Portrait Spotlight: Interview with Tina Liu (@tinalumina)

Welcome to the first installment of Portrait Spotlight, a series of interviews with talented portrait photographers whose work inspires me.

The first interview is with Tina Liu (@tinalumina)

Tina is a portrait photographer based in Boston, MA.  She started her photography journey in her home state of New Jersey before moving to Boston in 2017.  Her work has been featured on accounts like @pursuitofportraits and @moodyports.

Meet Tina Liu.

Photo by Andrew Hu

Photo by Andrew Hu

Let's jump into the interview.

When did you first start getting into photography?

I always liked taking pictures to capture moments in my personal life and on travels, but I never took photography seriously until early in 2017. 

I had gotten sick of having a lifestyle of constantly consuming and being a recipient of media, so I decided to create. Photography was the most accessible way for me to do that.

This is the question everyone always wants to know.  So let’s get it out of the way :)  What camera and lens(es) do you use for your portrait work?

Canon 5D Mark IV and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, though some of my favorite photos I’ve taken with my T2i and a cheapo Yongnuo 35mm f2.

Model @jenniexross

Model @jenniexross

Have you always gravitated towards portrait photography or did you start shooting other subjects?

I grew my passion for photography through taking casual landscapes and food photography (both of which I am still very mediocre).

I focus on portraits now, but I also dabble in architectural/interior photography.

Were there any other creative outlets that you pursued (or still pursue) besides photography?

Does singing in the shower count? :)

Model @audreyrow

Model @audreyrow

How does the photography scene in New Jersey compare to Boston?

New Jersey photographers are just insanely, immensely talented. I didn’t have time to get to know the community there before I moved to Boston so I can’t speak for the scene itself but the talent pool is really just amazing. 

The photo community in Boston is wonderful. I have made so many good friends in the short time that I’ve lived here because of all the opportunities I’ve had to meet people. Shoutout to the organizers of the various meetup groups in the city - thanks for your hard work!

Where do you get inspiration for your photography?

Music, feelings, traveling, nature. All the universal sources of inspiration.

Model: @jchuxoxo

Model: @jchuxoxo

Walk us through your process for editing your pictures.  What software do you use and what kind of adjustments do you make?

I use Lightroom for toning and Photoshop for skin retouching using frequency separation.

(Luckily I’ve been blessed to have worked with beautiful, flawless models and amazing MUAs so I don’t need to go into PS too often!)

What are your thoughts on editing presets?

They’re great! Just don’t be lazy.

If you just slap a pre-made preset on a photo and call it day, you need to do more. Take an objective look at your photo without the mental bias that a preset alone will elevate your work.

What are some of your biggest goals related to photography?

Refine my editing style. A loftier goal is to be well rounded and be able to excel in all types of photography.

If you just slap a pre-made preset on a photo and call it a day, you need to do more.
— Tina Liu

What is your best advice for shooting portraits in natural light?

Nail the focus on the eyes, always. 

If the subject’s eyes are out of focus, the viewer will notice right away and it makes it hard for them to connect to the image. 

It also makes an image lose its power and evocativeness, in my opinion.

Model @lil.alt.babi

Model @lil.alt.babi

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a platform for creatives?  Some feel it’s destroying photography; some say it's the best thing ever; others view it as a necessary evil (or something else).

For me, it’s first and foremost a marketing tool for my business. A large number of my clients have found me through the platform and I have made a lot of lifelong connections through it. 

I wouldn’t go so far in either direction as to say that it’s destroying photography or that it’s the best thing ever, but it’s fun.

Do you have any advice for putting together a creative team for a photo shoot (i.e. models, stylists, MUAs, etc)?

Make sure you lay out the terms very clearly (if it’s an unpaid collaboration or if it will be paid).
For a team collaboration, I reach out to agencies for models and work with their new faces. 

For the styling team, I like to work with hobbyists and/or people looking to build their portfolio. It’s beneficial for everyone involved that way.

Most people wouldn’t say no to free photos of themselves...
— Tina Liu

Model @nisatarlaci

Model @nisatarlaci

What advice would you give to new photographers trying to reach out to models and build their portfolio?

If you don’t have a body of work yet, take photos of your friends.
For the first six months of my photography journey, my portfolio was photos of my friends.

Working with people you already have a close relationship with can teach you a lot about giving direction and gives you the chance to get creative in a way that working with a professional model may not.

Model @huster05

Model @huster05

After you have a few photos in your book that you’re proud of, start reaching out to freelance models, bloggers on Instagram, or local Facebook groups and ask to collaborate.
Being a little blunt here, but most people wouldn’t say no to free photos of themselves.

If you could impart one piece of wisdom to the portrait community, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to share knowledge and ideas with other photographers. Your own growth as a photographer is independent of someone else’s.

If you like Tina's work, you can find her on Instagram @tinalumina.


About the Author

Dan Bullman is a portrait photographer and YouTuber based in Boston. He produces educational videos, gear reviews and other content to make you a better photographer faster. His videos have been viewed over 1 million times. His portrait work has been featured on accounts like @moodyports @followingboston and @portraitmeet.