Richard Photo Lab

Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Heather Waraska

Heather Waraksa has been in the biz since 1998, creating remarkable imagery that is moody, polished, and elegantly modern. In those 16 years, she's managed to cultivate a stellar reputation—her work has been published in Vogue, Martha Stewart, Inside Weddings, NY Magazine, Brides Magazine, Geraldine Magazine, PDN, The Knot, Style Me Pretty, and more.

Today, Heather is revealing her love of connecting through the camera, the yard-sale find that became her first subject matter, and the jobs she did before she went pro, all in Richard Photo Lab's Photog Spotlight!

Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?

Heather Waraksa: I've always loved the arts and ended up in Art School at Virgina Commonwealth University in Richmond. My first year in school, everyone was required to get their hands in all fields of art (sculpture, painting, drawing, design, photography).

I instantly loved the process of shooting black and white film and being in the darkroom. The smell of chemicals, winding up my own film in darkness (normally listening to Depeche Mode), seeing the negatives come to life and then the prints... It all felt so very romantic, and I was hooked. I loved creating weird art school photo shoots with friends. Oh man, the work was so bad, but I was so happy!

The number one thing that really pulled me to photography, though, was that I've never felt like the most outgoing person—but I have this huge desire to connect. My camera has helped me bridge that gap.

Image by Heather Waraska

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?

HW: The leap was definitely a gradual one. I waited tables, worked at an ad agency, second shot, and did odd jobs until I felt condifent that photography could sustain me.

R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?

HW: I love shooting fashion & beauty stories as well as travel.

R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?

HW: If I'm starting to feel stunted creatively, I do everything I can to produce my own personal projects. I love collaborating with other stylists and creatives to produce our own editorial stories. It's a win win situation! You're creating work for your portfolio that excites you while simultaneously producing work that will attract a more ideal client.

Image by Heather Waraska

R: What is your favorite camera and why?

HW: I love my Contax 645. Combined with the 80mm lens F2, the results are gorgeous. I'm consistently impressed whenever I receive my film from the lab. What looked great through the lens in real life translates even better with the Contax.

R: What's your first memory of shooting with film? Why do you continue to shoot it as a pro?

HW: One of my Christmas presents as a child was a Kodak 110 camera. I remember setting up photo shoots with my girlfriends and teddy bears wearing vintage gowns that we found at yard sales. We thought we were so fancy mimicking the models we'd see in magazines! Anticipating getting the film back was exciting. I still get that same Christmas morning feeling whenever I get my scans back.

I was shooting weddings completely digital for about eight years. I started burning out on the process of digital, and I was frustrated trying over and over to achieve a certain look. With film, I find that I shoot with more intention, my workflow isn't as heavy, and I'm able to deliver a product that feels more in line with my vision. I'm also constantly surprised by the dynamic range of film and how well it plays with highlights.

Image by Heather Waraska

R: Why is it important to have continuous communication with your lab(s)?

HW: Labs aren't mind readers! That's why it's necessary to have open communication with your lab. Establishing a Color PAC with Richard required both myself and the lab to fine tune together. How someone views color and light can be really subjective, so it's vital to have a lab that is willing to help get you from A to B.

R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?

HW: I'm such a planner that sometimes it's overload. I still get butterflies and jitters before every single wedding, so anything I can do to chill out and turn off is beneficial for getting me into a more creative state. Some pre-shoot things that help me are ritual baths, using oils that calm, meditation, yoga, and rest.

Image by Heather Waraska

R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?

HW: Savory.

R: Chocolate or vanilla?

HW: Chocolate.

R: Dogs or cats?

HW: Dogs.

R: Urban or rural?

HW: Rural.

R: Modern or vintage?

HW: That's too hard Why not both?

R: Warm weather or cold weather?

HW: Warm weather.

R: Biggie or Tupac?

HW: Biggie.

R: Early bird or night owl?

HW: Night Owl.

R: Crossword or Sudoku?

HW: Crossword.

R: Breakfast or dinner?

HW: Dinner.

R: Batman or Superman?

HW: Batman.

R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?

HW: Historical Non-fiction.

R: Comedy or Drama?

HW: Drama.

R: Truth or dare?

HW: Truth.

Image by Heather Waraska

R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be when you grow up?

HW: I'm a huge animal lover so maybe an animal sanctuary owner or an herbalist.

R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?

HW: "Juicy" by Biggie and old school, dirty south bass.

R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?

HW: Time travel seems like it could get too messy. I'll go with healing through shamanism.

R: What is your favorite word, and why?

HW: "Glockenspiel". It sounds like a muscular word that's comfortable in it's skin. Unapologetic and doesn't take itself too seriously, even with it's awkwardness. Aaaand it's so fun to say!