Award-Winning Photographer Betty Laurent
Award-winning photographer Betty Laurent grew up on a small French island close to Madagascar, surrounded by the tranquility of water and the beauty of a tropical paradise. Everything about the island, from the flowers to the birds to the reflection of light in the water, became a pallet itself, holding a myriad of hues so rich in color that a word like “blue” pales in comparison to the brilliance of robin’s egg, sapphire, indigo, cobalt, royal, peacock, navy and sky, plus a dozen more words for aqua that make up the sea.
Growing up, Betty’s father was the first to introduce her to photography, placing her in front of the camera. An engineer by trade, he loved taking pictures of his daughters and set up a studio at his home. Betty fell in love with the world of images and fashion. At 18, she thought she might become a model and move to an English-speaking country. “I’m too short for runways. I’m only 5’7”. I never found a big enough agency in New York. I was always too short, too dark haired, too fat.” I guess we hadn’t embraced the beauty of diversity yet, not to mention I could almost fit her in my pocket.
At age 20, Betty moved to California to become a French teaching nanny for a family. On her third day in the country, still jetlagged, she met her future husband, Gary Bellomy, when the family she was working for invited some friends over. She fell in love, and as the adage says, “Home is where the heart is.” After 29 years in the United States, Betty says she feels more American than French even though she still gets homesick and visits her family whenever possible.
Ten years ago, Betty and Gary and their four daughters moved to Beaufort. After 18 years of homeschooling, when their first daughter left for college, Betty says, “I felt like I was at the point in my life where I needed to create something for myself.” When her daughters were young, she was obsessed with taking pictures of them. She was shooting on automatic, relying on intuition and somewhat guessing, as you had to do back in the old days when there was just film.
Betty decided to switch to digital and teach herself everything there was to know about photography and start a business all the same time. She bought manuals and watched tutorials. She was homeschooling the girls during the day and studying at night. The camera came easy. It was Photoshop that had her in tears. “I was practically begging people to let me practice on them. I was saying, ‘Please let me take a photo of you. I’m good!’” She laughs. We are sitting in her studio, surrounded by stunning photos covering every wall, vibrant colors and beautiful textures, her use of light and the contrast between such precise focus and an extremely narrow depth of field, the evidence that she is a truly an artist and a master of her craft, even though she’d never tell you so. Her humility makes her the most endearing person I’ve ever met.
I ask Betty more about Photoshop, and she lights up, her nemesis has become her best friend. She shoots in raw format, the pictures coming out rather flat and boring. She edits them one at a time, like a painter with a canvas, adding intense color saturation, light to the faces and eyes, and balancing the exposure of the background to match the rest of the portrait. She loves the editing process as much as she loves taking the pictures. Sometimes she can spend up to six hours editing 30 photos. “I’m a perfectionist, and I’m hard on myself. I have to let it go, but is so hard because I know how I want it to look.”
Betty tells me about her anxiety, a struggle I know all too well. It comes from being an artist, putting your heart and soul into your work, being self-reflective, and constantly examining how you could’ve done something better—which is exactly how one becomes so good.
As an artist, she has to find a balance between growing her business and taking care of herself. “I hope people see my photos as pieces of art that will last forever… I also want to have fun and take photos that I just adore.” She does a few photoshoots a year for her portfolio, where she goes wild with what she wants to do to continue learning and growing as an artist, which brings us to her award-winning photo, “Stormy Summer Afternoon.”
Betty had a vision of the photograph, and she’d been waiting for some time for the perfect storm. As the sky darkened and wind picked up, Betty and her daughter Charlotte headed out to look for a giant puddle. She laughed as she relayed the story as an act of love from her daughter, who doesn’t really like having her picture taken. “She did that just for me. She was really annoyed and grossed out because it was so muddy. I kept saying, ‘Jump again, like a ballerina.’ There were people all around and she was so embarrassed.”
It was Gary who urged Betty to enter that photo into a contest with The National Association of Professional Children Photographers (NAPCP), a contest she’d entered a couple times before. To her wonderment, the uniquely whimsical photo of her daughter gracefully floating above the water with an expression of pure joy (even if she was just doing it out of love) caught the attention of the judges, winning the contest.
Betty is a self-professed introvert. “Most artists are not super confident, and that’s probably why they are good, because they are trying to figure out ‘What’s my truth? What’s real?’” When she forgets herself and starts talking about her passion, her excitement turns to confidence as she describes her style as a photographer and how even as that changes, her vibrant use of colors and her creative use of water remains a constant, taking her back to her childhood and life on the island. That part of her style will never change because it makes her feel at home.
Betty Laurent’s studio is located on Market Street in Habersham near Beaufort. The photography she is most excited about includes maternity, newborns, children and senior portraits. To learn more about her photography visit www.bettylaurentphotography.com.