WHA Creatives: Melly Lee—Photographer
Melly is an adventure-seeking conceptual, portrait photographer based in Los Angeles and an early WHA Pioneer. I met her even before the initial spark of WHA, but she’s been taking photos for as far as I could remember. Aside from her portrait shots, which she’s always managed to splash a bit of quirkiness to make each one of them standout, I’ve been really enjoying her scenery photographs as she travels across the state and overseas. Glad to have the opportunity to collaborate with her once more using some of the new shots she’s taken over the past few trips.
I’ve been frequenting Chimney Coffee in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles. It’s has a quaint vibe, your hipster aesthetics (exposed brick, contemporary chairs, roasted coffee, etc,) awesome meals and not just cold cut sandwiches –actual hot meals like burgers. One of my friends is also a barista there so it’s a nice reason to visit. The only downside is that there’s limited wi-fi. If need more wi-fi time then you have to buy another $$ drink. In a way though it forces me to be productive and stay on track.
Why and how did you get into photography?
I picked up a camera early in elementary school taking photos for the school newspaper and yearbook. Growing up I was extremely shy and taking pictures was a way for me to come out of my shell and connect with others. I continued to shoot in a photojournalistic style throughout the rest of my academic career. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I decided to go dive head first into photography. For me it’s all about connecting with people, finding common ground, and telling a good story.
“…life is too short to not go all out on things that you’re passionate about.”
How long have you been shooting and what gear do you shoot with?
That’s always a hard question to answer! I could say that I’ve been shooting my entire life –but I probably didn’t know what I was doing! I really starting getting into shooting and being intensional with my shots during college. I found out what I actually liked shooting a couple years later. Then I discovered my own style of shooting another year later. Professionally I’ve been shooting for 5+ years.
Right now my go-to workhouse camera is the Nikon D800. All my portraits and client work are photographed on that system. For everything else I’ll use anything and everything! Through my blog I’ve gotten to experiment and write reviews for the Sony A7 series, Fujifilm’s X series, Olympus’s OM-D, and Canon’s Mark-Whatever. What I learned from that experience is that it really doesn’t matter what you use to shoot. What matters more so is when and where you’re going to be photographing. Don’t get me wrong though, It does exponentially help when you chose the right camera for the job! For instance I took the Fujifilm X-T1 over my Nikon D800 on a backpacking trip up to Clouds Rest because it was best balance for weight and low light performance.
What was the moment when you decided to pursue this professionally?
It hit me in two waves. The first was when I couldn’t get over the dreaded organic chemistry series as a Biological Science major in college. It didn’t matter how much I studied. I couldn’t compete with my classmates simply because they were passionate than I was. With that I left my major and switched over to Studio Arts. The second wave hit me when I was in New York during Hurricane Sandy. I was working at a startup company at the time and wasn’t very happy with how life had become. Then I found myself stuck in Lower Manhattan for over a week without power. That was enough of an experience make make realize that life is too short to not go all out on things that you’re passionate about. When I finally got back home I quit my job and went full time with photography.
What’s the toughest challenge you face as a photographer?
There are so many challenges as a photographer, that’s probably why I like photography so much. You’re constantly finding new challenges and new ways to grow as both an artist and an individual. A challenge I feel most photographers (or any creative entrepreneur) can relate to is finding that delicate balance between doing you like and doing needs to be done in order to make a living. Being a photographer isn’t just shooting pictures. It’s also handling your accounting, managing a team, being a retoucher, acting as your own secretary, the list can go on!
Any photographer(s) you lookup to?
There are so many incredible people out there to look up to! Ok WHA I’m just going to give a list:
1 – Richard Avedon, his work embodies what I hope to accomplish as a portrait photographer. In his quote below he describes how you need to engage people to take an honest portrait of them. You can’t just point a camera at a person and expect a great photo to come out. You have to be engaging as a person and director.
“I often feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to a doctor or a fortune teller — to find out how they are. So they’re dependent on me. I have to engage them. Otherwise there’s nothing to photograph. The concentration has to come from me and involve them. Sometimes the forces of it grows so strong that sounds in the studio go unheard. Time stops. We share a brief, intense intimacy. But it’s unearned. It has no past …no future. And when the sitting is over -when the picture is done -theres nothing left except the photograph.” – Richard Avedon
2 – Casey Neistat, ok he’s not really a photographer. However he inspires and reminds me that you can always find a way to tell an interesting story even in the most mundane situations.
3 – Emily Shur, her work is both quirky and calming at the same time. A smile will creep across your entire face when you browse through her photographs. Her images also always have amazing color compositions.
Are you working on any personal projects you’d like share?
Right now I’ve been spending at lot of time writing ideas and pitches to bring together my love of portraiture with my love of outdoor adventures. I’m currently obsessed with seeing the world and would like to create a series/book to inspire others to experience the world around them or give them the experience of traveling if their unable to.
You’ve been traveling quite often, any particular spot that’s the most photogenic?
It’s easy to browse online and look internationally for a beautiful spot, but recently I’ve been exploring good ole’ America. Turn’s out its anthem song is right. America is beautiful! For instance did you know we have salt flats like the ones in Bolivia? They’re gorgeous!
I’ll be backpacking for a month in New Zealand and Australia in the fall this year. I’m almost certain that I will cry over how photogenic their landscapes will be!
What advice would you give a novice in the field?
I’m going to borrow from Nike and say: just do it. If you want to shoot portraits then pick up a camera and start shooting portraits. If you want to want to shoot weddings then just start shooting weddings. If you want to become a better shooter then do it. Granted I’m leaving out a lot of the “how,” but I’m a firm believer in that if you really want something you’ll find a way to make it happen. Also all good things take time. You’ll have to keep working on your craft day in and day out. And to be honest some days are a lot crappier than others. Take for instance the month of April aka tax season. You may find yourself very, very poor and wondering why didn’t you take that nice and cosy 9 to 5 job. However if you really like photography, find an awesome group of friends and supporters, and are grateful for the little things you’ll enjoy the journey more than the actual destination.
Latest Collaboration with WHA