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Portrait: Vanessa Paxton

Published by Diana Tula · May 18th 2012

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.

Dahlia  by Vanessa Paxton (vanessapaxton) on
Dahlia by 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 a mighty gust of wind it was.  by Vanessa Paxton (vanessapaxton) on
And a mighty gust of wind it was. by Vanessa Paxton

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.

Butterfly Catcher by Vanessa Paxton (vanessapaxton) on
Butterfly Catcher by Vanessa Paxton

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.

A Still More Glorious Dawn Awaits by Vanessa Paxton (vanessapaxton) on
A Still More Glorious Dawn Awaits by Vanessa Paxton

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!

Fear of clowns. by Vanessa Paxton (vanessapaxton) on
Fear of clowns. by Vanessa Paxton

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:

Vanessa Paxton ?
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?
Trevor Hall.

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?

  1. I’m a huge Star Trek fan.
  2. I’m addicted to Chocolate Ensure Plus. Seriously, I need one in the morning and one before bed. I can’t function properly without it. I think I love it so much because my dad used to make me Milo when I was younger, and he used to do that because I wouldn’t eat and Milo was the only thing I liked.
  3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons is my all time favourite book and it has basically ruined any other book I have ever read and will ever read.
  4. My boyfriend and I disagree about the nature of time. He’s a B-theorist and I’m an A-theorist, so we’re constantly butting heads and getting into heated debates over time travel, which often ends in me throwing things.
  5. My absolute biggest pet peeve is people standing directly under “NO SMOKING” signs and smoking, especially in front of buildings. The worst is when the person smoking is the security guard, so you can’t even report the offense.

Ballerina I by Vanessa Paxton (vanessapaxton) on
Ballerina I by Vanessa Paxton

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.

To see more of Vanessa’s work head over to her website or her 500px page.Thanks to Vanessa for being interviewed and to you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment below, feedback is awesome!


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Miles Morgan  over 2 years ago
Freaking AWESOME interview of one of my favorite photographers. As a matter of fact, I have a print of the last image in my house. It's incredible.
Awesome Account
Neal Alan Sacheck  almost 3 years ago
Great read!! Always love these articles here on 500px. Nice work Vanessa, thanks for sharing!
melih saka  almost 3 years ago
Comment hidden
by Marres  almost 3 years ago
very talented girl! keep up the good work!
Anthony Hayes  almost 3 years ago
"A Still More Glorious Dawn Awaits" by Vanessa Paxton IS ROCKIN' + I luv "Fear of clowns" too
Carina Morales Vieira Teodoro  almost 3 years ago
Beautiful work!
Dylan Cyr  almost 3 years ago
Stunning creative portrait work!
Awesome Account
Kai Wing Yiu  almost 3 years ago
Nice and creative photos!
Miguel Esteves  almost 3 years ago
Thank you Vanessa.
Florian Kogler  almost 3 years ago
perfekt !!!!
Won-ho Ryu  almost 3 years ago
Great works! Thank you for I get many ideas.^_^
Greg Zastawny  almost 3 years ago
nice work
Vanessa Paxton  almost 3 years ago
Thank you for the interview Debbie!
Debs Slater (inactive)  almost 3 years ago
You're very welcome Vanessa! Loved featuring you :)
Larry Williamson  almost 3 years ago
What a great article! I love the questions as much as the answers. I am especially pleased to have been introduced to this wonderful artist! Thank you.
Debs Slater (inactive)  almost 3 years ago
So happy you like the questions Larry :) And I agree, Vanessa is a wonderful artist :)
Vyacheslav Freelancer  almost 3 years ago
perfect !
Charles Raben  almost 3 years ago
Vanessa Paxton is a fantastic photographer, I find her photos to be awe-inspiring. Keep up the good work, V!
Vanessa Paxton  almost 3 years ago
=D Thank you!
Awesome Account
Diana Tula  almost 3 years ago
I agree entirely :) +1

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