There are so many incredible images on 500px but we want to know more about the photographers, and stories, behind them. Our Portrait series interviews a talented photographer each week, allowing us to discover more about living life through a lens. This week's interview is with Toronto-based photographer Vanessa Paxton.
When and how did you fall in love with photography?
I fell in love with photography back in Grade 10. If my math is correct, that was 7 years ago. It was really just a new form of art that intrigued me. I had a great teacher and mentor that really inspired me to stick with it. I started out with the basics: depth of field, capturing motion, long exposures, etc. Then I started to experiment with different ways to trick the viewer, which I guess is how I ended up doing the type of work that I do.
Have you had any formal training?
Indeed I have. I took photography for two years in high school and then pursued it in University. I have my Bachelors of Fine Arts from Ryerson University in Photography Studies.
Can you tell us a little more about your professional work?
I basically ignored the professional world while I was in school so I’ve only recently begun living off of my photography. I shoot things like weddings & engagements, maternity & new-born, children’s birthdays, creative portraits, album covers, and I also sell my work and offer one-on-one tutoring in Photoshop and photography.
And the work you create in your spare time?
The work I create in my spare time is mostly for me, like a form of therapy. I like to do self-portraits, and that’s because I like the solitude and I like the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve done something challenging by myself.
Some of your creative work is the stuff of dreams, or more so nightmares, where do you get your ideas?
Quite honestly, I’m not sure. My fourth year thesis at Ryerson was about just that. I, like you, am influenced by everything, and these impressions stay with us for so long that sometimes it is hard to trace the source. If you’re speaking specifically about my Childhood Fears series, that was inspired by a photographer named Joshua Hoffine.
How would you describe your photography style?
Soft. I’ve had such bad vision for so long that I think it has translated into my style. I’ve always shot at f1.4 because that’s how I’ve always seen the world. It’s really hard for me to describe my style. Color is very important in my work. I favour a pastel color palette. I use pastel colors because they’re pretty. And I like them. So I use them. That’s about it.
What camera/s do you shoot with?
I use the Canon 5D Mark II.
And your favourite lenses?
Canon EF 50mm 1.4
How about other equipment: lighting, tripod, filters etc.?
The sun. I’m a natural light photographer so I really just use available light. I’ve had the same tripod since Grade 10, and I don’t have any fancy gear. Just my camera, tripod and 50mm. Oh right, and my remote. That’s key.
How important is post-processing to the final piece?
Very important. My images are naked without it. I’ve developed a color palette that is as important as the photograph itself.
How do you market your work?
Oh man, I have so many networks it’s ridonkulous. To name a few, I’m on: Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, 500px and Craigslist. I post to Craigslist every few days and it’s actually a great way to get business. Word of mouth is the heart of this business so I jump at any opportunity. My biggest regret is not doing this while in school.
What advice would you give to amateur photographers?
While websites like 500px, Flickr, etc. can be a great resource for new photographers, it’s important that you don’t get caught up with all the newfound attention (or lack thereof) that your work might receive to the point where you begin producing that work solely for that attention. Not only can this lead to you being alienated from your own style, but the pressure to impress members of the community might very well make photography seem like a chore. Sharing your work with a community can be wonderful, but don’t let them take over as the artist!
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
I would have to say, when my university bought one of my fourth year thesis images to display in the dean’s office. It made me feel important and appreciated for the first time in my entire university career.
Out of all the photographs you have ever taken, which is your favourite and why?
I’ve grown tired of looking most of my work. My favourite piece is usually the most recent, and it stays that way for a week, a month, a day. I’m constantly uploading and deleting and revising.
The image I keep coming back to is this one:
It’s a client shot of a dear friend of mine, Ladan Amouoghli, and I find a lot of truth in her expression. We’ve known each other for years so our shoots are always comfortable and natural.
If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
Just so we can find out a bit more about the person behind the lens, could you tell us 5 things about you that are completely unrelated to photography?
What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
All I can think about right now is getting out of debt and saving up enough to travel some place hot and exotic, like New Zealand or China.
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