Behind the Image: Creating a Fun Digital Brand with Samantha Ushiro of Aww Sam
Samantha Ushiro, founder of the popular digital lifestyle blog and Instagram account Aww Sam, is one of our newest contributors to the Adobe Stock Premium collection. Her unique style explodes with color, builds interesting images on the latest trends, and aspires to make viewers feel like every day with Aww Sam is a party. We caught up with Sam to learn about how she built on her background in industrial design to launch a photography career, how to develop systems for the high-volume photography that creating an online brand requires, and how she uses color and trends to create fun, memorable images.
Adobe: You’re a self-taught photographer. What drew you to photography and how did you improve your work?
Ushiro: I started out mostly taking DSLR photos for Instagram. From there, I moved into a bigger studio space. I really got into learning how to properly light things, how to edit, and how to do things the right way. The main thing that drew me to doing my own photography was the social media lifestyle brand I was building. Having to post on Instagram three times a day, I’ve had to learn how to do photography in the fastest way possible, how to batch edit things, and create good systems.
Adobe: Because you’re focused on building a lifestyle brand online, you have to do photography very quickly. What does your process look like?
Ushiro: I try to have as little equipment as possible because it makes the take-down and the set-up so much faster. I use very simple things. For a while, I was using a reflector made out of tin foil and I didn’t have a real reflector. It’s also good to have an idea of what you want to take beforehand. There are days where I don’t have as much time to take photos, but I’m also struggling with figuring out creative ideas. With many of my photos, I’ll have to take them and then edit immediately – a total of ten minutes goes by, and it’s been posted online. The biggest things are having an easy set-up and good Photoshop skills.
Adobe: How do you come up with ideas for your work?
Ushiro: I’m constantly thinking of different ideas. I look at my grid on Instagram and think, “What kind of photo do I want to put here?” I have four main types of photos that I post, and I’ll try to make sure there aren’t too many of them close to each other. I’ll think about, “Do I want to post a picture of food today or an outdoor photo or a lifestyle photo?” or “Do I need another pink photo next or a yellow photo?” I’m always looking for inspiration outside of what I do too, because you can get lost in what everyone else is doing that is similar to you. I’m definitely always looking at other areas for inspiration – in film, fashion, and Party City.
Adobe: Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired the donut image?
Ushiro: I wanted to go to well-known donut spots in New York and Brooklyn. I did the whole thing as a blog post for people as a guide, so that when they are coming to New York they can have a little donut tour themselves. I wanted to make a new tourist thing to do where it’s a little bit less cliché. I have others too, a pumpkin pie and a macaroon one. But it was a fun thing that helped me get to know New York a little bit better.
Adobe: How did you think about this photo in terms of texture and color?
Ushiro: For the photo, I wanted to make a rainbow out of donuts. I picked some that were different from each shop, instead of picking a glazed donut at every donut shop. We started out arranging them, and then filling in the spots in there. If there was a color next to another one that was too similar, we’d move that one over. We wanted to make it look like we just went and had a bunch of donuts, put them all on the table, and this was like our spread of donuts. The photo was in the back of my mind when I was buying all the donuts, to make sure to get different colors because it would make the photo stand out a lot more.
Adobe: What advice do you have for other people interested in building an online brand?
Ushiro: One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to not get too wrapped up in it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in numbers of followers and likes, because everything on Instagram is based off numbers. Obviously, the more followers you get, the more companies want to work with you. But just because there’s someone who doesn’t follow you or someone unfollows you, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And don’t feel pressured to post something just because you need something to post. Have fun with it.
Adobe: So much of your brand is based around objects related to trends. How do you track what’s trending?
Ushiro: Retail stores are huge: just looking at what they’re selling. For example, right now pool floats are really big – so really, any weird things or objects that look like other objects. Big stores have trend-tracking people, and so I use their trend-tracking stuff to my advantage as well. I also think a lot of websites like Buzzfeed and viral videos are great for finding out what’s trending.