I am so honored by all the wonderful creatives that I meet in my community, and my dear friend, muse, icon and photographer Amarla is one of those amazing women that inspires me everyday through her passion and her work. She is a generous human being and whenever I get the chance to chat with her I always learn so much and feel so inspired. We recently did a really fun and insightful Instagram Live together and talked about our similar stories of not fitting in to the community around us, looking different from the standard Western beauty ideal, and overcoming insecurities through creativity. What strikes me about Amarla (whether she is styling thrifted items to look straight out of PFW or shooting moody meaningful portraits) is her extremely down to earth openness and generosity of spirit. Today I wanted to share with you a bit of Amarla’s world, and I hope you learn something and also get inspired creatively. Follow Amarla’s work at @theamarla and her photography @theamarlaportfolio.
How did you develop an interest in photography?
I started as a fashion blogger with my friend after I decided to quit YouTube. My friend Kali and I would walk around the downtown area of our city and take photos of our outfit of the days. I would always take more time photographing her. I enjoyed the directing side. I would (and still do) become inspired by Margaret Zhang’s direction and styling. My friend was more than willing to experiment with me and my crazy photoshoot ideas. When she signed with a modeling agency, I was her go-to photographer with everything. I guess she found my photography to be good enough because she would tell her model friends that I was looking for work. It then became a hobby and here I am now. I’m still working on building up my photography business.
What equipment do you prefer to use?
For my personal content, I love using everything I have! My DSLR and 50mm is my go-to. But now that I have a new iPhone, I’m shooting with that more regularly. I’m saving up to get a mirrorless camera at the moment because I hate pulling out my DSLR public spaces – especially if it’s for my personal brand. For my client photoshoots I always use my DSLR and a 35mm. And during those photoshoots, I’m more confident to pull out my DSLR in public spaces. I don’t know why but I’m weird if I’m shooting for myself haha!
How did you learn photography? Did you teach yourself or take classes?
I taught myself but I definitely learned a lot from being on photoshoots as a freelance makeup artist – especially lighting! I also learned a lot from my fiancé. He pushes me to try new photography techniques when it comes to both of my brands.
You shoot both portraits and flatlays and landscape photos. What is your favorite subject to shoot?
I enjoy shooting portraits! I love capturing emotions and creating scenes. It’s like being a movie director in a sense; my job is to tell a story. I enjoy directing and styling because it gives me a chance to get out all of my crazy ideas in a beautiful way. From start to finish, I have complete control from the concept to the editing.
How did you find your visual aesthetic and voice? Has it changed over time?
I’m still searching for it haha! It definitely has changed over the years! For my brand, I find that my aesthetic changes based on my personal style. For my model photoshoots, it all depends. For both, I definitely love to incorporate an art element in the final product. I’m inspired by French art (any time period) and sculptures. I believe that translates into my photographs either in the color scheme I choose, the story I tell, or even in the location I decide to shoot at.
Who are your favorite photographers?
Margaret Zhang, Tyler Mitchell, Anya Sandul, Pierre Toussaint, and Luis Monteiro
How do you edit your photos? How long does the editing process take?
I edit everything on Photoshop and Lightroom. I’m too particular for presets and apps.
The time frame really depends on each project. For personal shoots it can take anywhere between 20 minutes to 3 hours. For projects (model photoshoots and brands) it can take days. I’ll start with something and then scrap it and start over. I’m a perfectionist to a fault. If the final product isn’t how I envision it, I won’t publish it. But that comes from being someone who wants to tell stories. I always feel like a project is unfinished if it’s not how I see it in my mind.
Other than photography, what are your favorite kinds or art and artists?
My favorite arts other than photography are ceramics and sculptures. Any. It doesn’t matter the artist. I find any to be so beautiful. My favorite sculptures are Venus de Milo and Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. I love Asian and French ceramics. The details are incredible. I have a bad habit of buying ceramics at thrift stores. My apartment is cluttered with vases and jars. My fiancee and I have a deal that I can’t buy anymore until we move into a bigger place haha!
Please tell us about your favorite project or favorite photograph and why.
My favorite photography project has to be my very first photoshoot I directed. It was 2016 and I was inspired by Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana 2014 ads, plus Margaret Zhang was publishing these beautiful campaigns she worked on. I had the idea to try my hand at creating my own fashion campaign. I invited 3 models to help me out – one of them was my good friend Kali. I styled everyone and chose three different locations 2 hours away from where I live. It was my first major production. To be honest looking back at my work it definitely was not the best. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
It was rainy and grey the photoshoot day. The outfits I decided to style didn’t look well together and most of the photos were out of focus. I was beginning to use Photoshop as an editor and had no idea what I was doing. I accidentally deleted half of the photos and cried for a week straight. I was devastated and decided photography wasn’t for me (at the time). But I edited what I could, the best I could, and sent them to the models. A couple weeks later my friend Kali signed with a modeling agency in New York. I got a text message from her and it’s was a screen cap of her agency portfolio and in her portfolio were my photos from the photoshoot I deemed a disaster. Yes, not only did she send in my photos, but the agency decided to use them for her online portfolio. It brought me to tears. She believed in my work and in return, the agency was able to see my work – as amateur as it was. It gave me hope to continue to push my artistic boundaries. It’s been an amazing experience and I have Kali and her agency to thank for kickstarting my photography.
Who is your dream subject to shoot?
I would love to shoot with Caroline de Maigret. She is so badass. Caroline is someone who helped me become more confident with my looks – especially my jawline. She has striking features: high cheek bones and an incredible jawline. She just seems so down to earth and so rock n’ roll. I love that type of attitude and style.
PS – Are you are as blown away as me the these amazing self portraits Amarla took of herself?
She brilliantly came up with this Saint concept herself as her Halloween costume, and made it all by hand! This is something I love about Amarla – she always finds as amazing way to create beauty herself and using very little resources!
Check out her DIY steps below: