Lily Cruse‘s lens captures more than just snapshots. It immortalizes the nostalgia-infused ethos of ’90s culture with a modern twist. A self-taught photographer who found her calling in the realm of the visual arts, the creative emerged from her Kentucky roots to seize the broader cultural tapestry of places like Miami. Guided by an aesthetic steeped in vintage film—even when shooting digitally—Cruse defies the expectations set by her Instagram feed, which many mistake as solely analog.
“I’m obsessed with the ’90s archives and film,” Cruse says. “People often ask if I charge more for film or what kind of film I use. The reality is 99% of the time, I’m not shooting on film. But I still try to give it that film look.” This drive to blend eras culminates in a body of work that bridges generational tastes, capturing moments as if they were suspended in amber yet entirely rooted in the now.
Cruse’s artistic ambitions stretch far beyond her current portfolio. “I’m gonna shoot for Vogue one day,” she declares, embodying the determination that has pushed her to continually refine her craft. An understanding of light’s crucial role in photography also serves as the underpinning of her work. “I believe lighting is everything. If I could give advice to my younger self earlier in my career, it would focus on understanding lighting,” she emphasizes.
Below, Lily Cruse spoke to us about some of her portfolio highlights. Continue scrolling to check them out!
So I’m a huge fan of this shoot, which was like a year ago in Miami in the art district. I met the girl, Nayla, through Instagram. It was like a year ago, last August. The colors and the vibes, I was absolutely obsessed with. Everything in my brain that I was seeing actually happened. I was like, “Yes. This is what I live for.” That was definitely one of my favorites.
This was my first shoot after moving to Miami. I visited Miami once for two days before moving here months later so I was very excited to get involved in the creative community here.
After posting this shoot on Instagram I received an overwhelming amount of positive recognition and feedback. I was on a content trip in New York City and in preparation for this trip I spent countless time studying my camera settings and practicing techniques. I had a vision for this shoot to capture the motion blur of the subway and I was very pleased with the results! I believe knowing your specific camera and gear like the back of your hand and being confident in your ability to change settings depending on your circumstances is key to a successful shoot. No matter what you’re shooting on!
Some advice I would give to any photographer of any skill level would be to spend time studying your camera body and lenses. Get out and shoot! The best way to learn is by hands on practicing and experimenting! YouTube is also an excellent resource for answering questions you may have about your gear! I spent so many hours YouTubing my camera body and lenses to learn how to use it when I first bought my equipment!
This shoot is a great example of building a close relationship with clients! This is Riley, who I have photographed before and has become a friend of mine. Making sure your model is comfortable and at ease is crucial and something I pride myself in. I always say by the end of a shoot we will be friends!
When the model is at easy it transfers into effortless looking photos! Riley had texted me a photo of this red dress she had and from there this photoshoot was born! We agreed on a bright, vibrant shoot to compliment the dress. It was actually raining a lot this day so we had to work through the clouds but a little challenge didn’t stop us from executing our vibrant vision!
Madison is another great example of becoming friends during a photoshoot! This shoot was actually done when I was home in Kentucky last. We had actually shot together a week prior for the first time. While we were at the location, she started talking about this other outfit she had. And we decided to run by her apartment and grab it.
While we were there, I noticed how the aesthetic of her apartment was very vintage and looked like the perfect backdrop for a photoshoot. I was like, “Girl your apartment is so cool it reminds of a photoshoot I saw another photographer that I like, Amber Asaly do with Sydney Sweeny. I showed Madison the shoot I was talking about on my phone and she loved it. I literally bought these rubber gloves from the Dollar Tree and a week later we were putting our own spin on it and that’s how this set of images was created!
This just goes to show you how you do not need and expensive set or budget to create a theatrical series of images.
This was my first time ever being in LA so I was super excited to be there and to create with people I followed online for years! The model in these images, Emma is actually a photographer herself that I admire very much! She was so kind to model a shoot for me and also let me use some of her flashes after the sun went down! We shot all of these in downtown LA around her apartment and rooftops!
Her friend Brooke is a stylist and styled Emma in all of these looks! She did amazing and brought the shoot to a new level for sure! I love working with a team of creative individuals and bouncing ideas off of each other like this! It was a great experience. Emma told me modeling herself helps her be a better photographer because if she can pose herself than she can pose others and that advice really stuck with me and has challenged me to take more images of me so I can be the best photographer I can be!