Emily Nathan is really our favorite type of person. An extremely entrepreneurial and savvy business woman who is an artist first and foremost. Beyond her social media prowess as a #POTD winner, Emily won this competition on the strength of her photographs, there is no two ways about that. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t stop there. She’s also working on her passion project, Tiny Atlas via KickStarter. It combines her favorite elements, Travel/Lifestyle photography, journalism and great design. We caught up with her to talk about her photography and the Tiny Atlas project and to get a better sense of her amazing and distinctive style.
Hi Emily, congratulations on winning our #POTD competition! Tell us about your journey with photography from the beginning. When did you first pick up a camera and why did it appeal to you
Thanks! It’s exciting. Everyone was so supportive of the competition, and I have never really asked for anyone to vote for me for anything since I was co-chair of my freshman class in high school with Jennifer Polan. So hooray!
My journey – let’s see. I started using my dad’s Olympus om-1 in high school, I think. I had a really supportive high school photo teacher (and the resource of an amazing high school darkroom). In college at the University of Michigan, I majored in English with a sub-concentration in Spanish (and continued to take photo classes at the art school) – and did a year abroad in Chile. I grew up reading the NYT at home and especially loved the magazine and features on photographers like Sally Mann and Sebastiao Salgado. I chose my abroad university because they had an internship program and I got an internship at a national newspaper in Chile. It was transformative. I was energized to pursue photography as a career after that.
Your photographs have a very intimate and gentle style. How do you apply that lens to a verity of subjects such as Lifestyle, Fashion, Travel, and Eco projects?
In general (and the goal is) I am hired for my style. If a client wants my style, direction and approach – and everything else lines up with timing and budgets etc – then we move on from there. All commercial and editorial clients will obviously have different brand looks and vision – and there are shifts that need to happen to accommodate the specifics of any job – but I am at a level where clients will not consider me unless they like what I am doing as a starting point.
It seems that no matter what you photograph, you have a distinctive style that is uniquely yours and identifiable. How long did it take to develop and refine that signature approach?
Wow thanks! That is a huge compliment. I do approach most assignments and personal shoots in the same way. I am very critical of myself as well, so anything that ever makes it to my portfolio will have to pass a lot of personal critique. I think for all photographers and artists, the work that is uniquely yours is a moving target though. My photos have had the same look for a while but everything does evolve. I didn’t do photo shoots with production for many, many years and now, while I might do a quick shoot with just my camera, I am as likely to work with a crew of 20.
In terms of a few specifics, I almost always shoot color (although I have a soft spot for old documentary photos of celebrities because they are way more authentic). While I don’t always shoot natural light, I prefer to have all my images look that way. I shoot prime lenses and I often shoot at a normal focal length because I prefer it. Sometimes there is just not enough light to do something we need to do (often the case with commercial projects), and in that case I try to use hmi lights and fill to mimic natural light, so we can see natural light, or interior light falling on our subjects how it would naturally. That said, I do like really dark pictures when the world is supposed to be dark.
You separate your work into two categories, “want” and “need”. Why is this an important distinction for you?
My website is older and will be updated next year, but those categories still make sense and they were a fun matrix that we set up. We wanted editors and buyers to have different ways to get to the work they wanted to see quickly. The ‘I Need’ section is for people in a hurry; does Emily shoot portrait, lifestyle, and travel? Editors need to find someone and we wanted easy categories for them to fit me into. My site before the current site also had more poetic section names like the ‘I Want’ section, and we tried to retain than languorous feel but be a bit more specific.
The colors in your photos are extremely vibrant, pure even. Is it a goal of yours to capture color in this way?
I love natural/available light and I watch light falling on the world and try to record it. That said, I have long-term relationships with my retouchers who know what I want and also help me as I want to move images more from how I saw them or see them from the reality of what the raw file shows captured. When I started working with retouchers, everything was scans from medium format film (I used to only shoot Mamiya RZ and 711 before I switched to Canon) and the goal was just to maintain the look of a color C-print. So there is a grandfathered-in love of color film prints that you should see in there as well.
Tell us about your Kickstarter project Tiny Atlas, when did you get the idea for it?
Oh man, please visit the campaign to find out all the details! We only have a few days left and are dreaming big (and close to reaching our goal!).
I started Tiny Atlas about a year ago as a personal outlet after I had my son and was only shooting for clients and not taking personal pictures anymore since I didn’t have the time for it. I did one personal shoot in Montana and came back thinking I had a magazine idea rather than a set of images to promote. I got together with my friend, Art Director Liz Mullally, and we started planning!
What separates Tiny Atlas from the myriad of other travel publications out there?
Tiny Atlas actually looks really different than so many other things, which is kind of amazing to me even though I created it (with a team). A big part of the difference has to do with our developer, who happens to be my husband, Jake Huffman. Jake and I have been collaborating on projects since 1999 when he was a photo editor of mine. We went on a date after working together for a few months and we have been together ever since. Jake is supremely talented and smart, but like me, he really is a harsh critic and only wants to see fresh and interesting work. He is a designer, art director and UX specialist but he has always built my sites. So back to Tiny Atlas, Jake came up with User Experience (UX) for the site and he is an extra creative guy. In terms of the approach with the photography and design, we wanted it to feel cohesive and lifestyle and personal, but also elevated.
Why was Kickstarter an ideal platform to get Tiny Atlas off the ground?
A lot of people are involved in Tiny Atlas already and that is a big part of why it’s great. We wanted to take the project to the people and see if the numbers of viewers we are getting on the site can translate into a paying product.
You want to go into print. Why is it important to combine the online and print environments?
At first, I wanted to get this project out and share it. So that was the starting point. But now, as a photographer and a reader (I have a background in literature and poetry as well as photo), the printed component is important to me. I have always loved magazines, and I am a total sucker for anything on paper that is gorgeous so it seemed a good way to both continue to spread the word about the magazine, provide something beautiful for all the contributors and get some money for the project so our team can get paid.
You have quite a bit of social media savvy as the winner of #POTD, with the additional success you’ve had on Kickstarter. How can photographers better build their brand through social media?
Oh my god, I don’t know! We did do a good amount of research, I interviewed people both who started magazines, as well as who did Kickstarter themselves, and I am part of a great co-working site in SF called Makeshift Society that hosted an event about launching a Kickstarter that was super helpful and informative. But we are really learning as we go. I have a lot invested in the success of Tiny Atlas because it’s my baby and I have become so passionate about the work everyone is doing on it and contributing. Personal storytelling seems to be the next frontier and I am happy to be a part of that wave as well.
As a #POTD winner, you’re getting some pretty awesome prizes. Are you excited about them and how do you plan to put them to use?
First the Kickstarter funds, then I can do fun things like enjoy awesome prizes!