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Picture Birmingham, a cause with a new photo blog

March 9, 2014

Rachel CallahanMy friend and fellow Birmingham blogger Rachel Callahan launched a new project last week called Picture Birmingham. She has put her collection of local sunset photos online to raise money for the WellHouse, a Birmingham nonprofit group helping women escape sex trafficking.

In learning about the project, I discovered that Rachel had been ill but also looking for a therapeutic outlet in her photography.

In an email interview, she discussed her start in photoblogging, the immediate gratification of social media and her connection to an important cause.

Of the various causes in Birmingham, what led you to pick the WellHouse as the charity partner?

It wasn’t as much that I was looking for a charity to partner with as that the entire photo journey seemed to be set up so that I could partner with the WellHouse. I had no intention of selling my photos until I felt a clear and undeniable direction from God to sell them for the WellHouse.

I had seen many Twitter mentions about its ministry, and then I read this article in Weld for Birmingham. It was a tough read, but a game changer for me. All of a sudden, I understood what human trafficking looked like in the United States, how prevalent it was, and how hopeless it could be.

It just took about 5 months to realize that I had the resources with which I could help them.

What’s special about the time of day for sunsets?

Other times of the day are great, but they lack the curiosity that sunset holds. Each sunset usually goes through at least four distinct phases every night. I documented that phenomenon [on my personal blog].

“The dramatic contortions that the sky goes through is exhilarating in a way that’s hard to explain without seeing the whole process. So, here are 20 shots in 65 minutes, all from my iPhone, using ProHDR as my camera, and with very few post-shot edits.”

Because you never know exactly which phase will be the most stunning, it’s a bit of a mysterious adventure to see if you can:

  • catch the exact moment of sunset perfection
  • from the right angle
  • with the right foreground
  • and with the right lighting.

Sometimes you fail. Sometimes you win.

It seems sunset photos have become more popular, at least with ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann’s large social media audience. What do people find appealing about sunset photos?

I think they’re becoming popular because of the rise of technology with which you can actually capture their beauty. In the past, with regular cameras with normal options, it was hard to catch the full array of the colors, shadows, city, etc. Photos have almost always paled in comparison to the real thing. But thanks to HDR [high-dynamic-range imaging] and powerful editing software, you can take a picture of the sunset and actually catch its glory.

Also, the real-time factor of social media gives immediate affirmation and the ability to share the moment with the world. It can produce quite a high.

And finally, Birmingham is a most unique city, since we have many beautiful overlooks from which we can capture the entire skyline plus the sunset.

How much time per week do you spend on shooting pics? Updating the site? Marketing, etc.?

I usually shoot sunset pictures three or four times a week, often on the way to dinner or an errand, 2 to 3 hours of my week. The site and marketing are all new to me, so they’re quite consuming right now. I’m not sure what the new normal will be.

What’s been the most surprising thing for you about photoblogging?

I’ve been most surprised that I’ve reverted back to iPhone photography. [Rachel’s tips for shooting on iPhone]

I’m on my second fancy DSLR [digital single-lens reflex] camera and, though I’m no expert, had become a bit of a DSLR snob until last summer. Although I can still take better pictures of my kids with my DSLR, the array of apps I have on my phone make sunset photography so much more accurate with my iPhone 5S. So I do trade off some quality, but the vastly improved ability to actually capture the sunset makes it worth it.

All profits from sales of photos and other products on Picture Birmingham go to the WellHouse. To browse images and order prints, visit picturebirmingham.com.

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