Leave it to a hairstylist to know beauty when she sees it.
Years ago, Julie Gebhardt, a stylist at Ringolevio Salon in Pac Heights, took a portrait photography class with the idea of learning how to take better snapshots of her family. But the photo bug didn't really click until she got her hands on an iPhone and discovered Instagram, in 2011. Now, 47,000 followers later, Gebhardt (or @juliegeb as she's known online) has become known for her colorful perspective of the city. People rarely appear in her pictures, but all kinds of buildings do. And, in a refreshing celebration of messy urban life, she makes no contrived effort to eliminate things like trash cans and telephone wires from her her frame. Rather, she incorporates these daily details in her images, which burst with the colors and graphic swirls of street art and architectural details and really lure the eye in.
Since joining Instagram, Gebhardt's impeccably cropped and compelling images have been featured in the New York Times and the Guardian, among other publications. We sat down for a chat with the shutterbug and picked up a few of her pro tips.
7x7: Do you ever shoot with a regular camera?
JG: I don't even own a camera—I'm strongly committed to the whole iPhoneography movement. I love that phones make photography so democratic, and I hope my work says to other people 'you can do it too.' I discovered my visual voice through practice, and so can they.
What is it about buildings that you find so appealing?
Building facades are everywhere. They share common traits, but each one is also unique. I love things that are a little bit decaying—there's something poignant about a beautiful building that's falling into disrepair but still maintains its original integrity. Doors catch my eye because they almost look like individual people and say something about the actual people who live behind them. I'm also drawn to quirky details, like when someone goes to great lengths to paint a pipe to match their house. You feel the life of the person who lives there in the way they express themselves through those details.
Ever get busted photographing someone's door?
Yes! There have been times when someone's opened a door and I've had to explain what I'm up to. Usually a big smile, and showing them my Instagram gallery, transforms suspicion into enthusiasm.
Do you take photos every day?
I usually do a dedicated photo walk once or twice a week. On Sundays, I like to go out shooting with my husband. He's not on Instagram and uses a regular camera, but we like photographing the same kinds of things. Sometimes I'll also get together with a friend or two I've met on Instagram. But my eye is alert all the time. When I'm commuting or running errands and something grabs me, I'll pull my car over and hop out to take a picture, or make a note to come back to an interesting area I'm passing through.
How important is it for you to interact with your Instagram followers?
I've always been very engaged with them and think that's one reason I've built a strong following. I consider Instagram a community, and I'm grateful for all the inspiration I find there. I try to give back what I've received by encouraging others, especially those who are new to Instagram. I get a number of direct messages from people asking me questions, and I try to be as open and helpful as possible.
How often do you post?
I limit myself to two photos a day, even though I probably have 1,000 that are edited and ready to go. Nobody wants to see too much of the same thing.
How would you describe your style?
I'd say it's very observational and naturalistic. I enjoy slowing down to observe the specialness of the ordinary when I'm out shooting. It's almost a kind of meditation. I like being in the present, and in the flow of just seeing and shooting without thinking too much about the pictures I'm taking. I never look at any of my photos until I get home. Then, when I start going through them, it's like opening a treasure box.
Tell us a bit about your editing process.
At first, I played around with lots of filters and over-saturated everything. Now, my approach is pretty simple. I try to enhance things just enough to show what it is in a photo that I find appealing, but still keep it natural looking. I'm really interested in cropping as a way to highlight what it is that I'm seeing. I try different ways to frame that part of the picture and turn it into a little work of art.
Do you use any editing apps?
I started out with a slew of apps, but now I just use CameraPlus. I love it for both shooting and editing. It's got a nice grid and leveling tool, as well as wonderful tools for sharpening and basic editing.
Are you one of those people with thousands of photos on your phone?
No, I'm super organized. You need some kind of system to manage your photos or you end up with 50 versions of the same thing and waste time trying to figure out what to delete. My CameraPlus app is linked to my iPad. When I get home from shooting, I'll pull up my latest photos on the iPad and do some preliminary editing. After that first round of edits, I import the photos to an Edit Album on my computer. I gradually finish editing them there, then put them in a Ready to Post album. Once I post a photo from that album on Instagram, I transfer it to an Already Posted album. I also back up my pictures to the Cloud and an external hard drive.
What are your favorite San Francisco neighborhoods to photograph?
Dogpatch is a big favorite. It's changing a lot, so I can come back repeatedly and find something new. The light's beautiful there too, and also up on Potrero Hill. The Mission is great because it's so diverse and colorful. And I love SoMa for its gritty, urban feel—especially on a Sunday when there aren't many cars or people around. You can stand in the street and take a photo of a building without worrying about getting run over.
Describe a perfect photo outing.
Getting out of the house early with my husband, driving around, and then settling on a neighborhood to explore. We try not to have a set agenda and just follow our instinct, peeking around the next corner or checking out an alley. We walk and shoot until we're absolutely spent and then get a late lunch. I feel absolutely elated after a day like that.
The artist. (Courtesy of Julie Gebhardt)