You’ve all heard me say it, people fascinate me.
I love people. I love getting to know people, love building people up, and love supporting them in their successes. I love bringing people together, and building tribes of like-minded individuals. And I feel it’s especially important to do so, because it can be way too easy to get swept up in the self-defeating competitiveness that sometimes plagues our creative communities.
I’ve decided I’m going to make a point of regularly spotlighting the people who inspire me. Peers and creatives whose work deserves to be seen.. and who genuinely add to the community I’m part of. I’ve decided I’m going to do this in the form of mini-interviews, a game of twenty questions if you will… because it’s not enough for me to share their work, I want you to also be able to get to know them.
Twenty Questions with Photographer; Kelly Robitaille.
Kelly is an accomplished photographer (and a good friend) from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada who is doing amazing things lately… and as a result amazing things are happening for her. Her unique style is stunningly beautiful and engrossing. Instantly recognizable, it’s attracting the international attention of both peers and celebrities. Rightfully so!
She’s finding a lot of success, especially of late, yet she remains wicked humble in those successes. Speaking personally; she’s never blinked an eye when I need an ear, some feedback, or some motivation. She’s one of those genuinely decent human beings you can’t help but want to be friends with. You'll have to take my word for it.
So working with her to kickstart this project, and introduce her to you all, is an absolute pleasure. I've been joking for years that out of everyone I know in the industry locally, Kelly will someday be famous... and I stand by that.
1. Can you tell me something awesome about yourself?
I am an artist, photographer, mother, and wife. I have a background in Graphic Design and once designed a pair of jeans for Ben Mulroney for a Sick Kids fundraiser (not under my name of course!) I was born in Ontario, but have lived in Florida and The Netherlands. I used to speak fluent Dutch, but I’m VERY rusty.
2. What did you do before discovering photography?
I went to school for Graphic Design and worked for a home décor/scrapbooking company. I created a ton of floral happy scrapbooking products and vintage home décor. We also created custom designs for companies like Home Depot and Tractor Supply Stores.
3. How did you start your career as a photographer?
While I was on maternity leave with my first son, the company I was working for decided to relocate to the States. I decided that being home with my children was the most important thing for me, and became a stay at home mom. As an artist my creative side took a big hit, not being able to create and not really having the time to sit and draw or paint. I have always had a pretty good eye for composition, so my husband bought me my first camera, and it was love at first shutter click!
4. How long have you been a photographer?
I have been trying to build a stable career with my photography for the last four years. Before that, it was all just practice and fun!
5. What made you love photography? And what do you love about photography?
I love everything about photography. I feel like it allows you to genuinely capture the essence of who a person truly is. I love the thought process of photography. What light, what settings to use, how to create what you’ve envisioned in post production. It’s a very emotional art form.
6. Can you describe your style for me?
I would say my style is digital fine art.
7. How did you develop your style? Who has inspired you? What influences your work?
I’ve always been drawn to darker emotional imagery. As a child, I drew constantly, and my subjects always had giant eyes. I was once told that as artists we focus on the things we see in the mirror and translate that into our pieces. As an adult, I stumbled across the work of Canadian artist Angelina Wrona and was hooked. Her subjects were emotional, a bit melancholy and cartoon-like. They were everything I had been attempting to draw my entire life. I decided to attempt to translate that into my photography, and have been creating art using photography and post-production ever since.
I’m definitely inspired by Angelina, Tim Burton, and Mark Ryden.
8. Are you a part of any photography organizations? Have you won any awards?
I am a member of Sue Bryce Education which I joined last year. I placed top 20 in two categories. I am also a member of WPPI and received three silver awards in their second-half competition and three silver awards in their print competition this year.
I received an award for the MPIO open challenge as top winner and got a beautiful trophy to showcase!
9. What makes a photo stand out to you?
Emotion and good post-production work are what makes an image stand out to me. I can appreciate technical perfection, but that isn’t what sets an image apart in my mind.
10. What’s the most challenging part of being a photographer for you?
The biggest challenge for me is insecurity in my work. I put my heart and soul into my art, and while recognition isn’t most important, it's nice to know that your peers approve.
11. How do you push yourself as a photographer? How do you ensure you keep growing?
Joining competitions has been a huge game changer for me. Most of the competitions I have submitted to offer feedback on your imagery. It really makes you step back and take a deep, detailed look at your photography both during the sessions and in post.
12. What’s your favourite / proudest moment as a photographer so far?
Oh boy, tough one! I have a few…. My PROUDEST moment was being asked by Angelina Wrona to create a piece for her. She has been such an inspiration to me. I was also approached by celebrity retoucher Brian Bowen Smith through Instagram and offered a retouching job. That was pretty surreal. My most recent top moment was having my art hanging in the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas as part of the winner's gallery for WPPI. A fellow photographer sent me a video of one of my pieces hanging right beside the art of Cheryl Walsh, whose work I have drooled over for years!
13. What photo that you’ve taken are you most proud of?
I believe this is constantly changing for me because I attempt something new in every shoot or during retouching. Currently, I’m in love with a portrait I did of my friend Lorrie because I’ve been trying to up my game as a retoucher and an art piece called Melancholia
14. I want names: Who are your favourite international photographers? Who are your favourite photographers near you? Who on your team have been indispensable to you (MUA’s, Stylists, etc)?
My favourite international photographers and Sarah Ferrara, Hannah Dare Walker, Ben Shirk, and Bella Kotak. My favourite local photographers are Ashlyn Hale and Chris Noakes. I have had the fantastic opportunity to work closely with makeup artist/model Aly Goo and hair stylist Lorrie Blais. We mesh well as a team and it doesn’t take much more than a quick gesture or facial expression and they know what I’m looking for. I’m a lucky lady!
15. When taking portraits; how do you create the mood?
How do you get your subjects comfortable in front of your camera?
I play music according to the atmosphere I want to create. My favourite is the acoustic covers playlist on Spotify! If I’m going dark and moody, we may possibly get into a bit of Marilyn Manson. I think I’m fairly down to earth and usually have had a conversation with my clients prior to their shoot dates so we’re already pretty comfortable. I think good conversation and friendly attitude goes a long way.
16. What tools / equipment do you predominantly use? What’s in your camera bag? Your studio? What software would I find on your computer?
I don’t own a lot of equipment. Having three children at home, money spent on photography equipment isn’t always feasible. I shoot with a Nikon D5300, a 50mm 1.8 lens and use a large piece of Bristol board to bounce natural light, which comes through a diffused (with a sheer Giant Tiger curtain) window. My camera bag holds my camera, three SD cards and my 85mm lens which I never use. I rent a studio when I need one. I ONLY use Photoshop. Reading that makes me realize how NOT exciting my setup is!
17. What skills do you need, outside of your talent as a photographer, to find success in this industry?
POSITIVITY! Be kind, and realize everyone starts somewhere. Instead of belittling what another photographer has done, build them up and offer them constructive feedback. You get back what you give out. I also believe its important to have business skills, which I’m severely lacking and working on! For me, its very difficult to have such creativity running through my head, but try to be business savvy as well.
18. What advice would you share with someone new to photography, or the photography industry?
Do you boo! Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Find YOUR niche and roll with it. New and different is interesting and not everyone will like it, but they’ll talk about it! Be kind. Be thoughtful. Give your knowledge to others, it doesn’t mean you have to give it away for free, but be open to offering constructive critique and a positive experience.
19. Describe a dream shoot. Is there anyone you’d love to work with? Anyone you’d love to have in front of your camera?
This is a hard question. I want to work with EVERYONE. I would like to travel to Scotland or Ireland and shoot at their amazing castles and amazing costume fabrication. Something vintage and whimsical.
20. Apart from photography, what other passions do you have?
My kids. My husband. My family.
I’m finishing this by sharing Kelly’s Instagram feed. I want anyone reading to take a look at the work she’s doing, follow her, show your support. She has worked her ass off, harder than anyone I know, to find the success she is seeing now - and it’s crazy deserved.
She’s an amazing person, and I look forward to seeing exactly how far she can push herself.