We spoke with SAGE Member Becky Pickrel about her career as a professional photographer in Sheridan.
1. What is your art background? When did you first start exploring photography?
One semester in high school really is my only photography background. But my parents were always taking pictures. I’ve always loved to take photos and as a youngster, spent a lot of time playing with my little Kodak film camera. I actually never considered photography as something I could be serious about until 2012, when my husband bought me my first DSLR camera. I loved it, but while I knew the creativity was there, my photos were very basic and, to be honest, boring. I didn’t understand anything technically or how to get creative results after the picture was taken. I was super frustrated because I didn’t know how to grow. So I made a choice to become serious about the craft and that’s when I joined the Professional Photographers of America, which was life-changing.
2. What do you like best about photography compared to other mediums?
I wish I could remember things in detail to be able to paint or draw them later, but my brain doesn’t cooperate that way. It’s why I love photography. I can catch things the right when they happen; a sorrowful look, a feather caught on barbed wire, my granddaughter playing at the park. I can seize that moment in time and know that when I go back through my images, it’ll be there. Also, because I tend to hit the shutter a lot, it’s a little like a treasure hunt when I open the files. There’ll be that one picture that I hadn’t planned or even seen, but it’s right there. Some of my best pieces have come from an unplanned snap of the shutter.
3. The classic question: film or digital?
I’m strictly digital. Part of what I love to do is play in Photoshop, which of course, I need digital files to do so.
4. What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
There are so many textures and layers to our world, that it would be fun to photograph them all, but it’s people that I’m ultimately passionate about. From lifestyle, portrait, street, fashion, kids, families, seniors; it just doesn’t matter. Humans are beautiful and their expressions are limitless.
5. You recently received your Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) certification from the Professional Photographers of America. Tell us about that process and what that entails.
I actually received my CPP in 2016, but this past January, I received my Master of Photography (M.Photog.) degree. The criteria involves competing (and doing well), in International Photographic Competition, advanced education, and service to the industry. It took me four years to get my degree and now I am starting the process of earning my Master Artist of Photography (M.Artist) degree. This one is going to be a lot of work as it is all about artistic creativity, composition, painting sculpting, building and adding in all the little nuances, textures and colors using strictly digital-altering programs. These are pieces that cannot simply be caught through a lens and require a lot of imagination and ingenuity.
6. What opportunities has being a photographer allowed you to take advantage of that you might not otherwise have had?
Of course the biggest and most valuable to me, is the beautiful people I get to meet. There are clients who’ve now become very close friends. I’ve also been flown to California and Idaho for client work, which is pretty neat.
7. Tell us about your work with The Mission Haiti.
The Mission Haiti is a non-profit run by two of the most beautiful young women that I know. Both got their doctorates to best help Haiti. The organization is 100% donation-based and none of the overhead costs come from the scholarship monies raised. The Mission Haiti raises scholarships to send children to school. In order for a Haitian child to go to school, their tuition, uniforms, and book costs have to be covered. Nothing is free. Because Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, illiteracy is one of the biggest barriers. By giving children an opportunity to go to school, there can be a breaking of this barrier in families. It can mean a future. When I am able to go to Haiti, I take photos of students for their scholarship information and updates, as well as just photographing the lovely people. The photos are used for The Mission Haiti social media updates and promotion.
8. You are also a portrait photographer; could you tell us a bit about the business of photography?
I’ve found that being a successful photographer isn’t just taking great photos or even having initials behind my name. There are so many fantastic photographers just in our area, alone. I’m fortunate in that I have now done enough business within the community to have some name recognition. I’ll also be the first to tell you that I am a really bad business person. It’s hard for me to charge people what I should, but I’m working hard to overcome this. Not out of greediness, but out of a healthy business practice. When you get into the nuts and bolts of being a professional photographer, there are educational costs, equipment purchases, props, studio rental, insurance, travel time, fuel, printer costs etc. So like any business, costs have to be covered, plus there has to be an actual income brought in for the business.
9. At the beginning of the pandemic, you were one of several photographers who participated in the Front Porch project. Could you tell us a bit about that?
A local photographer had posted that she was going to be doing the Front Porch Project to bring a little joy to families in the area. I messaged her and asked if I could help her out, and from there, it grew to several of us area photographers coming together under the banner of friendship, to just bless our community. The word went out that people could schedule a time, one of us photographers would arrive, stay at least 10 feet away, do a very quick session and deliver 3-5 digital images, all free of charge. It was up to the family to be ready to go when we arrived. We did the project for about 3 weeks but then there started to be a lot of rumbling and backlash within the photography community nationwide, especially as the lock down got increasingly tighter. So we just felt it prudent to wrap up. I do believe many families were genuinely touched by the kindness and thoughtfulness.
10. Where do you see yourself as a photographer in the future?
I am a conceptualizer and several of my shoots end up being just for fun because I have some whacky idea in my head. I’ll plan it, style it, get the props ready for it, then find the perfect model(s). They may be serious, more high fashion or even whimsical, but these are just my times let the creativity have its way. My ultimate goal is to use this skillset to create Fine Art Portraiture. A piece that would hang on someone’s wall as art and be timeless. It’s also why I will be moving towards print sales over digitals. I’m not against selling digital files, but they get tossed in the drawer on a USB drive, or stay forever locked in the computer hard-drive. People spend money on their art; it should hang on their wall and be appreciated.
You can view more of Becky's work on her website: www.pickrelart.com