Danielle / Photographer
Growing up with a creative family, it was almost destined that Danielle would take up art as a profession. After studying film in college and working as a producer, Danielle found a lasting fascination with photography.
Here, the Seattle based creative and brand manager talks about the important shifts in her career, her biggest influences an the importance of giving the brain a creative break.
Tell us a little about your creative background: Creativity has always been a part of my life. My parents are musicians and I was raised in the arts so it probably came as no surprise to my mom and dad when I said I wanted to go to film school. I studied film production in undergrad which is where I first became more serious about photography and I went on to focus in film studies in grad school where I dabbled in other creative fields like entertainment design. After many years producing and working in advertising full time I started to spend more and more of my free time taking photos for fun. I started shooting band photos & family photos, I took a photo class at a community college to reconnect with it, I volunteered at the PCNW, and eventually all those little things grew into the photography business I have today.
What was the moment you knew photography was what you wanted to focus on? I’ve always loved photography but I have a bit of a kitten/shiny object problem where I want to chase after new creative ideas all the time and that’s made it hard to focus on any one thing over the years. I’d say the biggest shift came when I got out of producing as a career path. It was something I sort of stumbled into but I was never terribly passionate about. I wanted to be creating things. As a producer in all the areas I worked you really have to be available a lot of the time and hours are unpredictable. It didn’t give me a lot of opportunity to dive in fuller to my passions. A couple of years ago I transitioned to working in branding and I’ve never looked back. It allowed me to have a more dependable schedule and headspace to develop a more robust photography business and time to explore more of what I wanted to photograph.
When and why did you create Danielle Motif? I think I officially created Danielle Motif in 2005 shortly after moving to Seattle. At the time I was thinking about the many different creative paths I might take so going with something like “Danielle Elliott Photography” felt wayyyyy too restrictive. If I ever wanted to explore other things I knew I needed to have an umbrella so I went with the idea of me being the connective tissue between all my creative endeavors (a motif if you will) so it came to life in a nod to my musical background and a hope to go beyond photo someday.
What was the biggest challenge in starting your business? I’m still so immersed in challenges every day it’s hard to think back to the very beginning and pinpoint a single one but I’d say in the beginning, I really struggled with not having the skillsets to do everything I wanted. I learned photography in a very analog way (and I learned filmmaking in an analog way) so when things went digital I felt ill-equipped and frustrated. Basically the opposite of how you want to feel when you graduate from college. When it came down to it, I didn’t know photoshop and I had no idea how to build a website. It was an overwhelming feeling. It took a lot of years, trial and error, good cries, and some new tools (helloooo Lightroom & Squarespace) to finally start to put it all together.
What influences your creativity? I find creative inspiration from lots of digital spaces like Instagram and Pinterest and then real world spaces by traveling and doing things like enjoying meals in a beautiful spaces. When I was first stepping foot into the film industry my biggest influence and inspiration was the photographer and director Peggy Sirota. Her work has so much joy, freedom, and spirit. I think it was the first time I learned of the notion of lifestyle in photography or even had a glimpse that taking a candid portrait could be so powerful. Up to that point through school and art shows I think I had only been exposed to photojournalism and fine art photography which was never really of that much interest to me personally so I don’t think I saw a path for myself until I saw Peggy’s work (and her commercials!) and I it was a major moment for me.
Do you have creative habits or rituals that help you stay focused? Ha, well as I’ve said focus is kind of elusive for me. I get distracted so easily and there is always always something else you can be doing. It’s exhausting. I would say the ritual I’m trying to instill is one of calmness and checking out for a while. Just taking a walk, or not being so hard on myself if I don’t work on photo stuff for a day, or even binge-watching a show. Our brains need a lot of breaks in order for us to process the amount of data we’re pulling in. So I’m trying to ensure I’m feeding my imagination but also giving it time to think about things, file things away, and make connections. This is a massive challenge these days but I’m working on it.
What is your proudest moment in your creative journey so far? Interestingly, the ones that come to mind are both related to my film studies. Screening my 16mm film in undergrad and having it receive a wonderful response from the audience (teachers and students) was wonderful. It seemed like everyone in my class made horror movies (apparently a very common film school occurrence I’ve since learned) and I made a comedy so I was terrified that no one would laugh. You are down in the dark basement editing your film for half the semester and nothing seems funny anymore. And then you wonder, was it ever funny in the first place? Not only did they laugh but also they loved the actor I had cast (a stand up comedian) as the main role and he got a big shout out from someone in the audience during the Q&A . He was at the screening so I asked him to stand and it was really nice to see him and the film get that kind of recognition. If no one had laughed I would be been mortified. The second moment came when I passed my comprehensive exam in grad school. It was a 60 page paper we had 4 days to write based on 6 questions. It was pass or fail and if you failed one question, you failed the whole thing and had to wait a year later to take it again. Those couple of years were some of the most challenging for me trying to find space for my production-minded voice in a room full of serious academics. So it felt like I had really proved something to myself when I passed the exam.
Are you creatively satisfied? Never! Haha. I suspect this will be true for the rest of my life. There are so many amazing paths to wander down. I don’t think I’d have it any other way.
What's next for you? I’m just starting to get a lot of inquiries for weddings this year and I’m really looking forward to some shoots on the horizon in the next month or two. Mostly I want to carve out more time for personal work and developing my business in a way that feels scalable and fulfilling.