We recently interviewed Kelly Calvillo, a self-taught travel, commercial, and lifestyle photographer based in Denver, CO. Kelly is actually leaving soon for 12 months to live and work in 12 different countries. She’s one of our favorite photographers because of the emotion she conveys through her work. Her photos are beautiful to look at and compelling enough that they make viewers want nothing more than to get outside and find the same experiences for themselves. She’s very passionate about her work, her followers, and her goals to live a happy, and invigorating life as well as to help others do the same. Her zest for life, the unknown, and her positive vibes make her the perfect person to check out for perspective, and inspiration. Read some of her great answers below to get more of a sense of who Kelly Calvillo is.
Q: What has been the most testing moment in your photo career?
A: As a creative, I’m tested daily when it comes to photography. It’s a learners game and you have to be business savvy to take on whatever and whoever comes your way. Weirdly enough, I don’t know if I’ve hit the most testing moment in my photography career. I’ve always been encouraging towards myself to succeed in anything I put my mind to. The hardest thing to get around are the ones who don’t believe in you in the beginning. And you have to be strong enough to push past that.
Q: When photographers decide to make photography their career what do you feel is the biggest thing they must overcome?
A: Honestly, photography careers are all based on your mental state. It’s less of “what gear you have” or telling “what companies you have worked with”. And more waking up every day to tell yourself that you’re on the right path, and even if you’re having a down day, you have to tell yourself you will get through it. Not only that you’re going to get through this and figure it out, but rather, thrive in it. Staying positive, staying passionate, and consistently working hard is the best advice in any career.
Q: What made you decide you wanted to be a photographer and who or what influenced you?
A: I actually never wanted to become a photographer, believe it or not. When I was working in the non-creative world (I like to consider my previous careers my past-lives) and I had a bunch of photographer friends who I watched severely struggle with being full-time creatives. I had them staying on my couch, asking to borrow money, and watched them go through depression… all because they wanted their passion to be their career. At that time, I remember never wanting to feel like something I love is suffocating me. After documenting for fun, I realized the difference between my other friends and I. I have a go-getter attitude and I won’t take no for an answer. There was no way in my mind to fail at what I really want to do. And to those who say I can’t, all I can do is say… watch me.
Q: How do you get your photographs to say what you want them to say?/What is it you want them to say to the world?
A: At first, I was photographing what was around me. Scenery, scenarios, and people. Then I realized that my photographs weren’t simply showing what was in front of me. It became more about me wanting to showcase the world and educate those and show people what is really out there. I wanted to inspire the people who never leave their couch to stand up and walk out their front door. And I do that by doing it myself every day. Even if I don’t want to wake up for that 4am sunrise hike, or that 12-hour plane ride to see something I’ve never seen before. I know if I can do it, then you can do it.
Q: What pays the bills? Would you mind giving a break down of the work that is the most lucrative to you vs. the work that isn’t as money friendly but you might love doing?
A: Currently, I am a full-time freelance photographer, which means I take on projects that only I want to take on or choose to take on. Early on in my outdoor photography career, I realized that the sky, the towering mountains, and the crystal lakes were not going to pay my bills. Especially since I was not interested in selling prints. It took me a couple months to realize that it’s not that those images are not stunning, it’s just that as humans we have a hard time envisioning that the photograph is a real place. It’s not fabricated. So as I evolved as a photographer I noticed when you give the viewer a reference point of another person, a backpack, a product of some sort.. it makes all the difference. All of a sudden within these photographs we are able to story-tell, which in the end, brands and companies love. It’s how I got into lifestyle/product photography, and how I realized my biggest money maker was learning how to make where I stand transferable.
Q: Who is your favorite Instagrammer, blogger or vlogger? Or all three and why?
A: My favorite Instagrammer is probably @DoYouTravel. I watched Jack grow from someone who was posting photographs of stunning views and ideal locations, to someone who grew an empire of a brand around himself and his girlfriend in a non-intrusive way. I extremely admire him as a creative and a business-oriented being. Definitely someone I look up to. Vloggers/Youtubers you can never go wrong with Casey Neistat, Fun for Louis, Ben Brown, and Ollie Richie. You know, now that I list those off.. I think it’s time for a girl name to be amongst one of the greats! ASAP. As far as bloggers, you will have to give me a skip on that one.
Q: What do you think the biggest misconception is about the life of a social media storyteller or adventure photographer?
A: The biggest misconceptions would have to be that we are “never working” or that we don’t have real-life problems, that we get everything for free, and that we are always outdoors/always traveling or never have any down moments. I’ve had days where I’ve had all five of those things go up in flames and still never shown a bit of stress on my social media. It’s not that I don’t want to show real-life problems, but that sometimes you have WAY more down moments than you do positive, and even if my Instagram was just for me.. I would want to look back on the positive moments and get something good out of it. Instead of a folder of depressing down in the dumps collective. How cruddy would that be??
Q: Do you feel that there’s one thing that defines your photography? What is it? Do you even feel like there needs to be one thing that defines your photography?
A: Oh gosh, that’s a hard one. I’m sure you could probably ask anyone else and they could have a better answer for you than I could. I’m sure each person would say something different as well. With my photography, captions, and stories I try to encompass passion, vulnerability, and inspiration through travel and photographs of the world. But what someone else gets from me could be completely different. Perspective is everything, I’d rather leave it open for discussion.
Q: How do you educate yourself to take better photos or to keep up with the ever-changing world of social media?
A: S h o o t . e v e r y . s i n g l e . d a y . n o . m a t t e r . w h a t . Shoot everything, anything, the “nothing”, and even the ugly. I can’t stress this enough especially for photographers just starting out. I find myself using more techniques, using different perspectives and staying creative by pushing myself to shoot daily. I think the worst thing to do is to take too much inspiration from others on social media. The best way to stay ahead of the game on social media is to not play in the trend game at all. Be you, figure out what you love to shoot, and if you need a tutorial, thank god for youtube!
Q: Favorite place you’ve been to photograph or favorite person and why?
A: I loved photographing Norway. It was the most unreal scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. I went to the Lofoten Islands which is a string of islands above the arctic circle in Norway. I traveled there during the midnight sun where there are 24 hours of sunlight, and it was the most unimaginable thing I’ve experienced. Imagine a 4-6 hour long sunset, with vibrant colors, calm waters, gigantic fjords, waterfalls, rainbows, and just the best shooting hours of your life. Don’t worry, I’ll wait here while you book your ticket.
Q: Could you give me an overview of your next year of travel? What made you decide to do it?
A: For my next year, I’ll be traveling with the program Remote Year which is twelve months living in twelve countries all across the world. From starting in Asia, and working my way through Europe, to South America, it will be a life-changing trip, to say the least. I’ve always been a big traveler when it comes to getting out of the United States. It seems every time I leave, I almost never want to come back. (Don’t worry USA, I still love you). But seeing all of the culture and the lack of ignorance this world has to offer, it’s hard to stay in the US of A. Safe to say mentally I will almost be heading home because being on-the-go is where I really do belong.
Q: Any plans for when you return home yet?
A: My return date is January 2019, which as a person who used to plan week to week, and not month to month or year to year.. planning this year has been challenging. I’ve never been so tied down to a schedule of freedom. (I know, weird.) Who knows when or if I will come back to be honest. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll come back at all. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Q: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos that you know now?
A: Outside of the techy lingo of “ALWAYS SHOOT IN RAW” or “LEARN HOW TO USE THE CLONE TOOL TO PHOTOSHOP PEOPLE/TRASH/ROCKS OUT OF YOUR PHOTOS”. (It makes the photograph so much cleaner). I would tell young photographer Kelly to not be so hard on herself. I’ve always been a hard worker and when I’m working on things I believe in and am passionate about.. it’s almost obsessive. I would definitely tell myself to calm down, everything will work out, take a breath, and go have a drink with your non-photographer friends. People are the most important thing in this world, NOT getting the shot. Take experiences, and photograph them along the way. Not the other way around.
Q: Any final advice for fellow creatives trying to make their dreams happen?
A: This might not be helpful to some, but.. learn how to figure out what you want to do, for yourself. No one is going to help you, no one is going to give you the hand up, and you shouldn’t be looking for someone to give you what you want. You have to run towards it, you have to make it happen, you have to take it for yourself. If you want something bad enough, there’s almost no option but for it to come your way. So really.. what are you waiting for?
Who are some of your favorite photographers and models? Comment below and they may be interviewed next!
By Tava Hoag and Kelly Calvillo