Getting to Know You: Behind the Lens with Jill Wellington
When I first saw photos from Jill’s Vintage Val series I knew I wanted to talk to her about it. As an avid thrift shopper and junk enthusiast myself, I love how Jill incorporates found objects into her vision-driven photos.
Jill Wellington is a portrait photographer in Michigan. While she still photographs several sessions a month, she is now teaching photography and photo editing through her blog, video tutorials on her Youtube Channel and weekly newsletter. She just opened an Etsy shop to sell the digital backgrounds she spent years producing for her own professional photography.
What’s the silliest photo of yourself that you’re willing to share?
Here’s the silliest photo. It was taken during a brutal blizzard we had here in Michigan a few years ago. It’s actually a selfie (I usually hate selfies!) because I wanted a winter photo of myself with my camera for my blog. I had my camera set up on a tripod inside my front door. It was snowing so hard I could barely see across the street. You can see that I had to leap through deep snow to get in position as my feet are buried. This is CRAZY! But, I love how it turned out and it really captures what we photographers will do for a photo! I shoot in extreme conditions just because I WANT THE SHOT!
What attracted you to photography? Why did you become a photographer?
I have always loved taking photos, but never understood the mechanics until my husband bought me my first DSLR (a Canon Rebel) for my birthday in 2009. I was 52 years old at the time and my last child was leaving for college. I had no idea why I would need a nice camera with my children gone from the nest. I didn’t even take it out of the box for six months. My background is in journalism. I was a news reporter for eighteen years, and I have written and published four books. That year, I started writing a blog and realized I needed photos. So I opened the camera box and slowly, painstakingly began to study photography via blog posts and YouTube videos and shooting something every day. Photography is complex to learn, and for the first two years, I mostly shot flowers, landscapes…nature stuff that was right in front of me. But I had a strong fascination with photographing people. That was an entirely new ballgame; to learn how to capture beautiful skin tones and sparkly eyes. Photography is endlessly creative and puzzling…I still learn every time I shoot. I guess that’s what keeps me fascinated!
What gets you through the day?
Alone time is crucial for me because I pretty much live inside my head. For me, the creative process is constantly waking me up at night and filling my mind with ideas. I know this sounds crazy, but I get visions of the photos before I’m even on the shoot. The visions are so vivid, I see the fine details such as a flower the person is holding or the kind of shoes they will wear. This is amazing and annoying because then I am compelled to find all these props at various thrift stores and garage sales or order on Ebay.
That doesn’t sound crazy! How have you translated these visions into photos?
Sometimes I buy odd things at a thrift store and later see them in a vision for a photo shoot! This happened one day when I found two pretty pink buttons at Goodwill. I have absolutely NO NEED for pink buttons, but I bought them along with a pack of wooden grilling skewers that cost just 49-cents. I was baffled why I bought these useless items and tucked them away in a drawer when I got home. A few months later, I was planning a birthday shoot for a client, two-year-old Emma. I love to capture the essence of the month my subjects were born. Emma was born in January, and it just happened to be the most brutal winter in years with a foot of snow on the ground. I wanted to photograph Emma having a tea party with a large stuffed bear in the snow.
Imagine my utter enchantment when I was given a vivid vision and Emma wasn’t sitting with the big stuffed bear…she was sharing tea with a chic SNOW WOMAN with PINK BUTTON eyes and long black eyelashes made from construction paper! It was so cold when I made the snow woman, the snow wouldn’t stick and her head kept falling off. Then I had a vision: I saw the grilling skewers stuck in the head to attach the head to the body! I am crying as I write this because I am blown away by the magic of these visions! I have learned to totally trust them and just go with the flow…
My most amazing vision story began when I found a coral colored vintage hat at a thrift store. I had an immediate vision of a beautiful blonde with striking blue eyes wearing the hat. I couldn’t see her face, but I had a “feeling” of who she was and that she was very sophisticated. I searched for this elusive woman for five months! I was ready to photograph the hat on a gorgeous 18-year-old blonde I know, but I instinctively KNEW she wasn’t the woman in my vision. One day, I was walking out to pay my bill at the hair salon and THERE SHE WAS! She was the receptionist at the salon. My entire body filled with elation, and I got up the courage to ask her to pose in the hat. That was the birth of my Vintage Val series! We have been photographing this series every season for two years. Val and I both love it! The shoots are always guided by visions, which makes me very busy and sometimes cranky trying to come up with all the props! Our next shoot will be with a turquoise 1955 Mercury that I saw in a vision. Of course, I had to hunt it down at a car show and find the dress to match! I LOVE my Vintage Val series, and it is completely driven by my interesting visions.
Photos from the Vintage Val series, including the first one with the coral hat!
Update: Jill recently found the turquoise car, the dress, and the perfect shoes and completed the next part of her series. Read about it here.
Which Topaz product can you not live without?
I can’t pick just one! I use Topaz Filters on just about every photo now. My favorites are Impression, Simplify, ReMask, DeNoise, and I just began enjoying Adjust. I like to duplicate my photo in Photoshop and apply the filter. This way, I can mask it off of faces and skin or objects. That’s what I did with this photo where I used Adjust HDR for the tractor, but didn’t want it on the little boy or background greenery.
I also adore Topaz Glow! It’s fabulous to enhance backlit photos! I like to ignite the hair and mask it off the skin.
I do a lot of composite work and can’t live without Topaz ReMask! It’s the BEST at making clear selections! I had a client who wanted birthday portraits for her two-year-old named Cole. Cole loved trains, and she wanted to somehow incorporate a train into his photos. That’s when I had a vision of the photo below. I actually paid admission into our local Children’s Zoo and waited for an hour for the train to chug by to photograph it. I do the craziest stuff to fulfill my visions! My husband is always shaking his head. I used Topaz ReMask to extract the intricate train from a complicated background to create this composite. This now hangs as a canvas wrap in his bedroom!
What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started out?
I wish I could have had a wonderful mentor who knew everything about photography and could have shown me how to do everything! I had to dig for instruction, and it took me a LONG time to understand enough to start shooting professional portraits. I have taken this year off from client work so I can be that mentor for others to share and teach new photographers via my blog. My blog is packed with photography and photo editing tips and techniques plus lots of freebies. In January, I started a weekly newsletter where I focus on specific topics. I also opened a YouTube Channel where I create regular video tutorials actually showing editing techniques because I am a visual learner. At the age of 58, I want to pay it forward and share my knowledge with others. I am only doing portrait work that inspires me creatively. What a wonderful time of life!
More of Jill’s Work
I LOVE using Topaz filters! I wanted to hang a “painting” in my family room that just happens to have my daughter in it. I dressed her in a maroon gown because my family room is maroon and photographed her in a field of wildflowers. To make it into a “painting” I duplicated the photo, then used Topaz Impression. I wanted a Monet Painting look, so that’s the filter I used. I masked the effect off of her face and skin. This is now framed and hanging in my family room. Topaz Impression makes it SO EASY! You can check out more of my portrait photography on my website.
I use Topaz filters on many of my still-life photographs. Monet is my FAVE and matches my personal style of photography!!!
Are you working on any special projects that we can get a sneak peek on?
My latest project is an Etsy shop selling Jill Wellington Photography backgrounds. I have been creating them and using them in my own portrait photography for years. I decided it was time to share, so I just opened an Etsy shop to sell them! I’m very excited about this because I know these will help busy photographers and parents to create stunning portraits with very little effort. I am obsessed with carting these props on my bicycle to beautiful locations and photographing them. Photographers simply add their own baby or child to my backgrounds in Photoshop or PSE. I have a video tutorial showing how to do that on my YouTube channel. I will be adding more backgrounds all the time because I love making them and they are so easy to use.
Notice my added Topaz GLOW in the final edit! I am extremely grateful to Topaz Labs for taking my photography to a new level. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!