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Meet Shelby Bernstein of SB Photography

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelby Bernstein.

Shelby, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It was 2012. I was in my second year of college at Arizona State University. I was studying film/darkroom photography but was feeling a bit disenchanted. I wasn’t sure if I would go anywhere in the future when it came to my art, and I was very anti-digital photography at the time. That wasn’t even a thought I would entertain.

I remember talking to my mom about wanting to quit doing photography, maybe move back home to LA and start over. She told me to tough it out and try to look at other photography options like going digital since it was 2012 and not 1985. About a day or two later, I got a random email from a man who would eventually become a mentor to me and show me a path I never even considered. He owned a small jewelry business in Scottsdale and heard from my stepdad, a business partner and another jeweler that I like to take pictures. He was looking for someone to photograph his jewelry for his website and wanted to know if I’d be interested. Mind you, I had never even thought of or tried doing product photography at the time, but what did I have to lose? I told him all of this and that I would like to give it a try. I went to his store the next day and he hired me on the spot.

On my first day, he showed me the ropes on product photography. I remember thinking it was super tedious, and I had to sort of relearn photography as I knew it. He was super patient with me, and I feel like he enjoyed passing down his knowledge. This was in April 2012, and I worked there five days a week until August 2017. I can’t even begin to thank him enough for everything he taught me over that five year period. I taught myself a lot too and went through many phases of trial and error to find the perfect formula of photo taking that works best for me.

After working at the jewelry store for about a year he began to trust me to start doing some lifestyle photography for the company’s Instagram. When it comes to working with or for a brand that is a huge part of doing the photography. It’s one thing to be able to show something on a white background, but also being able to set up various product together and make it look desirable to customers or not have people mindlessly scroll past it in their Instagram feed is a whole other ballgame. That’s where my more creative side gets to come out and show itself. I believe basic white background product photography is pretty formulaic, whereas the lifestyle stuff is mostly creativity. He let me experiment with various fabrics, flowers, and marble slabs to show off his many diamond jewelry pieces. I was hooked on it, and couldn’t get enough of setting up these little scenes.

As far as the editing side of it, everything I learned was through watching YouTube tutorials. I’d spend hours on YouTube searching how to do different editing techniques. I still stuck with film/darkroom photography in college while doing the digital product jewelry photography for work, and obviously you don’t learn how to use photoshop when studying darkroom photography. Mentioning that in art school is pretty “taboo”. Learning how to use photoshop in that way, as well as indesign or other Adobe programs was probably the most challenging aspect because that’s the real tedious part. Plus there’s a million different ways to do one specific thing. Without learning any of that, I could never be where I am today. As the years went on, I realized it’s about 20% photography and 80% editing, so photoshop is extremely important to me.

I feel lucky to have been thrown into this starting with jewelry because it’s so detail-oriented compared to photographing clothes or other accessories. As I grew into this profession, I always felt like it made shooting anything else fairly easy in comparison. After leaving Arizona and moving back to Los Angeles it took me a while to get the ball rolling with my photography work, but I’ve been back for three years now and feel like I have a solid foundation. I feel like I’m still constantly learning and perfecting my techniques with every job or photoshoot I get to take part in.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road. As someone who has always been interested in photography and was studying it in college I assumed that this whole product thing would be smooth sailing. I was very wrong. It’s a whole other world compared to the fine art photography route I intended on following when I was younger. I had to learn how to think in a more technical sense. There’s still plenty of room for creativity in the work I do now, but it’s unlearning the thought process of “this body of work is going to be in an art gallery and I get to choose the narrative” to instead “this work needs to sell the product and I’m building off an already established narrative”.

When I first started at the jewelry store in Scottsdale, I was only hired to take the pictures. I wasn’t supposed to really be editing anything and putting the product on a white background. Same goes for the lifestyle work as well. I was just supposed to create something and take a picture of it, and if it needed any editing my boss would take care of it. As I got deeper into this line of work, I came to the realization that I had to learn to edit if this was going to be something I wanted to do as my career down the line. Like I said before, being in school for darkroom photography, I wasn’t going to be learning how to use photoshop in this way. It was really up to me to take the initiative to learn it on my own. The thought of that terrified me for a long time.

Photoshop is such an intense and intimidating program that when you don’t know a thing about it, it’s extremely overwhelming to dive into it with no clear idea of what to do or where to start. Knowing it was something I had to do, I turned to YouTube to be my teacher and slowly but surely taught myself the ropes. Once I knew the very basics of the program and what was considered editing in a product photography since I was able to build off of those ideas, and figure out how to use the program in a way that worked best for me and what I was trying to do. I started to learn photoshop about six years ago, and to this day I still feel like I learn new things or faster and easier ways to achieve my end goal of making a picture or product look perfect.

Lastly, one of the hardest challenges in all of this was learning to believe in myself and my skill set. People can tell you your work is great, but it’s not going to matter that much at the end of the day if you don’t believe it yourself. This is still something I struggle with from time to time, but I always tell myself I wouldn’t get hired or get positive feedback if I wasn’t doing a good job. Honestly, I think this is something all creatives struggle with because putting yourself out there is hard enough already, but having to constantly adapt to different creative environments, or in my case different brands and products can be extremely challenging especially if that product or brand isn’t necessarily your personal style.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My business is product/lifestyle photography and photo editing. That’s what I specialize in. I work with brands to create a body of product photography that looks cohesive and presentable on the company’s website. If you go to a lot of brand’s websites their product photography can be all over the place and doesn’t match. I am here to help fix and avoid that from happening. The majority of brands will come out with collections, so the next step would be to shoot a cohesive body of lifestyle photography for them to use on their various social media platforms to reel customers in. Something eye-catching and exciting to look at that elevates the brand. Throughout this process, I edit every picture to make the product look as clean and perfect as it possibly can be.

I think what sets me apart from others is my ability to pay attention to the smallest details. Starting out working with jewelry really helped me hone in on this skill because the details are seemingly so minor and small to the average person, but to me they are what makes a specific piece unique, so I try to highlight them. That can be applied to any product whether it be a shirt, a hat, a candle, or a purse. With that thought in mind when going into photographing something it gets you into the mindset of “what sticks out on this product, and how can I highlight that?” In turn, you end up showing the customer something they may have missed or looked over themselves that could end up being a selling point to them.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I feel like Los Angeles is great for a business like mine. There’s so many different companies and brands here that the work opportunities are seemingly endless. Whether they be small businesses or huge corporations, they all exist here. I feel like people can be intimidated by Los Angeles and all it has to offer, and I completely understand how someone could feel that way, but in my opinion there’s no better place for someone doing what I’m doing. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the heart of LA and I just have a huge amount of love and respect for this city, but I truly believe that.

If you’re scared to start out here, I say just dive in. You can do it if you put your mind to it. You definitely can’t slack off in a city like LA and expect things to just happen; you actually have to work hard, but the results of your hard work are so worth it.

Contact Info:

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 Image Credit:
King Baby Studio; Joseph Schubach Jewelers

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