Helena Price

Silicon Valley Photographer / Creator, Techies Project

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON June 10, 2016

Discussion

Helena Price@helena · Photographer
Hi! I'm Helena Price, an editorial, commercial and portrait photographer based in San Francisco, CA. I'm also the creator of Techies, a photo project documenting the stories of underrepresented tech employees in Silicon Valley. I worked in tech for four years before quitting to become a full-time photographer, and most of my work is still focused on Silicon Valley. If you have questions about the photo biz, what it's like being a photographer in SV, the process of making Techies or anything else really, ask away! I'm an open book.
Steven Sinofsky@stevesi · a16z
Amazing work. Can you maybe touch on your process for how you go from the candidate submissions to getting to know your subjects well-enough to capture them so wonderfully? WHat have subjects said to you about their portraits?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@stevesi Thank you!! Portraits are a really interesting psychological challenge. In most scenarios I have about 30 seconds to make a complete stranger feel super comfortable, make them my bestie, make them feel like a babe and make them feel like they are just hanging out and not in a shoot, in hopes of capturing them in a way that feels genuine to who they are. So with Techies, I was actually able to put in a considerable amount of time before the shoots to establish some sort of trust. I spent time researching every subject, both through pre-interview submissions and stalking them on the internet, so I could do custom interviews with everyone. I chose to do all 100 interviews prior to starting the photoshoots, so I would have that facetime with the subjects and really get to know them well before we sat down in the studio. On the shoot days, I actually had the subjects collaboratively go through the photos with me as I shot so that they could pick the shots that they felt captured them and their personalities the best, and they could leave the studio with peace of mind that we got a photograph they liked. They were the ones that chose the photos you see in the project. The most common feedback I've received from the subjects is that the photos accurately capture who they are as people, which is my ultimate goal as portrait photographer. + Obviously people are pumped to have a free photoshoot, which is something most people don't ever pay for in their lifetime. I think for most people though it's less about the portraits specifically and how being vulnerable about their experiences for the fist time has really changed their life.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
If you had to build an Instagram competitor from scratch, what would be some core features you'd include?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@tomstocklein I'd do an Instagram clone but with no followers and no likes, to see what work people would make/life moments they would share if positive feedback wasn't a priority.
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
Hey guys! Thanks so much for having me. Questions will be open for an hour, so make sure to get them in sooner than later. I'll answer all of them as quickly as I can.
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Helena, I am a fan of your work. How did exploring this area interest you? I like the campaign where you are exploring new faces of Tech how can i be a part of your project?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@neeeharika Hi! Thanks so much. I've always been obsessed with tech, and I worked in Silicon Valley for several years before making the jump to full-time photographer. It's an industry that has impacted my life in a million ways - it taught me everything I know and shaped who I am as a person. I also spent a considerable amount of time in tech feeling very isolated as someone who did not fit the role of a typical techie, from a gender, educational and socioeconomic standpoint. I've been wanting to do a project like this for about 10 years now and now felt like the right time to really dig in on tech culture specifically, both as delayed therapy for myself and for others who have felt isolated in the industry. As far as being a part, you can apply here - http://www.techiesproject.com/su... I'll be starting a new batch of subjects soon.
Bo Ren@bosefina · Product Manager, Tumblr
@helena @neeeharika Your project has been "delayed therapy" for all us :)
Michael Ramirez@shoeboxdnb · LabelGrid / Promo.ly / DNBRadio
Any favorite apps / products related to photog on Product Hunt?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@shoeboxdnb I'm pretty purist and don't dabble a ton into photo apps, but the one I still use on my phone for editing is Darkroom.
Sasha Nemchonok@diceinsights · Graphic Designer, DHI Group Inc
I know you worked with Uber in Miami. Just interested to hear your thoughts on their decision to pull service from Austin -- how long is it going to last? How is it going to affect SXSW? Do you think it was the right call or should they have gone ahead and fingerprinted their drivers?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@cookiesatsunset When I worked with Uber to help legalize the service in Miami, I was able to do a project similar in format to Techies, interviewing people all over Miami about what their current state of transportation was like in the city (ie corrupt cab and private limo services, drunk driving, dangerous public transportation) and how competitive transportation services could change the fabric of a city and change lives for the better. Regardless of how people feel about Uber/Lyft/etc, it boggles my mind that a city thinks their people are better off without competitive transportation options. I don't have any intel into what will happen, but politicians who support regressive policy in conflict with the preferences of the voting public probably won't be in office for much longer, and innovation will find its way back over time.
Sasha Nemchonok@diceinsights · Graphic Designer, DHI Group Inc
@helena Thanks for the feedback. I completely agree -- the shortsightedness baffles me. And in a place like Austin no less! Super cool work you did in Miami. Do you have any other similar marketing efforts set up in the future?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@cookiesatsunset Not in the immediate future, projects like that don't present themselves all that often. But I hope that projects like Techies reminds the industry how powerful photography and storytelling can be to start conversations and actually solve problems, and that format of creative work can actually be applied to marketing/hiring/brand efforts as well.
Sasha Nemchonok@diceinsights · Graphic Designer, DHI Group Inc
@helena -- 100% agree. I found your Techies project incredibly compelling and hope as many people as possible read their stories. Thank you for the facilitating the conversation and capturing the tech zeitgeist.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Canon or Nikon? Also, what type of lenses, lighting equipment, reflectors and other accessories do you use most frequently?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@tomstocklein Canon. I shoot 90% of the time with a 35mm 1.4, and the other 10% with a 50mm 1.2. I light with Profoto B1's - they're battery powered and incredibly nimble for when I need to be working fast on a photoshoot. I'll either bounce them directly off walls or point directly at subject with a large photek softlighter or a large Elinchrom umbrella with diffusion - basically creating fake windows. That or I'll use natural light if it is good enough. I tether 99% of the time and shoot to Capture One, do batch editing in Capture one and do retouching in Photoshop.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
On turning pro: 1) Within just 2 years of becoming a full-time photographer you were named “Silicon Valley’s Most Wanted Photographer". What are the main factors that contributed to your quick rise? 2) Given access to the same equipment, what separates great photographers from average ones? 3) Who are some photographers, cinematographers, YouTubers, Vloggers and other visual storytellers that you admire?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@tomstocklein 1) I think the biggest thing in my case was that I was the only photographer looking at Silicon Valley as a market. No full-time photographers cared about tech at the time, and it wasn't immediately clear that there was a market for photography. But because I worked on the comms/brand side for years prior, I had a hunch that there could be a market for it if the right person came in and created one. So I went for it. I also happen to know tech like the back of my hand, and usually know more about what a client needs than they do. So I was able to fill in the holes of brand person/art director/producer when companies didn't have them. Also, working in startups taught me how to build a business, and I knew that anything I didn't quite know how to do was a good search away. Lastly, I truly believe that to excel in a specific industry as a creative you need to live and breathe the industry. i.e., the best food photographers spend all of their time interacting and making friends in the food industry. I spent years in tech building my network and having a genuine interest in people, and I still spend a considerable amount of time interacting with the tech industry today. Relationships are just as important to my business as the photos themselves. 2) A lot of what I said above. To excel in the industry, you have to be top of your game technically, but you also need to be top of your game at everything else that is potentially important to your clients. Get the best tools for the photos you want to make. Get to know your camera and lights like the back of your hand - learn to make technically sound photos in any situation. Work fast and be nimble. Sell yourself and go out of your way to explain your value even with the job inquiries are inbound. Submit work well before deadlines. Show genuine interest in the people who are hiring you and make friends with them. Treat everyone on your set like a king, including your assistants. Be fun to be around. Be kind to everyone. Constantly build and nurture relationships, care about people, do favors without expecting anything immediate in return. If you want to be the best in the industry, you can't half-ass anything. You have to exceed expectations on every front or you are potentially replaceable. 3) Here are some of my fave photographer crushes. https://www.pinterest.com/helena...
Teresa Hammerl@colazionearoma · Socialmediapreneur
Where are your favorite spots to take pictures in San Francisco? :)
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@colazionearoma I'm way more into light quality than location, so I don't really have favorite spots, per se. I do love me some fog, the best natural diffusion ever, so if I were to chose it would be somewhere up on a hill in the fog zone early in the morning. I feel like Mt Davidson or Grand View Park are pretty great for that. Otherwise I'm just picking locations based on what makes the most contextual sense for the subject.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Easy question: What is the most memorable thing you have ever taken a photo of?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@harrystebbings Probably George Dubya Bush. (for good and not good reasons)
mustafa celaleddin@mcnationall · Computer engineer
In techies project which person impress you much ?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@mcnationall All of them. There were over 500 applications, and the 100 I chose are all incredibly impressive humans. It would be impossible for me to choose.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Helena thanks for being here today. What was your most surprising story that came our of the techies project?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@ems_hodge It's honestly hard to pick one. But I do think the biggest surprise that came from the project is Georgiana Arriola, who decided to come out publicly as trans and begin her transition DURING my project, BECAUSE of my project. It's pretty incredible to have a part in that.
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
What has been the most surprising feedback from Techies?
Helena Price@helena · Photographer
@andrewett It's naive Helena talking here but it's always surprising to see hate or negativity associated with a project that you put your heart and soul (and 1000 hours of work and a lot of money) into. People accused me of being a privileged opportunist, equated my project as unpaid labor and exploitation, you name it. But the good thing is that as a former Head of Comms, I could sit down before the project even started, brainstorm all of the shitty things people would say about me for doing this project, and make sure everything checked out - from my motivations, to goals, to ethics, to making sure subjects felt properly compensated, etc. Haters come with the territory of making work that is controversial and important. If I spent too much time worrying about it, the work wouldn't exist. + The positive feedback from the people in the project, and people whose lives were changed by finding the project, make it all worth it.