Richard Photo Lab

5 Career-Defining Photos: Caroline Tran

In every photographer's career, there are defining moments. The moments that inspire an evolution in their art. The moments that open new opportunities for their business. The moments that remind them of where they have been and where they are going.

In this blog series, Richard Photo Lab asks film photographers to share the stories behind five frames throughout their career that most embody these moments. Today, film photographer Caroline Tran explores the shots that shaped her path as an artist, a business owner, and a mom.

Photo by Caroline Tran

Wedding at Oheka Castle, New York, 2010

This photo is significant in my career because it was the very first time I used my Contax 645 at a wedding! This was taken at the beautiful Oheka Castle in New York, where Taylor Swift made her video for Blank Space. This photo was later licensed for the cover of Loverly’s wedding planning book (if you didn’t recognize it, it’s because they photoshopped her dress blue).

Another reason this image was a career-shaping one is that I was four months pregnant at the time with my first child. With a baby on the way, I decided that I needed to tighten up my post-production workflow. I made a very calculated decision to shoot more film so I wouldn’t have to spend tons of time culling my digital images and editing them—I could get images delivered right from the lab that didn’t keep me glued to my computer for hours on end.

And now that I have two kids, that change in workflow is still really important in allowing me the time I want to spend with my family.

Photo by Caroline Tran

Wedding in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2011

This shot was taken during my first international destination wedding. That in itself was a big deal, because it was symbolic of the growth of my career. In addition, my son was almost one. Since he flew free, I thought it would be fun to take him. And then I decided to make it a family trip, and I brought my parents along, too.

Growing up, my parents put their all into providing for our family, so we never had much of a chance to travel. It was so meaningful for me to share my first destination wedding with them—together, this trip was a celebration of all the work that went into building my career to a point where I would have such an opportunity. It was definitely a reminder of why I do what I do, and what really motivates me to work towards success. My son got to play with baby tigers and elephants, too, which was unforgettable for all of us!

Photo by Caroline Tran

Wedding in Bali, 2012

After a year of bringing my first child on destination shoots, this was the last international destination wedding I took my son on. Up until this wedding, he was traveling at least once a month with me. During this trip, he ended up with a high fever that wouldn’t come down. It was scary being in a foreign country and needing medical help. Despite how nice the resorts are here, the rest of Bali is pretty undeveloped. We had to drive three hours to get to a clinic, and it wasn’t anything like the medical facilities we have in America—it was a pretty rudimentary setup.

That was an alarming experience to go through with a young child, and it really made me examine how I was going to balance my family life with the growth of my career. It’s not an easy process, grappling with prioritizing your loved ones and your role as a parent alongside your business goals and your path as an artist! But, it’s something that a lot of photographers go through, and it really does reshape your career, whatever you end up deciding.

After this wedding, I restructured my business to stay home with my son more, especially with the anticipation of him starting school.

Photo by Caroline Tran

Newborn Shoot, My Home, 2015

This was one of the first babies I photographed in my home. I made the decision to plant deeper roots in my hometown, Los Angeles. By staying local and shooting more on the weekdays, I got to have more weekends available with my kids. So, I started marketing more baby sessions shot in my home.

This shoot created a signature look for my baby and family sessions moving forward, and allowed me to deliver consistency. It’s all about light & neutral décor that brings the focus to the subjects, incredible window light, and creating moments that feel natural, private, and filled with love.

Babies and families are a big part of my business now, and I have a studio downtown where I do most of those shoots (as well as boudoir!). Some families shoot with me four to five times a year—it's such an honor to be part of someone’s life like that. And this was the shoot that started it all, really opening up a totally new arm of my business and art!

Photo by Caroline Tran

Jenny Yoo Campaign at Sunstone Winery, Santa Ynez, 2015

This shoot was for the Jenny Yoo lookbook and ad campaign, and it was amongst the first of my commercial work. As a film photographer, commercial shoots aren’t typically the first thing you think of—usually, you think that commercial clients want the control that digital allows them to have by being able to get a live preview of the images as they are being shot. But this shoot changed my perception… I discovered how fun it is working with brands to tell their stories. There’s teamwork and collaboration that goes into a commercial shoot in a very different way than with weddings.

While this was a wedding-related brand, it gave me a sense for commercial work. It’s also opened new doors and helped me prepare to work with brands in many different types of industries now. And besides expanding into another staple side of my business, shooting for brands has allowed me to work while my kids are in school. It’s all about that work-life balance!