From a photographer’s point of view…
Yasmin Suteja is my best friend, manger and a very talented photographer. She also started her own agency called Culture Machine three years ago, in a hotel room in Vegas. Many of you were curious to know what it is like working as a photographer as well as how one gets into this as a career. Because of this, I thought it was only fitting to sit down and let Yasmin do the talking.
Photo courtesy @lasskaa
1. How did you start getting into photography?
I remember picking up a camera as young as 8 years old. If I wasn't recording home movies with my brother, I was organising 'fashion shoots' with my friends on the weekend (inspired by Tyra Banks and ANTM haha). At first I was really interested in filmmaking and cinematography. I made a short film for my English Major Ext II Project in Year 12. And then went on to do BA in Communication majoring in Media Arts and Production at UTS. It was in my second year at uni that I picked up a photography elective and started shooting analogue black and white film, processing in the dark room, and making my own prints. I started falling in love with photography again. I moved to Bali with my mum after I graduated - I had just turned 21. I started getting jobs to shoot Bali-based fashion brands, and it all sort of went from there. One job leads you on to another, your client base increases through word of mouth. Being a good photographer is about being a good communicator. You need to be good at interpreting the client's brief and then communicating what you want to the talent / subject as well as the rest of the team involved (stylist, hair and makeup etc). This has always been really important to me. A career in photography comes through recommendations from one client to another, and if you're easy to work with and can get job done with little fuss - then you're highly employable!
You also need strong skills in problem solving. Often things don't turn out as you had planned - sometimes the clothes are too big, sometimes the location doesn't look the same as in pictures, sometimes it's really overcast or raining and you're shooting a summer lookbook - you just have to work with it and find solutions to those problems!
Photos courtesy @lasskaa
2. What catches your eye the most when shooting?
Light. Everything is about light for me. The way I ask the model to pose, or whatever wall/background I choose to shoot on is very much informed by the way ambient light is working in that particular space. Kath will tell you how much I love 'hair light' haha! This is when the subject is slightly backlit, and the light from behind just touches the edges of his/her hair. I usually then 'fill' the subject's face with light using a reflector so that he / she is evenly lit. I also love the angles created by shadows - usually in harsh midday light. Shadows can create really interesting dynamic backgrounds and a certain 'mood'. I love experimenting with different ways of using light. Occasionally I'll go into studio and use flash and coloured gels, but I prefer using ambient natural light and shooting on location. The second most important aspects for me are colour and texture. I usually talk to the stylist before shooting to see what colour palette and textures we are working with in the clothing - I'll then match those to the surroundings. Sometimes I'll try and clash colours like cool blue and warm red. Other times I'll blend colour and texture - like soft pastel pink on a white textured peeling wall. And the third most important aspect is composition. Do I want the subject to the left of frame, leaving lots of negative space? Do I want to shoot slightly below the subject to make them look taller or more dominant within the frame? Or so I want to shoot a portrait up-close on a 50mm lens? Composition is usually informed by whatever lens I'm using and vice versa.
3. What do you usually look for in terms of location?
I almost always use outdoor locations - I love urban streets - alley ways, cafe exteriors, bus stops. If I do shoot indoors, I like a place with character that looks 'lived in'. I also love lots of windows and natural light.
4. Whats your favourite thing to shoot?
People! I've said before, "I can't take a photo unless there's someone in it". I'm obsessed with people and faces and fashion and style. I can totally appreciate landscape and still-life photography, but for me to be interested in taking a photo I need to work with a human!
5. Do you see yourself being a photographer forever?
Careerwise? Probably not. I love photography and I love taking photos but working in the commercial world of photography has kind of removed the fun and creativity a little bit. I've been working as a photographer for 3 years now and fortunate to have shot campaigns for big commercial companies. But it starts to get a little repetitive. When you're a commercial photographer, everything is about the product. So you start to lose sight of creating a mood or a feel. I try to create a mood and inject my creative direction wherever I can, but when you have a lot of looks to get through in one day you often don't have the time to spend on each image that you would like.
I'll keep taking photos for sure - I love it. But this year I'm focusing more on creative direction, and coming up with mood boards and concepts and treatments and then working with a team to bring them to life.
6. What advice do you give for aspiring photographers?
RESEARCH and PRACTICE
Go to as many exhibitions as you can, flick through as many coffee table books as you can and go to the library and hire every photo book you can find! Look away from now and what's happening around you and go back to the first black and white photographers and filmmakers. Look at different movements in the art world - compare aesthetics between the 60s 70s and 80s. You'll absorb other artists' interpretation of light, composition, and 'mood' and store them in a bank in your brain that you can draw on when you start shooting. I'm not saying copy people - by no means - I'm encouraging you to research and look at different techniques and discover which ones resonate with you. Secondly, shoot, shoot, shoot as much as you can! We're lucky to live in the digital world where it doesn't cost much to make mistakes. So use that to your advantage and try everything that your DSLR can do! Shoot low light, shoot midday light, shoot backlight. Try it all so that you know how to deal with those conditions when they're presented to you. Thirdly, focus on developing a 'style' and 'aesthetic' - you want people to look at your photos and go - oh that's "insert name". I looked up to photographers like Annie Leibovitz and David LaChappelle who had such definitive styles - their work just jumps out at you and says something!