Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Layla Mays

Layla Mays: Fashion Photographer in the Making!

           She's only 18 years old, but Layla Mays is an up and coming fashion photographer based out of Nashville, TN. She has even been called a "fashion photography prodigy" by a top fashion model scout! While in high school, she scouted her own models, some of who are being recognized by top modeling agencies. She is mostly a self-taught photographer, perfecting the craft through working with various lighting techniques and recruiting models with unique looks. She has a tremendous sense of business acumen and a great understanding of branding and marketing as well. I sat down to interview Layla a couple weeks before she was set to begin her Freshman year of college at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.

Dr. Carmen April: Layla, start off by tell me where you’re from. 

Layla Mays: I’m based out of Nashville right now. I lived in Austin for a year while my mom was pursuing her career in wine and food.  While in Texas, I got some experience working with modeling agencies in Dallas.

Dr. Carmen April: You recently graduated from high school. Did you take photography classes in high school and if not, where did you learn photography?   

Layla Mays:  I’ve taken a couple of classes in photography in high school, but I’ve learned through hands-on experience.  I learned my camera basics through summer camps when I was a kid and with a local food photographer.  Everything with fashion is self-taught through YouTube and the Internet, just a hands-on experience working with models.

Dr. Carmen April    Tell me how you gravitated more towards fashion versus food.

Layla Mays: When I was younger, I started out as a portrait and family photo photographer.  Then I did some classes with a local food photographer.  I decided that I like both of those fields of photography, but was more drawn towards shooting fashion style photos.  In high school, I would actually scout my own models - people who had really interesting looks. I would do the hair and makeup styling myself.  One day, I decided that I wanted to work with some modeling agencies.  I found my own model and shot her with minimal hair and makeup.  I did some really natural photos and submitted them to an agency.  The modeling agent wanted me to start testing with her new models.

Dr. Carmen April    You said that in high school, you would find the models at school. You would see girls that looked modelesque and you would approach them about photographing them. Now that you’ve graduated, how do you go about finding most of your models?  

Layla Mays: Usually for my models, I go through the local modeling agency because they all have really unique faces. These models are surrounded by top agents who develop models that have been in really big publications like Sports Illustrated  and Elle magazines.  They definitely know what they are doing.  I choose the models that I want for my portfolio - those with really interesting looks.

Dr. Carmen April    What does your portfolio look like now?

Layla Mays: When I started working with modeling agencies, I did lots of hair and makeup on models and did tons of styling.  Within a year, my style has evolved to shooting mostly models with only foundation and mascara or no makeup at all and with really basic clothing. I try to capture lots of different emotions and I set different moods with a kind of lighting that I have.  That's what my portfolio looks like that currently.
Dr. Carmen April    You are about to start college at Lipscomb University.  Tell me what your major will be and what you’re most excited about starting your freshman year of college.

Layla Mays: I’m going to be a nutrition/dietetic major at Lipscomb University because health is another passion of mine.  I’m going to pursue it as well as photography. I’m excited about the whole college experience and getting to meet new people.  In the future, I want to learn how to combine both of my passions.  I actually discussed this with a model at a photo shoot.  The model was a nutrition/dietetic major also.  We discussed how we wanted to combine both fashion and nutrition.  We discussed possibly starting our own business working with models and nutrition, making sure that models stay healthy.  Maybe in the future, we will go into business together.  A model and a fashion photographer as nutritionists!

Dr. Carmen April    Tell me what you think is next for you in the world of photography? You’ve got a lot of new adventures coming up with balancing being a freshman in college and planning to do your photography on the weekend.  How do you hopefully see that evolving in the next year or two?

Layla Mays: This summer, I’ve been focusing on working on studio photography and building up my portfolio.  I’ve done work while I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve done work with agencies in Dallas, and I’m working with a couple of modeling agencies in Nashville.  In order to strengthen my skills and to work on my portfolio, I’m trying to plan some trips to New York and L.A. to do some testing there.  I’m hoping that sometimes this school year, I can go to New York.  I may have a trip planned to L.A. this fall, so it’s really exciting!  I’ve worked with some models here in Nashville who are also assigned to New York and L.A., so I’m hoping that everything will translate really well there and I’ll get to work with the big agencies like Wilhelmina and all the other big agencies.

Dr. Carmen April:  Tell me how you learned about branding, creating your website and your business cards. Everything that you’ve presented is professional.  Tell me how you learned that.

Layla Mays: I learned about that when I worked with camps and taking lessons with other photographers.  I've learned a lot through the Internet and I read a lot of books that are about fashion photography and photography in general.  I read books about marketing yourself and about how important it is to have a really good website and present yourself well- you are your brand.  It’s very important that you’re always professional because you represent yourself and about having business cards.  You can talk about yourself to people, but you need to able to give them your contact information.  Being able to give out business cards has actually led me to a lot of opportunities.  Having a really good website, with my portfolio on there and designed by a local graphic designer has been very helpful. I described to the graphic designer the kind of look I wanted and he was able to work with us.

Dr. Carmen April    Tell me your favorite food, your favorite Nashville coffee shop, and your favorite location in Nashville to shoot other than your home studio.

Layla Mays: I have a lot of foods that I like.  I think that I’m really obsessed with my mom’s paella because she is a really amazing paella chef and it’s the best thing that I’ve ever tasted.  My favorite coffee shop is 8th & Roast because of the atmosphere and the coffee is really amazing.  It’s always really good and really consistent. It's very strong coffee -  the way that I like it!  My favorite location to shoot at other than my own studio is Marathon Music Works because I love the brick, the way it looks.  It has a really unique feel to it and there’s a studio.  I like to shoot there, they have such huge windows to let in tons of natural light and it’s so cool-looking.  I actually shot a model there during Nashville Fashion Week. It was a last minute shoot because she was in town from Asia and we planned it at the last minute. It was raining outside, so we shot in the studio and did really edgy photos inside of the studio space only using natural light.  It was really neat.

Dr. Carmen April    You mentioned in a previous question about your mom being an awesome paella chef.  I’ve attended one of her fabulous parties, which is actually where you and I met. Do you cook as well?  Have you learned any of those skills from her?

Layla Mays: I like cooking. I mostly help her with cooking and her paella parties. We work together on that and I work together with her on her food blog. I take some of her photos. What I’m really passionate about making making coffee drinks and being my own barista. I have my own little espresso maker and I like making drinks with that.  I’ve actually had models over for shoots and I made them coffee!

Dr. Carmen April: Well what a coincidence that we are interviewing over coffee at one of your favorite coffee shops! This really is a great neighborhood coffee shop. Thanks for taking some time to share with me about your love of fashion photography and some of your goals for the future! 

Layla Mays: Thank You! It's my pleasure.


Layla and I are both Cannon Girls :-)

Layla also took this head shot of me.......I feel like a model :-)

You can find Layla's Photography Portfolio at www.laylamaysphotography.com

--Dr. April

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