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Jen Huston

6 May 2021

By day, Jen Huston "brings babies into the world", but at night, she scours her local suburban streets for any sign of light. Read on to find out how a personal tragedy kickstarted her photographic journey and why she loves adverse weather conditions.

What's your backstory?

As a child, I was brought up around art. My grandmother was an art teacher, and she taught me to draw. However, I ended up majoring in Nursing in college, mostly for job security. I have spent my entire career as a Labor & Delivery nurse, helping bring babies into the world. These types of jobs do not have room for creativity. A few years ago, I decided to buy my first camera and fell in love with expressing myself through photography.

How did you first start out in photography?

My sister unexpectedly passed away in 2016. I mourned her death for a long time. I still do. About a year after that happened, my fiancé Nick suggested I get a hobby. I remembered that I liked photography class from college. So when I got my income tax return, I bought my first camera (Canon Rebel T6) as a package deal on Amazon. I fell in love with it. I did a lot of self-study to teach myself manual mode shooting. After that, I studied depth of field, long exposures, low-light shooting, and many other subtypes.

What are your sources of inspiration?

I draw inspiration from what is around me. I used to hate the fact that I didn't live in the city. I've always been attracted to the architecture and "wow factor" of the city lights. I felt like I had nothing to photograph in my town, especially compared to the dramatic urban shots on Instagram. I'd drive to Philly, which is three hours away, and shoot with friends. When I couldn't be there, it felt as though I was at a creative standstill.

One day, I was sitting in some mandatory class for work, and an idea came to me; why don't I embrace suburban life? I could make a series, all about suburbia at night. For the last year or so, that's been my focus.

What subjects do you like to shoot?

I love to shoot night scenery. In general, I think the night is beautiful. My favorite is the blue hours, just as the lights begin to come on. It looks so much more interesting than the daytime. Foggy nights are another favorite. I love how fog transforms an area, giving it layers; street lights and neon signs look amazing in the fog as do people or silhouettes in the foggy environment. Car headlights down a foggy road look amazing as well.

For me, it's about aesthetic. I think the fog at night looks really interesting and beautiful. I get a lot of comments that these are "moody" or "creepy". They bring about more emotion in others than myself. To each their own. I am satisfied when my shots are powerful enough to bring about ANY mood or feeling in others, whatever that happens to be.

Are you an impulsive or planned shooter?

I'd love to say I plan my shots, but often things I try to plan don't work out. I keep notes on my phone, maintaining a list of photo ideas as I come across them. Usually my best work ends up just happening in an unplanned way. I may set out to shoot something, and something else along the way ends up being a better shot. You have to be ready to improvise and make the best of the things you cannot control. The weather may change, the lighting may be different than you expect. You have to figure out a way to work with what you have in front of you. Often on very short notice.

In general, I’m so damn impulsive. I have to force myself to stop and put the camera on a tripod. I'm getting better at slowing myself down though.

How do you achieve the look in your photos?

Each shot is different and I don't have settings saved in my camera. I just try to keep the ISO low, and increase the shutter speed if at all possible. However, I'm not afraid to crank up the ISO if needed. If I need to remove a lot of noise, I will create a layer in photoshop and selectively remove it.

I don't like my edits to be too "faded". I don't care if that is trendy. I may bring up the blacks and shadows a little, but I prefer a decent amount of dynamic range. I tend to decrease the clarity just a little bit as well. I dislike shots that are extremely sharp - sometimes edits like that hurt my eyes!

Another thing I always try to do is make sure the shot looks like it is taken at night. If I light my foreground, I only do so slightly, because it's night time! It's supposed to be dark, not 3pm!

Can you tell us the story behind some of your photos?

Photo One

This was taken on a super-foggy night. The reason I love it is that my son, Taylor, accompanied me and agreed to be in the photo. He is so kind and he always puts up with my constant evening photo runs.

Photo Two

This is a shot from a glowing red pagoda located in Reading, PA. My friend Chris (@longfire) and I are filming our first youtube video for an upcoming channel we're making, all about night photography. This particular night started out with sleet and ice during the day, and then ended with glorious fog at night. Keep an eye out for our first youtube video coming soon!

Before and after editing

How do you feel your style has evolved over the years?

When I first started out, I was fascinated by sun flares and bokeh. Not meaningful bokeh… just any dumb thing I could capture that had bokeh lights in the background. I thought it was amazing! I still love shallow depth of field, but these days if I'm going to use it, I try to use it purposefully. I also used to go wild with the colors. I look back and think "some of these shots look like they were edited by a kindergartener!". Now, I try to be a little more selective about color.

It took me a long time to find "my style". Once I fell in love with foggy night shots, people started calling my work "moody". So I just ran with it. Fog can represent uncertainty, and uncertain times are pretty damn relevant these days.

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

Lately I've been noticing engagement on Instagram has been down. I seem to get less likes, though I feel my work is improving. Friends seem to be noticing the same thing. While that is annoying, I try to remind myself that the primary reason I use Instagram is to show my work, and gain inspiration from other talented photographers.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us Jen. Any final comments?

Thank you for having me! For anyone who hasn't tried a lot of night photography, I highly recommend you do! Go explore, the surroundings can be so beautiful!

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