... is the photographer behind Megan Sugden Photography. Based in Hallock, Minnesota, Megan established her business in 2005. Her first interest in photography began at the age of sixteen when Megan got her first camera. And once it was in her life, it never left! Today, Megan enjoys shooting the spectacular Northern Lights in her hometown of Hallock, MN. As she started venturing further and further out into the country, scoping out locations and contacting land owners for permission to photograph, Megan began to curate a collection of photographs soon to become a book called, Kittson County Skies. For Megan, these photographs allow her to give a new life to abandoned country buildings, while accenting with the surreal glows of the auroras, star trails, and light painting.
Talk about the beginnings of your photography business. What inspired you begin this endeavor?
In 2005 I was just out of college, where I had majored in Mass Communications with an emphasis in Photojournalism. After years of working with film I made the jump into the digital era with my first DSLR camera and it opened up a whole new world for me. I began photographing anyone and everyone that would sit still for me, no longer confined by the cost and time required of film. I was able sharpen my skills and gain more and more experience. Eventually word of mouth started to spread and I was getting actual paying clients so I started an official business that year. It was surreal to be getting paid for something I loved so much! Over the next couple years I really started to establish myself as a portrait and wedding photographer who did not only posed photos but "behind the scenes" stuff using my photojournalism background (and at that time it was something a bit new to capture weddings in that way). I became so busy by 2007 that I decided to quit my day job and go full time with photography and haven’t looked back since!
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?
My interest in photography started years before at the age of sixteen when I received my very first camera. Once it was in my hands, it never left! I have always loved taking pictures, and I still remember the days of sending film off in the mail and waiting for the prints to return. Eventually I started developing my own negatives, spending countless hours in the darkroom and printing my own photos in black and white. I went to college for photography and even took a year to learn more at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ through a National Student Exchange program. When digital photography came about it was amazing being able to shoot photos and immediately get the results on the screen. I also loved being able to edit the photos in post processing as well, learning Photoshop and Lightroom and using those skills to create my own unique colorful and vibrant style.
How has your photography evolved?
Although the majority of my photography has been portrait based, most recently I have branched out to photographing landscapes of the night sky, specifically the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis and the Milky Way. It all began last June when I witnessed one of the most gorgeous and awe-inspiring auroras I had ever seen, right outside my front door. There were swirling green lights filling the entire sky, and of course the only thing I could think of was to run back inside the house and grab my camera! At the time I wasn’t even quite sure how to photograph them, but I set my camera on the tripod and started experimenting. Luckily, the lights went on for hours, and I was able to perfect my settings. The images I was capturing on my screen were unlike anything I had done or seen before, and it just opened up this whole new world for me. I was hooked! The next day I shared the images on social media, and they ended up going viral! CBS news picked them up and from there they were shared thousands and thousands of times. It was absolutely thrilling (and humbling) to be able to have my images seen by that many people who loved them. I figured I was on to something! A few months later I had been out so many times and captured so many more images that I decided to officially name this “side business” of mine, Kittson County Skies, which is named after the county where I live and where all of the images were taken.
How have you evolved? Photographing the night sky created this new space to express my creativity that was different than what I was used to. With portraits you are constantly interacting with people, trying to get a person/people to do something or pose a certain way, and while I enjoy that, there was something so incredibly enticing about the simple, quiet solitude of standing under the beautiful night sky with just my camera and my tripod, only relying on Mother Nature’s timeline and nothing else. I found myself needing that balance with my photography, and it re-energized my creativity, and my soul as well.
Why is local important?
In a small town like where I’m from, local is important not just in business (supporting each other keeps the economy healthy) but also in supporting local artists. We can share the beauty of our community in a unique way and give reasons for people to visit and explore our little corner of the state!
How has living in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through your photography?
Living in Hallock, MN is the ideal place to view and photograph the Northern Lights, which gives me an edge because I only have to look as far as my front door to see if they are out or not! We are also lucky in that we are unpolluted by lights. Light pollution is actually a very real problem in much of the bigger cities and obstructs the pristine views of the night sky, sometimes drowning out the Northern Lights completely! Northwest Minnesota also has mostly flat farmland, which gives these beautiful wide open views of the sky for miles and miles. This allows me to go almost anywhere to get a shot as long as I can see the north sky!
What inspired you to make a photo book of Kittson County Skies?
The people who loved my work inspired me to make the book! I kept getting requests, so I decided to put something together. I also made 2016 calendars, which were wildly popular over the Christmas season and I am still selling them well into January. Although my books are only printed on demand at the moment (via self publishing), I hope to some day work with a real publisher to get them out to the masses and possibly even start selling them at bookstores. In the meantime I would like to shoot for a couple more years and build onto my existing portfolio so I can add more and more images and locations!
You’re from Hallock. What kind of community is it? Does it inspire you creatively?
I grew up in Hallock, moved away for a few years, and then I just couldn’t stay away! I married a farmer who also grew up here so we settled down to raise our 3 boys on the family farm and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I feel like there is such a wonderful sense of community here and it is an awesome, safe place to raise kids with a good school. As I mentioned above it’s a great place to inspire my photography because of the dark, clear, open skies. There are also so many neat places to photograph, including old schools and churches and buildings and abandoned houses that still dot the landscape. I feel like there are many more nooks and crannies to explore and photograph yet to come!
Do you feel like your photography allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?
Absolutely! Many of the places I have photographed have real, emotional connections for people, especially those that grew up here or moved away. The churches, especially, have touched people that have memories of attending them, or family buried there. One of my photographs even helped start a movement to restore and preserve a previously abandoned church. Others have been used for very special and meaningful gifts for people. A retired pastor received another image as a gift, which I was told brought him to tears. It is wonderful that my photos are able to take on a life of their own like that, and I am happy that they are out there contributing to improving our community in these unique ways, or simply making someone smile.
There is something magical about the sky at night, and coupled with the local tie of Kittson County, I really feel like I found the perfect little local niche—I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future!