Monday, August 4, 2014

Meet This Week's Judge: Stella Reynoso

This week we had Stella of Stella Reynoso Photography with us. Her rich, emotional images always deliver. She shared about about her inspiration and goals with us - enjoy!

1. Tell us about yourself...

In college, I majored in Behavioral Science, and it was so thrilling to learn the science behind how we as humans act.  The things we do.  The words we say.  The image we want to come across to people.  The need for acceptance.  What motivates us, what slows us down, and what becomes a catalyst for change.
That knowledge paired with my innate ability to strategically learn and analyze scenarios has made me the person and entrepreneur I am today.  It has shaped my business over time into mentoring with a productivity-driven focus, and combined my love of helping others with my love for continually being challenged, since all my clients come to me with different variables, but the same destination: being as successful a business owner as they can possibly be at this season of their lives.
I view life like a gigantic game of Tetris: constantly moving and shifting pieces so that they fit accordingly – sometimes taking the easy road and laying out one line at a time.  Sometimes taking more risks and building up a big wall, waiting patiently for the opportunity when that absolute perfect piece comes into play and gives me a 4-line combo – which is a much more rewarding experience!  But either way, I am so thankful for the gift of being able to take a snapshot of a current situation, then projecting what might take place when you weigh certain variables against the other.

I know.  I’m a nerd.  But that’s ok – I blame the hubster for strengthening my inner geekery with his introduction to Star Trek when we first started dating (and now I’m hooked for life!).  And sadly for our three beautiful, inquisitive children, our nerd-dom has trickled down into their DNA, so they think it’s quite normal that we call our puppy (a black newfypoo named Arista) a “wookie” and have grand feasts during our Harry Potter weekend marathons.  But being a career military family, we know that we have to stick together no matter where we go, so do our best to make life fun, and I am incredibly thankful that my own career choice travels well, while still allowing me to be an active part of my husband’s tradition-rich Army life.

2. What ignited your passion for photography, and what fuels it now?

Speaking of the Army…when my husband was in ROTC in 2008-ish, it was an amazing experience for both of us.  I decided to go back to school at that time too, to try to finish off my BA, and became active in volunteering with his ROTC unit.  I photographed events for them, helping wherever I could to streamline the program and make it more efficient and visible to the university campus.  Because I was so involved, they allowed me to come to field exercises and photograph those too, and it was then that I realized how much I loved being a photojournalist.

I had started off photographing for my college paper a few years earlier, but since it was all boring community college newspaper stuff, it didn’t really light my flame.
But when I tagged along to these ROTC rifle ranges and group-building exercises, as well as documented a few traditional ceremonies, that was glorious!  I was now archiving HISTORY.  I was taking photos of actions that not only happened today, but that been happening for generations.  These men and women who trained incessantly to be good protectors – they were learning the same lessons as the leaders before them, and it was such a privilege to be a part of it.

I joke around with my husband sometimes and tell him that although I don’t actively photograph clients any longer, if National Geographic came a-calling, I’d be on the next flight out to wherever amazing location/scenario they wanted me to cover.  ;)  There is seriously nothing like the thrill of not knowing where your next shot will come from, which is why I was so drawn to doing adrenaline-pumping event photography, like Homecomings and Weddings.

3. What's in your camera bag right now, what do use the most? the least?

When I stepped down from shooting professionally, I downgraded my camera body to a Canon MKII, and have been shooting that since February.  I also gave up my gorgeous Canon 24-70mm 2.8L II lens because I didn’t need it for events like I used to, and just carry around a basic arsenal of primes, consisting of my Canon 50mm 1.4, Canon 85mm 1.8, and my newest acquisition: the Canon 20mm 2.8 (delicious!), which is going to help me phenomenally with my environmental pullbacks (like when I take pictures of my office to share with you way in which to become more productive!) and food photography (during Foodie Week on The Organic Photographers and my latest food-related project, Busy Girl Meal Plans).

From time to time, I’ll throw my film cameras in there too: my Canon EOS3 and my Pentax K1000, along with current fave film stocks: Kodak Portra 160 and Arista 400 (which is what I named my puppy after!).
I always have a stack of business cards on one side of my Kelly Moore grey B-Hobo bag, and then my phone lives in the other exterior side pocket.

In the front left pocket lives my camera battery charger and a spare battery.  On the right is my memory card reader and an extra CF card.  If I take along a flash, I’ll also throw a ziplock bag of Eneloops inside that pocket too.

In the back pocket, I always have at least 2 pens, a post-it pad, bobby pins and hair ties, mint Burt’s Bees chapstick, and a pile of disposable lens wipes.  I’m sure I should bring my little “rocketship” blower, or my duster pen thing, but I prefer to travel as light as possible, and will pack my bag accordingly before each and every session, leaving behind things I don’t absolutely need.  And since I use Kelvin while shooting, I don’t own any sort of white balance disc since it just creates clutter in my bag.
(in case you couldn’t tell, I’m a little OCD about my bag, but I need it to operate at maximum efficiency at all times, so…lol)

4. What's your dream project or shoot?

I would seriously love to follow Save A Warrior during one of their cohorts.  I got the opportunity to drive down and visit during the first day of Cohort 10 in Malibu, CA (during a break in between classes while at WPPI this year), and the transformation of all those men from Day 1 to Day 5 was phenomenal once I saw pictures on the Facebook page.  I even got to take a few photos for them too, and wished I could have stayed longer, but only had that one day off.  Having the honor of documenting their journey of healing from start to finish would be such an immense gift.  They have this seemingly impossible high ropes course at the beach, and do multiple trust-building exercises, as well as equine therapy and learning transcendental meditation.  So many things to document!  So much personal history to capture.  So much meaning to the photographs for each person going through the program.  I still get goosebumps when I think about my one single day there, and would probably be a blubbering mess by the time the week was up, but it would be SO worth it for the privilege of taking those photographs.  Just, wow.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face as a photographer?

My body.  Not many people know the biggest reason why I left photography to rebrand and pursue mentoring full-time instead, but the catalyst for that change was discovering that all these back issues I’d been having for years was due to two herniated discs in my back.  I had been prepping for the last year to become a full-time wedding photographer once we finally got here to North Carolina, and had even convinced a local friend to team up with me since she was such a strong portrait photographer, and I was a strong photojournalist/documentary photographer.  We had all these plans, printed all these marketing materials, and even started courting wedding clients, but that all came to a screeching halt after I got the results back from my MRI.

I was crushed.  All my hopes and dreams and months and months of plans were tossed out the window in the span of a 10-minute doctor’s visit.  I asked her if I could fix it, but she shook her head sadly, and told me that I would need to combat it with pain management and physical therapy.  And at the time, it was pretty bad, so me thinking I could carry around tons of gear for extended periods of time should have been pretty laughable.  I couldn’t even stand up straight without wincing, and when I looked in the mirror, it looked like my upper body was shifted about 2-3 inches to the left of my lower body due to the massive spasm that had taken over my spine.

As defeated as I was, I made the decision that it was a sign, and that I needed to simply adjust my sights elsewhere.  I couldn’t in good conscience take on a wedding client and not know if I would even be able to show up to their big day.  My body was so unpredictable.  I ended up in the ER after my trip to the Three Nails Photography workshop in October last year, and then again the day after Thanksgiving for sneezing.  That’s right, I sneezed without bracing myself properly like I normally do, and it created this massive shock wave that wrapped around my entire torso and set off another round of powerful spasms.
I know, I’m a mess, right?  Haha

But it was a blessing in disguise since it enabled me to do what I was truly meant to do: teach.  Help others in a much bigger way.  Expand my reach since I was no longer limited to just being involved with the local population, but have mentored and coached photographers all around the world.  It was the push I needed to delve into consulting since I was too afraid to dive into it before, but without anything more to lose, I just took a deep breath and jumped.

And here I am today.  J

6.  If you had $500 to spend on photography...

How should you spend it?

On a tune-up for all my gear.  The focus on my 50mm has been kinda off lately, and I really should send it into Canon, or at least download that FoCal software that my friend Cynthia Dawson recommended to me, but I just keep microadjusting my lenses before each session, and all is well so far.  It’s just really annoying, but eh.  It’s not a dealbreaker.

How do you wish you could spend it?

On PACKAGING.  Oh my word, I am a packaging fanatic!  That was the BEST part of being a photographer – delivering all the goods in some pretty boxes with lots of stickers and things.  The day I sold all my packaging this year was a sad, sad day indeed, but thankfully, it went to a friend, so I am sure she can take pictures of it for me if I get sentimental.  ;)

How would you really spend it?

I would totally buy more film! 

Being able to take a step back from marketing myself as a professional photographer has enabled me to shoot for ME.  To do personal projects since my time is fully my own now, and my vision is 100% mine.  I can photograph what I want, when I want it, and there is no pressure!  When I went to the Three Nails Photography workshop last October, that was the first time I had the freedom to do as I pleased, and it was AMAZING.  I wasn’t stressed out about getting “the shot” which meant I could relax and be more creative.  I enjoyed being able to step outside the box, and it definitely made for a much more enjoyable experience.  I didn’t have room to pack my film camera, but I sure wish I did!

But just the other week, just down the street from me, a HUGE sunflower field emerged, and I thought that would be the perfect time to practice my film photography.  I am super new to film, and have only shot about half a dozen rolls, but oh man do I love it!  That thrill you get from doing a session, then waiting for your film to be developed – it’s torturous!  Lol  But super, super rewarding.  So when a local model friend mentioned having free time that week, I told her we should get together for a film session, and it was so easy.  Not stressful like working with clients can be.  I shot digital at the same time since I am terribly impatient, and they turned out FABULOUS!  Almost makes me miss photo sessions.  Almost.  ;)
But seriously, I would buy a light meter so that I didn’t have to use the little iPhone app/my digital camera to help meter, and then I would use up the rest on all kinds of different film stocks to see what they look like!

7. Is there any one thing you wish someone had told you at the very beginning of your photography journey?

#1: What you see online?  That’s rarely what comes out of your camera.  While your SOOC shots can be 95% as amazing, it does take some post-processing (i.e. contrast + sharpening, especially if you shoot RAW) to create those photos you idolize.  Don’t buy “better” gear to strive to achieve those shots.  Simply learn how to maximize your entire knowledge base – from shooting to editing to presentation.

#2: No one person is going to have all the answers.  What one professional says, another may say the complete opposite.  Listen to BOTH, then form your own opinion based on your own needs.  There is never any ONE right answer.  Unless someone asks you if you shoot Canon or Nikon.  In that case, the answer should always be Canon.  ;)

#3: Don’t idolize anyone.  Don’t idolize me.  Don’t idolize that “rock star photographer” whose work you have been following.  You don’t know their stories: where they came from, what financial or familial support system they have in place, where they plan to take their business, or what they gave up to achieve it.  The worst mistake I made was trying to follow in someone’s footsteps when I first started.  I thought we were so similar based on what they projected on the outside.  We had so much in common – it would have been great to learn from them, right?  But as they got bigger, their intent shifted, and I was so sad and disappointed by the transformation, as it definitely wasn’t a destination that I wanted to reach any longer.  It was really all my fault for putting them on such a high pedestal in the first place, so I can’t blame anyone but myself.  But I did learn a hard lesson that day: don’t put people on pedestals unless they’re like, your great-grandma or something.  Or your favorite elementary school teacher – you know, the one who let you play “Heads-Up, 7-Up” during the last 10 minutes of the school day instead of making you work until the bell rang?  Yeah, you can idolize those peeps.  But the rest?  They’re just human, like you and I.  So stop idolizing them and start idolizing YOU instead – you’re valuable, too.  :)

#4: A little goes a long way.  This mainly pertains to editing.  I used to think that, since I was a crappy beginner photographer, that I would “make up for it” in the editing department.  Selective color?  Hyeah!  Hand-applied emo vignette?  Check!  De-saturated color that made my clients look like zombies instead of living, breathing people?  For SURE.  Instead of learning to properly expose my shots and get them as perfect as I could in-camera (or owning a monitor calibrator – hel-LO, lifesaver!), I would instead overcompensate by over-editing.  Please don’t be like me.  Or if you insist, hurry up through that rite of passage and get to clean, crisp, non-over-contrasty editing so that you can start off with a good, solid base should you decide to infuse your own style on top of it.  But “green-yellow sepia” is NOT a good look for ANYone, thankyouverymuch.

And lastly, #5: You do NOT have to “go pro” just because “you take good pictures.”  Please weigh the benefits and pitfalls of owning your own business, because a good, solid, profitable business will take over your life – at least, in the beginning, until you’ve streamlined it and can outsource and automate many of its functions.  Owning a business is like being married.  Or having a perpetual newborn that constantly needs your attention all day long.  Being in business (i.e. taking money) is a long-term commitment, so if you’re not ready to run a marathon, there is no need to register for the race just yet, know what I mean?  It’s OKAY to shoot for yourself.  It’s OKAY to take pictures and not get paid for it.  It’s OKAY to learn and grow on your own timetable.  Last I checked, I am a photographer who doesn’t get paid, and I’m pretty sure my artistic growth didn’t magically stop just because I’m not “pro” anymore.  Don’t let anyone bully you into thinking that you’re bringing down the industry because you’re doing things for free (unless you’re doing it to undercut people on purpose, in which case, please stop.  Remember The Golden Rule?).  If they are that threatened by you, they simply have nothing better to do with their time, so just keep your nose clean and don’t pay them any mind – they will eventually go away and pick on someone else who will react.  The market will still be here should you decide that you are ready, but don’t jump into becoming a business unless you are truly ready to handle the business aspect of it too.  Remember: it’s like 80% business, and only 20% photography, but a 100% commitment.  Make sure you’re ready and able to commit to running a business for at least 3 years before you put a ring on that finger, mmkay?

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