Kelly Sutton + The Story Behind

One of the questions we like to ask the photographers featured in The Story Behind is “Was this photo happenstance or did you visualize it prior?” Like a good majority of photos, most answer that they are a combination of the two but happenstance, true happenstance, is generally quite evident at first glance. This is what struck us about Kelly Sutton‘s photo of her son traversing across on a homemade adventure. As Kelly so eloquently puts it “Even the most boring and ordinary of moments can be visually exciting when we see the art of the world happening around us.” Hear, hear Kelly!

Explore Kelly’s dynamic photo with her below and for more information on Kelly’s style and for guidance on your own documentary work, explore her workshop here.

Can you tell us “The Story Behind” this shot?

Oh, I love this image! We had recently bought a new, way too large, tv (we didn’t keep it 😉 ), and it came with some massive pieces of styrofoam to protect the tv in the box. My son, Forrest, instantly started traversing back and forth across them as they sat against the wall, out of the way. I probably walked over to tell him to stay off of them, and saw the moment, through all sense of responsibility for saving the styrofoam pieces, and pulled out my iPhone instead. Everything about this moment grabbed my attention…the movement of the moment, his size in reference to the styrofoam, the gorgeous light (three ways), the shadows, the colors.

DSLR, iPhone, instant or film?

iPhone 6

What speaks to you about this image? What specifically made you press the shutter?

There’s so much going on in this frame that made me drop everything and capture this instant in time.

The moment, and the way he was stretching his arm out to cross safely, the light in so many forms, the deep shadows, the bold colors…. I always look for a moment that feels effortless. The way he was having to hold his body close to the wall, meant he had to reach his arm forward and the other out behind him for balance, which creates an energy within the frame, so much more than if he was walking straight on…you can feel the movement. I also really love how the styrofoam bridge gives an understanding of the scale of his “littleness.” Anyone bigger would not have been able to walk across the “bridge” without it breaking. I feel like it captures all the physical details about Forrest at age 3, without having to look at numbers and charts on a paper.

The light was awesome! …as it usually is, in this particular little corner of our home. What I especially loved about it was the three different kinds of light, I saw all in the one small space. The sun was getting low and there was a really wonderful flare of light coming in through the front windows (behind my son, and the wall he was standing against). The second kind of light came from the sun coming in through the front windows and reflecting off the kitchen sink window, which was behind me, over my left shoulder. The reflective light was shining back onto my son as a beautiful dappled light pattern. And then, because of the mirror on our antique candy machine, you can also see the artificial light from the light fixture above our sink, and the light pattern it creates on the ceiling. Three completely different forms of light in one frame–the ever elusive white whale.

The deep shadows within the frame add a wonderful of depth, and further enhance the beautiful light. The value of shadows within images should always be appreciated the same as light, in my opinion. Having the range of extreme darkness in one corner of the frame, paired with incredibly bright light in others creates such a dynamic visual interest to any image.

Colors are my everything. We purposefully include bold pops of color within out house, because it makes us happy. As with anything in life, balance can add a great deal of depth. The pop of red from the stool, the blue from the candy machine, and the colors of the painting on the wall, all work so well offset by the deep charcoal grey wall.

It was a split second in time I don’t know if I would have remembered otherwise, if not for the excitement that made me pull out my phone to capture it. Even the most boring and ordinary of moments can be visually exciting when we see the art of the world happening around us.

Did you have any lighting challenges/How did you light the image?

The lighting was a little tricky, with the extreme variation in light, bright light, alongside deep shadows. Capturing the light accurately without blowing the highlights, while at the same time not losing the details in the shadows can always be an exercise in mindfullness. And as much as I shoot with my iPhone, I know I often have less control over light, than if I were shooting with my Canon5DIII. iPhone images tend to lean darker, and with greater contrast, than DSLR images. I made sure to expose for the highlights, to make sure I wouldn’t lose them completely, knowing I could bring the exposure up while editing.

Was this photo happenstance or did you visualize it prior? If so, how did you envision the image and set up for it?

Total happenstance. I always prefer to wait for life to happen in front of me, and I am just there to document it.

Did you use a preset to edit this image, your own selective edits or a combination of both?

I edit all my iPhone images on my phone in VSCOapp, with the preset “G3.”

Your strength is so obviously your storytelling. What drives you to frame your art this way?

I find storytelling resonates so much with me that I ended up creating a workshop to help others carve their own. Storytelling is as old as mankind, and yet remains one of our most powerful forms of art. And over our lifetime, thousands of stories will pass through us, but there are some that stand out above all others. Those stories have something special…a special kind of magic, a special kind of truth…a special kind of something that grabs us by the feelings, and pulls us in to stay awhile. These are the stories that make up the fabric of our histories. Most days, we walk around in those special kind of stories. Whether these fractions of a second belong to you or a client, they are fractions of a second nonetheless, that will at some point have the ability to rewind the hands of time.

The beautiful documentary style of Kelly Sutton can be explored here: