Capturing More Than Moments: A Conversation with Photographer, Ellen McDermott

Ellen McDermott (left) and Bridget Sciales (right). Photo by  Jeff Allen .

Ellen McDermott (left) and Bridget Sciales (right). Photo by Jeff Allen.

When Connecitcut Cottages & Gardens Editorial Director, DJ Carey assigned photgrapher, Ellen McDermott and art director, Bridget Sciales to shoot Hound House for the November 2016 edition, we had no idea what a special friendship would blossom. Collin and Ellen immeditaely had a creative connection--kindred spirits in many ways. Three years later, the four of us are close friends, and have tremendous respect for each other's work. Since our CTC&G feature, Ellen has continued to photograph here at the house for commercial campaigns and editorial features. Hound House served as the backdrop for a Royal Velvet ad campaign shot by Ellen, and, most recently, we were featured in the Fall 2018 Country Home magazine. We thought it would be fun to share a conversation we had with Ellen and Bridget here on the blog. Ellen included a few of her favorite images and, of course, we included a couple of ours! You won't want to miss her tips for shooting great shots with your iPhone (she and Bridget helped us to up our Instagram game).

*All images by Ellen McDermott (unless otherwise noted)

DJ Carey (left) and Collin Robison (right). Photo by Trent DeBerry

DJ Carey (left) and Collin Robison (right). Photo by Trent DeBerry

What drew you to photography?  

When I was a Fine Arts student in Boston, I found most of the disciplines very isolating. The collaborative aspect of photography enabled me to work with a team of creative directors, stylists, designers and architects in a way that brought a newness of ideas and intent.

What inspires you as an artist?

I find I am very inspired by the work of other artists and in understanding the intent of the artists and designers whose work I’m photographing. It motivates my creative sensibilities. One of the biggest inspirations for me comes from natural light; I am forever fascinated by the way light plays on objects, creates shadows, highlights textures, accentuates patinas and defines spaces. Oh, yes, clouds are also an endless source of inspiration!

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Is there something that connects all of your photographs? Some element that you make sure is in every photo?

I try to create a pronounced mood and something that goes beyond the literalness of the subject matter within each image. I feel I’m successful when that “something extra” is happening in a photograph be it fog, steam, or light that is in just the right spot or just the right amount of it to convey something to the viewer.

How has shooting interior spaces changed in the last 10 years?

Digital technology has been a huge game changer when shooting interior spaces. The iPhone has also had a very strong influence on photography and how we shoot interiors. It has given us the opportunity to explore what is to be shot in a very concise manor. My partner, Bridget and I use the iPhone as a scouting tool to capture thumbnail sketches of spaces that will eventually be captured with the medium format camera.  This expedites our composition and lighting and helps in preparing a shot list to work off of. It has occasionally been useful in documenting colors to reference when working in post.

What do you find compelling about Hound House?

Hound House NEVER disappoints.  The natural light is exquisite even on the darkest of days. We have had the good fortune of photographing Hound House several times and on each occasion we make exciting new discoveries. I am more relaxed when returning to a home because I am familiar with the spaces and angles and what to expect in regards to the lighting conditions at specific times of the day and season. What I find particularly compelling about Hound House are the exquisite still life scenarios that you and Collin have created throughout the house.  The rich, dark tones are beautiful backdrops for these ever changing still lifes.

Featured in  CTC&G

Featured in CTC&G

Still life composed by Collin Robison. Photo by Ellen McDermott. Featured in  CTC&G .

Still life composed by Collin Robison. Photo by Ellen McDermott. Featured in CTC&G.

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You've shot rooms, still lifes, and products here at Hound House. What has been your favorite to shoot and why? Can you provide your favorite shot? What about the shot makes it one of your favorites?

When visiting Hound House I love taking out my camera and exploring.  One of my favorite shots is of Scout, the magnificent greyhound, in the library with the sun streaming in on his back and lighting up the shelves of books in the background. Another favorite moment and shot was of moose antlers on a zinc table with autumn leaves that had collected in a pool of rain water and had started to decay. I particularly loved bringing our client ICONIX Brand Group* to use Hound House as a backdrop to photograph their advertising campaign of towels, bedding, and window treatments. That was completely satisfying as it gave new life to these products. Another favorite was our very first shoot in which DJ Carey of CTC&G introduced us to you and hired us to shoot a story at Hound House. The cover from this story still resonates as one of our favorites. These surprise moments make Hound House one of my favorite locations to shoot. It is truly a plethora of photographic opportunities!

*Art and Production team for ICONIX (RV shoot): Jesse Soto, Jaime Horton, Sarah McLaughlin, Tommy Clark, @ANDStudio



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Some Bright Ideas for Shooting with an iPhone…

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Can you please provide 3-5 tips for the iPhone photographer who is trying to take great interior shots to share on Instagram?

I would try using a tripod even though it is an iPhone to keep very steady while taking a shot. Use the HDR mode so the shot is bracketed from darker to lighter exposures then combined together for an optimal exposure. In dark and moody scenarios, try exposing for the highlights and allowing the photo be dark and moody. You can change exposure on an iPhone by first tapping the screen once to select the box and let camera focus, then by dragging your finger up and down where there is a sun icon. And definitely play around in post (Lightroom, Photoshop, and filters) to create a look that is unique to you. Try to stay consistent with that look as it will, over time, be identified with you and hopefully attract more attention.

As social media platforms are quite small in size, the more graphic the image, the better the response.

Featured in  CTC&G

Featured in CTC&G

Ellen McDermott is a New York City based photographer best known for her beautifully lit Interiors, Still Life, Life Style, Portraits and Objects d’Art. Ellen believes a strong collaboration with clients enables new creative possibilities in achieving photographic excellence. Her commercial and advertising work appears in Ad Campaigns, Magazines, Periodicals, Books and Corporate Projects throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Ellen McDermott and her partner Bridget Sciales can be found having the time of their lives working together on a variety of photographic projects!

Cameras: Hasselblad 501cm with a Phase One P45 digital back and Hasselblad X1D

Follow Ellen and Bridget on Instagram: @ellenmcdermottnyc and @bridget.sciales