AMA: Helena Price, Photographer

over 6 years ago from , Photographer at helenaprice.com

Hi everyone, nice to meet you! I’m Helena Price, an ex-techie-turned-pro-photographer based in San Francisco, CA.

A short version of my story is here: https://vimeo.com/92670774

I spent the first half of my 20s working in tech, helping to build tiny startups as an early employee - then couple of years ago I decided to ditch my tech career and try to figure out how to do what I really want - make photos - for a living.

Since then I've figured out how to build a photo business, and have worked on photo projects + creative campaigns with folks like Airbnb, Dropbox, Fitbit, Google, Medium, Microsoft, Nike, Pinterest, Rdio, Samsung, Shyp, Soundcloud, Square, Twitter, and Uber.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of photography, technology and design, and sometimes I speak about it at design conferences. You can view my most recent talk here: https://vimeo.com/120301504

You can find my portfolio at http://www.helenaprice.com, on Twitter at @helena, and Instagram at @helenadagmar.

If you have any questions about photography in tech, quitting your day job, building a creative business, making photos or anything else really, leave ‘em here and I’ll pop in to answer them at least once a month.

BEFORE YOU POST: take a quick read through everything that’s been posted so far. Maybe your answer is already there waiting for you. If not, ask away!


  • Gabriel GarridoGabriel Garrido, over 6 years ago

    What's your typical setup and what does your processing workflow look like?

    8 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Gabriel! Typically I work light - like REALLY light. A lot of my shooting is done in natural light with a Canon Mark III and a 35mm 1.4L lens.

      If I’m doing an executive portrait, I may bring a 4' seamless backdrop and shoot either with natural light or a basic strobe/umbrella set at the lowest power possible, to emulate the natural light I prefer to shoot with.

      If I’m doing a higher-budget commercial shoot, I may have a 20-person crew of models, hair/makeup, prop stylists, wardrobe stylists, lighting gaffers, digital techs and assistants. That’s really nice too.

      I edit all of my photos on a 13” Macbook Air, which infuriates all of my photographer friends, but I like keeping things small and nimble. I sort through everything in Bridge, rating my favorites and whittling down to a selection I want to edit. Then I adjust colors/curves/perspective of my selects in Camera Raw, then I bring those photos into photoshop to do crazy retouchy stuff like whitening eyeballs and smoothing skin and removing unibrows and eliminating dust from sweaters and making light look better and things like that. My friends also think my post-processing flow is super weird, it works for me!

      8 points
  • David Steelcart, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hey Helena,

    Your client list is highly impressive. How does one go about getting so many fantastic connections to the tech industry?

    6 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Curtis! Oh man I have so many answers for this, and there’s totally no one way of doing it. I can at least share some things that I did that seemed to work for me in the long run.

      Meet everyone you can with no agenda. Knowing people in tech inevitably can help anyone get ahead in their tech career, but I wouldn’t recommend "networking to get ahead" as a motivational framework for meeting people. Go out and meet everyone you can at industry events, meetups, conferences, talks, even coffee shops, but do it because you share interests in passions in common and people are awesome. If you have an agenda or you are meeting people because you want something from them, people can smell it. For me, I spent years out at every event I could in the tech industry because I loved the people and loved what all of us were working on. I didn’t know this at the time, but that all would certainly pay off later. If you’re not based in Silicon Valley, there’s just as much good people-meeting to be done online on Twitter/Dribbble/Insta/whatever industry communities strike your fancy.

      Be kind and generous to people. Again, on the no-agenda topic, be really kind to people that you meet simply because being good feels good. Be generous when you can and do favors without expecting anything in return. People remember these things and while not every good deed will come back to you in a tangible way, these behaviors will benefit you over the course of your career.

      Bring something to the table. At some point networking and being nice will only get you so far - you have to bring something to the table. Perhaps that means you are super well-read on your industry and are a fantastic conversationalist in social settings (people like having these people around), perhaps you are good at making introductions that are always mutually beneficial for parties involved, perhaps you are really good at building products or providing services that people really need. Figure out what you’re good at and really develop that.

      Be patient and play the long game. Again it’s never clear how all of this is going to pay off in the short term, but if you are constantly developing your own work and setting out to build positive connections with as many people as you can, it pays off at some point.

      I tried to live by the rules as much as possible during my time in tech, and years later it definitely paid off. Most of my jobs come from word of mouth.

      7 points
  • Jack Graham, over 6 years ago

    I'm 19 right now and luckily got a summer job at a startup doing front-end dev work as well as some design. It's cool and all, and great experience, but I cannot see myself continuing along this path. I'm studying Computer Science at school right now, and I'm going into my second year. However, my true passions align more with the design/art/photography side. Any advice for someone in my position?

    5 points
    • Doug GandleDoug Gandle, over 6 years ago

      I'm in almost the same exact boat-- I've been doing front-end design for the past summer/semester, studying computer science, but lovelovelove photography and design. Any advice would be so useful!

      1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hi Jack! (+ Doug!)

      One of the biggest challenges as a creative is usually figuring out how to make money either 1) doing what you love or 2) to fund doing what you love. Both are totally valid ways of doing it.

      Elle Luna just released a book (http://www.amazon.com/The-Crossroads-Should-Must-Passion/dp/0761184880) that has a chapter talking about this very thing, and I would totally recommend reading it (I have an extra copy and can send it to you if you email me!)

      It looks like you are working on scenario 2 - you’re on the path to making a living doing dev/design work which can fund future design/art/photography work - which is already AMAZING and more than a lot of people can say. If you eventually want to get to scenario 1, getting paid to do design/art/photography work, you’re in a great position, as you can develop all of that in tandem while you make bank doing work that pays really well. If you eventually migrate to doing what you really really love full-time, even better.

      Take my scenario 2, for instance - I had a tech job that paid my bills while I spent every minute of nights and weekends making photos, developing my portfolio and honing my skills on my terms (bc I wasn’t answering to photo clients - I was just making work for me, and I was in total control of the images). Even today, I still have to continue making personal work in my off time to make sure I’m continually developing my style on my own terms. I think that separation between “personal” and “paid” will always be there if you truly want to create work that is your own.

      So long story short, I think you’re totally on the perfect path - get really good at what you’re doing so you can make money to fund the development of all of your future creative endeavors. In time you’ll see where it all takes you.

      2 points
  • Nic TrentNic Trent, over 6 years ago

    It looks like you've taken photos for a variety of projects.

    Do you think about shooting for the web or for print differently? Are there different things to consider, or is that mostly in the hands of the designer / art director?

    4 points
    • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 6 years ago

      I'm interested to know about this as well. I find that most photographers crop their shots (during shoots) which totally makes sense, but can make it difficult to use when pulling them in for web work due to the fluid nature of websites.

      Do you/should photographers handles photo shoots for web purposes differently than normal? Like shooting wider shots maybe?

      1 point
      • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

        Caleb - Do photographers hand over cropped images as final files? I guess that makes sense if deliverables asked for a specific crop ratio but I think it makes sense for the client to receive full-size files and leave the final cropping to the designer.

        My typical flow is when I'm presenting proofs to a client, I'll crop the proofs to show my personal preference for how I'd like the final crop to look. Then I provide final files as full-size, non-cropped images so the designer can have flexibility, but knows my preferences/suggestions for how I'd like to see the final image.

        Also very good to ask the photographer to leave room on the sides/shoot a little wider than they'd usually prefer to allow flexibility in the final designs.

        Most photographers have never worked in conjunction with product design, and most techies haven't had to manage photo shoots before, so it's definitely a learning process for everyone!

        2 points
        • Caleb SylvestCaleb Sylvest, over 6 years ago

          What you say makes sense, thanks!

          So, for a practical example: I used to work in Nashville with a bunch of musicians and bands. I'd work on website and print material and was never able to talk with the photographer for a shoot (and, typically there wouldn't be a shoot for a specific project, it would be more like, "Hey we need an album cover, here are 10 old pics to choose from", or something like that). Most of the photos we very nice, but I found that photographers would crop in on the shot live (don't know if there's a better term or way to explain this) while shooting the pics, so cropping with the actual camera shot. So you would be given great pics but they would be close-ups of a face (with part of the head cropped out of the photo) or groups or something which makes it difficult when you have to deal with print bleeds and responsive websites, etc.

          Thanks for your response sounds like that is something you typically take into consideration, but there is a disconnect when it comes to working like what I was talking about.

          0 points
          • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

            Ohhh yeah I totally get what you're saying. When you're licensing already-made photos either from stock or from a photographer's collection, unfortunately what you get is what you have to work with. This is definitely a pro of working with a photographer to create a shot from scratch, where you can work all of that out beforehand.

            0 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      Hey Nic! (+ Caleb!)

      For sure. There are tons of things to get squared away with design before shooting, and a lot of companies don’t have an art director in house and are interfacing with me directly vs. through an agency so I typically hash these out with the design team. A few things I try to figure out with them before shooting:

      --- Where will the photos be used? If print, do they want full-bleed portrait-orientation or a mish mash of portrait and landscape orientation that they can use between text in the story?

      --- If it’s for web, are we talking hero images (horizontal, usually slightly thinner crop than in-camera shooting ratio), ads (can be horizontal and vertical and usually super long/thin), social assets (usually square), or a mix all of the above? What are the exact dimensions of these images?

      --- If photo assets are accompanying a web redesign, where the mockups at?

      --- Will there be text over the image? If so, where does it need to be (left/center/right)? Should I shoot for multiple options for the designer to have flexibility?

      --- How much padding do I need on the sides of an imagine to accommodate for responsive design?

      All of that makes me figure out how to shoot a project from a technical standpoint. Then there’s the other process of figuring out exactly what the images are to contain, the stories we’re trying to tell, etc. Again, for companies with no art director it usually ends up being a collaborative process between me and the design/brand/marketing team to figure out the goals of a shoot and plan out a shotlist from there.

      2 points
  • Doug GandleDoug Gandle, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hi Helena! Thanks for taking the time to do this :)

    What was the very first step you took to becoming a professional photographer? I'm an avid hobbyist photographer right now, but would love to turn it into a small side-hustle (or even a full-time job).

    3 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Doug!

      Definitely taking photos is the best first step. Seems obvious, but it’s so easy getting caught up in over-thinking what kinds of photos you should make that you just don’t create anything (I still suffer from this sometimes). Get in the habit of creating photos at least every weekend, ideally every day.

      There’s lots work that doesn’t involve taking photos too. There’s an infinite amount of things to learn about photography and business, from studying books of photography greats to watching technical videos on YouTube to reading interviews with successful photographers to studying how people write invoices and estimates. The more you study, the more informed your work is.

      Then if the time comes when you are feeling really serious about starting a business, but don’t know where to start...

      The first thing to do is think hard about 1) what kind of work you enjoy shooting and 2) what kind of work people will pay for. For instance, all industries will overwhemingly pay for portraits and commercial assets (photos for their website/web ads/print ads, usually in the form of product or lifestyle).

      So figure out the industry you like the most - maybe it's food, maybe it's fashion, maybe it's outdoorsy menswear, maybe it's urban/skate, maybe it's music - bonus points if it's an industry/style that you are naturally involved with already - and make a ton of work - aka "test shoots." Go emulate your favorite campaigns (just take a look around the web for the campaigns that companies in your target industry are commissioning), take your most beautiful friends out on lifestyle adventures with products you like or go rent a studio and make work that looks like work you'd want to get hired for.

      At the same time, do your homework to figure out who to know in that industry, and do everything you can to get spend time in those circles. Go to industry events. Get introed to people who can intro you to people who can intro you to the people who will hire you. Consider this your second full-time job. (If this is an industry you love and you are already naturally a fit for, this should be fun and awesome bc people are awesome.)

      So having a bunch of stellar work that you made on your own + word of mouth is a magic formula. Things beyond that are the traditional promos - start collecting a mailing list of folks/companies you love (good old-fashioned google searches should get you most office addresses) and mail out regular samples of your work. Could be postcards, posters, tiny zines.... aphotoeditor has a great collection of promos he receives if you want inspiration.

      It takes time but it all pays off!

      3 points
      • Doug GandleDoug Gandle, over 6 years ago

        Thanks so much for replying! For a while I've felt like landscape photography has been my "niche" but after reading your response I feel like there's so many more photographic areas to explore. At the same time, I'll start trying to develop a more concrete portfolio that I can send out/show potential clients.

        If you're still around for a follow-up: Any industry events you'd recommend for photography?

        1 point
        • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

          I think it depends on your goals as a photographer! I don’t necessarily think of “industry events for photographers” as the same thing as “photo industry events.” You can go to photo events and meet other photographers all day every day but then you’re gonna have a lot of photographer friends and no jobs.

          Photographer-events are great when you're getting started to make lots of photos in a group environment, bounce ideas off others and learn stuff together, but as you transition toward full-time photography, it's more important to focus on events in an industry you want to get hired to work in. If you’re trying to be a commercial food photographer, for instance, then you figure out all of the food-related events you can where you live, and you go be involved in all of them. If you want to sell photography in the art world, start going to galleries, other people’s shows and bigger art events in major cities. That sort of thing. For me, I spent years going to tech events, and I still pop into industry events like monthly design drinkups, speaker series like Creative Mornings (there might be one in your city) and tech/design conferences.

          For photography-specific events, I’d first try and figure out what you’re looking to get out of it - maybe you want to learn a specific skill related to photography, for instance - look up workshops around the country that offer to teach those skills.

          There’s really no wrong way of going to events as you never know who you’re gonna meet, but definitely think about your goals and focus your time accordingly!

          1 point
  • Trevor McNaughtonTrevor McNaughton, over 6 years ago

    Thanks for doing this! Love your work, you make really beautiful portraits. I’ve often thought about a transition back into photography at some point, so your story is something that resonates with me.

    What was your first official client project as a full-time photographer? What was that experience like for someone just starting out in that world?

    3 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Trevor! Thanks so much!

      My first project came to me out of the blue, right before I quit my tech job, and actually was a final push for me to quit and just go for the photography thing.

      I was living in New York at the time, and had recently visited San Francisco and hosted a drinks thingy at Tradition while I was in town. A girl named Michelle came with a mutual friend of ours, and I met her briefly (we’d eventually become really good friends a couple of years later). She ended up checking out my photo portfolio after the event and sent me an email about working together on a photo project.

      We got coffee in New York and ended up chatting for hours about photography, tech and design and she ended up hiring me to shoot a bunch of Square Marketplace vendors in NYC and SF. That was really the push that made me feel like I could quit my job, so I quit and started on this first job shortly after.

      Lesson: You never know who you’re gonna meet at a party who can change the course of your career.

      I was completely terrified and full of adrenaline going into that series of shoots, but it ended up being what I loved to do - meet new people, chat them up and make photos of them and their space. I had such a good experience and went on to work with Square regularly on photo projects ranging from user stories to web assets to executive portraits.

      Also: Being terrified and full of adrenaline on shoots never ends, and eventually you get addicted to it.

      4 points
  • Martin L, over 6 years ago

    Can you walk us trough a typical portrait assignment? What do you look for? How much do you interact with your subject?

    3 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      Hey Martin!

      My portrait assignments are all across the board but they usually have the same overall challenges:

      --- I need to make a portrait of a person, probably at the direction of their boss or assistant or PR director or someone else other than them.

      --- This person is probably not pumped about this. They don’t know the photographer, don’t trust the photographer, and are probably freaking out about all of the things they hate about their face showing up on camera.

      --- The more important the person is, the less pumped they usually are, as they are extremely busy, spread super thin and have a million other priorities seemingly more important than getting a crappy portrait done by a photographer they don’t know or trust.


      I usually have anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour to meet the subject, make them go from hating me to being my best friend, make them feel really comfortable in front of the camera, and actually make a good photo of them.

      The best way to handle this is to be extremely friendly, confident, calm and make the situation feel as casual and easy as possible. Casually saying “this is going to be super easy and I’ll tell you everything you need to do” takes a lot of the pressure off them immediately. Simple compliments like telling people they look really great, complimenting their style choices, glancing down at your camera preview and saying how great the shots look makes people feel more like a babe and way less terrified to be in front of the camera. Telling people you’re really good at photoshop helps put them at ease too.

      I typically work really fast and have people go through a series of natural expressions (cheesy-executive-smiles, closed-mouth-smiles, i-will-be-taken-serious-face) and angles, and I usually get the shot in the first 5 minutes if we’re doing one location - I feel like I usually get the most genuine stuff up front. If it’s an exec portrait that’s usually all the time I have, and it’s a longer session I just repeat across a variety of locations.

      For other portraits it may be as just finding some nice light, putting my friend’s face in it and pressing the shutter button.

      3 points
  • Phil JoycePhil Joyce, over 6 years ago

    Hey Helena,

    Love your work - just a couple more questions regarding your workflow:

    Do you use any presets(VSCO, etc) in addition to your usual process. Also, what focal length are you usually at for your portraits?


    2 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Phil!

      I’m pretty sure every single portrait on my site is shot with a 35mm fixed lens. I’m a fan of context/environment in portraiture, and shooting wider helps me achieve that. That said, lately I’ve been wanting to switch it up and up my zoom a little, to 50 or 85. But I’ll always default to 35.

      I’ve had phases where I used VSCO (you can definitely tell in my earliest work from 2013, so faded) and I’ve also used the Litely presets by Cole Rise, which are great. But in the last year, I found myself slowly lowering the opacity on all of it until I actually have found I prefer no preset at all - everything else felt too “processed” and I find myself wanting stuff to look as “real” as possible. That’s totally my own weird tick though, I think there are a million beautiful ways to post-process photos out there.

      1 point
  • Spencer Albers, over 6 years ago

    I have follow your story the last few years and you have been an inspiration. Thank you!

    What does the ideal client/project look like? and... Do you know they're ideal when you start or does their greatness come out during the process?

    2 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Spencer, that’s so rad, thank you!!

      I think my idea of an ideal project will change every year, and there are ideal shoots I’d like to have in a few years that I am not doing yet.

      But currently, I get really excited about a client if 1) they’re a company or brand I already love and use, or I check it out and am really excited about what they’re doing, 2) they want to do something exciting and different, ideally solving some sort of problem through storytelling and photography, 3) involve me deeply in the process from inception to finish.

      For example, one of my favorite projects I ever did was with Uber. They were illegal in Miami at the time, and despite thousands of locals petitioning to have Uber there, there was one local vote preventing it from happening (coincidentally by someone sponsored heavily by taxi money). I was hanging at their office one day doing some brand work and Travis approached me and said (something along the lines of) “I want you to create a campaign in Miami that gets the attention of everyone in Miami, and the local government, and the press to make Uber legal. Oh and you’re going to do it next week so pack your bags.” What the project was and how it was implemented was entirely in my hands.

      I decided on a portrait project, where me and two other photographers would go down to Miami and find people who have petitioned for it to be legal, interview them about why they feel like something like Uber would be beneficial to the city, and share those stories, posting them online and encouraging other Miami-ans to share their own. We settled on the #miamineedsuber hashtag, and I hired a local creative director to plaster it all over Miami - on billboard, murals, airplanes flying with banners in the sky, coconuts on the beach, you name it.

      We scheduled 60 portrait shoots in 3 days, and collected tons of amazing stories - people sick of having to reserve cars 2 hours in advance for hundreds of dollars, people sick of everyone drunk driving because taxis were impossible to find, women sick of feeling unsafe waiting for public transportation, taxi drivers feeling sick of being overworked and underpaid, tons and tons of stories. We posted photos and stories in near real-time, and quickly caught the attention of the entire city, the government and the press. The project did a lot to craft Uber's positive image in Miami, and eventually it and other competitive transportation options became legal in town. It was amazing to do a project with that much impact.

      Not every project is that epic or meaningful, but I do think that everyone photoshoot is an opportunity to solve some real problems or tackle opportunities in new ways, and clients wanting to do that are the best.

      2 points
  • Tim Weldon, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hey Helena-

    I work at an in-house agency and often shoot our customer profiles and our company's work-life photos when there's no budget (i.e. all the time). Curious how much you direct shoots like the ones you did for Dropbox & Rdio. Are you a fly on the wall for 8 hours, or do you direct where the action happens? Are the team meetings and impromptu whiteboard photos staged...or are they actually happening? Are you tidying up conference rooms to remove distracting elements?

    Overall, I guess I'd like to know how much these feel like a "photoshoot" versus a photo documentary.

    Thx! Really dig your work.


    2 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Tim!

      I’m a big proponent of creating the shots that best tell the story you want to tell. And 90% of the time, that means planning everything ahead so that all of those scenarios happen.

      For the Dropbox & Rdio shoots, we did pre-interviews with Rasmus and Ryan to figure out what their days are like and what makes working at their companies special, then planning out a shoot day to tell the details of that story photographically. Every scenario, from meetings to after-work activities were planned in advance, but once the scenarios were set up (this includes lots of tidying and setup to make everyone’s space look beautiful), I just let people hang out for a while. The resulting photos end up making the client look like the best possible, but yet still authentic, version of themself.

      I still do have clients that insist I should just come in and “shoot candids,” but this never ever ever turns out as good - we’re shooting inefficiently because we can’t line up scenarios back to back, people and spaces aren’t styled, and there has been no thought put into telling the story of why the company is awesome and different. More and more I find myself saying no to shoots if people don’t want to put in the extra work/planning to tell the best story possible.

      2 points
  • Terrin Conlon, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Your work is fantastic, and I love to follow along on Twitter... as a fellow cat lady, I have to ask you to share a little bit about him/her. :)

    2 points
  • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

    HEY GUYS! Thanks so much for everyone's questions so far. I'll be hanging around all afternoon so keep them coming!

    2 points
  • kamil wroniewicz, over 6 years ago

    standard question: what's your gear and what's your favourite lens/es?

    2 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      I’m all about trying to shoot with as little gear as possible - it keeps me scrappy. I usually shoot with a Canon Mark III and a 35mm 1.4L lens and use natural light as much as I can. Occasionally I’ll bring a giant umbrella and a strobe powered as low as possible if I want a lightweight way to create window-esque light out of frame. For bigger shoots with budgets I have the luxury of a lighting team that I can direct to create big, natural-looking light sources where I want them to be.

      2 points
  • Mohsin NaqiMohsin Naqi, over 6 years ago

    To be honest, I don't know much about photography beyond stock photos (yeah, the life of a web designer) So my question would be, have you ever tried to sell your work as stock photography, or you only prefer to work on photo projects with your own clients?

    2 points
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Moshin - Nope, I’ve never tried. It’s not that I wouldn’t ever, I just really like collaborating directly with a client or agency. That and it would be pretty bad manners/major violations of contract to re-sell the shoots I do with specific companies as stock for everyone. For me one of the best things about developing shoots for clients is the storytelling and problem-solving involved, which is custom to the client, and I’m not sure shooting for stock would be satisfying in that way for me.

      That said, I have some friends who are shooting stock and doing incredible things with it, like my friend Lisa whose stock photography has been winning awards this year: http://www.pdnphotoannual.com/gallery/2015/Gallery.php?ShowCase=177#177-Lisa_Weatherbee

      3 points
  • John ChouraJohn Choura, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Hey Helena! :wave:

    Only one question, how did you get to be so awesome?

    2 points
  • Joel Verhagen, over 6 years ago

    Hi Helena!

    Love your work and your talks. I've gone out on my own as a designer working on my own after slowly, organically building my business. After seeing my classmates from college fail to get jobs and then lose all hope, I decided to take the road less travelled. I'm happy to report that I'm now working full time doing what I love.

    I just wanted to hear your thoughts on dealing with the fear of running out of work and if you have any tips on maintaining a stable freelance business.


    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Joel! Congratulations on sticking it out, it really does pay off.

      I’m definitely of the mindset that energy spent on worrying is energy you could be spent actually doing actionable things for your career, but I definitely still have moments where I’m like WHAT IT THIS ALL GOES AWAY NEXT MONTH AND I AM HOMELESS?

      The best way I’ve found to combat this is to 1) save as much money as possible so I have a considerable emergency runway, 2) use that fear as motivation to hustle as hard as I did when I started, and 3) never treat the great times like they are permanent - appreciate them for what they are but always be looking for how the market is changing and what other opportunities you can tackle in the future.

      Like in my situation, for instance - there is so much money in tech right now, and people are willing to spend on branding and photography, which is such a new and amazing thing. That said, it would be foolish to treat this industry boom like something that’s guaranteed for the rest of my life (but if it does, great), and so I also spend time looking at how I can get more work in different industries, like advertising with bigger brands who always have budgets, boom or bust. Basically, I can’t let myself get too comfortable, but I’m trying to appreciate the ride.

      0 points
  • Kevin WhiteKevin White, over 6 years ago

    I was wondering what setup you had when shot most of 'places' photos on your site? I'm trying to do something with photography on the side. I'm mostly into film right now though, shooting with a Leica M3

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Kevin!

      With the exception of this one (http://bit.ly/1CCURES) and this one (http://bit.ly/1TBtCyp) which were shot on an editorial assignment, all of the other shots were just moments I noticed when I happened to have a camera in my purse. Or do you mean gear setup rather than setting up the shot? In that case, I shoot everything with a Canon MarkIII and a 35mm 1.4L lens.

      0 points
  • Annie K, over 6 years ago

    I love your travel work Helena! Do you have any recommendations for shooting to build a travel portfolio, and how to get work for travel magazines? I'm half Swedish and dream of an assignment like your Tiny Atlas Norway feature!

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Annie! Thank you!!

      Definitely the best way to get travel work is to have a portfolio full of travel photos that people would want to hire you for, and that involves going out and making your first book of work on your own. Fortunately if you love to travel, this should be super fun for you!

      The best way to start is look at magazines or brands who you love, study the kinds of photos they publish, and go out and recreate similar shoots of your own - those may be city guides, beautiful photos of hotels or tourist destinations, landscapes or architecture, whatever you’d like. If you need models, style your friends or reach out to early-career models to see if they want to do test shoots. From there you have your first solid travel portfolio, and if you have cohesive sets of photos you can always try and pitch them to magazines as a story. For example, I shot all of those photos in Tiny Atlas just for myself with no intention of pitching them to a magazine, then they reached out about doing an edit for a Norway story.

      That said, doing travel photography exclusively can be a tough way to make a living as a photographer - a lot of opportunities are low-paying or trades for hotels/flights/etc. So keep in mind that as you build your travel book, don’t neglect developing other types of work as your bread and butter, that you can use to fund your travel photography career.

      0 points
  • Victor TranVictor Tran, over 6 years ago

    Do you have a story about a worst-case scenario that you experienced? Ex: a horrible client or showing up to a shoot with an empty camera battery. How'd you handle it?

    P.S. I really admire your work, Helena! :)

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Victor, thanks so much!

      There are challenges all the time in shooting for clients, but I’m lucky in that I haven’t had any nightmare experiences. More than anything, I see potential nightmare experiences and politely say no to them. Red flags like asking if I can produce an entire photoshoot with locations and models in like 3 days with no budget (NOPE), asking if I’ll work for a fraction of my rate in exchange for “it potentially leading to future projects” (NOPE), etc.

      Usually the more a company has thought about the kinds of photos they want and the actual goals of the shoot, the better they are to work with as a client.

      I have totally made mistakes - miscalculating transit times and arriving late, forgetting gear, that sort of thing, but you learn from that shit fast. Always carry backups, check your gear twice before you go, and never underestimate LA (and now SF, which these days can feel just as bad) traffic.

      1 point
  • Michael AfonsoMichael Afonso, over 6 years ago

    Hi Helena, big fan of your work. I actually just made an account on here to ask you a question. As far as getting opportunities to do work with such a large client list what is the most successful point of action for finding work in this field?

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Michael! Thanks, glad you joined!

      “Finding” work is hard. You never know when companies are looking for work, and when they are, they probably aren’t broadcasting it - they are researching photographers and reaching out themselves. So I think the trick is making yourself as “findable” as possible, and it definitely is a slow process that takes time.

      First things first is making sure your website reflects the work you want to get. For me at the moment, tech industry jobs are my bread and butter and I want more of them, so I designed my website for a viewer to see, at a glance, that I do commercial and editorial projects with a concentration in tech. I try to share my strong points with them at a glance, before they have to click anywhere else.

      Then it’s physically getting out there and meeting as many people as you can, constantly making and sharing work (both online and with promos) similar to work you want to get hired for, and hoping that over time, when companies are finally ready for a photoshoot and in their first planning meeting to brainstorm photographers, someone in the room mentions your name.

      AND once you get your first job with a dream client, do everything you can to knock it out of the park so they recommend you to their friends.

      1 point
  • Jonathan DueckJonathan Dueck, over 6 years ago

    Hi Helena,

    When did you know that you were ready to go on your own? Did you wait until you were financially stable enough, or until you were no longer creatively satisfied at your day job? How did you prepare to make that jump?


    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Jonathan!

      I wouldn’t say I made the best financial preparations for quitting my job to be a photographer. I made really crappy salaries the entire time I worked in tech so I pretty much lived on potatoes and ramen until two years ago. I had probably $500 in checking and zero savings when I quit my job to try freelancing. Not the safest predicament, but at the time I really felt like I had no other choice but to get out of my job, jump in the deep end and figure it out (looming homelessness is always a good motivator).

      I was offered my first photo job a week or so before I quit my full-time job, and I knew the money from that (enough to pay my rent and eat more potatoes) would buy me a month to scramble for other jobs.

      I am a big fan of constraints, and though being broke is not the funnest constraint, it really lights a fire under your ass to figure things out quick.

      4 points
  • Nacho ToledoNacho Toledo, over 6 years ago

    Hi Helena,

    As a beginner with some formal education on photography, what topics do you recommend I read on or study next to specialise? I've been thinking of taking a flash/lighting course. I'd like to know your input on this.

    Also, which are the things you think differentiate your work from the rest?


    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Ignacio!

      Here’s my typical education regimen these days:

      For technical learning: Youtube. If I need to learn anything technical with my gear or software, like how to work a strobe manually or how to do a trick in Photoshop, I find a video tutorial and learn how to do it within an hour. THE INTERNET IS MAGICAL.

      For studying other people’s work: Magazines (or the Instagram/Tumblr accounts of magazines). There’s a ton of great photography out there on the internet, but as someone who is studying to master commercial and editorial photography, magazines are where I am going to see a lot of the best work out there today. I spend a lot of time studying style and lighting, figuring out what I like and don’t like, to further hone in what excites me aesthetically in a photo.

      Business stuff: Aphotoeditor. This is the best website for learning how tons of different people do business, both as photographers and editors. You can find samples of everything here, from promos to invoices. So valuable. PDN can be helpful too (though it takes a yearly membership to access some of the good articles).

      For lighting: Strobist is the best place to start. It’s free, and you learn the basic foundations that you can build upon. I did it over the holidays last year. From there I’ve just been practicing by taking a strobe and umbrella onto shoots with me, hacking it to look as close to natural light as I can, and learning as I go.

      Differentiation is a toughie. I think everyone struggles with it, and I think we will forever.

      I listened to Cheryl Strayed’s podcast on Longform recently (http://longform.org/posts/longform-podcast-144-cheryl-strayed - would totally recommend anyone listening to it, it’s so dense with wisdom) and she was describing how when she reads her earlier writing, it’s clearly peppered with influences from writers she admired and wished to be like. It was good, but not her most successful work. Over time she realized that her best writing was when she was just being herself and writing from her experience.

      It sounds basic, but I think it’s important - we just have to focus on being ourselves (and similarly, not trying to be anyone else) and make work that comes from an authentic place (like photographing what truly excites us, not doing it for cheap likes). For me, that means making a lot of personal work about things that are important to me at the moment. It took time to realize this year that certain things aren’t important to me that I used to like photographing, like pretty travel pictures and stuff like that. What’s important to me changes every year and I have to adjust accordingly.

      I’m also a believer that differentiation in photos is not enough. You have to differentiate yourself with your personality, your story, your work ethic, your business acumen, your attitude. There are more great photographers out there than ever before, and we all have to do more than make a good photo to survive in this business long-term.

      1 point
  • Jeroen den Otter, over 6 years ago

    Hi Helena,

    Would you still study PR when you knew ending up as a 'tech photographer' was an opportunity?

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Helloooo Jeroen! Hope you're well!

      It’s hard to say.

      When I look back, if I hadn’t have studied PR, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job in tech PR, I wouldn't have spent hours and hours and hours researching photography to distract me from how much I hated my job, I wouldn’t have spent years in tech learning tons of invaluable business skills, I wouldn’t have the chops that made me successful as a photographer in the tech industry. I’m also a big fan of life stories, and I don’t think mine would have been nearly as unique if I hadn’t taken this weird, windy path.

      I’m a big fan of embracing things that make you different from those around you, and using those differences to inform your work and make it stand out. So I’m glad I had a diverse set of experiences before I jumped into photo full time.

      (That and my photos really sucked when I was 18)

      1 point
  • Aaron Lloyd WhitmoreAaron Lloyd Whitmore, over 6 years ago

    As a beginner, what is your advice for managing that balance between finding work that pays, while maintaining your creative passion toward Photography?

    I understand paying dues and I learned a ton. But my first attempt at freelance photography resulted in lackluster assignments and financial stress, which weakened my passion towards taking photos.

    Recharging and gearing up for my second attempt...

    P.S. Heard you listening to, Black Star’s “Twice Inna Lifetime” in your Vimeo short. Lovely.

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Hey Aaron!

      My dad got me into hip hop when I was a kid and I basically listen to nothing else. :)

      I think that finding that balance is one of the biggest struggles of people who decide they want to make a living doing photography. There are many ways people can be successful as photographers (creating meaningful projects, doing gallery shows, documentary work, etc) and in many ways the commercial path can be the most creatively compromising - you are entering client services, after all.

      I usually tell people that to be completely satisfied making a living at photography, you either have to 1) love pressing a shutter button more than anything else on the planet regardless of circumstances, and/or you have to accept that, like any job, there will be a separation between work for $$$ and work for creative satisfaction. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t do the absolute best work you can and be creative in a client-facing situation, but if you weren’t making personal creative sacrifices to best serve your client you wouldn’t be doing your job. I think that goes for design or any other creative field.

      That said, I wouldn’t recommend full-time-photo-making-for-money for everyone. I’ve had a lot of friends make the jump into full-time photo only to realize that client services can be really challenging and painful and not anything like making fun photos before they made the jump.

      I think the magic formula is 1) get money doing something you are good at (that could be a full time job, freelancing in dev or design, making photos for money, whatever) and 2) use that money to fund work that completely 100% creatively satisfies you (making the photos that are 100% in your control and will define you as a photographer).

      Right now my version of that formula is getting money doing commercial work and commissioned portraiture (which fortunately I love because I am obsessed with making any photos and I really like the business side of client services), then use that money to fund side projects (I’m currently working on a big one where I’m using work income to fly around the country and make portraits of people for a project I’ll likely release about a year from now).

      But yeah, finding that balance is hard and I think we’re all figuring it out, even the ones who are “doing what we love.”

      1 point
  • Todd FTodd F, over 6 years ago

    It is nice to see someone whose portfolio backs up what they say. Unfortunately rare these days.

    1 point
    • Helena Price, over 6 years ago

      Thanks! One of my favorite things about photography is how tangible the work is - I made a thing, and there it is.

      1 point
  • Marco SousaMarco Sousa, over 6 years ago


    How much do you think your exposure to startup life and tech in SF has influenced where and of who you take photographs? Do you think knowing a lot of people in the industry was a big factor for feeling safe starting your own business?


    0 points