An in depth interview with our Creative Lead, Alexa Mihalick
Alexa is the Creative Lead for We Are Unveiled and oversees all photography, product development, design, the website, and all things visual! She’s most passionate about handlettering and photography, and also has her own business, Alexa Ray Studio. She loves the mountains, dreaming big, and says the key to her heart is a big bowl of Torchy’s queso or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (yum).
This week we had the privilege of interviewing Alexa on all things photography and styling. She shares her tips, tricks, and heart behind why she pursues her giftings with everything in her.
WAU: So as you already know Alexa, we get SO many compliments on our website, specifically the photography. In fact the thing we hear the most is, 'who designed your website? Those photos are amazing!' Beyond our website, much of the content we put out is high quality to represent WAU well, but what our community doesn't know is that you drive most of that quality. You are the heartbeat behind our design and why everything we do is with excellence. So for our first question, let's tap into why you're so driven for excellence. Where do you gain your inspiration from?
Wow, what a great question to start with! Well, there are actually so many people and things that I find my inspiration from that it would take me forever to list them out (really, you should see how many screenshots I have in the “inspiration” folder on my phone..). First off, God is the ultimate inspiration for everything I do - He’s made this earth and His people so beautiful, and what an honor it is that I get to capture these things for a living. I’d definitely have to say my other main inspiration comes from following the work of photographers who see things differently than I do, who look at light differently than I do, and just have more experience in areas than I don't necessarily have.
Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to fill up my social media platforms with the work of a wide variety of photographers and handletterers because those are the two things I’m most passionate about. When I open Instagram, I’d say about 97% of the people I follow are actually photographers and handletterers, so their work consumes my feed. When I log into Facebook, my home feed mostly includes photos and discussions from different creative groups that I’m a part of.
For me, the reasoning behind this is about filling my mind and training my mindset with where I hope to be someday. If you want to be inspired, fill your mind with people and things that get you excited, make you say “wow” out loud, or “dang, I want to do something like that.” It’s that simple. I’ve also made it a priority to pray before every single shoot. This is my way of just giving everything completely to the Lord and trusting Him to allow the details to fall into place.
WAU: Love, love, love that idea! We don't always follow the people who inspire us, or who would challenge us creatively, but that's such a good practical tip when it comes to gaining inspiration. Might as well get inspired from the apps you spend a lot of time on; genius. So, once you're inspired and have your shoot concept set, how do you prepare when it comes to styling?
So, there’s actually a difference between me personally styling a shoot and a shoot for a client who has reached out to me. For a contracted portrait shoot, I tell my client to bring 2-3 outfits they feel the most comfortable/beautiful in. I’ve had people show up to shoots in the past wearing something that they love, but don’t really feel confident or comfortable in. If you’re not feeling 110% confident in the outfit you’re choosing for a shoot, it will show in the photos! I mostly emphasize that clients should wear clothes that express who they are and choose outfits with colors that work best for their skin tones. It’s so important to make them feel relaxed and comfortable, and a big part of that comes with what they decide to wear.
Client shoots can also be very simple as well and not involve any prep work for the people involved. Some of my all-time favorite sessions have simply been inside of businesses (like a coffee shop) where I style the products, shoot the employees making drinks, and capture the business just as it is on a day-to-day basis.
WAU: 'Make sure your client feels as good as they look,' this is so good, especially for us ladies out there. So what about a creative styled shoot? Similar to what you've done with We Are Unveiled?
Now that's definitely different. For a more traditional styled shoot you'll need much more in depth planning because you’re making a vision or dream that you imagined in your mind come to life. They are so fun to come up with! If I was planning a shoot like this, however, I’d need to do a ton of prep work prior to the day-of (depending on the extent of the shoot). For example, for a large shoot, I’d need to book the models that best fit the look that I’m envisioning, book hair/makeup artists, a florist or floral designer, and book any other needed specialists for the day-of. I would then gather all materials needed to execute the look including: outfits, accessories, lighting, etc. Styled shoots can be simple as well, and a great way to collaborate with other artists to help get quality images for everyone while also getting everyone’s name/business out there. The first step is just having a dream/vision for the look you’re going for, then start making that dream a reality.
WAU: We totally agree, styled shoots are so much fun and totally worth all the dreaming and effort put into them. So, major question: Details are a big deal with you and part of why your work is so amazing. During a shoot, what are the top things you look for to ensure everything is exceptional?
Catching the smallest details up front is so important. i.e. looking at how the hair is placed, the way someone’s outfit is positioned, if a button is unbuttoned, or if there’s a hair tie on a woman’s wrist. Small details are so often overlooked, but are important to take into consideration before shooting begins. There’s nothing more frustrating than when uploading the photos and seeing a hair tie on a wrist that I didn’t catch when photographing! When it comes to editing, it's just easier if all of these details are taken care of prior to when we shoot.
The other big thing I look for is lighting. For the most part, I’m an outdoor photographer and a prefer natural lighting. I’ve learned when the best time of day is to shoot, where to place a subject depending on where the sun is, and how to use harsh light and shadows to my advantage. If I could give one more tip, it’d be to get shots from a few different perspectives - wide, close, and super close to create more variety and depth to your session.
WAU: I don't know about you guys, but I can't write fast enough for all of these notes! Ok so for most of your shoots, you work with everyday people who aren’t trained models. For our final question we want to know, how do you make them feel comfortable on a set?
Ah, that’s such a good question. This particular skill has actually taken a LOT of practice for me. Really, the only way I’ve learned to get better at this is to practice . God’s made everyone so unique that I’ve had to learn how to adapt to each persons different personality at a shoot. Sometimes people naturally tense up when I take my camera out, but through the years, I’ve taught myself how to coach people through feeling comfortable.
I sometimes have to crack a joke or do a little fun “jelly-fish” dance to get a shot of someone’s laugh (I admit, I’ve made some pretty lame jokes over the years). I’ve done shoots with people who show up pretty tense and nervous and then others that already feel completely comfortable. But at the end of the day, we always end up getting great shots. Praise God for that. Most of the time, (at least for me, if I’m completely honest here) we as photographers focus so much on getting THE perfect shot that we forget about the real reason we’re at the shoot in the first place: people.
Throughout each session I make it a priority to talk to my client and ask them questions about who they are and what they do. I’ve really been trying to focus more on the people in my sessions and capturing their story best, learning more about them, their dreams, and their life. I love nothing more than capturing the little moments of personality in between a posed shot that tell that story - a genuine belly laugh, a quick kiss on the forehead in a couples shoot when they think I’m not looking, or one of my personal favorites - catching the movement of a flowy dress while spinning in a field of flowers.
I’m so thankful that God’s given me the opportunity and ability to document a small part of the stories He’s written for people’s lives, and I can’t wait to someday capture each of yours.