Questions for you...You Fabulous Photographer, You!
Name: Sysommay Kaiphanliam
Business Name: Skai Photography
Location: Richland, WA
I am so excited for you guys to read this interview. Sysommay, owner of Skai Photography, has been in business less than one year. I might be Skai Photography's biggest fan. Her work speaks to me in a way that I really can't perfectly explain. Every time I see her images, I am immediately so inspired. Something always draws me in. I love the whimsy-feminine style, and all of the beautiful light in her images. So now that I've gushed a little, I'll let you get to know her yourself! Thank you so much Sysommay for letting us in and sharing a little bit of yourself and your talents with us! What a grounded and aw-inspiring women you are!
Meet Sysommay...She's the pretty little lady on the right. This is a family picture that she took herself!
D700 85 1.4 and 50 1.4
What is your favorite lens to use and why?
My 85 is my favorite. It's fast, sharp and creamy…I love it!
Do you use any actions? If so, what are your favorites?
I have found a niche in using the sun to illuminate my images to give it that soft and dreamy quality. A lot of people warn against shooting directly into the sun—but practice has helped me create my own action to bring out the subject as well as brighten the "muddy” look that results from shooting into the sun. At times, I use a couple of other actions to enhance the look and feel of my images (most notably, Florabella’s “color and haze set” and TRA2). The key is to use them sparingly. A dash of this, a sprinkle of that - it goes a long way!
How do you get your images to look so crisp and clear, yet so soft! (We are all dying to know this one)
To get things crisp and clear, I shoot manually and try my best to nail my focus. I also shoot at a very shallow depth of field and overexpose a few clicks to soften harsh shadows. This is probably the "softness" people are seeing. Once I have an image with great focus and beautiful light, I'll enhance everything in post—bump up the contrast where it is needed, do a little painting here and there, and then sharpen, and sharpen some more.
Give us one sentence to describe the style of your photography.
This is more than one sentence--but, I believe for photographers--"our style" is our voice--how we want to project our art, really, ourselves to the world. When I first began this journey--I read a lot of blogs--I mean a lot, and the number one topic discussed was always been that of "defining your style". I realized that my first focus had to be the search for my style. Now, 2 years into shooting while drowning myself in all things photography, I've come to realize that what I was searching for was something I already possessed. My style is simply a reflection of who I am--soft and delightful with a bit of whimsy, infused with rich color, crisp accents, romantic dreams and that little thing we call hope.
What caused your interest in photography?
I have always had an eye for beautiful things and have always loved expressing myself artistically. My sister, who is my best friend, would say that I am the type that wants to see beauty in everything—will create it if it’s not immediately available and enhance it if it is shy. From drawing, painting, sewing to dancing; for me, photography fit right into that territory. It was something I always dreamed of trying.
What is your favorite type of shoot and why?
My favorite types of photo shoots are ones with teens and seniors. I love being able to capture the essence of youth. I love the energy they can’t contain that just bursts forth. Around this age—they have some knowledge, but have not yet become as closed off and censored as adults. I find the sheer wonder, incredible innocence, and hope that they exude to be absolutely beautiful, intriguing and poignant. Teens have a delicate beauty that is unmistakably stamped into them. I see it in my own daughter and I hope that she retains it for as long as possible (without completely jeopardizing reality, of course!).
Tell us a little bit about when you felt that you were ready to make your passion into a business?
I started building my portfolio by taking pictures of family and friends. As I felt I was getting stronger as a photographer, I began charging a small fee. Once I felt my work was good enough, I turned my passion into a business. I've been in business for almost a year now and it is an absolute journey! I am more artist than businesswoman so it has definitely not been easy.
How long did it take you to discover your style of photography?
I think that knowing who you are and what you are drawn to artistically is the key to discovering the style you would like to portray in your images. For me—it’s wanting to see everyone’s original beauty take center stage—whether it’s a sassy and mischievous gleam or a quiet and feminine glow.
What inspires you?
Don’t laugh—but, I'm inspired by beautiful imagery, sappy love songs, lines, curves, colors, my three year old son’s laughter, my daughter's grace, my husband's touch, being madly in love, the sun, happiness, sadness—life. I'm a keenly sensitive person - attuned to my senses and inspired by my surroundings.
On average, how long does post production typically take you for one portrait shoot?
Unfortunately, I can never stay focused for too long! In a span of a few weeks, I edit a little at a time. All in all, it takes me a total of about eight hours to edit a shoot.
Do you use any studio lighting equipment? Or are you a natural light photographer?
I'm a natural light photographer. I love the way natural light illuminates my subjects. It's beautiful, real and at times unexpected - I love the challenges that comes along with it as well as discovering new ways I can use it to enhance my images.
What are you looking most forward to this year...Both professionally, and personally?
This isn't the greatest thing professionally, but I will enjoy it so much personally—my husband always says, "You live to work or you work to live!” I will always hands-down choose the latter. I'm looking forward to taking a long break. Yes! From mid-November until the end of January I will not be taking any sessions. My holidays will be spent strictly spoiling my kids rotten with mommy love. What does this entail? This entails the best of the best—taking long naps together and enjoying the wonderful meals that my mom (a wonderful chef) cooks up when she visits for the holidays. No worries though, I'll continue to put beautiful pictures up on my blog. The holiday season is rife with opulent colors, grand traditions and, of course, the blessings of family life. These sessions are the ones I will be doing just for me—filled with pictures of my family, my children and fun sessions I do, just for me!
Do you ever get "bored" with your work? If so, what do you do to shake things up?
I love what I'm doing so much that luckily, boredom is short-lived and temporary. Whenever I feel bored I let go of what I'm doing and just take a break. Sometimes my breaks last a couple of days, and usually by then, I'm ready to get back and create beautiful images again.
My belief is—it doesn't matter the tools used, the actions, or even the images that inspired you—either through a magazine or Pinterest, not even the pose you wanted to try; in the end, what sets you apart from other photographers, is the fact that your images were taken by you. They were taken through your eyes and through the connection and chemistry that you had with your client. That IS and always will be original!
All the time! I'm still learning to manipulate and communicate my visions and thoughts into materializing into my images. To this day, I make an effort to go out and "shoot for me" as much as I can utilizing anything that inspires me-whether it is my children, the season, a certain prop or even an image on Pinterest - whatever it is that inspires me, I will use it as a medium to translate my visions.
How do you balance your personal life with your work life?
Taking very limited sessions, no more than four a month helps me find balance between my personal life and my work life. It keeps me loving what I do. Plus, my children are my favorite models and my husband the best assistant—so if I should ever miss them—I just plan a family photo shoot! My husband and kiddos have been incredibly supportive and inspiring throughout this entire endeavor. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been so blessed as to not have to even choose between the two!
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
The beauty, luxury and grace of Monaco! I’ve been blessed to have traveled pretty extensively—from places as close as Vancouver, British Columbia to exotic locales like Singapore and Malaysia. Now I only wish I had been a photographer back then!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In life, I've been so blessed. I'm married to my first and only love. We will be celebrating our fifteenth anniversary next month (I was 19 and he was 24 when we married—when you know, you know!). Together, we have two beautiful children. Regardless of where life takes me in 10, 20 or 50 years, I want my home to always remain as it is today—a place where my husband and I love and respect one another, raising our kids to be genuinely kind, considerate and caring people.
What are you most proud of? Both professionally and personally?
Professionally, I'm proud of how far I've come in photography. The amount of knowledge I've gained in such a short period of time seriously astounds me. As an artist—you are always a little protective of your work and while you may think something is good, you never know until you get that first validation. Personally, I'm proud of my children. They are truly the sweetest!
Describe in one paragraph what a perfect day for you would look like.
A perfect day would be sleeping in until noon and waking up to a nice, hot, cup of coffee with extra cream and sugar. Then, authentic Lao food prepared by my husband for lunch, proceeding to watching movies in my PJs with my kids until dinner time. After that, off to a fine sushi restaurant with my little family, unfortunately there isn't a fine sushi restaurant where I live, but the ones we have will suffice!
What turns you on the most creatively and what turns you off?
Sunlight turns me on creatively. I was born to bathe in the sun! What turns me off is work? The day that my photography becomes work, I would more than likely quit. Simply put—I love beauty! For me, photography is all about the art of creating and capturing that essence that person is radiating in that single moment in time.
As far as marketing your business goes, what would you say are the most important and beneficial things to do when you want to get your name out there?
Things really picked up for me a few months back, in March, when I joined the I Heart Faces Community entering my photos into their weekly challenges. I have gained so much exposure through that website, at times, I am still in shock! Social media sites like Facebook, as well as, word of mouth have also been a great source of marketing for me.
"You're only as good as you are willing to get!" Make goals for yourself, stay humble and keep practicing. If you have an insatiable appetite for learning, one that never ceases to disappear or be satisfied, trust me, you'll be better than you will ever dream of being—and that goes for everything, not just photography!