Welcome to the Wonderfully Colorful World of Wini Lao

Welcome to the Wonderfully Colorful World of Wini Lao

Welcome to the Wonderfully Colorful World of Wini Lao

by Amanda Jaquin

A conversation with Luupe member Wini Lao about her career journey, color inspiration, and her tips for everything from artificial lighting to managing the business side of photography

Wini Lao has both a personality and a portfolio that can instantly brighten up a space.
Wini is a former engineer and self-taught lifestyle and still life photographer based in New York City. She has a technical eye for capturing color and joyful emotions that emulate her positive and upbeat personality. Her client roster boasts athleisure, beauty, and lifestyle brands including: Elemis, Essie, Lululemon, Girl and Hair, Kinfield, and Target.

Inspired by her love for color, community, and her cat, we caught up to learn a few of her tips and tricks and hear more about her experience in the photo industry.
The Luupe: Before photography you were an engineer — can you share a bit about that journey and how your engineering skills translate to your current work? What tips do you have for others who are interested in making a career transition to photography?

Wini Lao: Being an engineer feels like a lifetime ago, but it still remains very important to my current life. I studied engineering and worked as a transportation engineer for a couple of years. When I was let go from my company, I had a choice to find another job as an engineer that I didn’t love OR pursue a creative career with an unknown trajectory.
I’m so glad I made the choice to switch because I truly LOVE what I do now. It’s frustrating at times, but this career path - a bridge between technical and creative - feels right for me. My friend Mel gave me the best advice when I was struggling to make a name in the photo world. She said “don’t listen to the nay-sayers”.

The Luupe: Color plays a prominent role in your photography — where does that influence/relationship with color originate from?

Lao: My work is an extension of myself. I want my viewers to feel a sense of joy and happiness when they see my work. I lean towards brighter tones in my photography - pink, lavender, cream, yellow, etc. I would never be asked to create an image that is “moody” or “dark.”

The Luupe: You created a course on artificial lighting with the GrindD last year — can you share your #1 tip for new photographers to help demystify the world of artificial lighting?

Lao: This is where my engineering brain comes in. I have a couple of tips that advanced me from an amateur to a professional.

1. Take a step back. Leave some space between the set and light. It doesn’t have to hover the set.
2. One key light and rest is fill.
3. Angles. Lights do not need to only be from the top. Think about different angles. Light can be coming from behind or the side.
4. Most important tip - KEEP PRACTICING. Practice makes perfect.

The Luupe: In addition to the lighting course, you recently did an Adobe Live taking viewers through how your post-production process and often share tips and inspo to help aspiring photographers grow. Has stepping into the role of an educator had an impact on your own work?

Lao: The Adobe Live was so much fun!! It was important to me to “pull the curtain” behind the post-production process. I always express that there are many ways to achieve the same results. I don’t consider myself as an educator, but as a peer. If someone has a good question about my process or workflow, I’d gladly share my thoughts. The peer-to-peer respect and sense of community is what attracted me to the Luupe in the first place.
The Luupe: The industry is constantly evolving, how do you see things changing in the next few years? and what are you most excited about exploring in your work?
Lao: So much is changing so fast! Two things off the top of my head: video and AI.
Regarding video, more often than not I see requests for video work on top of a stills project. I’ve been building a reliable list of go-to videographers. The videographer works side by side with me on set. Stills and motion should look and feel like they are sisters.
Regarding AI, there is so much curiosity about it recently. I don’t think as photographers we’ll lose jobs to AI because people always want that human touch. Ren on @photodump.club suggested that AI could be used to help build mood boards and I thought that was genius. It’s important to go with the flow as the industry shifts. I personally have started to integrate Adobe Generative Fill beta in my workflow. For example, I fixed lopsided curtains in the back of an image and added sprinkles to another. It's much smarter and more powerful than Content Fill.
©Wini Lao / The Luupe for Klean Kanteen

The Luupe: Have you ever dealt with burnout in your career? If so, what strategies do you use to navigate through it and reignite your creative energy?

Lao: 110%!! I am still recovering from burn out in 2021. I was physically and mentally exhausted from shooting all the time. I knew I had to take a step back and re-evaluate how I was running my business. I was doing family shoots, influencer shoots, personal branding, product, lifestyle…I was booked and busy. And with that, my work suffered. In 2022, I started to phase out personal shoots and recommended friends who were great at them. Now, in 2023, I feel energized and my creativity is flowing. Time really helped.

The Luupe: Your stop motion work is so fun (!!) and often functions as a way to showcase how a product works or to tell a larger story. What sparked your interest in stop motion and what are some valuable learnings you’ve gained along the way that helped you hone your craft?

Lao: I LOVE stop motion and want to bring it back. There is so much creativity that can come with stop motion work. It’s forgiving and quirky! I started doing stop motion when I photographed fitness professionals. It was a great way to showcase movement through photography without diving into video. I took the idea of motion and applied it to product photography.

The Luupe: You share a studio space, OUR STUDIO NYC, in DUMBO with Luupe photographers Kelsey Fain and Caitlin Mitchell — what’s the story behind this collaboration? Any words of wisdom you’d give to others looking to create or rent out a studio space of their own?

Lao: It’s a fun story! Kelsey messages me back in 2021 when productions were slowly running again. People were starting to get vaccinated and ready to work. I was still shooting at home off the top of my dresser. She said “I saw the towers of cardboard boxes in the back of your IG stories. Feel that you and I can both benefit from more space. Do you want to get a shared studio together”. We immediately clicked after one meet. Kelsey shared about how she wanted to share the space with female photographers and build a sense of community. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders. Our third studio mate, Caitlin, is so special and came to our rescue when Kelsey was on maternity leave. Both ladies inspire me to keep pushing on through this tough industry. We just re-signed our 3rd year at @ourstudionyc.
I have a couple wise words for those looking to get a studio space. If you are always renting out studios for shoots, having a studio space is great to host a production or to do test shoots. There is the obvious financial consideration. Besides rent, there is a huge upfront cost to buy equipment and furniture. My recommendation is to sublease or share a studio that is already built out. There are also membership-based studios too.

The Luupe: What are some resources or tools that you rely on to effectively manage the business side of photography, such as client management, contracts, financial tracking, marketing, and workflow organization?
Lao: I’ve tried them all! A little peep behind the curtain - I’m definitely a systems photographer, and it might be because of my engineering background.
Right now, I love using:
- Pixieset or Google Drive for photo delivery/selection
- Wave for sending invoices
- Blink Bid to for itemized estimates
- Adobe to sign those contracts
- Quick books for accounting
- Flodesk for newsletters
- Google slides for decks (find a nice template on Creative Market)
There are so many other tools out there, but the above is what gets me through the day to day. Most of the above have free/cost effective options. I also want to add a little shoutout to Wave because it’s free! New photographers, talents, vendors, anyone - please use it. It’s very professional looking and helps you keep track of those invoices.

The Luupe: Lastly, can you share your favorite project or photo (personal or commissioned) you’ve created this year? Were there any major challenges you encountered with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?
Lao: My favorite project so far was the personal project I did for Adobe Live. Instead of the typical flat lays that wedding photographers create of their stationary, rings and other memorable parts, I took little parts of the day and created a still life project with them. I had a mental block and was unsure if I wanted to share this project. I was worried about how it would be received because I felt it wouldn’t be “artsy” enough. I realized later that art is personal and independent of what people think.
©Wini Lao / The Luupe for Babyation
Amanda Jaquin
Amanda Jaquin is brand experience manager at The Luupe where she brings energy and sparkle emojis to marketing, design, and community engagement. She lives in Buffalo, NY, hates pickles, loves solving puzzles, and has a million tabs open right now.
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