Life of Style: Photographer, Rachel Waters
This past week I had the amazing opportunity to interview photographer, Rachel Waters. I have known Rachel for a few years and am constantly lusting after her moody Instagram feed. Needless to say, I'm super excited to introduce you to her & her work as we talk tips for taking better photos and even a better selfie. Get your cameras (or phones) out & be inspired.
Let's start from the top. How did you find your path?
I actually had a loose plan to study Interior Design. However, in my first semester at the University I took Intro to Photography- a basic black and white film class, as an elective for the arts program. I fell in love with the medium and the process instantly and switched my major mid-semester. I remember falling asleep in the darkroom some nights too tired to drive home after a print session. Oh, those were the days.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I can find inspiration anywhere! Nature is a constant inspiration in my life, along with music, and writing. A few bands/musicians that I constantly have spinning are Tycho, Ben Howard, Warpaint, Sharon Van Etten, & Washed Out. A few poets that I read often are Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. Lately, I’ve been truly inspired by time-lapse and follow a few time-lapse artists on Instagram such as Matt & Mia Glastonbury. (@mattglastonbury @miaglastonbury)
How would you describe your style of photography?
I have a hard time answering this question! Ever heard the expression, “It’s where you don’t put the light.”? I think I live by this expression within my images. I tend to pay very close attention to negative space and shadow areas within a frame- giving my imagery sometimes what could be perceived as a moody quality. I also tend to prefer working monochromatically, as I can really concentrate on composition while not being distracted by colors.
I would probably say that my visual style lies with how heavily I weigh composition. Lines and layers within my work are intentional and I make sure of that in the shooting process with how I frame each image. I pay attention to negative space, how lines/surfaces interact, and how everything plays together in a frame while I am shooting. And I believe that shows in my final images. I think that other visual artists can hone in on their visual style by coming to terms with their own visual likes/dislikes. I think the only way to do this is to shoot a lot. And to shoot a variety. Over time, you’ll start to connect with certain aesthetics, processes, effects, etc. And then you can start to perfect your own. Basically, you never know until you try. And then I would say try again!
Tell me about your gear.
As far as cameras go my favorites to shoot with are my Canon 5d mark ii, Samsung galaxy S5, & my Polaroid Sun 660. My favorite lenses to use are the Sigma 50mm 1.4 & the Tamron 70-200mm 2.8. And boy does my Samsung galaxy S5 take some pretty amazing photos for web-based use! GO SAMSUNG!
Any tips for the phonographers out there?
I do! I’m a pretty religious user of VSCO. But, lately I enjoy interlacing my edits within VSCO and the new Instagram editing software. The highlight/shadow recovery tool within Instagram is very friendly! And I find myself playing with blending color more within Instagram with some of the color overlay options. Every once in awhile I also use Afterlight.
You take AMAZING self-portraits (so pretty that I'm not sure they can be called selfies). What is your process like? Do you plan them in advance, set up a background?
Wow, thank you! For me, self-portraits and portraits are one in the same. The only difference is that with a self-portrait, the artist has full control of how to represent themselves. I think this is powerful. I also think this is vulnerable. In many ways, I believe some of the strongest portraits ever taken were self-portraits. If you think about it- who knows you better than you? And who knows you and your energy at that moment better than you? My process usually consists of some sort of inspiration of self which usually comes from a song I’ve connected with, a piece of writing I just jotted down, an experience I just had, a desire I hold, a thought I let go, or even a fear I inhibit. Just like any other portrait- you start to pay attention to your lighting, your environment within the frame, your expression, your wardrobe mishaps, your body language. It all begins to tell a story about that exact moment and what you want to say. Although most of my self-portraits are pretty casual and unplanned, some of my more recent self-portraits are a little more graphic and planned out- white backdrop, moody lighting, and a sense of movement. The better half of an hour or so later, I come out with a few photographs that resemble me- in a light that I put out for the world to see. I call it therapy. Get a remote shutter!
What tips do you have from others who want an amazing & artful 'selfie'? Lighting, backgrounds, effects, angles?
Get comfortable. Get comfortable with yourself and your camera and with the idea that you are in control. Create a theme/story/idea within your head- don’t be obvious, but let it flow through you and surround you. Lighting is the most important thing about capturing an image, so be aware of your lighting and what parts of you it accents or doesn’t. DON’T POSE. I know it can be hard but be you- be natural, genuine. Every person has a unique sense to them- let those little things flow through and connect with the viewer. From there- let the creativity thrive through experiments with angles, environment, and effects. Good luck!
For someone learning photography, what are a few tips you would give them or rules to follow?
Don’t worry too much about the technical aspects at first, shoot auto for awhile- learn your creative eye FIRST. Composition, lighting, subject matter, rule of thirds, and inspiration- are all very important aspects of photography. Once you feel comfortable with these- then get on your technical game and learn manually so that you can manipulate your camera to do what you want instead of what it wants.
You have a wonderful personal style. How would you describe it?
Well, thanks! My personal style is blend of many things, haha. I grew up in a military family, so we moved around quite a bit- experiencing different cultures, styles, etc. It’s hard for me to hone in on a particular style but I would say perhaps it could be casual-minimalist.
What does your daily routine look like as a photographer? What is your favorite part of your work?
Well, I work full time at an advertising photography studio here in the city. So on a daily basis- we are shooting food or liquor, occasionally people or products, working on post-production, and playing staring contests with our studio mascot- Lucy the turtle. I am also a freelance artist when I’m not at the studio- and I am all over the place! I shoot music, architecture, people, landscapes, astrophotography, and I dabble with some surreal ‘shopped image work with old archive photographs that I own. My favorite part of my work is that I am experiencing something different everyday- one day we’ll be photographing a Makers Mark bottle the next we’ll be photographing a child that just had a heart transplant. I enjoy the variety of the shoot load along with the experience I receive from them. I’m constantly challenged and I am constantly learning and growing. ‘Tis a blast!