Focus on the Details, Part II

Miriam Lovell Photography“At what moment is a smile a smile?”

Minna Dyer asks this question as she contemplates “getting the perfect shot” in portrait photography. “I like to take a lot of shots—try to capture as much as I can—and then decide which one is the best. There are so many parts to a laugh, so many parts to a smile. Who is to say what part is the best?”

Two brothers she photographed were “on each other the whole time.” Capturing their physical play epitomized who they are.

Minna connects well with the children she photographs, even before the first shots, by playing with them and discovering what interests them. They become comfortable, and she gets ideas. Many of her ideas come because she sees the details in abstract things. “We are capable of seeing things more than we do.”

She remembers driving down a road, after she began her first photography class in college, and she could see it. Her perspective had changed and the details of life surrounded her. Seeing more comes by learning more. Minna is always learning whether it is by taking photography classes, learning from others’ work or evaluating her own photography.

Some of her favorite photographers and the blogs she reads regularly are Deb Schwedhelm, Jonathan Canlas, Pinkle Toes Photography, Marilia Destot, Amy Furstenau, Christina Domingues, Irene Suchocki, Karen Rusten and Rachele Valdez.

Her photography goals aren’t driven by money but a desire to learn as much as she can and get better. “I have learned how to think in a new way, have better ideas and open up my mind.”

She was a purist for a long time, using only film. She likes the look that film and photo paper give to a photograph. Black and whites, especially, have a classic look that is harder to achieve digitally. The work of Jon Canlas, a photographer who believes “film is not dead,” inspires her with the images he gets straight out of the camera.

Miriam Lovell Photography

Still, Minna made the investment and switched to digital when she started Miriam Lovell Photography and began selling photo cards. Her reasons—less expensive in the long run, easier, better photography, instant gratification, and an instant learning tool. “With film you don’t know what you’ll have until you get the film back.”

While she uses a digital SLR (see the side column of her photography blog for equipment particulars), she promises there is a lot you can do with a $150 point-and-shoot camera. In addition to learning technical things like the rule of thirds and experimenting with different points of view, “your idea makes up so much of your photograph.”

Sometimes all things come together for the perfect shoot. Her dream photo shoot was at a beach house with extended family. She laid a white comforter on the couch and shot pictures of a photogenic 9-month-old baby boy. He was in the mood. The light was great from a skylight in the ceiling. And, technically, she was “on.”

Certainly, more than chance brought these elements together. This talented photographer pictured it.

Focus on Details, Part II is the second in a series of posts from an interview on portraiture with Minna Dyer of Miriam Lovell Photography. View photo cards and her gallery of photographs at her website. Learn from her regular photo assignments on her photography blog.

Part III will be published on Wednesday, June 4, at TJ Her images are copyrighted by Miriam Lovell Dyer of Miriam Lovell Photography. Images cannot be used without express written permission.


  1. Robin
    May 28, 2008

    As a budding novice photographer I really enjoyed reading this. Where is part I, I’d like to read that too.

  2. TJ
    May 28, 2008

    If you want to read Part I, click on Previous in the Series at the end of the post.

  3. Carrie Jensen
    Jun 1, 2008

    I love the geniune nature of her photographs. In playing around myself, I’ve found the best pictures I get are when I shoot a bunch of shots of someone just being themselves.

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