I will be adding more of Jen’s work because I am a bit obsessed but I loved this photo of Jen, her husband and her beloved Frenchies by Peter Mercado. If Jen wasn’t so lovely you would probably dislike her for being the whole package of goodness-talented, whip smart, successful, gorgeous, witty, naturally thin, but she is indeed lovely, the Audrey Hepburn of artists and I hope you enjoy either this introduction to her or finding out a bit more on this wonderful individual. I can’t believe she’s so articulate just weeks from giving birth, I was a hot mess! I hope Jen inspires you as much as she has me, without further ado…
I had the pleasure of meeting you and taking your workshop and was shocked that someone so young was so laser focused, business savvy and successful, it was very inspiring for me! I’d love to know a little back story…where you are from, where you grew up?
I grew up in New York City, graduated from the Brearley School and then went to Pomona College of the Claremont Colleges in Southern California for undergrad. My parents are Chinese-American and immigrated to the US to work on cancer research for several east coast universities so I grew up around a lot of petri dishes! They were very hands-on when it came to my education so there was always a lot of pressure to do the best that I could. But I feel like I have a dual-coast personality. New York City taught me how to compete and succeed, and California taught me how to relax, and how to appreciate natural beauty and light.
Can you tell us when you knew you wanted to be a photographer? Did you do anything specific prior to starting your business intern, classes, school?
I remember my father always had medium format cameras and 35mm cameras around the house. We would load film in the closet so as not to expose it to light. I’m sure I took a ton of photos for him but I remember very clearly one of my first favorite photos I took of a Beluga whale in the fourth grade on a disposable camera. It was taped to my parents refrigerator for years until it finally faded and was discarded. Then in middle school is when my love for film really started, I shot on a Canon AE-1 and set up my own little still life area in my home to shoot details of antiques my parents had around – honestly I still do that today! Throughout high school and college photography was a love but never something I considered a career until after I graduated, when I started working full time at an ad agency. I shot a few weddings on the side and I shortly realized photography could be a career – something beyond a hobby, something sustainable and fulfilling. I tell all my workshop attendees it is a big blind leap. Maybe it is different now, but I certainly wasn’t told while I was growing up, that starting your own company as an artist was a good, stable career, but it’s the best decision I ever made. With all the successful entrepreneurs out there and the wonderful photography workshops and books they produce, it really gives new photographers the confidence to go out there and not only create amazing work, but be able to sell it.
When and why did you choose analog over digital?
I’ve been shooting film for most of my life and for most of my wedding career as well. Digital is really convenient (I mean, lets be honest, we take more iphone photos than anything else). But I actually think there is a place for both – I think film is truly beautiful, but it doesn’t do as well in low light (especially color film) and the high ISO of digital cameras yields really gorgeous images in the evening – in the pitch dark! I think it’s the responsibility of the photographer to select the medium that makes the best image, whether it is film or digital. For me, it’s always been film during the day and during natural light, and digital, or black and white film, in the late evenings.
Photography is an expensive endeavor in any aspect-hobby or pro, especially with the type of analog cameras you shoot with, what advice would you give to someone wanting to invest in equipment that is just starting out?
The fact that film is so expensive and so limiting makes it very difficult for most people to shoot it – for a hobbyist who doesn’t make a profit from shooting film, it’s just a black hole of expenses. I try to recommend film to all my friends who ask me about cameras, but basically I’m asking them to buy a camera and lens ($3000) and then shoot a roll ($12/ea) and then process it ($25/ea) and also ship it to/from the lab ($15). So every shot you take is $3.00. That’s buying a latte for every single photo you take, IF every shot you take is a keeper, and when you’re starting out, they’re probably all going to be out of focus. There are some cameras like the Canon AE-1 that you can get for $50 at a yard sale, but you won’t get professional results. Still I think it’s worthwhile to have some film skill, teach children about the history of photography and the chemical processes of creating an image, and to capture some of the most special life moments on film. There’s also a lot of fun cameras out there like the Fuji Instax that take instant film shots which are still expensive, but develop right away and have that film look!
How did you develop your style and when did you ‘know’ this was ‘it’?
Style doesn’t develop over night and I don’t think it ever develops fully – as an artist you want to continuously grow and change – and your style will as well. I definitely have a strong opinion on the types of shots I take and compose. For me, it’s about the subject, but it’s also about the light and composition. Just because a tree is really beautiful and appealing to me, doesn’t mean I will take a photo of it at any time of day – normally I’ll wait until the lighting is just right, and I’m able to create the composition that I like. It’s hard to explain something that is so internal, but the best way to describe it is that you’ll know when it’s right. It’s also important to know when it’s wrong and be your own worst critic. Most of all, keep in mind that your style should be your own – try to challenge yourself to shoot differently from other artists and not let status quo affect what you really love.
Who do you look up to? Any photography or business mentors?
I would say the most helpful people around me are supportive photographer and industry friends, who inspire me, challenge me and keep me sane. I think a collaborative group of artists is one of the most valuable things to have in an industry where you work for yourself and by yourself. It’s a great way to support and mentor each other and grow as a team.
Any advice for photographers who are setting out to photograph their first paying client?
Be confident – even if your legs feel like jelly.
You are a natural and effortless teacher, are you going to continue to do workshops? If so any plans for 2015?
Yes! I love doing my private one-on-one workshops, and also collaborative artist workshops. I have a workshop called “The Artist Holiday” coming up in April which will teach photography, calligraphy and floral design. I’ll also be participating and teaching at other collaborative workshops with magazines such as Magnolia Rouge (Forage & Fern March 2015) and Cottage Hill. I’ll also be speaking at the women’s workshop called Bliss and Bokeh in Charleston. I love being part of these larger workshops because it builds a spirit of community and it also teaches that photography isn’t just about f-stops and lenses – it’s also about becoming a well rounded artist and surrounding yourself with all types of creative talent. My full upcoming workshop list can be found under “workshops” on Jen Huang Blog.
You are about to welcome a baby (a huge congrats!) How do you plan to navigate your new role as a mother and a successful (traveling) photographer?
I think the best advice I’ve received is not to assume any type of plan – and to go with the flow. One of the best things about owning my own business, is that from the beginning I knew that my choice would give me the flexibility of having a family and spending quality time with them. I can create my own schedules, and prioritize what I need to. Also, I timed my birth around low-season (the winter) and will have a couple months with the baby without any responsibilities. Although baby hasn’t arrived yet, I’ve already had a bit of a glimpse of what I might be like just based on the decisions I made while being pregnant. For example, traveling to 3 continents and 6 countries this year and shooting my full season – but doing it safely. I’m planning to shoot another full season next year – no way to tell how how it will go, but I’m optimistic. One tip I have for traveling mothers – bring your own pillows! I brought two pillows with me everywhere I went and it was heavenly.
Thank you Jen for being so articulate, forthright and so darn inspiring! We are all sending you blissful and best wishes for a happy + healthy baby and new year!
Miss Tristan B. is the proprietress of Besotted Brand and one of the writer’s of this delightful blog. She lives in sunny Seattle with her handsome husband, wonderful baby girl and two pups. Her lofty goal here is to make this a creative resource repository and to inspire you to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with your life.