The Photographer Project: Cana Dunlap McDonald

Portraits by Diana Deaver

What’s your birthdate? 10/30/1989

When did you first pick up a camera?  Tell me about that.  When did you know you had a talent for photography?  Natural talent or learned process?

As long as I can remember I have been the one in my family that liked to document all of our life events. Whether it was a birthday party, a road trip or a day at the beach. I loved taking photos throughout the day that told a story. I never imagined that photography would be something I would or could do as a career. In college I jumped form major to major, just feeling like I wanted to do so many things, but didn’t really feel like I had a passion for any particular one. After 3 years in college I got very discouraged by this and ended up dropping out and taking a year off to get my cosmetology license. I worked in a salon for a few years and had a client that was in the wedding industry. The conversation that I had with her inspired me to go out, that very day, and buy a professional camera. I snagged up my nieces and nephews, brought them to the park and had my first photography session. That day everything just clicked for me. I knew that this was my calling. I knew that the Lord was going to open so many doors and create so many relationships through this business.  After that first session I never looked back and I’ve never had any doubts that this is what I am meant to do. I think it is a natural talent for me. Other than researching camera features and editing techniques online, everything I’ve learned has been on the job, and trial and error. I have invested a lot of time and worked very hard to establish myself in the photography industry, but at the same time, I feel like it’s come very naturally and organically for me. It feels like its something I’ve always done and I know I will do forever. 

What do you love to photograph? People! I have a huge heart for people, and connections are so important and valuable to me. Weddings is where my heart is though, for sure. I love getting a chance to capture something that becomes an heirloom and heritage for families. How special is that?! It’s so important to me that I capture my couples as authentically and organically as possible. It’s knowing when to guide and pose them and when to just hush, step back and capture the moments as they unfold. I love capturing those moments throughout the day that no one knows or even expects are going to happen. It just feels like a little piece of magic! 

Who are some of your photographer icons and/or mentors?  I’ve tried to be really intentional early on in my career; not to follow or look too much at other photographers’ work for two reasons. The first one was I obviously was new and I was trying to find my “style”. And I really wanted to have a style that was authentically me and not me trying to emulate someone else’s work that I really admired. I think in doing so it really helped me find a style that is unique to me. Number 2 is that I have found the saying that “comparison is the thief of joy” is all too true with me. I have a tendency in life, not just photography, to compare myself to others. By not following other photographers’ work too closely, it kept me from comparing myself to them. Which gave me more joy in the work I did. I knew in my heart where I wanted to be aesthetically and professionally, and I knew it was going to take time. And in that time, I needed to find joy in the season of learning that I was in. 

Not to say I don’t have photographers that inspire me, because I definitely do! One of my favorites right now is India Earl. She has such a knack for capturing her clients in such a warm and joyful way! Literally everything she posts makes me swoon. If I do find myself falling into a creative rut, I go hangout on her website and I just soak up all that beautiful creativity and always leave a little more inspired!

You get to have dinner with 3 other people, alive or deceased.  With whom would you dine?  What would you ask them? 

1 // June Carter Cash – When my mom was a child she toured with Johnny Cash for a few years. She told me that June Carter was the first person in her life to ever teach her about The Lord. So I think I would like to talk with her about her boldness. I’d ask about her faith and how and if she spoke to others she met along her journey and career as an artist. 

2 // Mindy Kaling – Mostly because I think she is hilarious and I think we would be best friends. 

3 // Rosa Parks – I think about that day she was on the bus and the events that followed after. She was an incredibly brave woman and I always wonder what it was that made her finally so “no, I am not moving,” to the point where she was arrested for it. I would ask her all about that day! 

What makes you feel connected to your subject? Nothing makes me feel more connected during a shoot than when my clients says “we totally trust you.” That really empowers me to lead my clients to be themselves and be even more creative. If I don’t feel like they trust me or my vision, it makes me feel self conscious, which might make me hold back a little bit from trying to lead them into bringing out their natural connection and emotion in front of my camera. I am a people person so I love getting to know my clients’ stories. I love connecting with my clients though their story and especially when they share if they have had hardships through it, but have conquered though it and have come out the other side even stronger and more in love. It’s the transparency that I love so much, when my clients feel like they can trust me and in return it breaks down walls and really shows through in their photos! 

What are your thoughts on editing?  Like it or abhor it?  Do it yourself?  I love it! I do it all myself. I am very detail oriented and I absolutely touch every single image. Its just as exciting and creative for me as shooting is. Like I said earlier, for me, it’s what brings the images to life!

Is there any genre of photography that you’d like to explore further? Fashion/Editorial photography really intrigues me! I definitely can see myself exploring that side of photography more, in the near future. 

What’s on your photographic bucket list? Shooting a wedding in Ireland is at the very top of my list! 

How would you handle a difference of opinion with a client?  My clients are like friends to me. If they are concerned about something, it concerns me just as much. If it’s in regards to their wedding day, their opinion obviously always comes first. If it effects the images quality in a negative way, I would give my professional opinion and try to make sure that they have the absolute best experience, lighting and photos. It just depends on the situation. But ultimately they come first and their opinion and happiness is my top priority! 

What advice would you give an up and coming photographer?     I think what worked the best for me was not comparing myself to others. There will always be photographers out there that you will look up to and admire, but if you can’t be content with the season you are in, you will robbed of so much joy. Photography is a constant, ever-evolving journey. My biggest thing is you shouldn’t ever wake up and say “Ok, I have arrived. I found my style, I take nice photos, I’m comfortable here.”  My goal is to always strive to grow, learn and push myself. There is always more to learn! And the more you learn, the better you can serve your clients. 

Bonus – Also find your niche and completely devote yourself to learning everything you can about that area of photography. You can’t be the best in every field of photography. Choose the one that you’re most passionate about and pursue that.  

Are you involved in any kind of continuing education or professional groups? I am a part of a few online groups. My goal this year is to get more involved with our local community of photographers in Charleston. My favorite is “The Rising Tide” community. It promotes community over competition, which I am a huge advocate of!

What makes you feel loved? My love language is Words of Affirmation. When I get emails or call from my clients, telling me how much they love and appreciate the gallery I sent them, it fills my heart! Also, chocolate and coffee. When those are given to me, especially together, I feel like I must have done something right! 

What are your favorite conditions/lighting/circumstances to shoot?  Out in the middle of no where at sunset, with a little wind. SWOON.

What are your social media handles?

Instagram: canadunlapmcdonald

FB: https://www.facebook.com/canadunlap/

Website: canadunlap.com

What makes you feel pretty? clean hair, messy curls and a lot of mascara! 

Candids provided by Cana Dunlap McDonald

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