Spurrell specializes in on-location photography, milestone sessions
By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Sandi Spurrell loves babies. She is an artist quite skilled in drawing and graphic design. She adores children and families, enjoys meeting new people and making fast friends, and is killer with a camera.
Wrapped all up in one package, these qualities are what make Spurrell an excellent on-location photographer.
Spurrell’s journey through various stages of life and different facets of her career led her to start her own business, Sandi Spurrell Photography, run from her home in North Liberty. She is now accepting new clients.
Spurrell ran her own daycare center for more than 13 years, then later worked with special needs children as an associate in the Iowa City school district.
“I absolutely adored the kids. I love children; their specialness and their innocence. It was very much a passion to work with kids,” she said.
About nine years ago, she and her own children were walking by a new Flash! Digital Portraits studio preparing to open in the mall, and Spurrell made an announcement.
“I told my kids I was going to work there,” she said. She scheduled a photo session for her kids, but with an ulterior motive. Once in the studio, she asked for a job, and even with no experience, pulled out all her persuasive moves and convinced the management to hire her. She started as a part-time photographer, worked her way to lead photographer, assistant manager, and eventually, became manager of the studio.
“I learned a lot there, and I learned a lot on my own,” she said. “I wanted to understand all I could about photography.” When Flash! began to delve into on-location photography in more recent years, Spurrell found a special niche.
“I was really excited about doing that. Using the natural lighting and working with your environment was very interesting to me,” said Spurrell. When the Flash! franchise made a turn away from on-location photography, Spurrell decided it was time to venture out on her own.
“It broke my heart a little, because I wanted to stay there, but I also wanted to develop my photography further,” she said. “This was kind of a push for me to go out on my own.”
From the time she was young, Spurrell also had a latent talent as an artist. Creative by nature, she stumbled upon her flair for portraiture in 1999, almost by accident.
During one spring break where the family was availed of the “stay-cation,” instead of going out of town, Spurrell searched the public library for activities to keep her children occupied. She picked up a few learn-how-to-draw books geared toward beginners, and sat down with the kids and began drawing.
“Hours after they were bored with it, I was still sitting there drawing,” Spurrell said. She had such a knack, it wasn’t long before people began commissioning her to draw portraits of family members. Her handwork has garnered several art show awards.
Foregoing the confines of a studio, Spurrell specializes in on-location photography, going to people’s homes and businesses, weddings and other events, and even to hospitals to photograph births.
“The beauty of a newborn is just amazing,” she said. Photographing during a birth takes a special sensitivity to the mother’s privacy, and attention to the fleeting moments when family members are too otherwise-occupied to snap photos; the baby’s weighing and measuring process, her first cries, or the expression on the father’s face when he first embraces his newborn, for example. “I like taking the artistic kinds of photos that whoever has that camera isn’t going to think to take. I have the lenses to make those special pictures that are artistic and beautiful, versus just the average snapshot.”
Not having a studio allows Spurrell very flexible hours, so she can attend a live birth if desired, or meet clients when it best fits their schedules.
“Some babies are happiest at 7 o’clock in the morning, and I have nothing keeping me from being there at that time,” said Spurrell, whose own children are now grown and on their own. “My studio is open… well, I would say 24/7, but I do need to sleep,” she joked.
Being a location photographer also means Spurrell can capture subjects in their own environments, where they are most at ease.
“People are starting to get the feel for how nice and convenient it is not to have to take their baby out into the elements, or take the whole family out to get photos taken. The older kids can be in their bedrooms playing while I’m photographing the newborn,” said Spurrell. Going to clients’ homes also means Spurrell can easily offer another of her specialties– boudoir photographs– where subjects feel more relaxed.
Shooting on location also adds spontaneity, something very difficult to capture in a studio setting, especially with children.
“When I am in their homes, they are more themselves. They have more smiles for me. I can feel that the comfort level is different because they are in the environment they are used to,” she said.
Spurrell doesn’t require a studio to get studio-quality prints. Instead, she brings a variety of backdrops and lighting equipment to use if necessary, but her specialty is eyeing the existing setting and incorporating the environment or unique objects into the photograph that makes it even more personal.
“When you are in a studio setting, you have the same backdrops each time and you have to figure out how to make each session different,” said Spurrell, “but when you are in a client’s home, you can utilize different things that make it meaningful and special to them. It’s fun to see their excitement about how I can utilize their space.”
And when the background isn’t ideal, there is still nothing to fear; Spurrell is clearly genius at using Photoshop software, manipulating and blending elements of different photos to create amazing, one-of-a-kind photographs.
One first-rate example is that of a newborn curled up– naked and sleeping soundly– atop the seat of dad’s Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“I would never put a baby on a motorcycle. Safety is always my first priority,” Spurrell said. In this case, the parents removed the seat from the bike and brought it to Spurrell’s home, where she photographed the baby indoors. She separately photographed the motorcycle outside in her parking lot, and ultimately merged the two photographs with a third, studio-like background. The final photograph can be viewed on the home page of her website, sandispurrellphotography.com. “You would never know the baby never actually touched that motorcycle.”
Because Spurrell wants all customers to be extremely happy with their photographs– she guarantees her work– she said she is open to phone calls and questions.
“A lot of people have questions but feel uncomfortable about asking them,” said Spurrell. “I welcome anyone to call me.”
Find Spurrell’s pricing and portfolios and client testimonials on her website at sandispurrellphotography.com, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at Sandi Spurrell Photography, or call 319-621-5688.
“I love what I do and I am very passionate about it. Anybody who comes to me is going to get my 100 percent,” Spurrell said.