Pacific Heights Shoot with Isolina Mallon by Jean Bai

This Thanksgiving, I’m not only thankful for my friends and family who have been supportive this last year of me starting my business, but also the great clients who have trusted me with their hard-earned projects.

Only a year ago, I made the final decision to follow my longtime passion. I promised myself that I’d give it my best shot, then look back after a year to decide if I’d go back to business school or find a job in tech again. I knew I’d regret it the rest of my life if I didn’t give it my best shot.

Last December, I started creating an Excel list of all the architects and interior designers I hoped to work with one day, and so began emailing them one by one earlier this year. There were absolutely no expectations for any responses, but thankfully, some people started contacting me back.

With each shoot I took on, I did my best to learn from each job and client I was working with. I met some wonderful people along the way and will always remember and appreciate those amazing experiences and challenges that helped me grow.

I’m glad and grateful that things worked the way they have. I now have steady income from Airbnb and have been working with more and more gorgeous projects that I only dreamed of shooting a year ago.

It’s been quite a difficult journey, but I’m giving a heartfelt thanks to all the clients who gave me an opportunity this year. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families out there!!

Below is are photos from a recent shoot with interior designer Isolina Mallon in Pacific Heights. Gorgeous natural light flowed through the wall length north-facing windows in this one-bedroom penthouse. The hazy weather created an ethereal glow and added a little of that San Franciscan touch.

Concord Shoot with Celine Coly by Jean Bai

One of my favorite things about working with Celine is that she’s able to work with any budget and make her clients happy. The results came out great in this updated small family home in Concord. I don’t think I could’ve imagined another way to shoot it that use mainly natural light. After shooting this year, I think I‘ve realized my ideal style is somewhere between Dwell and Architectural Digest. The Dwell look suited this one though. The cozy interiors with family photos littered across walls warmed my heart.

Airbnb Plus Shoots by Jean Bai

Emerald Hills Shoot with Atelier Noel by Jean Bai

I photographed this modern farmhouse new construction for Noel Han of Atelier Noel earlier this month and think I fell in love with this space the moment I stepped in.

Airbnb Plus Shoots by Jean Bai

Photographing Airbnb listings for the Airbnb Plus listings has been a pretty amazing experience so far. You get to meet people from all walks of life and see how they design their spaces. Perhaps best of all is that you get an office full of photo editors to handle the post-processing for you.

Not all the apartments and homes that I’ve shot make it to Airbnb Plus, so they don’t go to post. Below are some of the highlights from my recent photo shoots for the Plus team so far. I went ahead and did some quick editing on my own for these.

Listings featured:

  1. Oasis of Peace Garden: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/9925725

  2. Modern 2 Bedroom House in Glen Park: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/21120542

  3. Luxury Apartment Oasis w/ Hot Tub: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/295240

  4. Sunset Garden Apartment: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19228248

  5. Spacious, Private Bernal Suite w/ Garden Patio: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/21057777

  6. Cute Full Service 2BR: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/25368785

  7. White Swan Inn - Luxury King with Fireplace: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22908078

Colorbloq Shoot with Aetypic Architects by Jean Bai

Colorbloq, a warehouse space converted into a coworking space/event venue, was recently finished by Aetypic Architects + Engineers. My 3rd project for Aetypic now, this fun and very colorful space reminds me of the Frietag Tower during my recent stay in Zurich. Definitely missing those vacation vibes right now.

Reflections on Being Hired by Airbnb Plus by Jean Bai

I’m about caught up on my blog posts this morning, finally! Now only a little bit jet-lagged from my 16 day vacation abroad with my new fiancee, I’m ready to work on the images from the trip, update my very neglected Instagram (which I hope you will follow!), work on some images from my third shoot for Aetypic Architects + Engineers, and of course…get my butt out there to shoot some more Airbnb Plus listings.

August flew by too quickly. Towards the end of July, I was hired by Airbnb and completed their photographer training. During August, I had 7 Airbnb Plus shoots and 4 other client shoots to wrap up prior to departing for my trip abroad at the end of the month.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve slowly established myself as a photographer, as I’m usually caught up with how I could’ve perfected a shoot.

When I finally mustered the courage to get myself out there earlier this January, I had all the trepidation in the world. Friends, family and my loved one all expressed their concerns about launching into an industry so unfamiliar to my background (rightfully so, I suppose).

It hasn’t been easy navigating the business side of things, understanding the equipment essential to professional images, and learning to handle common concerns clients have hiring someone perhaps half their ages. If I were to build a project over two years, I am sure I’d have my own reservations about hiring a fresh face to document the project as well!

I still believe that one of the hardest part about starting out is looking past the external influences. Each time you feel someone may not believe in your ability, you need to try to prove to yourself that they’re wrong. After each shoot, be dedicated to seeking all the ways it could’ve been done better.

My fiancee has found it odd that after I landed a job with Airbnb Plus, I was only pleasantly surprised. Many of our mutual friends who had reservations before are now warmly congratulating me as if I made it. What’s funny is that my mother had never heard of Airbnb before! However, I believe that when you are truly dedicated to your craft rather than gaining approval, a title or award will not matter much to you outside of a marketing perspective. It’s the small tricks and skills you come up with working on a set or working in Photoshop that satisfy you. It’s the fact that you are collaborating with other dedicated creatives that drives you.

It has been a journey looking from the extrinsic to the intrinsic rewards, but now that I have, I don’t plan on having it any other way.

San Pedro Square Kiosks Shoot with Eaton Hall by Jean Bai

Chris Hall and his team at Eaton Hall Architecture designed these kiosks nestled into foot of a large parking structure near San Pedro square. Part of an urban redevelopment project for San Jose, these kiosks were designed to increase the amount of foot traffic in the area. We wanted to capture a sense of the vibrant community around these kiosks as well as the geometric folds of the overhangs.

Way Station Shoot with Studio Skaggs Kennedy by Jean Bai

Another project completed in August. This one was for Studio Skaggs Kennedy in the East Bay. Way Station is a small restaurant located in the very quaint downtown Fairfax area. Sean and I wanted to emphasize the “grittiness” and authenticity of this gas station converted into a small restaurant.

I definitely recommend head chef Max’s beans and pulled pork sandwiches, both of which were made from recipes carried down from his grandmother.

FACES SF Shoot with Andrea Faucett by Jean Bai

 

By far one of the technically challenging shoots I’ve done, this FACES SF project was completed early August. Andrea Faucett designed these teacher lounges for a non-profit school serving under-privileged youth. We wanted to bring out the richness of the wood to show that design can be cost-effective, environment-friendly and beautiful.

Andrea Faucett and I collaborated heavily during the shoot, styling the sets, as well as after the shoot, deciding on the true color of walls, furniture, etc.

The problem with high end cameras is that they capture every nuance to color, yet tungsten and daylight color temperatures don’t mix well. It’s why I always opt to start the post-processing shortly after the shoot while the true colors are still fresh in mind.

Below are side-by-side comparisons of the scout photos and the finished product.

 

Hartford Street Shoot with Holly Kopman by Jean Bai

It's hard to describe how I felt when I first walked into this 3-story Edwardian designed by the very talented Holly Kopman of Holly Kopman Interiors. As someone relatively new to the bay area interior design scene, I was moved that Holly entrusted me with such a gorgeous project. Beautiful natural light could be found everywhere: it was bright and powerful on the top floor, a bit more subdued in the middle floor and moody on the bottom floor. I loved how she even designed the interior artificial lights to be nice and soft - I barely needed flash to fill in anything extra.

 

Atherton Shoot with Laurie Ghielmetti by Jean Bai

Laurie Ghielmetti did such an amazing job filling this large Atherton 3-story residence with modern artwork that it was easy to see all the different shots we could take to showcase her curation. This assignment was pretty unique - the goal was to find shots that could show how artwork fits in the context of the space as well as how each work paired with one another. 

There was some challenge in that we could only access the property during limited times and the light can be quite hard to deal with in the middle of the day during these summer months. I'm always up for a good challenge and there's nothing flash strobes, diffusers and hours of post-processing can't handle. There were some nice 100% natural light shots to be had though :) Can you tell which they were?

Berkeley Hills Shoot with Claire Taylor by Jean Bai

Claire Taylor was one of the first designers to contact me back early this year. I was thrilled when she told me about a large project she had planned for this summer. 

As a modernist with a love for natural light, I was a little nervous to find that her project was in a craftsman in Berkeley. I was floored when I first saw what she did during our scout and could not wait to shoot it for a full day. It's rare for me to be able to shoot for the length of an entire day, which allows us to find the most ideal lighting for each shot. The results were great and I cannot thank Claire enough for her teamwork.

Two San Jose Shoots by Jean Bai

The last few weeks have gotten quite busy with SF Design Week and my sister's high school graduation to attend. Am currently post-processing two shoots and have two more coming up in the next two weeks. Hanging in there, roughly reaching the 6 month mark of shooting.

Finally found the time to upload some recent photos of Katelyn Gilmour's beautiful bathroom & mud room designs in two different San Jose homes that we shot in one day. 

I love shooting design and architecture, since I don't think there will ever be a day that I'm shooting something the same. These were different from what I'm used to shooting. There was almost no natural light to work with in most of these rooms.

I try to tailor each set of images to the style of the designer's portfolio and their work, whether it uses natural or artificial light. I begin to wonder if I will eventually develop a characteristic style, but am almost believing that versatility may be a good thing as I've learned each client has his or her own tastes.

Oakglen Way Shoot

These were shot in the morning. Katelyn and I worked closely to make sure that the light temperatures in the images matched the vision she had in mind - clean white in the laundry room and warmer, creamier light in the powder room.

Silberman Drive Shoot

These photos of a powder room, mud room and master bath were shot in the afternoon. 

Sandringham Court Shoot by Jean Bai

When shooting neutrals, go for the soft morning light look. There was plenty of light coming through in the kitchen area of this renovation of a craftsman home in Montclair. Architects Kristen Sidell and Rudabeh Pakravan of Sidell Pakravan continued their neutral palette in the bathrooms they renovated throughout the house. The summer light can be quite strong for shooting neutrals, even on a cloudy day such as this one. We worked around it as much as possible by finding times of the day in which the light didn't directly shine in.

Pacific Art League Competition by Jean Bai

Last December, my work was showcased at the APA SF holiday party alongside that of some of my favorite photographers - Paul Turang and Erik Almas. It really galvanized me to pursue photography professionally and I'm really glad I did after these last few months. Many lessons were learned and I think many clients have been pleasantly surprised from taking on some fresh eyes to shoot their work. 

Yesterday night will keep a place in my memories though - I received second place at Pacific Art League's annual photography competition and my work is now exhibited for the first time at a gallery. It's been hard to put my work out there and lot of it has been sitting dormant on my hard drives, but seeing how people react to an image printed on classic baryta paper is inspiring me to get more work submitted and printed. 

Art is meant to be shared. I enjoyed every moment of hearing what people's thoughts were on how I shot the image and what they were looking at. The biggest thanks goes to my friends, old and new, who showed up and gave their support. 

Cartoon Art Museum by Jean Bai

It was a nice change to be shooting architecture for Aetypic Architects + Engineers again after shooting all the residences last month. This project was the Cartoon Art Museum located in North Beach. Big thanks to Summerlea and her crew for working with me to get these shot. 

Washington Ave Shoot by Jean Bai

Jeanne Moeschler of JM.ID in Menlo Park did a wonderful job transforming a young family's traditional two-story in Professorville into a sophisticated, garden-themed home. We shot the living room, dining room, kitchen counter and patio all in two and half hours. Used a combo of flash and natural light for these.

Dublin Residence Shoot by Jean Bai

This shoot with interior designer Celine Coly at Living with Chic was quite the undertaking. Those who believe that shooting products and spaces is easier than shooting people and events have never spent 30 minutes rearranging pillows and chairs to be just right in a photo. To get these results, we timed shooting each room just right and only used natural light.

Beaumont Avenue Powder Room by Jean Bai

One of my favorite things about photography is that no day is ever the same and I never know quite what to expect when someone offers an assignment. This one came from the talented Benni Amadi of Benni Amadi Interiors.

In this case, I was faced with a particularly difficult challenge - a small, but beautifully designed powder room that had no natural light. I brought in my favorite strobe light, bounced flash off the ceiling...all the while having fun explaining the science of capturing light to the owner's young boy who was fascinated that I could control everything from a laptop sitting on the ground.