REFINED FEATURE

GET TO KNOW: Ali Harper

 You and I have known each other for years now through the Girls on Film Facebook group and then as sister stock photographers for Stocksy United. I am so excited to continue our journey together as collab partners with REFINED Co and your new preset collection. I’ve had the pleasure to get to know you better this past year as we built this collection but I would love for our community to get to know Ali Harper better too!


Tell us a little about yourself.


First and foremost, I’m a wife (just celebrated 12 amazing years!) and a boy mom (he’s 8)… but I’m also a plant hoarder, average gardener, gluten-free foodie, teetotaler, tiny house owner, slow trail runner, rescue dog lover, and enneagram 6w5. For the past 10 years I’ve called the biophilic community of Serenbe home — which basically means I live in the middle of beautiful woods just south of Atlanta, and am lucky enough to have an organic farm right across the street. 




ALI HARPER

INSTAGRAM  |  PORTFOLIO  |  STOCK PORTFOLIO


Have you always been a photographer?
If not, what brought you into the photography industry.

I like to say my career has had nine lives! My degree is in graphic design actually. I received my BFA and upon graduation immediately moved to Atlanta to begin my career as a designer. I worked in print — designing annual reports, logos, and branding systems — and was obsessed with typography. I spent a lot of time hunched over light tables reviewing photographer’s work whom I hired and directed, tweaking their color photos to go to press… imagine wax pencils, proof sheets, and medium format film. It’s honestly where I fell in love with the editing process. On the weekends you’d find me in the darkroom, processing my own black and white photos. I thought it was a hobby and never a career! During this time, the dot-com era took off and I grew into a role as a Creative Director for a large advertising firm. I had a few mentors there, who saw my obsession with photography and encouraged me to step into it. Without these women I wouldn’t be where I am today — they not only offered me opportunities I would never have had but gave me the confidence I needed to go full time. It was hard to leave a career I loved and worked so hard at, but photography was my passion, and I couldn’t turn it off. So I took the leap. That was 10 years ago. 


We met when we were both predominantly shooting film and you were predominantly a wedding photographer — how has your photography business changed and why?

I started shooting weddings because it was something I could do on the weekends while still maintaining a full-time job as a Creative Director. I was moonlighting — and it was stressful! Over the years the weddings I shot were getting bigger and bigger… and I began traveling all over the southeast and even overseas to document them. I shot primarily film at the time, mainly because that was how I was trained, but also because I felt that medium was perfect for the subject matter. But I found I wasn’t the best fit for the wedding industry — I had a very difficult time working in a “vacuum”, without a larger team.The corporate world was all about collaboration — and I felt like that made my work stronger. With weddings, you are pretty much on your own. 


Then when I became a mother I Ieft photography for a few years; I couldn’t maintain the level of work I wanted to do and I knew I needed to focus on my health and my family during that transition. That pause gave me time to step back and analyze the type of work that I loved doing, that I was good at, that I was trained for. So I chose to walk away from weddings, and I sold all my film gear. I won’t lie, I shed many tears packaging up my Contax! But it was a crutch for me. I couldn’t continue to lean on film to create the look I wanted, instead, I needed to control my process from start to finish. That meant getting super comfortable with my digital gear — like learning to tether to a computer and edit in Lightroom. 


I used Refined at this time for my work because it had that perfect nuanced color, but with a film quality. It helped me to not look back! Working for a stock agency (Stocksy) helped show my potential clients how I approached lifestyle, commercial, and interior work. It was truly the stepping stone into the career as an interiors & lifestyle photog that I have today.


 


So you’ve focused on interior and commercial photography for the last 8 years and built quite an admirable resume of clients, magazine publications, and even books. Tell us a little bit about the designers and publications you’ve had the honor to work with and be in. Do you have a favorite project thus far?

For editorial work, Garden & Gun Magazine gave me an initial assignment — to capture beautiful outdoor gardens and spaces — which then led to lifestyle work, then interiors, and finally an opportunity to shoot their winter cover. It’s been an honor to grow with them, and I’m grateful for their trust in me. A lot of my opportunities have come along just like that — building trust. In fact, most clients come from word of mouth — designers and stylists who speak my name in rooms I would never have been in, which is beyond kind. That’s how my ongoing relationship with Chick-fil-A began, and how I shot the designer Anita Yokota’s first book…. due to a job I did for Zola 8 years ago! Currently, I’m excited about the work I do for architect Pfeffer Torode — it’s the perfect combination of interiors and lifestyle — plus they are masters of their craft, and I simply love being a part of a bigger team. 


Do you have a “dream client” you hope to work with one day? 

I love putting this kind of stuff into the Universe! I would be honored to shoot for Betsy Brown Interiors - a while back I captured her work for G&G and I’m obsessed by everything she and her team touches. But to be totally honest, a dream job for me is when I get to shoot with my core team whom I adore to be around because they make me laugh, push me creatively, and keep me sane on set, and for a client who honors our time together so that I can be home with my family at a decent hour. I know that doesn’t sound glamorous, but to me, that’s a dream job!


We’ve seen some BTS (behind the scenes) images of your shoots and noticed you work with a decent-sized team. Who all do you generally have on an interior set with you? How important are they helping you “get the shot”?

Gah, I love my crew! It has taken me a long time to accept that as a photographer, you can’t do it all.

I still shoot some small interior jobs on my own, but alone I can’t work as efficiently or creatively. I lean on an assistant who keeps me calm and focused when technical issues arrive (they always do!), providing feedback and options. There are 1000 ways to craft a shot, and I think it’s important to be open. Typically we will also have a few stylists — food, prop, even HMU, etc — and we all work together to perfect each image. These team members are leaders in their craft and absolute magicians in getting images to look and feel the way the client is imagining. Lastly, having the client on set is so important — it’s their vision, and being able to work closely with them at the moment is crucial.



Let’s get a little technical now…what gear and software do you lean on these days? 

I want to start out by saying I am not a gear head. I love experimenting with different camera bodies and lighting gear, but I will never, ever own the latest and greatest. I just know what works for me. 


Here’s the thing — I have small hands, and one that actually was injured during a shoot. During a freak accident, my Contax battery exploded in my hand resulting in needing a skin graft — I can’t fully open that hand now and it gets pretty sore on long shoot days. So personally I need a lighter-weight camera, and a kit that is easy to tote around. I shoot with a Sony Ariii, my main lens being a Sigma 24-70, and a smart adapter to use all of my older Canon lenses. I will most likely update soon to a Sony Alpha. I invested in used Profotos for my lighting (they are light and easy to travel with since they plug right in), and I capture and edit my work in Capture One. I also edit in Lightroom and Photoshop. 


We just launched your new collection of presets with REFINED Co. How did you come to work with REFINED Co and why? How have the presets changed your work/workflow?

How do I even begin to thank you for these presets? Seriously, having a starting point that is consistent is a life preserver. It simply gives me back so much time in the editing room. And time — that’s that currency right there — that’s why I wanted to create presets specifically for my lifestyle, commercial and interior work. It gives you confidence — especially because when tethering you can use them and immediately get a sense on how the end result will look. When my Client is on set, I’m able to include them in the editing process as well, which saves them time too! Images become approved on the spot that way.


If you could go back in time and give your early photographer self a piece of advice
what would it be?

My advice to my former self is: You don’t have to have all the answers. Simply show up as best you know how in the moment, and be boldly generous to others.


What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

No one is ever going to ask you to raise your rates or your estimate.


VIDEO | The Story Behind REFINED x Ali Harper


Interested in Ali's Desktop and Mobile Presets? You can find them here!


Interested in submitting a session to the REFINED Co Journal. Email us at hello@refinedco.com

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