouble shoot and get advice. You guys helped me develop my signature style, and creating a Color PAC just solidified it.

R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?

SC: Not really. But, if I'm working with a newborn, I make sure the studio is super warm (around 80 degrees) and that I have plenty of extra shirts in my office (I get peed on a lot!).

Image by Sandra Coan

R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?

SC: Savory.

R: Chocolate or vanilla?

SC: Chocolate for sure!

R: Dogs or cats?

SC: Cats.

R: Urban or rural?

SC: Urban.

R: Modern or vintage?

SC: Vintage

R: Warm weather or cold weather?

SC: Warm weather.

R: Biggie or Tupac?

SC: Johnny Cash.

R: Early bird or night owl?

SC: Early bird.

R: Crossword or Sudoku?

SC: Crossword.

R: Breakfast or dinner?

SC: Dinner.

R: Batman or Superman?

SC: Superman.

R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?

SC: SciFi/Fantasy (#imanerd).

R: Comedy or Drama?

SC: Comedy.

R: Truth or dare?

SC: Dare.

Image by Sandra Coan

R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?

SC: A teacher.

R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?

SC: I love classic country and 70's pop!

R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

SC: Speed, like the Flash.

R: What is your favorite word, and why?

SC: "Adventure", because everything is an adventure, especially raising kids and running a business. You just never know where life is going to take you!