Behind the Lens: Bridget Badore

Bridget Badore is a Brooklyn based photographer from a small town called Pennellville in upstate New York, near Syracuse. Being from a small town informs so much of her personality, her life in NYC, and her approach to photography. She found an interest in photography when she was about nine years old. In elementary school, she would steal her mom’s point-and-shoot 35mm camera and pull it out at recess to take funny photos of friends. It wasn’t necessarily artistic, more like a need to document every little thing in her life. Bridget reflects that, “I’ve been obsessed with nostalgia for as long as I can remember – obsessively documenting my experiences and my loved ones with photographs, lists, scrapbooking, mix-tapes, collages, memory boxes, whatever.” Read on to learn more about her journey as a photographer, life in NYC, and photography tips.

Hi Bridget! Please introduce yourself!

When I was about 12 years old, my mom gave me my father’s old 35mm Minolta camera, along with a photography manual with notes scribbled from a photography class he took. I read the manual and taught myself how to use the camera, feeling excited to understand this new language of shutter speeds and f-stops. My father died when I was three years old, and a lot of my attitude toward life has been informed by that loss. From that point on, photography became a part of my identity. I didn’t go anywhere without a camera. When high school came around, and people started thinking about what they would pursue, I was like “well I should probably try to go to school for photography, right?” Luckily I had very supportive friends, teachers, and a mother to convince me to pursue my passion.

When my friend told me she wanted to study ballet in NYC, it permitted me to admit that I wanted to go to the city too – the concept suddenly seemed less crazy. I applied to the School of Visual Arts because one of my other friends had said he wanted to go there. I seriously had no context for pursuing a career in art… it’s kind of embarrassing. I ended up moving to the city at 18 years old to study photography at SVA, and it was a crazy adjustment. I second-guessed everything for the first three years and then finally started to settle into my new reality in my senior year of college. It’s been a hard process of learning to trust myself and put myself out there.

“I enjoy the challenge of getting
someone to trust me enough
to feel comfortable and vulnerable
in front of my camera.”

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What are you up to now in your photography career?

I’ve done a lot of different photography work in the last few years, from weddings, events, headshots, and everything in between; basically, I just did whatever work came my way. I felt lucky to be taking photos, no matter what they were. Now that I’ve been freelancing full-time for a few years, I’m trying to weed out the work that excites me less and get more work in the portraiture space. I’ve been the lead photographer for The Style Line, and their subsidiary content agency Connect(ed)itorial for three years and I’ve been able to meet so many amazing emerging designers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners through photographing for the website. I enjoy the challenge of getting someone to trust me enough to feel comfortable and vulnerable in front of my camera. That’s where I find my love for photography rushing back. I just finished a huge portrait show where I photographed 60 different people and interviewed them about their lives and their relationships to the concept of community. It was cool, and affirming to be at the opening and have them telling me how much it made them feel like they were part of something special.

Your photography style is really beautiful – you always capture the subject in a captivating way. Describe your style, how you developed it, and the most important elements that you keep in mind when shooting.

Thank you! A lot of figuring out my style has been through listening to other people explain what resonates with them. If I trust someone enough, I’ll ask them “why is it that you feel that way?” after they compliment my photography or respond to an image they’ve seen. It makes me feel vulnerable, but I usually get an interesting response that helps me learn more about what I’m doing right and what I hope to do better. The feedback you receive helps you grow and further express your own ideas.

The first time I started to understand and conceptualize my approach to photography was about 7 years ago when one of my best friends from childhood told me “your photographs show a sense of warmth that make me feel like home.” That was such a huge affirmation for me; I hadn’t even realized how important it was for me to convey warmth in my images before that, and I had been doing it long enough for her to notice it. There are little things that become part of your style without you even noticing or making an effort to do it. I would describe my style as intimate, warm, and vulnerable. Honesty and vulnerability are super important to me; I think that’s how you truly create empathy and intimacy.

I’ve realized that so much of my work over the last 8 years has been about finding intimacy between myself and my subject – creating a space for vulnerability and allowing people to be “seen” in that moment. I try to remember that whenever I photograph anyone. It can be so easy sometimes to just rush through a portrait sitting and not see the subject. You don’t have to spend a long amount of time with someone – I think an honest image can be created with just a few minutes. I try to remember to truly listen to them, to pick up on their body language, and make them feel comfortable. A lot of my style comes from trying to make people feel comfortable while they’re being photographed, and I think that’s where the real warmth comes in. Obviously, I color-correct my images and add tonal elements to bring out that warmth from a visual perspective as well. But for me, a photography style is much more about how you approach your subject, rather than your retouching technique or what film you use.

“A lot of figuring out my style
has been through listening
to other people explain
what resonates with them.”

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Behind the Lens Bridget Badore - Planoly - 4

Photography can either be very vulnerable, or it can mask reality. Which aspect of photography do you enjoy the most? What do you try to pull from your subjects when photographing them?

For me, photography has always been a way to connect with people and hold on to their memory. It’s crazy, but whenever I’m with someone that I want to feel emotionally bonded to, like family members or old friends, I feel restless if I don’t have the chance to photograph them. Maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with death or something and I’m constantly feeling anxious that a feeling, a moment, or a person, will escape me.

Photography has always been my way of remembering things, and if I don’t document something, it feels like it’ll disappear from my mind. I’ve obviously had to learn how to come to terms with that as I’ve entered adulthood. There are certain moments I’m able just to enjoy, but I still feel this restlessness if my boyfriend and I are having a really good conversation on a Sunday morning while we’re still in bed, and I’m reminded of why I love him, and the light is coming in perfectly on his face. I think he expects it – I’ll nervously ask if it’s okay for me to take a photo, scared that I’ve ruined the moment, and he always surprises me by being super chill about it. It’s cool to feel like someone understands you. I guess that’s sort of what I want my subjects to feel too. I want them to see a photograph of themselves and feel good about it, not because it’s a glamour shot or anything, but because they actually see themselves in it. I want other people to look at a portrait I’ve taken and say, “I want to know more about that person.” I want to find ways to get my subjects to share themselves. To somehow show someone’s vulnerability through just an image seems like kind of an insane task though… I’m constantly trying to wrap my head around how it’s possible, but then I see other photographers I admire who make really beautiful and raw images, and I think that’s how you do it. You just have to keep being unapologetically honest and raw and real, all the time. That’s how you get to the good stuff – you can’t be afraid of it.

How do you feel about sharing your work online? What are your top 3 tips when it comes to posting your work on Instagram as a photographer?

I was insecure about sharing my work online when I first started. I remember taking every criticism so seriously and feeling ashamed whenever someone didn’t like my work. Now I’m much more open about it because I’ve surrounded myself with friends and colleagues who I know will lift me up and be constructive and collaborative with their feedback. I wish I had started sharing my work more seriously earlier on though. I used to just throw up all my work on a LiveJournal account very passively as if being too invested in my ideas would make me seem self-obsessed or annoying. But really, who cares if you seem self-involved? If you are, then your real friends will call you on it, but if a stranger connects to something you’ve posted online that you put your heart and soul into, then that’s amazing! You’re never going to get that connection if you don’t take the risk and put it out there.

  1. On Instagram, my biggest tip is to download PLANOLY. 😉 In all seriousness though, the app helps me get into a routine with posting my work confidently. It helps to be able to see it in the grid beforehand, and when I’m adding images to my website, I’ll just dump a few of my favorites into the desktop version, so it’s super easy to create a workflow without taking a bunch of time out of my day.
  2. My second tip is to take advantage of the personal nature of Instagram. People are following you because they want to see an “inside perspective” of your life. You can share more on Instagram than you would on your website or your portfolio. It’s an opportunity to give your followers and friends a chance to see a different side of your work. Maybe share a behind the scenes story about something that happened during the shoot, or share why an image is important to you. I think that’s what makes a photographer stand out on Instagram.
  3. Thirdly, I love when people use hashtags to archive their projects. It’s so cool to me when I discover a new artist online and see that they’ve posted part of a series, and then I can click through the hashtag to see all of the images in one place. I’ve started trying to do that with my account too. I’m working on a project about my dad, and I’ve been using the hashtag #bbdadproject to keep all the posts in one place. For my portrait show at the Y, we used the hashtag #14YPortraits. It’s nice to know that even in a year, after a bunch of other things are posted to the account; we’ll be able to look back and have all of these posts still easily accessible without scrolling for days.

“My biggest piece of advice
with editing is just to take your
time and go with your gut.”

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What are your editing tips and can you show a before and after photo of that process? What is your editing process and what do you look for to adjust and enhance the image?

My process looks slightly different depending on the needs of each shoot. For a lot of my personal work, I shoot medium format film, so there’s less editing involved because the process itself is much slower and intentional. The look of the images already has a warmth to it that comes with film, but usually, I’ll open the high-res scan in photoshop and adjust the coloring to bring the red or magenta hues out more. For most of my editorial or lifestyle work, I do almost all of my editing and retouching in Lightroom. I’ll go through the images from a shoot and delete any that I don’t love – that usually just comes from my gut. Then, when I have a rough edit of which images I like, I’ll go through and start to color-correct and play around with tone curves, hues, and saturation. I usually brighten up the photo quite a bit and bring out the warmer tones.

My biggest piece of advice with editing is just to take your time and go with your gut. If something looks good to you, explore it a little bit and play with techniques; but if you look back and realize that it looks fake, then don’t be afraid to start over. Or leave it alone completely for a day and come back to it. It’s also important to recognize that some editing processes won’t work for all environments. You might find a process that you love for one shoot on a cloudy afternoon, and then add the same technique to a bright sunny evening shoot or an indoor setting, and it looks completely off. You have to adjust to what looks best for each photo, and that’s where taking your time becomes important.

If you’re just starting out with Lightroom, I would suggest playing around with presets (vscocam has cool lightroom presets that you can purchase), and look at what changes when you apply each preset. Try to play around and see if you can emulate the look from scratch, and it’ll help you realize which qualities you like when you’re editing.

You mentioned about learning to express your feelings more as you got older. Tell us how you’ve grown and why. How do you allow yourself to be more expressive and vulnerable about sharing your feelings on social media, especially the touchy subjects?

This has been a really interesting process for me because I always thought it wasn’t “mature” to express your feelings. It’s less about immaturity and more about grace. If you’re just spewing emotions all over the place without regard for anyone else, then that’s one thing, but learning how to express them in a coherent and relatable way is something I admire. I didn’t realize that this was important to me until I started seeing so many people sharing their personal stories around political issues within the last few years. I began to realize how important it is for personal narrative to be accessible. That’s how people build empathy outside of their immediate surroundings. Sharing your feelings is one of the strongest and bravest things you can do. I came to realize that you’re doing the people in your life a disservice if you’re not honest with them about your experiences.

Growing up with a lot of grief, I held in a lot of what I felt because I was afraid I’d make someone uncomfortable. It’s so scary to make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there, but when people respond and relate to you, that’s stronger than any other friendly connection you make over small talk. I believe that you build the strongest connections with people when you talk about the touchy subjects – the real gritty stuff that people usually tend to hide away. Sometimes I feel like I’m a little obnoxious about it, but I think that might just be who I am – I’ve always been a super sensitive human and I’m trying to retrain my brain to accept that being sensitive is okay; with that comes expressing your emotions in a healthy and thoughtful way. Once I finally admitted to myself that this was important to me and that being honest and vulnerable isn’t a weakness, but a strength, I started trying to find ways to implement radical sharing into my life. I posted more online about what I was actually feeling – not just cute Instagram-worthy photos of me living my “cool Brooklyn life,” with vague captions because I was either too lazy or too scared to commit to saying anything before.

I started challenging myself to stop passively scrolling and start actually sharing with the platforms I was engaging with. It was a period of intense growing pain. I shared some things that made some people uncomfortable, but I built connections with people who came out of the woodwork to tell me that I wasn’t alone and they were feeling the same way. Women from my hometown, along with professionals I admired reached out to me about the isolation they felt during the election. People reached out to give me advice about things that helped them through difficult experiences; the valedictorian from my high school messaged me to tell me that she too often felt incredibly overwhelmed and asks herself “how does anyone ever accomplish anything?,” just as I had. Just getting a note from someone I would have never expected to relate to what I was going through was so powerful. I wanted this online sharing to translate into something “IRL,” so I started inviting people with similar experiences to my apartment for little “salon style” sharing sessions. I call them feelings parties. I’m hoping to build it into something bigger this year and invite more people to talk about more topics (you can follow along at @feelingsparty). It’s been cool. I’m excited about exploring this new passion and see how I can work my photography practice into it somehow.

“I firmly believe that transparency
and vulnerability on social
media are really important.”

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Behind the Lens Bridget Badore - Planoly - 15

What do social media, Instagram, and photography mean to you in this day and age? What do you love about it and how can we use it for good?

Social media is a way to feel connected to people that I would have otherwise completely lost touch with, or would otherwise not even have the opportunity to get to know. While it can be really scary and overwhelming for the same reasons, I think the accessibility that social media gives us can be super empowering. You obviously have to have boundaries and know when to log off and connect with people in person. Social platforms like Instagram are just tools for connection, and like any tools, we have to be able to use them properly. I choose to be optimistic about Instagram, while I know some people find it very toxic. I choose to follow people who also value honesty and transparency, so my feed feels more authentic. I firmly believe that transparency and vulnerability on social media are really important. I’m a self-proclaimed over-sharer, but I like it. I love when people overshare. My favorite people to follow are people who are sharing candidly about their real experiences. It opens our worlds up in a human way. The more we share, the more people might find something that they can relate to when they’re feeling isolated. Our connections in the “real world” can translate in a real way through the screen, and those online connections we make can become some of the most powerful relationships offline.

Stay connected:

Website: Bridget Badore
Instagram: @bridgetbadore