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Meet Trailblazer Ashley Roberts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Roberts.

Ashley, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Puyallup, Washington near the Seattle area. I’ve always loved photography and photos since I was a child. I would literally spend hours going through and looking at the photos we had gotten done. I got my first camera at age 4. It was always a hobby I loved to do. My friends and I would always take hundreds of photos of each other for fun and make music videos. At that time, I actually never really thought or planned to do photography as a career but it was definitely my true passion. Then, when it came time to decide what wanted to go to college for and do career-wise I decided I wanted to do photography. I was also really inspired at that time by photos on Instagram and Tumblr. I got my degree in professional photography. After I finished my degree I wanted to build my portfolio more. I had been shooting with a Canon Rebel which is a beginner DSLR camera, but it is not adequate enough for the level of professional work I wanted to be doing. I saved up and bought a Canon 6d, Canon 50mm and Sigma 35mm art lenses. During that time, I would book the work I could get in the Seattle Washington area. Mostly doing senior photos, family photos, photos for aspiring models who wanted to build their portfolio, couples, etc. I wasn’t getting as much work as I needed to and I also wanted to build my portfolio with more creative and editorial shots. I then found a wonderful thing! A Facebook group called Seattle Open Shoots which is a group where all creatives (photographers, models, make-up artists) connect and do fun and creative shoots to help build their portfolio and create wonderful art. I started doing fun and creative shoots with models that I met through SOS (Seattle Open Shoots). I met so many great friends through SOS. Some of my best friends to this day, I met through SOS. I made a photography business page on Instagram and started posting the shoots I’d do with models from SOS. I started to build a following and get more requests for shoots. However, I wanted something bigger. I wanted to shoot in LA and New York for big campaigns, magazines, brands, celebrities. That was my dream.

One day, I received an offer from one of my favorite stores in LA to shoot their lookbook and campaign, it was very exciting for me. So, I decided I would go to LA and try to shoot with as many people as I could who I had wanted to shoot with. I also was able to get a job working with a fashion blog Instagram page where I’d shoot different models and influencers that they worked with. With those 2 jobs, I went to LA for the first time. I drove my car 1,100 miles on an 18-hour drive to get there. I had never done anything like that before. I had connected with some other models and influencers on Instagram and arranged to shoot with them while I was down there too. I had a great time! Met wonderful people and got some wonderful photos that I was very excited about. I love LA so much and at that time I was very excited to get to do shoots at locations in LA that are so fun. I was very tired of all the places to shoot in WA. That trip was in March/April of 2017.

After that, I took out a loan to buy the Canon 5d Mark IV and a new lenses. That was a game-changer for me also in terms of quality shots that I needed. I then went back in July to do some more brand jobs I had gotten in LA plus shoot with more models and influencers. From then on, I started getting jobs and opportunities in LA and shooting down there all the time. I’d be so busy when I was there. I’d do 33 shoots ‪in three weeks‬. It was exhausting but exciting. I’d spend most of my time in LA and be there for months. My Instagram following started growing and I’ve just kept on and doing the work I love in LA. I now do shoots for fashion brands, magazines, agencies, influencers and more primarily all in LA.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It definitely has not been a smooth road. I think I’m very determined to make my dreams happen no matter what and I don’t give up. These jobs and shoots I’ve wanted to do haven’t fallen in my lap. I’m lucky now that I get approached to do amazing shoots and work with amazing people but it definitely didn’t start out that way or come easy. I worked very hard to build the best portfolio I could and then I would reach out to brands and people I wanted to work with. If I wanted to work with a brand or someone I’d keep trying until I hopefully was successful. Then, once we worked together, initially, they liked my work and wanted to work together again. I’d reach out to many brands and people and not hear back. I would just keep working on shoots to build my portfolio, resume and following and then sometimes, I’d try again and eventually get a yes. But it was hard to initially get my foot in the door and get my work noticed.

Also financially, it has been difficult because first of all professional photography equipment is very expensive but you need it to do the work and shoots. My biggest fear was what if I went to college for photography and bought the expensive equipment and then wasn’t successful and was out all this money. Jobs in the arts, entertainment field and when you are self-employed are not always steady or secure. I had to take out a loan to buy those things and money was very tight. It, unfortunately, takes money to make money. And it’s a big investment you have to be willing to take. I’d also be paying for my trips to LA and even though I was making money, that money was going to pay for my trip to be there doing the shoots I wanted to do. I put everything into it and spent all of my money to pursue what I wanted to do. I never regretted it though even though I was spending all of my money that I was working so hard to be able to pursue my dream.

By far the biggest hardship I’ve had is losing my mother. My mother passed away in January 2019 of this past year. Through all of the time I was pursuing my photography, she was ill and not doing very well but I never expected to lose her. There were a lot of really hard things going on that I probably still haven’t dealt with that were emotionally devastating. She was in hospital for a month in 2017. During that time, the only time I was able to get my mind off of things is when I was shooting and doing photoshoots. Every day before and after my shoots, I’d visit her in the hospital. Then, this past January, she was in the hospital and unexpectedly passed away. It was the most devastating thing I can ever imagine. It still doesn’t seem real. I feel like things will never be okay. She always believed in me doing my photography and supported me when some people didn’t. One of the hardest things has been the things I’ve been doing since she passed away she would have been so excited about and I can’t share them with her. Sometimes something exciting happens or I get a big shoot offer and I get excited to tell her almost forgetting that I can’t. I can’t tell you how hard it’s been. I actually had some big jobs and shoots planned in LA and I was supposed to go a couple of days after she ended up passing away. When she took a turn for the worst unexpectedly, I was going to cancel those shoots but then, it all happened so fast and she passed away. It was a shock and the most awful traumatizing, devastating thing. Thinking back, I can’t even really believe it to this day but I decided to go to LA still. Two days later, I made the 18-hour drive and immediately started on shoots. It seems crazy now that I did that but looking back at it I think it’s the only way I could have survived and dealt with it because my mind was focused on my shoots. I ended up doing some of my best work at that time. But it was the hardest thing. I can’t even explain how awful. I now think that my photography has helped me through some emotionally devastating times and I’m able to put all my focus into my work and trying to create beautiful images.

My advice to other young women who are starting out wanting to be a photographer is, first of all, don’t give up! If you really want it you have to keep trying and be persistent and work hard. Most likely, it won’t get fall in your lap. Make sure you really are passionate about what you are doing. It’s a lot of work, can be very time consuming, discouraging and exhausting but if you love what you do, it’s worth it. My advice in particular to young photographers starting out is first, build a good portfolio that you feel presents what you can do well and compares in quality to the people you want to be doing the same thing as. I’d suggest doing this before reaching out to jobs or big people you want to work with. They have to see something that interests them to say yes. Waiting to make a good impression is better than trying to soon and making a bad impression. If you don’t have many models to shoot to build your portfolio, go online and look for Facebook groups in your area or models who are just starting out. Most likely, you’ll find someone who is interested in shooting to get more photos for their portfolio too. Also, be well-spoken, polite and professional in your inquiries. Last but not least, most of the time you will need to spend money to be successful and make money. So, save up and be prepared to invest money into it. It can be for equipment, collage, classes, traveling to where you want to be working, budget for shoots (renting out venues, styling, etc.). My biggest and most important piece of advice is don’t give up, keep working hard until you achieve your dreams!

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I do all types of photography, but my favorite thing to do is outdoor fashion, editorial and lifestyle. I enjoy indoor styled editorial if it’s a beautiful styled location as well. I also specialize in portraits. I have lots of experience with portraits and think I can definitely take a good portrait. I really like to do editorial shoots in beautiful locations rather than plain studios. Either beautiful outdoor locations, extravagant houses or extravagant indoor locations I’ve found. It’s really fun to play with colors of beautiful outdoor locations. I enjoy shooting people in beautiful places. I think the look of my photos and editing sets me apart from others. I’ve been told by people that they can recognize my work when they see it. I think I have a certain style of editing. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think it sets me apart and gives me a certain look. It’s a style of editing I created all on my own and taught myself how to do. I personally like how it enhances the colors in a photo. I actually had been told before to change my editing to make it look like some other photographers but I’ve stuck to my style and I think it sets me apart. If somebody needs a certain style of editing for their page to match their vibe I’m happy to do that. For my own portfolio, I stick to my style and don’t try to copy anyone else. Something else I notice and have been told is that the models are very relaxed in my photos. They look natural and not posed. I try to create a very relaxed and comfortable environment and also let people contribute their ideas to the shoot if they have any.

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
I’m happy to say that I think females are having great success in business and leadership. However, I do notice most fellow photographers are men. I have had many female models tell me how glad they were to be working with a female photographer and how much more comfortable they were for certain shoots with a female photographer shooting. I hope to see continued success from fellow female photographers.

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Image Credit:
A List Nation Magazine, Jazmin Whitley, Camelia Somers, Jaclyn B make-up, Victoria Lamas, Liz and Julia Nolan, Faith Schroder, Ahnika Hendrickson, Olivia Cole, Nia Sioux, Holly Frazier, Lilliana Ketchman

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