When the Wonkybot Studios founders happened to see a few headshots and editorial photographs taken by local Alabama photographer Mayme Smith, they recognized her incredible eye and hired her to shoot a ‘Spooky Troop’ editorial and some behind-the-scenes photography of “Tara Tremendous” during their time in Anniston, Alabama. The result was a stunning, gorgeous collection of photos that brought Stewart St John’s characters to life. In an effort to help bring some attention to this rising new talent, Wonkybot sat down with the up and coming teen photographer to talk about her experience working with the studio and her approach and process.
Wonkybot.com: You recently shot photographs for both of Wonkybot’s musical projects ‘Tara Tremendous’ and ‘Spooky Troop’. Tell us about the experience working with the Wonkybots (Stewart, Todd and Michael) on these projects.
Mayme Smith: Working with “the Wonkybots” was great! All three of them were unbelievably kind about my work! The fact that they found time to pull team members away for a moment to thank and encourage them, in the midst of all the things they had going, was lovely. Stewart, Todd, and Michael just seem to have this radiating presence that I’m pretty sure could make any room brighter and happier.
Wonkybot.com: What was it about the projects that inspired you? What did you take away from them?
Mayme Smith: I absolutely love the stories, partially because of the fact that the kids are pursuing goals (becoming a hero, saving the world etc.). They have active interests and ideas. They aren’t just letting life pass them by. I think it is a pleasant change in comparison to many current stories. Honestly, as a sixteen year-old photographer I took away encouragement. I always feel like people either are too shocked I actually have plans or they don’t take them seriously at all, so I found the characters (especially in Spooky Troop) to be very relatable.
Wonkybot.com: What was your approach to the Spooky Troop photo shoot?
Mayme Smith: As soon as I discussed this shoot with Stewart St. John, I fell in love with the entire concept. Parker House in Anniston is this gorgeous old house and the owners were kind enough to say we could use it for the shoot. I went to the house a few days before rehearsals to get ideas of which rooms to use for each character. It was almost like some of the rooms were built just for the characters! As soon as I walked into one of the rooms, I said “This is perfect! There are paintings of dresses on the walls…Delilah loves clothes!” When it came time for the actual shoot, it was so fantastic. We had about one hour at the house for the shoot, which was about 10 minutes or less with each actor…which was a very limited time frame. But since they were focused and understood their characters so well, it went perfectly! As I took the photos, I got more and more excited, because I just felt everything had come together so well.
Wonkybot.com: What was your approach to the Tara Tremendous shoot?
Mayme Smith: The Tara Tremendous shoot was completely different than the Spooky Troop shoot. Due to scheduling conflicts, we decided to use the Performing Arts Center as the location about 15 minutes before the shoot. For this shoot I had an hour or more, but only two actors. Which was great! Also, in this shoot, not only were the girls super focused, they had lots of ideas for photos…Many of which we used! Also, Kaylin’s mom was a huge help and a wonderful last-minute assistant. It started to rain towards the end of the shoot and we decided to go inside. I honestly wasn’t confident about the photos until I began to edit later, but I loved the results in the end.
Wonkybot.com: During the concert show you were also taking pictures, which is tricky because you’re basically in front of a live audience. What do you look for exactly when you’re shooting a live performance? How do you “stay out of the way” and still get the job done?
Mayme Smith: Oh, goodness! Photographing anything live is complicated, because you have limited area to move around in and you only have one chance to take a photo of a moment. For this shoot I spent most of my time either standing behind the stage right grand curtain or on a slanted walkway on stage left. The most difficult part for me was only being able to see half the show at a time. It is sad to think that I missed half the moments.
Wonkybot.com: How many photos do you usually take on a shoot? Dozens? Hundreds? And how do you narrow those down?
Mayme Smith: The number of photos depends on the type of shoot. When I’m working with a model in an environment where changes can be made and moments can be repeated, I take around three hundred photos in the shoot. In times, like a live performance, where you have one chance to take a photo, I take closer to five hundred photos in an hour. As I edit, narrowing down photos is easy for me because I usually have an idea of which photos I like and don’t like as soon as I take them. I just narrow them down based on technical quality of the image and the appearance of the subject.
Wonkybot.com: You seem to prefer natural rather than artificial light. Tell us about that.
Mayme Smith: I feel like natural light gives a more comfortable feeling to photos. The people/things within the photos seem to belong and exist within the frame. I see light almost like a spirit and if that is controlled and artificial, the whole image will replicate that feeling. Although small amounts of artificial light are sometimes necessary evils in my work. But you know, a few years from now if my opinion is completely different, I will regret these words….
Wonkybot.com: Tell us about your process post-shoot.
Mayme Smith: Well, it involves lots of coffee, indie pop/reggae playlists, and hours of time spent staring at a laptop screen. This between stage of after the camera, but not a finished piece, is probably my least favorite part of the process. But, it’s definitely worth it.
Wonkybot.com: What camera(s) do you shoot with and why? And what about specific lens’ you prefer to shoot with?
Mayme Smith: I shoot with Nikon, a D750 and a D3200 as backup. I bought my Nikon D3200 a couple years ago as a beginner DSLR, and I love that camera. So recently, when I decided to upgrade, I stayed with Nikon. Most of my photos are shot with a 50mm lens, but I also really love using my 35mm.
Wonkybot.com: What photo software do you use on your photographs? Tell us about that process.
Mayme Smith: All my editing is done in Adobe Lightroom CC. The process is boring. I have several presets that I will attempt to use on a photo and then make lighting/color adjustments from there. One photo can take between five and thirty minutes, depending on the amount of detail work needed. But if a preset won’t work, (which mine aren’t perfect and a lot of time don’t) I start from the ground up and editing one photo can take up to an hour.
Wonkybot.com: How long have you been taking photographs? Does the talent run in the family?
Mayme Smith: I’ve been taking photos for as long as I can remember. My mom was into scrapbooking when I was young(er), so she took lots of photos and let me take lots of photos. My grandfather is an amazing hobbyist photographer and when I was about nine he taught me how to “see” photos instead of just taking snapshots. We drove around looking for dead trees to photograph and then we would go to his house to edit the background into bizarre colors. To this day, craggily old trees catch my attention. I started taking a more active interest in photography when I was about 12 after taking a photography class. And then when I was 14 I bought my first DSLR camera.
Wonkybot.com: Share with us your ideal shoot!
Mayme Smith: I don’t know how to answer that…. It’s not something I have ever given thought. I don’t think an ideal shoot is something I can describe. I might be able to come up with an ideal situation or the perfect model for a shoot, but that won’t really make it “ideal”.
Photographs from the Spooky Troop editorial shoot can be seen in the Spooky Troop The Musical promo trailer, click the button below to watch.