The talented Shae of Everything Style and Lullie Vintage kindly agreed to let me interview her for my blog. She is one of those bloggers for whom the sheer quality of their photography spreads the word all by itself. I count her as one of my very favourite photographers - beautifully combining fashion with fine art photography, which is something few do with such skill and feeling. One of the things I most admire about Shae's work is her dedication - she is constantly shooting in order to pursue her passion. The other thing that stands out is the strong, consistent aesthetic and feeling in all of her shots, like a trademark stamped upon them. Here, she lets me pick her brains about the way she takes photos.
All images belong to Shae Acopian Detar.
Can you tell me about your process? Generally, when I am planning a shoot, I decide what mood I want to portray. This is when inspiration comes into play...I'll put on some music and dig through my painting books, look through old tin types, watch old films. After that, I begin to decide how I will style the shoot. Since I don't have access to couture or amazing costume places, I basically end up sewing things to make older vintage pieces look better. I add and change the pieces I have quite a bit...they transform into something so much dreamier. Then, when I have the styling settled, I think of the location and lastly the lighting.
Do you take photos spontaneously or set up shoots? I prefer to set shoots up and have everything planned. My husband likes it better when I have to be spontaneous, because he thinks it is good for me to push myself to get out of my comfort zone. I think he is right, that is good for me, at this point, being still new to the medium, to face my fears and shoot without planning everything out in advance. I would say, 2 out of every 5 shoots I do are spontaneous...the rest are very organized and pre-planned.
How do you pick your models? Do you direct them? How do you make them feel comfortable? Directing models is something I am trying to make an effort at perfecting. I was a model for awhile in my late teens and early twenties, so I try to remember how photographers directed me. I prefer when a photographer is very clear about direction. I don't mind if the model improvises a bit, but I generally do direct the models. I don't like a lot of "posing", because I like the shot to seem somewhat natural. Well, I know models being dressed all glamourous in the middle of the woods isn't "natural", haha. It's easier for me to get a lot of emotion in a shot, when I take self portraits. I haven't figured out yet how to get that same emotion out of a model...I clearly have a lot to learn in regards to directing someone. ;)
Do you strive for a certain mood? An aesthetic? Or let it evolve naturally? I don't shoot in a studio, and my work isn't very commercial, so creating a mood and some sort of visual asthetic is super important to me. My favorite photographs are always ones that set a tone in some way, whether it is this look in the persons eyes or a story that is being told with the help of dramatic lighting or the set in which the shot was taken. I'm not interested in crystal clear HD looking photos, or clean lines and white backgrounds, and I don't generally like strobes and flashes. I get excited when I see a photo that almost seems like it was taken straight out of a movie.
Do you prefer taking photos of yourself or others? I MUCH prefer taking photos of other people. I get a burst of adrenaline when I photograph people. But, in some ways, I do find it easier to take photos of myself, only because I don't care how long it takes for me to get the shot, or how cold it is or how uncomfortable I am. With some of the models I've worked with, they get cold or they want things to be done quickly...they aren't as invested in the photo.
Do you use much photographic equipment - such as lenses, tripods, lighting? I wouldn't say I use a ton, but I definitely do use equipment. Lights, tripod (if I have a slow shutter speed), a reflectors. If I am outdoors, sometimes I use lights because sometimes I am in the woods and it can be quite dark and you need it. Other times I am in a field and the sun is so bright that I don't need it.
Do you use Photoshop or other photo-editing software? If so, what parts
of the photograph do you change - colour, light and shade, etc? Do you have a signature editing 'move', use actions or play it by ear for each photograph?
I do use Photoshop to edit through photos. It's a great tool if you use it with moderation. The way I use Photoshop is in the same way I use a darkroom. I try not to overdo it...and I really feel like people have gone overboard withPhotoshop and that turns me off. I try to photograph the subject and be happy with the shot in it's natural state, that way I can use very little Photoshop . But, I always tweak the saturation a little, and if there is anything I do the most it is just adjust some colors to create more of a mood. Doing too much in photoshop makes me feel like I am cheating, so I try to get the colors I want with gel filters and such and experiment a lot.
Digital or analogue? (Question for the ages.) I like them both. Personally, I think a photograph taken with film is always going to be more beautiful to me...but it is a ton of extra work and more money to always shoot film. I've been taking shots with a 4x5 film camera and for 10 shots it is $26. That's a lot of money for only 10 shots...I just can't afford to take 300 photos like that. So, I generally bring 3 cameras on my shoot...my Digital Canon5D Mark 2, 2 Nikon film cameras, one with color film in it and the other with black and white film in it. This way, my bases are covered. It's just more work while I am shooting...and the model has to be patient while I say, "hold on, let me shoot that with my film camera too!".
What is going through your head when you're pressing the shutter button? I'm looking at her hands to make sure her hands or fingers don't get awkward, I'm looking at her eyes to make sure she doesn't look too far to the right or left and the whites of her eyes are all I see. I am always looking at shadows...because having a shadow in the wrong place on the face can ruin a shot big time. I am very aware of all of these things, only because I have missed out on some great shots, due to little things like this.
I love the dreamy settings of your photographs. Do you think backdrop
and setting is crucial to the message of the image?
Awwww....why thank you! :) Honestly, that depends on what kind of photography it is and what your preference is. Some of the best photos ever taken were very simple with nothing but a close up of someone's face. The expression on the face or the subject matter that is being photographed, and the lighting, this all creates such a mood and tells the viewer so much. Then, there are some photographers that go to great lengths to create that same mood and harness the same reaction from a photo by using props, sets, crazy makeup or interesting photographic processes. People like Tim Walker, Sarah Moon, Ellen Rogers, and old Hollywood photos, or photos from the 1800's. I tend be super inspired by imagery that looks like it is from a film and people like Kenneth Anger blow my mind. I adore saturated, moody film/photographs with very theatrical leanings. I think that backdrops and setting are important for my own work, because that is the medium in which I personally love and it just naturally comes out of my brain like that. But, it is not for everyone. Some of my husbands favorite photos I've taken are the simplest ones. He prefers less going on in a photo, "less is more"...some people are more like that. I tend to be on the other side where "More is more".
How long have you been pursuing photography? How did your passion evolve? November will be one full year of me really deciding to learn how to be photographer. I quit Lullie Vintage and I was unsure what to do. I was trying to figure out a career path...and one day while I was taking pictures at Bryant Park covering fashion week for my blog, I met Craig Arend of Altamira and he introduced me to this dapper gentleman named Karl Edwin Guerre of the blog Swagger 360. Guerre suggested that I stop using the auto setting on my camera and he showed me how to work the manual mode focusing on f-stops and shutter speeds. That little gesture, of him showing me that, opened up a whole new world to me. I was so fascinated with my camera after that and I said to my husband maybe a month or so later, "what if I tried learning how to be a photographer?". I started out telling people on my blog that I was going to start experimenting with photography...and I started taking self portraits of myself to learn and that's how it all began, last fall.
Can you describe a day's shoot and what goes on? Well, at the minute, I live in Nyc, which is not a place that I like to shoot in. There is too much concrete for my taste and I can't build sets because our apartment is too small. I don't have an artist space or anything, so I take the models out to my parents home in Pennsylvania, which is about 66 miles away. Once we get there, I do their makeup, get them dressed and start to shoot. After the shoot is over, I drive them back to their place and then I go home and eat a big meal, because when I shoot I don't feel hungry most of the day. Then I like to take a long bath and go to sleep, wake up the next morning and just edit through the photos all day long, into the night. I'm hoping to move out of the city this year maybe...I need a house with space or a barn or something so that I can build really elaborate sets. I love to use my imagination with a set, but I am very limited at the minute in regards to space and time, because of commuting. I'm hoping my husband and I will head back to Los Angeles, and come to Nyc only when I need to for business or jobs. Being bi-coastal is probably going to be our end result.
Who are your inspirations & why? I am incredibly inspired by my husband. He is hands down the hardest worker I have ever come across and he pushes himself daily. He's so determined and he's such a good man with endless creativity. He blows me away all the time...his solo album that he is coming out with this month is so stirring. I play that a lot and so many images come to my mind for shoots. He pushes me to get better and he refuses to let me give up when I feel like I've failed. His hard working example instantly rubs off on me and he's a big dreamer like me, so we really are well matched. I cannot for one second imagine life without him. My mom is one of my greatest inspirations. I mean, I am who I am because of her, there is no doubt about it. She has the most amazing taste and she is so eccentric and artsy. I admire her and my dad in so many ways. They raised me to value things like humility (which is hard to attain, but I'm so glad that they raised me to be conscience of it), selflessness (giving to others was and is so huge in their home, it's so inspiring), hard work, honesty and grace. I mean, I fail at all of these things, probably every single day...but the fact that they tried to raise us to be aware of these things...I feel like that was a huge gift on and of itself. Other inspirations, artistically...music is a HUGE source for me. I am moved deeply by music and quite often, a song is the reason that a certain theme or mood happens in a shoot of mine. Townes Van Zandt is someone I can always rely on to stir my artistic mind...and lately there is this one album by The Fleet Foxes that I'll put on when I am brainstorming for a shoot.