The path to the photography you want to express, the path to your visual voice, is anything but linear. You’re influenced by your environment, your skills, your tools, your time, your personal passions…any number of factors can change the way you feel and therefore the way you see.
Amy Shutt’s adventures in photography began as an interest in adventure itself.
“I keenly remember reading about things like Africa, the wonders of the deep sea, and exotic animals. I’d put them on a mental list of things I had to see one day when I grew up. I think these experiences in my childhood are what led me to my love of nature and travel.”
Shutt realized her childhood dreams – she is an accomplished travel and nature photographer, an expert in animal photography. Based in Baton Rouge, she has partnered with the Audobon Nature Institute on photographic and conservationist efforts, offers a workshop at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch, and shepherds her students on dynamic photography tours of Africa.
“I think things that are foreign to me are endlessly inspiring, which is what motivates me to travel. I’ve always liked to really study things up close, and to record the memory and emotion of the textures, colors, and individual nuances of animals, plants, and places.”
Shutt mastered the technical aspects of animal and nature photography in the earlier phases of her career, but sharing her soul is her true purpose in creating art.
“I think of my photography as a way I express my emotional experiences. How I present the object through light, focus, color, and angle all play into this. It’s an attempt to strip away the obvious and concrete and to present things on a more emotional, and sometimes even esoteric, level.”
Shutt possesses a unique ability to draw your focus on a tiny detail that conveys a much broader scene and a broader emotion.
“With travel photography the things that we would soon forget fascinate me most. People have noticed that when they see my photos from say, the Grand Canyon, there no photos of the Grand Canyon per se, but rather just the details that hint at it.”
Her personal process is very individualistic, which engenders her ability to capture the raw poetry of her own emotion.
“When I go out to shoot I like to be alone as I need to be able to focus 100% on what I am experiencing. I am drawn to things that go unnoticed by others, the things that people might just walk past without even a glance. I really like finding things that have been abandoned by humans and focusing on the little details that show some essence of the human that remains in them.”
“I am very particular about when I click the shutter. I am mindful and purposeful in every frame I shoot. I will photograph a subject several times, from several different angles and with different lenses. Usually only one makes the cut in the end.”
Shutt’s focus on animal photography required her to professionally shoot more perfect images, but her experience with Lensbaby encouraged her to pursue alternate forms of artistic expression.
“I fell instantly in love. Lensbaby makes you forget the rules and just let go and shoot. It really inspired me to get back into more fine art photography than what I was doing at the time, and I am so grateful for that.”
“I left the hyper-technical stuff behind – obviously when you are shooting wildlife it’s a different ballgame. You’re working with long lenses, shooting out of jeeps. But Lensbaby is more emotional, visceral, but so painterly. I look less at the objects and much more at the the color and light with Lensbaby.”
Shutt’s renewed interest in fine art shifted her entire approach toward photography- and the tools that she uses to create.
“I want to always be evolving as a photographer. Now that I’m more involved in fine art shooting I find I shoot more with Polaroids, film cameras, and Lensbabies than straight lenses. I’m trying to reignite that creativity that gets buried under all the technological elements of photography.”
Every artist can get stuck in a rut from time to time, and Lensbaby was integral to her new approach.
“When I first started shooting Lensbaby I was in a bit of an inspiration lull. For someone who has been doing this for a long time, Lensbaby pulled back the curtains into a world I had never seen before. Like, how many Route 66 photos have you seen? When I shot Route 66 with Lensbaby it was a completely different experience – I look back to that shoot and still love those photos, I love their emotional aspect.”
Photographers tend to have a pet Lensbaby favorite, and for Shutt that is the Composer Pro with Sweet 35.
“My kit consists of a couple of Nikon DSLR bodies, Fuji mirrorless, a couple of standard lenses and always my Sweet 35, Edge 80, Velvet 56, and lately the Twist 60 also. But I don’t think the Sweet 35 has come off one of my camera bodies in a few months.”
Shutt teaches her students Lensbaby as well: her workshop “Photography Unleashed: Cultivating your Creative Vision” at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch focuses on using Lensbaby in the environment. She educates from her own experience, her own struggle with mastering the lenses.
“With the Sweet 35, you get the most control but the most struggle. You panic, think it’s not working – you might not be that used to manual focus and then tilting makes it doubly hard. You have to keep it straight at first. Get the focusing down before you start tilting. Take baby steps!”
“Once you’re confident in your focus you can look toward the light for bokeh, go shoot in trees – once you get one or two good shots that resonate with you, you’ll be hooked. Then keep learning! Eventually it becomes an addiction. You’ll get to the point where you’ll look around and think ‘oh man, I wish a had a Lensbaby with me.’”
Shutt’s final piece of advice – keep calm, carry on.
“Don’t panic! Just have fun with it! People are too obsessed with perfection – you have to take those rules and throw them away. Embrace a completely different mindset.”
Learn more about Amy Shutt:
Photography Unleashed – Ghost Ranch Workshop, July 2017