Only twenty-seven and published over one hundred and fifty times, Chelsea Tavis from Tragic Glamour is one of the photographers to know in Northern California. For a while we were just Facebook friends, but it was like we already knew each other. From one photographer to another, we exchanged post comments and messages regarding photographer woes and jokes. Finally, we decided to meet each other for the first time for an editorial at her home studio in Danville.
The first thing I noticed were her two cute little dogs (one of which didn’t take to me initially) who welcomed me at the front gate. Finally, she came to the door and I saw her in person for the first time. She was this blonde bombshell dressed all in black, pretty much what I had expected. She greeted me with a warm hug and welcomed me into her tragic glamour kingdom. As soon as I hit the wardrobe room I was taken aback. The walls were hot pink, with a ton of her published work that filled the spaces. Not to mention “the cutest little poo” pillow laying on the couch, and a mountain of make up on the table. We sat down and chatted about random things that we usually talk about: boys, crazy models, and photoshoot ideas.
I was excited about her success in photography and was intrigued enough to ask a few questions regarding her tactics and her journey.
MFKN: How did you get into photography?
TG: When I was 15 I took a two week make up course and started working for photographers as a make up artist. During that time I needed to build up my make up portfolio and started doing photo shoots with my friends to build it up. That was the beginning of what got me into photography. Around the age of 17 is when I started doing photo shoots with models. At that time I was purely a conceptual photographer and only did set themes. As time grew on, I graduated high school and went to college for graphic design, so I took a break from Photography. Of all the things I wanted to do, which was a lot, my biggest goal when I was younger was to be a fashion designer. So from the time that I was 16 to 23 I spent most of my free time making accessories, graphic T-shirts, and hand-sewn collections of clothing. Most of my photography from 19 to 22 was focused on just my clothing line. After that I started doing shoots again to feed my creativity. It was when I was 24 or so that I had a revelation that my favorite thing about fashion was the photography of it. The way it was portrayed. It was then that I realized that Photography was the one thing I enjoyed every aspect of, and I decided to make that my career. In that career I could also be creative with make up, fashion, and use my graphic design background to run my business. It’s the perfect storm to take all my trades and use them towards one path. I’m currently 27, going to be 28 in May. From the ages of 24 to now I spent most of my career building a foundation by working with tattoo-based models. I’ve always been attracted to whatever was different and edgy. Tattoo models were an easy fit for me. The best thing about that industry is the fact that there were so many great tattoo magazines and events that you could be a part of and get published with. Considering fashion is much harder to break into on a large scale, the tattoo world seem like the perfect start. Since the print world is slowly deteriorating, it’s making me see that it’s now my time to move onto the next level of my career. I feel my direction changing towards more fashion and portraiture. It’s a scary thing to change your direction and alter how you work, but every change brings great rewards. The thing I like most about Photography is that you never have to do the same thing. If one day you get tired of photographing people, the next day you can start photographing landscapes or food. There’s always something different. There’s always a different way to light things. There’s always a different way to edit. There’s always a different way to style. The possibilities are endless and therefore I never get bored.
MFKN: If you were to give someone advice on getting published, what would you tell them?
TG: The usual thing that people do when they want to get published is look at other photographers or models that are doing what you’re doing and see what magazines what they’re getting into and that will give you a list of magazines to try for. Then you can find out from their websites how they want you to submit to them. Most of them want exclusive work, which means you can’t share online, you can’t share it anywhere. And they don’t want it published anywhere else. A lot of people also wonder “do you get paid to be in magazines”, no you don’t.
MFKN: You do see a huge difference between before you got published and after?
TG: Yeah, a lot of people specifically pay you to work with you because you’ve been in magazines and that’s their goal. You’re producing work that’s quality enough to get published. If you’re not trying to get published, then they might assume psychologically that your work is not professional enough to be published, even if it is.
MFKN: Do models get published when they work with you?
TG: Most of the time. Not all of the time because it just depends on the subject matter of the photoshoot, and I ask them “what is your goal?”. Is your goal to be published? Is your goal to just do this for fun? Is your goal to just have really creative photos? Or will you want to make this a career? If you want to make this a career, I highly suggest to do more than one style of modeling. But most people just do one style of modeling, like tattoo modeling, pin-up modeling or whatever. But if you want to be highly successful, you should be a chameleon and do multiple styles of modeling.
MFKN: How did you come up with your rates?
TG: When I was first starting, I went as low as between $50-$150. I wouldn’t give them a lot for that. I would give them a small “mini shoot” and a couple edits just to get my feet wet, to meet people, to network so they can get my work in their portfolio and vice versa. As time progressed, my lowest rate never went below $250. The way my stuff goes is I also offer hair and make up. So $250 would be “2 outfits and 6 edits” but no hair and make up. If they wanted hair and make up they would have to bump up to the next package. But now I offer a lower package that has hair and make up but they only get one outfit and the same amount of edits (6). Some people feel like they do a good job doing their own make up and some people don’t. So it really just depends on that. It also depends on if you want the photographer’s full package as opposed to half of their vision and half of yours. Now my lowest shoot is about $300, and I bumped it up to there because I still want it to be affordable but I don’t want to short-change myself. Anything less than $200 is short-changing yourself.
MFKN: What’s the hardest part about being a photographer?
TG: The hardest thing would be having enough time. Because I tend to over-book myself to the point that I don’t book enough time to edit and I get backlogged on edits. And then it’s anxiety and you feel awful because you want to get stuff out as soon as possible. And then it takes forever and you have to just deal with that anxiety. It’s not a one-two-three step thing. With photography and any creative endeavor that’s a job, that you create into a career, you have to look at it at an angle from about five different people who are working on a business. You are not only the creative photographer, but you are the stylist, you are the social media promoter, you are the brand and marketing manager, you are the graphic designer, you are the person who is putting together an entire business and they that everybody looks at that business, the branding of the business, how people perceive you. You have to look at it in ways that you would probably never think about. And that’s the only way that you are really successful.
MFKN: So what exactly is YOUR brand? I see you with a lot of tatted models. Is that what you go for or just who comes to you?
TG: Really that was my first stepping stone. I look at everything is just of different levels. My goal has always been to be a high fashion and celebrity photographer since I’ve decided to focus on this. Usually when I meet people with tattoos I don’t see them because I’ve seen so many tattoos that I no longer realize that a lot of people have tattoos. I could just assume that you have tattoos. So I think that they’re cool and they add a lot to the photos. And I think it’s cool because you can be naked or half naked and it looks like you’re clothed because you have all this art on your body and I think that’s a very cool aspect. The reason that I got into it so much was not only because I liked alternative, edgy stuff, but because it was an easier avenue to build yourself up in. If I just went straight to fashion, a lot of that’s boring to me because it’s just plain and catalogue and cheese and cake. It’s just a bunch of cheese and cake! But the tattoo stuff was very interesting to me. The was an avenue where you could create very creative shoots where you could do high concept stuff and get published. And in fashion you couldn’t do that unless you were a well-known high fashion photographer, otherwise nobody would take you seriously.
MFKN: Do you see yourself expanding in a certain direction?
TG: For me, I’ve been trying to do more normal fashion work. I’m trying to work more non-tattooed people, just because I want to expand beyond that. I don’t see the tattoos but other people do. They look at the work and all they see are tattoos, and I’m like “well crap, can’t you look passed that and see the quality of the photo?”. I could have a portfolio where there’s five people with tattoos and twenty people without, and all they will see are the tattoos. But I like being able to have all shapes, all sizes, all races, all people in a beautiful light that shows how beautiful everyone is. That’s kind of something that I’ve tried to do with my work and I hope to do more with it. The tattoo stuff was great and it was something that was easier to get published and it was more up my avenue because I was able to be creative, but I’m starting to see more of the beauty in the simpler stuff. So I’m trying to see how I photograph that, and if that’s something I want to go more into.
MFKN: Any other future goals?
TG: My goals for the future are to become a high fashion and celebrity photographer and to make a living creating my work while traveling the world.
We stayed talking until around 10:30pm about all kinds of photographer-to-photographer stuff. Personally, I’m pretty excited to see what she’s going to come up with in her newest venture, especially since I’ve now become one of her “non-tatted” subjects!
You can check out her work at her Tragic Glamour website!