Photographer Karen Shell Talks About Her First Assignment With Arizona Highways

Photo by Karen Shell

Photo by Karen Shell

In the January issue of Arizona Highways, we introduced a new photographer to the magazine: Karen Shell. Karen photographed one of our scenic Sunday drives: Payson-to-Springervillle. We loved her work. Karen’s photographs captured these wonderful moments in time. Her shots at the Payson Rodeo are fantastic examples… and then there’s the little girl splashing around the waters of Christopher Creek. Truly “wow” moments. Below, Karen talks about her assignment and why you should hit the road:

This was your first assignment for the magazine. What went through your mind when Photo Editor Jeff Kida called you?
When Jeff said to me, “We want you to shoot whatever you want, your way; just do your thing,” I was absolutely thrilled to have such a fun opportunity. I had been wanting to shoot for Arizona Highways for a long time, and I was excited to be offered such a great assignment. I couldn’t wait to hit the road.

How did you prepare for this assignment?
I did a little research online to see if there were any events happening along my route. I found the Prescott Rodeo was taking place, so I started there. Beyond that, the best plan for this type of shoot is to have no plan at all.

For the most part, you had free rein in terms of what you shot. How did you go about finding your shots?
I found my shots two ways: talking to the locals and exploring the area. I engaged many people along the way in conversation, asking about the area and what they found interesting. I also continually scanned the roadsides as I drove, so much so that I wondered if I was driving safely with my eyes off the highway so much.  I investigated many side roads.

Did you have a vision of what you hoped to accomplish?
I wanted to capture the flavor of the people and places along the way.

You captured some very human, very tender moments. How did you capture those images?
I really enjoy people. I find approaching and interacting with people in a genuine and playful way is the best way to capture or create a genuine moment.

Of the photos that ran, which do you love the most and why?
My favorite images of those published are the two at the rodeo and the one of the little girl splashing. I like the mood created by the depth and shapes in the rodeo images.  When I photographed little Moriah, I saw her transform from shy and uncooperative to enthusiastic and jubilant when I asked her to splash in the water. The image captures her energy.

Did you run into any challenges along the way? How did you overcome them?
The volatile monsoons kept things interesting, and the number of miles to cover made for some really long days, but I wouldn’t consider either to be a real challenge.  Only once did I need to pull off the road during a storm, and it provided a perfect opportunity for a short car-nap to help me through the long day.

What did you love most about this assignment?
I loved having the freedom to roam, to explore and to create my own experience. It was an invigorating sense of adventure.

Name one place our readers MUST visit should they take the Payson-to-Springerville drive.
I had not been to Springerville before and would say it was my favorite area of the trip. Wild sunflowers were growing everywhere. The air was cool and crisp — such a contrast to the sweltering temperatures in Phoenix at the time. The local businesses were charming. Visit Java Blues and the XA Saloon when you’re there.

What kind of camera did you use?
I used two Nikon D3’s, most often juggling both cameras at the same time. I kept both bodies handy, one with a long lens and the other with a wider lens, because I didn’t want to miss any shots while switching out lenses.

—Kathy Ritchie



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One response to “Photographer Karen Shell Talks About Her First Assignment With Arizona Highways

  1. Pingback: Donate Your Used Camera to Homeless & At-Risk Youth | Arizona Highways

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