CARLY SHARP: PHOTOGRAPHER
CARLY IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA
I met Carly during my very first few weeks at UCLA. She was a sophomore when I entered as a freshman, and we had mutual friends. In the first 15 minutes of chatting with her, I immediately felt like I had known her for years.
Two years after our first introduction, Carly photographed a bunch of our friends in Venice for Campbell&Kramer. A couple weeks later, she captured our Campbell&Kramer gang around Westwood and on campus.
Carly is able to capture and present the essence of our clothing and brand: laid back, coastal, and edgy yet casual. She’s incredibly adept at reading between the lines: She understands her subject’s unspoken goal.
Despite her being at a relatively early stage in her career, Carly has managed to build an impressive portfolio. Check out her insta to see her work: @carlyjeansharp.
It’s Saturday, July 2nd in Laguna Beach. Today, the girl that’s typically behind her camera will now be in front of mine. I’m excited to learn more about Carly’s influences that directed her toward photography, her current sources of inspiration and how she develops her vision, as well as her future goals.
You’re a photographer. How long have you been considering a career in photography? What was the first step to commit to this career?
I’ve always wanted to be a photographer. My first big purchase, ever, was a camera. I asked my dad for a camera in 6th or 7th grade, and he said I would have to pay for it. So I sold cupcakes everyday after school until I had enough money to buy it. But I didn’t ever think of photography as anything more than a hobby. In the past three years of college, I would always get asked “what do you want to do after school?” I found myself telling everyone that, in a dream world, I would be a photographer. I hadn’t even graduated, and I hadn’t really tried other jobs at that point. Why was I not allowing myself to just try to do my dream job? So that’s when I started making the decision.
It was really scary. Especially because, at UCLA, everyone was signing job offers a year in advance. The post-college path leaving UCLA is very cut and dry: this is what you’re doing, this is what you’re making, this is what’s expected of you. To decide not to do that and try a different path is not totally comfortable.
By junior year of college I started thinking more seriously about photography, but I didn’t have a portfolio, and I didn't know who would hire me, enabling me to start building a portfolio. So that’s when I started reaching out to anyone who knew anyone who could just let me be near a shoot. I was, and currently am, also really interested in the music industry, so I reached out to a friend who was working on a startup label, and he helped show me opportunities.
Photography is something I always wanted to do, but I never thought it was a viable career option. But, I knew I would completely regret not trying.
What from your past– childhood memories, experiences, education, environment, and community– have indirectly or directly inspired this career? Are some of these past memories current sources of motivation and inspiration? I think I’m asking this: What inspires you from your past?
Definitely my parents. My parents have always encouraged me to do whatever I want. A lot of my friends mentioned that their parents would never support a career like this. In fact, I had a job offer for a different career, and I turned it down before graduating because I thought "this just isn’t what I want." I was crying when I got the offer because all I could think is "this is wrong. I don’t want to do this."
My parents gave me permission to be creative, and they always let me experiment. My dad always had cameras around. He’s not a photographer, but he works in the surf industry. In fact, he and I were just looking at this video of me when I was two, and I was asking to hold the camera.
Dance has also influenced this career. I’ve been able to develop an eye for movement and awareness of bodies. When it comes to something as simple as posing, my experience in dance has informed me a lot. One day I’d love to direct and choreograph music videos.
What types of cameras do you use, and what do each of these cameras allow?
I have a lot of cameras now. I’ve been collecting them throughout the years. I have a digital Canon that does what you’d expect it to do. Digital is great because you can see photos immediately. You can take as many photos as you want. It’s not free because you have to buy the camera, but it’s free to keep shooting. I like to shoot digital before I shoot film. I started shooting with film toward the end of high school using just a standard point and shoot. Throughout college, I collected more film cameras. My favorite one is a Contax G2– it takes beautiful photos. It acts like a point and shoot, but it’s slightly more advanced, and it takes sharper photos. I have my dad’s Polaroid camera from the 80’s. I have a Super 8 camera which just broke– it only works if I hold it upside down.
How do you prepare for a shoot? Do you have a certain ritual? Do you source inspiration?
It depends on what type of shoot it is and who it’s with. If it’s a shoot for a music artist, I definitely want them to send me inspiration to get an idea of what they want. If it’s a brand, they usually have a deck.
Whether I’m helping to create the image or following set guidelines, I usually like to make a Pinterest board or save things on Instagram. Then I’ll print out the photos and hang them up at the shoot so it can be easily referenced. I can just point to a pose and say “This is what I’m thinking.”
There’s definitely a lot of planning, and the more prepared I feel going into the shoot, the more enjoyable it is.
Carly photographs Charlie in C&K vintage collection.
How much control do you typically have as the photographer? Are you curating the scene, are you playing your part in curating the scene, or are you helping someone else curate their idea of the scene?
It ranges every time. It depends who’s on set because sometimes there are creative directors, art directors, the brand founders, stylists, whoever. They usually want their say; everyone wants their say. I try to focus and figure out how to make each person’s goal happen. I ask, what does the brand want? What does the artist want? You need to listen to everyone, and it’s important that it’s collaborative. Everyone needs input because it’s everyone’s work.
Is your knowledge formal or self taught?
I’ve learned everything on Youtube. There are definitely times on set where I have to Google things.
Everyone is still learning.
How do you imagine your career trajectory?
I struggle with this because in my head, I have an idea of where I want to be, but then saying it out loud makes me question, who am I to anticipate all of this success? I was listening to a podcast with a photographer who actually quoted Kobe Bryant, “The moment you give up is the moment you let someone else win.” I always think about that. Of course I want to do multiple shoots a month, shoot covers, and be a part of huge campaigns, but even saying that sounds far-fetched. But someone’s going to do it. I just have to remind myself that someone’s going to make it, so why not me. If you don’t bet on yourself, it’s never going to happen.
Do you have a dream subject or location or photoshoot idea?
I really want to travel for a shoot. I’d love to go somewhere tropical or Tulum or Italy. I’m itching to do a travel shoot because I haven’t done one.
As for subjects, I like working with people.