Born in Louisville, KY, burgeoning photographer Madeline Thompson is among one of our favorites, namely for her experimental approach behind the lens. From picking up her first camera in high school to traveling across the globe, Thompson’s incredible portfolio has led her to work with the likes of Kentucky Boy Tyler, Alexa Dellanos, The Homies, and several different places and faces.
“In the beginning, I didn’t really push my work to be different. I boxed myself in because where I’m from, not a lot of photographers were shooting editorial photography. It was either wedding photography, senior photos or family photos. The word ‘editorial’ felt so abnormal to me when I first started shooting. I didn’t know anything about it,” Madeline tells us. “But now that I’m here, 6 years later I just want people to look at my work and be really inspired. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Madeline continues to not only make a name for herself, but pave a way for other creatives in the process. Between candid portraits of friends and family as well as unconventional works that look straight from a movie or magazine, there’s so much to love about her visual storytellings. In addition to perfecting the art of raw transforming raw imagery, the photographer also crafts composition and design to convey emotion and her own tastes in the ability of editing.
“I think my work is evolving truly because I’m shooting only what feels good to me and what I want to shoot. I’m the most inspired I’ve ever been and it’s because I’m also art directing on my shoots,” she shares. “When I first have an idea for a shoot I see colors. Color tones for me are so important. “I curate what I think is the perfect color palette for each photo concept then the ideas just flow continuously. I want my photos to feel colorful while keeping it mysterious and edgy. I just want my audience to look at my photos and be in that moment and feel something.”
Below, Madeline takes us through some of her favorite photos to date, including rooftop picks to random nights in New York. Continue scrolling to read the story behind them.
1. Blue Sky Rooftop
I shot this picture on an apartment rooftop with my $157 flash. No crazy lighting setup. Just the sun, my flash, and a model. This was taken around 5pm. People ask me about my lighting set up all the time but truth is, 99% of my shoots is just with my flash. I don’t own any heavy equipment. I like to use flash during the day to give that ~editotial~ feel. That’s how I create that deep shadow while giving a soft light on the face.
I shot this on the side of my house on a rainy day. The colors in this image are just so beautiful to me. The overcast from the clouds gave the prettiest flat lighting while naturally enhancing her red hair. I love that her hair is messy yet so organic and beautiful. I knew I wanted her hair in her face to compliment the color of her lips and freckles. And if you look closely it compliments her eyeshadow too.
3. In My Bathroom
I love love love the feeling I get when I see this photo. I normally don’t edit in B&W but this one just felt right. I shot this in my bathroom with my flash but instead of having the flash directly towards the model, I had it bounce from the ceiling to give this flat look. This is one of my favorite photos because even though it’s blurry and dark. All the focus is on the model, there’s no background noise.
4. New York Minute
I was in a major creative rut when I shot this. I had no inspiration and no direction for my photos. I felt stuck. 1 day I was driving downtown and I saw this green staircase that instantly reminded me of New York. And boom it sparked something for me. Carly is one of my favorite people to shoot so I knew she’d be perfect for my idea. I knew immediately I wanted her in a luxurious coat but didn’t have a plan for the rest of her outfit.
While I was at her house trying to piece together an outfit, she was standing there in just her bra, underwear and pantyholes. I told her what she was wearing actually fit the vision perfectly so we went with just that. I wanted her makeup grungy with her hair wet to fit the “street” scene of New York. It’s beautiful how ideas start rolling in naturally as soon as you get that first taste of inspiration.
To begin with, can you introduce yourself and what gravitated you towards photography?
My name is Madeline Thompson and I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. The other day I actually thought about the first time I picked up a camera and to be honest it goes back to high school. I was a sophomore. I asked my parents for a camera for Christmas knowing it was probably going to be my only present. It was a little baby blue Canon PowerShot and I took it everywhere with me. I would take it to the parties and just document all night long.
When Sunday would roll around I always made sure I had an album uploaded on Facebook so on Monday morning at school everyone could look at the pics from the weekend. I remember this one morning in 1st period I had a crowd of my classmates leaning over my shoulder looking at the pictures I took of everyone at prom. I remember loving that feeling of being the person that just documented. It’s crazy how life just works like that you know. I always had it in me it just took me a couple years after high school to really pursue photography into a career.
Over the past several years, your artistry as a photographer has certainly evolved and taken a life of its own. How would describe your work at this current stage in your career?
I think my work is evolving truly because I’m shooting only what feels good to me and what “I” want to shoot. I’m the most inspired I’ve ever been and it’s because I’m also art directing on my shoots. When I first have an idea for a shoot I see colors. Color tones for me are so important. I curate what I think is the perfect color pallet for each photo concept then the ideas just flow continuously.
I want my photos to feel colorful while keeping it mysterious and edgy. I see my work improving month by month and it’s because I finally understand the meaning to my work. I just want my audience to look at my photos and be in that moment and feel something.
How did you want your work to be perceived in the beginning—has anything changed in terms of what you want people to take away from it in the current day?
In the beginning I didn’t really push my work to be different. I boxed myself in because where I’m from, not a lot of photographers were shooting editorial photography. It was either wedding photography, senior photos or family photos. The word “editorial” felt so abnormal to me when I first started shooting. I didn’t know anything about it. It honestly took some time for me to approach my work differently. But now that I’m here, 6 years later I just want people to look at my work and be really inspired. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come.
Moreover, the subjects and muses that you work with oftentimes blend seamlessly with your style of shooting. What compels you to work with certain subjects and environments?
Under florescent lighting like we’re in the waiting room at the DMV or outside under the sun in beautiful tall green grass is typically where I pull the environments setting for my shoots. I love the structure of peoples faces, that’s also what gravitates me to shoot certain models. Unique and authentic in their own way- barefaced like they just got out of bed. I have no desire in shooting the stereotypical “perfect” face that society has set as the standard.
In regard to finding your voice in photography and creating a community around your work, what advice would you give to younger photographers and visual artists?
Act on every single idea you have! I can’t stress this enough. Everyone in the world has great ideas, it’s about how you execute your ideas. Invest in yourself and you as a “brand.” You have to dig deep on what truly inspires you and just surround yourself with it as much as you can. Best for last: believe in yourself!!