Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Sawyer Baird
How do you make a memory timeless? For film photographer Sawyer Baird, the key to images that endure is combining a fine art approach—orchestrating beauty through creative choices—and a documentary approach—capturing the real-life, relevant moments.
Sawyer erupted onto the wedding photography scene at age 19, and success was quick to follow; in a few short years, she has been published in Cottage Hill Magazine, The Knot Georgia, Southern Weddings V9, named one of the best wedding photographers in Georgia by MODwedding, and one of her real-wedding shoots was named "Best of 2016" by Style Me Pretty.
Today in Richard Photo Lab's Photographer Spotlight, Sawyer is sharing how her family ties inspired her love of photography, the moment she first felt like an "artist", and what motivated her to drop out of photo school and never look back!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Sawyer Baird: My mom always had a camera and made me scrapbooks. I loved going through my grandparents' old photographs as a kid (still one of my favorite things to do). I think my heart has always been in a place that loved photography. To be able to relive some of the most amazing memories by a photograph to me is not only the coolest thing but something absolutely beautiful!
As I got older, I started taking pictures of things for myself to look back on. It started slow, but by the time I was a senior in high school, I had taken all my friends' senior photos for fun, worked on the yearbook, graduated with eight art credits, and was applying to art schools across the country. That led me to Savannah College of Art & Design.
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?
SB: During my senior year in high school, I took an internship with a husband & wife photography company based in North Georgia. Kaylan took my senior photos, and I didn’t know much—I just knew I wanted to learn and be more active with my photography. I was photographing weddings with them for a little over a year.
After high school, I moved to Atlanta and attended Savannah College of Art & Design for a year. I knew I wanted to do something with photography (as it was my major). I had an internship doing wedding photography, but still at this point I wasn’t sure what type of photography I really wanted to do. My interest was in fashion, editorial, and product.
When I got into my first film photography class (you jump straight into your major at SCAD), things came together for me like a puzzle. I was not only pulled back towards wedding photography with my entire heart, I was pulled towards film photography and all of its amazingness! I became so intentional with my work, I felt like an artist for the first time in my life.
It didn’t take me long to discover the wedding market with film photography after that. I quickly bought Jose Villa’s book, Elizabeth Messina’s book, and Film Is Not Dead. I think I have read them all 100 times, and I learn something every time I read them. They felt like home to me...
Soon after all this, I decided to take a break from school and attend a film photography workshop in Charleston, called Bliss & Bokeh. Guys, I didn’t even know how to roll 120 film—I had only been shooting 35mm (thanks KT Merry & Chad for this sweet & important knowledge!). So, I bought my Contax 645 and hit the ground running.
It hasn’t been easy, but at the same time, it has been the easiest choice to continue to pursue it as a career. Photography holds my heart, and I love being able to share such an amazing thing with others. Also, I never returned to school… and I have never looked back.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
SB: My cats (Hemmingway & Zara), just kidding… but not really. I love to photograph really anything that allows me to just be creative and test out new things. One of my favorite things to do is put together mood boards, I think I have at least five right now with completely different shoot ideas that I have yet to do. Things from bridal, fashion, interior, product, etc. I love finding new strengths and figuring out what I like!
I also love shooting with no agenda in mind—when I travel, the streets, landscapes, and design of buildings. I am a sucker for good design and historic cities. I could walk the streets with my camera all day… and I do.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
SB: I am extremely lucky that my clients respect me for my creative side. I share all of my work with clients, and I don’t hide anything. I also love to get to know my clients for who they are and show that in my work. If a couple is more delicate, I keep that in mind, if a couple is more of an outgoing duo, I keep that in mind, too. I approach weddings the same, but at the same time I don’t—no wedding, client, or shoot is ever the same! I honestly never get bored. Plus, being able to package up prints and just relive all the happy makes me feel extremely fulfilled.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
SB: I love my Contax 645, duh. But, I really love a Polaroid camera… I have a wall in my office filled of Photo Booth photos, instant film, and really all the things. Also, a Polaroid is like the best of two words—it is film & instant. Amazing.
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?
SB: I shot film as a kid with my mom (35mm), and we would drop it off at Ekard (yeah—when that was still a thing). I remember being so excited to get the prints back. It was like Christmas getting them back. Those feelings have not changed, except I get my photos in digital and print this time around. But, it is still pretty much Christmas from Richard!
I continue to shoot it as a pro because it makes me feel like an artist. It makes me take my time, it makes me shoot intentionally, and good lord it makes me real happy! It was my missing puzzle piece for the longest time in my work, and I think it would be really silly to take it apart.
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
SB: Because I change my mind a lot and they keep me in line… ha. But seriously, sometimes I think I want to try something new and I do—because it’s good for you! But, I always go back to what I really loved in the beginning. Also, having a support system who not only knows you as a person but as an artist and a photographer is amazing. To me, my lab is half of what I do. You need to trust who you work with and know that they not only have their best interest for their business at heart, but that they have your best interest at heart, too.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
SB: Like any normal human, I need coffee… sometimes I dance around in the morning when I get ready with loud music, but I mean, that's just me when I get ready for anything! Puts me in a good mood and sets the tone for the day.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
SB: "Dancing In The Moonlight" by Toploader puts me in the best mood.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
SB: Savory, I have a thing for salsa.
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
SB: Vanilla, but only in my lattes! I like dark chocolate…
R: Dogs or cats?
SB: Cats (my dog thinks he is a cat—so, it’s all good)
R: Modern or vintage?
SB: I love a good mix—old charm with modern details.
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
SB: Breakfast, but in the afternoon.
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
SB: Warm weather, nobody has time for chapped lips.
R: Early bird or night owl?
SB: Total night owl.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
SB: If I had to pick, crossword, but honestly, I think Netflix should be an option here.
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
SB: I like both… and it depends on what I am in the mood for.
R: Comedy or Drama?
SB: Comedy, duh...
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
SB: I’d love to own a design firm and redo/design houses. I think I still want to do this sometime in my life. All in timing.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
SB: To help all the people in need with the snap of a finger, boom. If there was way to just love on all the people who need it the most, it would make me so happy. Maybe not a ‘super power’… but to me it is.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
SB: Right now it is "reason"—to me, everything happens for a reason and with purpose. Nothing is done by mistake—even just the little things on a day-to-day basis that make you happy, or even make you sad or angry. They happen with reason to make you a better person and shape you into who you are. Never doubt life and just embrace the everyday!