Wandering the Alfama with Analicia. March 2018.Read More
Lyubov & Roza in San Francisco, California. Another addition to my “Old Friends” series.Read More
This is the second shoot in my "Old Friends" series. Lollie & Bill, two good friends, were a joy to shoot. Lollie is a renaissance woman who designs clothes and accessories, acts, models, directs films, and basically every creative thing you can think of! Bill is a filmmaker, and the two met when she was acting in one of his films. I highly encourage you to check out Lollie's portfolio - she's a ball of fire, as my grandpa would say. :)
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears
"Old Friends" by Simon & Garfunkel
When I was eight, my friend Anna and I cut down mistletoe from the walnut tree in my backyard. We wrapped it in ribbon, attached small bells - basically just decked it out with various holiday-themed accoutrements. We carefully placed each mini bundle in a basket and walked all around the neighborhood with my dad, going door-to-door like traveling saleswomen. We took whatever we'd made from the 10 or so sales and donated it to a homeless shelter. When I was nine, we made potions in my bathroom. Toothpaste, glittery body spray, shampoo, hair gel, costume eye shadow – nothing was off limits. Into a little jar it went. We put the camcorder on a tripod and made long, rambling sales pitches about why our potions were the BEST – infused with a bit of nine-year-old "comedy," of course.
Around the same time, Anna and I spent weekends scavenging the sideyard at my parents' house, looking to "invent" things. We marveled at our transportation-related inventions: a steerable "wagon" of sorts made from wheeling plant dollies and a cardboard frame. A second iteration made out of an existing gardening wagon that was now a rocket, thanks to the addition of some cereal boxes and some shiny paper. I remember feeling so inspired by the fact that we'd empowered ourselves with a vehicle in which we could roll ourselves down the driveway. I told my parents I wanted to be an inventor.
When I was ten, we collected all our unwanted "little kid" toys, carefully displayed them on trays, and set them on a table next to some lemonade. We sat at the bottom of Anna's driveway, patiently waiting for cars to turn the corner – in a very un-busy neighborhood. When a rare customer dared entertain the offers that our hand-drawn signs promised, we sat poised to pitch them our unique selling proposition: while you're buying lemonade, would you like to buy a toy? I'm sure we were the only lemonade stand in town selling lemonade AND toys. Needless to say, it wasn't a very successful venture.
Throughout high school, I immersed myself in music. I musically directed a play, led a band, learned music theory, composed songs, and I even played keyboard in my middle school's production of Beauty and the Beast (and got paid for it!). While this wasn't truly entrepreneurial, I put all my creative energy into music and felt the same passion for it that I now feel for photography.
When I was twenty-one, I spent hours at the beach after class, scavenging the shores for sea glass. I had jars of sea glass segments, some common, some rare. I watched one video on wire wrapping, and off to the jewelry store I went. I calculated the cost of each necklace's store-bought materials, combined with the perceived value of the glass (based on size, color, degree of smoothness), and I was in business. I launched a sea glass jewelry store and sold my handmade necklaces at a craft fair, to people at my college, and, of course, to friends and family.
When I was twenty-three, I launched a photography app on the app store. It was intended to be a location-based platform for people to share their photos and their favorite locations, so it would be easier for photographers to find a place to shoot with specific parameters in mind. It was short-lived, because I simply didn't have the time or money to maintain the app, but I consider it my brief foray into Bay Area tech.
From the time I was able to conceptualize what a nine-to-five job was, I knew I didn't want one. Without knowing it, throughout my childhood I was fostering an entrepreneurial, creative spirit that I am now realizing cannot be suppressed. I have always been filled with an intense drive to create, to strive for success on my own terms. And there has never been a time in my life where I have not been brimming with creative energy. If I try to walk away from a creative project that's been plaguing my mind, I can't. In high school, I would sit in my room for twelve hours straight without even remembering to eat because I was writing a song. I find myself addicted to art, addicted to the flutter of my heart, the way it feels when I've just created something. Sometimes, it's music. Sometimes, it's writing. Lately, it has just so happened to materialize through photography.
It also just so happens that photography is a viable business idea for me.
The intense creative fulfillment I derive from photography, combined with the potential it has to be my main financial lifeline, is why I'm here, writing this post.
Starting in 2018, I will be attempting to "make it" in photography. Full-time. No other steady paycheck of my own.
It's really hard to walk away from the benefits, predictability, and all around simplicity of my current job. I don't mean that my job is simple, but that my taxes, my healthcare, my all-around finances are all part of one streamlined system that makes it easy. I guess I just like to torture myself with things that are hard.
Being my own boss will probably be ten times harder than having a boss. There's no one to deflect to, I'm personally liable, and I don't have the option of calling in sick. Sure, I may have a more flexible schedule, but my sustenance is based on me pushing my business forward and not just giving up even when the rest of my life gets difficult or busy.
That's why I need your help. Friends and family, please understand that my photography is not just a hobby anymore. I need to charge professional rates to survive in the Bay Area, where the median cost of a house is $645,000. I love helping out when I can, but please don't feel slighted or surprised when I quote you a rate that may feel high, or when I can't shoot you for free because I need to spend the time on paid projects.
Fellow photographers, and strangers around the globe, I need your help, too. All of you who watch my YouTube tutorials or buy my presets, I am so thankful for your support of my efforts to share what I've learned with the photography community. Don't sell your own work short, and be mindful of the true cost of photography. In a world where everyone is a "photographer," our industry is diluted and needs professionals to stay true to their value and reflect it in their pricing.
The good thing is: I'm ready. In 2015, after I graduated college, I felt like I was ready to launch into my own business then, but looking back I was a bit naïve and definitely not ready. I hope I don't say the same thing in 3 years! :D
I don't know if this will work out. Maybe in five years I'll find myself pining for the predictability of a 9-to-5 job. But what I do know is that I need to try. I need to follow the instincts that have been slowly manifesting since I was a child.
I'm going to try to follow my own advice that I tell myself when I face a difficult project – to "make it happen." Making my dream of being self-employed in a creative field happen. Making a lifestyle of flexibility and choice happen.
So – that's what 2018 is all about: making it happen.
I can't thank you enough for the support you've shown me so far, and now I'll need it more than ever. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the adventures that are sure to come.
[On that note, Padraic and I will be kicking off this new chapter by traveling in Europe for six months starting at the end of February. So book me for shoots in Europe! Or reach out to me if you want to collaborate! We'll post our itinerary soon. :) ]
I often talk about how I'm torn between light and dark. I love deep, earthy tones found in caves, streams, forests, and mountains. But lately I've been called to color. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that I've become addicted to color. Bright, warm, candy colors. I can't get enough. I wish that every building in the world was a different color. But maybe then it wouldn't be as special. For this shoot, I wanted to shoot somewhere I hadn't shot before. Somewhere that may only be beautiful in the eyes of a photographer. Well, if you've ever been to Treasure Island in San Francisco, you may know what I'm talking about. Originally built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition (yes, it's an artificial island), Treasure Island has seen better days. I'm actually quite shocked it hasn't been developed. It's stuck in a 1960s-70s era of former schools, military buildings, and storage containers. Ugly to most people, but I saw so much structural and colorful potential.
I never thought I'd love storage containers as much as I did on this shoot. Of course, I had an amazing team that helped make this happen!
Model: Tiffany O'Neil Forde
Hair & Makeup: April Foster
Styled by me!
These photos were edited with my Pop! Harsh Light Pack presets.
We wanted to make something different. Something people hadn't seen before. I couldn't rely on finding an existing setting that would serve our needs and the colors we were envisioning. A seamless paper backdrop wouldn't have the same effect we were going for.
So I had to build a set. With pretty much zero construction knowledge. I improvised. With lots of help from my family, of course.
This project required a huge amount of time, physical labor, and money. Mostly time and physical labor, but materials do cost quite a bit, especially when you mess up and have to buy more. So I'm going to tell you how I did this in hopes that it will save you time, labor, and money!
Disclaimer: I don't claim that this is a 100% stable, fall-proof set-up. On a windy day, I would always have 1-2 people just be in charge of holding the frame and making sure it doesn't fall down.
What you'll need:
I got most of this at Home Depot! (Paint was from Ace Hardware.)
For the frame:
-Two 4-foot by 8-foot pieces of wood, thick enough to mount a hinge (1/2"-3/4" should do). We used particle board ($14/each), but plywood would be sturdier and would allow you to make a double-sided set (see my note at the bottom of this post). It's just more expensive.
-One 4-foot by 4-foot piece of wood at least 1/2" thick. This will act as the floor. Since I had 4 colors, we had the guy at Home Depot cut one 4'x8' particleboard in half so that we had two square floors that could be painted on each side (4 different colored floors total).
-Three hinges and enough bolts/nuts for every hole (we used three piano hinges and 3-5 bolts & nuts per hole). Make sure the bolts fit the hole of your hinge and your drill bit, and obviously that the nuts are the right size for the bolts. Also make sure your bolt is longer than the width of your particleboard - otherwise you won't be able to screw on the nut properly.
-A drill + appropriately sized drill bit
-Screwdriver that matches the head of your bolts
-Ideally a furniture dolly or something with wheels that allows you to move the super heavy frame (we didn't have this!)
For the colorful overlays:
-Two 4-foot by 8-foot pieces of eucaboard ($9/each) - or other lightweight board that won't warp or wrinkle - PER COLOR. If you want 4 colors, you'll need 8 boards. Keep reading to discover why I don't recommend painting both sides of eucaboard.
-2 quarts (per color) interior flat paint of your choice - we chose the cheapest quarts available (Clark & Kensington) for $12.99/quart.
-4 industrial clamps like these
Step 1: Drill holes into your frame boards.
Take one 4'x8' particleboard and hold the hinge to the edge of the board. Use a pencil to mark the holes on the hinge. Be sure to hold the hinge steadily so it doesn't move while you're drawing the marks. You'll then take your drill and drill into the pencil marks, going all the way through the board.
Step 2: Attach the hinges.
One by one, place each hinge over the holes you just drilled and insert the bolts through holes. Again, make sure your bolts are long enough so that you'll be able to screw on the nut on the back. For example, if your particleboard is 3/4" thick, you'll probably want 1" long bolts. Add a nut to each bolt so that the hinge is firmly attached to the first piece of particleboard. Use a wrench and a screwdriver to tighten them.
Once three hinges are attached to the first board, lay it down and stand the other board up next to it on the long edge (see the left side of the illustration below). You could also measure out the distance between the three hinges before you put them on the first board, and transfer those distances to the second board, but I don't have patience for measuring things, so we opted for this method. It also is more reliable than measurements, because you can see that the boards are together in the right configuration. Once you've drilled the holes in the right places on the second board, stand the boards up (this will require quite a bit of strength - a lot of weight is hovering 8 feet in the air!) – as seen in the right side of the illustration below. Now you'll repeat the bolt insertion process on the second board. Make sure the boards are flush at the center, preferably at a 90º angle depending on the hinge you're using. Again, tighten the nuts & bolts with a screwdriver and wrench. Unless you're 8 feet tall, you'll need a ladder to attach the top hinge.
You should now have a standing frame that supports itself when it's open at a 90º angle. It can be folded for storage. Ideally, you have a moving dolly to transport it because it's HEAVY. (We didn't have a dolly.)
Step 3: Paint your eucaboards and your floor(s).
Now it's time for the fun part – if you like painting. I thought I liked painting, but by the end of this, I was ready to not see a roller for a while! Because eucaboard is pretty dark, I had to do two coats of paint on each board. Use interior flat paint – you want the colors to be matte, not shiny. Don't worry too much about tiny marks or smudges because they likely won't appear on camera; plus, they're easy to clone out. But you want to make sure that there are no glaringly bare spots or shadowy areas. You're aiming for a smooth, monochromatic surface. See my note at under "what not to do" about painting both sides of eucaboard.
Paint your floors, too. You should have one 4'x4' piece of wood for every 2 colors. It should be at least 1/2" thick so it can be stepped on without bending or warping. I painted one color on each side of my 4'x4' particleboards, and I did two coats on all of them. Be sure to let each side dry fully and have a clean sheet to lay the painted side on if you're painting both sides. These WILL get dirty while shooting, so begin to accept that.
Step 4: Put it all together.
Once the paint has dried, it's time to finally make this dreamy colorful corner come together!
Stand your frame up (if you haven't done that already), and assign someone to be on a ladder, and someone to be on the ground. One person will lift the colorful eucaboard over the surface of the frame, while the person on the ladder clamps them to the top. Repeat this process with both panels. Be mindful of keeping the panels flush in the center, so you don't see the hinges or any gapping.
Slide in the floor, and you should have a complete set! (This moment was so exciting for me.)
WHAT NOT TO DO:
Based on my mistakes, don't do these things:
1. Don't try to make your frame double-sided – unless you're construction-savvy. My original plan did not include colorful overlays; rather I was planning to make two double-sided frames and paint each side to have 4 colors total. We used piano hinges for this purpose (they can bend both ways), and because we didn't know what we were doing at first, we screwed the hinges into the thin edge of the particle board, and the instant we tried to make it turn the other way, the hinges ripped out. Moral of the story is: if you're going to do this, find someone who knows what they're doing and stay away from particleboard. Plywood would be a more viable, but more expensive, solution.
2. Be careful if you're tying eucaboard to the top of your car. We tied our eucaboards onto a Land Rover with a roof rack using two ratchet straps, and just driving slowly on a residential road, one of the boards caught wind, bent in half, and blew away. We felt like those idiots you always see on the freeway losing things off the back of their car! So ideally, clamp them together so they act as a more solid, heavier unit, and use LOTS of ropes/straps.
3. Painting on the rough side of eucaboard will use twice the amount of paint. It's cheaper to get 8 panels of eucaboard and only paint the smooth side than it is to try to paint both the smooth and rough side and use twice the amount of paint on the rough side. The texture just soaks it up! Alternatively, find a different type of board with the same texture on both sides and you can do this double sided.
So – there you have it. A low-budget, colorful photo set! I had so much fun with this project and hope to do a whole series out of this set. For now, I can't share more of the images from this set since we're trying to get them published. But check back for more! (Including a fancy BTS video by Ocean Ho :) )
For lighting, you could put this inside and experiment with studio lights, or you could go all natural like I did and use the natural light of your backyard! Try to find a spot that will be in shade for the duration of the shoot, ideally with a bright object, like the wall of a house, bouncing even light onto your subject. At one point, our clamps were reflecting splashes of light onto the boards, so we covered them with a napkin and a rubber band. :D Be mindful of subtle shadows being cast by the walls of the frame.
If you try it yourself, use the hashtag #colorfulcorners on Instagram and send the results to me! I'd love to see how it turns out.
Here's the full behind the scenes video:
As you may have noticed, I love symmetry. I love odd numbers that allow one central focal piece to be surrounded on either side by duplicates of itself. I love the repetition that identical objects create as they cascade into the depth of the photo. Quintuplets are hard to find. (If you know any, send them my way!) So, for this shoot, I had to get a bit creative. What you see below is one model, Ksenia Koulechova, composited into 3-5 clones of herself.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video to see how I shot and composited these images.
Hair & Makeup by Inna Mathews
Styling by Jessie Couberly
Featuring an amazing jumpsuit by local designer Only Child
Published in Darling Magazine, Issue No. 21 (scroll to the bottom to see the tearsheets!)
Special thanks to my neighbor Jeff Bierach for allowing us to put his chickens in the spotlight. :)
Darling Magazine Tearsheets:
These two flew in from Idaho, and we planned a super last-minute shoot together. I'm so glad we did! I have to say: I'm obsessed with their hair - the textures and colors together were a photographer's dream! We caught the last hour of daylight together with some dreamy soft light. Find them on Instagram at @danicaashhull and @damondance16.
Model: Atha Davis of Stars SF
Enjoy these 5 selects of images that have inspired me - and hopefully will inspire you!
- Tuija Lindström - learn more about her here.
- Jimmy Marble - can never say enough good stuff about his work! Check out his Instagram.
- Osamu Yokonami - always inspiring
- Rose Walton - she does amazing self-portraits, and I love the moodiness of her work!
- Michal Pudelka
What photos have inspired you recently? Link them in the comments!
Editing styles come and go. Your aesthetic preferences are constantly evolving. But no matter what year it is, or what you’re shooting, you always have the opportunity to make your work stand out.
Here are my thoughts on creating one-of-a-kind images:
1) Pick an unusual topic or theme. This doesn’t mean that you need to specialize in photographing hammers sitting on chairs (though you totally could!). Pick something you’re passionate about that also happens to be uncommon, and keep iterating on it, establishing a theme in your work. I happen to spend tons of time with older people, and I think a lot about aging, so a natural pick for me was to shoot older people. This series means something to me, and I think it evokes some kind of emotion those who view it. Find something that no one else is doing and make it happen!
2) Disrupt normalcy. Ask yourself: what would make me stop in my tracks walking out in public? A herd of Scottish cows walking in a line down the middle of the street? 3 models standing on each other’s shoulders? It doesn’t have to be circus-status, but it does have to be something weird. For example, my most popular series to this day, 5 of a Kind, is a basic form of this idea. You typically don’t see 5 similar-looking girls (or quintuplets) dressed in identical outfits just strolling around robotically. The charm of these photos lies in the rarity of this scenario. Even just posing people in perfect symmetry (think Abbey Road cover) is visually striking and unnatural.
3) Pay attention to your colors. Color is a huge part of visual content. Color (or lack thereof) can set the mood and tone of your portfolio/feed. I encourage people to work within a color palette and choose colors they like the most, since that will personalize and streamline their work. Color can make or break your work!
4) Eliminate clutter. Whether that’s making sure the physical scene is clean to begin with, or cloning out background distractions (i.e., spots on pavement, random signs or debris), it’s important to pay extra attention to those little details. It will help draw the viewer’s eye to the subject and enhance your composition.
5) Work hard. This almost goes without saying, but I want you to internalize what this means. The photographers who are willing to go above and beyond to make their visions come to life are the ones whose work will stand out. Take location, for example. The photographers who are competing for space at the local park are probably not the ones we all follow on Instagram. It’s the ones who are climbing mountains or driving hours to find the perfect wheat field who are going to make their mark. (Note: I don’t mean to say that great work can’t be made at the local park, or that shooting at the same place over and over is a bad thing. But think about how location can influence your work for the better!) This applies to everything, not just location. Putting time into finding new people to work with, feeding your inspiration, and working hard to make sure every detail is taken care of will all yield impressive results.
6) BE CONSISTENT. I think I bring this up almost every time I write something, so this time I’m going to shout it. Shoot well, and often. Consistency attracts people to your work because they don’t have to work hard to figure out what you do. Since being consistent is so hard to do, being consistent will automatically make your work stand out. (Psst, in case you can’t already tell how obsessed I am with consistency, check out my free guide to building a consistent body of work.)
If I could tell you one thing: Create images that depict something you don’t see everyday. Whether that’s a clutterless street, a perfectly colorful outfit, or faux-quintuplets, you’ll draw people to your work by disrupting routine and temporarily drawing them out of the real world.
You may recognize some of what I’m saying from my Instagram tips post. See the correlation? Making your work stand out will contribute to your success on Instagram.
What do you think helps make your work stand out?
The first in a new series that aims to explore what it means to age and challenge the notion that youth = beauty. I came across a video of a 102-year-old woman in a hospital bed who was watching a video of herself dancing in the 1930s. At the end of the video, they asked her, "How does it make you feel to see yourself dancing?" Her response: It makes me wish I could get up out of this bed and do it all over again. That comment will stay with me forever.
That's part of what this series is about: internalizing the fleeting nature of time and working to infuse each day with meaning. Age is a collection of experiences; it should be celebrated and valued.
Veronica and I both studied linguistics at UC Santa Barbara, and we spent many days walking around campus codeswitching between Spanish and English. It was an honor to capture the genuine chemistry between these two - a banana slug even made an appearance!
Are you frustrated at your lack of growth on Instagram? I often get asked about how to be successful on Instagram. The truth is, I'm still figuring it out. But I'm happy to share what my experience has been so far.
I've had quite the journey on Instagram. Back in 2012, I reluctantly agreed to start posting on it based on a recommendation from a friend. In late 2014, my feed got more serious as I started to hone in on my style and really focus on growth. In May 2016, Instagram featured one of my photos on their feed, which garnered me a nice boost in followers and engagement (still under 6,000 with the boost at the time).
Later in 2016, Instagram started following me. This seems to be the new version of being a "suggested user." While this has significantly helped my follower growth, unfortunately it has decreased my engagement rate (number of likes & comments per photo).
The problem is, many bots are programmed to follow the users Instagram is following, so it makes my audience less authentic. I'm not trying to sound like I'm whining about having nearly 40K followers, but I'm pointing out the fact that you can't always take numbers at face value. There are people with 6,000 followers getting 1,000-2,000 likes per post, which is AMAZING. I have nearly 40K and I only get 400-500 likes on average. Pretty lame, huh?
However, I am happy with how my engagement has grown over the years. I love when people comment, and I love answering them back. It does take a lot of work to keep up those relationships, but I think maintaining that conversation is important!
In order to build an engaged, authentic following, I recommend using these tips as you grow your account.
1) Be consistent. I'm a huge advocate for consistency - consistency in editing style, the type of content you post, and the choices you make when creating your work (i.e., colors, types of light). In fact, I think some of the most successful photographers are the ones that only post photos based around a single theme - for example, @thebroccolitree only posts photos of the same tree captured at different times. I imagine that taking these photos must get boring after a while, but it's a successful concept: the people who follow @thebroccolitree LOVE seeing pictures of that tree, and they know that what they see is what they get. The intent behind the feed is transparent. (Read more about consistency by downloading my free guide!)
Without taking that concept quite so literally, think about how you can ensure your audience that what they see is what they get. It doesn't mean that you have to have the same subject all the time, but what is an element that can act as a thread of consistency weaving through your work? I use the same yellow hat in a lot of my photos, and I have a color palette that I try not to stray from (learn more about how I work with color here). I try to explore repeated themes throughout my work, such as multiples (5 of a Kind, twins, etc.) and older people (a fairly new series).
2) Plan out your grid. I try to be thoughtful about the order in which I post photos. I use the app UNUM to preview my layout; it's really helpful for seeing the "big picture" when you're trying to figure out how to share a bunch of work. I usually try to alternate composition styles - one close-up, one wide shot, one medium shot, for example. I also try to be conscious of the color palette of the photos that surround each other and not inundate my feed with just one color. Often I'll post 3 photos from a new shoot, and then continue to sprinkle them throughout other photos so that I don't spam my audience with all the photos from one shoot. I like to spread out my work, which is why I use UNUM to see what will look good next to each other.
3) Don't post irrelevant content. There's always been a big debate about whether or not to post personal photos to your Instagram. Personally I believe that you should never post personal photos if they don't fit well with your feed. Don't throw in a grainy picture of your cat in between beautiful editorial images - that will instantly make me not want to follow you. If you recently took fancy self-portraits that do fit in well with your feed, sure, go right ahead! But keep your content in line with what your audience is expecting. You can be personal with people and let them into your lives through your blog, your captions, and other social media venues (i.e., Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook), but try to avoid polluting your Instagram feed with irrelevant photos. You want to treat your Instagram feed like your portfolio - would you put up a picture of your new shower curtain on your front page slider on your website?
4) Focus on creating amazing content. This one's pretty obvious, but I'm not sure how many people really internalize it. Stop worrying about how to grow your Instagram, and start worrying about how to make your work amazing. It doesn't matter if you're posting 5 images a day if all of them are the regurgitated leftovers of old shoots you don't really care about. Focus on quality over quantity. How can you make every shoot AMAZING? What are the wildest ideas in your head that are waiting to come to life? Master whatever it is you love shooting, and push your limits when it comes to imagining what you can create. Don't be afraid to bring your ideas to life. Then share them with the world!
TL;DR Above all, consistently creating great content is your golden ticket to success. Even if Instagram disappears within 10 years, this will always be true. No matter where you're sharing your content, it has to be good, and it has to be consistent for people to pay attention.
I'd like to close by saying that no social media platform is worth obsessing over. A lot of it is a constructed reality that takes us away from things that really matter (i.e., spending time with people, self-development, etc.). However, for many of us, social media is the core of our business: it brings us bookings, acts as a portfolio, and spreads awareness about our work. Just like a normal office job, though, it's necessary to set boundaries that allow us to leave likes and followers behind for a while.
I'm guilty of fretting over my engagement rate, feeling discouraged when a post gets below-average likes, and spending too much time hovering over my phone waiting for notifications. I'm still working on making myself step away from social media more often.
What are your thoughts on social media? Is there anything else you wish you knew about Instagram?