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The 10: Alison Su



Boston University


The 10: Alison Su

Model photographer spends a Summer in LA

Barbara Kang


Boston University's Questrom School of Business undergraduate, Alison Su, is a fashion photographer. Raised in the "Mile High City," Denver, Colorado, Su established her own business with senior portrait photography, starting in her freshman year of high school. Since then, her photography has evolved. The primary focus of her work is on models and portraits, representing a collision of contrast and expressions of emotions. Her images outlast.

How did you get interested in the medium and start your career?
I guess being in Colorado--you’re constantly surrounded by nature and mountains. I started off in nature photography, but later, I focused on portraits. My friend and I started photographing as a side hobby, and we would submit those photos to contests like Scholastic. Back then, much of my work was conceptual--levitation and very abstract ideas. My style started evolving. I stuck to portrait and I realized that’s what I loved doing. You get to meet so many different people and work with girls with different backgrounds. I started doing senior portrait photography, and I’d market myself to high school seniors graduating from my hometown. For four years, I’ve continued every summer and slowly my business expanded to girls outside of my own region.

My Junior year of high school was when I started working with modeling agencies. I’d work with Wilhelmina and LA Models a lot. My friend got signed to a modeling agency and that kind of exposed me to the whole fashion industry. I emailed an agent and sent her photos that I took of my friend. They really liked my work and they sent me a bunch of girls to test for. These were girls just starting off--new faces on the board. Slowly, from there I really expanded my own connections and worked with models that are more established now. Tashi Rodriguez, Marina Laswick, Maverick McConell, Valerie Wetmore and Emma Landen in IMG, and Mackinley Hill.

What agencies have you worked with so far?
LA Models, Wilhelmina, Elite, IMG, Revolution, Donald Baldwin, DT Management, New Model Management, Nous, and many more.

How has your photography evolved?
It's definitely grown to more edgy, darker tones. I started off using warm tones for senior portraits. That too has evolved, and is now more towards the moodier side but still modern. I do follow trends that I've seen on Instagram and the photography I love--it's influenced by the photographers' style. So, it actually depends on the season. I’ve noticed this in my work. In the summer, my colors are more warm. Cooler and even bluer when it's darker and colder. I had this whole phase where I used black and white and super contrasted tones.

I like to edit every photo individually. I think each photo is unique in its own way as far as lighting, angle, shadows, and highlights. I think it deserves its own attention. I’ll go through lightroom first to do color and exposure, darken, lighten, focus on highlights--the basics. I will export the file onto Photoshop to play with the curves. I like to make my photos contrasted and I have a few actions that I’ll go through. I'm very detail-oriented.

What were you doing in LA this Summer?
This past summer, I worked in the Internet PR agency for fashion, Dietch PR, representing 12 clients. They have a showroom, and I would have my stylist I was working with go to showroom and pull pieces for my photoshoots. The brands were both local and international. Lime and Vine started out in LA but they have headquarters in Japan. Alpha and Omega, Resurrection--they carry those brands too. In that way, everything was connected. The days I wasn’t interning--I was photographing for boutique agency, New Model Management. I would coordinate makeup artists with the models I wanted to work with and stylists too. I would use the resources from my internship. New Model Management was very personal. They had me come into their office, gave me a tour of their place, and I was able to look through the models' comp cards and portfolios. If I had a special mood board, I would coordinate to that by saying, "Hey, this is what I’m thinking for this shoot, and I think it would be cool to shoot in China Town."

How do you connect with models or other photographers?
Instagram was a huge help as far as easily finding creatives around LA. Sometimes they will find you through a hashtag or location.

Any memorable places that you've photographed at?
One of my models said one day, "You know it'd be really cool if we do a photoshoot at Franco’s house." He has a beautiful house on top of Hollywood Hills that he calls, "The Hercules Hideout." It is an open house for models and photographers so we were able to go up there. That was another way I networked. I met Summer Ferguson, Luke Raymond, and other California photographers and models who hung out at the spot to party and hangout--open game. There were a lot of people my age photographing and modeling. Being around people who were pursuing the same passion and talent; it was inspiring.

You've photographed at the Wildfox House?
We used Jimmy’s house, who’s the owner of Wildfox. Pool tables were everywhere. It was crazy for sure but it was super fun.

Any future plans or projects?
I definitely see myself moving to LA or New York. Culture, fashion, and art are what drives my work. Somewhere that has an industry. Constantly being surrounded by these elements that inspire me and with the people who are working towards the same things as you are, pushes me to be competitive and always shoot.

I love going back to Colorado and doing nature photos again. Towards the end of my summer, Kelly Calvillo, a big nature photographer, and I adventured up to Mount Evans to shoot around the rocky mountains. Honestly, Denver has an upcoming fashion community that people are starting to recognize.
Depending where I am at in the summer, I want to keep working for modeling agencies. I think fashion is where I want to gear my work towards. Of course, I love portraits still, since that's where I originally built my business from. It's always going to be a huge part of it. But, being in fashion, I think you can step outside the box with it. If I'm going to be back in LA, I want to start working with Next Models because I know we've been in contact a little bit. When they reached out, I had already left California.

What methods do you use to market yourself?
Instagram. It sounds silly but Instagram is a platform for so many artists. And it's where I've gotten to connect with a lot of models. Also through word of mouth and utilizing resources on the web. You never know what people will say.

How did you learn and attain your skills?
Trial and error. I haven’t taken a photography class just because I don’t think everything is in the textbook. It’s in your control. I think that's why shooting on manual is so important. You can shoot how you want to and add your creative brand to it.

I think passion is what really drives everything. It reflects on how you work and what you produce. How you even approach something. I knew moving out to LA, I wouldn't be paid for all my work. But it came from passion. Out of passion, I wanted to take on the challenges. There's so many photographers out in LA and a plethora of people doing what you're doing. I was initially hesitant. Don't be afraid to take risks. Moving out to LA was one of the best decisions I've made in my life so far. Taking that risk has helped me grow creatively and as an individual. Take that leap.

Photo Courtesy: Alison Su