Jessica Sample’s photography feels so fresh and modern that it makes you want to step into her pictures. The images are spontaneous and airy. Her beautiful work mixes color and whimsy like the first notes of a laugh — light and unbridled. I was so incredibly excited about Jessica’s work that I had to reach out to her.
Looking at her photography inspires me to want to travel, play, and lose myself in the moment.
I recently got the chance to interview Jessica, and her personality shined through — she’s every bit as easygoing as her photos. If you like her work, check out her group travel photography show, “Wanderlust”, at Space15Twenty in Hollywood on January 18th. The show will raise money for Natural Resources Defense Council and is also open for online bidding.
What drew you to travel photography?
I grew up traveling all over the world with my family to places as far flung as Tibet and Bhutan. I never really thought of travel photography as a career but was lucky enough to end up getting an internship in the photo department of Travel + Leisure. I learned the ropes there for 5 years before leaving to pursue a freelance photography career.
I love the variety and freedom of travel photography.
Is there a country that you would say has been your favorite to visit and photograph?
People ask me this all the time and I never know what to say — because it’s sort of like choosing your favorite food or friend. I would say the best assignment I ever got was to shoot French Polynesia for a feature and cover in Travel + Leisure. My favorite place I’ve been recently was Iceland, where I’m already dying to go back and explore more.
Travel obviously isn’t cheap. When you first started out how did you get the funds to travel the world?
I live by the philosophy that it’s better to spend money on experiences than things. I try to take one big trip a year with my husband and I’ve been lucky to be sent to some great places for work.
You’re based in Los Angeles, and it’s such a sprawling, diverse city. Where are your some of your favorite places to shoot in LA?
I love Griffith Park and the glowy afternoon light there, which is very close to where I live. Downtown always has some cool new place popping up. I also love just discovering a great wall or cool plant and using that as a backdrop for portraits. And of course the beach. I don’t get out there often enough but whenever I do I feel more at peace. I love the dunes just past Malibu, and also Santa Barbara.
What inspires you?
Light, people, new places.
Is there a place that surprised you when you visited? That was not at all what you expected?
Cuba surprised me. There was more sadness and frustration there than a lot of people talk about. It’s also a challenge to navigate without internet and cell service, which we’re all so used to having now.
What’s challenging about traveling to so many places? How do you deal with language barriers?
I speak conversational Spanish so that helps and have occasionally used local guides but mostly you just find a way to get your point across.
What emotional aspects do you look to draw out in a subject when you’re doing portraits, and how do you make your subject comfortable so they can be open and vulnerable?
When taking someone’s portrait you should definitely ask for permission and not just stick your camera in their faces. I also think smiling helps and taking the few minutes to talk before you start shooting. If they’re giving you their time, you should do the same.
What advice would you give to someone starting off in photography?
Shoot, shoot, shoot. If there are artists you admire, ask yourself what is it about their photography that’s unique. Don’t take photos that you feel like you’ve seen before or someone else could take.
Where have you not visited yet that you’d love to see?
So many places! India, Mongolia, Eastern Europe, Oaxaca, Morocco, etc
Do you have a philosophy you follow when traveling?
Go with the flow and have a sense of humor. Things will go wrong, so just expect that and don’t get thrown off too much when they do. Also, wake up with the sun for the best photos.
Do you have any trips coming up that you’re looking forward to?
I’m going to Japan for two weeks this spring and am so excited.