HOT SHOT: Tara Whitney

I’ve been working on this new blog for months. And by working, I mean consistently putting it on the back burner. For so many months that these pictures were actually taken of Tara last year. It’s no secret that I’ve had a photogirl crush on her forever.  Her work is unpretentious, real, and warm. And I can say unequivocally that’s exactly what she’s like in person. She’s also a thrifting ninja, and has put together one of the most creative homes I’ve ever seen. I could’ve pored over every gorgeous basket, and candle and photograph for hours.

And she totally wins for Best Beach Hair.

Predictable question, but how did you get into photography?

I was really drawn to it very young. I always loved looking at pictures in albums. I would beg my mom to let me be in charge of the camera on family vacations and in high school I set up “modeling” type shoots with my best friends. When my children were born it became impossible to ignore my yearnings to have beautiful photographs of them. However we were completely poor and had no extra money to hire a photographer or buy a good camera. One Christmas, my husband surprised me with a Canon Rebel (film). He also pushed me to take two introductory photography courses at a local night school. From that moment on I was hooked. I burned through so much film, the one hour lab knew me and my preferences. I was obsessed with discovering new things and photographing my children as they grew.

If you hadn’t been a photographer, what would you have been?

In my wildest dreams, an author or interior decorator or wardrobe stylist or reporter or anything that would allow me to move around a lot.

You’ve managed to create a wildly successful portrait business, while raising four kids. How do you find the balance between work/family/self care?

I’m not sure that I do. It always seems like one thing is being left out. The only way I have a chance at it is due to the support of my husband, Jeff. He has pushed me forward every step of the way, and picks up the slack that I leave behind. I have been working really hard the last few years to refocus my life and find my purpose. In doing that, I have realized what things/people/activities are a drain on me and what actually satisfies me and creates more energy. I need a lot of energy to maintain everything, and I am actually a very low energy person. So creating energy is a big part of my day.

Have you ever felt burned out? If so, what do you do to get re-inspired?

I went through a major burn out a few years ago. I considered shutting down my business. I was in turmoil over it for months. In the end, I decided that what I really wanted out of my life was to be able to do photography AND life, and do it in a way that wasn’t draining me. So, I streamlined the time I spent online. I cut down on sessions. I stopped traveling. I really just made everything simple and small. I also changed my idea of what a successful business was, I had to. It no longer meant jet setting and big client numbers.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I wake up and get the kids ready for school. They are in four different schools so it is quite the production. After they leave, I make my breakfast and spend a little bit of time alone, in the quiet of the house. I often forget to take a shower until later int he day (or not at all) because I get drawn into what I need to work on that day. If my husband is working from home, we go out to lunch. I finish up my workday when the kids get back, which is about 3:30. After that I am focused on them: homework, errands, dinner, family time, showers, goodnights. On days that I have free, without pressing deadlines or orders, I like to get out of the house. I will head to the thrift, or drive around looking for new locations to shoot, or sometimes spend an hour at the beach.

Where do you feel most comfortable?

At home. Behind a camera. With my feet in the ocean.

Something you’re still learning?

How to cope with the fact that I have no control over what life is going to throw at me.

What do you find challenging about being a photographer?

The business side is hard for me to wrap my head around. I am the creative type – I just want to do fun and pretty things, not BILLS and ORDERS and EMAIL.

Your portraits have such a relaxed, easy-going vibe? Knowing people are generally nervous about having portraits taken, how do you make your clients feel relaxed?


I also legitimately want to get to know my clients, so I ask a lot of questions and can usually find something to relate to very easily. I quickly take stock of the person or group I am with and go from there.

Your favorite piece of gear?

Would it be totally stupid to say my heart? The gear doesn’t matter to me. At all. It is a means to an end.

Favorite quote?

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been.” – Diane Arbus

Favorite city/ why?

San Francisco holds me captive and every time I leave I feel like a piece of my soul is being ripped out. I am not totally sure why, but I am in love with that place.

You re-vamped your backyard into an adorable oasis. What do you love most about it?

I love that it doesn’t look like crap anymore, full of trash and old toys! I love that the process fulfilled me so much, gave me so much. I love tending to my plant babies. I love sitting outside now.

Any tips for someone who might feel intimidated about creating a new outdoor space?

I didn’t have a lot of money or time to get mine going. I started by throwing everything away and cleaning it really well. Then I just slowly collected things here and there. It is almost entirely furnished/ supplied by thrift shops, flea markets, and garage sales. I went low maintenance with the plants and chose succulents almost exclusively. You never have to water those suckers, and they are amazingly beautiful.

What are your thoughts on blogging?

My thoughts on blogging have changed a lot and will continue to change I am sure. When I began it was purely for family and friends. This was in 2005, when there weren’t a whole lot of people blogging. It grew and grew and I am not totally sure I have handled that as well as I could have. It can get to your head. It can make you jealous and crazy and feel horrible about yourself. My purpose in blogging is to create meaningful content that clients or like minded people would read, but never make anyone feel “less than”.

What do you think are the three biggest mistakes photographers make?

Over processing, over processing, over processing. Did I say over processing? Let me just mention over processing.

Best three tips for someone just starting out?

Ignore what everyone else tells you to do and do what you WANT to do, what you are passionate about.

Take a class. Never stop learning.

Tread carefully through the internet.

The photos you take of your own family are so beautiful and real. What tips would you give readers who’d like to take better photos of their own families?

My end game is to have a million photographs of what I found to be beautiful about my life. BUT I don’t want my kids or husband to ever roll their eyes when they see me coming. Because then the photos would be their fake smiles as their brains are firing off, “Ugh, not again!” So we talk about pictures, about why I want to take them, and it is never expected out of them. I also rarely set them up for a photo, and instead act like a fly on the wall, just snapping at what is unfolding in front of me. Go outside. Go outside at the end of the day when the light is prettiest. Play with them. And you will get lucky, I promise.

photos by Maile

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