Welcome to our Creative Spotlight, where we’re highlighting the talented creatives who make up the community here at South 40.

This month’s Creative Spotlight shines on Iris Hu, an award-winning lifestyle and documentary photographer who focuses on telling stories in the authentic images of her photographic subjects. We sat down with Iris to learn more about her journey to becoming a photographer, how she approaches her two distinctive styles of photography, and her true mastery of light.

What inspired you to become a photographer? Do you have an interesting story from your journey to becoming a professional?
Ten years ago, while looking for a wedding photographer for my own wedding, I fell in love with wedding photojournalism. I was just beginning my CPA career and didn’t think about being a photographer—I simply liked taking pictures. After moving to Austin, my friends often wanted me to take photos for them and soon I was taking their family photos, engagement photos, photographing their newborns, and even their weddings. Once I got a Canon 5D Mark iii, I started my business right away. We moved a few years ago and I was forced to rebuild my business from the ground up. It was the hardest thing both physically and mentally, but I am grateful where I am now, despite the current COVID crisis.

Several of your highest compliments came from other photographers–what does this mean to you as a creative?
My works tell my client’s stories and capturing meaningful moments that they can look back on years later. This is my passion and I absolutely love what I do. However, praises from other photographers is a different kind of compliment and is evidence that I am growing as an artist. I’ve received some awards too; a few of my images won the Lifestyle Photographer Association Award, three of my images got into the finalists in the last two annual Shoot and Share contest, and a few have been shown in the China Modem Art Museum, in their Contemporary Family Photography Exhibition.

You mention both “lifestyle” and “documentary” photoshoots. Can you tell us the theories behind each style?
When I do lifestyle sessions, I lead the family during the session. I am not posing them, but give them something to do, tell them where to be at, and I focus on capturing the moments in between.

Documentary sessions are pure photojournalism. I don’t interrupt them and just document how things unfold naturally. I’m not just taking snapshots but creating a composition and the lighting to tell each family’s story.

When I do weddings, I use a lifestyle and documentary hybrid approach. I use photojournalism style when I shoot the wedding party getting ready, the first look, the ceremony, and the reception. When I photograph the couple/bridal party shoot, I take a lifestyle approach, directing the participants.

You mention how you relish all types of light, while many photographers are searching for the “golden hour.” Can you share some insight into mastering all variations of light?
I just embrace all kinds of light. I photograph many “at home” sessions where the conditions are usually dark during the photo shoot. I love to use highlights and shadows to tell a story. For outdoor sessions, I shoot at mornings, high noon, and the golden hour. I just love the dynamics of light! –I also like for my clients to choose the location of the shoot. I don’t scout locations because every new spot inspires me. Every family has their unique style, looks, and personalities, and I like my sessions to reflect the individual styles they bring.

We hear creatives say that South 40 has a unique environment for photographers. What do you find so special about South 40?
South 40’s owner, Ann, is special. A photographer herself, she understands how we think and what will help us feel connected to the venue. I know I said I do not usually like shooting at one place often, but South 40 has so much to offer that it feels new each time, offering multiple areas to explore. Every time I shoot there, I feel it is a new location to experience. That is amazing.

Tell us the story of your most interesting photo shoot–whether it be funny, something strange happens, or pivotal to your work as a photographer.
Last October I was contacted for a family’s annual photo shoot. The mother mentioned she had been diagnosed with cancer and was just about to start chemotherapy. She wanted to get their family photos done before she lost her hair. She said, “I don’t know what the future holds for us, and I want to be sure that the girls have photos of me as the healthy mom that they’ve always known.” She started chemo and radiation a week after the photoshoot. Recently, she reached out to me for a spring session, which we had at South 40. Even though the weather forecast was not promising, the sun shined beautifully during our session time. She said, “We have had a hard year, and I want this to mark a new beginning.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives?
Stay gold and make art!

Connect with Iris: