Just like any good romance, Rebecca Yale's love for photography seems like it was simply meant to be! Rebecca works to capture uniquely honest yet dramatic imagery, whether she is documenting the genuine emotion of a real wedding, the inspiring lives of families in Rwanda, or the spectacular array of animals on the Galapagos Islands. In recent years, she has been recognized by Brides Magazine, PDN, and Rangefinder Magazine for her fine art wedding photography. Now, Rebecca is sharing invaluable insights she's gathered during her nearly-lifelong journey to becoming a wedding & lifestyle film photographer that you won't want to miss in Richard's Photog Spotlight!
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Rebecca Yale: I fell in love with photography when I was 10 years old while on a six week trip to Europe with my family. My parents were worried I would get bored, so they bought me a tiny little Canon Elph point-and-shoot camera. I filled my entire suitcase with film and spent months after the trip carefully scrapbooking albums for each country we visited.
I was completely hooked, so they gave me my grandfather’s old Nikon F SLR, and bought me a couple lenses when I started middle school (because I was nervous about starting a new school and I felt comfortable with a camera in my hand). I was the yearbook photographer at my high school and never looked back. I was really lucky to have an amazing photography program in high school and wonderful teachers who taught me to appreciate film, the history of photography, and sparked my interest in aesthetic philosophy, which I continued to study in college at NYU.
R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
RY: I always knew I wanted to be a photographer, and I never really did anything else—it was more a matter of what I would do within photography. I’ve actually never had a non-photography related “regular” job. I interned in the arts every summer throughout high school and college, while also working as an event photographer, and then started my business right out of school.
I started NYU wanting to be a fashion photographer. After working in that world for two years, I quickly decided it wasn’t the right fit for me—I wanted to write about photography and follow in the footsteps of Susan Sontag or Roland Barthes. After completing my junior year in Paris, I realized that while I love writing, I couldn’t imagine living a life without my camera in my hand! I decided I wanted to be a photojournalist with an emphasis on wildlife photography.
I pursued that path for the next four years and still shoot it here and there, but found my true passion to be in wedding photography. I missed the romance and grandeur of fashion photography and found weddings to be the perfect combination of everything I love. In the same day, I get to be a fly on the wall, a journalist capturing emotional moments and stories that matter, while also getting to be an art director and pose my couples to create grand romantic portraits. I knew I wanted to take important photos that stand the test of time and would live on after me and I feel I get to do that through weddings.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
RY: One of the first things to draw me to photography was its ability to mold and shape the way we see the world. I spent my time at NYU studying how photography can motivate people to care about other people and places across the world and mobilize us into action. Travel photography is definitely something I love, but really what makes me happiest is when I get to share my photos and use them for good to positively impact and give back to the places I’ve travelled. The photos I took on a trip to Rwanda with UNICEF will always be some of my favorites.
I’ve also been working for 8 years now on a series entitled “Threatened”, which features singular portraits of endangered species in their natural habitats. The thought behind the project is to re-contextualize the way we see wildlife as trophy and change the way we see the earth as something to live symbiotically with rather than dominate. I’ve photographed a few dozen species and travelled to over 40 countries; I hope to one-day make it into a book and travelling show featuring large scale prints of the animals.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
RY: This is a really hard question and I think is a struggle for everyone! When I came back from Ecuador in 2011 after spending three weeks photographing in the Amazon and the Galapagos, I was planning on applying to the Fulbright Program in order to photograph Bonobos in the Congo. I decided I would photograph a few family portraits and maybe an engagement or two to pay the bills while I did all my grant applications. Then something funny happened—I started to really love the portrait shoots!
Later that summer, I attended my first wedding since I was six years old, and absolutely fell in love with weddings. I realized how much artistry was involved with weddings, and the work I was doing to “pay the bills” between my travel work became my real work. It was the thing I decided to throw myself into whole-heartedly, both creatively and business-wise, refocusing my time and energy onto marketing and promoting myself in the wedding industry.
I feel really lucky to love what I do, but weddings can definitely be draining and I’ve learned to be very selective about what weddings I take on to make sure my couples and I are truly the right match for each other. When I’m working with amazing, creative couples, I am creatively fulfilled by the work I get to make with them (and I know I’m doing my best work when I feel that way). I also really love doing editorial shoots, which allow me to flex my creative muscles with other incredibly talented wedding vendors, who are also such incredible artists! I am so inspired by the florists, planners, designers, calligraphers, chefs, etc. who I get to meet and work with on these shoots—they keep me on my toes creatively.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
RY: I love my Contax 645 and I take it everywhere with me. I actually just broke one of my older ones that I’ve had for four years now when I got caught in the rain on top of Machu Picchu, but it was worth it.
When I was in high school, I only used medium and large format cameras inside the studio and would bring 35mm or my digitals on trips with me, because that’s how they teach you in school. However, as I’ve found my voice and my style, I love bringing my Contax with me everywhere to shoot portraits, wildlife, still life, landscapes, and just about anything else with it. The Contax that just broke has been in the field with me in the Everglades, Niagra Falls, a cross-country road trip, Madagascar, Cuba, the Amazon and the Peruvian Highlands (where it bit the dust). I think it’s such a versatile camera and absolutely love it!
R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?
RY: My first memory of using film was on that trip to Europe, when I filled my suitcase with film—my parents had an "OMG moment" when they realized what I’d done and that they’d have to get it all developed for me when I got back.
However, the moment I feel that I first connected to film was two summers later when I was 12 and took an intro to the darkroom class at my middle school. The first thing I photographed with my grandpa’s SLR was my dog, and I remember anxiously awaiting for the chemicals to develop my negative and then rushing into the darkroom to make a print. I was so excited about it that I didn’t let the print finish fixing in the chemical bath; when I rushed outside to see it in the light, it quickly turned to purple and then black. I learned to have a little more patience and wait for my work to finish developing, but when I send my film to Richard and I am sitting by my computer hitting refresh to see if my scans are ready, I still feel those same butterflies in my stomach.
I continue to shoot it now as a pro because I love the dynamic range of film, and I love the Zeiss glass. I also like that film makes me think a little harder about composition before I shoot. I learned that lesson in a hard way from one of my mentors when I was doing wildlife work. An editor at National Geographic told me that on my next trip (which was shooting gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda), I was not allowed to crop or post process my photos in any way, so I had to pay attention to all four corners and every edge of the frame. It was incredibly tough, but I grew in leaps and bounds on that trip! Shooting film keeps that lesson at the forefront of my brain.
I have been and always will be a heavy shooter (Richard can confirm this); I used to always shoot 220 and have just had to make the transition over to 120, but shooting 20+ rolls of 220 is a perfectly normal wedding for me. I understand that film is expensive, but I always want to make sure I’ve photographed the perfect decisive moment (and most flattering image of my client), so while film slows me down from the "machine gun shutter", it doesn’t stop me from clicking a few extra frames. I interned in college at Richard Avedon’s foundation and spent most of my six months there digitally archiving one shoot, a 1976 editorial of the Fall Paris Collections with Lauren Hutton. He was shooting square format (probably on a Hasselblad), and seeing the number of frames he took in the field was amazing. There would be two contact sheets full of the same exact scene with the slightest variation in stride as she walked, or even as subtle as the placement of a pinky—I learned so much from being able to see his final selection marked in grease pencil and all the outtakes. It worries me to say that film makes me shoot less, because I never want to encourage other photographers to not take those few extra clicks, I promise they’re worth it to get that perfect image and not say to yourself "I wish her leg was just a little bit more extended"!
R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?
RY: The same negative can be scanned in so many different ways, and having someone who understands your aesthetic and colors is so important. I created my own Color PAC with Richard immediately when I began working with them in 2013—there was never any question in my mind to use another lab. It is a constantly evolving relationship, and I know I can trust Richard for consistently great color and fast speeds, because I still have the patience of my 12-year-old self.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
RY: I usually like to go to a SoulCycle class in the morning (if it’s a local wedding) and drink a few extra shots of espresso. I usually listen to my workout mix before a wedding, which always gets me pumped for the day. I make a new mix each Spring and at the beginning of the season. I love that mix, but by the end of the season I hate it because I’ve heard all those songs a thousand times at receptions. Last year, every wedding played "Shut Up and Dance With Me"; I think this year the song is going to be "Cake By The Ocean". Love it right now, but I am prepared to hate it soon.
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Urban or rural?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
RY: Warm—that's why I moved back to Cali!
R: Biggie or Tupac?
RY: Tupac (California Love!).
R: Early bird or night owl?
RY: Early bird.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
RY: Candy Crush!
R: Breakfast or dinner?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: Truth or dare?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?
RY: A writer that writes about photography.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
RY: "Do You Want To" by Franz Ferdinand.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
RY: Flying (because LA traffic is the worst).
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
RY: My clients would probably tell you it’s "snuggle", since I’m always telling them to snuggle or nuzzle each other on shoots. I’m also a big fan of snuggling with my adorable puppy, Margo, who is about the most snuggable thing on this earth. Yes, I know snuggable is not an adjective, but I’ve now made it one because she’s just that cute!
Success is a team sport. Do you think Taylor Swift does it alone? She may take center stage as a singer/songwriter, but to make it all happen she needs band members, music producers, studio mixers, marketing professionals, accountants, stylists, roadies, electricians, truck drivers, and a zillion more people that spend their life perfecting their supporting role to a larger product.
Photography isn't any different! You're going to need the aid of a whole slew of folks to reach artistic and business superstardom. So, who is a part of your photography "band"? See Richard's infographic below, or download a PDF.
So, you’re a fine art photographer—you’re not just capturing memories, you’re creating art with a keen eye for beauty, meaning, and timelessness. The artistry doesn’t end with the click of your camera, though! Delivering a printed keepsake for your clients is a great way to keep them buying after their shoot is over, but it also needs to preserve the high-end feel of your imagery.
How do you turn a regular ol’ photo book into a fine art masterpiece? Stick with Richard for our five fine-art-ifying tips!
Curate A Collection
Your book is like a gallery or museum in which you are curating a photography show. Be discerning when selecting your images. Create a cohesive “flow” through the pages of your book by strategically ordering images; consider visual elements like color, value, texture, composition, etc. instead of just chronology.
Preserve Negative Space
If your book is the gallery for your photography show, then its pages are the blank white walls. You wouldn’t crowd 50 photos on the same wall because each piece of art needs to be able to be appreciated on its own in addition to being part of a whole—the same goes for your book! Use negative space to highlight your images.
Look AND Feel the Part
It’s not enough for your book to look luxurious… it has to feel that way, too! Feed your sense of touch with textures and finishes that fingers can’t help but admire. Richard’s premium covers should do the trick, like the thick, supple feeling of our faux leather hardcover books or the lush, feathery finish of watercolor softcover books!
Give Attention to Artisanship
Fine art is distinctly cognizant of the finer details—pro calligraphers personalizing your pages, master ribbon-makers elevating your packaging, or bookmakers providing impeccable print quality (luckily, Richard’s books are handcrafted from start to finish at our pro lab by true artisans—we never outsource our printing or binding, and we never sacrifice quality to save a buck).
Leave Your Signature
Like any great fine artist, sign your work! You can bank on your fine-art-photographer branding to easily make your book feel like a high-end, exclusive piece of art. Try vellum dust jackets to leave your mark while still letting your photos be the main event!