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An Interview with Jennifer Macneill

Jen With A Horse For Interview

We sat down with local photographer, Jen Macneill, on a cold December evening at The Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum. Jen gave us insight into what inspires her and compels her to document the world around her through photography.

jmacneillphoto Instagram.JPG Jennifer MacNeill Traylor @jmacneillphoto
Find Jennifer MacNeill Traylor online

So you are a Lancaster based photographer?

I am.

How long have you been taking pictures?

Probably since I was ten, maybe earlier.

Ten years old?

Yeah, When I got my first little 1:10 with the flash cubes until I graduated (Laughs)

How did you get that camera?

I think as a present.

Man Walking Cow And Geese Did you start taking pictures immediately?

Did you start taking pictures immediately?

Immediately! Horses only, of course if you can imagine! I think I still have some of the pictures. Like horse figurines. I'd set them up in my yard as if they were real!

You said it was flash cubes?

Yeah, like a 1:10 where you would get the little…

Each time you shoot, the flash would go off and you would have to flip it right?

I think so, yeah.

Photography was super expensive for you. Not only in developing, but in your time!

Oh yeah! I had to beg. Then I would get the film back and my mom would be like, “It’s all toy horses!” (Laughs)

I imagine you would really put some time into what you were going to photograph. like your horse dioramas?


So you have all these horse figurines already, before you get the camera. Has your passion for horses been with you forever?

Yeah, forever. Since birth!

Did you grow up with horses?

Yes, summers were spent with my grandparent’s horse. And my mom had a horse for a while. When I was 2 weeks old, she said she took me on a trail ride in her arms with her horse.

So your mom and your grandparents both had horses, so it is in your blood! And it is evident in your photography.

Cow Looking Into Barn Door So your mom and your grandparents both had horses so it is in your blood! And it is evident in your photography.

I think that the best compliment that I can be given is if someone said that they don't care about horses at all, but a picture that they saw of mine makes them want to rush out and buy a horse.

That's what I was going to say about your photography; it's not your typical horse photography. There is mood.

There is feeling. That's the most important. Anyone can take a picture of something, but not everyone can make you feel what the photographer felt when they were taking the picture. That is what I am always striving for.

When you get this camera (as a child), this is where you developed a passion for making art with horses?

Yes, I guess even at that young age, that was my art. I also painted a lot.

Was the painting pre-photography?

Yes, oh yeah! I have always drawn and painted horses. I also designed figurines for a company called The Trail of Painted Ponies. They are like the cows on parade. Do you know that? Where people painted the huge cow with scenes on them. There was a similar thing with horses out in Arizona. That turned into a figurine company and I still do design figurines for them.

How do you design them? What's your format or media?

They will send me a blank form, and I have worked with clay, but usually I just do drawings.

Lately I have seen your art taking a twist away from horses, has it always been there and do you feel it as well?

Beautiful Horse Looking At Camera In Barn Lately I have seen your art taking a twist away from horses has it always been there and do you feel it as well?

On instagram especially. There are 2 types of people on instagram that were following me: There were horse people and kids and there were more people that were interested in photography either locally or the fine art aspect. I was struggling with not posting enough for the horse people but posting too many horses for the others. So, I set up another account (jmacneill_horses) 2 weeks ago and I already have over 4000 followers! Over night, like last night, I had 130 followers just over night. It's crazy!

People were like, “Why didn’t you always do this?” It's that struggle between wanting to be a fine artist, can I merge the 2. I don't know! There are a lot of people I know who I aspire to be like that are fine art photographers.

Is it horse photography?

No, it's a little bit of everything. There is a feature account on Instagram called Tea_Journals that I am especially fond of. It's all fine art and photo journalistic images with animals. I love almost every image they feature.

Do you find your art gets tailored to what your fans want?

I hate that, right? Do you know what I mean? You think, “Are people going to like this? or is it for me?” I essentially want to shoot for me. That is why I am glad I separated the horses a little bit. Not that I won't include them in my regular feed, but I feel like it has freed my regular feed up a little bit to not be thinking so much what are other people going to want. Am I going to lose a follower if I post this? That's such a horrible feeling! I try to be as authentic to myself as possible.

Social media usage, is it to support your business?

Jen Macneil During The Interview Social media usage is it to support your business?

It's to promote it, I’d say. Just in general, but I also just love to share. Even on my facebook photography business page, I’m not pushing people to buy anything. I am almost never even sharing my work that I get paid for. I rarely share family portraits, weddings, anything that I actually make money from! That seems so private, it's theirs. What if they don't want everyone seeing these pictures of them! Usually they don't care, actually, they never care!

Is it a struggle for you, I imagine you produce some amazing photography?

I’ll ask them, but I have never had anyone say, “No don’t share that!” When I have a photoshoot with someone, it's seems very intimate. Immediately I can connect with people and get them to do what I want, it's all about making people feel comfortable, making them happy, making them put their guard down. Occasionally you will have a shoot, where there is a husband that is just NOT having it, and no amount of joking can help!

Out of all social media, which is your favorite?

Lately it's instagram. Unfortunately everything has taken a backseat to it. I don't like that it's an obsession.

Is it for the social engagement?

I think it is the social engagement. I hate to say that! I kind of irritates me to say that because I don't want to be that person to say that I need to find approval.

Do you find that you get much professional photography work from social media or is it more word of mouth?

I think it's mostly word of mouth but it's fueled by my social media. I’ve gotten a lot of through Facebook. Even my Twitter sometimes!

What else are you on other than those three?

Cow Walking Across Farm In The Snow Slowly What else are you on other than those three?

Flickr, I’ve been on there for a really long time. Probably 2009 or so. There have been times where I have gotten jobs from that.

I've heard that many ad agencies will go to Flickr to look for an image and contact to photographer directly. I have gotten covers of phone books, like the Ocean City MD phonebook a couple years ago was one of my photos! The Assateague Ponies.

So do you have a copy of the phonebook at home?

Oh yeah! (laughs) Flickr has been good for that. Oh and books sometimes! A Swedish cat researcher, he liked a photo on Flickr of a cat walking a catwalk and they put it in their new book that is coming out on cat behavior. A photo of a mule in a stream went into a book on training mules.

What would you say to other people who are looking for work on Flickr, is it about tags?

TAGS! Oh gosh, yes! That is the only way they can find you. So tag your images very well.

Was Flickr first for you?

Yes, I would say. Flickr and then Facebook. I just started doing photography professionally because I did the painting from 2000-2009. That was my full-time business.

After your first camera, what was next for you?

Horse Muzzle Textures White After your first camera what was next for you?

I moved into my mother’s camera in highschool which was a Cannon AE1. Then I took 2 years of black and white in highschool darkroom. That was a HUGE passion, developing film. After highschool, I managed a horse farm. This was the first thing I bought with my first real paycheck, the Pentax K1000. I walked into the camera shop with my money and I said, “I need a camera!” He said that this is the work horse and I said, “You said HORSE!? I dont need to look at any other cameras!”

You bought this brand new?

Yeah, probably ‘92

I can imagine you are just tickled to death with pockets full of film!?

Probably not, I didn't have money for pockets full of film! I always shot with this camera, but money was always a factor because it is expensive. It still is, it's like $8 for a decent roll of film. I just started back with film.

How many pictures do you get on a roll?


So when you are out shooting you really have to…

Think! That is why recently I have started shooting with this again because I want to slow down and think more.

It's interesting how people will build their own rules into their art.

Girl Running Down Path In Winter Sunset It's interesting how people will build their own rules into their art.

Did you ever have a time though when you came home without enough and you were like, “Crap, I really didn't shoot enough.”

Almost every time!

So then you were like, “To heck with that, I can shoot as many pictures as I want.” If you really see something that is catching your eye. Every great photography teacher will tell you to explore it until it is exhausted so you get the picture you want.

Do you find you do that?

It is something I am like nuts about. A composition or a scene or something, because most people just shoot what is on the surface and you try to scratch below the surface to really find that perfect composition.

Where do you start to investigate for that depth?

Jen Macneil Taking Photos Of Geese Where do you start to investigate for that depth?

I think just observation, you know? I take time just to look, unless you think it is going to be something quite fleeting like light. I photograph animals; to be broader than horses I love to photograph animals.

The connection that people make with animals and the body language that they show to you. I like it when people say that an animal in your picture is telling them something or is talking.  And that's good, I wanted you to know that it is communicating!

You were feeling it too?

Yes. I use a lot of my daughter, like her hand, just to show that connection. I love to see that. I have raised her to love animals. She is very good around them.

In your professional work, what kind of job do you get that is your favorite?

I like photographing a person with their horse. Or senior portraits. I just started that recently and that is so much fun! I never even thought it could be so much fun! They are always really into it.

That is even competing with person and a horse?

A little bit, yeah. I find that it is easy, it's not a big family or a wedding! It's hard to find people that want to pay me because there are not a lot of people with horses around here. Any job with horses or animals is my favorite really.

You don’t find the same subject (horses) to get old after shooting it for so many years?

No, not at all. Every horse is different, every day is different.

Talk to me about your editing process, because you do have beautiful editing.

Farm House In The Snow In Light Talk to me about your editing process because you do have beautiful editing.

I import to lightroom and in RAW. If I am really excited about something I took, I will start editing or retouching them right away. Sometimes I have to let it sit for awhile. I have a lot of that, because half the time, I will think that everything I did that day was total crap. I will just have to let it sit for awhile and then I will come back to it and be shocked at how much I like it. Have you ever had a day like that?


So many photographers say that.

When you scroll through the local Instagrams, do you feel a sense of competitiveness?

A little bit, but not often.

Does that drive you to push yourself?

I think in the past I was more competitive. This camera that I have, if you want to talk about the history of my cameras, it was gifted to me by woman that was a collector of my paintings, she bought me this camera which is the Canon 6D. She bought it and sent it to my house and said, “You need this if you want to continue and I love your photography as much as I love your paintings.” She is an older woman and I have met her only a few times. Her father was also a photographer and even invented photography equipment.

How many of your paintings does she have?

Geese Walking Down Snowy Path Together How many of your paintings does she have?

Maybe 10? So I was expressing my frustrations with my current digital camera on Facebook, and she is a Facebook friend, and I was saying that I needed a fairy-godmother or magic leprechaun and that I really need a better camera to give myself more confidence. She sent me an email that said, “Your fairy-godmother is sending the camera, what is your address?” I cried. I cried for days, I think for a whole year when I tell people this story. The fact that someone I barely knew would be willing to do something like that for me and it really helped launch what I do even more.

How did your photography change when you got that camera?

People always say it isn't the equipment that makes the photo it's the photographer, but it is just a little sharper and a little faster. I wasn't missing shots anymore, I wasn't coming home with a couple hundred images and only liking a few, I was liking 50 or more!

So you were able to experiment more?


Did it change your art at all?

No. It didn't change my style or anything else. I was just getting more shots and I wasn’t missing as much. I can trust it more because the older you get the more your vision starts to go. I can trust this camera, I couldn't trust the other camera to be sharp for me. When it is up to your face you can't see if it is perfect, you have to look at it and zoom in with glasses!

You said you shoot everyday, where do you get the inspiration to do that?

Sun Coming Through The Trees Morning You said you shoot everyday where do you get the inspiration to do that?

Not so much now, I try to shoot as much as possible but I am not shooting everyday. I was doing a 365 project and it would be 9 o’clock at night and I would be like, “I didn’t do my picture!” You just have to look around your house. I think looking at light is what inspires me, as much as animals, I am really inspired by light. I tell everyone though, if you want to improve your photography start a 365 project (photo a day for a year).

Was that the case before your interest in photography?

Yeah because it came from art.

You have always had the artist eye?

For light and composition. I think that being an artist helps me be a photographer. If you want another tip to improve your photography, study the great masters of fine art.

What did you paint with?

Oil and acrylic. Actually, what made me start taking photos more was that I had to take photos for reference for a painting or something I was working on and more people started asking me for photography instead of paintings. (Laughs) And I was like well…

Your process there, would you take a picture of something and print it out and have it out?

As reference, yes.

Start to finish, how long until you have a nice painting?

It depends. Sometime I just did very whimsical folk art designs for certain things. Oils can take a long time so I didn't do that as much. I had a high turn around, I was a powerseller on ebay!

Selling your art?

Horse Running In The Snow Side Selling your art?

Yeah! Until I had my daughter in 2006. It slowed everything down and that also helped transition me into photography. It was more immediate. I could take, even if I was working on something small, it could take all day and to have a baby at home?! It just became easier to take photographs.

Did you photograph everyone of your pieces before you sold it?

Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.

Back to your workflow, the photos you look at instantly, what is the process from there?

I probably put them on Facebook first if they are really something wonderful. Then Instagram and Flickr. Occasionally National Geographic "Your Shot". They have chosen 10 of my photos for the "Daily Dozen". I consider than an honor to have an editor from Nat Geo like one of my images.

Facebook before Flickr?

Yes, Flickr has taken a backseat unfortunately. There are so many now so how do you find the time? The more I shoot the harder I am getting on myself where I will sit and struggle if an image is worthy or not to share. I used to share much more.

Have you thought about Tumblr adding that to your mix. I’m sure that does well with horses too.

Farmer Walking Horse Out Of Barn House Have you thought about Tumblr adding that to your mix. I’m sure that does well with horses too.

I do have a Tumblr, that's a lot of horse girls on there. They all want to steal your stuff. I've had a lot of people take my images and crop my name out. A lot of people ask why I don't watermark my images and why should I even bother? If they want to take it they are going to take it. What are you going to do? It would take away from the image too. I'm not taking the image to make money, I'm taking it to share what I think is really beautiful.

How often are you sharing? Is it a daily thing on Facebook?

No, not daily because I'm struggling more and more with quality. You know you are always trying to do better than the last time.

Are you a hard critic of yourself?

Yes, I always have been an extreme critic of my work, of what I put out there. Also, you were saying about a feeling of competition with Instagram, I used to be like that and I used to want to photograph absolutely everything and I have heard a lot of photographers talk about this when you start out you want to shoot everything. I would go out before and after dinner and I would have to shoot sunsets. Everything in the world, I wanted to go to a city or photograph the country. It has become a honing process now, I'm in the honing! So I ask what am I really passionate about and what says the most coming from me? And that's what I need to focus on.

What areas do you feel you still need to work on?

I just want to work on what I care about the most. Like Andrew Wyeth said about art, “One's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes.” So now I am trying to just focus on doing stuff I really love. I think that comes through. That being said, I would like to work a little more on photographing people. I used to be very shy and I wouldn't ask people if I could take their photo. I have less of a problem with that now.

Is there an area that is still a mission for you?

Horse With Sunset In The Background Is there an area that is still a mission for you?

That's the struggle, finding new things. With horses, I keep returning to the same places and here, I have a membership here (Landis Valley Museum), it's only $55 per year for a family membership. There are so many different functions that they have but it is really nice to just walk around.

Sometimes by myself I’ll just walk around and go in the buildings and look for something I haven't seen before. I want to travel more though, mostly to Europe, but I would go anywhere. There is nothing like being in a new place to wake up a photographer's eye. I feel like a child when I am somewhere new. Everything is exciting and wonder filled.

Check out Jennifer's Landis Valley Museum Photo Gallery

Your direction has been splitting off a little bit but is that a new trend? The experimenting we are seeing here in this new direction is it a little bit out of necessity?

It is. Right now it's winter, so there is boredom (laughs)

I noticed some of your photography from the Lampeter Fair this year, was that new to you?

That fair was. The western horse show, yeah. I go to a lot of fairs to photograph animals, the Farm Show I went to and I got a lot of fun shots. I just don't know why I never went to the Lampeter Fair!

Do you find that difficult to shoot moving animals in a dark environment like that?

No, I like the challenge. I love shooting in low light and finding light.

Do you ever use flash?

Very rarely. It always sounds like a co-out when people say, “I’m a natural light photographer!” People usually think they just can't use a flash, but I can use a flash but I just don't like the way it looks. Even if you are bouncing and having it off the camera.

Man Tending To Horse Black And White

Anything you want to put out there before we finish this interview?

I am always looking for animals and farms to photograph. If anyone would let me onto their farm or allow me to photograph their animals. I’m always trying to show that connection that people have, even with the land not just animals.

I grew up in a farming family so that's interesting to me. I love living here. I love telling the story of this place. It's just beautiful.

jmacneillphoto Instagram.JPG Jennifer MacNeill Traylor @jmacneillphoto
Find Jennifer MacNeill Traylor online

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June 2024
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