A working mother of three, Kelly Sweda once studied photojournalism in grad school, but due to a lack of confidence in her work, left her program and abandoned taking pictures altogether. Ten years later, Sweda was introduced to Instagram by her sister, a photographer, and started right back up again. Today, she has her own business and was recently included on an international list as one of the “top 100 photographers to watch in 2015.”
Despite her success and knack for taking pictures, Sweda never expected she would be a photographer. “I grew up thinking I’d become a teacher because that’s what my mom was; I never assumed I’d do anything else. It wasn’t until graduate school—and particularly within the last two years, as an adult—that I developed a love for photography and decided to pursue it professionally,” she says.
By constantly shooting with her phone and camera, Sweda has become more and more drawn into child photography. Although she has had to relearn many of the technical aspects, getting back into photography after a whole decade has allowed her to refine her skills and recognize her strengths and interests. For Sweda, the most rewarding aspect of what she does is getting to preserve precious childhood moments. Her daughter serves as a continuous source of inspiration, as well as the primary subject of her Instagram feed.
“[Children] have a natural sense of wonder and excitement at their surroundings, and I find them most often to be free and uninhibited in front of the camera. This is my very favorite thing to capture: the uninhibitedness of children experiencing the world,” she continues, “I shoot outdoors in natural light, my images are candid and un-staged, and my favorite things to capture are the ‘in between moments’ where my subject is totally unaware of my presence. Those milliseconds preserved are like magic to me.”
In addition to her child and family shoots, Sweda likes to take on some commercial work, although she is more selective with it. Right now she’s in the middle of a summer social media campaign with Gap Kids, which she’s particularly excited about. She also keeps busy working as the Communications Manager of the locally based Dream Foundation, the only national dream-granting foundation for terminally ill adults and their families. (The next Dream Foundation event will be the 14th Annual Celebration of Dreams Gala, which will be held November 7 at the Bacara Resort & Spa.)
With three kids and a career, Sweda often feels herself starting to take on more commitments than she can handle. Her best advice for balancing work and motherhood? “The importance of saying no and the benefits that come from it,” she confides. “Nothing positive ever comes from spreading yourself too thin. The next opportunity will always present itself, and I’ll know when it’s right to say yes. It’s easier said than done, but it sure feels good when I do it.”
Kelly Sweda Photography is currently booking summertime child and family photo sessions both here in Santa Barbara and along the Southern California coast. She is extending a special offer to Seasons readers: $100 off a 2015 session when you mention this post when you schedule your shoot.