By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
Sometimes, laughter really is the best medicine. It can lighten our hearts, lift our spirits and cheer us up; but for local photographer Ellen Gwin, it makes the difference between a good shot and the perfect shot.
This Appalachian alumna and High Country native seeks to bring out the best in the world around her, always chasing natural light and the warm, candid moments that make life’s most important occasions so special.
When she’s behind the camera, you can rest assured that something beautiful is in the works.
Back in Boone
Born in Boone and raised in Winston-Salem, Gwin grew up surrounded by creative minds, and she found her niche in photography by the time she was in middle school.
“I come from a family of artists, and it was kind of the first thing I felt like I could use as a tool for expression,” she said. “I’m not very good with a pencil or a pen, but I can do things with a camera.”
After completing high school, she pursued a double major in photography and communications at Appalachian State University, where she once again found her home in the High Country and met the man who is now her husband.
“I came to App, lived in Boone, met a boy and never left,” said Gwin.
With dual bachelor’s degrees under her belt, the aspiring photographer jumped right in to the local art scene. She enjoyed the process of learning and growing as an artist, but eventually felt drawn to portrait photography, where she could exercise her communications skills and build relationships in the area.
“After finishing college and staying in the Boone area, I did a lot more shows and exhibitions at first — a lot more alternative processes, landscapes and different things,” she said. “I happened into working with another photographer, Katie Langley, for about two years, and she was encouraging me to do my own thing.
“I was already involved in the artistic world, so the natural progression was to go back to working with people. I craved working with people more, to have some of that energy and interaction.”
By 2008, Gwin was shooting weddings and portraits as a photographer and an entrepreneur.
Behind the Camera
Today, Gwin shoots a variety of weddings and portrait sessions in the High Country throughout the year, not including other projects for local businesses.
“Every year it varies, definitely. In good years, I have more than 10 weddings,” she said. “Portraits have really grown for me over the years, too.”
She enjoys documenting moments and experiences for her clients throughout their lives, and many of them turn to her for every special occasion.
“I do lots of families, babies, children, engagements, anniversaries, pregnancies and more,” said Gwin. “Weddings are often the first of many family things like that, so it’s really building relationships and friendships with a lot of people.”
When she’s behind the camera, Gwin is always on the hunt for the perfect shot. She’s always looking for the best natural light, and she’s always looking for true happiness in every smile.
“I guess you could say that laughter really inspires me, but also getting to know other professionals out there and looking at their work — seeing somebody who reminds you how to look at light and color in a certain way.”
Even when she’s putting her photography skills to work, Gwin is always incorporating her expertise in communications, too.
“My communications major is part of what I use every day, too. Whether it’s body language or public speaking or working with people, I use that side of my skills,” she said. “It’s a tough job decision to go out and try to do something you really want to do, but it’s rewarding.”
Weddings in the High South
Although wedding photography can be a more demanding responsibility than other projects, Gwin said it comes with its own set of rewards.
“It’s a little more high intensity. The expectation and delivery of the wedding day is definitely more intense than your typical family portraits, but they’re all important, because they’re trying to capture the emotion in people’s lives,” she said. “At a wedding, there’s a lot more energy, and I feed off of that, too. There’s more excitement and nerves, and you’re trying to do more than just take a picture.
“You’re helping a bridesmaid pin her dress, doing something for someone else and trying to make somebody laugh for a picture. It’s definitely a job with many skills, and you really pull out your arsenal on a wedding day. It’s also a constant drive for inspiration for me.”
As the person responsible for documenting the momentous occasion on each wedding day, Gwin makes time to get to know each couple before the big event to make sure that what she captures is genuine and true to their personalities.
“Typically, I do consultations with them, so we talk about the event and we work on a timeline. I like to know things about them, too, because we’re going to be spending intimate time together on a very important day,” she said. “I’ll ask them a lot of things: What do you like to do? How did you meet? What do people know about you as couples and as individuals?
“We spend a lot of time together on those days and you definitely make friends. That’s a pretty fun part of the business.”
Ellen Gwin Photographer
Gwin certainly loves what she does, but says she couldn’t do it without the support of her husband, her friends and her family.
“They are the best support team I could ever ask for. Many of my friends do the same thing and we get to work together, so we get a great product because of that,” she said. “My husband is incredibly supporting and always encouraging me. When I don’t feel as positive or I get myself down on what I’m doing, he’s confident in that, so it’s a real character builder.”
She also finds support from her peers as a member of the High South Event Professionals network — a community of like-minded industry pros who work together to promote the mountains of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia as the premier special events destination in the Southeast.
“It really makes you feel like you’re part of a community. It’s not an easy business, but you’re in it together,” she said. “There’s stress and challenges and competition, but more than anything we should be here for each other — to learn from each other and to help each other. I always have a great resource for recommending other professionals.”
Get to know High South Event Professionals and preferred local vendors at the High South Wedding Expo at the Boone Mall on Sunday, March 20.
Gwin can’t make it to the expo, but she’s ready to answer any questions you have about her work, which always incorporates the beautiful glow of natural light and honest, heartfelt smiles.
“I love capturing the moments where I think people feel the most themselves — when people are laughing, feeling the most comfortable and truly enjoying something,” she said. “That is my goal.”
Head over to ellengwin.com to check out her portfolio and say hello!