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Interview with Whitney Monaghan

We took some time to chat with Whitney Monaghan about her love of communicating her art through a dreamy, fantasy, otherworldly look. She also explains her love of post-session editing and serendipitous moments caught on film. Read on to learn more about her!

Whitney Monaghan Lancaster Photographer
wlmgoeshere Instagram.JPG Whitney Monaghan @wlmgoeshere
Find Whitney Monaghan online

I’ve seen you online as EyeJourney Photographic Art and as Whitney Monaghan. Do you have different art approaches for each one of those? Are there differences?

No, there really isn’t. It kind of all fell together about three years ago. I’ve always taken photos my whole life, but I started taking it seriously. I think we all do when other people start to notice and say, “Wow, you really have something here and you need to pursue it!” It took me a long time to have the confidence to finally do this and at least do the landscape portion because I had Smilebuilderz approach me. The director of operations, I went to school with her, and she approached me and said she loved my photos. Even my iPhone photos. I didn't mess with SLR really that much. I had a D3100.

How long ago was this?

I got my first DSLR in 2014. I was approached in late 2013 by Smilebuilderz.

And at this point you were only shooting with your iPhone?

1 stones And at this point you were only shooting with your iPhone?

Yeah, and I was very intimidated. I don’t let my intimidation stop me. Usually that pushes me forward as scared as I usually am, and I was really scared. So I said, “Okay. Well, I can meet with you guys, but you’ve got to understand that all of the photos that you’re showing them that you’re so impressed with were taken with an iPhone. They can’t be processed and printed and hung. I can’t display iPhone photos that way, I needed to learn to shoot my DSLR.”

Smilebuilderz approached you for landscape photography?

Yes, to put in their new Ephrata office.

Fantastic and neat!

Of course, I was excited, because never in a million years would I think that that was going to fall in my lap. At the same time, I was ill-prepared, so I quickly taught myself how to shoot macro-ly, because auto did really work for me. I didn’t even realize it, but I was teaching myself to shoot manually. This is when I got my 3100.

So you are approached by Smilebuilderz and they wanted some of your photography. Is that when you got your camera?

1 horse So you are approached by Smilebuilderz and they wanted some of your photography. Is that when you got your camera?

I had it, it was just sitting in the box. A friend of mine called me and said there’s a D3100 on Craig’s List for $500 (which I know now I shouldn’t have paid that much for) and I knew I needed to jump on it. I called and asked my fiancé and he said it was fine to get it. The first time I started shooting with it, everything was blurry, so I sat it down because I was frustrated. At the time, I didn't need to use it, so I thought I would get to it someday.

Prior to that, you’re shooting with your iPhone. What about before that?

I had a Canon point and shoot. It was decent. It had 35x optical zoom and it was great for family stuff, at the beach, and stuff like that. I was getting nice photos.

You were documenting your life?

Yeah! They were composed well and people started to notice. Really, honestly, I’m missing the biggest part here. The biggest pivoting point is when I started using Instagram. The Instagram editing, and the way you can capture the sky, that really sparked my interest in photography.

How did you discover Instagram?

1 barn How did you discover Instagram?

I knew everybody was on it, so I thought I’d try it. Why not? It seemed silly to me, because I thought, “I’m on Facebook…why am I going to do Instagram, too?” But, then I started to realize that it really is all about photography, and it's not about venting about your day. You kind of lose that in a way. People still do that, but only to a certain extent. It is a different type of documenting; documenting people's lives. So, I was attracted to it that way, and then I started to pull over on the road if I saw something cool.

How was the feedback from Instagram different from Facebook? Who was this coming from initially?

Friends, and I still don’t have a lot of followers on Instagram. Really, the feedback came when I sent the photos I had from Instagram to Facebook. Because, I really didn’t pursue any following from Instagram for a long time. I just sent it right to Facebook.

Maybe it is the editing process now that’s taken hold?

1 spiderweb Maybe it is the editing process now that’s taken hold?

Yeah. I think the composition of the photos, and this ability now to enhance them. I do love post-processing. To me, I take a photo, and many times (not when I’m doing portraits), a lot of it isn't in the camera. A lot of it is in my head. I’m going to take this photo, and those clouds are going to pop, and I’m going to make it happen! I get that a lot of photographers think that's not really photography, but it is to me. It’s my art and it’s what I see. I know it can be even more beautiful, and I have so much fun in post-processing!

I have seen an increase in this in the last two months or so. Have you learned some new techniques?

No I just got a new lens, and that’s been life-changing. I just got a Nikon 2470, and I wish I would have gotten the vibration reduction. It’s the lens. It really is! I don’t even want to say that to an aspiring photographer, because for a long time, I shot with a broken camera from 17-50. I got beautiful photos, and I’m still very proud of those photos to this day! But, sometimes the equipment does make a difference, I was always told that it doesn't matter what you have, that you can shoot with anything. I still believe that, because I do still shoot with my iPhone, but that lens is really great!

What ability do you think it gives you? Is it the zoom capacity or quality?

Quality of the photos. I feel like I can take a landscape, and the barn could be three miles away, and it feels like it is just clearer. When I edit, I zoom a lot. Even if it is okay from far away, I don’t feel comfortable exporting it until all the noise is gone, so I’m into luminates and getting that.

So you get back from a day of shooting and bring it back. What’s your process from there? What’s your workflow?

1 clover So you get back from a day of shooting and bring it back. What’s your process from there? What’s your workflow?

I usually can’t wait. If I have a good day, I’m so excited when I get home. I sometimes can’t get down to the basement right away, because of my kids and responsibilities, and they come first and always will! That is my true meditation. That is my drug. When I’m at peace, and I can finally sit down and look. I feel like it’s so suspenseful, and almost anxiety-inducing when I'm in the moment, and I’m trying to get in these moments. Then, when I get to that point…when I can import them, and look at them, I go to another place. I can’t even explain it. It's just another place I go to. Even when I’m photographing, I’m in another world. But, when I’m editing and processing? Forget it.

When you pull your pictures down, do you have a file system that you use?

I’m very disorganized right now. I have 4600 photos in my Lightroom, and I don’t use the star system. I’m terrible. I have the worst ADHD on the planet!

Do you have folders on your computer for all your photos?

I have…not really. I have one folder that I bring everything to, and I think it’s dated March 1st, 2013, or something. And that’s where all the landscapes go. The portraits go into their own folder.

That's an accomplishment!

Yeah, for me it is! I admit it, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m very disorganized.

When you bring the photos from the camera, how do you pick which ones you want to develop?

I usually already know.

Do you start developing right then?

Absolutely!

What are some of your first steps?

I like the radial filter a lot, and I like the graduated filter a lot, too. I always bring down my blacks to start, but I obviously don't leave it that way. I pull them up slowly, and work on it slowly. In my opinion, it just makes it a bit crisper. Sometimes, I look back now and I wish I would have pulled those back more. I’m learning every day.

What else do you do?

1 flowers What else do you do?

Especially with landscapes, I mess with clarity a lot, though I’ve been less inclined to do that lately. I used to do clarity with everything the whole way, I loved it, but now I’m evolving, and I realized I don’t like that very much. Obviously, exposure and highlights are a big thing for me, too. A lot of times, I bring my highlights the whole way down. It’s just my starting point…slide the whole way down, then slide this and that back. Even when I’m doing portrait, a lot of people will do batch editing, I just can’t do it. I have to hand-edit every photo. It’s very time consuming, especially if you’re editing a wedding. That takes me a long time.

Radial filter, how do you use it, and what do you like about it?

Particularly with eyes, I’ll use the radial filter with the eyes. Let’s say I do a landscape, and I want to make it darker and gloomier looking. There’s a barn in the middle of the landscape with the darker and gloomier surroundings, and I’m losing the barn, so I’ll use a radial filter on it. I’m just trying to be really careful, so it doesn’t look too obvious, because it can spill over.

Do you use Photoshop as well?

Sometimes. I have it because I pay the monthly fee for both. It’s not that I don’t like it, it's just that I don’t know enough about it yet. I’m very hesitant to learn new things, unless I’m under pressure. Like I learned Lightroom because of the Smilebuilderz thing.

How did you learn it?

I taught myself. I took one class from a fellow photographer, and it was helpful!

Michelle Monaghan Lancaster Instagrammer Photography When you were teaching yourself did you use any online resources like articles or You Tube videos?

When you were teaching yourself, did you use any online resources, like articles, or You Tube videos?

No, it was just sitting down for hours and hours and going through images. And bad images? There were a lot of them!

Do you get rid of them, or keep them?

I keep everything. I’m a hoarder, for sure, when it comes to that. I’m in the process of cleaning everything out, which is really hard for me.

Are you cleaning for space reasons?

Yeah, I have to. I have another hard drive that I’ve backed up that’s full, too. It’s so frustrating, because right now, in order to import my portrait session, I have to go through and get rid of the ones I can part with, and get rid of them. I have them saved again in another folder, but they aren’t in Lightroom then, so if something happens to my computer then…you know.

That's a time consuming process, I imagine, because you have to think whether or not you want to delete something.

Yes. It's almost like the hoarders that hoard the physical things at home; now nobody else can use the computer in the house. I’m always either on it, or I am like, “Don’t touch that! Don’t close that window!”

After you finish developing a photo, what do you do with it then?

When it’s completed, and I feel like I’m happy with it, I’ll watermark it, and post it on EyeJourney. That’s it. And, then I’ll put it on Instagram.

When you put it on Instagram, do you run it through any other filters?

1 dandy When you put it on Instagram do you run it through any other filters?

Sometimes. I don’t like to change it that much, but it’s so much fun! My stuff is dark, then I’ll get it in Instagram, and just make it a little lighter, and I like it! The thing is, on Instagram, it's a smaller image, so it’s better if it’s a little brighter. Whereas, in Facebook, if I would have upped the saturation, or upped the exposure in Lightroom, then it wouldn’t have looked good. On Instagram, I can have fun with that.

Any other social media you’re posting on?

No. On Facebook, I participate in a lot of photography blogs, just for fun! I work with a lot of photographers internationally that way. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Monochromatic Lens? They’re my favorite really! I love black and white photography. It's probably my favorite.

So let's back it up a bit, you got asked to do the landscapes for Smilebuilderz…did you deliver? Were they happy?

Every Smilebuilderz office in Lancaster has my work exclusively, so I delivered! It was a lot of work, and a lot of sleepless nights.

Did you do the framing, and the matting?

Yeah, I did it all.

How did you get into doing portraits and weddings?

1 baby How did you get into doing portraits and weddings?

Just people asking me to. It was something I did, and I did it for free for a long time. For the first year, I did it for free, because I didn’t feel right charging. I felt so inexperienced. I was honored and flattered, but I didn’t feel confident that I could pull it off! This one session, this lady still thinks I am the best thing ever, but it was horrible! Their skin was orange, but I left it on my EyeJourney page, and you can still find it. I think you get to show the evolution, and not be ashamed, but it was terrible. And, I wasn’t using Lightroom either. I think I was using PicMonkey, which is not professional editing.

Then, in the second year, I was at least going to charge, because it’s a lot of work, and recently things just really blew up. It's word of mouth, and I do advertise on Facebook too, I’ll do the boosting-of-the-post thing, so that helps a lot. Every session, I say I get at least three inquiries, though I don’t get them all. I’m having trouble right now with people not paying me, so I may have to bring the hammer down!

What kind of work, out of all that, do you enjoy the most?

Definitely laid back family sessions with kids! I love shooting kids. They’re the easiest, in my opinion, because if you get down to their level, all a child needs is to see you understand them. I’ll even let them play with my camera, and their parents are like, “Are you serious?!” I’m a little hesitant with that now, since I have this 24x-70x, and I also got a new camera, too.

Whitney Monaghan Lancaster Photographer with Camera You recently upgraded your equipment?

You recently upgraded your equipment?

Yeah, I have a D7100, and now I have a D610, too. Next step is the D850, for sure!

And when is that?

I hope it’s in the next couple months, but we’ll see. I have a friend that’s going to switch over to Canon, and I’m hoping that she gives me a good deal.

Why do you want this camera? What do you think it will do for you?

I’ve shot with a D850 before. I rented one from Perfect Image, and I used it for various things. I just feel like the quality is better. This is what I call it, but I feel like it gives me “creamier” images.

Creamier?

Creamier! (Laughs) There is less noise. The D610 has a lot of noise, which you can fix, but like I said, I hand edit everything, and I don’t have time to be messing with that all the time.

Will you be happy with that camera? Or, will you be looking for the next one?

I hope so! I always want something else, like I want a lensbaby. I want a lensbaby 50 really bad.

What’s a lensbaby?

It’s a brand of camera that actually gives you the freelensing look, without having to pull your lens out. Freelensing is like this abstract type of photography. The monochromatic lens has a lot of it on there. It gives the photo a very artistic dream-like look. I wouldn’t necessarily use it in my portrait work.

This seems to be a theme with you, a dreamy fantasy photograph. Tell me about that.

I kind of touch on everything. I said my favorite portrait stuff is family. My favorite way to communicate my art is through that dreamy, fantasy, otherworldly look. I think it’s just because I’m listening to the true artist in me. That’s what I really, really, really want to do!

This is the stuff you would put up in your house?

Yeah, I like the landscape, but lately I don’t feel as passionate about it.

Conestoga Pa Country and Farm Are you not a 'pictures-of-farms' type of girl?

Are you not a 'pictures-of-farms' type of girl?

Oh, I totally am! I’m proud of where I’m from, and proud of Lancaster County, and I am a country girl.

Did you grow up here?

Yes. Yes, I did.

Where?

Conestoga. I’m southern Lancaster, and I’ve always been proud of my rural roots. I am a fourth generation Penn Manor student, so I’m very rooted to the area. I literally do drive down the roads and say, “Look at how beautiful this is,” and I tell my kids,” Do you know how lucky you are to be living here?” I really treasure and value it and I think that’s why I like to document it.

How much of your landscape photography is just being out there and seeing it, versus seeing the sunset coming down and saying, “I want to go?”

I’d say it’s 50/50. I’m always out and about, and have my camera. There are times when I see the sunset, and I’m like, “Okay let's get in the car!”

Do you have secret spots for that?

Yeah, I live near a very small tree nursery. I go behind the nursery, where they have trails, and it’s great for sunsets. I don’t know if you remember, but a couple weeks ago, I had a photo where there was a farm on the left, and a sunset was coming up with yellow flowers. That place was Gault's nursery. Gault's is a place that I like.

Is this the one photo with the dirt road?

Yes, that was the same morning! That was behind Gault's, and I do a lot of my silhouette shots there with my kids. There are two parts of it, one that’s right behind my house, and one you have to walk a little bit to get to.

Are your kids supportive of all this?

1 clouds Are your kids supportive of all this?

Yeah, they get really irritated sometimes, because I do stop the car a lot. They don’t say anything anymore, they really don't, but they used to, and got really frustrated. In the beginning, they were like, “What is going on!” Then, I put myself in their shoes, and thought…if I was traveling, and was powerless, and out of control, and they’re supposed to be taking me somewhere, but they keep on stopping, I’d be really annoyed too. I just get into my own head. Now that they’ve seen my art, and I’ve been “art of show” before too, like at the art walk last year at Building Character. They saw me doing all the work for Smilebuilderz, which was a lot of work, and I think they started to think that this is something I really care about!

What about being props, do they get into that?

My daughter is all about it; my son, not at all! My youngest doesn't have a choice, but he doesn't know!

And how is your fiance through all of this?

He’s great! He’s a very laid back person. He’s probably the polar opposite of me when it comes to intensity. He’s very proud of me, and he’s always said that. And, he’s always helping me. If I need him to watch the kids, because I have to get a last-minute session, then if he has to come home early from work, he’ll do it. I’m very, very lucky!

And you’re doing what you love!

I am, and I’m happy! I look at it this way…I was going to start waitressing, and I actually enjoy waitressing, but I would be away from my kids. Well, now I can be home with my kids! I don’t expect to get rich, but happy, that I do expect. And I am happy!

You are leaving a portfolio behind you.

Exactly! Who knows what that will be, maybe it’ll be worth something. You’re right, I’m happy and that makes me a better mom, and a better spouse, and a better everything! I’m more distracted sometimes, but it’s my passion. I don’t envision a time when I won't take pictures. I love to share them, too! With the Lancaster Instagramers, I feel like we all genuinely enjoy this, we love it! I sense no competition and there’s no sense of one-upping. We all just really appreciate it, and love it!

Now, are you ever competitive?

No! As far as looking at someone’s work and thinking that I want to top it, no, absolutely not. I’m very supportive of other artists. I don’t feel competitive at all. I’m happy, and I want other people to be happy! I really do!

What’s next for you? What can we expect in the future?

1 farm What’s next for you? What can we expect in the future?

I don’t know! Right now, I’m liking the otherworldly, fantasy stuff. I do like fine art photography, I don’t want to go too far with it, like I won’t add elephants with little boys riding them. They’re cute, and cool pictures, but I’m not there.

I’m also doing my photo sessions and portrait sessions for families and weddings and stuff like that.

1 WMP.JPG

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