Carmen has an insatiable desire to learn and grow – she started off in the industry as a model, subsequently becoming a makeup artist, and then becoming a renowned, Canon-supported photographer. Check out her fascinating story below.
Say hello to Carmen:
Where are you from?
I’m from Switzerland.
You’ve established a base in Manila – what factors went into that decision?
My wonderful husband is Filipino, so eventually we decided to move from London to Manila after two years of being married. That was definitely the main reason, but I also thought that it would be an opportunity and a healthy challenge to work in another environment.
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
I have always wanted to mix photography with art or have an editorial shoot done in Iceland.
How would you describe your visual style?
I seem to be going through phases. I started with moodier work, now it is becoming a bit more warmer in tone and I’m enjoying the exploration. I guess what is important to me are the expressions of the models that I shoot. I usually go more for a fierce look.
How do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration in different things – it can be a color that I see, a location, a particular clothing collection, art, a prop, movies, and the list goes on and on.
You began your career as a model – tell us how you transitioned to photography. How has your experience in modeling influenced your work in photography?
Back in Switzerland, I was lucky enough to have been able to land some modeling jobs, mostly commercial. It was a great way for me to see what’s happening behind the scenes. For the first time seeing how a team would work together and bring their gifts and talents to the table was fascinating. Modeling has given me a feel of what it feels like being in front of the lens, and it enables me to relate to my models now. At the time, I was already dabbling in photography with a point-and-shoot camera that I bought when I was 17. Eventually bought a Nikon 90d when I left my two years of law studies for makeup artistry training in London. Photography was still a hobby, but I had aspirations to eventually combine makeup and photography when I had enough funds to afford better gear.
Then in October 2011, I went to a Canon Pro Solutions event to see Lara Jade who was a speaker there (I had the privilege to have gotten to know her personally when I was assisting the makeup artist on some of her shoots). On that event, I got connected with Canon through Lara. I’ll never forget that. I really didn’t have anything like that in my mind when I was going to see Lara, but things just fell amazingly into place. Then later in November, I had a meeting with Canon and I was very fortunate that they decided to support my dream of becoming a photographer. So, I was given a Canon 5d Mark II and the 24mm-105mm f/4 to start off with. The support of Canon in terms of gear and technical guidance was the turning point for me, and I started my transition from being a makeup artist to becoming a photographer.
You always seem to be expanding your boundaries to further hone your artistry – you even studied makeup artistry – tell us about that aspect of your career.
I decided to study makeup because it was something that I was interested in, and when I was assisting a photographer in Switzerland, he was able to do the makeup for test shoots as well (that’s something that I think is very impressive). I learned later on while I was doing my transition to photography, how much energy and focus it takes to do both on set. I barely knew much about makeup when I started, so it was a good thing for me to study the craft to be able to communicate to my makeup artists now. So I moved to London in 2011 and studied makeup at AOFM.
I had a great time there and the school and some tutors offered me opportunities to assist at London Fashion Week and editorial shoots. I really enjoyed working as a makeup artist. I focused on fashion and commercial makeup mainly. I also did some short films at the beginning of my career, but I was mostly looking for those fashion editorial shoots. I was also very blessed to have met people along the way who have greatly helped me to move forward in terms of expanding my network. My first paid job was a CNN commercial and that was only two months after finishing the course. I also used to bring my camera to shoots and would snap away behind the scenes pictures while being on set.
Your cat, Panther, is quite the lionized figure, landing covers and commissioned jobs. How do you balance both of your hectic schedules?
Haha, yeah, I think I am still adjusting to that. I wouldn’t have imagined that he would reach this point, but I was hoping he would. So now, there are sponsorships and freebies coming in left and right, and I have to adjust my time to build and further his brand. Most of the times, I’m the one who will shoot his commissioned jobs. However, it is more than anything trying to be faithful with the opportunities given to me and make the most out of it. I believe like with all the other things that I have done, Panther has given me a chance to be unique. It’s also cool and humbling to know that he really has a lot more followers than me!
This is the cover shoot I shot together with my husband for a Filipino pet magazine, Metro Pets. I set up all the settings on my Canon 5D Mark III and put it on a tripod. Adjusted the light positioning and told him to press the shutter once I was ready.
What types of photography do you do? What’s your favorite?
I shoot fashion, beauty, and my newest addition will be pet photography. If I have to name one, it would be fashion. I just love going on locations, thinking of a story, the variety of garments, and figuring out what the color grading will be.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
Probably, early 2011 when I started my makeup training, but I had considered it to be wishful thinking since I didn’t know when I would actually be able to follow through with it. As I mentioned before, what really made me go for it was the support from Canon UK.
Of the photos you’ve taken – what are your three favorites?
I shot this on my apartment building rooftop on the 43rd floor, right before the security came up to stop our editorial, because someone from the neighboring building was able to take a picture from us shooting while the model was jumping on an elevated platform. Yikes…luckily, this was the last layout we planned on shooting outside. However, because of us, they closed off all access to the roof….
One of my first shoots when I moved to Manila. I love how the reflections on the windows gave this picture a cinematic feel.
This was shot on a kids playground. I loved shooting there because it gave me a lot of different angles I could shoot from, climbing from place to place.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
More than anything, I think you need to be passionate about photography. There will be times, especially while you are building your portfolio, that you won’t earn a thing. Be patient, hone your skills, be open to new projects, be friendly, get to know other photographers in the field, and of course, shoot.
Who was the most unforgettable model you’ve ever met?
If I have to name one, it would be Ellen at Profile Model Management London. I was so blessed to have been able to shoot her early, before she was getting the big campaigns. She was easy to work with, expressive, very quick, and nailed every single pose!
What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?
Never stop learning. The moment you think you have arrived, you’ll stop growing.
What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?
When the model isn’t someone who inspires me and she/he doesn’t fit the mood board. I much rather set my eyes on my model first and build the mood board around her/him.
What has photography done for you as a person? How has it changed you?
Photography has made me more and more aware of my surroundings. I appreciate beautiful sceneries more and even places that don’t look beautiful to an average person, just because I think it might be the perfect location for a new editorial. Working as a photographer has also put me in a different position on set. There is more responsibility placed on my shoulders, but also more freedom in terms of what I want to shoot and how I execute it.
For anyone who wants to get in touch with Carmen, here’s some contact information:
Carmen, thanks for taking the time to share your story with us! 🙂
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.