The PhotoVideoEDU Featured Student for May 2014, Sarah L. Ernst, brings a love for animals and the North Carolina countryside where she lives to her work. She talked with us about her experience at McDowell Tech, her adventurous approach to portraiture, and the connection she feels with her canine and equine subjects.
Click here to learn more about Sarah L. Ernst and see her portfolios.
PhotoVideoEDU: How did you get into photography?
Sarah L. Ernst: I’m 52, and back in the 70s, my brother was shooting a lot. I followed him around and tried to read his photography magazines. My first camera was a Brownie Hawkeye medium format camera that my grandmother gave to me. Then in the 80s I met my husband, who also liked to shoot, and he would show me a little bit. When we got married in the 90s, my husband gave me a little Canon film camera and said, “This is for taking photos of the kids.”
As I shot my own children, I realized that I was capturing moments but I could do it better. So I told my husband around 2001 that I wanted a Rebel film camera. He said, “Digital is coming, so let’s wait.” Then in 2005, I had a bout with thyroid cancer. For Christmas, my husband gave me a Canon Digital Rebel and said, “This is for you because it’s what you wanted, and life’s too short.” From then on, I ran with it. I started entering photos at the state fair and coming home with ribbons. One year, I told my family that if I came home with ribbons for everything I entered, I’d go to photo school. And I did.
PhotoVideoEDU: What have you gotten out of the McDowell Tech program?
Sarah L. Ernst: It’s been fantastic. John Rountree and Blake Madden are the two professors there. They have studios and a lot of equipment, and they’re hands-on. They take you from the very beginning—showing you the camera parts—to really pushing the work and teaching every aspect of photography.
I can go in there and ask the stupidest question in the world and they just say it’s the most natural thing to ask. They could be critical and mean, but they’re not. They’re just wonderful. And that’s with every student, from the youngest to the oldest and from the least promising to the most promising. Everyone is treated the same. And with all the equipment at the school, there is no reason why anybody can’t go in there and just learn, learn, and learn.
PhotoVideoEDU: You do a lot of photography with animals. Why, and what is it like to work with them?
Sarah L. Ernst: I was born and raised in south Louisiana, and that’s a sportsman’s paradise. My family were big outdoorsmen, sportsmen of the highest caliber. Every weekend, everybody would be out together with the animals. Now, here on the farm, I have a dozen. If something comes to live with us, it stays. We don’t sell animals. We take care of them, and they become family members. I think because of that, I have a deep understanding of animals’ needs and wants. So that’s how I photograph them. To me, life without animals would be terrible. I couldn’t imagine it. I want to do more dramatic, beautiful shots of horses and dogs, to show that there is a soul and a spirit there, and they’re akin to us.
PhotoVideoEDU: What are your plans for after graduation?
Sarah L. Ernst: I do a lot of location portraiture, and that’s my favorite thing to do. I want to include the landscape in my portraiture. I also want to do some wedding photography. I’d love to do more equine photography and get more well known in that area. I don’t want to be just your next-door photographer. I’m trying to do it for the art and the love that I get out of it, and at the same time to give people excellent images that they can keep for a lifetime.
PhotoVideoEDU: What do you like about location portraiture?
Sarah L. Ernst: The adventure of it. Asking what’s around the next corner and over the next hill. I have a natural tendency to explore, and to me, that’s what location portraiture is all about: Let’s take those lights and hike up the side of that mountain over there and see what we can do. I’m tired of seeing people shot against brick walls and on steps. I say let’s do something else and get a little adventuresome. It’s going to take a little time and be hot and buggy, but we’ll work together.