Inspire 2016 Speaker Kate McElwee - Setting Up Personal Challenges

In this series of blog posts, we are introducing the faculty at Inspire 2016. Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate McElwee who will be teaching: The Vibrant Wedding

I love setting myself little personal challenges. We can shoot the same old stuff, day in, day out if we don't force ourselves to change things up every once in a while.

My first experience of a challenge with constraints was when I was getting started as a photographer. My black and white film class was asked to shoot a project on a theme, but we could choose any theme we wanted. I find that freedom is actually harder to work with than a set of rules, so I set some parameters:

- self portraits (meaning no one else could look through the viewfinder, or click the shutter)
- black and white film
- 50mm lens
- all manual controls
- indoor

I bought a cable release for my Nikon F100 and got to work. It was really, really tough (seriously - who shoots self-portraits with a film camera?!) I soon bought a longer cable release and started experimenting with forms (pillows, brooms, brooms with pillows attached) to help with focus. It slowly started making sense. I went from frustrated and mad at myself for making things so hard, to excited to play. I was learning so much about composition, and a lot about the quality of light and how it affects portraits. A little vanity helped here!

Most of my recent challenges have focused on making me more comfortable with shooting wider, something I have always seen as my weakest area, and at the same time the most important for the photojournalistic work I love. A couple of summers ago I took a 10-day sailing trip with some friends and shot using a 35mm lens at 1.4 for the full ten days. This past summer I shot my entire two-week vacation using a tiny Ricoh GR fixed 28mm point and shoot.

The photos below are from last year's Black and White Challenge that was doing the rounds on Facebook and Instagram. I decided to create atmospheric self-portraits that felt like movie stills. Whether or not I accomplished my goal is irrelevant; I spent a few days creating and practicing, thinking outside my documentary box. And it was fun.