The New Americans

Photographers Elle Wildhagen and Zachary Domes put together this beautiful piece about me for their project, The New Americans. It features 20 people across the U.S. with completely different lives and stories -- each one is poignant and thoughtful its own way. In my story, I talk about welding, impostor syndrome, and "mansplaining" in the metal shop.

It's clear that Elle and Zach are master storytellers, in addition to being skilled photographers. I loved talking with them, and showing them around the shop. I felt like they really "got" me -- It felt so good to be seen and heard and understood. What a gift. Check out the other 19 stories at The New Americans.  

Photo Styling with Interior Designer Noz Nozawa

Whether you're setting up a shop or doing online dating, you probably already know that it's important to have good photos. I was vaguely aware of this the first time I picked up a DSLR camera about a year ago. But now that I've gone through a few different rounds of product photography, I'm blown away by just how much of a difference it makes! My photos have improved dramatically over the last year, and I'm actually starting to enjoy the whole process! 

My most recent shoot was extra fun because I had some help from interior designer Noz Nozawa! She and I met a few months ago through Makeshift Society, which is a coworking space and community for Bay Area creatives. We bonded quickly over our shared background: Ivy League educations, tech marketing jobs, and finally, venturing out on our own. 

Noz's whole portfolio is beautiful, but her own home in Hayes Valley is insane -- charcoal walls, marble surfaces, and quirky accents and art. I'd been drooling over it ever since it was featured on Curbed last fall. So when Noz offered to let me photograph some of my pieces in her gorgeous apartment, I jumped at the chance!

I packed up my camera gear and my latest pieces in a couple suitcases, and headed over to her place. She made me feel at home, and let me rearrange pretty much anything I wanted so that I could get beautiful, clean shots. 

After experimenting a bit, I eventually got in the zone and played around with different ways of styling each piece. I even got some new ideas for how my pieces could be used! For instance, I'd always imagined the Marble Strip Stand as part of a vanity arrangement. But when I saw Noz's extensive (and beautiful!) whiskey collection, I realized the stand would make for a nice bar accessory!

Check out the photos from the shoot below. And if you like anything you see, head over to the shop to purchase it! (I finally set up a fully-functional e-commerce shop, yay!)

Huge thank-you to Noz for her encouragement, inspiration, and for sharing her space with me!

Photo Editing with Lightroom

It took two solid days to narrow down my 1000+ photos down to ten, but I did it. And after that was done, I spent another three days obsessively tweaking the contrast, exposure, whites, blacks, highlights, and shadows using Lightroom. For someone who's detail-oriented and has a perfectionist streak, I could have easily just disappeared down the rabbit hole. But! It's time to post the photos and move on with my life. I have things to make!

Here's a before-and-after example of the kind of photo editing I was doing:

Pretty amazing how some basic adjustments can bring a dull photo to life.

And without further ado, here are the final photos! 

I still don't feel like the photos are perfect yet -- feel free comment if you have suggestions or advice! -- but they're good enough for now. I still have a lot to learn about product photography and photo editing, but I'm excited to have added both abilities to my skill set! If anyone is interested in doing the same, I highly recommend the online tutorials on Lynda. Thanks, Jen and Phil, for the tip!

Crash Course in Product Photography

The past week has been a crash course in product photography. I decided to fast-track this skill development because I have a retailer who may be interested in the dodecahedron floor lamp. If all goes well, I'll never see it again -- which means I need to properly document it before it finds its permanent home!

I started by watching some tutorials from the Etsy Seller Handbook. Then I made brunch for a photographer friend in exchange for a photography 101 class, in which I picked his brain about light, aperture, speed, ISO, depth of field, and workflow (see his terrific handwritten notes here). My partner Phil borrowed a fancy DSLR camera and lens from his work, and I invested in some gear (9'-wide paper backdrop, tripod, and the stand thingies to hold up the backdrop). I turned our garage into a photo studio, gave the lamp one last coat of black metal wax (love that stuff; so slick), and got started. Our dog Simi kept me company, snoozing in the sun and occasionally barking at passers-by (rude!).

I turned our garage into a photo studio.

I spent two full days shooting the lamp. Turns out product photography is hard! Some examples of my frustrations:

  • Why are all my photos blurry?
  • Our garage floor isn't level!
  • How can I tell if something is truly in focus?
  • My left eye hurts from squinting.
  • How did that crease get in the paper backdrop?
  • How do you turn on autofocus? 
  • Why isn't autofocus working?
  • Why won't the shutter click all the way down? (True story.)
  • My back hurts from standing in weird, contorted positions.
  • Shit, low battery. Where can I find a replacement battery?
  • Simi, stop barking at the neighbors!

I'm lucky to have some great help, though: Both Phil and our roommate Bradley (a.k.a. GMUNK) answered a million questions for me throughout the last couple days, and Phil even drove home in the middle of the day to drop off a replacement battery and fix some camera settings. I took about 1,000 photos over the two days, and by photo number 800 or so, I think I actually started to get the hang of it. 

Simi kept watch while I took photos. She hunted mice in the garage (ew) and barked at a few people innocently walking their dogs (oops). 

I took a cursory look at the pics last night, and some of them look pretty good! I'm about to go watch a tutorial on how to use Lightroom to sort and edit my photos. So, hopefully I'll have sexy new lamp photos to post on my website shortly!

My main take-aways from this learning experience:

  • The auto setting on a $1200 DSLR works pretty damn well, if you ask me.
  • I'm excited to be adding photography and photo editing to my skill set. I imagine (hope!) that future shoots will be considerably more efficient and less painful than this one. 
  • Learning new skills is totally exhausting. I can't wait to get back to doing things that I'm actually already good at (like welding). :)

The view from the sidewalk. Don't miss Simi's goofy grin.