Ever since she was an eighth-grader at Pierce Junior High School, Mari Latozas, a lifelong Waterford Township resident, knew she wanted to be a photographer. Following high school, she went to work for Dimitri LaZaroff of LaZaroff Photography, learning the tools of her trade with hands-on experience. Now 33 years later, Latozas has become an award-winning photographer and earned her Master of Photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America. With her own business in Waterford — Photography by Mari — Latozas has remained an active member in the community. Not only does she capture memorable images of toddlers, pets, and weddings for her clients, she volunteers her time photographing events for the Waterford Coalition for Youth and the Waterford Chamber of Commerce.
SCN: You’ve recently earned a Master of Photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America. Please explain what the degree represents and what you needed to do to earn it.
ML: To earn this Master of Photography (degree) through PP of A, it’s (through) education that you earn merits, and it’s also through print competition (where) you earn merits. You have to have a total of 25 (merits). You have to have 13 in print competition, and 12 in education. Once you’ve earned that, then you’ve earned your master’s. The print competition isn’t as easy as some people might think. It’s a different level. You know, if someone’s finger is out of place, you get marked down, or if the lighting isn’t as good, you get marked down. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good one.
SCN: How did it feel to complete your degree?
ML: Very good. It was something that I was never going to go for, you know. But as I was taking classes and earning merits, then I was like, “Well, maybe I should just give it a shot.” Then I started entering competitions at the national level. At that level you get a thumb’s up or thumb’s down, and the first time I entered a (competition), it came back and it was all thumb’s down. And I sent prints that were award-winners here in Michigan — the Kodak Gallery Award. So it was kind of disappointing, but I just kept trying. As I kept doing this, my skill level improved tremendously.
SCN: Part of the requirements for a Master of Photography degree included “superior photographic competence demonstrated through photographic competition.” Please tell us about these competitions and any awards you’ve won, such as the Professional Photographers of Michigan Top 7 Photographers in the Master Category.
ML: The print competition — first you’re sending your prints, and you’re hoping to receive a merit. If you receive a merit, that’s good. Then the next level is you’re hoping that it will go into what we call the “showcase book.” And if you get one that is printed in the book, then that’s a bonus. Then the highest level honor is being a lone collection print, and that is where they take 500 images out of over 5,000. It’s the best of the best, and to receive that is quite an honor. I’ve had two lone collection prints so far.
SCN: What first compelled you to become interested in photography as a career?
ML: I kind of knew back in eighth-grade. We were doing career orientation over at Pierce (Middle School) — it was a junior high school at the time — and I was just looking at different careers. I had always had a camera since I was 10 and loved taking pictures. My pets were the most photographed pets in the county, and (I often photographed) my neighbors and friends. I just kind of knew, and then when I got to high school, I walked into the yearbook class and said I wanted to be a photographer. And that’s when I met Dimitri LaZaroff, and he came in and gave me a roll of film and told me to go around the campus, take pictures, and we’d see how I’d do. I ended up passing and became the yearbook photographer and the newspaper photographer and that was just the beginning.
SCN: Dimitri LaZaroff, the former owner of LaZaroff Photography in Waterford for 40 years, was your sponsor when you received your degree. How instrumental has he been in your photography career, and in what ways? What was the most valuable lesson he taught you about photography?
ML: (He was) very (instrumental). He taught me back in the day — back in the film days — working in his dark room. I would go out and shoot sports for the high schools of Waterford Township and Waterford Mott. He was always there to critique my work and to help me improve. And even after he retired and I had moved on, we were still in touch, and I would email him images — because they had moved to Ohio — to get his input on what I can do to improve. So he and Florence (his wife) were very instrumental in my growth and teaching me all about the world of photography and to be professional and what to look for.
Quality over quantity was a big (lesson he taught me). And I still believe that today. You have to believe in that image going out, and he always said, “You have a sixth sense. If you feel that it’s not right, then redo it because there’s a reason that little voice is talking to you.” And he’s right.
SCN: What kind of equipment do you use — traditional film, digital, or others? Which do you prefer and why?
ML: Well, I definitely miss the film days, just because there was more leeway with film in your exposures. The digital age is wonderful, but it has also increased our workload. Back in the days of film, you could shoot a wedding, roll the film, send it off to the lab, and not worry about it until it came back. Now, you do a wedding, you come back, and you have to download, edit, do all your magic work to it, and then send it off to be printed. So now in a sense, I’ve become the lab. So it’s more time-consuming.
I like both, but I don’t use film anymore.
SCN: How have you witnessed the art of photography change through technological advances and different software programs available? Is there any specific technique you like to use to enhance or embellish your photos?
ML: That’s a good question. It’s interesting because when you go to print competition at the higher level, you can tell there’s a lot of manipulation done from using Photo Shop, different plug-ins — where people will look at an image, and they’ll say, “Is that really a print?” You know because so much has been done to it. One of the things that Dimitri also taught was to keep it simple. And I try to use that in my images, and the images that went lone were basic prints. They weren’t all, we’ll say “jacked up,” with Photo Shop and filters and all of that. So it’s interesting if you saw the changes in these images at the higher level and how over-manipulated they’ve become. It’s kind of sad, too.
I do (use them), but I try not to go overboard because I want you to be able to look at it and say, “That’s a photograph.” But maybe I might enhance the color in certain areas or the contrast in another area, just to give it that extra punch, but you know where somebody might do 80 percent, I might only do 15 percent.
SCN: On your website it says you photograph children, couples, families, high school seniors, and weddings. Which do you enjoy to photograph the most and why?
ML: I don’t have a favorite because I enjoy all of it. And that’s the joy of this job. Every day is different. So tomorrow I could be photographing executives and the next day I could be chasing a 2-year-old around, trying to get a nice image for his mom. And then Saturday I could be off doing a wedding. You know, every day it’s different and that’s what’s great about it.
SCN: You often work with babies and pets. How do you get them to cooperate for the photos?
ML: Children up until a year-old are great. Once they begin walking and they’re independent, they kind of set the stage. Two-year-olds are all over the place, and I say, “Mom, let them go,” and we just follow. And Mom might be all stressed out and I’ll say, “It’s OK, we’ve got something.” And by the time they see the images, they’re really surprised by what I’ve captured for them, and they’re really happy.
With pets, if they know the basic sit, stay — even if it’s only for five seconds — you can create a beautiful image of them. You’ve just got to be flexible.
SCN: What has been your most memorable photo shoot?
ML: Actually, it was eight dogs, two donkeys, and a couple. We got them all lined up, all together, and everybody is looking great. This was back in the film days. I had my camera on the tripod, and I was doing a little whistle so all the dogs’ ears would go up, and a little squeak of a toy. It was really silent, and they were still there. And I probably got off seven shots of them, and then I said “Who wants a treat?” And boom! They all raced towards me. Needless to say, that was the end of that.
And then I actually got to go up in a helicopter over Tiger Stadium for the last game, and that was pretty, pretty special.
SCN: You also volunteer with the Waterford Coalition for Youth. Please explain how you came to be involved with that organization and the nature of your volunteerism. What do you find the most rewarding about being a part of it? Are there other area organizations or causes close your heart, and if so, which ones and why?
ML: Well, obviously it’s photography (that is the nature of my volunteerism with the Waterford Coalition for Your). Whenever they have an event, be it “A Taste of Waterford” or they’re now doing their “Waterford Has Talent” contest, I volunteer to take pictures for Heather Hall, and I just give her a disc so she can use it for publications. I’ve known Heather for a long time. She was a student at Mott when I used to take pictures there for their yearbook. And then we ran into each other through the Chamber (of Commerce in Waterford), and I just offered my services. And if I can give back, I will. And that’s what I do.
Just being able to give back (is the rewarding part). This is what I love, and they can use the images for their publication or website. You know, I’m doing what I love to do and giving back to the community. This makes me feel good.
I do the same for the Chamber of Commerce. We have our “Perking Ups” on the first Tuesday of every month, and I’ll take pictures of the business for our chamber letter and website. Then, I also try to take pictures around Waterford for the chamber to post on the website; or if they’re doing a directory or a calendar, they can be used for that. And again, I’m going with my strengths. I’m not one to be on the board or anything like that, but I can take pictures for you.
SCN: What advice would you give to anybody interested in getting involved with photography?
ML: I get this question from younger photographers, and actually I tell them to go to school and learn marketing and business. Get a degree in those two areas, and then study with a photographer. In our field, having a degree from your local colleges, it’s not going to make you more money per se. You learn better doing hands-on work, and that’s why I think they need the business and marketing end and then working with somebody to learn the business.
SCN: If you could photograph any one person, place, and/or thing in the world, what would it be and why?
ML: Hmm, gosh — the Royal Wedding. Wow. You know I’m very blessed because I love doing travel photography. I’ve been to Italy twice. I’m going to the Swiss Alps. I kind of have a bucket list going. Thailand is on my list. It’s to do more travel photography.