When I got my first camera for Christmas at the age of 8, a chunky little digital point and shoot, I have to admit I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I was the kid that rolled their eyes and made faces when parents pulled out the camera, forcing us to stand there awkwardly and "Say Cheese!" So, when I got a camera of my own, I learned that my place was behind the camera rather than of in front of it.
Going through life with a camera pushed me to look closer at the world around me. It gave me a way to focus all my energy into slowing down and appreciating detail. I loved the power of immortalizing a flower in pixels and exploring the depths of the folds and creases in my own eyes in ways I couldn't do in the mirror. As I began to grow older, life became less predictable and frankly, it was a struggle. Art, and especially photography, was my outlet through the chaos and it was in that darkness that my love for photography shone bright.
I have to thank my dad for recognizing my passion for photography during this time. He offered me ways to channel this energy into something positive by driving me up and down the California coast to practice taking photos and signing me up for my first Aperture Academy class. Aperture Academy is the brain-child of renowned nature photographer Stephen Oachs; home base being a gallery in Campbell, CA, that offers in-the-field instruction for photographers of all skill levels. I came to Aperture Academy in their inception, attending the San Francisco/Marin Headlands photo workshop in September of 2009 at the age of 13. I showed up in the parking lot of Baker Beach in San Francisco to see a group of 16 adults who looked much more prepared for the evening than I was. Little did I know that the modern photographer's standard is a DSLR and that I was only equipped with a long zoom point and shoot Lumix. Thankfully, the crew of photographers I joined took me under their wing and made sure I was able to make due with the equipment I had. And you know what? I took some pretty good photos that night.
Throughout my teen years, I continued attending Aperture Academy workshops that took me all around the Bay Area and even out to Yosemite. Not only did I learn so much from so many great photographers of different specialties, but I gained an incredible community and was even recognized for being the youngest Aperture Academy Hall of Famer at one of their Open Houses. My time with Aperture Academy was monumental for my development as a photographer and it was with them that I found my passion for taking portraits.
Ask anyone and they would tell you I was a complete shutterbug in my high school. I had a trigger finger like no other and could come home at the end of the day with easily 200 photos in my camera roll. Armed with a Canon Rebel, my friends called me the paparazzi because all I did was take photos of them. And apologies to all you guys, I now realize that must have been annoying at times, especially with my poor discretion on posting unflattering photos on Facebook. But after I got my rhythm taking actual portraits, I started to get requests from my peers to hire me for photoshoots. My side-hustle quickly grew and I suddenly found myself photographing bigger gigs like Pop-Warner Football and the California Economic Summit. Events were new territory and challenged me immensely, but I took any chance to grow as a photographer. By the time I was 18, I felt prepared enough to be the sole shooter at a friend's wedding and I would have to say that was one of the most joyous experiences I have had as a photographer.
I feel so much gratitude to those who have trusted me to be behind the camera, especially during some of their most important moments of their lives. For me, photography is more than just taking the picture. Its about where I am, what I'm doing, and, most importantly, who I'm with. When I'm with you out on a shoot, we are hanging out. Like I said, I was the kid who rolled their eyes when I was told to stay still and smile. So I do the opposite. And the best part is getting to show people how great they look when they aren't even trying.