Generator Ep. 009 – Sarah Rocca: Flying Into a New Type of Fine Art

In this episode, Matt Stagliano speaks with Sarah Rocca, a retoucher, fine art photographer, and drone-assisted self portrait artist located in New Hampshire. Sarah has defined a incredibly innovative voice in aerial self portraits and she talks about her process, her techniques, and what to expect when laying naked in firepits. The conversation also covers mental health, muscle cars, and traveling to desolate places all over the world. To see more of Sarah's work please visit

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Full Transcript of Generator Ep. 009 - "Flying into A New Type of Fine Art"

Matt Stagliano 0:00
Hey friends welcome back. This is episode nine of generator and I’m calling this one flying into a new type of fine art and my guest this week is Sarah Rocca. She is a fine art photographer, retoucher and drone assisted self portrait artist. She and I have been in the same circles for several years now, but I’ve never really had the chance to sit down and get to know her. Well, Sarah has developed a relatively new style of self portrait that mixes her love of darker thematic portraits with flying lawnmowers, aka drones. Her process creates these fascinating aerial views. And it’s quickly become beloved by clients that want something uniquely different. So over the next hour and change, we talk about everything from her search to find her artistic voice to struggles with mental health to creating this new style of portraiture to traveling the world, something that she does quite a bit. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this conversation with Sarah Rocca. Now on the show.

So I’m really happy that we’re doing this. Thanks for being here.

Sarah Rocca 1:27
Oh, thank you for having me.

Matt Stagliano 1:30
How is now you’re in New Hampshire and I can never remember where you are. I’m in the western side of Maine, kind of near New Hampshire. Where are you in New Hampshire.

Sarah Rocca 1:39
I’m in Southern New Hampshire. So I’m very close to the Massachusetts border. I just pulled a stick out of my shoe. I need you to know this. I don’t know how I got there. But I just pulled it out of my shoe.

Matt Stagliano 1:51
And this my friends is New England living.

Sarah Rocca 1:54
This is what you’re gonna get with me. Yeah.

Matt Stagliano 1:57
Let’s stick out of my shoe. Moose followed me home. As I do the research for all this right I stalk people blatantly. And I go through Facebook feeds really fast to get a feel for things. You have a love for muscle cars. Is that right?

Sarah Rocca 2:12
I do. Zero. When I was a kid my dad brought me to car shows who we go to car shows because he loved cars and he was a mechanic and a past life. So I fell in love with some of these muscle cars. And I just I’ve always loved them they’re super fun looking. But I don’t really have a mechanic and I don’t really have the time the money to be up keeping a classic car. So I bought myself a new challenger. So So yeah, that was the only way I could get my muscle car is the challenger has the muscle car potty of the 70s or closest that you can get these days.

Matt Stagliano 2:53
Like what is it? 1317 gallons of

Sarah Rocca 2:55
oil? Well yeah, and you know, it works well in the winter. It’s real wheel drive is awesome.

Matt Stagliano 3:01
You know, that’s the best part about driving in winter is the rear wheel drive. I love that stuff. Because suddenly I’m in rally school and I’m just freewheeling it around the corners. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. Was your dad a pretty artistic guy too? Where did you get all of your your creativity

Sarah Rocca 3:18
my dad is was a photographer a hobby photographer for years and years and years so he’s he you know had shot a couple of weddings for people but mostly did it for hobby so I grew up with having my picture taken like non stop and I hated it. There’s a million pictures of me sticking my tongue out at the cameras don’t take my picture. But we grew up with a ton of photos photo albums. So that’s definitely where I got my love for for cameras and shooting and I borrowed my dad’s 35 millimeter when I was 15 and never gave it back you know, I had like I think I had a 110 camera I had the little disc Kodak disc cameras I had I had all of those I started on film and learned how to shoot manually learn how to shoot on film. So I’m battled Yes. You know it before film was like the cool retro thing to do I actually just shot on it because digital wasn’t nothing yet. So that’s pretty cool. My love for photography, the creativity. I don’t know where it came from. I am one of five kids so it’s not like I’m an only child and needed an outlet no i Crazy household. So so I don’t know, I didn’t draw and paint. I didn’t really build things as a kid I would. I would sit in the backyard on the swing set by myself and just sing and make up songs and that’s what I did. So you think I’d be a singer but I’m so not

Matt Stagliano 4:44
this is a total generalization. Let’s just call it what it is. I picture you in like black gothic, where is a seven year old, you know, Addams family style, just sitting there thinking about how you want to take creaky dark pictures and that’s where it all starts. like that’s really not the case. It’s just the story that’s going on in my head, right?

Sarah Rocca 5:03
Yeah. No, I grew up in the 80s. So it wasn’t black clothes. You had like, awesome flower patterns and everything was corduroy

Matt Stagliano 5:14
was quarter I, of course had Husky size. But everything was quarter Roy tree. Shireen she Yeah. Okay. All right. So we’ve got a essentially I think we might have been in the same family at some point, I had my dad’s camera, he had an old Olympus that I still have. And the great thing about those old film cameras was the straps, like these hippie be dazzled straps, right? That you just don’t see anymore. Everything is you know, seatbelt nylon and whatnot. These things were like macro May, or even with like one hitters in them like it was all.

Sarah Rocca 5:52
I have one, they have a strap like that. That’s what I put on my Rolleiflex.

Matt Stagliano 5:56
Do you still sit with any of those? The film cameras? Do you play with them at all?

Sarah Rocca 5:59
I play with a rolly. Yeah, the Rolleiflex still works well. My 35 millimeter work. So I have shot with it in the last couple of years, but not too much.

Matt Stagliano 6:09
So you’ve been doing this a really long time. When did you go? When did you go pro?

Sarah Rocca 6:15
I don’t know. What does it what does it mean to be pro?

Matt Stagliano 6:19
When did someone say oh, I’ll buy that. And you were like, Oh my God, you’re gonna give me money when you start to take it more seriously and think, Wow, this is something I could do for a living

Sarah Rocca 6:29
2011. Wow. Gear costs a lot of money I wanted to recoup. I guess, isn’t that what we all do know, I started shooting portraits first. So my very first session was an engagement session for a co worker. And I found that my co workers were the ones who would pay me for my day job. So yeah, so I just I liked it. I liked having that kind of freedom of expression. But I shot very light and airy, very bright colors, which is still the bright colors, but everything was like blown highlights very happy. And you know, let’s, you know, do weddings and portraits and family sessions, and I lived by the beach, so everyone wanted their pictures at the beach. And I did that for a few years. And it was fun. But as I started taking creative photography courses, because I started taking courses in an art center, and it was all around creative photography, and just kind of expanding your thinking and how to shoot more creatively. I started realizing that I wasn’t very creative in what I was doing. Now I could have been there’s plenty of people that are and every time I wanted to try something a little creative. You know, my clients who were a lot of repeat clients were like, Yeah, we just want to do this because that’s they, they knew what I could do. They liked what I was doing for them and they just wanted it and that is completely fair. But I got burnt out you know after a while and I do work a day job. So you know, when you’re shooting weddings and portraits on the weekends and during your day job, you’re centrally sometimes you’re working seven days a week for months on end and and I burned myself out. So I did that until 2018. And in 2018 I moved to New Hampshire for Massachusetts. And when I moved I decided, okay, no more clients. I’m all done. And I just kind of quit cold turkey and gave up all of it and decided I just wanted to do self portraits that I wanted to explore my world the way I actually see things because the way I was shooting was the way the client sees things. So if they wanted their beautiful family portraits at the beach, I did their beautiful family portraits of the beach did I like shooting at the beach? No, but that’s what they want it and that’s what they’re paid before and and it was fine and I love my clients I love love them I had clients that came to me for five years in a row and it was super fun to see their families grow but I didn’t really have a passion for it and so when I moved I thought well this is actually good I’ll make the break because I am moving over an hour away so I can’t really shoot for these people as easily and I decided to just explore self portraiture more which I had been doing a little bit you know and delving into but I decided to go kind of all in

Matt Stagliano 9:26
I dig it man and I think the title of this episode just became quitting clients cold turkey with no withdrawals whatsoever

Sarah Rocca 9:37
Well, there were withdrawals because I gave up all that money. But um, but no, it was yeah, I always explain it that way that I just quit cold turkey. I just was like I’m done.

Matt Stagliano 9:50
I know for me, I hit burnout. Time after time after time. I hit it I hit that wall. Have to ease back you Usually, after, you know, some period of time, five, seven years, and then I’m trying to counter that with more work and more work, and I just burned myself out and becomes, you know, alright, I need to do something completely different. Where did you get to in that point? Did you recognize it early enough that you were burning out from both the day job and working with clients? And have you been able to find a balance with that? Or do you feel renewed now that you’re doing your thing and stepped back from the retail photography, let’s call it,

Sarah Rocca 10:29
it’s really interesting. The way I found I wanted to step away was I didn’t like the work I was shooting. And what I mean by that was, I didn’t think I was growing, I thought my work is mediocre, stagnant. And I started feeling like my clients aren’t going to keep liking this. It’s not it just wasn’t up to a scale I wanted it to be at. And I started noticing that I felt like I was even declining. And whether or not anyone else would have seen that. I don’t know. But I could see it in my own work. And that’s when I really thought I really shouldn’t be doing this anymore. Because if I can’t give my clients that top notch, and I’m growing, and I’m getting better, I don’t want to be working with people, like that’s just, like come from a customer service background I want to give you like, the best service and part of that service is the product. And I just felt like my product was falling off. And I traced it back to you. Okay, why is my product falling off, like, I’m not getting worse as a photographer. I’m sure that could happen. But um, you know, I wasn’t unlearning things, I was just not passionate. And I find when I’m not passionate about something, my work starts to suck. So, so that was kind of my catalyst. And, you know, I noticed that that kept shooting a little bit. And then the move happens, and I went perfect. This is perfect timing for me to make the break. And it’s not to say don’t get burned out on the self portrait side. Because with everything I’ve been through in the last few years, I definitely did feel a burnout. And I’m just now starting to get to the point where I feel like I’m back on track. Other people probably don’t see that because I can still put out work. But mentally, it’s been extremely tough the past year, to put out a piece of work to come up with a concept and put out a piece of work. Why do you think that is? Oh, it’s a therapy session now. Okay, so I’m totally, I’m an I’m an open book. And I actually speak very openly about this stuff. Right before the pandemic into the pandemic, I went through a divorce. And then we have the pandemic happen. So I have these two colossal life things happening at the same time, right. But also, during that time, this is why I’m very open about an open in my work. When I write about my work about this, I was diagnosed with insomnia, anxiety, and major depressive disorder, all of those things happening, really, during the pandemic, where you can’t go out, you can’t do anything, your life has completely changed, you’re isolated and, and now living in a house by myself was very isolated. It really all played into my mental state, and where maybe I was feeling burnout before, but I wasn’t acknowledging it as we don’t do. And so everything from finding the right medication that doesn’t mess you all up to surviving your day job. Because when you’re going through all these things in these diagnoses, you know, everything becomes a challenge. And if you anyone that doesn’t know what I’m talking about, you’re blessed. And I’m super envious of you. But there’s those of you out there who are gonna shake your heads and be like, Yep, totally understand that. Honestly, I think that really came to a head and last year, I will, I don’t even know, I don’t know what year it is. Anyway. So I think it’s 2021 that’s when really things came to a head. And then after that, you know, I’ve been I’ve been ramping myself back up, I’ve been getting back to what I feel is a normal mental state, you know, my new normal of living the life that I live, post, post marriage, things like that. So, you know, out of the pandemic, and be kind of crawling out of my hole and being like, oh, I can talk to other people. So, so yeah, so I just think everything came to a head all at the same time. And honestly, the pandemic and a divorce forced me to look at my own mental state, whereas I had ignored my issues for years. It’s not like these are new things. It’s just I newly finally was like, oh, I should get held. I can’t do this on my own. And so those two tough things forced me to To get to this point, but they’ve also, you know, the pandemic is a horrible tragedy that happens, right? So many people were affected by this negatively. But for my work, it gave me a whole new avenue to work in with drone portraits or because I had so much time on my sister sit by myself, that I created this whole new style for myself. So it worked.

Matt Stagliano 15:27
Yeah, no, first, thank you for all of that. Right. I think it’s amazing when someone can come to a place where they’re able to talk about a lot of these challenges that more people than you think face. Well, I was exactly the same way until I got diagnosed with my depressive disorder and ADHD and anxiety just across the board there all sorts of stuff I was living this life of, I don’t know why I keep failing, I have this passion, I want to do this. And then it wouldn’t work out. And then something big would happen, I’d go into basically like a mental blackout. It was just really dark periods, right. And it wasn’t until I was able to get the help get the medication, get some people to just kind of point me in the right direction, slap me on the ass and be like, that’s the way that you have to go, that things started to really click. And it’s interesting. All that culminated right around the time of the pandemic for you, and then opened up the avenue into what you’re doing now. For me, it happened just a few years prior to that, where I had gone through the same thing, divorce move, job loss, like all happening at the same time. And then I was like, What do I do? When all of that crashed is when I started taking portraits and doing the stone tree stuff. And since then, it’s been, you know, you get your son your sort of wave of happiness. But it’s been upward trajectory. And it was a big renewal just to have my life back. So was it that you started to express yourself and what you went through through self portraiture? Or did you go into drones first? How did you start to kind of develop this voice in the style that you have now that is definitely not beach and bright and airy?

Sarah Rocca 17:10
is not? So? Okay, I mentioned I took a class I took a class called Ultra Creative Photography, actually, it might have even been before that. We call it you see in the past. So I was taking, I was taking classes from a certain teacher at an art center. And literally the same 10 People would sign up for this class year over year, and it was a creative course. And we just got crazier and crazier with stuff. And like he tried to outdo each other, or we tried to outdo ourselves. Before that, I think I took an intro to the intro to creative photography class with them. And I’ll tell you, we had an assignment to pick a word. So you had to pick a word that describe yourself, and then you had to do the opposite of that word. Okay. So how do people always describe me? How were people describing me in my 20s? Okay, she’s very pretty. The opposite of that is ugly. So my work was ugly, and I had to build a poem and a triptych around that. And that was the first time I did anything really creative that I was proud of. So how would I personify the word ugly, ugly is now a person and how would I shoot her? That was kind of my stepping stone. So I went dark, because I thought it’d be super fun. And that’s, I’m a little bit of a dark soul in like, I love really dark humor. I don’t watch horror movies. Everyone always is like, you must watch horror movie. I hate horror movies. I don’t like anything scary. But I love things like dead trees. scraggly dead tree, it just looks really cool to me. Whereas a really pretty tree is great. It’s pretty, but I’m not going to want to photograph that because I feel like a pretty tree is a dime a dozen. But that cool dead tree has a story to tell. And what’s that story? So. So I started out doing that. And then I’m a I’m a bit of a sarcastic goofy person. And so every time we’d have an assignment, I tried to do something a little weirder than I did before. And I started going for shock value. And that’s just how I started out is just shock value. What can I do to make the class go oh my god, why did you do that? And I did some weird, silly, weird things started learning Photoshop. Just go. So let’s go weirder from there. But I liked it. I really liked the weird. And so when I started doing self portraits, in the very, very beginning, they probably weren’t weird. They were probably just me trying to figure out how to do a self portrait without a timer. So you got the 10 seconds to open your spot. That’s how I started. I know there’s people out there still do that stop it. Yep, a timer. It’s so easy. So um, I think I just started out just figuring out my camera figuring out my posing and figuring out some lighting. As I did the creative stuff that got weirder with the creative stuff. I never really thought of melding the two, I feel like they just may be sort of melted into one another after a while. For me, I love to write. So I didn’t just like putting out a picture. But I’m not gonna put out a picture and tell you exactly what I was feeling when I did it. I’m gonna help you draw your own conclusions, but I’m gonna maybe tell you the state of mind I was in for I was started using color to do that after a while when that’s more recent. But when it came to the drone stuff, I had a drone sitting on the shelf, a very expensive drone, and I wasn’t using it and the pandemic hit. And I was like, well, now I can’t travel, I can’t do anything with this drone, I should sell it. And so I was dead set, I’m gonna throw it up on like Facebook marketplace or eBay, I’m selling this drone, I need to get some of my money back. And then I went into self portraits with it. And it was literally just a thought. And when I get a thought I have to research it, I have to figure it out. And I didn’t even know what my drone was capable of. So I didn’t realize it had a timer. So I can set like an interferometer. I can set it to take a picture every five seconds, and just keep shooting. And as soon as I figured that out, I was like, Alright, what do we do? This is gonna be so cool. And I took it’s probably my most famous is not the word but my most recognized. My most recognized your own photo was the very first one I did and didn’t do because almost all but I’m curled up in the fetal position and I’m basically in the circle and it’s all red all orange around me. Yes, nestled. And that’s that’s actually been in a bunch of shows, it’s been the cover of a couple of shows, which is pretty cool. So not glamorous guys, I’m lying in my firepit. So I’m in just laying on damp site. So everything I do is so not not pretty. That was the first one I took and I I fell in love with the idea of doing this, of having a single subject, very small and a pullback but still being able to emote and tell story. And I immediately just went on this path of creating them. And a lot of them for me are super emotional. So that very first photo I took was it a very dark time. It was a very, very dark and it’s it’s a very late, you know, very pretty picture that a lot of people enjoy and it is to be enjoyed. But for me when I took it, I felt like I was being swallowed up by the Earth. I felt like I was alone. And everything that you see around me in that photo all the foliage and the trees and everything that are there. I felt like they were just gonna consume me. So I I try when I take one of these photos to not just I know different people have different feelings on this. I’m literally not just like, I’m going to be nude so that people look at it. It’s the raw vulnerability of being nude is why I shoot nude. So

Matt Stagliano 23:35
you know, I’ve never looked at your work and been like, yeah, nudie photos. instead. The first thing comes to mind when I look at your work is, oh, this is a drone shot. This is like a big fine art piece. You know what I mean? Like, it’s not the first thing that pops in my head. But I want to step back just a little bit. So as you were thinking about getting into the self portraiture, right, you were talking about story and and basically you want to give people a script outline rather than the full novel of exactly how to interpret a piece. Right? You like leaving that interpretation open? Yeah, right. So with with the darker stuff, as I look through some of the work from it’s gotta be your earlier stuff, because it was 2013 and I was looking at your Flickr account. It reminded me a lot of Francesca Woodman, poor soul. 22 years old, she did like really dark stuff, ground up taking her own life at a young age, but she produced this really voluminous amount of work with these really deep meaningful self portraits. And I don’t ever look at your work and think horror photography. I don’t think you know, HR Giger. Like aliens and stuff. I don’t think that direction. I think these really intense emotive images. A lot of it has a certain blur or mix or dark or colors or parts of you are covered up? And is that all conscious choice? Or was it just like, hey, this is kind of the shot that worked for me. I know, in some instances, there must be a lot of preparation and exact posing for storytelling. But when it comes to drones, and you’re laying naked in the snow, and you got a flying lawnmower over your head, I got to think that you’re moving through things pretty quickly. Yeah.

Sarah Rocca 25:26
So so I will, I will correct you a little bit, I don’t have a lot of pre planning. For stuff. If my face is covered, if a piece of me is covered, that is that is plant that is thought out, I did a lot of stuff, even my work outside of my drone work, there’s a lot of stuff with my face covered my mask covered either my hair covering my face, it’s very purposeful. Because you know, it’s a lot easier for you to see yourself in a photo if you don’t have the person’s face there. I know not everybody is drawn to the darker side of the art like I do. I know it’s I know, all art is super subjective, right? So for me, if I can get one person to look at a photo that maybe they wouldn’t like, necessarily, but because I’m scared they either see themselves do they see someone else in it that they know that that is all I’m kind of aiming for, right? Or maybe they don’t like the photo as much, but what I wrote up was really raw, and I’ll write about my mental well being or write about my mental health or my struggles and stuff. That’s the stuff that’s that’s planned. Right? That you know, not really how imposing because you’re right, if I’m shoot, especially if I’m shooting outside and it’s cold. I’m doing a bunch of poses and then I’m literally running back inside this house is like, Yeah, but what I write up the colors that I choose how I’m I’m covering myself or not, or the pose, that stuff all plays into what emotion do I want to try to convey. And someone may have awesome happy emotions to a photo, I’ve a really beautiful, colorful, bright photo that people love. And it was one of my like, mentally darkest, like awful moments. And I was trying to capture it. But we’re all going to see what we want to see. And I love that about art. I think that’s really beautiful. I don’t need someone to to dive into my craziness. But I do try to pick and I read a lot about color when I’m when I’m struggling with what emotion Am I trying to get out of this? I will look in color theory and go what’s the best color for this? And then I’ll see. Does it look good? If I edit it that way or not? And I it’s really interesting. I think it’s interesting. I don’t know what color? I can’t see my final photo.

Matt Stagliano 27:58
You don’t have it. You don’t have it here first. No, okay, not at all.

Sarah Rocca 28:03
I am, I’m the type of person and about 99% of my drone work has been shot in my own backyard, in exactly the same backyard in all of the shots. And I just make it look different with color time of day shadows. But because I’m shooting in the same place I have to be very creative about that are you all get like really bored and telling me to fix my lawn because it’s horrible. So I really try now to use pose and color to tell my story or to build my character. And for me, the way I’m I’m looking at the way I’m prepping for that is I’m not even kidding you. I’ll look outside, and I’ll see the shadows on the ground in the snow. And I’ll go oh my god, I have to get out there and shoot. Yeah, you know, so sometimes it’s just that sometimes I’m just like, let me go shoot and I’ll build everything else. Other times, it’s very methodical of I’m going through this thing, or I went through this thing. How do I want to portray that? And for me, it’s more about I just need to get it out. I gotta get it out of my head. I see my self on the ground doing whatever in my head. Let me let me get

Matt Stagliano 29:14
rid of it. Your neighbors must think your net job.

Sarah Rocca 29:18
I warned. So during the pandemic, I met my neighbors that can see right into my backyard. And there are a retired couple and they’re super sweet. And I’d go over there a couple times because we have to talk to you during the pandemic but your neighbors and I definitely told them hey, listen, I’m a photographer I shoot creatively I shoot my backyard so if you ever don’t want to see things don’t so now I just make sure they’re not having like a barbecue back there. And if they’re not then I just go

Matt Stagliano 29:47
see a whole bunch of eyeballs through the fence or anything

Sarah Rocca 29:51
like God, I did someone was like sweeping snow off the back deck one of the first times I was out there but I at least had clothes on so what’s It’s not too bad, but I’ve had people come, I’ve shot other people nude in my backyard. And I told them like, I don’t have a fence it, you know, and they’re like, Jeff, that’s fine. If you can do it. I’m like, Okay,

Matt Stagliano 30:13
well, it’s it’s a super impactful look. And I love how you can take the majority of your drone photos and look at them as a huge series, right? Because you’ve got snow on the ground and a red bow or you’ve got the, you know, the Nestle or you’ve got a very similar layout to what you were doing in Nestle. But now the color theory is all different, the pose is different. And it changes the feel 150%. And so it’s really, really interesting. I didn’t think when I first started seeing the work that I was like, oh, that’s innovative. That’s kind of cool. Like, I haven’t seen anybody doing that before. And then another one came out, and I was like, Oh, she did it again. And then as more came out, I was like, oh, wait a minute, these, it wasn’t just like, oh, this is the only thing I can do. There was purpose, there was a story, there was a motion. And I didn’t realize that I would get that from a drone that’s, you know, 100 feet in the air. It’s just, it’s a really, really cool voice that you have in doing all of this. The one thing that I saw, and I remember seeing this on Facebook as well, is when I was what first watching Rings of Power. And there was a shot of what turns out to be Gandalf spoiler alert. And of like, circular fire ring on the ground and the did the drone shot. I was like they’re ripping off Sarah, right there. Yeah, I remember seeing you on Facebook within 30 seconds or so going. Let the record show I I laughed my ass off because it is a great use of the technology that we have now. So it’s a really amazing look that you have from a technical standpoint. I don’t want to believe but I have to believe that something awful has gone wrong. While you’re doing this. I may have

Sarah Rocca 32:06
gotten mild frostbite on my ass

No, like, I mean, drone wise. No, my my drone. And I’ve worked with two different drones to do these. No, drone wise, it’s been fine. I will say because people have asked me like, why don’t use models? Or why don’t you have other people do stuff? And a lot of the stuff I would do, I wouldn’t have maybe not a lot, but some of the stuff I would do. I wouldn’t ask anyone to ever do. Because it’s either kind of dangerous or painful. So you mentioned I have a blue shot that I also shot are in the same spot that I did nestled in my fire pit. But I built a nest out of six. So a human size bird’s nest out of sticks. And to get on that nude was the single most painful to thing and I’ve shot on sticks four times four times, guys, I don’t learn to lay on that I literally have scars from it because I cut myself and this thing’s jabbing you. Oh yeah. So there’s things that I do. Or, you know, like I put myself in a homemade coffin. I’m not comfortable asking people. Like, Hey, you want to come to my house? I’m gonna make it look like you’re dead. And you have to be naked. I have to tell you the coffin shot. The coffin is made out of flower beds, phrase beds that I have to get. Yeah, so sometimes I, I’d have a concept I would never ask another person to do because I didn’t. I didn’t feel it was safe. But other times, this comes back to oh my god, I have this idea. I have to shoot it now. Well, I’ve got gotta wait to schedule. So I’m gonna do it myself as quickly as I can. Now, I work full time I go out and I’m like, Okay, I have 30 minutes for lunch. Let’s do this. And I get out there and I do it.

Matt Stagliano 34:10
I don’t even consider you having another job. I only know you as artists, photographer, right, amazing person. The really cool part about it is that you’ve been able to define this style that other people are now asking for, right? And there’s a certain level of pioneering. I’m not saying you’re the only one out there. I’m not saying that you’re you came up with all of this. But it’s certainly unique in the world of photography to be doing this, especially as more and more regulations are imposed on the world of drones doing it safely, right. Yeah, I assume you have your part. 107 right. I know you do. Right. So all right. So you’re a professional pilot. I’ve got to believe that people are really attracted to doing something different because these guys In the massive pieces on a wall, is that essentially what they’re going for? They’re going for these bigger fine art pieces.

Sarah Rocca 35:07
Yeah, I mean, I have behind me, that’s just a 20 by 20. And I think that’s like the smallest I would ever print one for someone to do because because it’s a smaller subject, right, so even I’ve done couples before, and but they’re, they’re tiny little Barbies, like on the ground. Um, but if you get, you know, if you get a an eight, by all my drone work is square format, I’ve just, I decided that’s what looks the best for it. So I only do square format. So if you were to get an eight by eight or a 10, by 10, it’s not very impactful, I have a bunch of 10 by 10s, you know, frame that I did on that a local show. And, and they’re great, and they’re cute, you know, and that was just what the space called for. But I think for clients to put something like that on their wall and the amount of work that actually goes into creating one of those pieces. They should have some big and I’m not just saying that because it’s, you know, more money. You know, it’s, it’s a piece that you should be proud of, if you did this. And what’s really funny is, the prep time to do one of these for a client is far longer than the shoot time, the shoot time for a drone portrait is like five minutes, I put you on the ground really quick. I’ve already told you how to pose. We’ve already decided what like the theme or the style what you’re going to wear. So by the time you’re on the drone and the on the drone, by the time you’re on the ground. I don’t want to put someone on the ground for any length of time. dressing your nicest dress and then go lie on the dirt. No, I don’t have a nice lawn. Exactly. I don’t I don’t want to you know, get someone a dirty or there’s not everybody likes bugs I don’t like bugs have been fixed by a lot of ants. While I’m doing this. You know, I, I have someone down there as quick as possible. And I do the same thing that I do when that’s myself. I put it on a timer. And that way I’m giving them the direction or I’m saying okay, now Now open your eyes. Now close your eyes now tilt your head so that I’m getting multiple poses, but I do it so fast that it’s probably really anticlimactic for them getting get a good job,

Matt Stagliano 37:31
not to get super nerdy with technique. But are you looking through the monitor when you’re asking them to pose? So you’re looking at the composition? Or are you watching them knowing what the drone is getting, and you’re just tweaking them as you’re looking at them from the side,

Sarah Rocca 37:47
I’m looking at the I’m looking at my monitor. And that’s because if if you look down at someone, you’re getting a completely different angle than that drones getting. And that’s why this is near impossible, but not impossible to do with a camera because I have faked some and there’s some shots I’ve done for clients because they love my drone work. But they’ve come to me in like December. And they’re like, Yeah, I’m not gonna lie in the snow. And I’m like, No, you’re not, but we’re gonna do it indoors, we’re gonna, we’re gonna make it work with a camera. But I have to be able to see that same thing, because, all right, if you’ve never done this, lie on the ground, and just look at how your body looks. It’s not flattering, right? When you like when you lie down or sit down like things spread. And I don’t care how small you are, things do not look at. So the posing is very strategic, what is bent is bent because it looks silly when it’s straight, you know. So I have to see that same view that the drone sees because one wrong move or your feet are like to straight up will the drones to seeing your toes, I want them to see I want them to see your foot. So I need you to. So there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of coaching that happens prior to and then by the time you’re on the ground, it’s very simple. Or I can just run over and move your foot if you’d like touching.

Matt Stagliano 39:11
You know, the thing that fascinates me about that, and the reason I ask is as these images get blown up larger and larger and larger, right, you’re going to get all that detail if it’s eight by eight or 10 by 10 You’re just kind of like oh that’s a great looking photo and you get all the you know, you don’t get as much detail. But when it’s big and someone’s proud of their their pose in it, you want it to be absolutely perfect. The the experience that you have doing the self portraits must really come into play knowing how all those poses work, which is why I’m such a huge advocate of self portraits in whatever discipline doesn’t matter drones or anything. Yeah, can’t do it. How do you direct your clients to do it?

Sarah Rocca 39:53
I honestly have so, so much respect for people that are good at telling their clients like direct Seeing their clients but don’t do self portraiture because I felt like the only way my brain could get it was if I did it myself, you know, doing the drone stuff, like you said, it’s very, it’s very distinct, and you have to pose a certain way. But I will even, you know, have to say, you know, loosen open your mouth a little, I have to give that because we’re capturing that top down story. It’s not like, I feel like when people are sitting up or they’re standing, they know what to do with your face. When you’re like, lay on the ground and don’t move. You know, it’s all of a sudden, you’re like, What am I doing Should I open so I’ll I run them through first one eyes open, and I’m going to tell you why it’s closed. And we’re going to move your chin a little and, and I kind of run it through ahead of time, and then I go, you’re not gonna remember any of this. So when we get out there, you know, when we get outside, I’ll walk through, you know, while we’re shooting, I’m gonna walk you through it again. And it’s it’s been great the people that have done it, but I will tell you, having done it myself, I also know where your body pitfalls are, what’s gonna make you look larger. I’m not a big person, but I’ve taken pictures and been like, why don’t we look like a linebacker I’ve had like, no knack. To be like, we’re gonna Photoshop that is I have a neck. But it’s just like, when you’re lying down, if your shoulders are up, and you’re kind of tilted, you lose all that. And when you’re, when you’re shooting someone or yourself and you’re standing and you’re you’re doing have, you know, or you have your computer monitor set up so you can see it. Whereas, you know, on the ground, I do have the drone controller right next to me, but I can’t be looking at it because you’re gonna see the controller and not me. So yeah, it’s, it’s, I used to take a lot of photos doing the drone work, because it used to take me like 50 photos to get a couple of poses. And now I can probably do it in 10. And every drone photo, I will be completely honest, is a composite. And I am a stickler about my pinkies too far out. And that one needs to take my pinky from the other one. I composite mostly hands in like every every photo, sometimes face sometimes hair, you know, I’m like, Oh, my hair was much more spread out. And that one, then I tilted and it’s all like, you know where I wear wigs and the wig didn’t cooperate in one but it didn’t another. So literally every drone photo I take is is somehow composited.

Matt Stagliano 42:29
It’s magical. Because looking at what the final product is. It’s such a, it’s such a beautiful piece of art. It’s clear that you spend a lot of time finessing it. And I don’t mean that in a in a negative way. Like, oh, it’s all Photoshop, it’s clear that you care about every detail in that photo. I could talk about drones and nerd out with you all day long. But I want to talk a little bit more about how you’ve developed this style and what you’re doing to stay creative. I know you travel a lot, right? Every time I go online, it seems like Oh, I’m in Death Valley, or I’m in Iceland, or I’m in Cancun, or you know, you’re just almost seemingly back to back Death Valley. Iceland. Tell me about those trips, because I’ve seen what you’ve put online and everybody can kind of look them up. But Death Valley seemed like a creative retreat. Iceland was in solo adventure. Is that correct? Yes.

Sarah Rocca 43:24
Yeah. So Death Valley was a group of friends getting together and just going to shoot. And it was a very random kind of group of people. And, you know, as is creatives know, you’re in all these either Facebook groups, or Facebook chats, or, Oh, I was at WPI once. So now I’m in this WPI chat. And there’s a lot of things like that happening. And I’m horrible at social media. And not horrible on it. I’ve made a choice to not be in every conversation all the time, which you do have fear of missing out a lot. So I’m in a lot of chats that are muted, and I don’t often read, and I happened to read one and it was Dennis Dunbar saying, Hey, who wants to go to Death Valley? I think it’d be fun. And I was like, Yeah, put me down for that. We’ll see what I can do. And a bunch of people just kind of hopped in and they were like names of people in there. And then I’m like, oh my god, I mean, I want to meet this person or I talked to him. I’ve talked online to this person for two years. Oh my gosh, I got to meet them. You know, people like backup your she’s awesome. And I’ve talked to her for the last couple of years. And I’ve never met her in person. So to have that opportunities, like stuff like that, that that fueled me so everybody, almost everybody was West Coast that went on this trip. I flew in from the east coast, to meet everybody and to go and we just got together for a long weekend. We drove around, hit the sights and shot and there were two beautiful models with us. And we used to sell Porsche You’re a person, I was like, Yeah, I’m gonna shoot myself. And you know, we’ll see how that goes. And different people shot different things, we shot each other doing stuff. But you have those creatives with you that wanted to push you to do things. It was a long weekend with friends in the desert, you didn’t have to do anything, you could have hung out at the hotel. You know, none of us cared, we can just wanted to get together and be silly and creative. And it was awesome. I got to see people I hadn’t seen since the pandemic, like before the pandemic. And then I got to meet people that I’d never met before. And that really got my creative juices flowing. And that’s why I went, I went not just to hang out with people and get away, but I was like, I need something to jumpstart my brain. It’s not. It’s not in the right space creatively. And so that was very helpful. And I I came out with a few pieces that I had no expectations going into that I was like, I’ll just go and I came out with a couple of cool pieces. And I got to shoot in the sand dunes that were in different Star Wars movies. So if if you know me at all, no, I’m a nerd. I’m a Star Wars nerd. It’s not even funny.

Matt Stagliano 46:17
It was neat to watch virtually right because you’ve got Nicole York, Becca Yorkie David Franco. Right, Olga? Oh, was Olga out there as well. Okay. attenion Nicholas Freeman, Dennis Dunbar right, you’ve got this all star cast of current contemporary creatives, just out on tattooing somewhere, dancing in the dark. And I happen to see, like one picture that you had posted about our mutual friend, David Franco’s phenomenal photographer out of LA took a picture of you taking a self portrait of yourself. And it’s such a, it’s such a great shot of you doing what you do, right, just being you in this location. Being creative. That energy that was out there with these folks must have just been like nothing else.

Sarah Rocca 47:10
It was awesome. And I’ll tell you the, you know, Nicholas had a couple of friends who were models and, and he shoots nudes. So I have these two other women who come out and we go to the site. And uh, yeah, I shoot nudes in the privacy of my own home. Nobody around when I’m doing it. And I have these two other amazing empowering women who are like, okay, just start stripping. And you know, I actually shot with one of them. It’s been really a photography goal of mine to shoot self portraits nude with another creative, another woman. And so I just asked one of them and I was like, will you shoot with me. And I haven’t published any of these, it was more of a personal goal. But I also shoot shot knew that day. And so I just laugh because I’m like, great. Seven of my friends have nudies of me, because while I was doing the self portraits, every once in a while, I’d snap out of my own little trance, because when I’m shooting, I’m not paying attention anything else. But I’d like look up and catch like, you know, Brett Stanley taking a photo. And I was like, oh my god, this is so weird. Just go back into your trance, you won’t even you won’t even care. And Nicole, you’re just playing shutter shutter button, and she was directing was amazing, you know. So it was, it was so empowering to be with these people, you know, that I look up to photographically who I’m looking at. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, what you produce is so amazing. You know, and, and to have you know, Dennis there who’s, you know, the reaching God, and to all be together and you can have those creative conversations. But mostly, we just talked about cloud shadows and fun and silly things. And that was what was great about it is you didn’t have to be to overall just kind of talk about this from my waist this way. Or, you know, like this, and cannons this and we’re all different, and we just all wanted to get out and not be home and do creative. And it was awesome. The fear

Matt Stagliano 49:23
of missing out on that was so strong, was so strong. I’m sitting here in my little cabin in Maine, looking around and going there in Death Valley having fun, and yep, it’s snowing outside. Yep, I’m still here. But the thing I loved about it wasn’t so much that my friends were out there making amazing stuff. The thing that I loved was that there was no competition that you were out there purely in the creative space. And this was the this is the thing that I love when I look back at artists that get together and there’s no real competition. Just like we’re all just trying to make money, right? You got Andy Warhol and Basquiat, right? In New York just kind of like doing drugs and go into clubs and taking pictures and doing all. But there’s just like this feeling of, let’s just create for the sake of creation, let’s get out of the retail mindset of the work mindset or get away from problems or relationships or whatever it is, and just fall into flow. And just being there. Was there ever a moment where you just took a second to step back and look at it all? And go? Yeah, I’m pretty lucky to be where I’m at.

Sarah Rocca 50:36
Oh, my gosh, absolutely. You know, when you look at other people’s work, whether it’s photography, or digital art, or writing, you know, people that were on this trip, I’m just sitting there going, like, why am I here with? Like, how did I get in this group? Like, it just seems, it doesn’t seem real to me, because, you know, I’m not a full time creative. I’ve only known these people for a relatively short amount of time. So I just look at it. And I feel like I don’t belong, you have that sense of like, I don’t really belong here. But what I do, because we’re all the same, yeah, we’re all the same. But you do have that very, like, Oh, my God, I’m so humbled to be shooting alongside, even if we’re shooting donkeys, I’m shooting alongside these amazing people.

Matt Stagliano 51:23
That was my favorite thing that came out of the pandemic was being in clubhouse rooms every day, and getting to know people, like I’ve never met Becca, in person. But we’ve talked for every day for almost a year and a half online, and you know, where do the artist forge stuff and all that. And it’s amazing the relationships that you can form. And then when you fall into places where you are together, it’s like you know each other, you’ve just fallen to creativity, and it’s fantastic. Moving from that, you then go from the super creative crowd, and then just kind of like, I’m gonna bug on out over to Iceland. And chill out for you were there for what, 10 days, two weeks, something to that effect. And now I’ve been to Iceland, I was in a workshop with Parker Pfister, we did some of the most amazing work that I’ve ever done. It’s like being on another planet. It’s the My favorite place on this big old globe is Iceland, as a lot of people fall in love with it. Yeah, but I watched your adventure going from place to place. And I also read a lot about what you did, saying that you’re very purposeful about where you’re going very planful about where you were staying and how you wanted to plan out your trip to make it a mix of both fun holiday and creation, as well. Yeah. So tell me about it. I’ve seen some of the pictures in there. Bananas. But after being in Iceland a few times prior, or at least once prior, right? You been up there before? Yep. What was different about this? What was different about this trip?

Sarah Rocca 53:05
So the first time I went, I had gone with my husband at the time and fell in love with Iceland, it was like you said, I mean, it’s another planet. It’s so the air is so clean water, so clean. And then the second time I when I went with a group of creatives, I went on a creative retreat, which was phenomenal. But both of those times you have to balance what you go see. Because you were people, you’re with other people. So yeah, I may want to go to this thing. But if everybody else does want to go do that thing, we shouldn’t go do that thing. Right. It’s, it’s and that’s just what traveling with other people’s is like, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have no problem with that. So, two years ago, I decided I was going to do Iceland for me, and do Iceland my way. And we were kind of coming out of the pandemic. And Susan rock straw was going to travel with me. And you know, I basically said there’s some things that I want to do when the photograph is out. Okay, like I have my own agenda. And and she’s such an awesome human being and a sweetheart. And she was one of the people that was in Iceland before. And so she’s like, Yes, let’s go do this, this will be so much fun. But the pandemic kind of have that like second wave type thing, and it started getting iffy. And you’ve gone to Iceland and anyone else who’s been to Iceland will understand this if you haven’t been know that if you’re in a more remote area and anything shuts down. There’s nothing else. So I started to get nervous. What if we’re there and there’s no place to eat because the one restaurant in town the shutdown, you know, so So I got really nervous and I basically said I’m not comfortable doing that this time. Everything was still under COVID restrictions and I just kind of got a little, little scared, I got that panic. So I postponed it, I finally finally rescheduled that. And I decided I’m gonna do this by myself. And it was not that I don’t love Susan. But there were things that I wanted to maybe prove to myself that I could go do this. And I also, I got a little neurotic and obsessive. So I have a 99 line spreadsheet of where it was going to be, how I was getting there, how long it takes to travel between places I, I mapped out because I was going to solo travel, I mapped out everything, and gave myself you know, Okay, at this spot, I’m going to shoot this, you know, this photo, and this has the gear I need. And then I’m gonna go eat at this place, and I have 45 minutes for lunch. And then I need to get to the next place. Because it takes two hours to drive there. And so I’ve oh my god, it’s, it’s detailed. The reason I went to Iceland this time was not just to get away, my purpose was to come back with a portfolio of images of a project I’m working on, that I’ve told no one about no one’s really seen anything. But I had a very specific purpose that I wanted to come back with these images. Obviously, everything else like it was just icing on the cake, which is awesome, you know, because I was able to shoot some drone shots that were on my bucket list that I never thought I’d be able to do. And I’m super excited about those, you know, one of them’s already out, and another one’s going to be coming soon, I went to shoot these images. So I have this project in mind. And this like mini portfolio I wanted to come back with. But in between that was I want to go hiking. I want to see this. I’ve never seen this before. So you know, I built I built in all of the rest of the stuff around where I wanted to be because I had I think I had nine shots planned at nine different locations very, very specific. I think I shot eight of them because one of the forces just not going to happen. There was a foot of snow and 25 mile an hour winds so not happen. It

Matt Stagliano 57:26
happens quick over there, doesn’t it? We had done the black sand Viq. Right. And we’re driving back down through and we were going to what we were colloquially calling the Yoda cave. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the cave. Yeah,

Sarah Rocca 57:40
I know. I know what you’re talking about. I took I went to it. I don’t think I saw it.

Matt Stagliano 57:45
We drive out to this Yoda cave. And for the people listening. It is a cave that if you’re inside and you look out, the opening looks like Yoda point being. We get out there and we’re all in the cave. And we’re taking pictures and it looks really cool. And it wasn’t storming when we went into the cave. And then we went out to the cave. And we bought alone off the off the ground because the weather changed like that. And it was crazy. So I can imagine this ninth shot would have been perfectly epic, but it gives you a chance to go back right to get

Sarah Rocca 58:20
Yes, yes, yes. It would have been epic though because it was out that and I cannot pronounce the name and put that gorge that big, famous amazing gorge that everyone photographs and there was literally a foot of fresh snow that had fallen the night before. And I couldn’t even believe I could get to the gorge I showed up and another car showed up and this couple got out and like all you can see is my eyes. I am covered head to toe. I literally have this thing of tea here and then my hat. And the other couple is laughing because they’re like, This is crazy. Like the weather is nuts. The wind is just howling, there’s snow blowing everywhere. So they took a they took a selfie, or they were going to take a selfie I took their picture at the the kind of beginning of the trail that would head up to the platform. And then they took mine and I was like I’m gonna head up and they were like, and I was like, I came all this way. Um, I’m going up to the platform, and I trudged through knee deep snow and whipping winds just to get up there and it was his Jericho. So I mean, obviously I wasn’t doing my shoot up there, my camera would have just flown over. But I was like I came all this way I’ve driven through snow pack for like an hour solid. I needed a break. So I was like, I’m gonna walk out and I’m gonna take some pictures and as I was coming down, you couldn’t even see my footprints anymore. That’s how windy it was. It just blew it all away. So as I was coming back down to keep other people started to come up and they were just, you know, laughing enjoying the craziness. That’s the only awful weather I had. I did have some wind gusts that I thought I was gonna get blown off a cliff.

Matt Stagliano 1:00:02
It goes sideways really, really quickly but the few images that I’ve seen come out of Iceland from you from his last trip have been astounding that the plane shot and Skoda Foss and like just all of these places are gorgeous. I’ve got to ask how was the was the dice que Dasha? Is that the SUV that you drive? Right? Because that’s what I rent when I go. Oh, yeah. The little Dasher, how does that compare to the challenger?

Sarah Rocca 1:00:28
Um, so in the snow, it’s better to tell you that right now, the challenger would not have survived Iceland. You couldn’t have driven that where I drove I honestly, I know people give it a bad rap. And they’re like, Oh, it’s this horrible Romanian vehicle and, and powerful vehicle. The thing was, I had a manual because I don’t drive automatic. So I have that manual. It’s four by four and studded tires. The thing shifted so easy, the only issue I had with it. So there’s many ways to put it in reverse. I had to figure out how the hell to get it in reverse. And that was the funniest moment. So I drove this car away. And I actually, I actually pulled over because I was like, I need to make sure I know what my windshield wipers my headlights and reverse are. I found the windshield wipers on the headlights. I couldn’t figure over. So I was like, Screw it. I’m just gonna go. Well, I started driving and I get to my first location. And I realized I was in the wrong parking lot. And I had pulled in like headfirst and there was no way I could get out unless I found. So I have to sit there for five minutes. Like pushing down on the senator things right? I was like, Where the hell is reverse? And I forgot it’s one of those older ones. And you had to like pull up from underneath and then do it. Oh my God, it was the most comical thing because I was like, This is embarrassing. I’m gonna have to google get into reverse.

Matt Stagliano 1:01:57
I did Google reverse. I had no idea how to do it. First I show up in Iceland, right? So you land and you have to like you’re forced through the duty free shop. Right? So I’m like, I might as well get some bourbon. So grab that. And then you go out. It’s very much like the life of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where you go out and you’re like, Do you have a car for rent? Yes, we’ve got a red one and a blue one. And it’s just like, we’ve either got the small white dash or SUV or the smaller white dash or SUV. I guess I’ll take the white dash or SUV. And but the same thing I got in it. And I’m like, Alright, I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I don’t know how to do this. I can’t do this. Oh my god, I can’t get out of this parking lot. I’m going to waste an entire day’s worth of rental just trying to leave the rental lot. Eventually you get used to it. But yeah, they’re real bad boys. They can take you anywhere we’ve driven. We drove out to the glacier we drove. We probably weren’t supposed to drive. But we went out there anyway. And yeah, super capable vehicles.

Sarah Rocca 1:03:08
It was it was great. And I drove two and a half hours on ice and snowpack. And you’re from up here, you know how that is. You don’t usually have to drive on that anymore. Right? It’s usually the roads get cleared, they get sanded out there. But it was it was fresh, and it was packed. And there were definitely tourists that didn’t know how to drive on it and were suffering on their brakes. And if you don’t drive in snow, I’m going to tell you, that’s the first thing you don’t do. You don’t ever do that. You know, and so I was passing people in this because I was like, Well, I’m not driving 20 The whole way and you’re gonna get me killed because you’re so I you know, I was like, and if you driven on those roads, the roads are raised up about three feet from the rest of the ground. There’s no guardrail. If you go off, you’re off. There’s no way you’re done. There’s nothing and it’s one lane each way. So, you know, you just gotta be like, I’m passing you now on ice. And I mean, I’m fishtailing and I’m like, oh, okay, the wind is blowing under

Matt Stagliano 1:04:11
your New Englander. So you’re driving with one and you got dunkin donuts in the other hand.

Sarah Rocca 1:04:17
So I’m not I’m over there going don’t get don’t get off the road and rental. Anyone does exactly, but um, but no, I it was Iceland was amazing. I, I shot more than I thought I would I went to a couple of locations that were just off the beaten path. And people were like, how did you find out about this? And I’m like, I read blogs for two years. I when I say I research, I didn’t just look at the sites. It was oh, I’m gonna go to Skoda Foss, but if you climb the stairs and start walking along the trail. There’s three waterfalls back there. And barely anyone says that no one does. No, I know it was, it was amazing. And it was so beautiful. And so I started to do things like that. It’s cool. I’m gonna go to this site that I’ve been to before. But then I’m gonna do this thing over here, because no one does it just like it. Um, so Jana Foss, if you walk, like five to 10 minutes to the left, there is a waterfall in a cave. And you can go in that cave. And nobody does that, because they don’t know about it. So I did a lot of those types of things. And and then I found a super secret location that Google brought me right to like, you know, they say like, don’t trust Google. I trusted Google. And I turned off on the, on the all gravel roads not marked, you know, you’re going through potholes the size of your car, and you’re just trying to get through and a kilometer and a half in. And I’ve got icebergs and the glacier right in front of me. So you’re not super far away, right in front of you. And there’s two other people there. Yeah. So you know, it was, it was a very methodical well thought out trip. I also walked over 43 miles on this trip, mostly with 19 pounds of camera gear on my back, because you need everything everywhere you go. Yeah, so it was, that’s another reason why I didn’t want to ask someone to come with me, like, hey, come with me. I’m gonna put you through this grueling, crazy trip, you know that most people would look at my itinerary and go, that’s not possible. And I did every single thing on it. That’s everything on it.

Matt Stagliano 1:06:50
Sell it as a course. Hey, buy my spreadsheet for 399. places to go

Sarah Rocca 1:06:57
exactly. Well, so I am coming out. So I did one. We’ll call it a blog post. I don’t really write blog posts. But I did because I want to share all my trip images, you know, just the landscape and everything. But I there has to be a write up. I can’t just throw an elbow out there. That’s silly. So I’ve got I think seven of them planned. And it’s everything from the sites I went to I have a lot of pictures, I’d split up the sites I went to the restaurants I ate in because I’m a foodie. And I made reservations, and I ate it all the like best restaurants I could. And and then what to wear, what spring? Yeah, so I have a whole bunch of things lined up that I’m going to be putting out there so that people understand if you want to go like in the winter, here’s what here’s what I wore, and kept me warm. Like I was not cold. But you know, the coldest I got was when I was shooting on the Black Sea and beach and I was shooting news. So yeah, you get chilly. But other than that, other than that, you know, I was very well prepared. And a very prepared hiker to you know, with making sure like, you can register your trip with the country of Iceland and you can tell them where you’re going to be on what days so that if you were to go missing, they have somewhat of an itinerary. So I did all of those things to keep myself as a solo traveler very, very safe, even though it’s a very safe country. No, it’s

Matt Stagliano 1:08:27
It’s super safe. But I think that little bit of preparation, regardless of if you’re in the States, or if you’re in Iceland. And really, really important, especially when you’re going out really long distances. Iceland is a planet unto itself. And it’s really easy to get lost out there. It’s really easy to get into a bad situation very, very quickly. So if you’re if you have any level of wits about you and preparedness, you’re good to go. But yeah, clothing is big food is big. Just understanding how and where you need to contact people is really big. But it’s a phenomenal place to visit. And if you’re ever looking for like a RoadMate van, mate, you want to do the north side, whatever call

Sarah Rocca 1:09:14
that’s fine. Next. That’s my next trip. We’ll do the north because I’ve never I’ve never gone north.

Matt Stagliano 1:09:20
Yeah, we only did the south side of Iceland before we just didn’t have time to do the north. And I really want to get up there. I know it’s a lot more desolate. But you and I have the same experience. We got to see the northern lights. It was phenomenal. I saw your pictures beautiful. So everything that I’ve seen that you’ve put out has been absolutely insane. The gorgeous you can tell that there wasn’t just Oh is a cell phone shot out the side of the dasher. It really was planned out and well thought I can’t wait to read these blog posts but I wanted to talk a little bit about the gallery shows that you’re in I just saw you and the drone work We’re in, like a 3d virtual gallery show, which is really cool to to see. And I don’t have the URL here, but I’ll put it in the show notes. It was like a body’s presentation, like an exploration of bodies is that I think as

Sarah Rocca 1:10:17
bodies revealed that he’s revealed, that’s what it was revealed. Yeah.

Matt Stagliano 1:10:22
Can you tell me about that? Like, I know you do work, and you’ve had your work and a bunch of different galleries, whether virtual or physical? How do you go about connecting with all of that.

Sarah Rocca 1:10:32
So I go on call for entry sites, and see what galleries have open calls for artists and for different shows. And I just, you know, I look through them periodically, I try to submit to a few each quarter. Because some of them cost money, others don’t, it depends what you’re submitting to. But a lot of times the costume cost you a little bit of the box, you know, 20, to $30, to submit some images, to hopefully be chosen. So I usually look through things. You know, what fits well with my work? What do I think not just what do I think you didn’t do? But what do I think I have work that really resonates with the theme. So bodies revealed, seems like it would be a good one. So I did get two pieces in that one. And it was an all VirtuAl Show, which is really, really cool. You know, sometimes I’ve been in shows that are in South Carolina, and I can’t go see them. You know, I don’t see my work up in print, because I can’t get down there. So it’s, it’s neat when they’re an online or a virtual one, because I actually can share it with friends and family. Obviously, if it’s it’s local. And 2021, I have a solo show in Boston, which was one of my kind of life goals as an artist. And so that was really cool to be able to physically go see your work up and print up on walls. So it’s always fun to see. But I just search, there’s a couple of sites that I go to, and you can see the calls for injury and you just look through and say is this something that resonates with me too, I think I have worked with this. And I just tried to submit every now and then

Matt Stagliano 1:12:11
it was really a cool thing to go through. Because not only do I see your work, but I see all these other artists work. And then I started to go down the rabbit hole. And you know, it’s just I don’t get that same thing I love going to gallery shows I love seeing and trying to support my friends that are have galleries, whether they’re big or small, doesn’t matter. I’ve never been in one. So it’s always like super exciting to me to see people in galleries. But the virtual experience was was different because I could immediately start going down the rabbit hole of these other artists and exploring, they do. And that was just a really cool thing I hadn’t seen before. I’m sure it’s ubiquitous, but I hadn’t seen it before. So it was really interesting. And it just got my wheels turning about what we’re doing in our own industry and how we’re, you know, exploring, displaying our own art. Your you’ve got the market cornered on the drone stuff. It’s all yours and I will fight to the death to tell anybody else that it’s there as it’s, it’s your market. Where do you see yourself going with all of you sticking with the drones there for a while?

Sarah Rocca 1:13:18
Yeah, yeah, I think I think where I’d like to take all the drone work is to other people. Yeah. Right. So I want to photograph other people now. Like, I feel like I’ve, I’ve mastered photographing myself. I want to now create concepts for other people. And give them those liberating feelings. You do not have to be nude. But no to just, you know, if someone has an interest, I photographed a coin, this wife and we built this kind of whole characters for them. And this fairy tale. They love love stories. They’re so sweet. So, you know, I kind of did this, this fairy tale and we have the outfits and the coloring and that I knew ahead of time because I really spent a long time thinking about it. So So I want to do more of that type of stuff for people. So whether it’s a unique engagement portrait or a unique family portrait, like I want to figure out because now to me, that’s the new challenge. Like what can I create this crazy, unique piece of art for someone that you aren’t going to get anywhere else? And yes, there are photographers who do drone wedding portraits and stuff like that. Absolutely. But when I first started this, one of the first things I did is Google the crap out of drone portraits, and nobody was doing what I want it to do. Right? And yes, there’s plenty of drone photographers that do stuff, but not in the crazy creative way that I do it. Like I take it a step further. And it doesn’t have to be unrealistic. Colors, I did do an engagement shoot. And we shot in a cemetery. And we found the perfect spot where I had to headstones and they weren’t in the right spots, but Photoshop fixes that. And it was false. So we had some foliage, so we just like sprinkled leaves everywhere, have this couple of lay down, and they were in golf, and I loved them, they were all black. And I was like, This is so perfect for me. Just so you know, they’ve laid down pretty much in front of the headstones. And they were just lying kind of flat, straight up, and they were holding each other’s hands. And it was one of my favorite things to do, just to be able to create that cool scene for someone else. So I’d love to be able to do that. And I love to travel. I’ll be in Florida this weekend for a little r&r to actually get some more after Iceland. So you know, I want to keep traveling. And as I travel, I’d love to be able to photograph people along the way. Because it’s it’s just really, I don’t know, it’s super fun. And it’s I like a new challenge. So I think photographing other people, is what I’m trying to get into a little bit more. And it doesn’t always have to be with a drone. I definitely have clients who seek me out because of my dark style. Sure. And they’ve literally said, Oh, I love this, can you do something like this for me, here’s what I’m thinking. And they’re looking at my self portraiture. And I think that’s really cool. And I’m like, oh, yeah, I can done it once I can do it for you type deal. But there’s always something different and unique. When it’s another person, like, I’m never going to just recreate my photo, I probably physically couldn’t, if I wanted to, with all the crazy coloring and stuff I do. So, you know, it’s, it’s that type of work, I want to take my kind of dark art Fine Art look, and really apply it to other people. Because I know there’s so many other people out there, because they’ve told me that they love this. And it’s different, and it’s very much more like them. We’re just our own unique little club where, you know, it’s it’s just a different style. And there’s so many of them. And I just kind of want to bring my style to other people. Now I’m like, I’ve gotten over the shock of, you know, my clients from way back. So now I want to have clients but do it in the creative way that that I want to do it and help bring their visions to life. And those are the people I want to work with the people that have a vision of their shoot, and want me to be the one to help them to bring it to life.

Matt Stagliano 1:17:37
And that’s that’s kind of like the dream of all of us, right is have clients dig what we do, and give us the freedom to do what we want to do. And just be like, now I’m here, I’m just gonna pay you just You do you, you take the pictures that you want to take and you just throw the devil horns up. You’re like, Alright, let’s get loose, right? I can only imagine what it’s how cool. It must be for a couple to one of these shots, right? It’s so it’s so unique. It’s such a different look. I love what you do. So where can people find you? Website socials? Where can they find what you’re doing?

Sarah Rocca 1:18:16
Yeah, so Sarah J is my website and then on Instagram, it’s V Sarah J photography. It’s very important because there’s an Australian wedding photographer who is amazing and she is Sarah J photography. And so I am the Sergej photography so that I don’t get mixed up because I kept getting tagged and a bunch of stuff that was meant for her and she’s she’s an amazing photographer in her own right I’m just a lot different than what I do so I

Matt Stagliano 1:18:46
took the weddings cold turkey back in 14 Thank you so so much for being here. This has been I could keep talking for hours but I realized we’re at 90 minutes and we should probably in a little bit absolutely amazing. I was really happy that we had a chance to get to talk and learn more about what you’re doing and if you find yourself in Maine now this way you know a Katie is not too far.

Sarah Rocca 1:19:11
I’ve never been to Acadia so yeah, I need to

Matt Stagliano 1:19:15
Iceland we’re road trip into Acadia. We got this Yes. Yeah. I can’t wait. Can’t wait until we get a chance to do something like that. But thanks so much for being here. I’ll catch up with you sometime soon. Okay,

Sarah Rocca 1:19:29
awesome. Well, thank you for having me.

Matt Stagliano 1:19:31
You got it. Take care. Bye.

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Generator Ep. 021 – Cat Ford-Coates: Shift Your Focus with a Studio Takeover

In this episode, Maine portrait photographer Matt Stagliano talks with Cat Ford-Coates: photographer, educator, coach, and founder of The Studio Takeover.

Cat has been a powerhouse in the portrait photography world since 2015 and is one of the primary mentors in The Portrait System. She worked closely with Sue Bryce for years, using those methods to build a profitable and sustainable portrait studio in Asheville, NC.

With her own approach built on experience, Cat has taught thousands of students over the years, and has recently created The Studio takeover, a full featured online education platform catering to photographers that want to level up their business. She is a keynote speaker at events like The Portrait Masters and WPPI.

For more information or to see her work, you can find Cat online at, or on social @thestudiotakeover

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