In the second installment of Portrait Photographer Portfolios we are pleased to welcome an incredible portrait artist, and flickr phenom, Anna Gay (Loca Luna). Anna is the author of The Art of Self Portraiture, an instructional photography e-book related to the journey of Self Portrait Photography. Be sure to check out Anna’s website, flickr page, facebook page, and twitter page.
My name is Anna Gay, and I am a portrait photographer based in Athens, GA. When I am not shooting, I am a guest-blogger, photography tutor, and the author of The Art of Self Portraiture. My husband, Evan Leavitt, is also a photographer, so I enjoy being a second shooter and assistant on his shoots. I am a music lover, and since Evan photographs musicians, I get to meet a lot of really interesting and talented musicians, who never cease to inspire my work as a photographer. I also have two cats, who seem to enjoy being in my self-portraits.
I see that you did a Project 365. Can you talk about how that helped you grow as a photographer?
My 365 was invaluable to me as a photographer. When I started my 365, I had no photography experience, in fact, I only had a point and shoot camera. Very soon, though, I upgraded to a DSLR, so my 365 gave me the opportunity to practice, every day, on how to use my new camera, different types of lighting, composition and post-processing techniques. It also helped me become confident in my process of creating images, which has really helped me with my portrait work, because I spend more time connecting with my clients, rather than fiddling with my camera and lighting setups.
What equipment do you use? Specifically, camera body, lenses, flashes, strobes etc.
My primary camera is the 5D Mark II with a 50mm lens, and a 480ex ii flash. Those are my staples that I always carry with me to a shoot. I am also shooting/developing a lot of film these days, in which case I use a Nikon FM-10, which is a 35mm film SLR. I prefer to develop my own film, so I shoot a variety of black and white films so that I can develop them at home.
I see that you do events, self-portraits, nature, architectural and several other types of photography. Which is your favorite?
Without a doubt, my favorite types of photography are events and portraits. I love shooting engagement, weddings, maternity and kids as much as possible, because they are such joyous events, and highlight the happy moments in peoples’ lives. I am fairly shy, but through photography, I have found a way to connect with other people in an area in which I am confident. I love going to a shoot, getting to know the client and hearing about their life, and then giving them images that they are happy to have – that is such a rewarding feeling.
Do you feel restrained at all when doing events such as weddings compared to a self-portrait at a scene of your choosing?
Yes and no, actually. My solution to that issue is that, with every event I shoot, I do my best to get to the venue the day before, or the morning of. For example, if I am shooting a wedding, I always attend the rehearsal so that I know exactly what the venue looks like in terms of lighting, seating arrangement, and where I need to stand when I shoot. So, while the venue is always out of my control, I do my research beforehand so that when the time arrives, I have a plan-of-action that will help me get the best possible shots.
As a self-portraitist, how much time do you spend going back and forth between going behind the camera and in front of it for a single shot? Do you find yourself cropping in post a lot to get the scene just right?
When I first started with self-portraits, I spent a ridiculous amount of time going back and forth, because it takes a lot of practice to know how to place yourself in front of the camera, especially when you’re new to photography, as I was. By the same token, I used to spend a lot of time cropping, too. At this point, I pretty much know exactly where I should be in front of the camera, and have learned to look through my viewfinder and visualize exactly where I need to be in the photo. This has really helped me with my client shoots, as well, because I know where and how people should be posed, so I spend very little time directing them, and cropping in post.
How much time on average do you spend post-processing, and what software do you use?
I spend a good deal of time in post-processing. I am trying to graduate to a more natural style of processing as I learn more about photography, because if you look at my earlier work, it was processed with an extremely heavy hand. I can see that I had an idea of how I wanted my work to look, it just wasn’t working for me at the time. So, while I still have my color curves and textures that I add to the majority of my photos, I am refining my technique as much as possible, and learning how to use color and texture in a more subtle way. I use Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS 4.
How did you get into photography, and have you had any formal training in photography?
I graduated with a degree in theatre, so I have had no formal training in photography. I found photography in 2008 after I had knee surgery, and needed a hobby as I recuperated. I have always really enjoyed drawing, but wanted to try a new medium of visual art, so that is why I started experimenting with photography.
Which photographer has influenced you the most?
There are so many to name, but the two whose work I always find myself staring at for hours on end are Sally Mann and Katie Lee. Katie Lee, for her amazingly artistic self-portraits, that always seem to have a positive, uplifting feel to them – she is the person who inspired me to get in front of the lens. Sally Mann, for the depth and emotion in her portraits of her children, as well as the perfect tonality in her work with film and wet collodion.
If you had only one lens to use for the rest of your photography career, which would it be?
Any sort of 50mm, I don’t particularly care what brand (unless someone wants to give me a Zeiss, I wouldn’t turn it down) as long as it is fast. I have been in love with that focal length ever since I first shot with it.
Which photograph that you have taken is your favorite?
To this day, my favorite is a self-portrait called “Full Circle.” [pictured below] It was one of my first self portraits, but has always remained my favorite. I enjoy it because my back is turned which, for me, opens up the possibility for interpretation. I also just love the light, and the colors of the peeling paint on the walls.
Have you ever taken photos of strangers on the street?
Two of my closest friends are talented street photographers, and they have encouraged me to get out and photograph people on the street, which is really, really difficult for me to do, because as I mentioned, I am fairly shy. It is an exercise in self-confidence for me, because I am always worried that people do not want me taking their photos, but I haven’t received any complaints yet. It is really fun to me, but I have to be in the right mood to put myself out there in that manner.
Do you prefer natural lighting or some form of strobes/flashes?
I much prefer natural light, but when I need an extra light source, I either use a reflector, or my flash and a reflector umbrella off-camera.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
Sharing a lot of personal details about my life on Flickr was a huge, huge mistake. Because I post all of my self-portraits on Flickr, and because I went through a lot of personal turmoil in a short amount of time during my 365, I found myself talking about it in a very candid way on Flickr in my descriptions of my photos. At this point, I wish I had let the photos speak for themselves, rather than airing all of my emotions in my descriptions. If you are that open, people will often set out to attack you personally, which is what happened to me, and I wish that I could have avoided all of that.
What is the best advice you would give a photographer just starting out?
Practice, study the work of other photographers, practice some more. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and also know that if you want to become a professional photographer, there is a lot of serious competition out there, and it can be challenging field. If photography is really where your heart is, though, you just have to find a way to keep doing what you love, and know that you may have to wear a lot of different hats. For me, I do portraits, but to supplement my income, I also guest-blog, make Photoshop actions and textures, as well as tutor other photographers. It is a lot of work, but if it is what you love, you’ll be very rewarded by photography, so just stay open to new possibilities.
I see that you have a book out, can you talk about that?
Yes, I wrote an ebook for Digital Photography School called The Art of Self-Portraiture, which is basically a how-to guide with tips and tricks for taking self-portraits, and also explores how self-portraiture can help improve your skills as a photographer, as well as serve you in the area of self-awareness and personal expression. The book goes through the basics like equipment, lighting, posing, composition, post-processing, has examples from other self-portrait photographers, as well as a list of ideas and themes for self-portraits. People have really been enjoying it so far! When it was first released, I wasn’t sure how people would react to a book about self-portraiture, but so far I have heard from a lot of people who found it very useful.