The Dream of Turning Pro - One Woman's Journey

The Dream of Turning Pro – One Woman’s Journey (An Interview With Lauren Gherardi)

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What Photographer Hasn't Dreamed of Turning Pro? And why wouldn't they? It's a seductive thought isn't it? Spending our days creating beautiful images – and getting paid for our efforts. This is the story of one woman who had the dream and her journey to success.

Heather by Lauren Gherardi, on Flickr

We first met Lauren Gherardi in the summer of 2008. At that time she was nineteen-years-old, and we worked together at a chain camera store. In our time together, we often talked about photography, equipment, techniques, and Lauren shared some of her earliest work with us. We were impressed. In fact, we were so impressed,that we have continued to follow her career over the last four years.
There were two things that made Lauren stand out from the hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring photographers we've met over the years. First of all, she had an unwavering, firmly entrenched, belief in her abilities. Secondly, she had a vision. She wasn't just snapping away. She was producing images long before she ever had the money, equipment, or experience to do so.
How did she manage that? By not giving up and using whatever resources she could get her hands on.

The above photograph, which Lauren has titled “Day of the Dead”, was one of her earliest attempts at high fashion. Years later, it still remains one of her most viral online photographs!

Lauren's early efforts had a gritty, yet whimsical, style. Her photograph's were heavily designed with custom built sets, full make-up, and elaborate costumes. She used friends for models, did the styling herself, made the jewelry, and borrowed equipment whenever she could. Over the years, she's advanced significantly in her technique, equipment, and production personnel.
But one thing was apparent right from the start – She knew her direction.

Lauren has graciously agreed to tell us her story.
Lightstalking – “Lauren, tell us about how, and when you discovered photography?”
LG – “I fell in love with photography at the age of nine. My older sister took a photography class in high school, and she came home with some of her work. I was fascinated that she had captured an image and was able to make it into a tangible print all by hand. I used to sneak into her room, take her camera, and pretend to shoot. My grandmother noticed my interest, and bought me a film camera; from that point on I wanted to capture everything.” 

Lightstalking – ” Did you know immediately that you wanted to shoot fashion?”
LG – “I always knew that I wanted to shoot something that required more of myself than say weddings or family portraits. Fashion didn't come to my mind right away. It wasn't until I began to see other photographers dabble in fashion photography that I took an interest. I love how you can tell a story about a model through the selection of setting, clothing, and accessories.”
Lightstalking – “Your work has a whimsical, almost cinematic, style. Did you discover this part of yourself immediately, or did an outside influence awaken this aspect to your photography?”
LG – “Yes, I always had an interest in creating a world in which my characters (the models) could live. I'm really inspired by fairy tales and movies that have surreal elements. The ability to portray that with my camera is an incredible feeling.”

Lightstalking – “In the production of your photography you work with a team, and you've been doing this long before you acquired professional assignments. Tell us about that. Who is your team? How did you find them? Have you worked with the same team all along? How does the team improve your work?”
LG – “I work with some amazing talent, and I'm seriously blessed to have these people in my life. I haven't always worked with the team that I have now. In the beginning, I mostly worked with friends who wanted to help me. Now, I have a professional team. I work with a hair stylist named Holland Morgan, a wardrobe stylist named Argie Mitra, and two make-up artists named Tracey Upson and Erin Foster.  When I started, it was just my friends and I cutting out paper for backgrounds, doing our own make-up, and creating our own costumes. I met everyone on the team by networking within the industry. Their professionalism brought my photography to a whole new level. When I tell them my ideas, they can conceptualize the hair, make-up, costumes, and set in away that I can't because that's not my specialty; and generally I don't have the time to do every aspect of a project. This was true even when I was starting out. I can't stress enough – how important the team concept has been to my career.”

Tarina by Lauren Gherardi, on Flickr
Sarah by Lauren Gherardi, on Flickr

Lightstalking – “Lauren, you're still very young. Are you attending college? If so, how does photography work into your future career plans?”
LG – “I am currently attending college for advertising. While I'm in school, I've been doing freelance photography to build up my contacts. I believe that my degree will give me that extra edge when approaching clients. They want to sell something, and I'll have the expertise to do more than just click a camera shutter for them.”
Lightstalking – “Tell us about your first paid assignment. what did it feel like? What were your emotions when the check arrived?”
LG – “My first paid assignment was for a jewelry designer from Brazil. They were mainly product shots. She printed them and hung them in her studio, and at her store. Her customers always complimented her on the photographs. What can I say, getting paid was amazing. But in all honesty, while the money was nice, it was the feeling of self-satisfaction that my photographs improved someone's sales that I remember most. I received a lot of exposure from that job. 

Lightstalking – “In reviewing your work, we noticed that you seem to have a preference for working with female models. Any reason for that?”
LG – “I love working with female models. There is something soft and sensual about women that really helps bring my stories to life. I also feel that my style is feminine in its nature. I would like to work with more male models and plan to do so in the near future.”
Lightstalking – “Where is your professional work coming from: magazines, ad agencies, company direct? How do you acquire assignments: online portfolio, social networking, word-of-mouth?
LG – “I try to network with fashion designers. This often leads to interest from other venues such as magazines. I do have an online presence, but honestly, most of my paid work has come by word-of-mouth.”
Lightstalking – “What advice would you give to a photographer trying to get a foot in the door at modeling agencies?”
LG – “Comp work for models is pretty straight forward. Study what models are showing in their books and produce work that is similar or better.”

Lightstalking – “Who is your favorite photographer?”
LG – “Meisel, Testino, Upton, Munro, but I really love Zhang Jingna. She is close to my age, and she is an incredibly accomplished fashion photographer. Her work is magical!”

Daises by Lauren Gherardi, on Flickr

Lightstalking – “What equipment are you using?”
LG – “I use a Nikon D200 and I'm very big on prime lenses; I primarily use a 50mm 1.4 and a 85mm 1.4. I do have several zoom lenses for when they're necessary.”
Lightstalking – “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
LG – “I will be living in California and splitting my assignments between L.A. and New York City.”

Lightstalking – “Many of our readers dream of turning pro. What advice would you give them, Lauren?”
LG – “For fashion work you need a GREAT wardrobe stylist. The team concept is really important for this type of work. No matter what work you're going after, my suggestion is to keep your concepts simple in the beginning. Don't overwhelm yourself. Develop a good simple idea into a great photograph. This will show potential clients that you have the ability to develop their concepts. Finally, networking is essential in today's environment. There are a lot of photographers. When someone knows you, or someone refers you, that puts you much closer to the top of the pile.”
Lightstalking, would like to thank Lauren Gherardi for her time. We see her as a photographer on the rise, and we hope that our readers will find inspiration from her for their own journey to turning PRO!
You can connect with Lauren on her Facebook page, on Flickr, at her website and on Model Mahem.

About the author

    Kent DuFault

    Kent is an occasional writer at our place, and also handles the weekly “Picture of the Week” contest. He has been involved with photography since 1974 and you can get to know him better here

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