Local photography is starting to see a resurgence. After a couple years of occasional solo shows and many well-known names either doing one-off sessions or taking part in group exhibitions, we're seeing some familiar faces pop back up and a new batch of creative shutterbugs coming out of the work. Today we're going to focus on the work of Somer Ahonen, founder of LockBox Studios, who photographs detailed artistic pieces and boudoir collections. We chat with her about her career and the work coming out of her studios today. (All pictures courtesy of Ahonen.
Gavin: Hey, Somer! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Sandy, I am a mother of one 11-year-old son named Jett and wife to my wonderful supporting husband named Dave going on 12 years. I stay fit/in shape as an aerial performer on the side, and I teach pole fitness classes up in Salt Lake City at La Bombe Pole Fitness Studio. I also love to hike, bike and snowboard when time allows. I enjoy experiencing new things to help me stay well rounded and creative. I love to create art; that is why I feel in love with photography.
What initially got you interested in photography as an art form?
I loved how powerful an image could communicate a thought, feeling, and idea. I also love creating and doing hands-on work. The dark room was a magical place that made me feel peace, yet excitement.
Prior to college, what kind of art and photography had you created as you learned the craft?
It all started in my high school years when I found my dad's old SLR camera sitting in a box in the basement. Learning from an entirely manual camera was quite a challenge back then. I then went to the tech center for photography that my high school offered to seniors, and at that point, and ever since, I have been hooked. I had a lot of drive, so most of the learning was trial and error. Shoot, shoot, repeat.
You attended SLCC. What did you learn during your time there?
They had a fantastic program, great hands-on darkroom with a large commercial-style shooting space with all the equipment a photographer could dream of. And they also taught me more than lighting and camera techniques, but about how to appreciate other photographers and artists, and not to get so lost in our own work. I learned to step away from the cliche photos and shoot outside the "box."
How was it for you branching your skills out into visual arts and design?
All of my digital computer art is self-taught. It was a challenge going from film to digital. I feel I have to push myself to try new things; technology is amazing, and it keeps evolving, so we keep having to learn to grow. I enjoy digital as a medium for art and design.
What made you decide to start up your own photography studio?
Well, I love studio shooting, because it enables me to control the lighting and design my backgrounds and photo sets, [though] I do also like shooting outdoors using the landscapes as a studio. From college and playing in the studio, I knew that is what I wanted my profession to be, and I wanted to love going into work.
What was it like for you getting your business off the ground and finding subjects to shoot?
Well, nobody goes into photography trying to get rich, so the starving artist was legit. It took me working a few jobs until I had enough money to market. I shot a lot of weddings for years, as that was the easiest for me to advertise/market in here in Utah. It took a long time for my studio work to pick up.
What was it specifically about doing artistic photography that appealed to you?
I like experimenting and changing things up, and I can’t just do the "cookie cutter" thing. For me, I have a favorite crayon in the box, but it changes based on what I am feeling that day. If you find something that works, why stay in the comfort zone? There are many different answers, and art is giving you permission to express and to not be afraid to have a wrong answer.
For those curious, what do you usually shoot with, tech-wise?
I have the Canon 5D Mark II. I find myself using a fixed lens of 50mm for a lot of my work.
Do you prefer digital, or do you like working with film when you can?
It took me a long time to convert to digital, but now I absolutely prefer digital. I do miss the magic mystery of the film, though.
What's the process for you when you go into a session and figuring out what you'll be shooting?
I get a feel for what the client is looking for, but my goal is to find that light in them to photograph their beauty and uniqueness through my eyes. I try to get them to feel a certain way, and I want to capture their feelings. I want the final image to make you want to either be them or connect with that emotion [the image] projects.
What do you personally look for when going through the photos and deciding what's golden?
Basically, if the lighting is hitting the right spot, that leads my eye to every place to look at without pulling me away from the star of the image, combined with technique. But sometimes it’s just pure beauty emotion brought that can make an image strong.
How did you eventually make your way into boudoir sessions?
Five years into shooting weddings, I had a girl want what was called a "groom's book." After photographing that session, I then realized I was a natural at helping pose and light my subjects.
How is it for you working with that clientele where they're looking for something specific?
I like when it is a particular shoot, I always want to go into a session knowing what someone is looking for. Like I said, there is not a wrong answer, just different ones. I feel most people know what they want, but at the same time, they don’t. I do know every woman wants to feel and look beautiful, so that is always my focus. When there is one idea one emotion, it makes things less complicated so I can concentrate on the variety of style.
You've had over a decade of experience in the business. How do you view your work from where you started to where you are now?
Night and day, my technique has come a long way. I am still progressing. That is what I love about photography: I will never master it, I will always grow.
Are you looking to expand your business anytime down the road? Or are you comfortable with how things are?
I opened up a large studio and advertised through Groupon, Living Social and other forms of internet marketing, so I got to see how being a bigger business felt. It took away from the art; it seemed like an assembly line, and I didn’t like how it felt like "work." So I am back to a smaller space and fewer clients and loving what I do, and I know my clients can feel that.
For those wishing to book a session, how can they reach you?
Through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at 801-550-5164.
What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Well, this year I started my signature collection photography under SomerAhonen.com
offering more creative digital art. I have come up with an amazing way for women to constantly have a top model experience by joining my Somer’s Signature Art photo club. It is a monthly membership that gives them a free creative shoot every month, as I come up with original and creative themes to choose from. I have models and non-models in the club, as they love posting these images on social media or using them in their portfolios. You can read more about my photo club on my website.