Daily Inspiration #200 by Ann-Marie Hensley

Photographing With What You Have Got…

I have been lucky enough to get some really big shoots lately. Some of the celebrities that I have photographed have had too many photo shoots to count, so I always ask myself what can I do with my camera to make them want me there instead of someone else? The answer for me is that I photograph with what I have got.

I have something inside me that searches for the shot that no one else is taking. I bring this search to every shoot and find my shot in the world around me. Whether it is trying a new perspective, a new angle, or a funny twist on a situation, the best tool I can bring to shoots is my creative brain, because that is what I have got.

For many years I have not been able to afford the equipment my colleagues rave about. So I photograph with what I have got. Is this a bad thing? No. What it has taught me is to learn the equipment I have really well. Instead of learning actions in Photoshop or presets in my camera, I explore apertures, shutter speeds, and ISOs on a daily basis, because that is what I have got.

Here are some samples from my latest shoot with Taylor Swift. With Taylor she is such a beauty and photographed so often that this will be a great way to show you what I am talking about. It is such a challenge to search for the shot that is not already out there of her, and deliver it in a way that is unmistakably me. My lens broke on this shoot and I am so thankful. I got things I never would have gotten if the autofocus had been working. In the end, if you have got your camera and you have got your mind and you are able to put them together in a way that works, you have something no one else has.

Update – On Sep 21st 2011 Ann-Marie requested I remove her photos, so I obliged. Sorry. 


  1. Rusty, I was hired to do the stills by Taylor Swift for her video. Thank you “aadb” for posting the link. Watching it again was a reminder to me of my point, which was to take the situation I have been given and make the best of it…photographing with what I have got.

    What I got for this shoot was a cold winter’s day in a house with no heat, very gloomy lighting, and a somber mood to match. I played fly on the wall, literally hugging the wall to stay out of the crew’s way in a very crowded room. You made it sound easy, the way you described using someone else’s lighting and art direction, but in reality easy is far from the truth. Learning to get the shot even though I had no control over the situation to get the shot I really wanted was the reality. Inside I was dying to scream, “Get out of my way and let me have a turn to shoot”, but on the outside I stayed as quiet as a mouse and did whatever I could to get something I was proud of. I am very proud of these photographs and the way I executed them. When I spoke of using my creative brain above, it was not in the context of searching for an old bathtub to shoot in, but instead in the context of searching for the shots that would bring a unique perspective to the artist and their song by photographing with what I have got. In this case that meant lying on the ground to get Taylor’s bare feet walking through the snow, using a wide aperture and available light to make it look like bubbles were falling around her, taking a shot from an angle to make this beautiful girl who normally looks so big, look so small in her bed, remorseful for what she has done.

    I believe that success is a combination of luck and ambition. Taking those chances I get to shine, and running away with them is my goal. I feel lucky to have been asked to be on this creative set, and I worked hard to create something true to my style. Where the expectation here was stills, I delivered art.


  2. Please don’t take offence to this but I think I am right in presuming that you have taken behind the scenes images on Taylor’s video shoot and have not lit these yourself?, yes they are nice shots and you have composed them very well, but I think you have been a bit misleading in that people seem to think the shoot is your creative idea – the snow etc, where you have in fact been shooting her while they have been shooting the video?

  3. I am frequently critical of shots presented under “Daily Inspiration” on this site, but here all I can say is “wow”!

    Amazing photography, very well done.

  4. Thanks!

    Jonathan, I know exactly what you mean. Many times I have been handed someone’s point and shoot, the person calling out as they hand over the camera, “She’s a photographer. Let her take the picture.” Whether they are standing in front of a trash can or have the horrible light blinding them in the eyes they don’t care. They stand their smiling at me, waiting for the magic happen. After seeing the image pop up on the back of their LCD screen, I have to resist the temptation to run very far away with their camera in hand and not give it back. The perfectionist in me has very quickly deleted the picture in front of them and said “Eww. That one just didn’t turn out.” They stare at me strangely, as they should, and luckily I can play the crazy artist card. Rarely do they hand me their camera again. And I have often wondered if I had some time with that little camera, if I could have created something decent.

    Thanks for your comment. I will remember you next time I feel like sprinting off with someone else’s equipment :).


  5. Ann-Marie –
    I love your photos of Taylor! So creative and warm (Even in snow).

    A word about equipment. I agree with you about how the camera doesn’t matter, but I have recently tried to take some nice pics with a friends old digital P and S indoors and when then shutter speed goes down to 1/8 at iso800. I was really frustrated but things turned out okay, but the moral of the story is that even though the photographer is the most important part of the equation, it is nice to have decent equipment (not that it has to be expensive)

    keep up the beautiful work. For what it is worth, your entry was my pic for the m9. Great story!

  6. As on aside, I love the comments about using any camera and the main element being vision. I do think a really fun contest would be to use the most basic camera we could get and take an amazing photograph. Another fun exhibit would be a traveling camera. If we could take a camera and pass it around to all us and have it be a traveling camera I would love to see the photographs it produces. The logistics would be a nightmare though.

    And on a very happy note a camera enthusiast left a Leica M3 to my father when he died (with viewfinder and lenses) and my father is sending it to me. I am scared to thread film again, but WOW what a gift! Any advice would be great. I guess I got my wish and my journey will be going backwards a bit. We will see what I can do!

  7. Thank you so much!

    This contest opened my eyes to a different world, and Steve’s blog made me aware of new directions for my photography. I entered the Oskar Barnack Award contest with a series on childhood joy. With so many gorgeous reportage entries over there, my wheels are already spinning on a series to shoot for next year’s contest. I can’t stop thinking about it. That passion for ideas is what I love about this love of ours.

    For now here is my entry…

    As a photographer I strive to capture that moment in life in which we are carried away. When I photograph children, they are carried away by their amazement of our environment. Whether the element that carries them away is fire, air, earth, water, or just pure childhood joy, my camera and I disappear from their eyes. In that moment, I myself am carried away by time, wishing that this journey I am on could somehow travel backwards, and I could be a child again.


    For those of you that don’t have the time to follow the link, a baby beluga smiling for a camera doesn’t happen that often so I thought you should see it…

    [img]http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Ann-Marie Hensley photo 5.jpg[/img]

  8. All photos are so beautiful…. Ann-Marie, each of your photos is a poem! I love the composition and the colour…

  9. Thank You for the praises.

    And SAS thank you for the lemonade comment. It’s so easy to let something get to you, but if you can take a moment and breath, so many times you can figure out the wonderful reason that life worked out that way. Sometimes it is a very long stressful moment, but it hasn’t failed yet that if I look hard I can find that “infrared” lining:).

    All of your words will stay with me when I see these shots.


  10. These are very lovely, A-M. Given that, from my vantage point, Taylor Swift is still a young girl, I’m especially fond of the way #1 shows that, focusing on the room perhaps even more than the young woman in it.

    As for gear, I’m reminded of a story I recently heard about a guy that asked how much horsepower the engine of the car he was looking at had. After considering a moment, the dealer said, “sufficient”. So too, I think, your gear…


  11. nice work, i think you would do fine with a box brownie, the camera can help in some respects, i have have owned some of the finest equipment over the years and the best hassy and leica’s have not helped my vision, it is something you just cannot buy in a box at your local camera dealer you just have to have an eye for it and i think you do please post again

  12. BRAVOOOO!!!! INCREIBLEMENTE BELLO… LO QUE TIENES!!!! las fotografias y tus palabras!!!

    incredible beautifull …WHAT U GOT!!! the pics and the words!!!

    sorry for the translation if not ok

  13. I love your work and your “When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade” approach! It is so beautiful what you captured! You and your work are inspirational!

  14. Thank You guys for responding.

    Lucy, great question about what I have got. The short answer is a Nikon D700.

    The long answer is my thoughts on cameras that I have shot with in the past …

    For many years I shot with a Canon 10D which had a strange issue at the time, but I wish I had never gotten rid of. It added noise to each shot I took no matter what the ISO and the lighting. Interestingly enough it gave all of my work a very close to film quality.

    When I was able to upgrade I bought the first version of the Canon 5D. I always hated the act of shooting with it, but loved the pictures I achieved with it. Dialing the with the wheel on the back was so far from anything my brain could handle on the fly when changing apertures, shutters, and isos, and I was always yelling at that poor little camera. Despite my fumbling thumbs, the pictures were warm, rich, and beautiful. But alas, when I was hired to go out of town on a shoot the mirror fell out into my hand. Insert mirror, sweat, shoot, insert mirror again, run to the local camera store…

    Along came the only pro camera they had in stock, the Nikon D700. Thank goodness I hadn’t bought a ton of glass over the years because I wouldn’t have been able to switch gears so painlessly. This camera has the buttons exactly where I want them, but I have never loved the pictures that come straight out of camera with it and I am not a big Photoshopper. They seem over saturated and too clean if that makes any sense? Very digital. So I do what I can with apertures and lighting to get something I like.

    After everything I have read on this site it seems like a Leica M9 would be a great fit for me. I want simple with accessible dials and rich detail in the shots. If someone would just give one away it would be wonderful. Oh, that’s right–a very generous person already did:)!

    • I really like the lighting and composition of the bathtub image. Beautiful. I owned the D700 and I know what you mean. I switched to the M8.2 and from there to the M9 and I am very happy with it. I think your search for a more film like character in your photos will lead you to an M model. Thanks for sharing. D!RK

  15. Thank you for sharing these.

    The third and the fourth pictures are absolutely amazing!

    Great eye and great composition. Great indeed.

    • Bradley, you made me laugh out loud with that comment. If the weather man gives me snow, that is what I play with! During the contest and this shoot the weatherman delivered a lot of snow to Nashville.

      The snow you see here is interesting though because it is inside an old house. So you could say I like suds mixed with snow as well:).

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