An Interview with Portrait Photographer Natalie Fong

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Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Natalie Fong is a young photographer based in New York City. I first saw her work on Emily Soto’s blog, where her behind the scenes photos (taken while assisting a shoot) caught my eye for their beauty, atmosphere and use of natural light.

It immediately got me thinking about two things. One, just how quickly young photographers learn with digital cameras (largely thanks to the instant feedback). And two, just how valuable is assisting a professional photographer, especially someone like Emily whose is a relative newcomer to the scene, for developing your career?

All worth of an interview, don’t you think? Here it is.

Natalie Fong Interview

Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where do you live and where are you from? How long has photography been a hobby or career of yours and what motivated you to get started?

I was born in Taiwan but I grew up on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii before moving to my new home in New York City last fall. I’ve just started my sophomore year, studying photography at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I began taking pictures when I was in middle school. My friends and I would dress up, put on silly makeup, and take pictures in our backyards. Since then, I’ve experimented a lot with my images in terms of style and technique, shooting with film as well as digital. It was always a hobby and something that I did for fun until I began doing client work starting my sophomore year of high school, at which point I started to take photography more seriously.

How would you describe yourself and your personality? This may be bit of a deep question, but how does your personality affect the way you take photos?

I think a lot of artists use their craft as an extension of themselves/their feelings and I am very much the same way. When I am around people, I am usually joking around, being silly, and in general, trying to be a positive force because I want to be able to give myself to people in that way. So it may seem odd that a large portion of my work is rather serious, but it allows me to put any negative energy that I have into a concept and turn it into a piece of art.

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Who inspires you? Who are your three favourite photographers, and why?

I would have to go with Tim Walker, Oleg Oprisco, and Michal Pudelka.

Tim Walker’s work is everything that I hope to create someday. I find that fashion photography can easily lose its artistic qualities but Walker never seems to lose his vision. In my opinion, I believe that he has found the perfect balance in his make believe worlds between fashion and fine art.

All of Oleg Oprisco’s photographs are created on film, without manipulation or editing, and that is something that I really admire. His photographs are usually very simple, yet there is something about them that is so breathtaking and beautiful.

I think my favourite thing about Michal Pudelka’s work is his use of repetition and how well his images work with multiple subjects. I can’t imagine what it’s like to work with that many models, but he does it so well and his composition is always on point.

It’s rather difficult for me to put into words why I love these artists so much, but I think their images speak for themselves and you’ll understand what I mean when you look through their work.

I can see that you use natural light in a lot of your photos. Why is that, what is the appeal of natural light for you?

I’ve always shot with natural light because it’s what was available to me when I started. I learned to use different times of day to my advantage and how to get the colours I wanted in an image through that. Aside from economical reasons, I have personally found it difficult to manipulate artificial lighting to look the way I want it to, and it really is just easier for me to use available light.

How would you describe the quality of the natural light where you live? How does it change with the seasons, and how do you use this in your photos?

Between Hawaii and NYC, there really isn’t much of a difference in terms of natural lighting because sunlight will vary in any place on any given day. Seasons don’t change lighting conditions a whole lot either because I prefer to shoot in overcast weather, and there are usually a good amount of overcast days throughout the year.

Behind the Photo

In this section Natalie gives us a deeper look into the process behind the creation of three of her portraits:

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

This image is a pretty simple and straightforward self portrait that I shot when I back in Hawaii this summer. I was feeling quite tired of my 365 project at the time, and I just wanted to illustrate the long journey in “The road ahead.” Sometimes, I find it easier to work with myself as the subject because I can picture in my head what I want the final product to look like. That is the reason why a lot of my conceptual work consists of self portraits. I typically use a tripod and my phone as a remote (With the EOS 6D’s wi-fi capabilities, I can link my camera to my phone and use it as a remote).

Natalie Fong portrait photographer interview

Pictured in “Lady like” is my former roommate Anna, and we both came up with the idea of imitating the lady in the painting that we found in the room. In some aspects, it signifies conformity, but I also just like recreating other art pieces that I love. Throughout my entire freshman year, Anna was a frequent subject in my work because we liked working together to create art. As for the execution of the image, there wasn’t anything in particular that I had to do besides making sure that the painting in the background was visible.

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

“The divide” is another self portrait, taken about eight months ago. On that day, I remember feeling a little sad when I was shooting. The caption that I wrote to accompany this picture describes that:

“I’ve never been very interested in much of the things that I see most people my age doing. But as much as that is true, I can’t help but feel a little troubled by the separation between myself and much of society, as well as many of my friends.”

My work allows me to express things that I wish I could tell someone and I’ve found self portraits to be a therapy of sorts. I shot this image through my window, but I didn’t actually have a remote at the time, so I had to run into the frame for every shot after I pressed the shutter.

Emily Soto shoot

Natalie Fong portrait photographer interview

Can you please tell us about your role as an assistant in the shoot? What did you do to help Emily, apart from take lots of beautiful behind the scenes photos?

During shoots with Emily, I don’t have a fixed agenda or a list of things that I do, so it varies. When I’m not shooting behind the scenes photos, I might be helping Emily set up, carrying equipment, moving things, or even running to the store for something. Every shoot is different, so as an intern/assistant, I try to be prepared to do whatever Emily needs me to do.

Natalie Fong portrait photographer interview

How valuable has assisting been in your career path as a photographer? What have you learnt from assisting Emily and any other photographers you may have worked with?

Interning for Emily has been a wonderful learning experience for me and I always appreciate the time that I get to spend on set with her because I’m able to get a visual of all that goes into her shoots. As someone who shoots almost completely with natural light, I have loved learning how Emily uses lighting in a studio setting because that was something completely new to me before I started my internship. Being able to see how other photographers work is always something that I am inspired by and it always pushes me to experiment and get out of my comfort zone.

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

How did you come to work with Emily? How does one become an assistant? What skills do you need and how do you find photographers that need assistants?

I contacted Emily asking about an internship because I was looking to gain some experience and make connections in the city. We met to discuss what she was looking for and that’s where it started. Every photographer needs something different from an intern/assistant, and some don’t need one at all. But what I’ve found is that reaching out and contacting people is all it takes, everything else will fall into place from there.

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Lastly, I don’t usually ask many questions about gear but I’m intrigued by the look of your behind the scenes photos from Emily’s shoot. What camera did you use to take the photos and how did you process them?

I used a Canon 6D and processed all of the images in Lightroom 4. I create all of my own presets as I go.


You can see more of Natalie Fong’s work at her website, on Flickr and Tumblr.

Photo Gallery

Here are some more of Natalie’s beautiful portraits:

Natalie Fong portrait photographer interview

Natalie Fong portrait photographer interview

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Natalie Fong portait photographer interview

Further resources

Explore the topic of portraiture in more depth with these articles:

How to Shoot a Model Test (featuring the work of Alba Soler)

More interviews with portrait photographers:

Shadow and Light: An Interview with Portrait Photographer Betina la Plante

Ballerinas by Eduardo

Amongst the Shadows: An Interview with Portrait Photographer Alex Benetel

Light and Landscape: The Portrait Photography of Sarah Ann Wright

Winter in Italy: An Interview with Portrait Photographer Anna Karnutsch

Colour and Light: An Interview With Portrait Photographer Alessio Albi

Colour and Contrast: An Interview With Portrait Photographer Cristina Hoch

The Creative Portrait Photography of Tori Mercedes

An Interview with Miss Aniela

An Interview with Photography Patrick Wack

Click the link for a list of all my interviews with photographers.

The Natural Portrait

The Natural Portrait ebook coverThe Natural Portrait teaches you how to take beautiful portraits in natural light. This 240 page ebook, published by Craft & Vision, takes you through the entire process of natural light portrait photography through from finding a model, deciding where to shoot, working with natural light and post-processing your images. Click the link to learn more or buy.


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