Photographer Erica Von Stein: I Truly Believe that Beauty is an Attitude
Erica, can you tell us about yourself and your photographic background? What sparked your interest in photography? I was a film graduate who worked in the television industry before I fell in love with photography. Working in television is busy, office based and confined, and I just wanted to be free. I wanted to be my own boss and meet inspiring people. I had an SLR that I had been using for film work and just started taking pictures of things. The creative feeling is very liberating and addictive.
What are some favorite things about being a photographer? What motivates you to do what you do? My grandmother bought me my very first camera years ago and said that, “she’s never seen anyone so excited to be in a camera store.” I had butterflies in my stomach and felt like a child on Christmas morning. It’s a blessing to be able to do what I love for a living and being my own boss is the most motivating thing for me.
In your opinion, how has photography influenced you as a person? It’s certainly given me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I never have that feeling of dread on a Monday morning. I just feel so lucky to have this job and it’s something I’ll never take for granted. Photography has made me a grateful person, a more hard working person and enabled me to challenge myself in ways I never had before.
Can you explain some of the feelings you are trying to achieve in your photographs? How would you describe your artistic style? My artistic style is soft and dramatic. I seek out people with interesting faces and concentrate on facial expression. It’s funny because my style can be very a little depending on the model I’m working with, I tend to absorb a little of their energy and channel their personality into my work and that’s something that I love.
Do you plan each photo out or are they created more organically? Can your ideas change depending on the model you are working with? I gave up on properly planning a long time ago. I used to plan shoots down to the very last detail and nothing would ever go to plan, or something would happen that would take the shoot in another direction. These days I plan the essentials like the theme, models, make up, etc., but when it comes to the actual shots I just let my emotions carry me through. I chat with the models and we connect and see what works. I’ve seen an improvement in my work and a lot of that is down to relaxing and just enjoying myself.
What from your point of view makes the shoot successful? Is there something you always ask yourself/think just before you press the shutter button? If the team is happy, it’s a success. I want to do justice to my team and their hard work and I want the models to feel good about themselves too. I try to put the shoe on the other foot and think, “Would I like to be photographed like this?” The most incredible feeling in the world is being told that I make people feel comfortable.
What type of photo-sessions are your most favorite and why? These days, beauty portraits, interesting people and faces that tell stories but honestly, I really love it all. My work range is so varied and that’s important in keeping things fresh and exciting. Every day is different and it never gets boring.
Could you take us through the typical planning process for your images? There are two ways I get inspired. I’ll either think of a concept and then try to find the right model to work with or I’ll discover a really cool model and plan a concept around their look and personality. I spend hours reading fashion magazines and absorbing everything around me. When I have a strong concept I’ll make mood boards and send them to the team and we’ll then find locations and clothing. I spend more time planning than working and luckily find the research side really enjoyable.
Do you usually choose the models by yourself? Do you have any physical aesthetic preferences in the girls and boys you shoot? I choose all of the models I work with. There is no magic criteria that I adhere to when I am choosing the models but diversity is important to me. I occasionally approach ‘non’ models if I am captivated by someone who has a strong presence and a really good attitude.
You photograph both female and male models. From your experience what are the differences shooting male models vs. female? I don’t find it so different. When I’m working with someone I really don’t even acknowledge their gender at all. There is a little less makeup on the male models so I guess a bit more emphasis on expressions and styling but I don’t consciously do anything different during the shoot.
What does beauty mean to you? I truly believe that beauty is an attitude. If someone feels beautiful then it really doesn’t matter what they look like because that belief shines through and creates something really special.
Tell us why is having makeup artist, stylist or other professional creatives essential to a photographer? Do you have a support staff and what areas do they handle? It is absolutely essential to have a team on board. I work very closely with Camille Astrid and Sadie Wheat who are two of the UK’s best makeup artists. I also have lighting and styling assistant Kip Lawson, and my partner in crime, photographer Aaron Bird. I would be nothing without them.
How important is it to be knowledgeable about fashion and the latest trends to be successful as a fashion photographer? I don’t know as much about current trends as I probably should but I do try my best by reading fashion magazines as often as I can and keeping in touch with stylists. It is pretty important though, about as important as a news reporter being up to date on current affairs.
Any cool projects that you’re working on or have coming up that you don’t mind sharing with us? Is there anything we should look out for from you in 2017? I will be putting together an exhibition this year and working on some colorful projects but that is as much as I will say for now.
Who are some of your favorite photographers and why? Tim Walker is my favorite photographer right now. He has such a distinct signature style and won’t shoot anything that he doesn’t believe in. It is easy to get sidelined and manipulated in the creative industries and I believe his success is due to sticking to his guns and believing in himself and his concepts.
What is your retouching/production philosophy? What do you think it delivers in the final image? Try to get it right during the shoot and don’t rely on Photoshop. Editing should only enhance an amazing photograph without taking over. For beauty shots, learn how to use frequency separation well and you’ll never look back (but still, be cautious of overkill).
What are your thoughts around social media? What role does it play in your photography business? Social media has opened many doors for me. Instagram is the best platform for showcasing work and it really breaks the traditional boundaries, you can open up your work to new audiences and find so many creative and interesting people. It is the future.
Erica, what is the most important thing you want potential clients to know about you? That I am lovely to work with and 2017 is going to be such a great year. Get in touch!
Any words of wisdom for photography enthusiasts at the beginning of their journey? Have a real think about your aesthetic and brand before jumping onto social media. Research everything before arranging a shoot. Network until you click with the right hair, makeup and style team. Use professional models. Watch every YouTube tutorial you can find until you know your camera and editing software inside out and lastly, make a strong debut. First impressions are so important.
What is your favorite thing to do when you are not taking pictures? What else do you do besides photography? I am also a property developer so when I am not taking photographs I research and view beautiful properties to potential buyers. Besides this I am pretty one-dimensional. Photography really is my entire life, I spend hours researching, shopping for props, speaking to models and designers, practicing new techniques…really all of the time.
Please tell one surprising fact about yourself. I was on a reality TV show called Come Dine With Me. It is a cooking competition and I came in last place. I learned that I cannot cook and that I should stick to the day job.