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Inspire Me Photography Interview #12} Tamara Lackey

Today is a particularly inspiring Friday for me. I have had the immense pleasure of interviewing and getting to know Tamara Lackey better for this Friday’s installment. Have you ever found that someone was extremely impressive on “paper” but when you actually meet them everything seems to change and the rose colored glasses suddenly fog and all thats left from the glitter is ash? It’s not very often that after getting to know someone that they actually sparkle even more! And yet with Tamara… Well she simply glows! 

Tamara is a nationally recognized, award winning photographer out of  Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You may have seen her work on Extreme Makeover – Home EditionRangefinder magazine, Professional Photographer magazine, Vogue, Elle and the list goes on. 

Tamara has a vision for truthful beauty matched with an equally impressive savvy business mind leaving her positively illuminating with talent. A while back, I posted a video clip from the trailer of Tamara’s DVD, ‘Inside Contemporary Children’s Photography’. I was inspired in 2 minutes so being able so just soak up every word and image  from this interview has been awesome! Tamara is also the author of The Art of Children’s Portrait Photography, which I highly recommend!!  In a word, she’s brilliant! And so with all those thoughts dancing around in my head, I’m all smiles as I introduce Tamara Lackey on Go{4}Pro!

1. What’s in the Bag?

Two Canon bodies (Canon 1D Mark II and Canon 5D Mark II)
Canon lenses:
24-70 2.8
85 1.2
50 1.2
lens cloth, cleaner, flash cards, back-up batteries
attached to bag:  reflector
in side pocket:  lipstick
falling out of bag:  car keys
2. Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to pursue
photography professionally?

Yes, when I wanted to both take and to possess the perfect family photograph – of my family.  My take on ‘perfect’?  It had to look good and I wanted it to be shot in a strong technical manner, but I also wanted it to showcase who we really were – and who we really were to each other.

The cover image of Tamara’s book; Inside Contemporary Children’s Photography

3. How long have you been in business?

Seven years.

4. If you could only give one speech, for one hour, for one million people, what ONE WORD would that speech be about?
(of nature)
None of us are all this or all that.  People are such a mix of emotion, personality types, experiences… as much as it helps us to summarize individuals in order to better understand them, the truth is that no one “has it all together” nor, contrary to my self-belief at times, is “a complete mess.”  I think it’s important to factor in that duality of nature when doing any sort of creative work, or simply when we are trying to better understand each other.

6. Tell us a little about your background?

Going way back, I’m an Army brat – I was born and grew up in Germany, moving to the U.S. at age 11.  We moved every year and a half or so while I was growing up – and, then after graduating from Miami University, I took a job as a management consultant with a 100% travel requirement.  Some people can grow up with that kind of background and burn out, but I still travel quite a bit and really enjoy it.  In terms of career, my background is in business, so photography was a pent-up need of mine in terms of a creative outlet.  I’ve been grateful to have the business background to support the structure of that creative drive, in the way of building a sound company.

7. What activity always makes you lose track of time?

Sounds trite, but it’s true – photography:  shooting, editing, viewing compelling imagery. 
Also, any time I spend in a spa 😉

8. How many shoots do you like to do a week to be in your happy place?

Three portrait sessions a week is my happy place.  It’s more – sometimes much more – when I do destination sessions (beach shoots, travel to another city for a few days of shooting, etc.), and it’s less to none when I’m in a travel-busy week with workshops or speaking at conventions.

9. What would be your ideal session?
To have a jet at the ready for me to jump in and out of to hit up a variety of killer locations on the fly with an incredibly authentic, strikingly different-looking set of children who each carry their own roller bags for cool outfit changes as we move through the shoot. 
Also, there’s likely a vegan bakery on the plane that serves yummy cupcakes with shiny sprinkles on the frosting.

10. Where might we find you if your not working?
Probably running around with my own pack of incredibly authentic, strikingly different-looking set of children – my 8, 6 and 4 year-old babies.  Either that, or out on a long run or under a tree somewhere finding my zen (no, seriously).

11. Will you tell us about you usual workflow?
Sure – I shoot the session, immediately download my cards afterwards to three places (multi-terrabyte photo server, external HD and DVDs), review the images and then return to them in a week or two to do inclusive editing – I edit all the images that I deliver to my client, and then I back up those finals images before showing a preview of the shoot.

12. What is your favorite professional photography product(s)?
My 17-inch mac laptop, loaded with all the software and tools I need.

13. Tell us what you want each photographer to walk away with after a workshop with you!
A stronger sense of their creative ability, a deeper grounding of how strong business fundamentals can unleash that creative energy, and a re-energized ability to see themselves working more powerfully, certainly more inspired.  I believe that the combination of learning how to do some things with more attention to detail and how to outsource other things to free yourself up is the basis for long-term happiness in this business.  I like to build all my workshop content from that core belief.

14. What’s been your best marketing idea?
My best marketing idea was just to really care, consistently, about the quality of each image I produce.  And then to show those images to my clients – and to anyone else who’s interested in taking a peek at my work.


15. Have you felt effects from the economy in your business?
Yes – but in a bit of a different way.  We’re no less busy (gasp, that’s for sure), but we’re just starting to see our clients think longer and harder about those add-on items, or sometimes pacing an order out a bit over time. 
But I think our specific industry is lucky in terms of the “business” we’re in – it’s not visual imagery and associated productions, it’s emotions and the documentation of life.  I’ve said this before: love is recession-proof.  I do believe that. 
I look around and see a lot of businesses shutting down or really, really hurting, but I know I’m not alone in sending that 2010 just feels better than 2009 in terms of optimism and the we’re-moving-through-this mentality.

I was fortunate enough to speak at both Imaging USA and WPPI this year, and both conventions had a banner year, with the tradeshows drawing in tens of thousands of active buyers. I think that’s a pretty optimistic sign.

16. What would you label as your professional weakness?
My professional weakness is a lack of desire to deal with the money aspects of my work.  I’ve compensated for this by hiring someone more interested in finances to manage that aspect of the business.  I have a strong interest in strategizing intelligent revenue-generating ideas, very much so – but that’s quite different than being interested in the tactical specifics of accounting, detailed finance spreadsheeting, and each and every line item on an income & loss statement.
I kind of lose my mind when I have to go through detailed financial statements.  It’s like I can feel the soul ebb out of me when it comes to reviewing itemized dollar amounts and anything paperwork-y / bureaucratic in nature.

17. What question do you wish you were asked more often?
Ooh – I like this question.  Maybe the answer is this question!
Also, in second place, I wish I were asked, “Which aspect of your work is the most magical to you?”  I think sometimes we forget how incredibly important that feel of magic is when we’re looking at what really fills up a life. 
So, if I were asked that, I would go on to answer… “That the nature of my work offers me a pass, of sorts, to deal in more genuine exchange with individuals, to be on a faster track towards authentic communication. 
When I’m photographing artistic people, they tend to already “get it” – I may ask unusual, more probing questions about who they are or make observations about their character and/or nuances about the way they interact that strike me as intriguing because a lot of that is what I’ll want to hone in on when I photograph them. 
And when I’m photographing non-artistic people, I get that ‘free pass’ to be a bit odd or even intrusive because I’m one of those creative types.

It’s kind of a spectacular license to be granted.

18. What has been the highlight of your career?
Still … photographing a portrait of President Obama.  Most anyone who knows me knows how much I sheer-willed that opportunity

19.  When you’re getting to have “me time” what are you doing?
I am reading, writing, looking at design work that inspires me, running to music or podcasts, finding recipes to cook with my children (I love the sneaky chef stuff), or making it a point to simply sit in a quiet room and not think, probably looking a lot like someone who left their body hours ago.

20. What’s the most common mistake you see newbies making?
I did one thing very right when I started out and one thing that I can comfortably classify as a mistake.
What I did right was seek out excellent sources of education.  I read and I read and I read, I watched videos, I went to conventions, I listened to other photographers, and I learned an unreal amount of stuff.  I’m still learning, obviously.
What I did “wrong” (that is a fairly common mistake I see others making) is take too long to sort out the business side of my business.  It was actually pretty ironic, given that I came from a business background, but the simple truth is that I didn’t want to spend my time there, I just wanted to photograph people and produce work that was improving in short order. Not a bad thing to be focused on – but, by ignoring the business side of my business, I worked really hard (kinda like a hamster on a wheel), but without strategic finesse – and it took me longer to get ahead in a more comprehensive fashion.
It’s a common mistake to jump all over the art part of your photography business and ignore the business fundamentals. 

Here is a peak into the making of, and finished studio for Tamara Lackey Photography…

Want more of Tamara? I don’t blame you! Here are her links…



  1. Lu says:

    I love her work with kids. I am watching her now on Crative Live! That’s why I got here. Great interview.

you said:

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