This interview with the Puerto Rican artist, photographer, author, publisher, and editor, Chelsea Northrup, is part of a series with Latinx authors. Chelsea and her husband, Tony Northrup, have become the most influential power duo in the world of photography with a ubiquitous presence on multiple platforms. They are the authors of numerous popular books, including the top-selling photography book, Stunning Digital Photography.
González: Your audience is filled with people at all levels of the photography skills spectrum. Given such a wide range, what strategies do you use to reach such diverse audiences?
Northrup: Reaching as many people as possible has always been one of our top priorities. When we wrote our first photography book, Stunning Digital Photography, we kept ESL learners and different learning styles in mind. We try to keep our language as simple and concise as possible and teach in multiple formats by supplementing lessons with videos, diagrams, charts, and quizzes. That way, even the more challenging topics become engaging and approachable.
We also vary our content by mixing the attainable with the aspirational to keep our audience engaged. Sometimes we share lessons about an easy project we know will inspire any photographer at any level to take photos. Sometimes we think of a very nerdy and technically challenging topic we know will give even advanced photographers a challenge.
I use art to inspire people to engage in technical lessons. Often we share a photo and then walk back how we created it.Chelsea Northrup
González: Despite the overwhelming popularity of your books, there will always be someone who will be hypercritical, sometimes even to the point of getting personal. As such a public figure, how do you handle harsh criticism that goes beyond critique?
Northrup: I’ve learned that most of the time even the most personal seeming attacks aren’t about me. I’ve had people write rude comments and then email me months later to apologize and tell me they were going through a traumatic life event: mental health issues, a wife with cancer, a job loss, etc. People can be cruel when they’re feeling pain. Still, that kind of negativity can take its toll so I’ve learned to set boundaries. I don’t read comments or emails first thing in the morning or before bed and I try not to internalize positive or negative comments. The people who praise me know me just as little as the people who disparage me. If I need feedback I go to a person who actually knows me and cares about me.
González: Steve Jobs remarked that at Apple, technology was married with the liberal arts. When I look at your books and numerous other ventures, I see that marriage come to light. As you approach technical topics, how do you go about incorporating art?
Northrup: I use art to inspire people to engage in technical lessons. Often we share a photo and then walk back how we created it. People are often more willing to learn a challenging subject when they know they’re going to get something they want out of the process. I could just show people how to set a long shutter speed to take a long exposure but the lesson becomes more interesting if I show them the beautiful photo of swirling stars they can create by learning something technical.
González: With photography technology ever-changing, how much effort and time do you put into the “homework” of putting together new book editions and new projects?
Northrup: Camera technology is always changing so our books have to, too. We keep notes about each book and add changes as they come about. By the time we’re ready for a new edition a lot of the content is already in a document and waiting to be published.
We also vary our content by mixing the attainable with the aspirational to keep our audience engaged.Chelsea Northrup
We’re lucky we also work in the video format on YouTube. We have to make current content every week and that keeps us up-to-date on anything we will have to add to the books. Otherwise, I think we would be scrambling to catch up on the latest tech for every book update.
González: You and Tony have worked to be socially conscious in your professional endeavors. Is there something unique about the world of photography that makes such efforts necessary?
Northrup: Absolutely. Taking and sharing a photo is the act of sharing your views, experiences, and voice. Throughout the history of photography, most well-known photographers have predominantly been wealthy, white, and male. Having one demographic dominate a widely published format means that the world is being documented from only one viewpoint. When Tony and I push to have more diversity among photographers being hired and published our goal is to have more voices heard, more walks of life represented, and different viewpoints respected. Everyone should have a chance to share and normalize their own existence.
Chelsea Northrup is a professional photographer, YouTuber, and publisher. She started her professional photography career as a stock photographer and stock model. Her photos have appeared on book covers and magazines around the world. She and her husband, Tony Northrup, wrote the top how-to photography book, Stunning Digital Photography. Chelsea and Tony also have their own YouTube channel where they teach photography techniques and review photography-related tech. Follow them on their website: Northrup.Photo; YouTube: Tony & Chelsea Northrup; [email protected]; and IG: Chelsea_Northrup.