The photography of Kate Luber stands apart for its simplicity, flawless execution, and clarity of vision. Kate’s use of light is nothing short of awe-inspiring, and her ability to make seamless sing makes me long for long hours in the studio. But Kate’s photography journey has been shorter than her technical perfection suggests, and her whirl-wind mastery of the craft is both intimidating and deeply inspiring.
You first picked up a camera not that long ago. When was it and why did you do it? I purchased my first camera at the end of December 2011. I was actually out of town and a close photographer friend was selling hers to upgrade, so I bought it over the phone and had to wait until I returned the first week of January 2012. It was an agonizing few days. I gave birth to my daughter in October 2011 and knew I had already missed documenting her first 2 precious months and I couldn’t wait to get that camera in my hands so I could take better photos. Because that’s all it takes, right? I’ve been spoiled by good photography my entire life. My uncle is a photographer and he’s given us the gift of wonderful captured memories over the years. It pained me to know that I wouldn’t have the same for my own children. And I certainly don’t make enough money to afford the monthly photo sessions my gorgeous daughter deserved…biased much?
How did you get so good so fast? Do you have a mentor? I have this trait…it’s both a blessing and a curse. I tend to think I can do anything. So when I got my camera, I just assumed I’d be able to take good photos. And I work at it until I get there. I read everything I could online prior to getting my camera. Yes, in that 4 day window that I owned but did not possess a camera, I was reading up on how to use it. I’m THAT person. When I got it, I knew not to use the flash and to pop it into manual mode and never look back. So that’s what I did. Luckily for me, I had an infant who had no choice but to sit propped up on my bed while I figured out what all those buttons did. I also found a great learning tool in online forums. Any photo I felt was halfway decent, I tossed on a forum and asked people to rip it to shreds and tell me how to make it better. I think that is the key to growth. If you don’t know how or why your photos are falling short, how can you begin to improve upon them? I shot at least weekly and asked for feedback just as often. All of my learning was done reading tutorials online and seeking out critiques. I took my first online class in the spring of 2013. After taking a few more classes, I will say that yes, I definitely learned a lot from them, but I learned even more from critique both in the form of posting online for advice as well as one-on-ne mentoring sessions. As a highly technical shooter, classes focusing on creativity have also been a struggle for me. My brain picks up on technical very quickly, but creativity isn’t something that has ever come naturally to me, so if I’m in a 4 week class, by about week 6, I start to be creative…helpful. I do not have an official mentor, but someone who has been tremendously helpful in my photography journey is Stacie Turner. Not only can she give the most detailed and technical critique on an image, which I adore immensely, but she was able to understand where I was going before I knew where I was going and help me see my destination, or at least a stop on the way, as well as how to get there.
How did you come to such a clean, crisp style? What kind of photographs inspire you? I think I was born with it. I’ve always been drawn to simple things and clean lines…though I also have a thing for sparkles, but that’s a separate issue. I love so many kinds of photography. I am in awe of so many photographers with various styles, but anytime I envision my “take” on their work, it’s a much more simple version. Since I was young, I’ve been drawn to fashion and as a dancer, I’m obviously drawn to movement. The images I’m most drawn to have both qualities. The work of Richard Avedon and many of the fashion photographers of that era are a huge inspiration to me. I love the simple black and white studio images that focus on the shape and texture of the fashions they’re wearing. As much as I hear people wanting a connection with the subject and feeling the emotion jumping out of the photograph, I’m drawn to the structure and lines of the elements in the photo.
Who is your very favorite visual artist, living or dead?
My current hero is Richard Avedon, though Patrick Demarchlier has been doing a few series with some of the most exquisite dancers of this generation, and it’s giving Avedon a run for his money.
Your black and white dancer photographs are unparalleled. Do you have any secrets for how you make them so show-stopping?
My secret is good light and good dancers. For me, while dance makes me tremendously happy, it’s not a smiley happy if that makes any sense. If I’m having a bad day, there’s nothing more freeing than a simple melody from a piano and some good plies. With the preparation, there’s a deep inhale, and with the first movement, there’s a strong exhale. I want the photo to capture the exhale. I want the dancers I photograph to look peaceful. Strong yet delicate. Pleasant and thoughtful. I want the positions to be technically perfect but the dancer shouldn’t show how difficult it is to achieve that perfection. Simple, right?
How do dancing and photography relate for you?
As much as they seem different, I find more and more how similar they are. At least ballet. Both are highly technical art forms. And we’ve discussed how much I enjoy being technical.
You balance a full-time job, a busy family life, working as a dancer and dance-instructor, and working as a wedding and portrait photographer. Plus, this year, you’ve been handling a pregnancy. How on earth do you do it all so gracefully? I’m type A? I’m a good actress? I have a fantastic support system. My husband helps with my daughter when I’m on shoots or teaching, and if he’s not able, my family lives nearby and basically fight for the chance to watch my daughter. I try really hard to limit my commitments to what I think I can handle. I tend to push the limits on that, but I do a decent job of saying no when I know for sure it’s more than I can manage.
Where would you like to be as a photographer in five years? In ten? How are you working to get there? In 5 years I want to be the best photographer in the world. In ten, can you imagine?! Okay, perhaps not. I try to live by the phrase, “shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll fall among the stars.” I’ve actually really been struggling with setting goals this year. I think a big goal for me, though it doesn’t really have a time frame, is to develop some sort of signature. Something that sets my photos apart and makes them identifiable as my work. I think I’ve beginning to get there with my studio dancer photos, but the rest of my work seems a bit all over the place. I know I want to work on taking better candid shots of my kids this year at least.
What’s your favorite piece of gear? What’s on your photography wish list? It’s so difficult to choose. My favorite piece of gear really depends on what I’m shooting. I know that’s basically a cop-out answer, but it’s true. For outdoor sessions, my go-to lens is my 70-200. In the studio, I mostly rely on my 85mm. I really do love my simple off camera flash setup too. I think it’s where I have the most fun. On my wishlist is ALL THE LENSES! But on a more serious note, I would love to have an actual strobe with a modeling light. I spend a lot of time taking test shots and chimping and adjusting my setup and that would be simplified if I had a rough idea of where the light is falling with a modeling light before taking the first shot. And still, all the lenses.
You teach editing techniques. What’s the most important thing about editing, in your opinion? Will you share those amazing editing videos you’ve made? Pretty please! I think one of the most overlooked things about editing is making something believable. I think editing, for the most part, should enhance the photo and not completely change it. Of course, I throw all of this advice out the window when I do some of my more detailed themed portraits, but for a basic edit on a normal photograph from a shoot, I aim for enhancing reality. I also think so many photographers are afraid to experiment. There’s always an undo button if you don’t like what you did. There’s really zero risk involved in editing and I think many people are far too timid. Here’s my YouTube channel.
Do you have a favorite technical trick when your shooting? I don’t know that I really have any tricks. I know I’ve always struggled with “seeing the light” as people seem to go on and on about, but when I stopped looking for light and started looking for shadows, I had a much easier time.
What is your favorite image that you’ve ever taken? Can you tell us a little about why you took it and the circumstances surrounding it?
I did a series of photos at this session that showed a progression of a dancer arriving in class clothing and ending in full costume. This was definitely not the most popular photo from the shoot, but it was my personal favorite. Everyone else liked the prettier images. For me, this captures the reality of ballet. Yes, so much of it is about the glamour and beauty, but there’s a lot of hard work and frustration also. You’d find this dancer in this pose with this expression backstage while waiting for their entrance. This was also one of my first shoots with a dancer on seamless…and right after I had been called “sloppy” in a critique. And while, I’m tremendously tough and can take any critique you can throw out, “sloppy” is like nails on a chalkboard for me and this was my vindication image. Her attitude in the image is exactly how I feel about “sloppy.”
Kate Luber was interviewed by Sara Kelly.