A cross-country move to San Francisco brings new inspiration, backdrops and creative freedom to family photographer Amanda Anderson. In 2014, Amanda and her family headed west for her husband’s job, leaving family and friends behind in North Carolina to embark on a new adventure in California. Never would they have imagined how this new place would change them as a family, and for Amanda, professionally. She took a year off from her photography business to focus on family and the transition to a new place. They relished in the unknown and the ability to “be us, the way we wanted to be us”, she tells me, enjoying the coast, nature, and treasures innate to California living. During this sabbatical of sorts, Amanda really found herself as a photographer, gaining a deeper understanding for how as an artist she wanted to capture the people, places and moments through her lens.
We sat down with Amanda to learn more about what inspires her, her love for photography and capturing the unique bond and love families share.
Noteworthy: How did you get started in photography?
Amanda: I have loved photography since I was old enough to hold a camera! I was the girl with boxes and boxes of printed photos from the CVS one-hour center, in fact I think my mom may still have those boxes still in her attic. I was obsessed, I was the photography editor of our high school newspaper, and even took a few adult photographer courses at the local art center in black and white photography and darkroom development. Through college I was in a small photography club and had access to a darkroom where I could experiment. As a biology major, I actually chose to go abroad for two semesters and a summer, all locations chosen based partly on wanting to have the opportunity to photograph my surroundings. I must have brought 100 rolls of film back from Africa my junior year! After purchasing my first DSLR, I took a class at the Light Factory in Charlotte, and my instructor liked my work enough to invite me to be his “second shooter” for his wedding business. I worked for him for about two years, and eventually branched off to do what I love, natural light family/child portraits.
Noteworthy: What inspires your work? Tell us a little about your creative process (e.g. thoughts on shoot location, overall composition, how you like to “capture” families).
Amanda: I focus on natural light. There is so much beauty right in front of us, and light plays a huge part in that. I love to shoot outdoors, and tend to scout out all of my locations based on how the light plays in a space rather than what the “background” looks like. For instance, one of my favorite family portraits of ours is the back of an old dilapidated garage in our neighborhood. My biggest goal in working with families is to capture them in their truest state; through all of the chaos there are always tender moments of love, which are the best memories to cherish. I strive to capture those moments in photos. I stray away from super posed family portraits, as they tend to be stressful for families and for me. My work is all about being comfortable and happy with one another and capturing those natural feelings for each other, rather than the forced smiles and perfect hair. My favorite family photo of my own family is one with my son giving me the sweetest kiss on my cheek while my wild child daughter decided to lick daddy’s face instead of kiss. The faces, the joy, the hilarity; it all speaks to our family as a whole (for better or worse!)
Noteworthy: How do you manage being a working mama (not balance, but manage)? How does being a mother of two (soon 3!) kiddos inspires/influence your work?
Amanda: Good distinction, there is not a lot of “balance” around these parts, but we have figured out ways to manage! For me, there are a lot of days of feeling overwhelmed at all I have taken on, but then I remember that I am in it because I love it. I try to really be efficient with my time, focusing on my family when I am with them, and focusing on work when it is work time. Creating some separation between the two, in terms of time, has helped me keep my sanity. Sometimes that means working between 8-11pm at night, and I have come to realize that is ok, it is necessary.
In terms of inspiration, I would say my family and our move out to San Francisco has really been the main source. When we moved to California we knew a total of two people in this new city we would call home. Relocating a family of four with a 100-pound dog seems an insane task, so I decided to take a year off from business to establish our new life together in San Francisco. I focused on our family, spending quality time together in the amazing spaces this city provides, and exploring. This past year has been incredibly liberating for me from a creative perspective. I have had the space and the time to really develop and think about what I want to see in my own work. As an artist, I will always be my own worst critic. Having the space and time to focus on what was important to me allowed room to think more creatively about my portfolio. It took the pressure off; which is why I was led towards a more candid, un-staged, natural body of work because I spent that year photographing my own family in our daily lives and adventures. I photographed what I loved, and I think it showed. And that is what I want for my clients. I want to capture those simple moments between them, which speak to their bond as a family. I want them to ooze love, and happiness, and emotion. I want them to feel natural.
Noteworthy: Tell us what you love about life in San Francisco.
Amanda: Loving the weather, loving the light, and loving the views. California is really remarkable, with the mountains and the ocean right on top of one another. I spend a lot of time in the Presidio, which is a national park right in the middle of the city where we live. It is our own little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of city life. And if I ever need to take a deep breath, I am just a mile or two from the ocean, which is my happy place bringing me back to calm in a matter of moments. As a family, we spend an enormous amount of time outside, exploring the forest and the coastline. We love to visit the San Francisco Zoo and the Bay Area Discovery Museum with two children under five. Date nights are few and far between, but the city is full of amazing restaurants, and we love to eat.
Noteworthy: Would you share a few tips for our readers on how to get a great shot (for the average picture taking mom or family)?
Amanda: I adore candid shots of our children; those moments when our little ones are so engrossed in their own little world that you just have to wonder what is going on in that little imagination of theirs. That is when I love to take photos. Try choosing a toy you know they love or at least curious about, and find a great spot of light in your house. Get down on their level and gently persuade them to engage in a story about that particular toy so that they are left thinking intently about what might happen next in the storyline. And when they least expect it throw a curve ball, say the silliest thing that comes to mind and be ready with that camera. You will get the surprise and the smile and the giggles that come after. It is all about being patient and creating a comfortable environment where the child doesn’t feel as though they are forced to do something in a moment that they don’t want to. It is natural.
Amanda Anderson lives in San Francisco, CA, with her husband, two young children (baby number three arriving soon!), and golden retriever, Barclay. Aside from capturing life’s great moments with her camera, Amanda enjoys exploring the outdoors, spending time at the beach, and loving on her sweet little growing family.