Anna Mesen + The Story Behind

Happy accidents! Those are sometimes the best photos we produce. In the case of Anna’s enduring shot of her daughter, the focus isn’t where you would think it should be but yet, we are so drawn to it. Also the use of shadows and light mixed with a beautiful black & white conversion, you can see why we wanted to feature it in our series The Story Behind. Continue reading to learn the story behind Anna’s image:

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What inspires your art?
My kids obviously : ). But also, what inspires me about photography is the ability to create something beautiful out of the ordinary. I am constantly amazed how the combination of great light and great timing can turn what others may view as a completely ordinary scene into a beautiful work of art.

Where was this photo taken?
At my home in Charlotte, NC.

How did the location add or hinder to your image?
My living room couch backs up to a large picture window that lets in beautiful light. I had my daughter sit on the couch to get the pretty sidelight that was coming in from the window.

DSLR, iphone, instant or film?
DSLR, Nikon D750 with a Sigma Art Series 35mm lens.

What were your camera settings for this image?
F/1.4, 1/800, ISO 400.

Can you tell us “The Story Behind” this shot?
I participate in a weekly photo challenge with 52Frames, an online weekly photography project that has really improved my photography so much over the years! The theme for the week I took this particular shot was “Black and White.” I knew that a beautiful black and white needs lots of contrast, so I chose to get a shot on my living room couch in my home because there is really pretty light that comes in the window behind the couch. I knew that the light coming in from the window and the relative darkness of the interior of my house would create the contrast I wanted for my black and white. My daughter is 5 and I have twin 1.5 year old boys, so they love nothing more than rolling around and wrestling on the couch. So I put them up there and let them have at it while I snapped away. I was going for a portrait, but this particular portrait was an accident. Most of my photography (especially my black and whites) have tack sharp focus with a lot of depth and dimension. I actually missed focus on this shot and caught my daughters hair instead of her eye. However, when I looked at the image in post processing I realized that I really loved it. I love that there is a certain mystery behind her smile that the soft focus creates.

What speaks to you about this image? What specifically made you press the shutter?
Her expression. She is 5 and has gotten very “camera aware”. So often times, when I take her photo she has a very forced or silly expression on her face. It takes a lot of effort for me to get her to forget about the camera and just be herself. This expression is so totally natural and so totally her. Plus, I think the soft focus adds to it. Almost like she has a secret she wants to tell me, but isn’t going to.

What was your composition technique with this shot?
I was shooting with my 35 mm so I got in close and let her fill the frame. I cropped to get her eye on the rule of thirds in post processing.

Did you have any lighting challenges/How did you light the image?
Natural light. No challenges with light really. This is one of my go-to spots in my house for pretty lighting.

Did you use any special techniques – freelensing, prism, etc?

Was this photo happenstance or did you visualize it prior? If so, how did you envision the image and set up for it?
I knew that I wanted a pretty black and white portrait. Although the soft focus was very much happenstance as it was accidental.

Did you use a preset to edit this image, your own selective edits or a combination of both?
I don’t use presets with my color images but have found one preset that I love for black and whites. It is Jackie J Presets…JSimpleBW1. When applied, this preset usually will way overexpose my images, but once I bring the highlights and the whites back down I really love the look it gives to a black and white photo.

Do you have any addition information you would like to share with our readers?
I used to shoot almost 100% in color. I was never happy when I tried to convert my photos to black and white. They all looked very flat and muddy. I have since discovered that the lighting is so key for a pretty black and white. A wide range of blacks and highlights SOOC are necessary to make a conversion to black and white.

Continue to be inspired by Anna’s gorgeous work at the following:


  • July 3, 2019

    Elizabeth Villegas

    Great work, Anna!