Say hello to Sya :
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. Early on, a whirlwind of travel transported me from coast to coast. Fortuitous events led me to purchase a 1972 baby blue VW bus while living in Zion, Utah. This home on wheels allowed me to drive across the US with ease, touching almost all 50 states. This highly mobile life created an eagerness to grow as an artist and see the world. I have traveled the world extensively with my camera. Favorite destinations include Japan, Thailand, Bali, Maui, Guatemala, Brazil, Iceland, Cuba, Utah, Montana, and Peru.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
Definitely Bali, the streets smelled like incense and the people were so kind. But wait, massages in Thailand were a complete delight. In Brazil, the streets are filled with music and people dancing. We could dance all night there! The food in Japan was outstanding, so that might be my favorite. Hot springs in Southern Utah in the middle of winter are incredible. The landscapes in Alaska, Montana, Colorado, and Iceland are breathtaking. But really. This summer we traveled to Iceland for the first time and I watched a sunset into the sea at midnight on the solstice. That was THE BEST. We were celebrating my birthday and I was on a road trip with my mom and sister. I had dreamt of that for years. The amount of light during that time of year was fascinating. I was so excited I hardly slept the entire time. It truly felt like being on another planet. I loved that.
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
I am actually working on a big one right now. In November, I launched a creative education program for underserved youth called Upward Together. The vision is to build confidence and leadership skills by teaching storytelling through photography. The goal is to give these children a voice to tell their story. I will give each child a film camera to use during the workshop and discuss ways to capture an image by observing their environment, framing their subject, and using light. My first workshop was December 7th. I was extremely nervous about it, but I’m happy to report it was a complete success. The energy from the children helped guide the workshop, and I just directed it. I’m excited to design a series of images for clothing. This vision is encouraging me to have a more defined style and aesthetic. Also, printing my photos on huge panels of wood, etching my photographs on wood, and wheatpasting murals are some other ideas.
How would you describe your visual style?
My style is constantly evolving and is influenced by movement and light. Everything has a very feminine feel to it.
You are also a creator of motion pictures – tell us about this aspect of your career.
I am deeply entranced by the road less traveled. I always do what I feel and what I want. Creating motion pictures is my way to recreate the magic I experience and the beauty I see. I focus on whatever is most beautiful, touching, and stirring. My entire life has been massively affected by movement, music, and culture. When I travel abroad, my agenda is to dive into my creativity. 2012 was a very difficult year for me. I took several trips that year and the video and editing was like weaving a quilt of my emotions. I went to Bali in 2012 filling my days riding a motorbike shooting footage and nights editing. I’m mostly self-taught until now. I’m taking classes in Premeire Pro to refine my editing skills. My last client profile video was a dream. We released that video a few weeks ago. The story was a behind the scenes of the creative process of an artist in Marin, my friend Naomi Schultz. We were in her art studio filming her process of painting. The color was very vibrant and her work is really beautiful.
What response do you hope to evoke from viewers of your work?
My hope is to evoke an emotion in people. I think we are a thinking culture and I like the idea of bringing people to a place of more feeling.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
I’m always following the creative spark that lights me up. When I was a kid, I was making movies with my sister and cousin. Influenced by SNL, we would act out skits and film. This led me to purchase my first camera, focusing on still images. From there, I studied photography in college, digging my hands deep into the dark room.
What types of photography do you do?
Mostly, I’ve focused on portraits and have dabbled in food and landscape photography. I was in Iceland this past June and shot mostly landscape, which I really enjoyed. The clouds and sky were so gorgeous.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
I was about 13 and had just bought my first camera. I was grounded for 3 months for getting drunk at a party and used that time to work as much as I could to save up the money to buy a camera. I’ve always been drawn to this form of creative expression.
What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?
The digital age has advantages and disadvantages. With camera phones taking such great quality images, people don’t seem to value photographers as they used to. That’s one reason I am moving in the direction of video and edits.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Use your camera in manual modes so you develop a relationship with your gear and your style.
If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be?
Definitely Geishas in Kyoto, Japan. They have a grace about them and their life is such a secret. It’s so mysterious – I’m fascinated.
Who do you want to give a shoutout to?
My photo retoucher, Salomón Sarmiento, is incredible. I’m definitely a big picture person so details like retouching is very difficult for me. He always executes my projects perfectly.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?
Have clear ideas and be flexible to what each experience has to offer. That’s where the magic happens.
What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?
Right now, everything has to do with the people involved in the project. My idea of a successful shoot is when the team feels excited to be a part of the creative process and has a good time together. I think the images can reflect that experience.
How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?
I focus on creating an experience so my model and creative team feel at ease. I also ask A LOT of questions to get know each person, which cultivates connection and allows people to feel more comfortable. Learning to listen has been one of the most valuable skills I’ve acquired.
What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?
My biggest setback for the past decade is owning and operating another business, which takes a great deal of my energy. I have gone back and forth between the two since 2009 when I shot images for a vegan cookbook. I have a lot more help now so projects consist of more fluidity and momentum, which is fantastic.
How do you express yourself through your photography?
My style is very feminine. I connect and process emotions through my work.
What photography advice do you wish you had when you were first starting out?
Don’t care what anyone else thinks. Be completely dedicated and committed to what you do for yourself and don’t let anything get in your way. Make more art while people are possibly judging you.
What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?
- Find the reason why you do what you do. Always connect to that when you need inspiration.
- Feel a sense of inward, quiet confidence. Social media likes or the lack of them can be fleeting, resulting in a downward spiral.
- Always put out new work – see your voice as a powerful way to shape and influence your world.
What kind of gear do you have?
I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark 111 and a few canon L series lenses. Right now, I really love my wide angle, 16-35 mm. From a storytelling point of view, for me, wide angle lenses do a better job than any other.
What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
When approaching your work and developing a style, test your lighting as much as possible. I spend more time preparing my lighting setup for a shoot than I do shooting.
What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
Always look at images to help you create your unique style. Focus on creating a workflow that continues to inspire you. I constantly build boards on platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest so I can better approach what’s next and how I want to develop my ideas.
Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?
Right now, I feel compelled to use the art that moves through me for social change. That has resulted in Upward Together.
What is your most life-changing event?
I’ve had all of my possessions stolen more than once. It has happened while I’ve been asleep and I wake up to my life being completely different. It has been challenging to recover from experiences like this. I had my computer, all my camera gear and hard drives stolen while traveling in Brazil earlier this year.
What has photography done for you as a person? How has it changed you?
In college, I spent hours a day developing film and printing images in the darkroom. I was taking photo classes and I was also the photo editor of my college newspaper. There was something about the strong smell of the chemicals and the literal process of turning a negative to positive that really struck me. That impacted my way of relating and seeing the world.
Who’s your biggest hero in your life?
Definitely my parents. I feel very lucky to say that.
What’s one of your biggest fears?
Flying in an airplane.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
So many things – I’ve spent my life being very impulsive and this has led me down some very crazy paths.
For anyone that wants to get in touch with Sya, here’s some contact information:
Sya, thank you for sharing your story with us! 🙂
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Also, remember to download the FStop app for iPhone here!