Amazing Moms!

Amazing Mom Feature: Shawna Smith Blesses Us w/More of Her Story!

Me Ra Koh

When I flew down to San Diego yesterday morning, I was so excited to see people already resonating with Shawna Smith’s beautiful story of determination.  And then when I got on the plane to fly home, I was even more excited to see how many of you had commented.  It’s when amazing moms like Shawna have the courage to share not only the up times but the down times that we all feel a little stronger and able to go for our own “impossibles”.  I want to thank Shawna  and her beautiful family for sharing so openly with all of us yesterday and today.  Their sacrifice of vulnerability gives us courage that can’t be measured.

With great honor, I give you our Amazing Mom Interview.  Enjoy!  (Thank you Shawna. xoxo, m)

Q. When did you start your business and what was the turning point of taking it from a hobby to a business of charging people?

For me this seems like a different answer than most of the ones I’ve heard.  I’ve lived in the Seattle area for just three years now, and am slowly building my social circle. I have a few friends whose photos I take regularly for fun, but I haven’t had the onslaught of requests that photographers often mention.  Last year I was lucky enough to photograph a friend of mine at her homebirth, and I realized that there would be nothing better than capturing moments like this for the rest of my life. I decided it was now or never to make it a business, so I started up officially on the first of this year. My plan was to go slowly at the beginning and built momentum so I could take a break in June to have a kid and then hop back in for the busy season.  I was extremely sick for the majority of my pregnancy and it has been a bumpy year, so it has been a lot of effort to get the ball rolling now that I’m back in the game, but it has been great reconnecting with clients!

Q. What inspires your photography?

Changes, be it seasons, new life, or just a new day. Life is our story, and it unfolds a little bit every day – some days take forever just to get through, but once they are over, we realize just how quickly things change.  Sometimes as a stay-at-home mom I wish bed time were a wee bit closer, but when I get up the next morning my child has suddenly learned to speak in first person, or has decided that marching was so last week and skipping is her new means of transportation. As a mother it is something we have to learn to embrace, but that doesn’t mean we can’t document it!

As a photographer, you only get a few hours of someone’s life to record everything they will miss next week, next month, next year.  I can’t help but view the world from a mother’s perspective. I take joy in finding all those little details and making them tangible.

They are even more powerful when they are grouped together, so clusters of detail images inspire me. It is my mission to keep my clients’ memories from getting stuck on the computer, so I offer storybooks as my primary product.

Q. What inspires you as a person, artist?

Nature inspires me most of all. When I notice I’m getting drained, all I have to do is head outside into the fresh air. As an artist, I am inspired by light and its ability to make the mundane extraordinary.

I have only a few good friends who are willing to go on walks with me, since I can’t possibly pass beautiful light without stopping to stare and take it all in. I think most people around me are used to me interrupting whatever we are doing to say, “No wait. Hold on, you’re sitting in the most BEAUTIFUL light right now. *Click*.”

Q. What made you decide to do photography as more than a hobby? What was your turning point?

As I mentioned above, my turning point was nothing very obvious, so I decided to pick a date to just jump in. I figured if I didn’t do it before my second kid arrived, I’d put it off forever!  A friend of mine, Meg, had just started up her business on the other coast with two girls under the age of two, and I realized I had no excuses left.  It happened to coincide with Me Ra’s SOAR! scholarship, which I did not apply to, knowing my mind would be elsewhere come June. But the scholarship provided to boost I needed to assess my goals and make the leap.

Once I started understanding the ins and outs of photography, I realized that there was no going back. It’s like when you see the arrow in the Fed-ex truck for the first time. You can’t ever NOT see it again. (Am I right??)  My mind frames things in snapshots and I can’t pass up beauty anywhere.

Seeing families out and having a wonderful time makes my heart flutter, and knowing that I can help families savor those moments -that was the all momentum I needed to act.

Q. What are the classes/workshops/DVDs you’ve watched to teach yourself photography? Were they helpful?

Most everything I have done has been self-help. There are a number of workshops that I cannot WAIT to attend, but until then I am on the creative road.  My dad gave me a crash course when he handed me his DSLR two years ago so I could document his growing granddaughter from the other coast.  I owe my photography passion to him and he has been my go-to man for all my crazy technical questions!  Then I got Me Ra’s Refuse to Say Cheese and Beyond the Green Box DVDs from the local library -they were a wonderful help, giving me a completely different perspective on the camera’s functions.

On top of that, there are SO many amazing photographers who will share their secrets and tips just because they love their readers (like Me Ra!).  Through them I have more teachers than I can count. Participating in Project 365 in 2009 really helped me focus on my favorite types of photography and practice various skills with goals I would set myself. Currently I am participating in the 100 Strangers Project to improve my awareness and speed in composing shots, all the while making a complete stranger feel at ease.

There are so many different ways to improve your skills -workshops are amazing and should be at the top of any professional’s list. But for all those who don’t have the budget for them yet, as long as you get involved in interactive communities, set yourself goals, and really push yourself, there’s no reason you can’t improve now.  I’m amazed to see just how far I have come in a short time and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be next year!

Q. What is one or two pieces marketing/self-promotion ideas that you can give our newbies? (something you did to get your name out there).

Photography is all about word of mouth, especially in this economy. People don’t want to pass up the chance to have their portraits done, but they need to be reassured that they are making the right decision. Pass out at least two cards to everyone you meet so they can share them. Do anything you can do to help word of mouth, be it a charity donation, a school auction gift, or a referral bonus for current clients. Make sure you are up to date and present in the online world – blogging, facebooking, or tweeting!

One of the most beneficial exercises I did was Karen’s SOAR! exercise on “Building Your Pipeline”– I contacted a new business that I read about in our local newspaper, and we have since formed a great business relationship. Network network network, you’ll never regret it.

Q. What was your first “paid” shoot like? How did you feel on the way, during and after?

Oh my goodness, you can imagine that I was a bit stressed if you read yesterday’s post.  But I was so excited to meet the family! I make a point of filling out a survey over the phone when I meet my clients, so that I know what I’m getting into, and this family seemed great.  The house was absolutely beautiful and it calmed me to have an inspiring setting (and entire room in SUPERPINK!) and the authority to say, “This is not the room where you expected me to photograph you, but trust me. It will look great.”

Sure I was nervous over whether I was getting anything good, and I missed some shots that would have been awesome to have, but I was so excited about it.  When I got home, the images that I nailed pretty much eclipsed the ones I missed so I slowly stopped kicking myself about them. I’m still very bad about reliving the moments I missed, but I get more positive with each shoot.

Q. What is the best and toughest part about doing photography while being a mom and wife at the same time?

Wow, apart from having great photos of my girls, the best thing is the support I have from my husband.  I mean, he will literally come home from work, shrug off the mess all around us and start dinner because he knows I have a deadline to edit a shoot or publish a blog post.  He is amazing.  In the same breath, it’s hard to tear myself away from the computer after the girls are in bed and have us time – it feels like “wasted” time because the clock is always ticking on a home business. It’s very hard to shut out the business world when it is in the next room. Of course, that makes it all the more important to learn how.

Obviously, for the girls it is my divided time that’s difficult.

I’m having to learn to not spend my time doing anything halfway. I set myself time goals and turn on music to make sure I’m focused.  For the duration of this CD I will only clean house and not look at the computer.  For these three songs (or longer, who cares if we get carried away!) I will lie on the floor with the girls and follow their every whim. For the next 5 minutes I will get the blog photos done and when the timer is up, no more tweaking them! (Oh but I still cheat and go back to adjust them… it’s a never ending battle in the digital darkroom.) And most of all, now that my daughter is old enough to talk, we have discussions about appropriate ways to get my attention.  She is so perceptive of my every mood and movement, and craves mama time with a new baby in the house.  When she says “Mama, I need you,” I drop everything and spend time with her until she is replenished.

Q.  Is there one more piece of advice you’d give to newbies?

Oh my gosh, am I even qualified to offer any yet?  I’d have to say… figure out your work flow system, write it down and make it a habit. You want to spend the least time possible in front of a computer, and you definitely don’t want to spend time searching through images you don’t really need!  Pick your favorite images from each shoot, work on those only, and then go back and edit the ones you need to fill in the gaps. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to every single photo, but the fewer you save, the more impact they will have.

Q. Do you remember how we first connected?

It was years ago. I think I stumbled across Me Ra’s blog while looking for photography tips. I entered a few of the photo contests to no avail, and applied for a Running on Empty scholarship.  So much on this blog spoke to me and fueled my need to take better and better photos. I don’t know where I’d be right now without Me Ra!


Shawna, you are such a remarkable woman, and your tenacity to not give up blesses us all!  The fact that you entered our photo contests and the Running on Empty contest but never won, and yet here you are blessing us with your story..I’m speechless.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not giving up on your dreams.  You have no idea how much you’ve ignited my own dreams even more, not to mention all those who will read your story.

Much, much love Shawna, Me Ra

*p.s. To book a photo session with this amazing woman or see more of her beautiful imagery, CLICK HERE! Shawna is based in the Greater Seattle area, bringing joy to every family she works with!

If you have questions for Shawna or would like her to expand on any thing in today’s feature, post them up in the comments!  I’m sure Shawna would love to hear from you!

Did you miss one of our Amazing Mom features?  If so, check them out here!

1. Interview w/ Leslie Webber from Indianapolis, Indiana!

2. Interview w/ Michelle Riddle from Santa Cruz, CA!

3. Interview w/Tracie Stier-Johnson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin!

4. Interview w/Lora Ayers from Atlanta, Georgia!

5. Interview w/Carey Schumacher from San Diego, CA!

6.  Interview w/Amanda DiMonda from Long Island, NY!

7.  Spotlight w/Sreyown Sun from Cambodia!

8.  Interview w/Gina Maxine from Central Coast, CA!

9.  Interview Part 1 w/Melanie Jaramillo

10.  Interview Part 2 w/Melanie Jaramillo from CA!

*p.s.s. I would LOVE to feature YOU on the blog too!

If you have attended our CONFIDENCE workshop, purchased one of our five 101 Kits , or watched our DVDs, or tried one of my Photo-Recipes and had rewarding results, and feel like your life has taken a new and wonderful turn for the better, then please send me an email at . We will send you directions on how to be featured!

We can’t promise to feature everyone, but I want to do this type of blog post more and more. Hundreds of people have sent us the most amazing emails regarding our workshops and DVDs impacting their life, their before and after photos, their revived passion; I would love for all of you to hear those stories!  If you submitted an email to us before and didn’t hear back, please accept my personal apologies.   I’m working on getting more and more help with the number of daily emails I receive.  So just to play it safe, copy Genie on the email too!  :)

This little family is getting ready to head to San Francisco tomorrow!  It’s going to be a weekend of building CONFIDENCE in the lives of 21 women!  I can’t wait!!



  1. Freida Hall says:

    Could we be twin sisters separated at birth I wonder? 🙂
    I just found myself nodding my head as I went along reading your words from today – and yesterday. I didn’t comment on yesterday’s post as it felt “to real” if that makes sense and I wasn’t ready to go to that place. Your story is inspiring and I am very thankful MeRa shared it. Your passion, heart, determination – whatever it is that makes you keep truckin’ – is just amazing!
    “I can’t help but view the world from a mother’s perspective.” <– Love this line of yours, just love it.
    Your last Q & A – followed by MeRa's ending paragraph made me tear up.
    I'm sure I don't have the right words to leave for you here, right now – but just know that your story is appreciated.
    Much love,

  2. Delanae says:

    Oh my goodness your photographs are beautiful! The one of the little girls blonde locks gave me chills. My own daughter has the most wonderful red curly hair and I never got a photo like that of her, but I can just imagine how much I would cherish it if I had one now that she’s grown, married and moved to Montana! Makes me get misty eyed thinking of it. Hummm… perhaps I’ll pour over my old photos of her and get lucky and find one I can edit. 🙂 It truly was an inspirational photo!

    It’s been so fun getting to know you better the past two days. You truly are an amazing mom and more than that, a wonderful woman with a wonderful heart.

    PS… I love storybooks too! So cool to have that in common. 🙂

  3. Beautiful Shawna, Love your inspiration…. and I’ve actually never seen the arrow in the fed-ex truck. I just saw it, and now i’m sure I always will 😉

  4. Lynda says:

    Thank you for sharing … it has inspired me! And, I love your advice to Newbies!

  5. Samantha says:

    Your detail shots are just wonderful. Thanks again for inspiring us all.

  6. Lisa says:

    What a great interview! I think I want to be a photographer now!

  7. Delanae says:

    Chalk me up as another one who never knew of the fed-ex arrow. Pretty darn cool! I will certaintly see it from here on out! 🙂

  8. The fed ex arrow? Huh?? I’ll have to watch for it now.

    Shawna, this was amazing to read. To watch and follow your progress as a photographer has been a privilege. So excited for your successes.

  9. shawna says:

    Thank you all! This is a wonderful community here and it was fantastic to be able to share with everyone.

  10. jeramy says:

    good stuff shawna! beautiful images.

    hehemm…..i left my heart….in san francisco!

  11. Christina B says:

    Think ive read both blogs several times now! Thank you for sharing your story and thank you MeRa for posting.. very inspirational! definitely has giving me strength to keep moving forward with my dreams =) Thank you again and your images are absolutely beautiful!!!

  12. denise karis says:

    mera! I love this woman, thank you for finding her for us! her story is very inspiring and so are her images….that last one is heaven! 🙂

  13. Evelinde Wuijts says:

    Shawna, even in Holland WE LOVE YOUR PHOTOS you are truly a great photographer!

  14. camera says:

    WOW – thanks for the post!! I was always curious.