The MISSBISH Photography Workshop | Esther Lee
Photographer: Esther Lee
Tell us about your style of photography. How did you develop this style and what do you enjoy shooting the most?
When I first started photography my main focus was getting my foot in the door and building a client list. I was taking every job I could from food and family portraits to special events like weddings and even birthday parties. Because of this my style of photography became really versatile but as I gained more experience I started noticing my passion steering towards fashion and still life. It’s those kind of jobs where I feel the most challenged and my creativity flows the best.
Photography is all about capturing that moment. What’s the secret?
Usually, with client shoots I have the luxury of retaking shots but when I’m traveling I love taking photos of everything I see. There were plenty of times I wanted to capture something but the moment passed by the time I pulled out my camera, turned it on, changed the settings, and put it into focus. This is why I think a cell phone is such an integral part of a photographer’s gear list. The best camera is the one you have on you. Something that can just be whipped out at a moment’s notice to snap a photo within seconds of seeing something. The cameras on cell phones are so advanced these days that sometimes it’s all you need.
Where are you based? What makes home a good base for you?
I live in Los Angeles, CA. There is no other city as versatile as here. There are so many opportunities here to shoot different things that are so close by. If I’m feeling landscapey I can drive up 30 minutes to Angeles Crest for some snowy mountain shots and when I’m done I can be at the beach 45 minutes later capturing some surfers taking on the waves.
Tell us about your gear, what camera do you use? What lenses do you prefer? Post-editing?
My main shooters are the Canon 5DIII and 6D. I try to stick with prime lenses when I can like the Canon 135mm f/2, 85mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.4 but when timing is crucial like at a wedding I switch over to the 24-70mm f/2.8 ii and the 70-200mm f/2.8 ii. When I can get my hands on one I like using the Sony a7R II for it’s light weight and clarity. For my fashion projects I love using the Pentax 645z medium format. So milky and smooth. My post workflow involves a lot of Lightroom for coloring but when I need to get in deep I switch over to Photoshop.
How did you get into photography? Tell us about your first experience.
In 2010, I went on a short-term mission trip with my church to Kenya. Since it was my first time in Africa I wanted to take an actual camera with me because my phone’s camera kind of sucked back then. I thought it would be a good way of documenting my team’s experience while we were there so we can share what we did with people back home and encourage others to go on short-term mission trips in the future. So I went to Costco and bought the cheapest DSLR camera I could find. I think it was the Canon Rebel XS bundle pack. This trip is what made me fall in love with photography. After I got back I looked through the photos and realized how important it was to capture memories on something tangible instead of reliving it only through memory. Just being able to capture the culture and the people and then having the ability to really look back in detail was something I knew I wanted to keep doing in the future.
Tell us the story behind one of the most memorable photos you’ve shot…
When my dog turned 8, I realized I never properly celebrated her birthday. She lived with my parents and me before I got married and since my parents didn’t want a dog inside the house I was only allowed to play with her outside. But after I moved in with my husband I brought her along and thought it was about time to throw her a little celebration. I invited several of my friends and asked them to bring their dogs over. We had toys, treats, and even a cake for my little Penny. Then the real fun began. I set up a makeshift backdrop in my living room and had an incredibly hectic but fun photoshoot of all the dogs that came to the party. It was absolutely ridiculous but probably the most fun I had taking photos in a long time.
What is a constant source of inspiration for you as a photographer?
I have two main sources of inspiration: people and travel. Meeting new people always gave me different perspectives on photography. I love how 2 or more people can look at the same thing but see things completely differently. After taking so many photos I sometimes get tunnel vision and miss out on details other people can see. Photography isn’t a my-way-or-the-highway activity. It’s one of those things that can work beautifully when multiple heads are put together striving for the same goal. Traveling is a huge part of my inspiration as well. As diverse as Los Angeles is, I feel like a lot of the diversity comes from inspirations from outside the city. People from all over the world settle here, bringing authentic parts of their culture, and they integrate it with what’s already in LA. When I travel, I get to be at the source of that inspiration and experience first hand how it got to be that way.
Who has been a great influence or mentor to you and what did you learn from them that you still carry with you today?
My greatest mentors are my parents. I can’t imagine what it was like for them when they moved to a country where they didn’t speak the language and started from nothing. Their level of motivation and work ethic is something I strive to achieve every day. And during those times when I don’t feel like doing anything, I try to remember the sacrifices they’ve made so that I can have the privilege to do what I love doing.
Can you give us three photography tips and explain each?
Tip #1 - Have a shortcut mode to your camera app on your phone. You never know when you’re going to need it. Tip #2 - It’s not the gear you use but how you use it that makes a difference. Tip #3 - Stop comparing yourself to others. No two set of eyes are the same. 2 people can be looking at the same thing but seeing it differently. The way you see things makes you unique so embrace it.
Finish the sentence...
If I weren’t afraid I would... pet a hippopotamus.
I wouldn't be where I am today if... my parents never met.
I've been listening to... my husband tell me to hurry up and finish so we can go eat.
Kids these days need to... get off the computer and go explore.
I look and feel my best when... I’m done drinking my coffee.
When no one is looking I... undo my wedgie.
Traveling is... rewarding but exhausting.
I respect people who... don’t need to feel like they belong.