Stephanie Russo cherishes the small details; the way light bounces off a white-washed wall in Puglia, a coveted spoon, the heft of a camera in hand. When beginning a new assignment she aims to personalize the experience. Each photo tells a story, a masterpiece unto itself. Join us as we sit down for a chat and keep scrolling to view her incredible work; a testament to the blissful, methodical, and intention-driven photographer.
Your work features a beautiful array of interiors, travel, food and lifestyle photography. Which is your favorite to shoot? What do you love most about capturing interiors?
Am I allowed to say all of them? ALL of them! I’m incredibly fortunate that no two shoots are ever alike, and the variation keeps me challenged and constantly learning new techniques. That said, there is something strikingly intentional about shooting interiors; a lot of thought, adjustment and collaboration go into the framing up and execution of each shot. The details of a space are incredibly important, and the slightest change in angle or styling can have a remarkable impact. I love the process of setting up a shot and working with designers (who are usually detail-driven by nature) to ensure that every aspect of the frame is just right.
One peek at your portfolio reveals that you’re well-traveled. What has been your favorite destination to photograph, and why?
Ah, travel. I miss it more than ever. There’s something magical about the light in Puglia, Italy. It’s soft and bounces beautifully between the whitewashed walls, therefore you truly cannot take a bad photo. Plus, the people are unbelievably kind and happy to have their photo taken.
Was a career in photography what you always dreamt of doing?
No! I was the indecisive student who changed her major four times before settling on a degree in Public Relations. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that my then-boyfriend (now husband) put a camera in my hand, taught me a few basic functions, and suggested capturing the world as I saw it around me. I was quite lonely in the first few months of my move, and I found purpose and solace in the weight of that Canon Rebel T3i slung across my shoulder. As I advanced in the world of Public Relations, the term “content” became prevalent and every client wanted more of it. In an effort to keep things “in house” I decided I’d teach myself how to shoot subjects such as food, wine, etc. and learned I much preferred being behind the camera than the desk. The rest is, well, history I suppose.
Your website not only features incredible photos, but dazzling writing to accompany them. What does your process look like, do you hear the story while you’re shooting?
That’s so kind of you, thank you. When the camera is in my hand, I become instinctively present and it’s a completely energized focus—a flow, if you will. I don’t often notice what’s happening beyond what’s right in front of me and it’s typically not until I’ve had weeks or even months to process the experience before I am able to put it into words.
What was the best piece of advice you were given starting out? What advice would you give someone who is breaking into interior photography today?
My husband has always been my biggest supporter (…and #1 fan and 2nd shooter) and advised me early on to simply, “Shoot what makes you happy.” If you shoot what brings you joy, you’ll develop the natural, continuous drive to learn more, become better, and ultimately succeed (however you choose to define success).
To anyone looking to break into the interior photography world today, I would advise investing in a great tripod, perusing the “University of YouTube,” and persistence. Shooting interiors (like anything) takes a lot of studying, practice and patience.
What aspect of being a photographer do you most love? And what’s one facet of your profession that you could do without?
I absolutely love being a photographer; I love meeting and getting to know new people, I love hearing people’s stories and learning what makes their space, project or story special, I love studying light and composition. It’s an honor working alongside talented designers, chefs, hoteliers, all of whom are masters of their craft. I feel like I get this front row seat to their talent performance!
And oof, what could I do without? The admin side of things. I feel for my poor bookkeeper.
We often see the end results of a photoshoot. Can you give us a glimpse of what an interiors shoot day looks like for you?
Typically a shoot starts long before I arrive. Designers will ensure the space has been cleaned and styled prior to my arrival. As soon as I show up, we do a quick walk-through of the space to determine the order in which we’ll shoot. Once this has been decided, I’ll get camera, lighting and tethering set up in our first shot location. I frame up the shot, which the designer is able to see on a computer, and we look at the image together to determine what needs to be adjusted, moved, re-zhooshed, etc. Once we get to a place where we both feel good about what’s happening on screen, I take several exposures of the room and boom – shot one is complete. The day continues on in this fashion before someone calls wrap!
From the pandemic to becoming a mom to your sweet boy, Maverick, what shifts have you made to evolve with the past year’s changes in your life?
Maverick, with all of his joy and childlike wonder, has been my greatest teacher. I’ve learned to slow down and find happiness in the smallest of things. Time with my family is more important than it has ever been and has led me to be more deliberate with my business decisions. I do my best now to leave space on my calendar, to prevent stressing myself out with overcommitment, to book work and outings with intention.
What details do you believe make the best photographs? How do you focus on them in your work?
Anything personal. It’s easy for a space to be lovely, but what makes it personal? I love when a home features unique pieces found while traveling, or when a chef requests a coveted spoon that was once his grandmother’s be in the shot…details like this set imagery apart.
Where can we find you when you’re not behind the camera? What sparks joy in your life beyond the lens?
You can find us in the mountains! My husband, Rico, takes active to another level and I’m so grateful he drags me along for the ride (literally); cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, paddle boarding – we find the most joy in being outside and traveling together.
What tunes keep you going while you’re in editing mode? Any favorite Spotify playlists?
YESSS, music is a constant over here. I’m easily distracted and prefer upbeat acoustic/instrumentals while editing. City of the Sun is my absolute favorite band for this and their latest self-titled album is insane, I can’t get enough of it. Editing aside, there’s usually a pretty random medley happening over here; The War on Drugs, Ten Fé, Sylvan Esso, The National, The Japanese House to name a few.
You can find Stephanie on Spotify here!
If photography wasn’t your calling, what profession do you think you’d find yourself in?
A music director for movies! How fun would it be to determine the way a movie scene is going to make people feel with music? Or running some little open-air wine bar on a lake in the mountains with Rico. …the latter is already on my retirement bucket list.