Q & A - My Biggest Career Failure, Current Lighting Setups ...


Questions taken from Q&A- Session 1


Sarah: Hey Karen, do you use VSCO presets outside of Instagram and in your commercial work at all, or do you color all your images from scratch?

I interchange between VSCO and personal color toning, depending on the image. For both commercial & personal work, I always start with presets in Lightroom (whether it's VSCO or my own personally developed presets), and then I color correct & adjust exposure on the image before taking it into Photoshop for more in-depth color toning. 


Zizi: Could you please teach us top tips you've learned while shooting or editing. I'm from a small town so I have no photographers to shadow and it's hard to search for good tips when you don't know what you're exactly looking for

One thing a photographer taught me when I was just an intern is to "look at your subject's faces." This holds true for any type of photography you do (unless it's products). Look at your subject's face and make sure it's not over or under exposed. It's easy to get lost in exposing for the entire image, but don't forget the main subject!  

Another tip is that for any given image, you're either exposing for the shadows or the highlights. If you're exposing for the shadows (getting details in the shadow) then you're bound to be a bit overexposed in your highlights and vice versa. But it's a give and take, and thinking about an image in terms of highlight and shadows will give you more control over the type of image you produce. I like to expose for the highlights and get all the details in the white. That means my darks are usually super dark! (This is assuming I don't have any light modifiers.)



    1. When did you know it was time to go freelance? Did you already develop a client list before making the jump?

I didn't really have a moment when it came to making the decision to go freelance. There's never really a "right time" and at the end of the day when push comes to shove, you just make it work no matter what. For people who are thinking of going freelancer, some steps I would recommend is:

1. Create a client list of both clients you can reach out to and ideal clients you want to work with. Have a realistic number of clients you want to book per week and start reaching out! 

2. Create a budget for spending in case you don't book the jobs right away. How much would you need to pay rent & survive, and how much would you need to book in order to live the way you want? 

3. Network and reach out to your community. Once people found out I went freelance, I started to get a lot of recommendations and everyone was very supportive. You'd be surprise by the power of networking, so don't be afraid to reach out and ask for help. 

    2. How much artificial lighting do you use compared to natural light in your flatlays and portraits (I'm guessing the images above were shot using off camera flash/strobe)?

I use a mix of both, depending on the light that day and the type of photo I'm trying to get. I've been using strobes a lot more just because I like how crisp and editorial it looks. 

    3. What's your set up like at the moment (re: artificial lights)?

Currently in this header image it is a bare bulb Alien Bee. But depending on my clients I'd either use natural light (harsh sunlight is my favorite type of light) or I'll bring my strobe or use in-studio strobes.

Junelove: I'm hoping to make a career as a Freelance Artist & Photographer. I've gained a small following on IG and people like what I post, sometimes give feedback, but how can I draw potential buyers/clients in? 

I recommend doing research on the accounts you want to work for / sell to, and contact them directly. It's much faster and easier to do outreach than wait for people to come to you. Also try using relevant hashtags and engage more (commenting/liking) with the type of accounts you want your brand to be associated with.


Whatever_Steph: Is there a moment in your career where you decided to go for something with everything you got and failed big time? Perhaps questioned your career path? What practical tips helped you get past that hurdle?

I love this question because I failed A LOT early on in my career. I went through 3 years of bouncing from job to job and in between that was a lot of tears and doubt. Now I can look back on those few years fondly because at the end of the day, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. 

When I graduated college, I took a job as an in-house graphic designer/product photographer for ties.com & scarves.com in Garden Grove. (If you go on their tie racks page, you can still see my photography.) While I'm forever grateful that I learned most of my PS  & LR  skills there, ties & scarves wasn't a product I was especially passionate about. So after staying with the company for about a year and a half, I took a job that I had found on craigslist (first big mistake) as a jewelry photographer in a small studio in DTLA. I was so excited because it was my first job in the big city. I remember standing in the middle of 8th & Broadway during my lunch break and thinking, "Wow, I made it. I'm a photographer working in LA." 

Little did I know, that jewelry job would be my first, and unfortunately, not my last "biggest failure." My manager was monitored my every move and complained when I took my 1 hour lunch, which I was entitled to for an 8 hour day. When I reminded him of that, he told me I didn't have any worker rights. Eventually, I couldn't take the abuse and I had to quit. But I was devastated because I had left a steady job with health insurance for what turned out to be a total disaster of a job. I remember sitting cross-legged in my apartment the night before I was about to quit, crying my eyes out because I was simultaneously scared for the future and angry with how damn hard it was to be a "successful photographer."

There were many more moments like that one, and even bigger disappointments and mistakes along the way. But I've learned that when moments like that happen, you just have to cry it out and let it pass. At the end of the day, it's all part of the process and you just have to pick yourself back up and try again. 

One of my heroes is Momofuku Ando, the inventor of Cup Noodle. He was an ex-convict and invented cup noodle in a shed in his backyard. He was 48 years old when he finally succeeded in creating Cup Noodle. Before he died, they had successfully sent Cup Noodle to outer space to feed the astronauts. When I visited the Cup Noodle Museum in Japan, the take away message from Ando was, "When you fail, you try and try and try again." 

Is there a moment you could swear you wanted something and decided midway it was a much better plan to change course regardless of what people's expectations?

Yes, despite the skepticism of my friends and family, at 18 I decided to pursue Arts as a career. I had initially planned on transferring out of the Fine Art program at UCLA into business, but I liked Drawing 1 so much I decided to stay. It was hard having conviction for my path in the beginning because even I didn't know what majoring in Fine Arts would mean for me as a career. But I had to have faith that God had a plan and would lead me. These past 4 years has been a walk of faith, because I definitely couldn't have done it without Jesus. 


Thank you so much for all your questions!  Photography is not an easy journey, but worth every bit of the pain and heartache. For more of my photography story, watch my interview with my friend Lavendaire!

(And if you guys have any more questions, feel free to leave a comment!) 


Gear Used: 

Canon 6D


Alien Bee B800 bare bulb


Products Featured: 

Foam Magazine

Gold Spoon