The MISSBISH Photography Workshop | Photographer Ciarra Walters
Photographer: Ciarra Walters
Location: I am based in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has so much going on regardless of the time of day or night. I’m extremely fortunate to live somewhere where weather is hardly an issue. Natural lighting is the best lighting, in my opinion. Being able to shoot when the sun hits a person’s skin just right is unlike anything else, and that creates the perfect base for me.
Equipment: I shoot with a Nikon D3300, Nikon N50, Sony CES digital camera, and a Pentax IQ Zoom 120SW 35mm Point and Shoot. Lenses: 50mm f/1.8G, 35mm f/1.8G DX, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G and 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6G. Don’t underestimate the power of a “basic” lens like the 18-55mm. I usually use that lens for my N50, but that was the first lens I used for about a year on my D3300. My favorite lens is probably my 35mm. I love the 35mm. The sharpness, range and focus is incomparable. I use Lightroom for small touchups and Photoshop when I need to make deep, drastic changes.
Style: I capture energy. I love when I can feel the vibe, the aesthetic, and the moment from a set of pictures. I feel like most photographers tell a story through one picture, which is extremely HARD and phenomenal, but that’s not my style. Whether it’s an event, editorial, or freelance work, I love when a story is told through a series of pictures. I like when my audience feels like they were there for the whole shoot or event.
When I first moved to Los Angeles I brought my camera with me everywhere. Honestly, I was just documenting my life. I have cool friends, who effortlessly make life look exciting and colorful, so it was easy to take pictures of them and whatever we were doing. I started posting multiple pictures at once on Instagram because I could never decide my favorite one out of them all. If I shot a party I was at, I would post like 20 pictures of that party at once on Instagram. People could sense the vibe of the whole night by looking at my Instagram. I received a lot of positive feedback that reaffirmed my style of photography. I love the honesty of my photography.
How did you get into photography? Tell us about your first experience.
After I graduated college I was anticipating shooting short documentaries, but I started taking pictures instead. Before I started working for Saint Heron, I attended one of their first Proclamation parties held at Tenants of the Trees in Silver Lake (Los Angeles). Solange, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland and a bunch of regular people in LA were partying the night away. I was fairly new to LA and had no idea what I was about to walk into. I took probably 300+ pictures that night. There were so many beautiful people of color in there, which I had never seen in LA. That was the first series I dropped on Instagram and people loved it. That was the first time I realized I love photography. A night that I was supposed to be partying, ended up changing my life and a few months later would lead to my positions at Saint Heron.
“Trust your gut, capture what you want. Capture the moments, subjects, and content you wish you could see."
Tell us the story behind one of the most memorable photos you’ve shot…
The picture isn’t good at all. I hate the angle, but it means the most to me. I decided to quit my job so I could go to AFROPUNK Brooklyn. My job wasn’t allowing me the time off to go to the festival so I quit. I honestly had no idea what I was doing or why I did that, but something inside me told me that I needed to go. The first day, I don’t know what got into me. It could have been the music, the blackness, the style, the vibe, or the overall freeness I felt the moment I stepped outside my uber. I took pictures of everything and finessed my way into every VIP section to take as many close up pictures as I could of the artists. The second day, I met up with some of my Saint Heron writers and snagged a VIP pass. One of my co’s, Hannah, pulled me backstage during Earl Sweatshirt’s set. I was standing on the side of the stage and started snapping away. I remember I pulled my camera from my eyes and was like, “Wow. I just watched my dreams come true and I didn’t even know that these were my dreams.”
My pictures got published on Saint Heron’s site, and I have hundreds of pictures from AFROPUNK that I've never released. Believe in yourself and your purpose. I quit my job to do what I thought I was supposed to be doing and ended up getting my pictures published.
Photography is all about capturing that moment. What’s the secret?
Paying attention. Photographers pay attention to the details, always being ready and having your eyes open. I’ve learned how to move extremely quick since I started shooting. If you’re serious about your work or want to get better, you’re a photographer 100% of your time, even when you’re chilling in a coffee shop. Having a camera near you is life changing and it enhances your craft.
What is a constant source of inspiration for you as a photographer?
Other photographers. "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon is probably the most useful book I have ever read. I am constantly studying other photographers’ techniques, style, subjects, etc. When I look through a magazine and see a picture I like, I stalk the photographer. When I see album covers, I Google who the photographer is. It’s not about copying another photographer’s work. It’s about discovering what you like and figuring out how to develop your own style.
Who has been a great influence or mentor to you and what did you learn from them that you still carry with you today?
Saint Heron’s Armina Mussa. Armina has taught me how to carry myself with class, strength, style and how to stay true to myself as a woman of color in a male dominated industry. She is such a calm, beautiful person. She taught me that when the world is looking, you better give something worth looking at.
Tell us three photography tips.
1. Shoot in manual. Manual assists with capturing a moment in its original form. If you’re not a fan of editing like myself, you only have to do small touch-ups to enhance the quality of the image.
2. When you’re scheduled to do a shoot, dress like you’re the one getting shot. When you look your best, you feel your best and you perform your best. I personally feel that when you dress like you’re the one getting shot, your subject will have confidence in not only themselves, but in you as well.
3. Stay true to YOUR style of photography. Your eyes are different and just as important as anyone else’s. Trust your gut, capture what you want. Capture the moments, subjects, and content you wish you could see.
Finish the sentence...
If I weren’t afraid I would… drop everything I know and leave to another country to start over again.
I wouldn't be where I am today if... I didn’t believe in my purpose and listen to my gut.
I've been listening to... Kelis’s "Tasty," Solange’s "True," Jay-Z's The Black Album, and Sampha's "Process."
Kids these days... is the best music group to ever come out of Chicago.
I look and feel my best when… I make other people look and feel like their truest self.
When no one is looking I… freestyle rap to the same beats over and over again.
Traveling... I need to just do it.
I respect... women of color who are unapologetically themselves at all times, and who speak their truth regardless of the situation or circumstance.