Does going pro make photography less enjoyable? How do you find your voice as a photographer? And how can you possibly balance family life and a successful photography career!?

These are just a few of the questions Sony Artisan and incredibly talented pro photographer Caroline Jensen received (and answered) last Friday during our latest Live Q&A in Groups.

Caroline’s fine-art photographic style can be described very accurately as painterly. Many of her images quite literally are processed to look like paintings—a breath of fresh air when you compare them to the “nuclear eyes” style portraiture that has become so en vogue.

When she’s not creating painterly portraits of her children, she’s capturing emotive black and white imagery, macro photos, and landscapes, or making her living as a full-time photography instructor.

But don’t worry if you didn’t get a chance to participate in the Q&A on Friday. Just like we did with Brian Matiash and Vivienne Gucwa before her, we’ve compiled the best Questions and Answers from the session and listed them all below.

The insights she offered are priceless, and could very well be the advice you’ve been needing to turn your passion into something more, just like Caroline did.

If you don’t have time to read them all right now, don’t forget to bookmark this page. There’s way too much amazing advice here to miss out on.

1st Prize Winner – Caroline’s Favorite Question

dennyweinmann: Caroline, I have one other question for you, that I’m dying to get help with! With a full-time job and raising a three-year-old daughter, it seems like I almost have to turn the entire world off to go out and shoot for an hour or so. Unfortunately, the only time I find to post process is after she goes to bed, around 8 pm, but then, I’m too tired to even want to look at a computer screen.

Please spill all of your tips and secrets for making time to be a photographer. Thanks so much for taking time to answer our questions!

CAROLINE: Oh! I hear you! My biggest tip is to just do your best to get it right in camera. Then you have the option of doing a quick and clean edit.

You can even shoot in jpeg if you are really careful. I do jpeg projects each year that I call ‘card to kiosk’. I shoot and then take them to Costco or similar. It is purely so that I can get out the the perfectionist headspace an have normal images of my kids’ day to day life. Save the fancy editing for times when you know it will be fun!

2nd Prize Winner – Caroline’s Second Favorite Question

BlackLight: Hi Caroline, when you started photography did you have a goal of where you would go with it? And how has your profession shaped you?

I mean you might have been doing photography before you decided to take it seriously… So what impact did your journey had on your photos? And therefore what advice would you give to other aspiring photographers?

CAROLINE: That is such a great question! I really did have a plan, or at least I had a plan for the TYPE of career I would have. There was no guarantee that the passion for photography would grow (it did) or that I would actually be ok at it (I hope I am), but I knew that I wanted to work from home so that I could be there for my kids.

We moved many many times for the military (17 times in ten years) and it was important that something was constant for my kids. I didn’t want them having caregivers that changed every six months. My goals for my perfect job included working from home and having flexibility to travel. Photography, and specifically online workshops, fit that perfectly for me.

I knew that I wanted to always continue learning and growing. I wanted to stay ahead of the technology curve and take advantage of new processing programs. All of that led me to creating art pieces vs other types of photography jobs. I wanted complete control over the images. It would be hard for me to specialize in one genre, and I knew that. Teaching photography allows me the benefit of being diverse in my work and I can work anywhere I have an internet connection. I could do sessions or commercial work, but again, I need to be very flexible for my kids’ sake right now. They come first. As my kids get older I likely will reevaluate my goals, but for now I could not be more content!

My advice for aspiring photographers is to follow your passion. The successful photographer friends I have with the most success are the most passionate about what they do. They were destined for it and made it happen. They know what images they like to make and which ones they do not. Evaluate the reason why you are doing it and ask yourself if this art form would be part of your life with or without an income from it. It can be a normal job, of course, but a passion for it gets you through the valleys and plateaus that are bound to happen over time.

Our Favorite Questions and Answers from Yesterday’s Q&A

Alfredo Guadarrama: Hi Caroline, I think that your work is outstanding. My question: does becoming a pro photographer make the actual process of taking photographs less enjoyable than it is for an amateur? Lots of new pressure related factors come with a pro photographer career such as deadlines, client expectations, etc.

CAROLINE: Oh, this is a really great question! Yes, it is harder when you are hanging out in the open, so to speak. The lovely thing is that the images I have on display are very ‘me’ and most of my work will continue to be similar.

The worst thing though is the feeling of always having to top yourself. I don’t like that at all. When I feel that anxiety coming on I remind myself that it isn’t about me. I make images to pass on to my kids or to help others. Not every image needs to be a home run. That is why I teach mobile photography too. I need some outlet where perfection isn’t expected.

Some people are extremely good at channeling the visions of others and they have the career paths to go with it, others are world travelers with adventurous hearts that bring distant lands to people like me. I am good at channeling life with kids and the beauty around me. The anxiety creeps in when I forget that. Knowing your limitations and strengths is key.

Pavel Balanenko: Hello Caroline! How do you sell your images? (besides magazines and work for Adobe) Is it prints or licenses?(Or maybe art galleries?) Thanks!

CAROLINE: I sell work through a stock agency (Offset) and I have a long running gallery show in Arizona.

I want to put more time and effort into building my stock portfolio as I love the passive income it provides. That requires a bit of a different mind set though. That requires images that are more universal and a little less specific to my children.

I hope to dive into that more in the near future. I would like to license through 500px as well.

Roberto Campos: In a photographic era where people are obsessed with super sharpness but we begin to see a great comeback, fronted by Sony and their AMAZING, very small, new cameras (ie. the Sony RX1’s and the A7’s), bringing a revival of a more point and shoot philosophy where the cameras are good enough to let them be (think Daido Moriyama).

How do you balance the softness and the sharpness present in many of your photographs to become a perfect blend of attraction and expression? What makes for an interesting photograph in your eyes? Thanks for doing a Q&A! 🙂 Proud NEX7 user here.

CAROLINE: Well, I adore film and vintage lenses. In fact, I seek out vintage lenses (part of the reason I went mirrorless) so that I can impart old time effects to my images at capture. I use blur and softness to direct the eye, but to also evoke feeling.

It is hard to quantify and explain, but perfection is sometimes too perfect for me.

I love all things vintage, so I suppose that has something to do with it. I do love super sharpness on occasion though and Sony really shines there. The lenses I have are wicked sharp and amazing when I am shooting in a way that seeks to bring out the finest details.

sarahewilkerson: Hi Caroline!! <3 Which image(s) represent your most significant turning points? Is there an image, for example, in which you felt especially powerful as an artist or which made you feel that you had found your true self or reason for creating? CAROLINE: Hi, Sarah! Oh goodness. I think the magnifying glass one may one of the first. My other favorites are my first ‘arty’ images. They were not very good, but they signified a big shift for me. <3

John Kopsidas You do what you have to do to learn and advance you craft. You take really good pictures. In the end how can you get noticed in this ocean of fellow photographers?

Post online? Send your pictures to contests? Flood social media with your work? Or is it a matter of chance? The right picture was at the right place the right moment… To be noticed by accident by the right person who just happened to be passing by?

CAROLINE: For me, it was really finding me and then sharing at the forum where I work (ClickinMoms). I was a member long before I was a teacher.

I really found my voice in 2012 when I started shooting with Lensbaby lenses. It was like I had found my happy place. It was as if a light turned on and my work was ‘all me’ all of a sudden. Being a member of a community, such as Clickinmoms or 500px, really helps to make sharing easy. I was published several times after that and it snowballed after that.

My biggest joy is helping other photographers grow. That gives me the satisfaction I am looking for and brings me joy. The exposure I get helps me to continue doing that.

Brittney Williams: Hi, lovely images Caroline … Just beautiful! 🙂 I have two questions to ask:

The first one is what are tips for a just turned pro photographer in terms of pricing prints, promo, how to sell and promote your work, etc?

My second question is who are some of your favorite photographers currently—be they amateur or pro?

CAROLINE: I tend to work in places where prices are set in advance—stock photography being the main one. Therefore, I am not really the best source for pricing info. I will say that I get frustrated with the undervaluing of image making though. I have about $50,000 worth of camera gear, software, etc. I have to maintain it all, replace it when needed, and continue my education. It all costs, so each image really has a lot of $$ poured into it. Your prices should reflect that and create a profit.

Promotion has always been hard for me. I make my images for me and my family (you should see my walls!) and then I sell the more generic things for stock. The one thing I do know, people recognize someone who is being true to themselves vs someone who is copying a trend. Finding and refining your voice as a photographer goes a long way towards being noticed—and voice is everything from visualization to the print.

I love a diverse group of photographers—mostly those starkly different from me. I love the work and philosophy of Cole Thompson, the dreamy work of Tami Bone, the beauty and colors of daily life captured by Sarah Wilkerson, the emotion and heart of Emma Wood’s black-and-white photography, the creative thought behind April Milani’s images, the creative vision and ingenuity of Jeremy Cowart—I could go on forever. All of them know who they are though and embrace their talents and are honest about their shortcomings.

Marshall: Hi Caroline! I find Macro Photography different and so difficult from the rest. How you manage to crave out meaning and sense from them and what aspires you do to it in the first place?

Also there are so many pictures of same kind—for example in your pictures ‘Bent Leaf’ and ‘Curved Lines,’ what distinguishes their identities as two different pictures with their meanings?

CAROLINE: I love macro because it forces me to simplify and notice the details. I feel good when my perspective gets a needed shift through macro. Macro is often my personal therapy because it relaxes me.

I have to be honest, a lot of the names were chosen at the last second to avoid having them labeled ‘edit’ or ‘leaf’. 🙂 Macro is hard because it is often so simple that it really doesn’t need a title.

Tammy Swarek: Wow! Your images are incredibly emotional. Flawless execution. Are they personal expressions? I use photography so many times as a way to express what I am going through. Sometimes it is overwhelming and difficult to arise at a single concept. Do you have a process for planning your images?

CAROLINE: Yes, many of my images are personal expressions mirrored though my subject. My children are often my subjects and they often mirror my emotions whether I want them to or not! Other times I use still or simple images to be a counterpoint to my chaotic life. Either way, they are a little piece of me.

Most of my images are spontaneous. I may post process them in an elaborate way, but I like nothing better than a magical, real moment. Other times I may plan something, or more often, recreate something I missed. I do prefer spontaneous images though.

Occasionally, I will plan an image where I want to convey something, but that is less often.

dennyweinmann: Caroline, I really enjoy your natural light portraiture. I like the thought of using natural light to emphasize the features of one’s face with warm, inviting tones. What are some suggestions you’d give to someone with only a kit lens, say 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6, on producing captivating images such as yours? Is updated glass necessary to create almost dreamy portraits or do you use mostly post-processing to achieve to the image you have imagined? Thank you!

CAROLINE: Oh, I would say that the light is everything. Really. The quality of light in early morning or early evening is just so soft and it makes hair and skin look lovely too.

I often shoot at f/5.6 to emphasize textures, so I do believe that any lens will work. I even have iPhone images that have sold as stock photography. It is all about working the light. I really do not like to work hard in post-processing.

The only thing that takes a long time is digital painting, but that is a joy-of-the-journey thing. If the light is perfect, the edit may take less than a minute to complete.

Wes Bonneville: Hey Caroline! What got you into photography—and why do you personally think of it as an art form, instead of a simple hobby?

CAROLINE: Oh, that is a good one! I think of it as art because it is my version of smearing paint on a canvas. I have a huge passion for it and that sends it into a new category for me. I garden as a hobby. I used to sew as a hobby. The passion part was not as great though. Photography is my version of self-expression and so it is more personal and also therapeutic for me.

I got into photography as a form of self-expression too. I always have taken snaps with a point and shoot camera (and still do—Sony RX100III), but my big cameras are usually for pieces I frame on the wall or use for gallery work.

Alex Kie: Hi Caroline, could you explain how your style became your style? How did you originally evolved into this style? Many thanks!

CAROLINE: I had a hard time finding ‘me’ at first. It really helps to know your camera and settings like the back of your hand. It is very hard to be true to your self when you do not know how to translate what you see in your mind’s eye to the LCD screen. Once I was solid in that, it became a lot easier to spend some time isolating what I like and do not like.

I like singular subjects and groups are hard for me, I love simple images that tell a clear story, light is always a huge component for me and it is often directional or backlit. I do not like pinks, purples, and magenta (in my work). I LOVE it in the work of others, but it isn’t a good fit for me. I love green, brown, and orange or warm yellow. Blues are emotive to me and often symbolize things for me.

I liken style to language. We learn English, but we personalize it after we are fluent. Photography is the same way. Once I was fluent, I could start to personalize it.

Ole Bendiksen: If you should give 3 basic rules for making stunning pictures ? What would the 3 advice be that you would give to all photographers? And what is the first thing you do with a picture in Lightroom or Photoshop.. Thanx in advance. Norway

CAROLINE: Hello! Three basic rules….

1. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I do not like cloning or manipulating too much, so I try to
frame the scene so that I do not have anything to deal with later.

2. Understand depth of field and use it to include or exclude elements.

3. Understand the exposure triangle really well so that you can think creatively. It is
hard to have a defined vision if any elements are left to chance. Visualization is key to producing work that that expresses your own creative voice.

Finally, the first thing I do in Lr/PS after making selections is to sync my calibration settings. I sometimes use Adobe Standard, but more often I choose a Sony preset, such as neutral or light.

Michael Rosen: This is somewhat of a strange question. If you had the ability to go back in time, what advice on photography would you have given yourself 5 years ago?

CAROLINE: That is a really awesome question! First, I would have told myself to spend more time shooting snapshots! I was so obsessed with learning to get everything ‘right’ that I have several years with very few images. Life happens and not every image needs to be perfect. I snap away with my iPhone and have albums made from Instagram now. I love that we have ‘normal’ images too.

Second, I would have told myself to really analyze my own photographic voice. I have SO many images that look like someone else made them (often actions I used contributed to this). It is wasted time trying to be someone else. If I had analyzed my natural preferences more, I likely would have been able to say no to so many things that just weren’t for me!

Ms. Bobbett: With the work-life balance, do you carry a camera in your “off” time for that moment when you might say “oh I wish I had my camera!” And if so, do you ever use those photos?

CAROLINE: Yes, I always have my camera with me! Some of my best images have been shot because I made my husband stop the car so I could run out to shoot something. My camera bag comes to the grocery store with me, ha! Some of my most random images have been the most well received.

Davide Greggio: Hi Caroline. I’m not a pro photographer, but I like to learn new techniques and I often try to experiment different styles when shooting and processing. Unfortunately the result is that I often change style and cannot put my shots on a common framework. Did you experienced the same problem during your career? How did you managed to find a personal style?

CAROLINE: This is an awesome question! I never stop learning and growing. I am always experimenting with new programs and gear too. I also shoot many genres. It all boils down to being really honest with yourself and knowing what you like and don’t like.

My constants are similarities in light, contrast, and color (or the lack of it). I was all over the map until I started to associate images as being ‘me’ or not. After that I was able to say no to assignments that didn’t mesh well with my style.

Learning to say no has been a big help. For instance, I may say that I will do your family session, but I will not do it at noon or in an urban location. Neither of those scenarios help me express my voice very well. I prefer singular subjects or two subjects connecting (child and animal), which is another consideration.

It boils down to knowing yourself and how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to wander. An artist or a hobbyist has a lot more freedom to operate in this way. It is also helpful if stock agencies like your style. 🙂

Wanda Silas: You don’t use watermarks, can you please discuss your decision? Thank you.

CAROLINE: Yes, I have had images stolen with or without them. I just understand that that is what happens, even though I wish it wouldn’t. I have had to lecture my kids about lifting images from the Internet, so I know that even people who should know better fall into temptation.

I am looking into a digital watermark, but I haven’t done it yet. I do see the benefit of people finding me through a watermark with a web address, so I may implement that at some point. Honestly, I just don’t like the look of them!

Sake van Pelt: You make a lot photo’s with kids. They all have a really spontaneous feeling, but I’m sure most of them are staged. With a grown-up model it’s already hard to bring your idea and feeling into the frame, but I’m sure it’s even harder to let little children do what you want, without them starting to get annoyed or bored. How do you manage to keep them concentrated and relaxed and spontaneous at the same time while bringing the idea you have in mind to life?

CAROLINE: A lot of my images are truly spontaneous. It helps that I have dramatic kids, haha! A child deeply playing in imagination is a joy to shoot! Children interacting with pets are also a joy to shoot. I just hope they do that in great light. 🙂

Planned shoots are different and, I’ll be honest, most kids (mine included) have about a 30 minute limit. Breaks are important, snacks are important, and listening to what they are really saying is important.

The best thing I have found is to have a very defined limits and to involve them in the choices and poses. My kids all have cameras and they are much more interested now that they understand the language, ie. If I mention aperture is shallow so please stay still, they get that.

When I shoot others’ children I am usually a distant shooter. I set the scene and let them run… ideally after dogs, cats, or something that they genuinely love.

Kristian D. Hansen: Hi Caroline. In post-production, what is your favorite features to use and how much time do you spend on a Picture in average?

CAROLINE: I love dodge and burn! That is a big part of my work. I also love painterly programs, normally plug ins for Lr or PS. I can spend a minute on an image (often moody lit images that are quick conversions to BW) or up to days for images painted in Corel Painter.

I wanted to say that I just followed you and love your work! It reminds me of Miksang or the photography movement where you learn to see beauty around you, just as it is. So lovely!

My heritage is from Denmark too–Bornholm!

Luka Mohar: Caroline, with artist such as yourself, I often wonder, what is your success rate?

I mean, sometimes it seems that every image you take is that jaw-dropping, “kodak moment”, amazing, timeless piece of work. But how many times do you fail to make the image?

How many times do you see it in your head and then it just doesn’t work out, no matter how hard you try, or how solid the idea seemed when you took the shot? How do you deal with these kinds of situations? What’s the ratio between the failures and successes?

CAROLINE: That is a great question! I only set out to make art pieces a few times a week. Outside of that I spend a lot of time snapping away with my phone. That gives me the freedom to not always think so hard about my work. I want to remember real life too, and that doesn’t always happen in lovely light.

The arty pieces I make are often spontaneous too, but in response to something that is already photo worthy—lovely light, a cute moment in nice light, a moment of connection between my children or pets. It makes it easy to create art when all the stars align and I am not having to fight against anything.

If I set out to make a piece where planning is involved… say a collaborative project, then I don’t really take many frames. I have my settings, set, and outcome already defined. I am flexible though and am willing to let the scene just unfold.

Many of my favorite images were gifts to me vs me making/taking the image and I was ready with my camera in the moment.

I have to be honest though: sometimes, things just never come together! That usually happens when I am forcing things too much and not enjoying the process.

BlackLight: Hi Caroline! I really like your black and white photography and I am trying to learn a bit from them too. I like doing nature shots mainly… One of the trouble I face is of Image Positioning. Sometimes I can’t decide the perfect alignment for photos. What factors do you consider? I also like including clouds in the shot but they are not always mesmerizing. Please give some editing advice for that.

Also please tell something about your work mechanism for the pictures “Birds in November” and “fishing.”

CAROLINE: Hello! I often let clouds lead the way in my images. If they are strong and forceful, they will be a prominent part of the frame—a character, if you will. If the sky is open and empty, then I will fill the frame with the ground, trees, or grasses.

I tend to shoot from my tummy quite a bit. I can never seem to get low enough! That vantage point often brings dramatic new perspective. There are times when you need to combine exposures too. If the clouds are amazing, you might need to combine an exposure for the clouds and the foreground so that everything is properly exposed.

Birds in November was taken one evening as the sun started to set behind pretty cloud cover. I was standing next to a prairie slough and the birds were continually going up and down from the water to the sky.

Fishing was taken late in the evening—about 9:30pm on a summer evening at the lake. I used my Lensbaby soft optic to shoot that image, which accounts for unique effect. I believe it was a full moon night, so the sky was very bright.

Indira Klotzer: Hi Caroline, I’m a huge fan of your work. I feel like all your images tells a story in a timeless way. I also LOVE your processing and the way you use color. Do you mind sharing a bit on what you look for in terms of using color as part of your voice. Besides, shooting regularly, what would you recommend someone do to “find their style”. What else would you recommend to someone like myself to help push me to the next level? Is there anything you do that you think helps you develop your skills (your eye, your art)? Thank you .

CAROLINE: Hello! Color as part of my voice….that is a huge thing for me. I am always searching for what makes me, me. I think the process of distilling our personal style has much to do with self analysis and our subconscious attractions. I may appreciate, and even love, someone else’s work, but their style may be absolutely wrong for me. I think what I truly appreciate is viewing the work of someone who is honest with themselves and honest with their style.

I love warm, autumn tones–probably because I have red hair and freckles. I fought it as a child, but grew to appreciate that these were the colors I was given and these are the colors that make me feel comfortable. You will rarely find pink, purple, or magenta in my work. They make me agitated. If they are there it is usually to represent frustration or some kind of anxiety.

I recommend that you do a lot of soul searching by making images that you never share. It is really telling when you see a collection of images that you made for your wall only, and not for the world. It is like pushing the pause button on the frantic ‘like me’ world we live in.

Also, study light and figure out what kind of light makes you sigh, take notice, or causes a physical reaction. Then study that and incorporate it into your work. 🙂

Celeste Pavlik: Hi Caroline! You are an amazing artist. I am always in awe of how you take a photo that is full of emotive qualities and then add another layer of magical through post processing. Can you walk us through your creative process? Does the idea for the final image come before you click the shutter or throughout your processing of the image?

CAROLINE: Hi! I do think that I tend to visualize images from start to finish prior to shooting. The interesting thing is that I tend not to visualize them very far in advance. Often, I ‘see’ the image just before I click the shutter. I don’t often set out to plan an image in advance and set the scene and plan the processing.

Most of my images were shot during real life. I am a HUGE proponent of studying the art of observation so that a photographer can be ready when the decisive moment strikes. Those moments mean a lot to me because the moment of capture is real versus created.

I do love created works of art, I want to be clear about that, but I truly enjoy the surprise moments of beauty and genuine connection that were not contrived in advance. I like to take those candid moments and process them in a way that looks like I planned it. The longer I do this; the easier it is to visualize the end product in the split second before clicking the shutter.

Rod Garcia Hernandez: Hello Caroline! Your photos look like they have an awesome story behind, so that’s actually my question, how do you create the concept/story for your images? I mean where does your inspiration come from? Also, any advice you would have wanted to know at the beginning of your career?

CAROLINE: I really try to use observation to capture sweet moments in time. I rarely set up a scene and shoot an image (but I will touch on that option in a second). I try to be ready the entire time my camera is around my neck, or when my make my husband slam on the breaks because I see something!

There are times that I will recreate scenes that were very important to me, but I was without a camera or I wasn’t ready fast enough. Most of the stories I tell are real moments in my own home or the result of collaboration with my kids to tell stories they want to tell. My more elaborate works are often images that tell stories that my kids helped me to write or images that represent something we are working through as a family. One half of my photography is spontaneous and the other half is used for healing or in the same way a person would use a journal—to process daily life and then move on.

My biggest advice for new photographers is to shoot and NOT share for acolades. Shoot a LOT—thousands of frames. Try to find your own voice outside of other photographers. Use art, sculpture, music, poetry, and studying nature to learn to see light and understand form.

Take classes or find mentors to help you understand the nuts and bolts of the exposure triangle and RAW editing, but work on honing your own voice outside of other photographer influences. A good teacher will help you find your own voice vs. making clones of themselves.

Your voice comes through when the works you create are a blend of your understanding of the technicals (exposure triangle and basic editing) and your vision of the world. Pay close attention to your preferences outside of photography too. Clothing colors, favorite locations, favorite seasons, etc. are all clues to your photographic voice.

A huge thank you to Caroline, who generously donated her time to answer your questions. This is just a fraction of the total number of questions answered, so if you want more, don’t forget to check out the full Q&A in Groups.

We also owe Sony a thank you for helping to connect us with an incredible Sony Artisan like Caroline, put this Q&A together, and for providing the 1st place prize of a Sony a6000 and kit lens! We’re sure Denny is psyched to receive it!

To learn more about the Sony cameras that Caroline uses—she’s a huge fan of the a7S and her trusty RX100 Mark III—head over to the Sony Alpha Website. And if you’d like to follow Caroline on her continued photographic adventures, follow her on 500px, visit her website, say hi on Twitter, or like her Facebook Page.