Interview with Self Portrait and 365 Photographer – Anna Gay

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I first came across the photography of Anna Gay on her Flickr Account when doing some research for a post on self portraiture and the 365 project. I don’t remember which image first grabbed me but do remember surfing through the work in her 365 day challenge archives and being impressed by the quality of her photography, the dedication it must take to take self portraits every day for a year (twice) and being interested to learn more about her workflow.

So when Anna agreed to take part in an interview here on dPS – and to talk us through three of her shots – I was over the moon. I hope you enjoy hearing about how Anna approaches her photography.

How did you get into photography? how long have you been doing it?

I first picked up a camera in November of 2008. At the time, a family member was working on a 365 project of photos, and I thought it seemed like a really neat thing to do, so I decided to try my hand at taking a photo every day for a month as sort of an experiment to see if I would enjoy photography, and if I had the willpower to stick to something every day for a month.

I have always really loved to paint and draw, and I have an undergraduate degree in theatre, so the arts have always been an important part of my life. Photography was a new medium for me, so I was curious to explore it further. My first endeavors, though, were not self-portraits – I started off by shooting urban and rural decay, and pretty much anything that caught my eye or interested me. It wasn’t until I had been shooting for a couple of months that I thought, “I wonder what would happen if I photographed myself?”

Day 106: Descent

anna gay day 106.jpg

This shot was from my first 365, and I was still learning about composites, and using stock photos in my own work. In this case, I had an idea for a shot, but no clue how to execute said idea. So, I took my self-portrait in my bedroom, and then searched high and low for tutorials on how to add birds to a photo, and make them look realistic. The main thing I learned while working this shot was how to adjust the levels on the dove to match the light in my shot, and also how to add a drop shadow to the dove in CS4 so that the dove’s shadow would appear on my wall.

The more attention you pay to detail in your photo manipulations, the more realistic the shot will look. I also adjusted the color curves to bring out the green shadows on the wall behind me. The lighting in this shot is from my window, camera right. I also used the “dodge” tool in CS4 to bring out some of the highlights on my hair.

What kind of gear do you use? (cameras/lenses)

These days, I am shooting primarily with a Nikon D90 and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 without fail – I love that setup! When the natural light isn’t quite enough, I have a speedlight SB-600 with a small reflector umbrella. Those are my staples, and if I could only choose one lens and one lighting setup, those would be all I need. I try to keep things as simple as possible in terms of gear.

You are on your 2nd 365 challenge. What attracted you to this type of challenge?

Initially, I started my first 365 out of the desire to learn about photography, but also to learn about myself. However, when I started that first year, I had no clue how much my personal life was going to change, so I think I may have, emotionally, ended up getting way more than I bargained for!

I went through some very dark times, and being able to take and then process a photo every day gave me some sort of routine, a small amount of consistency in my life. The thing I really love about a 365 is that it is what you make of it, and for me, I love to learn new things, so for 365 days, I felt very fulfilled because, no matter what was going on in my personal life, I knew that I would learn something new about photography every single day.

When my first 365 ended, I felt like something was missing from my life without that pressing need to take at least one shot for the day. I started a second year on my birthday in March, and have been having a blast with year two! I post all of my shots on Flickr, and there is something really rewarding about taking a shot you’re proud of, and then sharing it with people around the world.

Day 209: Beach or Bust

anna gay day 209.jpg

Another shot taken during my first 365. When creating a self-portrait, I like to find elements to add to the photo that people will find relatable. I took this shot in a junkyard I found on the way to Hilton Head, SC. I was so excited about going on vacation, and I wanted other people to share that excitment with me.

I had such a feeling of freedom that day, and I knew that VW’s, the idea of the open road, cutoff jeans and bare feet would convey to my viewers that sense of reckless abandon I was feeling on that September day. Part of being a self-portrait artist, for me, is relating to people around me, so I love to find elements to add to a photo that are common ground for all of us.

What’s the most challenging thing about a 365 challenge and how do you manage to keep up with it?

Let’s face it, time is valuable, and none of us seem to have enough of it these days. So, it can be really tough to find that moment with myself to take a shot. Sometimes there are distractions. Other times, I’m tired, or sick, or both. But, I always make the time. I don’t watch much TV, I don’t play computer games, and when I read, it is usually photography related, so in my down time, I am able to really focus my energy on creating an image every day. It is all about priorities, and creating images daily for myself and others is pretty high on my list.

What tips would you give other aspiring self portrait enthusiasts? What kind of process do you go through in setting up and taking your shots?

First, gain an understanding of the basic principles of photography – composition, lighting, balance, perspective, etc. Then, get to know your camera. Make an effort to shoot in Manual mode at all times, and develop a foundation in understanding shutter speed and aperture. If you can get a grasp on those two things (and they’re quite easy to grasp with just a little bit of practice and patience) then the sky is the limit for you not only in your self-portraits, but as a photographer in general.

Invest in a remote – there is nothing more tiring than running back and forth when your camera is on a timer! Find other people who are interested in self-portraits, and get to know them and their work. You will learn so much from sharing your work with other photographers, and you will also find a lot of moral support in them, and that is really important, I think.

Most of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re going to have some self-portraits that you love more than others, and some of your self-portraits may be a little embarrassing, but that’s really okay, because all of us are, hopefully, constantly on a learning curve. Always push yourself to get better, but never push yourself to the point of being discouraged. You always want expand your horizons as an artist, but try not to lose sight of the idea that self-portraiture is supposed to be something that is good for you – a healthy exploration of self. As much as you can, be yourself in front of the camera, because that is what is so beautiful about self-portraits – they show everyone else who you really are as an individual. Self-portraits have the potential to be truthful, and all of us appreciate truth.

Day 115: Go With It

anna gay day 115.jpg

This shot is from my current 365, though, I started rotating my shots in year one. One day, I found that if I rotated my shot, it added a completely new dimension to the overall feel of the photo. However, as a general rule of thumb, I never rotate my photos as an afterthought – I always compose the shot with the final rotation in mind. So, for this shot, I tossed my scarf straight up in the air, the rotated the shot counter clockwise so that it would convey that sense of movement to the right.

Playing with rotations has been very enjoyable for me, and I find that it can add a surreal element to an otherwise very simple composition.

I’m also interested in your approach to post production – could you give us some insight into your workflow and processes in this area?

My process varies a lot from day to day! I try to make each shot fresh and new, even if I am building on a previous theme – I try not to do the same thing twice. Most of the time, I will wake up with an idea in mind for a shot, but sometimes I will let the shot present itself to me on its own. My camera is always on a tripod, and I always use a remote. In most cases, I take around 10 shots, load them to my computer, and pick 2-3 favorites. Then, I process the shots in Lightroom and CS4, and choose my final edit from those 3.

For the majority of my shots, I adjust the exposure and white balance in Lightroom, and will use presets to adjust the tones and color curves to fit the overall mood of the look I am going for. If I feel the shot still needs work, I will sometimes add a texture in CS4, and will do any necessary skin retouching. Sometimes, I like to process my shot, then walk away from it for a few hours before posting it online.

I find that putting a shot away for a moment, then returning to it with fresh eyes before making the final touches, can help me see the shot more objectively. Everything I know I have learned from either reading tutorials online, or from talking shop with other photographers, and have found that my process becomes more free-flowing the more technical knowledge I gain. I have reached a point where I tailor my workflow to the shot at hand.

View more of Anna Gay’s photography on her website and at her Flickr Account.

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Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Yes, I agree. I have loved her stream for quite some time and interviewing her was a great idea. Well done and I like the depth of the interview.

  • mai

    thanks for this article! this is so timely since i’ve just started with my own 365 self-portrait. i’m so impressed by Anna’s work!

  • Excellent interview and very captivating photo illustrations – thanks!

  • Caroline

    I always felt that one would need a lot of outfits and props to keep the 365 self-portrait project interesting, but the same scarf is being used in the last two photos and it’s hardly noticeable at all.

  • whoa, Project 365 needs a great commitment.
    i really salute her for that! 🙂

  • Jessica

    She has lovely photos- but I’m really tired of DPS showcasing people who photoshop. The second image (with the bird) looked incredible, but I’d be much more impressed by a shot that was completely untouched. THAT is true talent, in my opinion.

  • Great interview, I began my 365 on the 1st January 2010 and its been far more than I expected. Its always great to hear from others who have been there 🙂
    Particularly inspired that her kit is relatively simple 🙂

  • This is a great interview. Love hearing from other photographers and looking into their thought and work processes.

    Thanks Darren and Anna!

  • chinedu

    HOW DO I BECOME A PART OF THE 365 PROJECT AM A PHOTOGRAHER ALREADY BUT I WANT TO BE ABLE TO TAKE BETTER SHOTS

  • Karrie

    Inspiring. I’ve been thinking about doing some self portraits, and seeing others’ work get the gears churning. Thanks to you both!

  • This was a really fun read. So nice to read some of the background after following you for so long.

  • Juli L.

    Great interview! Thank you for posting this and introducing me to a wonderful photographer. I have wanted to do a 365 day project, but was a bit intimidated due to the time commitment, but she inspires me to give it a try. 🙂

  • Thank you for this interview. I can learn a lot about portraiture in general by looking at photos from people like her.
    Jeff

  • James Scully

    Love this interview. I would also love an article from Anna (or someone else) with 10 or so tips on shooting the 365 challenge or one on self portraits. I am trying – and failing miserably – to do my own self portrait challenge and my results are so far from the type of photography I see on Anna’s photostream that I’m quite depressed. Anna – help me!

  • Thanks for posting the interview.

    I like her statement on “You’re going to have some self-portraits that you love more than others, and some of your self-portraits may be a little embarrassing, but that’s really okay, because all of us are, hopefully, constantly on a learning curve”.

    I have been working on self portraits lately and I do have a decent collection of shots..some of which I am happy with whereas there are others…of which I do feel abit embarrassed with as they didn’t quite turn out as expected. It’s so true that we are all constantly on a learning curve.

  • I love the day 106 shot! It is amazing the quality and your aility to catch the dove in such a great position!

  • This is a very interesting interview. I love it how she describes that her process varies from day to day.
    Inspiring. I’ve been thinking about doing some self portraits, and seeing others’ work get the gears churning. Thanks to you both!

    I’d love for some of the photography enthusiasts’ to visit our site. We have many articles on Digital Photography , Business Photography, Camera Reviews, Photography articles

  • Awesome!! Think I want to do this for my next 365!

  • Jwala Prasad

    i am prfessional i had never thought in life that a photogrpher can have such beautiful photograph of
    his own without a person behind the camera. Its real tribute to ms Anna Gay ingenuity and technical expertise. Her endeavour teaches me still I have long way to catchup with her creativity and perception.
    I once again congratulate you for your great photos which are lesson for budding and professionals in
    the art of photography.
    Thanking you,

    Yours sincerely,
    J. Prasad, India.

  • May

    Nikon D90 … Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 … Can’t canon 500D do anything D:

  • This is awesome. I’ve had Anna in my contacts on Flickr for about a year and half now. She’s an incredible photographer… and really has an eye to see things “differently” than we normally would. I ran into her work through another INCREDIBLE photog I met on flickr. She started w/ a point and shoot a little over 2 years ago, and now has a published book with the Post Box Photography group.

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/postboxportrait/

    Great innovation!

  • Do anna have a facebook page am a photographer as well would love to get ideas from her

  • Absolutely Loveable! Each of the shots I see pull out an amazing, ecstatic, sweet, hot, sexy or some fashion or form of an emotional short story that I’d want to pen down. 🙂 Amazing work.. keep it up 🙂
    J.

  • Adam

    Wonderful interview, and she is a very talented artist who is now using her camera as her canvas. I love the creativity and discipline that a 365 generates. I’m about 40% through my first 365, and anyone who is considering it, I would highly recommend doing it. The flickr community is so supportive and I draw a lot of inspiration from seeing other artists work and really treasure the comments they leave. Thanks DPS for highlighting this particular project because I truly believe a 365, while challenging at times, helps develop and sharpen our photography skills!

  • Really like this interview. And I have a great respect for anna, not only doing a second 365 project, but taking such professional photos every day! I would neither have the time nor this amount of ideas.

  • The 1st time Anna commented on one of my photos my reply to her, was that I was honored and to me she is the most famous person on Flickr! After reading the interview it validated everything I do and it’s nice to see that what I do as a budding photographer is pretty much the same as a seasoned veteran. Doing self portraits is a wonderful way to get all those ideas in your and materialize into something visual. And the part about how sometimes you wake up with an idea…and it’s not working…have an open mind and let the photo guide you…i find that’ 9 times out of 10, I’m surprised what an open mind can bring to the table.
    Thank you Anna for inspiring me daily!

  • oh…And Anna’s reply to me was very humble, which made me that much more of a fan….

Some Older Comments

  • Kelly Kardos May 10, 2011 06:55 am

    oh...And Anna's reply to me was very humble, which made me that much more of a fan....

  • Kelly Kardos May 10, 2011 06:54 am

    The 1st time Anna commented on one of my photos my reply to her, was that I was honored and to me she is the most famous person on Flickr! After reading the interview it validated everything I do and it's nice to see that what I do as a budding photographer is pretty much the same as a seasoned veteran. Doing self portraits is a wonderful way to get all those ideas in your and materialize into something visual. And the part about how sometimes you wake up with an idea...and it's not working...have an open mind and let the photo guide you...i find that' 9 times out of 10, I'm surprised what an open mind can bring to the table.
    Thank you Anna for inspiring me daily!

  • TelefoNina August 23, 2010 07:29 pm

    Really like this interview. And I have a great respect for anna, not only doing a second 365 project, but taking such professional photos every day! I would neither have the time nor this amount of ideas.

  • Adam August 12, 2010 01:50 am

    Wonderful interview, and she is a very talented artist who is now using her camera as her canvas. I love the creativity and discipline that a 365 generates. I'm about 40% through my first 365, and anyone who is considering it, I would highly recommend doing it. The flickr community is so supportive and I draw a lot of inspiration from seeing other artists work and really treasure the comments they leave. Thanks DPS for highlighting this particular project because I truly believe a 365, while challenging at times, helps develop and sharpen our photography skills!

  • Jaspreet August 10, 2010 03:18 am

    Absolutely Loveable! Each of the shots I see pull out an amazing, ecstatic, sweet, hot, sexy or some fashion or form of an emotional short story that I'd want to pen down. :) Amazing work.. keep it up :)
    J.

  • jahdo rose dryden August 8, 2010 12:04 am

    Do anna have a facebook page am a photographer as well would love to get ideas from her

  • rdubz August 7, 2010 11:50 pm

    This is awesome. I've had Anna in my contacts on Flickr for about a year and half now. She's an incredible photographer... and really has an eye to see things "differently" than we normally would. I ran into her work through another INCREDIBLE photog I met on flickr. She started w/ a point and shoot a little over 2 years ago, and now has a published book with the Post Box Photography group.

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/postboxportrait/

    Great innovation!

  • May August 7, 2010 09:11 pm

    Nikon D90 ... Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 ... Can't canon 500D do anything D:

  • Jwala Prasad August 7, 2010 05:48 pm

    i am prfessional i had never thought in life that a photogrpher can have such beautiful photograph of
    his own without a person behind the camera. Its real tribute to ms Anna Gay ingenuity and technical expertise. Her endeavour teaches me still I have long way to catchup with her creativity and perception.
    I once again congratulate you for your great photos which are lesson for budding and professionals in
    the art of photography.
    Thanking you,

    Yours sincerely,
    J. Prasad, India.

  • Jeanette August 7, 2010 03:37 pm

    Awesome!! Think I want to do this for my next 365!

  • Digital Photography August 7, 2010 11:09 am

    This is a very interesting interview. I love it how she describes that her process varies from day to day.
    Inspiring. I’ve been thinking about doing some self portraits, and seeing others’ work get the gears churning. Thanks to you both!

    I'd love for some of the photography enthusiasts’ to visit our site. We have many articles on Digital Photography , Business Photography, Camera Reviews, Photography articles

  • Stock Photos August 7, 2010 12:27 am

    I love the day 106 shot! It is amazing the quality and your aility to catch the dove in such a great position!

  • Mei Teng August 6, 2010 04:48 pm

    Thanks for posting the interview.

    I like her statement on "You’re going to have some self-portraits that you love more than others, and some of your self-portraits may be a little embarrassing, but that’s really okay, because all of us are, hopefully, constantly on a learning curve".

    I have been working on self portraits lately and I do have a decent collection of shots..some of which I am happy with whereas there are others...of which I do feel abit embarrassed with as they didn't quite turn out as expected. It's so true that we are all constantly on a learning curve.

  • James Scully August 6, 2010 10:57 am

    Love this interview. I would also love an article from Anna (or someone else) with 10 or so tips on shooting the 365 challenge or one on self portraits. I am trying - and failing miserably - to do my own self portrait challenge and my results are so far from the type of photography I see on Anna's photostream that I'm quite depressed. Anna - help me!

  • Picture Zealot August 6, 2010 10:55 am

    Thank you for this interview. I can learn a lot about portraiture in general by looking at photos from people like her.
    Jeff

  • Juli L. August 6, 2010 08:42 am

    Great interview! Thank you for posting this and introducing me to a wonderful photographer. I have wanted to do a 365 day project, but was a bit intimidated due to the time commitment, but she inspires me to give it a try. :)

  • sumsion August 6, 2010 08:13 am

    This was a really fun read. So nice to read some of the background after following you for so long.

  • Karrie August 6, 2010 05:58 am

    Inspiring. I've been thinking about doing some self portraits, and seeing others' work get the gears churning. Thanks to you both!

  • chinedu August 6, 2010 03:49 am

    HOW DO I BECOME A PART OF THE 365 PROJECT AM A PHOTOGRAHER ALREADY BUT I WANT TO BE ABLE TO TAKE BETTER SHOTS

  • Chris August 6, 2010 02:51 am

    This is a great interview. Love hearing from other photographers and looking into their thought and work processes.

    Thanks Darren and Anna!

  • Cornflake Couture August 6, 2010 02:50 am

    Great interview, I began my 365 on the 1st January 2010 and its been far more than I expected. Its always great to hear from others who have been there :)
    Particularly inspired that her kit is relatively simple :)

  • Jessica August 6, 2010 02:18 am

    She has lovely photos- but I'm really tired of DPS showcasing people who photoshop. The second image (with the bird) looked incredible, but I'd be much more impressed by a shot that was completely untouched. THAT is true talent, in my opinion.

  • Nasuha August 6, 2010 01:43 am

    whoa, Project 365 needs a great commitment.
    i really salute her for that! :)

  • Caroline August 6, 2010 12:48 am

    I always felt that one would need a lot of outfits and props to keep the 365 self-portrait project interesting, but the same scarf is being used in the last two photos and it's hardly noticeable at all.

  • Nicole M. August 6, 2010 12:47 am

    Excellent interview and very captivating photo illustrations - thanks!

  • mai August 6, 2010 12:30 am

    thanks for this article! this is so timely since i've just started with my own 365 self-portrait. i'm so impressed by Anna's work!

  • scott August 6, 2010 12:17 am

    Yes, I agree. I have loved her stream for quite some time and interviewing her was a great idea. Well done and I like the depth of the interview.

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