Skype Interveiw with Pei Ketron
We are really fortunate to have Pei Ketron who is a photographer and educator, a traveler and she has I don't know about 850,00 followers on Instagram - jealous! (laughing) And she was featured in an American Express ad, really jealous! Sorry, and she's coming in from San Francisco, where are you?
Alright hey there!
Hi can you guys see me.
Great okay I'm not sure what's showing and what's not.
How you doing today?
I'm good I'm doing well, how are you guys?
Good, good, I think we're doing okay what do you say? (audience shouting) alright! You're like, you're the encore, is that right? (laughing) Don't ask what that means! So you can see me?
I can see you yeah.
Okay cool, hey there. So I have a few questions that I wanna ask you, so you know tell us about your career and sort of your evolution into mobile photography?
Sure. So I started taking photographs about 15 years ago back when I was just finishing up college. And at the time I was shooting on a ...
film SLR and got really into it as a hobby, just casually, and really started learning how to do photography once digital came out. So with my first digital point and shoot camera is when I started learning a lot about photography. And at the time I was working full time as an elementary school special ed teacher, and just doing photography on my own, on evenings and weekends, and slowly built a side business from my hobby. So eventually I was doing weddings and portrait sessions on evenings, weekends, and during the summer, and it worked out pretty well but at some point I realized that I didn't wanna do that for a living so I sort of shelved that part of my photography career and started focusing on doing work that I was really in love with and really proud of and that tended to be more of my travel photography. So at the time I was taking a lot of travel images and I was also working full time as a teacher, so I was pretty limited in terms of how much I could actually be gone, but I didn't know how I could make a living off of photography without doing weddings and portrait sessions, because as a new photographer that's what a lot of us are exposed to, you know we want clients that will pay us money to do what we love but we don't know what else to do other than weddings. So I stuck with teaching for a while and probably 12 or so years after I started photography was when Instagram came out. So I had already been really into sharing my photographs online through LiveJournal back in the day when LiveJournal was a thing, through Flickr when that was really popular, so I was on Instagram right when it started. I shoot just with my iPhone for Instagram so everything is mobile that I'm sharing, and about three years ago when brands and agencies first started looking for photographers to work with who had-- you know they were looking for people who were established photographers who had good audiences on Instagram, and because I'd been on it since the very beginning I had a good solid audience. I was sort of in the perfect position for those jobs that were coming up so it wasn't until I started shooting a lot with my phone and doing that almost more than I was doing DSLR and film work that photography really became a viable option for me as a profession where I wouldn't have to do weddings and portrait sessions.
Alright and so how did you develop your aesthetic, your photographic aesthetic?
So by the time I started shooting seriously with an iPhone I'd already developed a certain aesthetic with my photography but I don't really think that my style fully matured until I started shooting on mobile. So you know your phone is the camera that you have on you at all times, right, it enables you to shoot at times when you wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable kind of like what you've been talking about with all the street shooting. Where I don't really want this giant camera in my face making other people feel intimidated. It enables me to shoot from positions that I wou;dnt be able to with my DSLR, I can sort of wedge it in between the holes of a fence or I can hold it up high and still see what I'm shooting. So once I started shooting really seriously with my phone the amount of shooting I was doing increased exponentially just because I was constantly shooting, I always had my phone in my hand and I was always taking pictures and that really enabled me to hone my craft and to eventually in time develop a certain sense of style.
How much is post production a part of our aesthetic?
I think it's a huge part of my aesthetic. Of course I try to get as much as I can nailed in camera, and my rule is that as long as I can do it on my iPhone it's fair game. So there's nothing, very very few images of mine go online without being post processed first.
And is it like a consistent approach, a set of moves if you like that you use, or does it vary?
It varies within a similar structure. So for instance I use an app called SKRWT to fix perspective, so I'll correct perspective distortion and what not if it's necessary in a photo. So I always start with that and I take it into an app such as Prime or Visco which are two photo editing apps that have filters. So I usually look through some of the filters and decide if there's anything I like, tone it down a bit, and then take it into SnapSeed which I see that you've been using as well. I use SnapSneed to do the fine tunings and then I also love this app called TouchRetouch which enables you to clone and heel stuff out. So that's usually the step I finish with.
Wow that's way more sophisticated! (laughing)
I spend a lot of time editing my images.
Yeah, cool. Alright so how did American Express find you, and what was it like to be featured on an AmEx ad?
So AmEx was looking at the time to rebrand their gold card. so a lot of times when we think about AmEx gold cards we think of older, stuffier, old money and they really wanted to make the card appeal to a younger audience. So they were looking to feature photographers in their new ad campaign who fit into a certain demographic that wasn't necessarily the normal target demographic for the gold card. So they actually through their agency reached out to my agent who has a lot of us who are established photographers who have large Instagram followings--
So wait so you have an agent?
You have an agent as an Instagram photographer?
I need to speak to you offline. (laughing)
It's actually funny because I have an agent for my mobile work but I currently don't have an agent for my non mobile work which I also do as well.
Right! Isn't that telling of the moment we're in?
Right yeah for sure. So they approached me through my agent you know looking for somebody who fit sort of a certain demographic and had a certain lifestyle and as a photographer who travels all the time it felt very natural for me to be involved in it, it felt like something that would fit within sort of the brand that I have for myself. And prior to the commercial, they sent me to Iceland, but prior to the commercial I'd already been to Iceland on my own three times, so it felt very natural to be a part of it. It wasn't something that sort of shocked the people who were already following me, it was just sort of me doing my normal thing. So it actually worked out really well, and it was very weird to answer your question to be on the other side of the camera.
so you, where are you because you're beautifully lit and the camera is great! Are you in a studio?
I'm not actually, I'm actually at my dining table.
Oh man alright!
This is the little spot that I set up my laptop and I work from and we have these kind of big bay windows and across the yards are these light white buildings that at this time of day reflect beautifully, so, it's great for you guys it's hard to do any editing though!
And sort of last question, unless there's beyond this time for others or more if you guys have one, last question from me is are there other clients, kind of as a segue from the last question, but are there other clients that you're working with? You know like I was fortunate to get for the last two years gigs from UPS during the busy season and it was amazing you know not only the day rate but also it was so cool to think that I was being hired by a corporation to go out and photograph, do what I do as a photojournalist, but use my phone. And we did videos as well. Now will that ever happen again I have no idea. So I was wondering, I think it'd be interesting, what other clients, or have you found other clients, to do this kind of work for?
Yeah absolutely. So typically I do my work mostly for travel tourism boards, or airlines or hotel companies, because so much of what I do is travel based. But I do do commercial work as well and I've worked with companies like Bloomingdale's, Mercedes, Michael Cores, I've done a lot of stuff for these big corporations and whenever they approach me and they want me to take photos but a huge part of what I do is the social campaign for them as well. So the photos that I'm taking are getting posted to Instagram, and I've always been insistent that whatever I'm posting to Instagram be taken with my phone. So I have to have these conversations with these clients saying hey hope you realize, I know you're paying me a huge amount of money, great day rate to go create these amazing images, are you okay with me using my phone. And every single client has been okay because they see my Instagram account and that serves as my portfolio. So I think they're confident in the fact that I can actually create good work with my phone.
Yeah it's amazing huh. Incredible where things have evolved to. So I don't know if we have time but if there are any questions in the audience?
Hey how you goin? So when you do get approached by these companies obviously there's an intention that you bring with it, does that come into conversation with the brands?
Yes it typically does, just like any other creative conversation you would have with any of your clients. You have to discuss what they're looking for, what you can provide, your ideas combined with their ideas to kind of find the middle ground that works for both parties. Typically when clients come to you as a photographer they sort of trust your judgment and feel like once they commission you to be on the job, they trust you to fulfill what they're needing.
One more quick question for you Pei, and that is we were talking earlier about the caption that the words that go along with the image and I'm curious in your experience how much you add to your images, or how much the writing plays along with the image in terms of storytelling?
That's a really good question and it's one that I've been thinking about a lot lately. I think that we definitely want our images to be able to speak for themselves but every now and then what you write to accompany the image can really change the story or clarify something that the viewers are seeing. So for me, you know, there are times when I post photos and I don't write a caption, or I don't write a significant caption, kind of like the photo I posted this morning, there as a very brief caption. But I just returned from a trip to Myanmar and all the photos that I posted there had like a full paragraph description because I felt like I have so much more that I wanna add that may or may not being showing in the image so to me it's really important to be able to share that through writing, and I also feel like it really enables people to connect with you and your photography on another level to have that additional writing.
Cool thank you. Well Pei thank you so much for joining us!
Yeah no problem, thank you for having me.
Alright and good luck with your future endeavors. (audience applause)
Thank you same to you.