This week, we chatted with San Francisco-based photographer, Caroline Pacula. Caroline's photography is soft and serene, informed by her ability to reveal the most surreal quality of any location she captures. Her work is featured at Serena & Lily online, as well as in 2020's Gold Collective book, Marin Living Magazine in the Associated Press, and the Decorator Showcase from Aspire Show House through September of last year. She doesn't necessarily work in a conventional "studio," which is precisely why we wanted to learn more about just what goes in to creating such beautiful images for print. Read our conversation with Caroline to learn more about how she does what she does - from shooting in international locations to editing, organizing, and dreaming of what's next on her travel itinerary.
Our Interview with Caroline Pacula
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
While I’ve lived in California for over 35 years, I was born in France to Dutch parents. My father’s career in the oil industry required us moving the family to various countries around the world including Indonesia, Singapore, Libya, Nigeria, Algeria. Not surprisingly, my exposure to diverse cultures, languages, and landscapes contributed greatly to my continual sense of wanderlust.
How would you describe your work?
I play with light, color, and scale to reveal an almost surreal image. Prior to being a print photographer, I’d spent eight years as a family and child portrait photographer, and had developed a light and airy style that I still apply in my current work.
How did you get started with photography?
Before establishing a successful career in photography, I was in the Dot.com space with my last corporate job at Google, where I helped open up a series of international sales offices. The job required that I travel a lot, which presented many opportunities to fulfill my wanderlust and passion for photography. While my corporate job was fulfilling it wasn’t very flexible when it came to starting a family. My dream job was always to be a photographer for National Geographic and when I became a mom, I took the time to learn how to take professional photos. While I don’t work for one of my favorite magazines, my dream job is even better than I imagined. Now, I'm always planning our family vacations and always choose a place with which people can relate to or connect. One of my favorite quotes from Paula Bendfeldt is, "Travel opens your heart, broadens your mind and fills your life with stories to tell."
What is your artistic process like (i.e. walk us through how you create a piece or series)?
I don't actually devote time to photography days, per se. My photos usually happen organically and are taken in places my family and I are visiting, or while we’re on vacation. When I shoot, I take a lot of different photos and angles. Once I've downloaded the images, I sift through the raw files and mark my favorites. I usually end up pulling about five photos that really stand out. I’ll edit the photos by brightening, highlighting, and lifting the shadows. Sometimes, I’ll remove elements from the background that are distracting or that could detract from the overall composition. To highlight the subject, I use the rule of thirds, and I use negative space, which provides, "breathing room" to give the viewer’s eyes a place to rest.
What is your favorite part of that process?
It’s living the actual moment before it is captured. Also, knowing that what I captured will translate into a photo with which people can connect.
Is there ever a particularly challenging part of the process?
Honestly, the organization of all my photos is what I dislike the most! That is not my strongest trait and sometimes I have to do a deep dive when things get out of control.
How do you select the locations you photograph?
They always just come up organically during vacations we go on together as a family.
What is your favorite location you’ve photographed? Is there a particular location you’d like to return to someday?
Definitely Sorrento and Capri [below] because both places were SO beautiful!
Where to next?
I just purchased a drone, now I need to figure out how to use it! Once I have mastered it, I’m going back to Italy!
Has the pandemic affected your work at all? If so, how?
Yes it has in that I had an incredible year and feel so blessed! So many people moved which meant lots of homes with bare walls —walls that needed prints! I don’t expect the same sales the year, but I am optimistic. It’s not the type of thing that I’ve shared very much though, because so many families are in pain and dealing with loss on so many levels.
Your work tends to be very soft. Do you look for spots where that aesthetic is already present, or is that an artistic touch that you add after the image has been taken?
The time of day is what creates that soft look and editing in RAW. The golden hour (just after sunrise or just before sunset) is when the light is the best to bring out the softest tones in colors. I also lift the shadows in my photos which takes out the harsh darker colors.
Are there any artists who have inspired you or your work?
Yes, several. Thiago Quiuque (Brazilian photographer) - I love the simplicity and colors of his work, how they make you feel, the uniqueness of his angles, the beauty of the light he captures. Another is Grey Malin (L.A.-based fine art photographer). I’m envious of all his helicopter rides and drone photos, and that he gets to travel the world at anytime. Last, Serena Dugan, the founder of Serena & Lily and currently, an artist and textile designer, Sausalito, California. Her composition and use of textiles and color is just beautiful. She’s not a photographer, but anything she does, you can just tell it’s her work. After starting a business, she’s now gone back to her roots.
In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
Create beauty everyone can connect with.
What do you do in your free time (aside from art/photography)?
I’m a mom which is my most important job in the world and always comes before everything else. Some of my other hobbies are traveling, exercising, spending time with our family and friends, reading, cooking, skiing, hiking, philanthropic work, being in nature and most of all, creating the adventures and experiences that we will look back on one day with fond memories. The best part is that photography captures all these moments in time!
To see all of Caroline's photography, visit her Artist page.
Did you love learning about Caroline's process and inspiration? Let us know in the comments!