Real Creative Lives: Coloring Outside the Lines with Delaney Brown

Only a few years into her career, commercial photographer, stylist, and producer Delaney Brown has established herself as a fresh voice in the world of photography with her swoon worthy portfolio that showcases her bold choices and fearless use of color. After discovering her passion for food photography, Delaney continues to explore new ideas that allow her to transform everyday foodstuffs like diner fries and ketchup packets into intriguing and inspiring images.

Delaney’s passion and raw talent is only surpassed by her curiosity and positive outlook that has solidified the Seattle native’s presence within her creative community. As an in-studio audience member for a handful of CreativeLive classes, I spoke with Delaney about her journey, the mentors she can’t thank enough, and the real reason why her images are so raw and unique.

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Tell me about yourself – where did you grow up, what was your home life like?

“I grew up in a town outside of Seattle that was really cool and pretty diverse.  I started to get into photography when I first laid eyes on my parent’s new digital camera in 2005 and I never wanted to put it down, I had such an obsession with it.

I am very lucky because my parents have always been very supportive of every artistic endeavor. I had these crazy creative ideas but I didn’t know what my medium was yet.  It sucked. I didn’t know how to get the ideas in my head out in front of me.

At first, I took to story writing and I discovered I had an interest in journalism.  I became Editor In Chief of my school newspaper and realized that good interviews and articles were always accompanied by great photos. When no one in my team knew or had the means to take photos, I started experimenting and developed this huge interest in photography”.

Did you ever start to fall into the trap of comparing yourself work to other creators?

“For a while, I was stuck in this idea that I should do a certain type of food photography because I knew that I could get paid for it. I knew that it was very commercial and marketable and this concept drove me to a certain extent because it’s important to know what can support you.

Looking back, I was too zeroed in on that idea, and it held me back a bit.  It took me a while and some serious exploration to realize what describes me as a person, what kind of art really represents me, and what comes without having to force it.  

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I remember when I was in the studio audience for Penny De Los Santos class, ‘Professional Food Photography‘. It shaped my opinion of what food photography was for me, because before I had been doing what was more popular and what I thought would make me more marketable.

In Penny’s class, I noticed that a lot of her images were traditional, beautifully styled, the images you see in magazines and identify as a profitable. But she had these other images that were much more intriguing to me, a style that I’d never seen before. These images of food were more abstract and bright, focused on shape, color, lines, and patterns. They were a bit gritty and they weren’t trying too hard to be pretty.

That’s what I was doing. I was trying too damn hard to be pretty. What I find more attractive is the stuff that is more real, a little gritty, bright and raw, in a sense. I came to see that there isn’t one way to do things.

In what ways did you start ‘experimenting’ into your artistic tastes?

“If not for Instagram and Pinterest, I don’t think I would have been able to broaden my view of art to the extent that it is now. These platforms gave me such immediate access to a wealth of artists with complete portfolios sometimes accompanied with processes, tips, and tricks.  

Having that kind of uncensored access to an artist and often seeing their daily life made it clear to me that there are more things out there, more styles to be absorbed, and I inundated myself with more art.

It didn’t matter whether or not I was a fan of their work,  as long as it was something that I’d never seen before or had no idea how to replicate — I think that is what really helped me.

I would see these lighting styles that were just gorgeous. I had to figure out how they were created, so I would mess around in the studio and see if I could replicate them.   

I feel like that is a really important learning experience; to seek work that inspires you and try to break down what they did to create the final image.

Then take what you have learned, and figure out where these new skills fit in with your own creative ideas. This technique led to a lot of creative break-throughs when I was in school.”

How do you describe that deep-down gut-feeling that tells you you’re on to something good, realize that you were on the right track to defining your personal aesthetic?

“I had this amazing professor — Alejandro Tomas. He and I would have these long talks that were really transformative for me. I vividly remember this one conversation towards the end of the program where I came into his office feeling lost because I knew what I liked and the content of what I wanted to do. I loved food, but at the same time, I have always loved other genres of photography.

Delaney’s mentor, Alejandro Tomas.

Tomas helped me discovered that my niche was my style and not necessarily a genre of photography.  He helped me identify certain stylistic qualities in my work that I could employ across any genre, whether it be food, fashion, or product work.

Want to master photography in just 24 hours? Sign up for The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners today to learn everything you need to know to start photographing today. 

This was an amazing idea because I feel like a lot of photographers and professionals operate under the idea that you should find what you’re good at, your niche. While this idea makes a whole lot of sense to me, I felt pigeonholed by it. I have always been a curious, ambitious young woman, and the idea of not shooting a lil’ bit of everything sounded so boring to me. I want my work to constantly challenge me to try new things.

This meeting with Tomas was pivotal in taking my next steps toward creating my portfolio. Everything I made from this point on was with my own creative desires in mind, not money or approval.”

Have you ever dealt with a lot of criticism?

There were a few times when someone just didn’t like what I was creating, and they would say something supercritical or dismissive. Initially, it hit me pretty hard.  When you’re working hard, putting yourself out there and trying to explore your talents, criticism can throw you for a loop. When that kind of stuff happened I would mildly internalize it and think that I might be doing something wrong, or that should try to make my work look more like another style that’s more popular or profitable.

I believe criticism is important because it helps you grow, but I’ve come to find some people will say certain things about your work just to take you down a notch, or rain on your parade. This kind of behavior is silly and helps no one, but it makes me even more thankful for true constructive criticism when I receive it. It’s important to reflect on what people have to say but never take it too deeply.

Keep it in the way back of your mind when you create your next thing. You determine if it’s worth listening to. Some of the best, most blunt critique I’ve received has been from close friends who are also photographers. Having a tight-knit group of creative minds like this has been integral to my growth as a young photographer. My friends are always gonna be honest and tell me if a piece of mine looks half-assed, and then they’re going to tell exactly how to fix it.

Want to master photography in just 24 hours? Sign up for The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners today to learn everything you need to know to start photographing today. 

The bottom line is that you’re always going to be picked apart for the work you put into the world. It’s up to you to decide what words deserve a place in your heart.

So it sounds like you’ve had some incredible mentors throughout your educational career, what was the biggest benefit to having these resources?

A huge portion of my success directly traces back to the love and support of my incredible parents, mentors, and classmates alike. Having this collective of people to encourage me, bounce my ideas off of and share my work with has truly helped me thrive.

I’ve been lucky enough to have mentors in each stage of my journey with photography over the past 5+ years. Chantelle Moran helped plant the seeds in high school, Alejandro Tomas tended to the little sprout at Seattle Central Creative Academy, and Elizabeth Rudge has helped me grow my roots since graduating.

These mentors trust me,  believe in my work, recognize my talents and treat me like an equal. Being young, I have realized that some people have trouble taking me seriously, they seem to think that I can’t match them in skill or speed. Although I still have much to learn, people are often surprised at what I’m capable of.

I’m quite used to being the baby of the group, so having these talented, established mentors gave me such personal validation in times when I was doubting myself.

A lot of work that I’ve done to get where I’m at is thanks to them.  They have been vital in helping me keep my head above water throughout the process. I’ll be forever grateful to them.   

What’s your message to others who are starting out or having a tough time finding their voice?

I think I’ve been able to avoid a lot of negativity by just keeping my head down and not being too smug with my work. I share it, but I try not to add too much fluff to it.

Along with that, one way I keep true to myself and deflect criticism is by developing my skills and having really a technically sound foundation. As long as I know my stuff,  I’m FAR less likely to care about someone’s negative opinion of my work.

Having a sturdy foundation in the arts leaves me more room for exploration and artistic development It also allows me to put criticism into perspective and remember that my ideas may not be something you like, but I can properly expose a photograph, and that’s a start, you know?

So, what’s next for you, Delaney?

This is a bit hard projecting my goals because I have so many!  I want to do everything under the sun. I’m so so hungry for every opportunity to stretch my skills, whether it be with a new technique, new medium, or new location

I want to be a “unicorn”, but as of right now I refer to myself as a photographer, producer, and stylist.

Delaney assisting her mentor, Elizabeth Rudge.
Delaney assisting her mentor, Elizabeth Rudge. photo credit: Holly Roa

I’d like to think that five years from now, I would be represented by an artist agency, booking jobs both editorial and commercial in all realms of photography, with a heavy focus on food and fashion.

In my spare time, I would like to style both food and product shoots and dabble in set design or creative directing. A huge inspiration for me is Adi Goodrich, an all-around creative.

Having produced short films with friends, I’m also interested in the world of video. An ultimate goal of mine is to head a production company with friends from school and create cool shit til we die.

It’s hard to have linear, clear cut goals in this industry because the potential for advancement is endless. With the community I have, I can really be anything I want to be if I just put in the time. I feel limitless, and that is such a beautiful thing.”

To learn more about Delaney, checkout her website, or follow this bonafide creative unicorn on Instagram and LinkedIn. 🙂

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Mel Jackson FOLLOW >

Community Marketer at CreativeLive and lover of design, coffee breaks and petting of ALL THE DOGS. Follow her adventures on Instagram @LifeofMelJack.