Please welcome Helen Whittle! She is a Fine Art and Portrait Child Photographer from Australia whose photographs left everyone in awe. Helen talks about her experience with B&W Child Photo Competiton, her photography journey, her inspiration and her technique. Enjoy!
The Happy News
Q: Dear Helen, we want to congratulate you one more time on becoming The Grand Winner of the First Half of B&W Child 2019 Photo Competition as well as winning the Lifestyle Category! Please share with us, how does it feel to be The Grand Winner? What was your reaction when you found out about the happy news?
A: Oh my goodness, this is such a huge honour, thank you. I’m actually still in shock. It feels absolutely incredible. I first entered this competition in 2015 and I never, ever imagined I would ever be the grand winner. So thank you again.
I found out late one evening, I was just checking my emails before I went to bed. To be honest, I thought you’d made a mistake at first, so I had to read the email three times before it sunk in. And then of course, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited.
Q: You are someone who has been competing on B&W CHILD for many years and your work has always been well noticed by our judges. However, this time you really stepped up your game leaving everyone in awe! Is there something you did differently this time? What was your magic trick to winning the contest?
A: That’s very kind of you. I think my photography has grown and improved even in the last year. I’m constantly striving to be better, I love learning new editing skills, and I really enjoy pushing myself creatively. This year I tried to enter images that would get noticed, I always try to bring a story or an emotion into my work, but this time I probably chose images that I felt would stand out from the crowd and ones that had been either difficult to create or had pushed my technical skills.
Q: Can you introduce us to Helen Whittle? How old are you? What is your background? How and when did your photography journey begin?
A: Of course! Hi, I’m Helen, I’m 42 years old. I was born in Birmingham in the UK, but I have lived in Australia for the last 15 years, with my husband and 3 children. My professional background is in veterinary medicine, which I practice part time, but my love of photography started when my first son was born 11 years ago. He tragically suffered a brain haemorrhage during delivery, which meant that he was put straight into intensive care fighting for his life. Strangely during this time, all I wanted to do was to cuddle him and take photos of him. We didn’t know if he would survive so suddenly I felt this huge need to document his life, however long or short that may have been. Photography was very therapeutic for me, it gave me a focus, but I soon realized my images were terrible!! After a year of taking photos of him almost weekly to show my family back in England his progress, I decided I’d better learn how to use my camera properly, and I set about learning how to create images that were in focus!! From there, my addiction grew, the more children I had, the more I wanted to document them, and I can honestly say, with a tear in my eye, that photography has been such an important part in healing from the trauma of my son’s birth.
STORY BEHIND THE WINNING PHOTOGRAPH
Q: We cannot wait to hear more about your stunning image that won the Lifestyle Category! What’s the story behind it?
A: This image was taken very early one morning, just after we had got back from a holiday in the United States. I had been teaching at a photography retreat in South Carolina. The jetlag was in full flow so at this early hour, and with no breakfast cereal or milk in the fridge, my daughter Minnie made herself some 2 minute noodles to eat. Because I don’t like to miss capturing a moment, and I loved how the little bit of morning light was coming through the window onto her face, I grabbed my camera.
RAW, HONEST AND EMOTIONAL
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: Ermmmm, I would probably say it is constantly evolving. I like to take raw, honest and emotional images, but I also love to take everyday shots and of course, I just love a classic portrait, with a little something interesting behind the story, that makes the eye linger in the image for longer than expected.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
A: All around me really. My children inspire me, just by doing their everyday things. I’m always trawling through photographs, either on Instagram or in magazines. When I find an artist I love, I find myself constantly looking at their images over and over. And I guess it’s my own curiosity and a compulsion to create that inspires me to pick up my camera pretty much every day.
THE ART OF TEACHING
Q: What people may not know is that you are also very successful at teaching photography. You are doing portfolio reviews and you are also an instructor at Gather Academy. How does it feel to be able to share your knowledge with other people? What is the one advice you always give to photographers who attend your classes?
A: I’ve been teaching photography now for nearly two years with the amazing April Milani. I feel so passionately about sharing my knowledge with others. Teaching is an absolute privilege, I’m just so lucky that people want to learn from me. If I can help someone to achieve their photography goal that makes me very happy. I think the best advice I can give to anyone is to create art for yourself. If you create art that YOU love, it absolutely does not matter what anyone else thinks. Taking away this insecurity, allows people to be freer to explore their own imaginations and creativity.
THE LIGHT AND TECHNIQUE
Q: The atmosphere in your photographs is magnificent! How do you manage to create images that evoke such a beautiful and tender feelings?
Q: Would you describe yourself as a technical photographer? What can be found in your camera bag?
A: Eeek, I’m not sure!! I guess it has a lot to do with my subjects and the story behind the image, but probably most of the atmosphere I create is in post-processing, by refining the light.
A: Ha, no, I’m definitely not a technical photographer. I mean, I know how it all works but the emotion in my image is way more important than my f-stop. I have a very small camera bag. I have my Nikon D750, and lenses 24-70mm f2.8, 105mm f2.8 , 50mm f1.8, and lensbaby sweet optic35.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your workflow? How much time do you spend working on an image?
A: if I’m shooting my own family, I might take pictures two or three times a week, sometimes more. If I’ve taken say 30 images, I might then I will generally upload about 5-10 of my favorites to Lightroom, usually that day and edit that evening so photos don’t get left unedited. I might end up with 2-3 that I like and keep. Editing can take anything from 5 minutes an image, to up to 3/4 hours an image if I’m compositing or playing around in PS.
Q: You are also a judge of a few photo contests. From your point of view, what are the key elements a good photograph must-have?
A: Yes, I love judging because I get to look at photos all day! I think the key elements to a great image include, strong composition, a visual story and a point of interest.
Q: Who are the photographers you admire?
A: My goodness, so many……Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange, Niki Boon, Brooke Shaden, Ewa Cwikla, Paulina Duczman…the list goes on.
Q: Which category is your favorite in the First Half of B&W CHILD 2019 Photo Competition? Would you mind sharing with us your favorite photographs the 2019 contest?
A: Oh gosh I literally can’t choose a favourite category. I really look forward to the results coming out, I spend ages and ages looking at all the incredible images, just in awe of people’s creativity.
So many great images this year, as always. I am particularly drawn to “Ania’s Freckles” by Maja Pajaczkowska, “Izzy” by Anna Salek, and “She sits” by Melissa Hudson.