Photographer’s Q&A – Suzanne Bird
And now for something completely different. This week’s Q&A is with Suzanne Bird, an urban dog photographer. (Yes, she’s been known to photograph other animals. Even people.) Her web site is www.photobysuebird.com.
What were your first steps in the industry?
My first step in the industry was some freelance work for a local community newspaper while I was in high school. I would shoot stuff on spec or pitch a photo page idea. My official first full-time job was at a weekly newspaper outside of London, Ontario, called the “Dorchester Signpost”.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation and are you where you thought you would be now?
After graduation, I wanted to be a staffer at a major daily. It didn’t come right away though. I paid my dues at a local photo store for 8 months and then moved to a small weekly paper for a year with a paycheck of $360 a week.
I eventually landed a staffer job at a daily. I stayed with daily newspapers until 2006 when I decided to stay home with my two little girls and start my own photography business. As a student, I would never have imagined doing what I am doing now.
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
I’ll never forget my first Eastern Canadian News Photographers Association (ECNPA) seminar. I watched a slide show of images by Peter Power of the Toronto Star. His images, combined with music, were so powerful, it reinforced for me, then and still today, of the power of what we do as photographers. Peter’s photos and his slide show are a constant inspiration no matter where I am in my career.
I find that my inspiration sources tend to change as my career has taken a different path. My inspiration list is really eclectic: Mark Tucker, Diane Arbus, Donna Grifith, Sharon Montrose ….really the list could keep going!
Did you have a mentor?
I don’t have one mentor. I actually seek inspiration from different mentors in all aspects of my life. Each one of these sources of inspiration guide me to be a better and more creative photographer.
How important are mentors?
I think they have been super important for my growth as a person and as a photographer. I think living in your own little bubble would be boring.
What was a pivotal point in your career?
The most pivotal point was a story I followed for eight months. I documented a dying, homeless man and learned so much about his regrets, wishes and life failures. That opened my eyes to situations in my life and helped me choose what was most important for me. It made me see things clearly and realize that I have one crack at this and I don’t want to look back and regret lost time. I sat down and reassessed my goals for my family, career and personal growth. He was my reality check. I am just glad it came early in my life.
How important is multimedia to you?
As an independent business owner, and being in a niche market of photography, it is Number One in importance for me. Reviewing the hit statistics on my web site and where my e-mails are coming from reinforces, for me, how much people are utilizing the web to search for my services. A change on my web site template, effective links, using online ads, and archived TV appearances, have all drastically increased traffic to my site which results in people booking sessions.
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
This is another important part of my business, especially now that I am working on my own. I am not around other photographers everyday for guidance and friendly competition. I keep current with photography associations like PPA and WPPI, which offer some incredible annual trade shows with some of the top photographers in the portrait industry. They also offer competitions, which, I think, is important for me to grow as a photographer and business owner. Being a part of local networking group with other photographers is important, as well.
What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education).
I’m still a print girl. I get my inspiration, guidance, information and education from magazines and books. I find that when I go online, I go on too many tangents (links) and get lost for hours. It can be a huge time-waster.
I really enjoy the information from magazines like “Professional Photographer” by the PPA and “Rangefinder” by WPPI. This way, I can read the articles and keep on a timeline for all the other things going on in my life.
And yes, I still love getting the newspaper! It just seems to go better with my coffee than a keyboard and mouse! HA!
What is your favorite way to unwind?
Love to play soccer. I play soccer outdoors in the summer and indoors throughout the winter.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
Someone once reinforced for me that my personal connection I have with my subjects is a great thing. It is the one thing that is unique to me and my photography.
Another was to have a life and other interests outside my photography career. Life experiences and outside interests will help me be a better photographer.