The Excellent Compositional Skills of Photographer Vanessa Rees

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All images by Vanessa Rees. Used with permission.

Photographer Vanessa Rees is based in Brooklyn, NY. We discovered her on Behance and fell in love with her impeccable sense of composition and placement of elements in the scenes that she creates. These beautiful photos are the result of her very tough start. When she had a day job, she would come home late and take food photos, but she needed to learn how to create the look of natural light after hours. While she found it to be a giant inconvenience, she believes that it ultimately made her a better photographer.

Vanessa draws lots of her inspiration from graphic design, and in this interview she talks to us about her creative ideas.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Vanessa: My dad bought a digital camera when I was about 14 years old. He never got around to figuring out how to use it so it sat in his office unused for awhile. One day I just picked it up and started messing around. Over the years I’ve slowly become more and more serious about it.

Phoblographer: What attracted you to shooting food photos?

Vanessa: After college I took the first job I could find. I absolutely hated it. I hadn’t seriously considered becoming a full time photographer until I realized I could not be happy in an office environment. I had to build up a portfolio but was short on time. I could only shoot when I got home from work. What was lying around my apartment just asking to be photographed? Food. So, to be truthful, it started out of convenience.

I lived in a comically small apartment in Brooklyn. I got a murphy bed so I could turn my bedroom into a little studio. Because it was dark out when I got home from work, I was forced to become comfortable with artificial lighting. Looking back now I realize all these things I viewed as a pain or inconvenience ultimately shaped my work and career in a very positive way.

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Phoblographer: You have an extremely interesting and unique sense of composition that isn’t seen very often. What inspires you to create the scenes that you do and lay them out in the specific ways that you photograph?

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Vanessa: Thank you. I’m very inspired by graphic design work, more so than photography- generally. I think that is why I love doing overhead shots. It’s similar to a blank piece of paper.

The inspiration for my projects comes from so many things. I collect quotes, images, design, words, and objects that inspire me. I often find a beautiful quote or poem and know instantly I have to translate it into photography. I have to make it visual. Then the fun part comes… Trying to render the essence and mood of that inspiration into something seeable.

Phoblographer: Let’s talk about the way that you light. Your shadows are very specific and the lighting is a style that looks like very specific. What inspires the way that you light a scene? We’re sure that it varies from project to project, but it’s all so very different.

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Vanessa: I suppose the type of light is determined by the overall mood I’m trying to create. If I want a more comforting mood I’ll warm up the temperature of the photo and use a narrow key light. For a fun, graphic, happy photograph I may not want any shadows at all.

Phoblographer: To you, what personally makes for a great photograph? Meaning, what makes you finally satisfied that you’ve created an image that you’re happy with and what usually goes through your mind as you’re arranging, shooting and editing the images?

Vanessa: I’m very critical of my own work. When I look at my portfolio, I see the parts that could’ve been improved. Or how I could have pushed the concept further. I don’t think I ever get to that moment in the process where I can call something done because it is great. It is mostly done because I’m exhausted or have to move on to the next photo.

It’s hard to describe the zone my head is in when I’m creating a photograph. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m drawing or painting. It’s just about adding and subtracting all the elements until it feels good. It can be an intense process.

Phoblographer: In what ways, do you feel your photography has evolved the most since you started and what were some big problems that you’ve had to overcome in your career?

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Vanessa: My voice and style has changed so much over the years. And it is still changing. I love watching my work evolve and can’t wait to see where it goes. I’m finding myself drawn more to creating fine art more than I ever anticipated.

The hardest part of my career is the reality of owning your own business. The day-to-day emails, paperwork, taxes, invoicing, etc. I’ve learned that you can’t do it all alone. It’s so important to build a great team around you. Especially a finance team- a bookkeeper, accountant, financial adviser, etc.

Phoblographer: Every photographer that shoots for a living is also a business person. So what is your schedule usually like? How much do you shoot vs spending time marketing, emailing, networking, etc?

Vanessa: This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The business aspect has a way of taking over. I’m not great at creating a structured schedule for my life but I’m very serious about setting aside time to brainstorm and time to actually create. If you don’t do that, it becomes all business which is the kiss of death for a creative. I would say I’m about 60% business, 35% creativity, 5% procrastinating on the business stuff–to be perfectly honest.

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