Kristen Rice is a photographer based in Buffalo, New York. Her work is primarily focused on portrait photography, for which she has an incredible talent. Whether shooting in a scenic grove or in the hustle of New York, her subjects all seem to exude an effortless elegance, with Kristen’s eye pin-pointing those moments that bring out there inner strength and character while never divorcing that strength from the world around them. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to connect with Kristen after a friend shared some of her work with me on Instagram and she graciously agreed to stop for short interview where she explains the sources of her inspiration, the tools of the trade, and how to manage the work-life balance as a self-employed creator.
By J.D. Tomasson © 2020.
JDT: When did you first begin taking photographs and when/why did you choose to take the leap to become a professional photographer?
RICE: My parents gifted me a point-and-shoot camera when I was fairly young. It sparked my fascination with preserving people and memories and moments in time. I was always taking photos of friends at school, my family, our dog. Fast forward many years later and I was a now a mom with a husband going to school full time and a very young daughter who needed a lot of care from home due to a lung illness. We were really struggling to keep our heads above the water so to speak and I was determined to find a job I could do from home. I dug my heels in to learn everything I could learn about portrait photography to turn it into my professional career. It was an immense amount of work and an incredible learning process but it both grew my love of portrait photography and allowed me to lend support to our family both financially and with my ability to work from home.
JDT: What are some of your favorite subjects to shoot?
RICE: I enjoy working with teams of professionals / models / make-up artists and designers to create whimsical fantasy styled portraits. It’s wildly wonderful to be able to share a story we mutually created with an audience and to hear and understand how individuals react and respond to the images. I have to say I equally love working with children. Children are magical without any props and glitter. They never fail to show me who they really are and to remind me what it is to get lost in the fun of just living.
JDT: Do you remember your first camera and, if so, what model was it?
RICE: I absolutely remember my first camera as I recently searched the internet for photos of it. I discovered these fantastic retro ads for my camera from the 1980’s featuring Michael Landon. It was a Kodak Ektralite 10.
JDT: What camera and lenses do you like to shoot with most often?
RICE: I currently have a Canon 5d Mark IV. For lenses I typically alternate between a 50mm and my favorite, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. The 100mm length is a solid distance for portrait work but also allows me to come close for details. Aside from portrait work I really enjoy gardening and the macro lens is perfect for capturing floral images.
JDT: What do you think are the most important attributes of a good photographer?
RICE: Personality and patience. It’s vital to make a connection with your subject and to be able to have them at a level of comfort where they can let down any insecurities to just feel true to themselves. With patience a good photographer can see and capture the exact expression or moment that perfectly captures a personality or a connection that will translate well to the viewer. A photographer can have all of the technical skills in the world but without a personality that connects, there will be many subjects that won’t reach that level of comfort.
JDT: How do you go about finding and selecting models to work with when you shoot?
RICE: Here in Buffalo we have a lot of groups on social media where we can share our work and find other creatives to collaborate with. I’ve found many models and designers and artists to collaborate with these groups. It’s really an incredible experience when a team of individuals can put a vision together and each share a piece of it. Here and there I’ll have a vision of my own that I put together and for these I will often contact a model that I have previously worked with or I have my daughter model for me. Without contest, Ruby (my daughter) is completely to credit for my most popular portraits.
JDT: Can you share some of your favorite photographs and tell us a brief story about why they are your favorites?
This was one of my first portraits to gain popularity on the internet back in 2012. I took this just before Christmas and was loosely inspired by one of my favorite fantasy characters, the Childlike Empress from The Never Ending Story. At the time Ruby and I were spending many winters just as isolated as everyone is now in 2020. She has a chronic lung illness due to extreme prematurity so cold and flu season was a concern when she was still very small. To pass the time we would often dress up and take creative photos together. This photo gave me confidence to reach out to models in the area to put together similar creative sessions.
2020 has been a trying year for many. Anique Shaw is a Buffalo area model who had reached out to me earlier in the year and the timing felt right nearing the end of summer when we all needed an outlet for our creativity. Along with make up artist Amoon Lilith and designer Samantha Orcutt of Faye Designs we put together this powerful session.
When Anthony Vacanti first reached out to work with me I had no idea that I was going to be meeting one of my favorite human beings ever. We were fully into the beginning of Autumn here in Buffalo which can be frightfully cold but Anthony went all in for our vision of a sort of mystical lost boy casting spells in the forest.
Aside from photography I love spending time in our urban garden here in Buffalo. We’ve spent years sculpting and cultivating our own magical place to escape to here in the city. For this session I had a vision of a vintage styled fairy session in the garden. Emily Wu is a very talented young film maker here in our area and she was perfect as the mystical fairy I was envisioning.
This is my most recent piece of work. I collaborated for this project with my daughter Ruby and again with Samantha Orcutt of Faye Designs.
This image is by far my most popular and most viewed image and it strikes me in a humorous way because it is also my most spontaneous and least planned out image. I was feeling really inspired by Lagertha in the Vikings TV series and the snow was gently starting to fall here in Buffalo. Ruby was playing video games and I began to braid her hair in a Lagertha inspired style. We quickly grabbed a fur stole from the costume trunk and ran outside in the bitter cold to capture this image. Now that I look back on it, I love the idea of female strength , the warrior inside each little girl that resonates in her portrayal here.
The model for this portrait is Bridget O’Brien and the sea shell crown is by designer Julie Schworm here in Buffalo. Bridget is an incredible collaborator and finds beautiful gowns along with jumping on whatever creative vision we land on. This particular image just sings of a sorrowful mermaid tale and has always sat in my list of top favorites.
JDT: Much of your work has a distinctly “pagan” and nature-orientated spiritual flair to it. What are some of the sources of inspiration for your photography?
RICE: As a young girl I was quite shy and introverted. We grew up in the lovely countryside of New York state and I often would play out in the woods alone or with my two brothers dreaming up our own stories of adventure. I loved to read and would always dive into books about dragons, fairy tales, and especially witches. The tale of Jorinde and Joringel was one that always stayed with me. The birds in cages held by the evil witch whose power was turned when the enchanted flower was discovered. Carry all of this forward and I feel like I’ve held on to these beautiful stories of magic through a lot of real life experiences that were rather dark and heavy. When I feel I’m in a dull or stagnate sort of mind space, creating something beautiful can be absolutely emotionally transforming.
JDT: What are some of the most difficult aspects of being a self-employed artist in America today and how do you manage them?
RICE: Without a doubt it is most difficult to appropriately put a value on creative work. While I enjoy creating my visions the burn out comes easily if I devalue my work or don’t find the appropriate balance between creating for myself and creating for clients. Each year I take a break from client work to focus my time on my family and to work on projects for myself and then I return to client work each Spring. This has created a nice balance for me personally.
JDT: Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers just getting started?
RICE: My advice would be to find artists you admire but don’t constantly compare yourself or try to be exactly like anyone else. Follow what drives you and create your own unique style and look. It’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in a social media driven world that is just saturated with art and images. When you push forward to create what inspires YOU it will be most fulfilling and rewarding.
To see more of Kristen’s work, visit: https://www.kristenricephotography.com/ or find her on Instagram @kristenricephoto.