Truckee Shoot with BAD Studio by Jean Bai

It was my first time traveling for a shoot and I couldn’t have asked for a better project for the occasion. This new construction designed by Josh Horne at BAD Studio had the perfect backdrop of trees to help frame this modern alpine home. Shooting during summer can be brutal (waking up to shoot at 4:30AM and shooting until 9PM), but it never really feels like work when it’s what you enjoy doing.

Recent Airbnb Plus Shoots by Jean Bai

It’s not always easy shooting for Airbnb Plus.

It’s essentially shooting quickly like a real estate photographer, but with a editorial eye. We’re given a little over an hour to shoot up to 30 shots for a 2 bedroom listing and we are not allowed to use any lighting equipment or camera equipment other than our camera and tripod. It’s both challenging and liberating, actually. Aside from trying to be artful, we’re to shoot each side of main rooms straight-on, which is truly a challenge when dealing with tiny SF bedrooms.

Airbnb’s photo team handles the editing on their end, which is a huge draw for me when I have to edit my own client shoots. When you can’t use any lighting equipment during a shoot, the post-processing can be more labor-intensive.

However, I wanted to practice my own hand at modern photo editing techniques for natural light shots and share some projects I recently shot for Airbnb.

Woodside Shoot with Amy Friedberg Design by Jean Bai

We focused on the interiors for this modern woodland home located in Silicon Valley. Amy Friedberg of Amy Friedberg Design added incorporated mid-century touches along with Venetian plaster walls for this home designed for a young, aspiring writer. There was definitely pressure in shooting 20 photos in one day, but thankfully we’re shooting in summer when days are longer and we worked extensively beforehand to plan out the shots Amy wanted most.

Piedmont Shoot with Kelly and Abramson Architecture by Jean Bai

More and more I’m working with color correction techniques post-processing and the results are looking really good in these traditional homes, which usually come with creamy colors and white trims.

This project was a residential remodel with some new construction - the living room and kitchen area were newly constructed to create a wing of the home that was symmetric to the left wing of the master bedroom area. Big thanks to Rob Kelly of Kelly and Abramson Architecture for hiring me on to shoot this traditional home. Bigger thanks to the weather gods who decided to give us some cloudy weather the morning of the shoot!

Natural Light Workshop with Scott Frances by Jean Bai

These last few weeks have been incredibly busy. I took the last two weeks off in April to focus on preparing for a photo workshop - editing previous work, revamping my website, sorting through personal work, and writing a personal statement. Then, there were two full day shoots the week leading up to the workshop, which lasted from May 5th-9th. Natural light shots from the workshop are below.

The biggest piece of advice I got from Scott Frances, the instructor, was to never take anything for granted. I never have and I never will.

About a year after I set my mind to photographing architecture and interiors, I shot three projects that all landed on the homepage of Dwell earlier this year. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of a year with the opportunities given by the designers who believed a young photographer could be entrusted with their projects. It happened because I’m always thinking after a shoot about what I could’ve done differently to solve a problem on set. It happened because I’m perhaps the harshest critic of my own work and I’m okay with that - it’s the only way I know to improve.

I’m forever grateful to my clients who’ve provided me so much work when I was just starting out and know that there will never be a job I take for granted. I’m also forever grateful for my mentor, Benny Chan, who seems to know the exact advice I need to know each step along the way. I was just a kid without a clue when he took me on as an assistant, but he patiently gave me foundation I needed for this job.

It’s been exactly a year and a half since I embarked on this journey and it felt like the right time to really delve into these questions Scott gave us prior to the workshop. I wanted to share it in this blog and maybe look back on it one day when I really need to know why I went against what everyone has said to me in the past (“Why would you want quit your job to be a photographer? How will you make money?”) and somewhat recently (“You should stick to photographing interiors”).

1.      Why did or would you become a professional photographer?

Up until college, I felt my life had been dedicated to academics, though my favorite past-time had been watching old films – noir, escapism, and anything on the AFI top 100 list. My interest in photography started there. I loved the cinematography in films like Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, and Sunrise: Song of Two Humans, and was drawn to great performances as well.

At the beginning of college, I started exploring film and became convinced that I’d end up working in the film industry in some way – I took on internships at a film production studio and film marketing firm, joined the school newspaper as a video journalist, and took as many film and theater classes that I could as a non-film school student. At the highest levels of film, I could see art, but the climb up was a long one and I wasn’t ready to commit to it.

After my Freshman year, I backpacked alone through Europe for a month. I saved up money all summer working at a coffee shop and knew that I had to buy a camera to make sure I would never forget the places and experiences I had, even when I grew old. There wasn’t much else to do travelling on my own, so I took perhaps 2,000 photos and fell in love with the process.

I picked it photography quickly and had a knack for finding good angles and finding quality light. I always loved shooting architecture, since (like photography) it’s a nice combination of analytical and creative work. I ended up enjoying photography more than film halfway through college and started to pursue that instead. Right out of college, I assisted architectural photographer Benny Chan in Los Angeles, before working a few years in the IT department at a top wealth management firm in Los Angeles.

One of my film professors, Barbara Boyle, taught me that to be successful in the film industry, you’d have to really want it and realize that there’s nothing else in the world that could make you as happy. I’ve still remembered this, since it’s just as true for photography as it is for film.

I finally pulled the trigger at the end of 2017 and dedicated myself to starting a business in photography when my work was selected to exhibit at gallery alongside the work of Erik Almas and RJ Muna. I realized that I had potential and if I never put my full effort into becoming a photographer, I’d truly regret it. I knew at that point that there wasn’t anything else that could make me happier.

2.      What are your artistic goals?

Get a book of brutalism published at some point.

3.      Who are the artists and thinkers that have most influenced you?

Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Picasso, Richard Avedon, Alexey Brodovitch, Lucien Herve, Ezra Stoller, Balthazar Korab, Tadao Ando.

Peninsula Shoots with Johnston Home by Jean Bai

It’s been a meaningful shoot, since Alison Johnston of Johnston Home was actually the first client I had in the bay area. It’s come full circle now about a year and a half later when it came time to shoot two rooms about 5 minutes away from one another.

We finally caught some sunshine this very rainy winter season toward the end of March and shot the living room in Palo Alto during the morning and a kitchen in Menlo Park during the afternoon.

During all this rain, I sat down and took a bunch of courses on color correction technique and was pretty happy with the result for this shoot. The issue with shooting during a sunny day is that you get all these green reflections from the trees and grass outside and you can a mix of yellow and orange light bouncing off wood floors. It was fun to see the true wall colors restored!


Los Gatos Shoot with KBG Design by Jean Bai

I't’s been raining a lot lately in the bay area, but it ended being the best weather for shooting this gorgeous project by Katelyn Gilmour of KBG Design and Z&M Construction. The challenge was in shooting the kitchen, which was located in the center of the house, far from the large windows that illuminated the adjacent living room. To keep the natural light look in the overview shots, I had to fill as much of the shadow with strobes for the kitchen and block off as much daylight streaming in from the living room. The cloudy weather helped filter the light a bit more from that living room, so I really couldn’t have asked for a better day to shoot this one!

Thank you, Katelyn, for yet another beautiful project!

Oakland Kitchen and Dining with Yumi Interiors and Andrew Lee Architecture by Jean Bai

Andrew Lee of Andrew Lee Architecture and Kyoko Jackson of Yumi Interiors collaborated on this two-toned kitchen for a young family in Oakland. Aided by a few skylights, it was nice to shoot these pretty much all in natural light. It’s a challenge to work with brighter color as a photographer, but always good fun when you are able to get it exactly as a client wants.

San Jose Shoot with KBG Design by Jean Bai

I was thrilled when Katelyn Gilmour of KBG Design called me to tell me about two more projects she had in store for me this year. An interior designer who knew this was her passion ever since she was a child, Katelyn mixed metals and played with different wood tones to put together a gorgeous kitchen, living room and bathrooms for a young family in San Jose.

It was raining buckets outside for parts of it, but we both loved the rainy day look for this space ever since we saw the raining day scout photos. There’s a soothing silence in the way the light traveled.

Two Bathrooms with Andrew Lee Architecture by Jean Bai

Two very different approaches to photography were used to shoot these bathrooms created by Andrew Lee. The downstairs bathroom only had artificial lights, so strobes were needed, and the upstairs bathroom was all natural light. Tiny rooms (i.e. 90% of all bathrooms) are the hardest to shoot, but it helped that both of these had interesting geometry.

San Jose Eichler Shoot #2 with BLAINE Architects by Jean Bai

There was something classical about the design of this project. It exuded elegance and simplicity. Shot on a cloudy day, the light filtered through this Eichler and really brought out the rich textures and tones in the woods that framed Karina Marshall’s design. Megan Blaine of BLAINE Architects created quite possibly my favorite bathroom shot to date. Dark tiles were offset by brilliant light shining from the skylights above. A gold tray cut through the long space, catching the light and leading your eye. From a photographer’s perspective, it was treasure trove of leading lines.

San Jose Eichler Shoot #1 with BLAINE Architects by Jean Bai

It’s been a busy start to the new year, wrapping up images of amazing work by BLAINE Architects, KERF Design and Urbanism Designs. This project was a house remodel for a young Silicon Valley family. We started the shoot off early to get the atrium BLAINE Architects recreated in that soft morning light.

It was pretty nice that the two girls were on their way to school. Kids add a nice sense of scale to these family homes. They were so adorable that I think I’m raving about them more than the architecture itself. A third career in shooting portraits is in the back of mind though.

The NanaWalls were a major feature to her project, so I worked to find as many angles to feature them in their different positions.

Oakland Hills Shoot with Andy Morrall by Jean Bai

This was definitely the largest project I’ve taken on. I loved working with the light throughout this space - even the direct sunlight that shined through in the early morning. I usually shy away from direct sunlight, since it’s usually so hard to work with. This space was all about light though (and we had so many to shoot in one day), I couldn’t help it. I’m realizing that sometimes, it’s good to step out of your comfort zone and grow.

Danville Shoot with See Architecture by Jean Bai

Shot this Wayne Littlejohn mid-century remodel with the design-build team of See Architecture and NMT Financial back in December. A major feature we wanted to capture was the presence of an enormous tree the house was built around. I tried capturing the dramatic branches sweeping across the sky and backdrop of the house.

With all those post & beams and Nanawall systems, I couldn’t help but wait for the beautiful late afternoon light to shoot the living spaces. By the late afternoon, I was working on my own to shoot the living room and patio shots. I was transfixed by the quiet and tranquility of the hidden treasure in the hills of Danville. Not sure if you can capture “quiet” in a photo, but I tried!

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.