Flairs for photography: Former, current CF students turn passion into business

Amelia Sutton (‘10)

Amelia Sutton has been interested in photography for a long time. She remembers getting a cheap non-disposable film camera when she was 10 and taking lots of pictures with it.

“The photos were horrible, but that was when capturing memories through photography first sparked my interest.”

In high school, Sutton purchased her first digital SLR camera with the help of her dad.  She learned from other photographers, photography books and taking a lot of photos. After high school, Sutton attended the professional photography program at Hawkeye. “The photos were horrible, but that was when capturing memories through photography first sparked my interest,” Sutton said. She now attends ISU, but comes back to Cedar Falls often to manage her business.

Sutton started practicing her photography by asking her friends, especially her younger sister, to “practice on them.” She has big plans for photography in the future: “I would love to run my own business full time, as well as combine my love for mission work and documentary style photos,” she said.

Sutton primarily shoots seniors,  especially senior girls. She also does engagements and weddings; now that many of her friends are getting engaged, she said, she has more and more engagements to shoot. She also shoots photos just for fun — photos of her friends, life and daily little things.

Sutton doesn’t really remember when she started taking senior photos  — people just started asking her to take their photos.

Sutton loves photography because she can “tell the uniques stories of everyday people I love, the people that I get to meet and the places it takes me,” she said. She said she loves taking senior photos because of their ideas, energy and passion.

Of senior photo sessions, Amelia said, ”I want my seniors to enjoy their session, to get out and explore the world and to feel confident in who they are. I desire for my photos to capture emotion, feel natural and generally be full of light and colors — although lately, I’ve been playing around a lot more with shadows and black & whites.”

After she gets an email, Sutton and her “models” meet to discuss ideas for their session. She generally likes to shoot early in the morning or an hour or two befroe sunset to capture the best light.

For students interested in photography, Sutton advised, “Practice, practice, practice. Study light. Study people. Try new things. If you are serious about photography, learn about art but also learn about business and study with or work for an established photographer. You’ll learn so much more that way, and it will be easier than trying to do it on your own. I wish I had done that, and once I am done with school, I will probably try to get an internship or land a job with a photographer that I admire to gain more experience and skills.”

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Erin Keiser (‘12)

 Erin Keiser (‘12)

Erin Keiser said she grew up with her dad “snapping photographs of everyone and everything.” Her parents gave her a digital camera, when she was little, and she became obsessed. In high school she started buying her own equipment. She used the basics that her Dad had taught her to learn more herself.

She took CFHS’ Intro to Photography class in 2010, but by that time already knew most of what that class taught. She also read photography blogs and played around with the camera on her own.

Keiser remembers when her CFHS friend Abby Larsen (‘12) asked her to take her senior photos. After seeing them on Facebook, a few other high school friends asked her to take their photos as well. Then Keiser created a Facebook page, Erin Rose Photography.

Now a sophomore at UNI, Keiser is a photographer for the Northern Iowan, UNI’s student newspaper. Because of her position, she takes more journalistic type photos for the paper and thanks the CFHS yearbook class for the experience it gave her.

“Yearbook really jump started my love for photojournalism,” Keiser said.

She also enjoys taking photos for the UNI newspaper: “It has given me so many opportunities since being in college, and I have really gotten a broader perspective of what UNI has to offer.

She said she loves capturing moments as a photojournalist for the Northern Iowan. “When I capture someone’s excited expression, that firm handshake or the winning shot of a game, I get really giddy.”

However, she loves taking senior photos, and would like to take more. Her business primarily covers senior photos, but she also shot her first wedding this summer and has done a few family and couple sessions as well.

However, Keiser explained that photography is a side hobby. She wants to continue her business, but she will not turn it into a solid career.

Keiser doesn’t really know what style her photos are: “I’m sure other people could describe my ‘style’ better than I could,” she said.

At senior sessions, she and her model go around and spend one to two hours shooting, either at locations the model has in mind or some places that she has scouted out. Keiser then edits the photos (which takes anywhere from a week to a month, depending on her busy college schedule), and then gives her client the photos on a CD.

Keiser’s advice for new photographers is to not get caught up in all of the editing. “A good photo is not defined by its edit,” Keiser said. “Learn how to use your camera and compose a good photo first. Then you can hit the ground running with Photoshop and all that fun stuff. I learned that the hard way. Also, have patience and keep practicing. I has taken me years to figure out this photo stuff, and I’m still not where I want to be. It takes time. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. One good shoot doesn’t make you a professional, and one bad shoot shouldn’t end your dreams of being a photographer.”

Contact Information:

Erin Rose Photography 


Rates for senior photos: $100 for 1-2 hours of shooting and a CD of 25+ quality photos. Rates for weddings, family portraits, and other photos vary.


Haley Johnson (‘13)

Haley Johnson (‘13)

Haley Johnson also became interested in photography at a fairly young age, as she played with her mom’s camera, did practice shoots with friends and family, and learned different techniques from watching friends shoot.

Johnson said her business isn’t really “official,” but she does have a Facebook page for her pictures, and once she started offering to take pictures for family and friends, “it kind of took off from there.”

Johnson did plan on majoring in photography at Hawkeye, but now she plans to get her certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification and minor in art with a focus on photography.

Johnson mostly shoots senior photography, as well as “lots and lots of practice sessions.”

She started taking senior photos when her best friend graduated from high school last year. Then other people started asking her to do theirs.  She loves taking senior photos because “it’s fun and you get to be super creative.”

Of photography, Johnson said, “I love to capture people’s memories, personalities and souls in a single, tangible piece of paper. Her favorite photography is black and white minimalist.

She described a typical session as multiple outfits, multiple locations and then just hanging out while taking pictures.

For those interested in photography, Johnson said, “Practice. And never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough.”

Contact Information:



Senior session: $50 for 2 hours

Laurel Smeins (‘14)

Laurel Smeins (‘14)

Laurel Smeins became interested in photography her sophomore year of high school when she took beginning digital photography and learned the basics of shooting and Photoshop. After that, she realized she wanted to continue and learned by experimenting with her camera and studying other people’s photos.

Smeins said she started taking pictures of other people during the portrait unit of her class. “It was my favorite unit, and after that I dragged my poor friends around CF on multiple occasions for mini ‘photo shoots,’” she said.

She is currently in the process of turning her photography into a small business, as she has already taken senior photos for some friends.

Smeins said she wants to continue to take portraits, and is even considering minoring in photography in college. She said portrait photography is her favorite. “I love shooting any thing with people. I’ve done some senior and family pictures along with lots of random experimental sessions.”

Smeins said she enjoys the freedom and creativity that comes with senior pictures.”You get to shoot in all sorts of different poses in multiple locations, and it’s really fun to work one-on-one with the senior to come up with photo ideas that express their personality.”

As a natural light photographer, Smeins shoots completely outdoors. For senior photos, she meets with the senior a week or two  before the session to discuss outfits and locations. She usually narrows it down to three locations based on the outfits the senior chooses.

For those interested in photography, Smeins advised, “practice, practice and more practice. I’m still learning. It’s an ongoing learning process — you just have to get out there and shoot. After awhile, you’ll realize what lighting, angles, poses do and don’t work, and after that you can start experimenting and creating your own style.”

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Lucia McNeal (‘15)

 Lucia McNeal (‘15)

Lucia McNeal said she has always been interested in photography, and started really experimenting with it when she got her first point-and-shoot camera in December 2010. The next summer on a church service trip, the adult for the group let her take photos for the trip, and gave her pointers.

McNeal said: “Ever since then he has been my mentor and a really wonderful source of inspiration for me.”

She doesn’t remember really starting her business. She just started taking photos for friends, then a few senior pictures. With the advice of her parents, she set prices and posted photos on Facebook. Her dad pushed her to set up a portfolio online and word started to get out.

Recently, McNeal took promotional photos for Carrsan Morrisey’s movies Horrible Things, shot photos for Cattle Congress, and shot her first wedding this June. She also does senior photos and other portrait sessions at request. “I like to spend time getting to know the senior during senior photo sessions, and I like taking pictures that represent who someone is,” McNeal said.

She says she’s still figuring out what her style is, but she tries to show emotion and detail. “The way they laugh, how their eyes are when they get serious, etc.”

McNeal plans to have a side business for photography along with whatever career path she chooses, as she never gets bored with it. “No matter how crazy life gets, I always find myself coming back to it, doing more projects. I fall in love with photography a little more all the time,” she said.

When taking senior photos, McNeal asks the senior to incorporate things they enjoyed in high school in their photos, be that a prop, a person or a place. Sometimes she sketches a few ideas for those she meets with.

“I try to get them comfortable and relaxed, have a conversation, because those are the best pictures,” she said.

After the shoot, McNeal takes a few weeks to edit and give the senior the best picture on a flashdrive.

For those interested in photography, she has some simple advice: “Pick up your camera and start. It doesn’t matter what it is that you’re shooting as long as you are. Get comfortable with your camera, play around with the manual mode, take lots of photos and if you don’t like one, ask yourself why and make a mental note of it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t like the work that you’re doing. It will get better with time.”

She also said, “Ask people you’re comfortable with to model for you. Ask someone who has experience what they think about your photos. Try lots of different kinds of photography: landscape, portraits, macro, events. Try to take photos that communicate something. Capture a photograph that isn’t just ‘pretty’ —take one that makes someone think, feel, question. Take a lot of photos. In the digital world, you can’t take too many. Just have fun with it and do what feels right, even if it breaks a photography ‘rule’ you’ve heard before.”

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