I’ve known Tracy for a few years; our moms met through a mutual friend after we both committed to Clemson, we both danced there, and she helped me get my grade back up in the hardest psych class I ever took. She was active in Clemson Miracle and helped raise something like $71,000 for Children’s Miracle Network. And oh yeah, she competed to be Miss South Carolina and was Miss Clemson University. So she’s pretty cool.
I had thought about asking Tracy if I could do her portraits so I could practice, but I wasn’t expecting her to ask me to do her portraits because I knew she had studio headshots done prior to competing for Miss South Carolina by someone presumably better at portraits than I was. I’d never tried doing glamour shots and I don’t have much experience with indoor portraits and setting up artificial lighting. She said she liked the work she had seen from me and would feel more comfortable if she knew the photographer, which I totally understand, and I thought it would help to get some portrait experience with someone I knew and someone who I wouldn’t have to pose much. She also wanted portraits done on Clemson’s campus, and there aren’t a lot of professional photographers who actually live within 20 minutes of the campus.
We had the Miss Clemson session on what I think was the first nice day of 2016. I eventually got tired of the lens I was using and ended up using my least favorite lens at the time—the 50 mm f/1.8 lens. For the record, this is a good lens for portraits, but doesn’t always focus quickly enough for action shots, so I didn’t like it before I started doing portraits. It was much sharper than I realized, since I bought it to use in difficult lighting situations and we were now outside on a sunny day, so that made me very happy. Tracy’s session was the first portrait session I really felt confident editing and made me feel more ready to take on a spring graduation season. She told me she wanted me to do her graduation portraits in the fall, and I was excited to do it all again with everything I had learned since that session.
Tracy texted me in July saying that she had gotten in touch with someone in the athletic department about when the stadium would be open for her to have Miss Clemson pictures. The stadium is open during weekly business hours (which are difficult for me because of my job) and until 4 on the days after home games, so we decided to combine her Miss Clemson pictures with her graduation pictures and scheduled to have the session after the first home game. At that time of year, 4 PM is not ideal for taking outdoor pictures because the light is still so harsh, so we decided to go to the stadium at 3, get something to eat, and then head back out at the golden hour (softer lighting as the sun is going down). She asked me that a few hours before if she could get some pictures in her evening gown to surprise her mom for her birthday. She showed up at the stadium in her gown and crown and everyone, including the security guard, got excited and wanted pictures with her. Someone asked if he could have a picture with her for his daughter, and she offered him an autograph card, which happened to be my photo of her. I guess having my picture signed and handed out is a cool milestone for me.
The security guard eventually went from “you’re not allowed on the field” to “I’ll ask them to stop watering the field for a few minutes if you want to go down there.” That’s the only portrait session where I got to go on the field. I was scared when I remembered that the dress she wore to the Miss Clemson pageant was white because white is a difficult color to photograph without blowing out the details, especially in that lighting. I caved in and used a flash, and I was happy with it.
We both probably would have overheated if we’d been out there any longer, since Tracy was in a floor-length and long-sleeved evening gown and I was trying to get detail shots on the hot brick. We went to McAllister’s where there was AC and headed back out to recreate some of our favorite pictures from the last session.
I (logically) set aside January for the side of photography that doesn’t involve my camera, since nobody wants outdoor portraits in January. One of my fraternity brothers from college messaged me and told me that she was the director of this year’s Miss Clemson University pageant and asked if I wanted to be the photographer this year. It was just a few hours after my Registered Behavior Technician exam in Greenville, but the timing worked out just right.
She led the opening dance number looking like a runway model.
I took this as she was thanking me for perfectly exposing a white evening gown outside in midday. No pressure here!
After reflecting on her experience of holding the title of Miss Clemson University for the past year, Tracy crowned Brooklyn Garrett as the new Miss Clemson University.
If Tracy hadn’t asked me to do her pictures, I would not have had the confidence to put myself out there as a portrait photographer. Being a portrait photographer is not something I saw myself doing, but it's been a wonderful experience to connect with people and share their stories through my photos. Also, I most likely would not have had this experience of shooting the Miss Clemson University pageant if it wasn't for Tracy. I can thank her for believing in me when I didn’t have a lot of portrait work that I was proud of yet, for being open to me experimenting, for continuing to come to me when there are other photographers who know more about pageants than I do, and as always, for being a friend. I may not have an auditorium full of people who will hear me talk about Tracy, but my blog is the best I can do.
To read more about Tracy's work with Children's Miracle Network and her time as Miss Clemson University 2016 and Miss Greater Easley 2015, to to tracyelizabethmcgee.com.