Kelly Sweda’s work is so beautifully organic and honest, it always leaves us wanting to see more. Not only is she an amazing photographer, she is also an unbelievable iPhoneographer, so be sure to check out her light-filled work on Instagram too! Let’s get to know her!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m 35 years old, the mother of Isaac (13) and Francesca (3) and stepmother of Isabella (10). I work full-time managing the communications for a national nonprofit that fulfills the final dreams of terminally ill adults. When I’m not working and developing my photography business, you can find me with family and friends enjoying the beach, hiking, traveling… I love reading, healthy eating, white wine, morning coffee, a clean home, homemade soup and a spicy Bloody Mary.
Something unique about you?
My entire life I’d been the most introverted person ever, super awkward and uncomfortable around new people and in new situations. That is until I joined Instagram and found a community of life-minded mamas and artists who share a similar passion. It’s truly opened me up and drawn me out of my shell in a way I never thought possible. A number of the friendships I’ve made there have transcended into real life, and I’ve surprisingly found myself as comfortable around these “new” people face-to-face as I had been over my iPhone. Maybe I’d just never found my true community until now, until finding photography. For this I’ll be forever grateful.
What areas do you serve?
I live in Santa Barbara, CA and serve local communities from Goleta to Ventura. I also love travel sessions, offering them whenever I travel. And there’s not much more humbling and rewarding than when people vacationing here schedule a session with me as part of their trip.
How did you get started in photography?
I grew up with a dad who loved photography and took his camera everywhere we went. Pictures were always a part of my childhood. In 2000, after earning a B.A. in print journalism, I enrolled in graduate school for photojournalism. I shot with a Canon Rebel, learned to develop B&W film in the school darkroom and worked with a color lab in town. But the whole time I never felt confident in my abilities or inspired by anything I did. And so I put my camera down all together and didn’t miss photography at all. Fast-forward ten years to January 2013 when my photographer sister told me about Instagram and encouraged me to start snapping pictures. I don’t know what it was, but a fire ignited inside me and I still haven’t looked back. I hadn’t owned a real camera since back in grad school so I shot everything with my iPhone. In April 2013 I got my first DSLR and stared at the box until I found the courage to open it later that fall. Everything said, I’m in about the eighth month of my photography journey. I think I’m still “getting started.”
Describe your style in 3 words.
Raw, emotive, free
What has been your biggest challenge on your photography journey?
Trying to balance starting a business, building a portfolio, learning how to use my camera, teaching myself Lightroom, etc. while working a full-time job and being present and engaged with my family. It’s frustrating not to have the time I wish I had to throw myself in headfirst. I also don’t have a real workspace, so I cart my laptop with me everywhere I go, working in coffee shops, at my son’s desk, at the kitchen table, in bed… Photography came on very suddenly and unexpectedly for me, so I wasn’t able to prepare for it the way I wish I could have.
Tell us about one photog crush and why!
Only one! How about just a few? Posy Quarterman is one of the first who ever had faith in me. She was one of my earliest Instagram followers and has supported me this whole time both as a mentor and friend. I turn to her constantly for advice and with my questions, and she’s always there for me. She’s brilliant and thorough at helping me edit and curate my best collections of images. Then there’s Shelby Brakken, who is my very favorite photographer on the face of this earth. I am constantly inspired by her work and the confident grace she exudes, camera in hand or not. On Instagram I am boundlessly inspired by these fellow light-lovers: @takeapicturelady, @el_hogan, @summermurdock and many more. I could go on and on and on…
One piece of advice you’d give anyone starting out.
Stay committed, believe in yourself and shoot, shoot, shoot. It’s true. The more you shoot the more confident and better you’ll become.
Just last week I bought the 24-70 2.8 Version II, which I’d been coveting forever and renting for nearly all my shoots. It is absolutely my current favorite. I also have a 50mm 1.8, which I love for portraits.
Favorite subject to shoot.
My daughter Francesca
Your next big photography investment.
In my dreams it’s an office space for my home and a desktop computer. We’ll see how that plays out… but for now I’ll just keep wishing!
What will you be doing 1 year from now?
I love that you ask what I will be doing, not what I hope to be doing. In 12 months I’ll be about a year and a half into my business. I’ll have a lot more shooting experience and a broader, more established client base. The best part is I’ll be one year closer to quitting my job to focus on photography full time. That’s my three-to-four year plan: no more working for someone else, and setting my own hours/schedule when my daughter starts kindergarten.