We are happy to announce that Kirsten Alana has joined the Vanguard Professionals team!
Kirsten Alana is a full-time travel photographer, "Aviators and a Camera" blogger, content creator, "influencer" and conference speaker. A penchant for experimentation with all kinds of digital technology has led to instructing at offices such as the AOL headquarters, the Apple Store UWS and at conferences like TBEX, TBU, TBE, and Traverse. She spent a decade as a professional portrait and wedding photographer before turning her lens to travel. Her favorite social network is Instagram, which she has also spoken about at conferences. Her more than 70K followers count on her for travel recommendations and inspiration, and many have made plans to travel based solely on her imagery and compelling captions.
Get to know Kirsten better...
How did you first discover your love for photography? And travel?
As a child, it was National Geographic magazines that piqued an early interest in photography and travel at the same time. Escaping a rough home life into the worlds I saw in the pages of the magazine caused me to want to be able to do the same for others one day. The same thing photographers like Steve McCurry did for me.
Tell us about the transition from your life as a portrait & wedding photographer to your life as a nomad. And what prompted you more recently to put roots down in NYC?
As with a lot of big life changes, the catalyst was something that happened that forced an even bigger change. I found myself divorced and unwilling to spend all my weekends at weddings where everyone else was so happy and optimistic about marriage, but I still wanted to be a photographer. Since the slate was clean, in a way, and the ability to start over was made a little easier by so many things in my life ending -- I decided to take off and be nomadic while trying my hand at travel photography. It seemed logistically easier at the time. Of course, I had no idea how hard it would really be, but for four years I gave it a go and learned a lot. Eventually, I met my boyfriend, and he was different than all the other men I'd known on the road, or even before my divorce. Different enough that I could think about having a more settled life again and so I moved to NYC to be with him.
What essential photography gear do you take with you everywhere you go?
I always have an interchangeable lens camera with two, or more, prime lenses and a high-resolution smartphone. Currently, that's the Samsung NX1 and iPhone 6+. I don't take a tripod literally everywhere I go if I am just running around NYC, but I do pack one for every trip I take whether it's for work or pleasure. I use the Vanguard Alta Pro 254CT and BBH-200 ball head as well as the Heralder 51T roller bag for trips.
What is your favorite destination so far? Your favorite (or most surprising) meal?
I can't pick just one but I would say that Scotland is definitely in the top three, and depending on my mood I'd also tell you France, Morocco, Spain, Australia or South Africa are on that list as well. My favorite meal was enjoyed at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.
How would you describe your style? How has it evolved over the years?
My style is always evolving because my tastes are always changing subtly—but I love color. Even though black and white photography is where I started, shooting and developing my own film from a very young age, it's color that moves me now. I tend towards a style that's hard to describe, rarely shooting the really obvious, typical tourist photos; instead, I try to find the unexpected vignettes and the details that make a place distinctive, different from all other places.
What does your process look like – from conceptualizing a shot to processing?
It's hilarious that you ask that because I've never sat down and thought about it before. Photography, for me, is very in the moment. Whenever I am asked to develop shot lists I really struggle with that because it's the moment itself that inspires me. And I can't truly [adequately] plan for a moment I've not yet experienced!
As far as processing, I tend towards a lighter hand than most. I do like to filter my images a bit but I also like to keep them saturated without being overly saturated.
You have an impressive fan base on Instagram! What do you like about Instagram, and what have you found is the best way for photographers to use Instagram strategically?
It's definitely impressive to me and yet I personally know people with 600K followers on Instagram, so 80K is still a relatively small number in the greater picture of the app itself. That being said, I love it so much because it's proven to be the most personal and engaging of social media platforms that I am active on. Unlike Facebook or Pinterest, I actually know the stories of many of my followers and many of them have become friends. And some of the colleagues I now esteem most in modern photography -- I actually met through Instagram.
In terms of photographers using Instagram strategically, I would advise they literally do the opposite. Don't strategize, don't plan, don't schedule as you do with Twitter and other platforms. You should share your best photos but you should do so in a way that's real. Tell stories, be goofy, don't use a lot of hashtags in your captions, reply to comments and be actively commenting on other people's images. ENGAGE. Don't be a robot who looks at Instagram as yet another way to get somewhere. Be real and open, and the success will come without a specific strategy.
If you had to choose one photo of your own that, at least at this moment, you like best – which would it be and why?
I can't do that. I am my own worst critic! I can tell you what is currently my most liked photo on Instagram. It was taken during my recent trip to Scotland. That's quantifiable. But my feelings about my own work change by the hour! Anyway, it's this image:
Any words of advice to aspiring photographers?
Sure. But it's actually advice that was given to me. So I am just passing it on. "Only seek to be a photographer if you can't be a photographer."
Meaning if taking pictures and creating photographs is something you simply have to do regardless of whether someone pays you to or asks you to, if the desire to be a photographer pretty much trumps all other desires -- then, give it a go. If you're any less than that enthused about photography, there's not much of a chance you'll be truly successful at it. Photography is a passion project more than a road to wealth and fame.