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PHOTOGRAPHER INTERVIEW: NATALIE NORTON

natalie-norton.jpgSince I generally have a recording of each interview, I enjoy going through the audio to glean words of wisdom at a snail’s pace a few weeks after the fact.  For Natalie Norton, I had a couch in my WPPI suite and a Starbucks Dark Cherry Mocha.  I typically write up these conversations in the third person, so that some vague someone could be writing objective facts about the person being interviewed.  This is a first-person interview.  (My apologies to the journalists among you.)   We did not talk about vendors or workflow secrets or Photoshop tips.  We talked about life and death and love and what makes the world go ’round.   

Hawaii photographer Natalie Norton is known for her fresh and organic, bursting-with-life images.  She is one of the beautiful people, talented and freckled and downright gorgeous.  She hugs well and often, and her smile eats her face.  You would like her.

At fifteen, Natalie started taking pictures on vacation.  They are pictures of buildings that are “so bad” in retrospect — but she learned to love the feel of a camera in her hands.  After the sudden death of her brother in 2007, Natalie realized pictures were all she had left.  She became “consumed by photography” following this revelation, and amped up her skills to become a professional photographer.  She buried her grief in f/stops and shutter speeds, lenses and Photoshop.  Her work came to focus on capturing other people’s relationships, as well as those in her own family.

“I’ve always cared about relationships in my life.  That’s the core of what I do.  I care to remember.”

Norton attended WPPI by herself the following year.  She was hungry for learning and for being around others who understood her obsession.  Natalie shared a telling story from her first experience at WPPI:   she was introduced to a group of people.  When she asked the name of the guy next to her, he replied, “Don’t you know who I am!?”  Miffed, he handed over his business card and stormed away.  To this day, she can’t remember his name.  But she can still tell you about other people she met on that trip and about photographers who have changed her life.  (Natalie’s not big on ego.  I dig it.)

She describes Mike Colon as an open-hearted giver, and Jonathan Canlas as the person who challenges her not to settle for mediocrity.  Her work is informed by Southern California shooters Amelia and Justin Lyon, as well as by the work of The Image is Found.

“How in the world are so many people in this industry so remarkable?”

nn-2.jpgAs for those who admire Natalie…here are her words of wisdom for other photographers.

Share only what you want to shoot.  If you love weddings, show them.  Same goes for dogs, horses, kids, commercial work, or abandoned buildings.  If you love it, show it.  If you don’t, hide it from the light of day.  

Define specifically what success means to you. 
Maybe it’s having $3 million in the bank, but it’s probably a little simpler than that.  Spare time, ice cream whenever you’d like, travel a few times a year, or a timeshare by the ocean.  Defining your success makes working toward it much easier, and you won’t be stuck chasing someone else’s dream.

nn-3.jpgDo what’s best for you.  In Natalie’s case, this means no shooting on Sundays.  Ever.  For you, it might mean taking limited shoots throughout the week or hiring an assistant.  Owning your own business means setting your own parameters — take advantage of it!

nn-1.jpgGet to know your clients. Norton sends a questionnaire to the families she’s about to work with, just because she’d like to more about them.  This isn’t posing information or style tips — just questions about what each member of the family enjoys.  

Take a break from technology.
  Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or email or blogging or MySpace or Formspring…let your mind and your heart lead you to a place that doesn’t plug in.  And enjoy your time in that place.

Finally…

“Use your talents to make people’s lives better than they were yesterday.”

To find out more about Natalie Norton, visit her blog.  And please, leave her some love. 

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