Nearly three years ago, I had the fortune of crossing paths with Florida-based, coastal-inspired photographer, Tori Ray, (ToriRayPhotography.com) whose warm earthy palette and tones, knack for focusing on golden natural sun light vs. shadows, captures a soft energy and magical feminine spirit of those she photographs. Tori had been following amazingly talented skateboarder and artist, Elise Crigar, also of Florida during same time; Tori was documenting beautiful raw lifestyle images depicting "typical" days in Elise's life--celebrating her life passions from skating gnarly vert ramps to getting her hands dirty crafting beautiful original artwork to chasing sunset surf amidst palm-tree laden beaches. Naturally, I was absolutely thrilled when the following year, this power duo dove in heads first to take on photographing a colorful, vibrant sunset-illuminated shoot which focused on both Elise's skateboarding as well as knits from The Sunset Sessions' collection lifestyle fashion modeled by both Elise Crigar and another incredibly energetic talent and natural beauty, Victoria Moronta.
I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to catch up recently with Tori amidst her rapid-speed schedule to talk about her life passions, new business endeavors, what she's creating next and to get our hands on more portfolio samples of her fresh work. I couldn't be happier to have Tori Ray as a featured guest to kick off our first new interview series of the year...Enjoy!
Where do you currently call home and how long have you been a Florida resident?
I’m a Florida baby, all the way! Saint Augustine is my current playground, but I was born in Ocala.
How long have you been shooting and how did you first get into photography??
My first paid shoot was a family session in 10th grade, but I fell in love with photography and design back in 7th grade when Myspace was in its prime. My best friends and I designed layouts and were always shooting creative “site modeling” photos. Those terms may not make sense if you weren’t a part of it, but I guarantee there’s a few of you out there who totally identify!
In which genres of photography do you focus your work?
The majority of my work is lifestyle fashion. I want my subjects expressions to be natural, but I love the process of curating looks and composing visual culture and nature in my work.
If you could take anyone's portrait on Earth (currently alive) whom would you photograph?
This is crazy but there’s a mom I follow on instagram, @TheresaHolden, and I’m in love with her daughter, Rue Penelope. She just the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen with her deep red hair, wide set eyes, and darling freckles! I want a ginger baby more than anything!
What do you love most about photography?
The people. 100%. I get anxious/excited before every shoot because there is so many unknown factors, but I truly believe that I have something special to offer every human I work with if I take the time to know them and dig out the treasures that only they hold. We're all so unique and worth knowing and I love that my job gives me such intimate and vulnerable access to people's lives. It's a privilege and a responsibility I hold dear to my heart.
You are into beach culture and more recently increasingly began shooting boardriding, fitness - how did you first get involved in shooting these activities?
As a lifestyle photographer, I’ve always been a fan of photographing females doing what they do. When I moved to the beach three years ago, I had so much fun photographing my roommates surfing. As for shooting skaters, that came about when I began collaborating with my friend Elise who is an incredible skateboarder, designer, and photographer. For fitness, I was approached by a long time social media friend, Savanna Rose Venier, about building her modeling portfolio and fell in love with the genre. I look forward to doing more fitness, skate and surf shoots should the opportunities arise!
How has living by the coast and working with boardriders affected your artistic vision?
Honestly the entire culture has an incredible timelessness to it. Its nostalgic and modern without trying to hard and honestly it just feels good to be shooting outside. I have a hard time imagining myself stuck inside a studio now vs chasing the natural light with models that become family before the end of a shoot.
Can you share any advice for any new women photographers out there just getting into photography and/or those who are eager to pick up a camera?
For sure. Shoot what YOU love. There’s plenty of carbon copy nonsense out there. The world needs the secret pieces of your brain that make your vision your own. That’s where all the best stuff in the world comes from in my opinion. The second thing would be to stay humble, always be encouraging to your subjects (maybe even put yourself in their shoes often so you know what its like on their side of the camera), and always be honing your craft!
Where do you draw majority of your inspiration?
My work is inspired by beach culture for sure, but internally I am motivated by books like Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and by the abstract and minimalist art movements in the 60s and 70s. I love monochrome everything and deep earthy tones like burnt orange, olive green, mustard, and burgundy. Think, Wes Anderson meets Endless Summer. My earliest campaign crushes have always been the Wildfox Couture and Spell Byron Bay ... also everything Billabong releases is absolute gold. Those are all vastly different in style, but I have a vast sense of personal style and I'm still locating my niche as I find myself.
Have you had any stand out mentors, heroes growing up and/or while developing your career?
Oh for sure. My family and boyfriend are so supportive. There's been so many talented photographers and artists that have lended me their knowledge and encouragement along the way too. To name a few; Jordan Voth, Jessica Castro, Jenn Collins, India Earl, Bliss Katherine, Mike Monaghan and some local and Insta-friends who have been mega motivators and inspirations like Elisa Crigar, Victoria Moronta, Addie Gibson, Meredith Powell, Monica Stauffer, Emilie Vita, Katie Ruther, Philip Tran... it all comes down to friends and I'm sure I've left many unnamed. They're the heroes that lift me up when my head gets cluttered with lies about my worthiness. Honestly though, I still feel like such a baby in my career and looking forward I can't wait to step into the next lessons that will build me into a better business person and photographer.
Where have the most thrilling shoot experiences for you thus far involved and taken place (location-wise)?
The best ones are nearly always beachside or cliffside, the very best have both. The thrill isn’t so much the location as it is the lighting and the weather. I flip out behind the camera with screaming and dancing when the light is perfect, haha ask my clients!
If you could shoot on assignment anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you love to photograph?
Its fun shooting content for various brands, but I’ve always loved the idea of working with an in-house team to create content year round and on-location would be even better! Cliche as it may be, its been the long-time dream to shoot lifestyle campaigns for coastal brands in AUS or Hawaii.
You live a pretty active lifestyle, reside in a very sunny location and often spend considerable time outdoors while shooting...do you have any great sunscreen/skincare recommendations for active babes and/or beauty products to recommend which you just can't live without??
Yes!! Keep your products as natural as possible, and keep that face moisturized! I switch up moisturizers often, but one thing I always keep with me is Mario Badescu’s Rosewater Facial Spray and lip balm. My favorite activewear makeup is IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC cream with SPF 50. Its super lightweight but still high coverage enough to cover redness and imperfections. For hair, I always recommend Hello Hair’s Shampoo and Conditioner and their hydrating hair mask. The saltwater can really dry out your locks. I’ll stop while I’m ahead (I could talk beauty products forever) but one last secret is using Vanilla Extract as an overnight cure for oncoming pimples. Victoria Moronta taught me that and it works like a charm, I swear by it!
What is your view on social media's intersections with photography, technology? Do you find it to be a positive and beneficial integration into your business, artistic production—or does it feel like it can in any way negatively impact the practice of professional photography?
From film to digital to iPhone cameras and now instagram and presets… technology will always be changing the way we document and share culture. I’m not threatened by it, I’m excited by it! As a professional, I’ve learned that the tools I work with will never separate me more than my attitude and vision does. I believe social media has massively widened our potential clients not only in genre but also in volume since brands and even small business are constantly trying to release fresh content for their niches to interact with.
What would you like to see more of and/or less of in social media for future positive progress?
Definitely less public shaming and negative satire towards trends. Its a much more positive and progressive place when people are just sharing their loves instead of criticizing what they hate.
Do you have one item of thrifted vintage in your closet which you just can't life without?
LOL yes. I have this trashy denim jacket that I wear everywhere. Idk what it’s previous owner did to it but the rips are incredible!
Do you recall the first (or even longest owned) item of vintage which you've ever acquired and how that came to be in your wardrobe?
Maybe 8 years ago my aunt gave me this leather fringe halter crop-top from her biker days. It has the most gorgeous lace-up back, but I never wear it because it takes a decade to put on.
What are you most looking forward to achieve in 2017?
This is the most boring answer ever, but proper bookkeeping and taxes. Business isn’t glamorous but its SO IMPORTANT to do it well if you want to succeed.
If aliens landed in your backyard and told you they had a way to transport to any place, any time in current or past and invited you to travel with them for 48 hrs--where would you go, what would you to do, see and in which time in history??
No joke, would go hang with Jesus during the time of his baptism. I’m obsessed with that entire scene described in the bible because its one of the only times you actually hear a voice from heaven. Like how cool would it be to hear that voice and live to tell about it? Also I hope these aliens are cute and green, like flubber, because that would make it a billion times better.
Hobbies outside photography??
I play guitar and sing. I'm a worship leader at my local church and I LOVE IT. And of course being outside! After 3 years, I still suck at surfing, but dang is it fun till ya get nailed in the mouth with your longboard. Lol
Vinyl or Spotify??
Spotify. For sure.
Denim or lycra??
Piercings or ink??
On me: piercings. On guys: ink.
Vans, Birks, or Heels??
Ugh. Birks >booties > Vans, and barefoot! Throw the heels away!
To follow along with this talented lady's next adventures and life journeys in photography, check out Tori's portfolio and social accounts: