During her junior year in high school, Abbie Thomas fell in love with life behind the lens while taking a photography class. She always knew photography was in her blood – thanks to her grandfather – but once she started getting hands-on experience in class, she knew this was her calling. At age 17, a friend asked if she would photograph her wedding. Without any experience, and only a high school’s class worth of training, she borrowed her grandfather’s camera, loaded it up with black and white film, and shot her first wedding.
“It was the first time I’d been able to capture a wedding from beginning to end,” Thomas says. “Sitting down with [the bride and groom] after everything was over was amazing, to see the joy on the bride’s face … I just knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Years later, her wedding portraiture work has evolved into award-winning art. For the Sunset Print Awards, Thomas submitted her PPA Northeast winning photo “Ambers Anticipation.” Thomas was inspired by the amber waves of grain when entering the portrait into competition. This wedding shoot was especially personal to Thomas: She used to babysit the bride, Claire, when she was just a girl, and she captured Claire’s youthful exuberance in her senior portrait.
When Claire got engaged, the family knew that no other photographer would illustrate the day the way Thomas could. She was given free rein by the bride to do what she does best: witness the wedding day from beginning to end. To have played an integral part in so many highlights of Claire’s life, Thomas wanted to ensure that everything was perfect at the wedding.
Thomas says “Ambers Anticipation” was originally going to be lit differently, “but, I had some last-minute improvisations due to some lighting issues, and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined.” When it was time to submit the image for competition, Thomas spoke with a friend who suggested she use LexJet Sunset Photo Metallic Paper. “The colors just popped once I saw it printed,” she says.
Preserving memories like this is what drives Thomas to perfect her craft, so it’s no surprise that after graduating from Ohio Institute of Photography, she worked for Mark Garber and Rich Newell, who shared studio space in the same building. Both photographers, well-known in PPA circles, influenced Thomas’ career, as fans of Garber and Newell often remark that they can see shades of their guidance in her work.
Thomas notes that one other photographer had a significant impact on how she views her own work: Kristy Mitchell. “Kristy’s work is so dream-like and vivid. You just feel like you’ve been transported to a different place when you look at her photos. The color-saturation creates such a life-like fantasy world,” she says.
While opening herself to new ways to tell a client’s story, Thomas knows that a photographer’s growth comes from the world of competitions. “You are forced to look at your work objectively, rather than emotionally. One of the hardest skills to master is to be able to see your own piece for what it is, taking out all emotion,” she says.
She didn’t always have that outlook. “When I first started competing, I would get upset when my photos didn’t show well; I was too emotionally attached,” she says. “Then my skin got tougher, my technical skills blossomed and I started learning from the critiques, rather than letting it get to me.”
Now, she doesn’t have to wait to see the proofs on the computer to know if the shot is going to work, she is able to see the it in her mind’s eye and know if it is set properly. The improvement in technicality is part of a photographer’s life cycle, or, as Thomas puts it: “You go from being emotionally attached to a shot, to looking at it from an exclusively technical eye, to finally getting it technically right while expressing pure emotion. That’s when you hit a home run.”