WASHINGTON – When Mary Alice Jackson started taking pictures at age 6, she wasn’t dreaming of one day starting her own business behind the lens.
But she never lost her passion for photography, and today the 25-year-old photographer owns Shot With A Bow, a company she started herself. Jackson lives in Mechanicsville, Va., a small town just outside of Richmond where she grew up.
With her husband, Andrew, who is in the military, her young son, Beckham, and her full-time job working for the Astyra Corporation, her life is more established than that of the average Millennial. But despite her demanding schedule, she has set herself apart by setting aside time to jump-start her career in photography.
This is the first in a two-part Q&A series where Jackson reveals the way her dedication and passion led her to start a small business and how she has mixed her twentysomething technical and social media sensibilities into her work.
What made you start doing photography?
Well, I have always loved photography, and one day, I decided to buy an SLR because I wanted it. People were like, “Oh my gosh, I want you to take my picture,” and Shot with a Bow was born. I love it.
Did you have to acquire your own equipment? The lenses, the lighting?
Yes, pretty much. The computer. A bigger car to tote all of my equipment. That’s where all the money’s gone. I’m continually upgrading the camera, the background, the props, adding a makeup artist when I need her, and soon we’ll be adding a second shooter. I want to hire someone to work with me on a regular basis, so that will be a whole new level.
When you do portraits and family shots, do you have a room in your home that you use, or do you go on-site, or both?
All of my studio equipment is mobile, so I can go wherever my clients want. A lot of them want to do on-location (shoots), so I’ve been available to go wherever. I’ve had as far away as New York City for a newborn shoot. I (had) another newborn shoot in North Carolina. Basically, I’ll go wherever people need me to go. But I can provide that studio feel that you would get with any major company in the comfort of your own house, because all of my stuff can come and go when I need it to.
Are you entirely self-taught? Is this something you’ve just picked up in life, or did you ever take a class?
I took classes in high school and I majored in photography for a little while at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I would say most of it is self-taught (and) I have a ton of photographer friends who are awesome and let me tag along. That’s the best way for another photographer (to learn).
Do you find that you’re developing a specific style of photography?
I think my style of photography is a lot more candid than a lot of people’s style is. Candid shots to me are just way better than anything you could pose. Yes, posed stuff looks good, and sometimes those funny awkward poses end up looking amazing. But I think my style is more trendy. I’ve had a lot of people say, “I like your stuff because it’s new and fresh,” whereas some people that have been in the business for a long time are very strict and they don’t want to do any creative, fun shots.
Do you pull inspiration from particular photographers?
I can’t think of any names, but I do a whole lot of Pinterest and Google. Pinterest has actually helped a ton, because when I have a bride or a mother-to- be, typically they’ll have Pinterest and they’ll have pinned every single picture they love. It’s really beneficial for me because I can go follow them and see what they’re looking for and in that way, help them better create all of the pictures that they really want.
I can see if they like that more modern look, half in-focus, half out-of-focus, or weird, different angles, or if they’re looking for just plain “Here I am in my wedding dress” pictures. That will also help me decide if we should do them inside or outside, or (if) they’re looking for something a little more creative.
Tell me a little bit about the iPhonography work that you do.
You can actually buy lenses that go on the camera that go on the existing lens on the iPhone. I’ve found that brides are very excited about having their pictures posted (on social media) immediately after. So that’s my new thing, to follow them out of the church and take their picture. I can post it to Shot With A Bow’s page and tag the two of them, (and) by the end of the wedding, there’s 100 people that like it. Social media is a huge tool in photography these days, and iPhones are a huge tool in life and in my business.
Are the iPhone lenses expensive?
No, actually, they’re very affordable, about $40. I was expecting them to be at least $100, if not more. So from what I typically pay for a lens, which is between $700 and $1,200, I was like, “I’ll take every one you have.” I’m excited to get them and to start using them more effectively.
Is lighting hard when you’re photographing with an iPhone?
The default lighting is not always fantastic, but lots of camera apps help tremendously. I have an app called CameraPlus that (is) like Instagram on hardcore drugs. It will sharpen it, darken it, lighten it, put any kind of filter you want on it. I can edit on the phone and post it directly to Facebook.
“Everyone is Beautiful” is a series of images that advocate for women of all sizes and shapes by telling their own stories through text superimposed on an image of them that you take. What inspired you to create them?
There was a picture online that somebody told me about. It was a picture of a bigger girl and the caption under it was “Meat is for men and bones are for dogs,” talking about skinny girls. So I took a picture of me and posted about how just because I’m little, you can’t tell me to gain weight if I can’t tell you to lose weight. I made it public, because I knew it was either going to offend people or get their attention.
The responses on the first photo were mainly like, “You’re amazing, you look great, I don’t know why anyone would tell you that.” But since it was public, a couple of people shared it and I could see what other people said. Some guy said, “I thought this was