Monday, January 23, 2012


We are lucky to have Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, founder of The Kitchn, cookbook author, mother, celebrated food writer and budding photographer, join us today to talk about her Instagram feed. Sara Kate is an accomplished person in many regards, but it's her Iphoneography that has captured my attention the most in recent months.

Sara Kate posts at least once a day and manages to capture her surroundings within striking compositions, usually black and white. Her vision reminds me of photography greats from the 20th century - Brassai and Robert Frank - two photographers who were gifted in showing their environment in interesting ways and observing life around them so many others would just let pass them by. Sara Kate's skills in seeing the photographic potential while out and about is extraordinary.

// P H O T O   V I S I T   W I T H   S A R A   K A T E   G I L L I N G H A M  R Y A N //

What do you look for when shooting with your phone around NYC?
I look for natural moments - it's the bizarre, the moving, the sad, the thrilling, the unexpected, and even the mundane of everyday life that contains nuggets of beauty. Some of it has to do with food and of course I'm drawn to those scenes, but I've let myself open up wider and now I'm not looking for anything, no limits. Just walking around with my eyes willing to accept whatever comes across my path.

Now that I look back, in the beginning it was more about me. "Look, my feet!" or "Look, the tomato I grew!" but I started looking past my feet and past my plate and realized, in a very small way, how photography really is a practice in observation, the kind where you look beyond yourself.

How do you surreptitiously accomplish photographing people without their knowing, what does that actually look like?

I shoot from the hip a lot. Often the kinds of scenes I find are ones where people are really lost in themselves, or in their own moment, so it's not too difficult. But I also feel like I miss a lot because I don't want to intrude. I'm working on being more bold!

How has shooting with your phone been different for you than a (much larger) DSLR?
Well, there's the obvious: it's with me all the time. With the technology available through processing apps and even the sheer quality of the lens on the iPhone, it's possible to make some beautiful images with very little camera.

I've noticed you post primarily in black and white - Why?
I have a sister who is ten years older. She is a photographer and I grew up, literally, in her darkroom, helping her process her photos. She shot almost exclusively in black and white and the photographers I grew up admiring did the same, so it became part of the way I saw the world. Gosh, that sounds corny.

Black and white images have this essence to them, as if they've quieted down enough for the observer to really look and see what's happening story-wise. So as a writer -- if I may stretch this even further -- I feel like I can connect with the story aspect of a photo more when it's in black and white. Of course, there are exceptions. I made a photo of my new boots with their pink laces in a pile of autumn leaves and for that photo, I left it in color. [might be nice to put that one in here, no?] But in general, shots with emotion, I leave in black and white. Lastly, it can be more forgiving.

Who's Instagram feed are you loving right now and why?
Sion Fullana (sionfullana) His photos, many in NYC but also many from his travels, are really candid. His captions are often like long stories and I enjoy the way he combines images and words, since I'm a writer. He has a series of portraits of people through the windows of Starbucks and his captions nail the scene every single time.

Giovanni Savino (magneticart) - he's putting out some really intense and raw stuff from Haiti right now that inspires me. Great portraiture.

Dimitri Skarathanos (dimitriskarathanos) - he's mostly shooting out of Greece. His photos have a sense of quiet and affection to them that touch me and I study them.

Renzo (aliveinnyc) - I actually met this guy in person and walked through Occupy Wall Street. What a sweetheart! He's a Peruvian working in NYC at the UN. He makes photographs of people on the street in New York. He captures expressions really well. His photographs have a really raw documentary feeling to them and I like seeing what he puts on Instagram now that I've watched him shoot in person. He's very casual, shoots almost exclusively from down low. Also, he spends a lot of time liking other people's photographs so I like to follow along and find new photographers to follow through him.

Sandy [last name?] (msbluesky) - I like the light in her photos. She does a lot with people on bikes, so I like watching how a study like that can progress (or not.) I think she's in Hong Kong but I'm not positive.

Nikii Xia (nikii) - this guy is in Beijing and has a really distinct style from the light to the cropping.

Ironically, I don't follow a ton of food people. I think what attracts me to instagram is how on-the-go it is - sure there are people finding those unexpected food moments (David Lebovitz, {davidlebovitz

What filters/apps do you use if any?
I usually don't filter in Instagram - occasionally I'll use the Instagram B&W filter (it's called Inkwell) to lighten up a B&W photo that's rendering just a touch too dark.  According to (where you can get pretty much any metric from your instagram feed) I also tend to favor Hefe and X-Pro II, both offer a bit of pop, but that statistic is from since I started on Instagram; these days I know that I mostly process in Filterstorm, PictureShow or TiltShiftGen. Some other ones that are fun to play with are Diptic and Lo-Mob for more effects. Filterstorm and PictureShow seem to off the largest range of tweaks - think of them as mini PhotoShops - but with a slightly different interface.

Has shooting with your phone affected how you shoot with your camera, does it even matter anymore which tool you use to communicate an idea?
If nothing else, shooting with my phone has helped exercise my eye in a way I would not normally do if I just toted around my camera. Half of it is the shooting that is so much easier with the phone, but the other part is the sharing, which can happen within seconds - this isn't possible lugging around my DSLR.

Any other thoughts/recommendations with Instagram and shooting with your phone?
Use it as a playground. Don't be shy. I used to think I could only use it to show pictures of food because that is my business but now I see it as an extension of who I am and a place to practice creativity, which is why we're all here anyway isn't it?

*all above photos from Sara Kate's Instagram Feed - follow her at skgillingham

1 comment:

  1. Striking photos! I love that they are b&w and yet look so full of life. I also thought the part about how you shoot from the hip and pick moments when people are sort of in their own world was really interesting.


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