Updated: Apr 2, 2020
CA: What caused you to get into photography? SK: My uncle started with the photography. He had a six-figure job and was really interested in photography. One day, he quit his job and decided to start up his own studio. While he was learning how to use photoshop, I started to get interested in it and was around while he would do shoots and editing. He asked if I wanted to learn it and I said sure. I was in high school at the time and I didn’t have anything else to do. It would be cool to learn is what I thought then. Throughout high school, it never crossed my mind this was what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to get into criminal justice. Later on when I was in my first year in college, my uncle gave me a film camera the summer before I left for school. I was taking photos and I really liked it. My parents on the other hand wanted me to do a degree where I come out of college and got a job to support myself. I listened to them and went forward with the criminal justice route. I did it for two years and realized I didn’t enjoy criminal justice. I have done criminal justice for six years and it was the same thing all over again. I told my mom I would change my major to art. I had to flub it a little and say I wanted to do art education and teach to the kids. My end goal is really big something in photography, most likely in print.
CA: How did photography make you see the world differently? SK: My foundation is in the church so it gave me another way to see God. You see it differently and more details in the things around you. It start breaking up the bigger composition. It gave me this way to see God and it didn’t have to be inside the church all the time. You didn’t have to adhere to certain rules. I think after the camera, it made me realize your religion and your relationship with God and people is bigger than what you think it is.
CA: How did the classes help you in regards to photography? SK: You learn how to process your own films and your own prints. You understand the chemistry of photography rather than the digital aspect. Going into the process of digital, I was like the photo comes from the camera and I put it into the computer (and it will be good). When you start going from the digital world to the print world, you have to change settings and make sure you did it right the first time when you are shooting. Learning the actual process and why you do it to avoid you doing a cool thing and not knowing how to replicate it.
CA: What is the perfect picture to you? SK: Not necessarily because different people look at different things. Your composition choice maybe different from another person’s composition choice. If I put my photo up for critique and I cropped it a certain way, my professor would cut of the photo to say: “this is what I’m looking at and this is what I want”. It depends on the person but at the end of the day, it is your work. You have to be confident in your work.
CA: What do you feel after taking a self portrait? SK: It is definitely an experience as far as looking into yourself and figuring out who you are. We don’t see ourselves the way other people see us. When I look at the pictures and I go “that’s not me”. A friend will go “yea that is definitely you”.
CA: What helps you get in the mindset to shoot something? SK: When I first started, I used to do a lot of photo walks. I would go into the city and take photos of any and everything. In the studio setting, I like music. I probably will get a playlist of something real chill. Depending on who I’m shooting, I’ll let the subject choose the music. The thing in the back of my mind is how do I get the subject to open up to me. If that is choosing their own music or wearing whatever they want to wear, they can do that. I don’t necessarily dictate in the studio what the music is unless I am shooting a still life.
CA: How long have you been doing photography? SK: Six years. I did a lot of retouching before I picked up the camera. I started using the camera around my freshman year of college.
CA: Do you have a favorite moment while working with your camera? SK: When I was out with my Uncle and starting the 100 strangers project. You just go out and photograph 100 strangers and ask them for their photo. If they say yes, you get their name and a short story. If they say no, you thank them for their time and move on. I think I only got through four people (laughs). The first one I did was a guy named Charles who was homeless outside of a bar in Atlanta. He looks like an interesting dude and I can go take his photo. My uncle was talking to me about when you take someone’s photo, you are taking something from them. Try to give something back or tell them where the photo will be. I end up giving him my plate of food. I asked Charles where he was from and he said he was from California. It was really cool talking with him and I don’t think the photo came out clear enough to my liking.
Another one was when I woke up at night and decided to stay up to catch the sunrise.
CA: Why does your uncle feel you have to give something back to the subject when you take their picture? SK: As a photographer, you are always taking something away. You are always asking for someone to be a model for something, take you somewhere, or rent out equipment. It is like a cycle, you have to give something back. If you are not paying them for the shoot, you can give them some images from the project or a small shoot afterwards. This is to make sure your name is in the back of their mind so they can let other people know you are a good photographer to work with.
CA: And the biggest challenge you have as of right now? SK: I feel like it is important to find people you are comfortable shooting. To figure out a new technique, new concept, or something fresh out there it definitely helps to have someone you are comfortable shooting. It is really hard to find unless they are close friends. Even your close friends don’t really like being in front of the camera unless you take a picture of them on the sly. “Hey I took this of you, can we do something more?” They would usually reply “nah nah delete that shot”. It is really hard to find people to sit with you two to three hours doing work with you. I think that is the next step which is to find creative people around me who don’t mind helping with new techniques and setups.
CA: What is fun and rewarding for you in regards to photography? SK: When the both me and subject is having a good time. It is not like I am forcing photos out of someone. When it is really chill and the person is photogenic. I don’t necessarily have to direct them or try to get them to do something they are not comfortable doing. I don’t like posing people (it is a skill I have to brush up on). It looks more natural when the person is comfortable in what they are doing. When people are comfortable with you and you feel that. It is like making music and you are in the groove. You don’t have to fix anything, you just keep going.
CA: Nikon or Canon? SK: I use Nikon because my Uncle gave a Nikon. It was the camera I was taught on. I am not a big tech person. What I use is what I know. If I got my hand on Canon, it might be different. I know how to work a Nikon and some people find it difficult because of the menu. I think Nikon has the better glass and that is what you need to invest in.
CA: Do you take pictures with a smartphone? If so, which do you prefer between a smartphone and a DSLR? SK: I was never a phone person or using Instagram as a platform. I don’t like being on my phone around people because it detaches from the environment. I have a better phone now so I might take some pictures with it. I prefer the DSLR though.
CA: How do you want your work/portfolio to be remembered for? SK: That is a hard question because I am still trying to build the portfolio. I still have ways to go to become the artist I see myself as and visually express that. Overall, I want my work to be honest portray of my thoughts and feelings at a certain time. Even within print work for a magazine, I want it not necessarily clean but little post production.
CA: What is the best advice you can give someone with a strong desire to do photography? SK: As long as you are making work with a proactive work ethic. Working every day on what you are trying to do, you will get where you want to go. It doesn’t necessarily have to be taking photographs. If you are looking at magazines, reading a book, or listening to music; just getting ideas and not waiting for something to pop up. No idle hands or an idle mind.
Check out Sierra’s portfolio here