4 min read

Interview with Barbara MacFerrin | GBPW Episode 112

4 min read

Last updated:

There can be lots of detours that we take along the way before we find what we’re called to do. That’s definitely what happened with me.

Barbara MacFerrin

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In this week’s episode, I speak with fine art portrait photographer Barbara MacFerrin. After a few stressful career changes, Barbara decided to pursue photography full-time. Today, she has a thriving photography business and an impressive portfolio. Thanks to her resilience and open-mindedness, she was able to create an incredible life for herself.

We talk about:

  • Barbara’s fascinating life story, from quitting her job to attending massage school
  • Tips for anyone who wants to host photography workshops
  • How she guides and encourages her models

& much more!

I really enjoyed speaking with Barbara about her incredible life. She’s a resilient and creative person who has a lot of beautiful stories to share. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy listening to this episode if you need a boost of motivation!

Here is a preview of our conversation with Barbara MacFerrin.

Q: What makes your style unique?

Barbara MacFerrin: They’re not your average photograph. I do take care to use flattering lighting and retouching to bring out the best in my clients. I add a painterly touch to my imagery. Sometimes people will ask me, “Is that a painting or a photograph?”

So I think that’s what differentiates my work. I do some post processing. A lot of photographers do. For client photographs, I may not take it to the extreme of my creative work because I have two different styles. One is more for my clients and one is my really creative work. I do have a signature style that people recognise.

When I did start my photography business, I realised I needed to be different because there are so many photographers. I thought to myself, “What do I need to do to make my work stand out because I don’t want to be just another photographer in this big forest of photographers?” I found my style fairly early and just stuck with it. Some people don’t like it and some people love it. So I think as long as you stay true to the style you love, you become recognised for that style.

Q: How did you discover your style? How did you know that it was yours?

Barbara MacFerrin: I’ve always been inspired by Renaissance and Baroque old master paintings. My father liked that style of art as well. I remember looking at those kinds of paintings as a kid and being in awe of how they painted so beautifully with such limited tools back then. The lighting was always so beautiful. That inspired me to create my photographs in such a way that mimicked the lighting of that time period. I started learning how to light my subjects that way.

If you think about it, the old masters used a window. Their subjects were always placed near a window. They would have that beautiful – they call it the Rembrandt light – light coming from an angle from one side. That’s how I tend to light my clients, where we retain the shadows.

A lot of photographers are scared of shadows, especially in portraiture. They tend to light their subjects with flat light. It is flattering. The flat lighting will hide wrinkles and imperfections a lot more than directional light does, but it does lack that dimensionality. I just started lighting that way and started playing with the editing to try and mimic a painterly feel. I’ve always loved it.

Q: What advice would you give to portrait photographers who want to improve their studio shots?

Barbara MacFerrin: Really learn to use your lights and be patient because learning to use studio lighting can be frustrating. You don’t need expensive lighting. Expensive lights won’t make you a better photographer or make you better at lighting. Master one light before adding more. It’s important to get a light that you can use or that maybe you’ve used before. If you don’t have any lighting, ask what type of lights other photographers are using. Even if you’re on a budget, just get whatever you can find that fits your budget. Just master that one light, practice with one light.

Don’t make a lot of changes all at once. You get a photo, you don’t like it, and then you end up changing a whole bunch of things. “Okay, I’m going to change the light position, I’m going to change the power of the light, I’m going to change my F stop, I’m going to change…” Don’t make so many changes at once because you won’t know what the problem was. A lot of times, you get a great photo but don’t know how to duplicate it because you made so many changes. You don’t remember what you did.

It’s important to make small tweaks and take note of those changes so that when you do get a good photograph, you can replicate that. Keep doing that until you can consistently get the same result over and over again.


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Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.

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