Today we’d like to introduce you to Ren Fuller, a photographer based in LA.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in the former USSR, now Moldova, and emigrated with my family to Philly when I was six. I attended film school in New York and worked in post-production for a few years after I graduated, but realized that it wasn’t bringing me joy.
I took a few miscellaneous jobs to see what I could possibly transition into. Photography was a hobby of mine, so I assisted a few photographers to get a sense for the business and production and what a career could look like. I felt more drawn to it than the idea of a career in film, so I began switching paths.
I straddled both worlds for a while, not excelling in either until I finally made myself chose a direction. I haven’t regretted it once. I shot whatever I could get in the beginning, until I eventually began focusing on food, and things kind of took off in that direction.
After a couple of years, I got approached to start and run the photography department for the NYC location of Munchery, a chef-made food delivery service. I spent a year photographing food all day every day in a tiny studio. I had to wear all the hats: I sourced an entire prop studio, learned basic plating, and styled each shot. Not to mention lighting, framing, and digi-teaching. It was an incredible learning experience.
At the end of 2015, I felt ready to go into freelancing full time and have been riding the wave ever since. A year and a half ago, my husband and I decided to leave Brooklyn (after 11 years!) and moved to LA. Since being out here, I’ve loved beginning to open my photography work to not only still life, but lifestyle and outdoor photography as well.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Choosing a path of uncertainty is not only challenging but scary! But I also recognize that it’s a privilege. My parents had to start completely over from scratch when we moved to the US. I am so fortunate not to have the responsibilities and decisions that my parents were tasked with at my age.
The fact that I am able to sacrifice my own financial stability and do whatever it takes to pursue photography simply because it is my passion is 100% a privilege that my parents didn’t have. It’s been a really hard road learning how to create and manage my own business in a creative field I didn’t study. But I feel very fortunate that I even have the opportunity to pursue my passion.
That being said, providing a skillset and a visual perspective is hard. I am constantly fighting for my rate: There are times I feel like the value I bring to a project, as a photographer, is overlooked for the function I serve. The biggest struggle for me has been defining my self-worth and understanding when I’m being taken advantage of.
These days, the photography world is an oversaturated, competitive market, and there’s always going to be someone who agrees to a lower rate, which unfortunately lowers the standard for everyone else. Deciding to pass on potential income because I am being undervalued is the hardest decision, especially when I don’t know when the next paycheck is going to come. It’s an exhausting mental battle that I am always fighting.
Luckily, I have a small group of lady photographer friends, and we are always bouncing ideas, approaches, and requests off each other. Having someone tell you, “That’s ridiculous!” is so helpful. Because I didn’t go to photography school, I remember having to make the decision of “do I assist photographers for a few years and learn the ropes that way, or do I just start shooting and learn as I go?”
I chose the latter. Sometimes I question that decision, but it’s also really worked for my evolution. I thought that if I was taking the time to learn a new craft, I might as well make all my errors up front, learn from my mistakes and develop my own work ethic along the way. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road. Often times there was intense stress because I had no idea what I was doing.
There have also been failures which I ingested as important lessons. I had no choice but to figure it out, so my on the fly problem-solving skills are pretty top notch at this point. There’s also the doubt that creeps in when work is slow. Did I choose the right career? Will I ever work again? Am I even any good? Luckily, it always passes, and that doubt usually pushes me to try even harder.
I’ve been practicing over the years to utilize my downtime to create work that I want to get hired for. I love to learn and try new things, and that’s what I love most about this career – I am constantly growing and to see the evolution makes me proud and excited about the future.
Additionally, I am so fortunate to have met and worked with people along the way that have been generous with their knowledge and support.
We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I specialize in food and travel photography. I am known for my use of light, a really important element to how I approach my photography. Whether it’s lighting a still life in a studio or finding the right light in an uncontrolled environment, I am endlessly inspired by natural light.
Nowadays, I’m mainly shooting food with strobe for the control, but I strive to emulate natural light: The softness or the drama, or the different times of the day. It adds so much story to an image. I get a sense of pride when people can’t tell whether I’ve artificially lit an image or not.
Over the past few years, I’ve also gotten really involved with spending times in the outdoors: climbing, camping, backpacking, and even leading trekking trips in Peru and Nepal for an all women’s adventure travel company (WHOA Travel, who I also shoot for!).
The images that I make from these personal interests are slowly starting to creep into what I’m wanting to spend more time shooting. I’ve been working on combining my passion for both food and the outdoors. Overall, I’m interested in community, whether it’s locally, or somewhere off the grid in the mountains.
Regardless of the location or the circumstances, everyone always gathers around a meal. Food ties us to each other and to a place, and that’s what I love shooting. I am most proud of how much I’ve been able to learn and grow as a self-taught photographer, and the rad jobs I’ve been able to shoot.
I’m grateful for the encouragement and support from my family, friends, and colleagues, especially my husband. Not only is he my unofficial editor, he’s constantly encouraging me to push my limits.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I see success as reaching a point where I am consistently working on projects I am super stoked about and feel creatively fulfilled by. While I try not to get wrapped up in “financial success” I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t important to me.
Meaning, I also see success as making a comfortable living from your craft, while staying true to your aesthetic and ethics. My markers are hitting goals: Landing a particular client or type of project I’ve been dreaming about.