Chelsea Kyle is a New York based Award-Winning Photographer and Director with advanced digital photography skills and a specialty in lighting design and retouching. Chelsea has been capturing images since she first got her hands on a camera at 7 years old. She was born in Watertown, Connecticut and resides in Brooklyn, NY. With a specialized degree in Advertising and Commercial Photography, Chelsea photographs still-life and lifestyle photography for some of the biggest brands in food, beverage, beauty and luxury products. She enjoys pushing the limits of video, creative compositing, animations, and retouching. Chelsea oversees the production of innovative, trend-setting creative projects, while executing high-end advertisement and product photography projects. When Chelsea is not in the studio she is often in the snowy slopes of New England or chasing icebergs in Alaska.
A conversation between Chelsea Kyle and The Canvas
Share how you entered the world of photography, specifically food photography.
Ever since I was a kid, I really was into photography. I was raised by my grandmother with my two older brothers in Connecticut. My grandmother was always photographing us. I look back, especially now that I am a professional in this field and understand good composition and good photography and it's absolutely incredible to me how many images she took of us as kids that are really good technical and thoughtful compositions. Although she encouraged my love for photography, my grandmother never thought of photography as a career option. She worried that a career in photography or art would not lead to financial success and stability, especially as a female.
I ended up going to college for nutrition at the University of New Hampshire, although I had an urge to practice art, specifically photography. After deciding to commit to photography, I left UNH and then attended the New England School of Photography, which was a trade program dedicated to technical photography versus a traditional BFA program. When I was in school, I interned with Boston Magazine, where I eventually became a photographer and interned for the photo editor, and then started shooting for the food section of Boston Magazine. That experience got my foot in the door with the foodies of the art world. From there I relocated to New York City to work at Condé Nast.
Condé Nast definitely changed the path that I was on dramatically, I was surrounded by so many people who challenged me to push boundaries in photography. In addition to being creatively motivating it was like boot camp for producing and shooting creative ideas, working with complex food, and on crazy deadlines.
As a freelance photographer, could you walk us through your process?
I work with commercial brands, editorial publishing, and a whole gamut of mixed projects. My role ranges from being photographer, director, creative director, to sometimes producing jobs myself. The traditional process begins with a client reaching out to me with an existing idea and scope of a project that my style and skill matches well with. I then work with a team to produce the job and work out details like: How many images do they need? How many days is it going to take? What kind of equipment and crew do we need to support the creative? With commercial work the creative is usually pre-determined prior to clients reaching out. For editorial projects, I'll often be contacted by a specific magazine and it becomes a bit more of a creative collaboration to ideate how we shoot specific subjects.
Now shifting to the shoot we worked on with you: perhaps you could talk about the process of collaborating with us on the shoot for The Canvas.
I'd say the process with this shoot was very unique where you basically gave me a word ["Green"] and then we explored many ways to interpret the word “green” and what your goals were for this project. I still don't understand how we ended up where we got but after a lot of collaboration and conversation together about how our art worlds collide, and taking an artistic look at both literal and abstract interpretations of the word we landed somewhere that felt very unique and abstract.
It was great to go into a project and leave some open-ended exploration. So much of the work I do for clients is rather rigid, and there's so much planning. I'm creatively planning more heavily prior to the shoot and arriving with a smaller window of flexibility for creative changes.
What seemed to help was we arrived on set with a good range of worlds to build. So if one fell through, we had backups to continue moving forward with as alternatives. This enabled us not to feel so pressured to stick with one landscape. For instance, the sedimentary rock with the sheen from the Jell-O, we learned the shot wasn't going to feel like what we wanted, so we immediately moved on. Was there anything you would have altered if you were to redo the shoot?
The photo shoot was something that was new to me, I haven't been tasked with doing this specific concept before and going into the shoot without having exact outcomes [photos] planned in advance. We entered with the intention of curiosity. It’s important to embrace the creative process of exploring ideas and letting the "creative errors" and on set collaboration with artists direct you, which was ultimately the outcome of our shoot for The Canvas.
What are you exploring next?
First, I've definitely reached a space where clients know what I want to do and I know what projects are right for me. I plan to hone in on that and become even more laser focused on the right projects for me personally. Lately, I've expanded outside the food world into general products, beauty, and people. There are a lot of recent jobs I've had recently where food is more of a supporting role or part of a bigger scene of a party or an event instead of the main focus. I'm excited about shooting more complex and elaborate scenes with more involved productions.
If there was a brand or person you could collaborate with, who would it be?
Gucci. I really love their aesthetic. They do really cool creative shoots, with a specific creative aesthetic in locations and style of models. All the details that complement and mimic their specific product are so intently perfected and aesthetically my style, they've even dabbled in food photo shoots!