Challenges of the emerging photographer – Interview with Justin Sariñana

What does it involve being an emerging photographer?

In this series of interviews called “Challenges of the emerging photographer”, I will be asking some more & some less experienced photographers about their paths.


For this first edition, I exchanged some thoughts with Justin Sariñana about the joys and difficulties of being an emerging photographer.

Justin and I met through Montreal’s flamboyant skateboarding community. I knew a little about his background in film. Still, I never asked what career he wanted to pursue. He worked at a great pizza place and took great photos. It was when Justin moved back to Manteca, California that I saw, thanks to Instagram, “behind the pizza guy” the photographer he actually is. I then understood his profound artistic desires and the choices he made to make them happen. 



Q. Justin, you freelance as a photographer and you work part-time elsewhere to finance your lifestyle. How do you find your balance? 

A. I’m still trying to figure that out (laughs). Money-wise it’s pretty messy. I usually get excited about projects and go to whatever stakes to fund them. I told myself this year to be more mindful with money but we’ll see how that goes. I don’t really follow a routine but I love going on walks. I keep a point-and-shoot on me practically always which helps because I generally shoot pretty sporadically.

I started a project recently that involves scheduling people to model. It’s more meditated than how I usually shoot. My dream would be to make pictures for a living but I have a lot to learn and yet to experiment with. I do think the process for this particular project kind of overlaps one of a professional shoot.



Q. According to you, what is the difference between a well-established photographer and an emerging one?

A. I guess time. Time doesn’t necessarily dictate whether the work is good or not, though. There are people who have been photographing for only a year whose photos I really like and vice versa. Taste is subjective, at the end of the day, I’m just a guy.



Q. How did you start photographing? 

A. I started taking photos at around grade 7, I think. My mom had a DSLR that I would mess around with. I was really into MySpace as a kid. There are some pretty embarrassing selfies of me floating around someplace, but I’m glad I took them because it was my first time tinkering with that kind of technology.

Sometime in high school my friend Chris introduced me to Now it’s a physical space in New York, but at the time it was only an online gallery. There I came across Andrea Sonnenberg’s work. I was blown away, I had never seen anything like it before. She’s a San Franciscan that photographed her kind of utopian, party lifestyle with mostly point-and-shoots and SLRs. They were raw and vibrant and gritty and fun. I bought a point-and-shoot because of her.

I started photographing my friends a lot. I was infatuated with party photos at the time- maybe I was subconsciously trying to mimic Sonnenberg’s photos. I was also skateboarding a lot then so I would take out the camera when we were out on the streets. I still photograph my friends but my party and skateboarding photos have significantly declined over the years.



Q. To what extent is there a “mise en scène” behind your pictures?

A. I’m not too sure? I think I’m naturally drawn to pretty contrasty lighting but it all differs from picture to picture. Awhile back a friend was telling me that people who favor subjects in the center of a composition are generally lonely people. A lot of my photos have this, maybe that’s saying something (laughs).



Q. What are you seeking in your photographs?

A. Things I haven’t seen before. Maybe the actual thing I have photographed or seen in photographs before but when their execution is new to me, I love that. Or when a new part of a subject is explored. I saw a photograph of knees the other day which I really liked. I haven’t seen too many knee pics out there.


Q. What are your inspirations, your influences?

A. Other than looking at other photographs, I listen to a lot of music. I drive a lot here in California and maybe 90% of the time I have music on. Food is also really inspirational. Besides the obvious pleasure of tasting and being full, we as human beings have such a luxury of enjoying eating to the extent that we do. Some of my best memories take place dining with others- it’s such a warming experience.

Not to say that dining alone isn’t great, ‘cause it definitely is. Either way, cooking something new keeps me excited creatively. Dishes are limitless.




Justin Sariñana is a 25-year-old photographer and filmmaker from Manteca, California.

See more of his work:



All images © Justin Sariñana