Each month, I interview a local photographer. Interested in participating? Please leave a comment!
Todd E. Swenson is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Tacoma. He grew up in Bakersfield, California, and lived in San Francisco and southern Oregon before moving to Washington in 2008. His foray into photography began when he was a child, teetering around home taking snapshots. Photography has been an important part of his life for as long as he can remember.
As a photographer, he draws inspiration from a number of sources. He looks at work done by other creatives such as photographers, filmmakers, architects, painters, sculptors, and fashion designers. And he looks to nature for form and function. He photographic style is deeply rooted in his photojournalism and artistic backgrounds.
Although his wife and photography are his first loves, he also enjoys running, hiking, wine tasting, cooking, travel, tennis, and snowboarding.
Roxanne: When did you become interested in photography?
Todd: I’ve been doing photography most of my life, but the real turning point was my senior year in high school. I took a film photography class and it kind of made me more appreciative of photography as an art form and a science: the ratio of chemicals, light, lots of numbers, and math. It was interesting to me.
After high school, I attended community college, but the photography class had been cut for budgetary reasons. My dad encouraged me to join the community college newspaper to continue photography. After a semester doing that, I switched my major from pre-law to photojournalism, then later got a photojournalism degree from San Francisco State University.
I really liked telling stories with pictures. I had previously done only fine art, but there’s something about telling a story with still images that is really unique. I worked at newspapers post-graduation for four years, and also did some magazine and newspaper freelance as well, but then got laid off. I moved north for work and eventually to the Tacoma area to be with my girlfriend (now my wife).
When planning our wedding, I considered getting into wedding photography as a way to get back into photojournalism. I had shot a few weddings for friends, and then being on the other side of it, decided I kinda liked it and thought, “This is something I want to pursue.” I launched my photography business in January 2011 with primary focus on weddings, but also do editorial, commercial, and fine art.
Who or what influenced you to become a photographer?
My parents always pushed me to be creative. My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and art had always been a big part of what she taught. My dad was in journalism, so I was always around reporters and photographers. My dad had cameras from his dad that came from WWII Germany. My parents always bought me cameras—point and shoots up until the photography class, then I got a full manual camera.
Why is photography important to you?
Telling stories through visual media. I love reading good stories, but I’m not the best writer. I think you can capture an emotion in a split second that you can’t put into words. That feeling is very interesting to me. There’s just something about it that works for me as my creative outlet.
What motivates you?
Telling stories, as above, but also, I view myself as a creative, and if I haven’t made something, I don’t feel fulfilled. Those things are important to me as an artist to put out into the world.
What’s your favorite lens or other piece of photography gear?
Some background: I switched from Nikon to Canon about a decade ago. Before digital cameras were mainstream, photography gear was mostly about the lens and the type of film, but with the advent of digital, the camera body, sensor, and so forth became mainstage. During my college years and the first year of my professional career, I invested in Nikon D1H, lenses, and then the D2H. But a few years later, there was a shift: Canon came out with its 1D series. I had invested in Nikon gear, but was tired of not having images as crisp as the competition, so I got a Canon 1D Mark II N. I’m currently the proud owner of a 5D Mark III. Favorite lens: 16-35mm 2.8, but also the 50 1.2 since I rent it so much.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in photography?
Shoot as many pictures as you can, whether it’s with a camera phone, point and shoot, or full manual camera. The only way you’re going to get better is experimentation. There are so many components/elements to photography. The only way you can get them all right and pay attention to them is by experience taking many different kinds of photos. My favorite photographer quote is Henri Cartier Bresson: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”