Becoming a seasoned portrait photographer is not a skill that is developed overnight, it has taken me many years of practice to learn my craft and train my eye to recognize all the elements that exist in a good photograph. Having a consistent subject has made it easier to see those improvements. Today I would like to introduce everyone to my one and only niece, Alexandria Gemma Guertin (Hallie to her closest family members), who also happens to be my first model and someone I have been lucky enough to watch grow into a beautiful and incredibly smart young lady.
Alex was born in 2001 when I was 14 years old. For the first two years of her life we were basically inseparable, I even brought her along with me when I visited my friends. I often think of Alex as my own child and am extraordinarily proud of her. I've had the privilege to not only watch her grow up and take part in her life but also to document her growth through the years, subsequently making her my first model. It's extremely hard for me to believe that she will be turning 15 at the end of September and will be getting her driving permit! Although this is a very exciting thing for everyone (especially Alex!), it sure does make me realize how quickly the years have flown by and makes me feel a bit older than I'd like to admit. Let me rewind back to 2003 when Alex was just two years old (I was 16), at the time I had met some new friends who were dabbling in photography. My friend was selling a camera that I decided to buy. This, I believe, is where my photography obsession began. With my new Canon film camera in hand I dolled up little Alex and headed outside. She was a perfect model for her first 'photoshoot'! Though she posed beautifully, I had absolutely no clue on how to use this new camera and stuck to using the automatic settings (we all have to start somewhere, right?!). After that first photoshoot I made it an annual event to put my camera to good use and document Alex's growth spurts. I carried my camera with me most everywhere I went and have boxes and boxes of prints to show for it.
In 2007, I invested in my first digital camera. I spent the next couple of years learning the basics of digital media (memory card data and how to transfer images to the computer) and would often bounce back and forth between using my film and digital camera depending upon what I was shooting. I also started toying with colored filters, shooting different angles, as well as messing around with the pre-programmed settings on the camera. Incorporating different outfits and hair styles into one photo shoot was yet another progression of my work. In 2008, I invested in my first Fujifilm digital camera that had a few more bells and whistles than my first digital camera(and not to mention way more megapixels). During this year I connected with my now husband and I decided it was time to figure out what I was going to do with my life. So with a ball of anxiety in my stomach, I found enough courage to go back to school. I enrolled in South Central Collage for a degree in Graphic Design. To finish my degree I secured an internship at a professional photography studio as a graphic designer where I was constantly exposed to beautiful images. Being surrounded by these images all day motivated me to continue shooting and stepping up my game by moving indoors to using natural window light in my kitchen. Being that shoot went so well, I went ahead bought a basic lighting kit. I set up a 'studio' in my basement with my newly purchased lights with a white sheet for a backdrop. Still being a green grasshopper in the professional photography world I made a valiant effort at this set but didn't quite grasp the concept of using flash units with my camera. The color balance and grain was so bad in all of these images that all I could do to salvage them was to turn them black and white. Yikes! After that attempt at 'studio lighting' in my basement we headed to a park to capture some much better images. In 2010, I graduated college and was thrilled to have been offered a job from the same studio I interned at! I was hired as a Graphic Designer, though my job consisted of much more than just graphic design work. At this studio, under one of Minnesota's best photographers, I learned everything from lighting, posing, software programs, editing techniques, interaction with clients, and back end paperwork. It was at this time that I invested in my first Nikon (enthusiast level) camera; it was the perfect camera for me to learn how to shoot on manual mode. My work jumped leaps and bounds forward over the next few years as I worked in this environment. I happily absorbed all this new knowledge and applied it to my own camera and images in my spare time. As I shared my photographs with family and friends I started receiving requests to take pictures for them. Slowly photographing family members turned into photographing friends, who turned into neighbors, who turned into friends of neighbors and before I knew it I was a busy woman! In 2013, I was offered a position as a Photographer. This was HUGE for me! I was flattered beyond belief, and very ready to make the leap from Graphic Designer to Photographer. However, after MUCH MUCH thought, I made a life changing decision to open my own photography studio. Alex, now a pre-teen, was becoming interested in photography herself. On several occasions I would hand her one of my cameras so she could go outside and explore her own talents. I was pleased as pie to see that she had an eye for my craft! Alex would often hang out with me in the studio while I would edit and even assisted me during some of my client sessions. Here you can see her helping me prep for my first styled session in my very own studio. The Final Product Now in 2016, Alex is a textbook millennial teenager with her cell phone glued to her hand. I often pick on her about her selfie obsession, but it's all in good fun! Alex has a sweet and caring nature. She is mature beyond her years and is very well spoken for someone her age. All of these attributes make her an incredibly easy person to get along with.
Family is an integral part of Alex's life and upbringing. She shows her love for family by always staying involved and taking part in things like our Friday night gatherings, all without the notion of that typical teenage attitude when it comes to family events. (Family photo by Angela Archer Photography)
Alex is especially great with young children. When my son, Will, was born I was amazed at what a fantastic helper this young lady was! She's spent many of her precious teenage hours being my "Will Watcher" snuggling with him for hours on end, while I was working on my new business. (Photo on the right goes out to Angela Archer photography)
Now these two are always romping around being goofy together. I have a feeling Will has taken on the role in Alex's life that she has held all these years in mine. The difference is they will have all her selfies to document the fun times they share together. Not only has Alex been an essential part of Will's early years she has been a huge help around the house and studio. From doing my dishes to assisting in a photo session, she is always there when I need her. I honestly don't know what I would do without my Alex! She is not only my niece but I am proud to say she has grown into one of my best friends.
Watching this tiny person grow into an independent teenager has been an adventure I wouldn't change for the world. Although it was not a planned part of the adventure I am beyond happy to have Alex in my life. Through the years Alex has been my favorite model, always willing to let me dress her up, drive to a new location, or try a new pose on her(one time I even had her lay her in the middle of a side walk on a grate - which she did without even hesitating). Every photo shoot I have with Alex I learn more about both her and my craft which is a win-win! As I talk about the progression of my work and honing my craft I have realized that not only is Alex an important person in my personal life, but my business as well! Alex has become the epitome of growth - both because she has grown into a lovely young woman and also because she has given me a way to measure my professional growth as a photographer. I wouldn't be where I am today without her! And for that I am forever grateful to her!