Helynn Ospina Photographs Interiors with a Sense of Time & Narrative
Interiors Photographer Spotlight: Helynn Ospina Photography
Helynn – how did you get where you are today?
It’s been a windy road. While I currently live in Santa Cruz, I’m originally from Colombia and have lived here since I was about two years of age. My younger years were spent on the East Coast but I attended college in San Diego where I earned my BA in biology. After about nine years in the San Diego area, the desire for a new adventure began calling my name and I migrated to San Francisco. San Francisco was so different than anywhere else I had lived and it was that inspiration that reignited my dream of art school again. While still working in biotech, I started taking some evening classes at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and loved it so much! A few months in I made the leap and left my cushy corporate gig and started attending classes full-time for a couple of years until I earned a Masters of Fine Arts in photography. It was during this time that I began shooting interiors as part of environmental portraits for my thesis.
My first interior design client came about because a friend of a friend needed professional photos for their design portfolio and asked me to help out. After graduating, I was a bit burnt out, and my career path wasn’t clear, so I began working at a retouching studio in the city. I didn’t pick up a camera for a while after graduating. Slowly, I started to shoot and build a portfolio that felt authentic and I began to really envision photography as my career path. I continued to work part-time at the retouching studio in San Francisco while also shooting and building my client base until a few years ago when I felt ready to go solo. Although I’m no longer living in San Francisco, most of my clients continue to be in the Bay Area.
You specialize in photographing interiors, architecture and travel. What is it that you love about capturing interiors?
Interiors have always fascinated me – not necessarily in the design sense, but more as a place where our lives unfold. Interior spaces are silent witnesses to our lives. This belief really informs my approach to shooting interiors. I strive to create serenity and stillness in each image that is welcoming and has a storytelling quality. Shooting interiors also allows me to engage the analytical (nerdy science type) part of my brain because it requires a lot of attention to detail and problem solving.
“Interior spaces are silent witnesses to our lives. This belief really informs my approach to shooting interiors.”
We were so impressed by your photos of Ivy Designer Rachel Madden’s recent work which was also featured in Rue Magazine. What did you like about working on that project?
Well thank you, I’m very flattered! The best part about that project was her daughter’s room – it features a teepee, unicorn and an adorable whale! How could I not love a room with all of these things? I rarely get to photograph kids’ rooms but they are probably the most fun because of all the great props and colors. When Rachel and I initially met to go over the details of the shoot, she showed me her daughter’s room and said she would probably remove the teepee. I immediately said we must include it! That was my first time working with Rachel so it was great fun for us to collaborate on creating each image.
Who are some other interior designers you admire and enjoy working with?
Dream clients would definitely be Ian Stallings and Reagan Baker. Their use of color and materials is luxurious but also inviting. It’s a feast for the eyes. I love working with all of my clients! I’ve been doing this for a few years now but each time I get hired I still consider it an honor because all of my clients are extremely talented and passionate about what they do. I enjoy working with other creatives who are doing top notch work.
What makes it easy to shoot an interior space? What makes it difficult?
There are a couple of things that immediately come to mind when I think of spaces that are easier to shoot – good light, good lines/architecture and good styling. Really tight spaces are often difficult to shoot because it’s tough to get a good angle and fit myself into the correct spot – it is not uncommon to find me stuffed in a corner next to a toilet bowl or shimmying across the floor to get in and out of tight spaces.
“Good photography is an investment but it’s one that has a great return.”
In your opinion, how important is a good-looking portfolio to the success of an interior design firm’s growth and reputation?
It is extremely important. It is an essential part of branding and marketing. This is where a relationship with a seasoned photographer becomes very important. Having a “go-to” photographer ensures that all your imagery is cohesive and blends easily with your branding. Not all interiors photographers are alike in the way they shoot so it’s important that there is consistency across your images. I cannot emphasize the importance of good imagery enough – I have projects from 4 or 5 years ago that still get picked up by bloggers or Houzz for features. Good photography is an investment but it’s one that has a great return.
If you could make a PSA to all interior designers regarding photographing their portfolio, what would you say?
Just do it! I can promise you that if you find the right photographer you won’t be disappointed. Working with a talented interiors/architecture photographer will change the way you see your work. A photographer, much like any designer, is trained to see possibilities. A designer may not think a space is worth photographing because the lighting is terrible or the room looks small but when you work with a photographer, they help you see things differently. My goal for every project is to have it be a collaboration between myself and the designer – our end goal is to make their designs look amazing no matter what the constraints.
Why is lighting so important when it comes to photographing an interior? What are the ideal times to photograph?
Lighting is important because it helps create mood and tell a story about the space and what the experience of being in that space might be. My blog post “Why I Light” shows a couple of before and afters using just the available light in a room vs. using supplementary lighting. It’s a great example of how light begins to create a story.
The ideal time to photograph really depends on the space and the end goal of the photograph. I love to capture the drama of streaming light in a room because it creates a sense of time and narrative in the image. To that end, I will usually seek out areas of the house that may have harder streaming light or create it with supplementary lighting.
“Having a “go-to” photographer ensures that all your imagery is cohesive and blends easily with your branding.”
How do you typically prep an interior designer for a photoshoot?
As part of my process for each project, I include a walk-through of the space during which we discuss everything including lighting, props, and image usage (portfolio, magazine submission, competition). It’s usually this time that most designers really start to get excited and maybe a little overwhelmed about things. As part of this step, we visit each room and come up with a game plan for each space including any props that we may want for the day of the shoot. As we move through each room, I am also considering what angles to capture and what lighting may be necessary.
What are some tips of best practices you can offer interior designers for making the most out of a photoshoot?
Tip # 1: Bring more accessories than you think you will need. I have never had an occasion where a client brought too many accessories. Often times, something can look great in person, but not so great in a photograph. Things may appear smaller in the photograph, so, if possible, you want to bring similar shapes of varying sizes. The same goes for art – bring various sizes.
Tip # 2: It’s a stressful day and there is often not enough time to capture everything so it’s important to know what is a priority to photograph.
Tip # 3: Don’t obsess about the exact placement of every object in a room. Once you see the image, you can really tune where everything is because you will be able to see how it reads through the camera.
Tip # 4: Bring snacks.
Tip # 5: Have fun!
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