I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Goldfinger, co-founder of Flauk, a women-owned full-service digital agency focused on helping people build happy and successful businesses through coaching, branding, copywriting, marketing and her specialties: web design, Instagram strategy, and photography. She also is the chef, food stylist and photographer at her culinary company Cooking for Luv where she has styled most notably for the Food Network and the Disney Channel. Stephanie also writes about her adventures as a digital nomad at The Boho Beet, photographing the people and places she encounters as she roams.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up with a film camera draped around my neck and a darkroom in my basement, where my dad and I would develop film for hours watching the magic of the images appearing in chemical trays. Even when I didn’t have a camera in my hand, I always looked at the world around me as if I was framing each scene, each person, each landscape, and each moment in the context of a snapshot. For the majority of my career, I have worked in the digital design world — in fashion e-commerce and then out on my own designing websites for small businesses — and while I wasn’t always behind the camera, I continually saw the power that a strong evocative image had on a brand’s storytelling, visual identity, and ultimately sales and profits. During this time, film photography was beginning to be traded in for digital, and my love for photography and technology collided to inspire me to pick up a camera again. But it wasn’t until I shifted career paths into the culinary world that photography became a paid part of my career, and when I found my true muse: food. I would lose myself for hours on end finding the perfect layout, lighting, props, and angles for making my own kitchen creations appear appealingon screen, and eventually, that obsession translated in creating beautiful scenes and images for brands and television. Eventually, with the freedom provided by my work, I started travelling more and began blogging about my adventures as a digital nomad, working more on portrait and travel photography as a visual partner in my storytelling. Now, back in the digital design world with Flauk, I smash together all the insight I gleaned in the worlds of fashion, food, product, lifestyle and travel photography to create images for our clients that truly represent the unique perspective of their companies and effectively tell the story of each brand.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I worked with Airbnb for about a year to help test their Experiences program before they launched to the world. My experience was called “Food Porn”, and in it, I guided people from around the world through restaurants and farmers markets to teach them how to style and shoot mouth-watering smartphone food photos for social media, and how to find their individual photography and editing style. I met some incredible people along the way and each one of them brought their own unique eye and perspective to the process, and by the end, even those who swore at the beginning they didn’t have an artistic bone in their body had created a portfolio of incredible photos. We all shot the same exact subjects, but still every photo turned out completely different: some were dark and moody and some bright and saturated, some abstract or surreal and some commercial, some wide and expansive and scenic and some cropped in so close all you could see was a melting drop of ice cream. It reminded me that every single person out there has beauty in their bones waiting to find some sort of expression, and that there is a place in the photography world for all the styles under the sun. There is no right or wrong way to express your vision, and by just using a few simple tricks you can elevate that vision to something someone out there will respond to.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was working on a commercial shoot in Los Angeles and we had to make enough blood red velvet cupcake batter for Dracula to topple all over himself as he pulled them raw out of the oven. In the sweltering trailer where we were prepping, I had my camera perched out of harm’s way on a shelf above us — well, or so I thought. Our mixer went rogue and not only did we stain ourselves and the trailer walls and floors to look like a murder scene (it literally dripped through the floors to the driveway below!), the batter pelted my camera with a full-force bloody splat. Scrambling to wipe cake batter out of every nook and cranny of your gear while having a vampire and entire crew wait on you is not a good way to start your day. I immediately learned to keep my gear in a protective case when not in use, especially when in the company of monsters.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Because at Flauk we work with our clients throughout the entire lifecycle of building their business, and are part of crafting their brand identity, we have a deep understanding of the company’s vision and values, their target customers and goals, and their brand assets and style long before our shoot ever takes place. And because I am also building their website, I am intimately familiar with exactly what types, sizes, orientations, and style of photos they will need to complete their digital presence. Armed with all of this knowledge I am able to take and curate a portfolio of images that truly represent their brand. We’re currently working with a woman who is launching her own modern and innovative law firm, and because we are working side by side with her to create her logo, color scheme, typography, marketing plan, copywritten voice, social media strategy, and website I know exactly the image she needs to portray through her headshot and website photos- that of a strong, relatable, badass girlboss who is ushering the stale world of traditional law firms into a brand new era.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I know it’s cliche, but seriously: do what you love and do it with gusto. Find the thing you get lost in and focus your valuable energies and time on that object of your affection. And while you’re at it: do less of the things that drain you — outsource, delegate, or find an incredible team of partners or collaborators that LOVE doing those things you don’t. Each member of my Flauk team finds joy (and misery) in different company tasks, and each of us know when something isn’t in our wheelhouse or happy place that there’s someone around that will jump at the chance to get lost in it. You don’t have to go it alone, find your tribe and lean on them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This feels like I’m crafting an Oscars acceptance speech and damn there are just so many people to thank it’s impossible to choose! SO I’m going to have to go with not a someone, but a something: Instagram. If not for Instagram, I wouldn’t have had a platform to share my photos in the beginning of my food photography journey, a time when I was just figuring out my style and voice, and would never have found the community of insanely talented photographers and content creators that have continuously inspired and pushed me to grow and evolve my style and skills. It has provided me the opportunity to work with people my younger self could have only dreamed of, given me an outlet for creative expression, and shifted the trajectory of my career and life many times over.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Flauk is my baby and primary focus right now, and having the opportunity to help others create their dream business while working with a team of four incredible women that inspire me every single day is a constant source of creative fuel. We have a few really exciting projects we’re working on in order to share our vision of “living the dream” with the world- combining our collective love of travel and lives as digital nomads with our respective talents in the business world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I was a photography nerd in high school, I had zero idea that taking photos could be a legitimate career option because the focus was so much on the traditional path in life: four-year college degree with an eye on a corporate job and retirement at 65. If only someone would have spoken up then and told me that you could make money doing something you truly loved, that there was another way! At Flauk, our entire team has been through the ringer of the 9–5 life, overcome the voices telling us what we should do and who we’re supposed to be, and we’ve come out the other side to create our own businesses that grant us great happiness and freedom. We have learned the importance of balance and creating the time and space to truly enjoy the life you are creating. That is our foundation. Our ethos. Our battle cry. And we are committed to helping every single person that wants to get on board the very same crack at their dreams. Also, as an all-female crew, we are passionate about expanding opportunities for young girls around the world, and encouraging them to follow their own dreams, and so we currently give 5% of all profits to 60 million girls, a public foundation dedicated girls’ education in developing countries.
Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each.
1. Photograph the light.
When you start photographing the light instead of the object, magic ensues. There’s a reason the hours surrounding sunrise and sunset creates some of the most beautiful photos, and are the most coveted by photographers. The play of shadow and mood that light creates can transform your shot. For creating beautifully lit photos at home: pay attention to the times of day the light is the most dreamy in multiple locations in your home, office, or studio (don’t forget rooms like bathrooms or hallways!). I try to only use natural light in my photos to keep things simple, and look for filtered soft light next to a window that is bright enough to illuminate my subjects and create soft shadows instead of harsh direct light that blows out the details. Write down the locations and times, and you’ll have multiple options to capture the light no matter the time of day. And don’t forget to turn off lamps and overhead lights- they’ll give an artificial and yellow glow to your shot.
I generally take at least 20 shots for each of my setups, and sometimes up to 200! No matter the subject, I move around, play with perspective from overhead to level to on the floor- all in search of capturing the perfect light, expression, or angle. When I’m working with food, I add props and take them away, change plates and napkins, move forks to different locations, garnish, cut pieces of cake, alter the angle of a carrot, and swap out backdrops (also- a millimeter in real life can translate to an inch in your final photo. I always look through my lens, either my iphone or my DSLR, while shifting props and products.) In the end, you never know what is going to be that money shot until you hit it, so give yourself a ton of options. Sometimes it’s the very first one, sometimes it’s the 100th.
3. Be ok with sucking.
Looking back at the beginning of my feeds, I often cringe at what I thought was a good photo, and I know without a doubt I will do the same looking back at my current portfolio (hell, I even look at things I did last month and have a mouthful of critiques!). We are all works-in-progress and the only way we grow is by trying, falling down, and dusting ourselves off to do it all over again. Try new things, new shots, new cameras, new subjects, new angles, new styles until you find your groove, and be kind to yourself along the way as you progress. Wash, rinse, repeat. Every single expert at something was a beginner at one point in time!
4. Mess it up a bit!
Take some time to style your subject in a natural way. I always make the distinction: messy not dirty. Messy can be an artfully spilled salt, a messily tied or crumpled napkin, a mismatched garden bouquet, an imperfectly placed organization of objects. When you’re shooting people, try to capture the candid, between-the-pose glances, the snorts, the doubled over laughter, the tears. It’s messy not dirty: dirty is a smudged oily plate rim or sticker goop or a stained shirt. Everything is intentionally in its place, but it needs to look like it just naturally ended up there: perfectly imperfect.
5. Edit, edit, edit!
A few minutes editing your photo can transform your image from great to HOT DAMN! You don’t need a fancy editing program, I do most of my editing on my phone using a combination of apps. Try not to use the out-of-the-box filters — every photo has a unique lighting and color situation, and usually needs its own personalized attention. Get familiar with the detail sliders in your apps (I love A Color Story, Snapseed, and Lightroom) and pay attention to your own unique editing style as you do. I often only need to adjust brightness/exposure, contrast, warmth, and saturation to get the look I’m going for, then depending on my subject, play with some fun things like dust filters and flares.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I strive every day to be the most authentic, brave, and vulnerable I can be, both in my personal life and in my work, because I think we do others a great injustice by pretending perfection by creating an unattainable and unrealistic standard of being. We all have our own beautiful perspectives to share, experiences that shaped us, and our own special talents that only we can bring to the world. By sharing our stories, the real and messy journey, the failures and stumbles, our fears and dreams, we empower others to do the same, ultimately creating a more connected world where no one is left to feel alone in their journey, professionally or personally. We are all striving for the same ultimate dream of freedom and happiness, and it’s a long, scary, and often lonely road- so let’s make it all a little easier by tackling it together: leading with love, kindness, and openness every step of the way. You never know what ripple effect speaking your truth will create in the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com