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Tuesday, October 5,2010

Picture-perfect

Photographer Mikayla Spyker is only 10 years old, but she's already competing against professionals

by James Sanford

On a Saturday afternoon at Perspective 2, studio owner Lynne Brown and photographer Mikayla Spyker are discussing light placement, aperture settings and shutter speeds while a model waits in the lobby, preparing for his shoot.

'Tell me a little bit about what you want for your first shot,' Brown asks.


'A chair,' Mikayla replies, as she surveys the scene. 'And funny hats.'


The strap on the camera Mikayla will be using is much too long: The camera is dangling down below her waist. Adjustments must be made immediately.


Meanwhile, the model -- Mikayla's brother, Damon -- rolls around on the floor, digging oversized Legos out of a WALL*E backpack.


Mikayla is 10; Damon is 4. But this is not playtime. Mikayla, a fifth-grader in the North West Initiative's Literacy Through Photography program, is preparing to compete against adult amateur and professional photographers in the Perspective 2 Studio Photo Contest.


She was recommended for the competition by her instructor, Jeana-Dee Allen. 'She's the most dedicated student,' Allen said. 'She's come to every single class, and she wants to learn anything and everything. If you ask her what is an abstract shot and what is a wide-angle picture, she can tell you.


'You look at a kid and you can see the magic in there, and you need to feed that magic. So when Lynn said she'd sponsor a student from the class in the competition, I instantly said, 'Mikayla.''

Although
it's Mikayla's first time working in a studio, she shows no signs of
nervousness or tentativeness. As she surveys a rack of assorted outfits
and accessories, she immediately senses what will work. A cowboy hat. A
thick, Elvis-style white pleather belt with brass studs.

'You
wanna put on a silly costume?' she asks Damon, as he takes his place in
front of the stark white backdrop. Damon shakes his head. 'Pleeeease?'
Mikayla coaxes. Damon acquiesces.


Later,
when Damon becomes a bit grumpy while posing with his dad, Mikayla
knows exactly how to refocus his attention. She grabs a couple of
cushions out of a nearby trunk and tosses them to Damon. 'Pretend
you're having a pillow fight,' she suggests, and within seconds Damon
is squealing with laughter.


'She's kind of a natural,' comments Jamie Miller, a North West Initiative volunteer who's helping out with the shoot.


During
a break in shooting, Mikayla explains she took the class to 'learn
about photography ' what it is and what it does to change the world.'


Although
she's only been taking pictures for a few months, she's already well
acquainted with both film and digital cameras. Outside of the studio,
Mikayla says she likes to look for photo opportunities in nature.

'During
the wintertime, I look for icicles,' she said. 'When we started in the
fall, I took pictures of the different colored leaves.'

So
it's not surprising Mikayla's eyes are drawn to a collection of
multicolored silk-flower leis that happen to be hanging on the costume
rack. She knows exactly how she wants to use them. Giving half of them
to Allen and the
other half to Miller, Mikayla positions herself on the floor in front
of Damon. On the count of three, Allen and Miller toss the leis into
the air above Damon, who beams as the necklaces rain down around him.
Mikayla eagerly snaps away.


'He likes to make funny faces, and he's a good brother,' Mikayla says of Damon. 'And he shows a lot of personality.'


Damon's
modeling career may be short-lived, but Mikayla insists she's planning
to take pictures 'until I'm old enough not to do it anymore.'


She
loves using her pictures to augment her writing. 'It shows what you're
writing about,' she says of her photos. 'It shows detail. You can still
put detail in your story, but if you don't put the detail in your story, then the pictures can show the details.'


Allen
will help Mikayla choose two shots from the two-hour studio session to
enter in the contest. A panel of judges will score the entries based on
creative use of lighting, set design and overall creativity; cash
awards and studio memberships are among the prizes. The winners will be
announced during P2's Gallery Walk Open House on Sunday, March 7.


Brown
says she's impressed with Mikayla's ideas and her knowledge of how to
use the camera. 'She's going to see things in a whole different way
than our adult minds,' she said, as she watched Mikayla prepare for
another set-up.


But when she's not thinking about framing, lighting and art direction, Mikayla
is also very much a 10-year-old. As she and Damon exit the studio at
the end of the shoot, Damon pushes through the swinging door, which
flies back and stops just short of hitting Mikayla.


'Damonnnn!' Mikayla says, sharply. 'I'm telling Mom!'


Perspective 2 Studio Photo Contest


Open house noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 7, at Perspective 2, 319 E. Grand River, Lansing; winners announced at 2 p.m. (517) 853-5880 www.perspective2studio.com



To see some of Mikayla's work and shots of her working in the Perspective 2 studio, click here.
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