Billy Costello was that one friend in high school who documented everything.
From capturing the nightly activities in his group of friends to shooting sand volleyball games in the park, the second-year English student came to college with a Dropbox account full of memories he had made with an iPhone 4.
After spending his college housing loan on an entry-level single-lens reflex camera and then working about 40 hours per week to repay it, Costello’s casual hobby of taking pictures became a serious investment in the art of photography.
Costello is one of many dedicated photographers on campus. From amateurs and professionals to undergraduates and alumni, UCLA hosts a large community of photographers.
Costello accompanied a friend to a photo shoot at the Hassayampa River in Arizona during the summer following his freshman year at UCLA. At the shoot, he learned basic concepts such as exposure and composition and became thoughtful about the pictures he was taking for the first time.
“I learned the feeling of being in dialogue with my camera,” Costello said. “Ever since then, I’ve fallen in love with it. I took my camera out everywhere to the point where it became obnoxious.”
Though he is now committed to photography as an art, Costello said he still does not consider himself an artist.
“Looking back, its really cool to see how far I’ve grown from the photos, but the room to grow is still incredible and I have so much to learn,” Costello said. “Right now, I still think I’m that kid that picked up his camera for the first time.”
Costello met Cory Wong, a professional photographer who is also a member of UCLA’s photography club, through the club’s Facebook group and worked as an assistant on one of Wong’s portrait shoots at the pink Paul Smith wall on Melrose Avenue. Costello said he learned new skills including how to interact with clients.
Wong is a freelance photographer, and though he was never a student at UCLA, he and UCLA alumni are a part of the photography club. Like Costello, Wong appreciates that he can share his love for photography with others.
“In photography, there’s not always one perspective,” Wong said. “It’s interesting to see other people and what their approach is to photography.”
Alumnus Stanley Wu was the treasurer of the photography club in his second year at UCLA, and the president in his third, he said. His photography journey began as a fascination with the camera. He pursued photography more seriously when he joined the club, and his attention shifted from the camera’s ability to create magical shots to the vision of the photographer.
“I understood that it wasn’t about the camera itself,” Wu said. “It’s about individual skill and the way you see the world. It’s about trying to put your perspective out into the world.”
Wu currently runs his own photography business that focuses on people photography for events such as graduations and weddings. He said a personal approach involving spending time with clients allows him to create memories for people instead of it just being a business transaction.
“People and relationships are at the foundation of something like portrait photography,” Wu said. “I put people first, as opposed to photography first.”
While Wu’s favorite types of photography encompass working with people, other students prefer working alone.
Dylan Han, a first-year art student, pursues photography independent of the club. Han is often the subject of his own shoots, capturing self-portraits using the timer setting on his camera. He said the experimental, subconscious nature of his projects is more suited to individual work.
“If I’m doing it, it’s a lot easier,” Han said. “I can express myself better if I’m the subject, too, instead of telling other people (what to do).”
Han recently shot and modeled for a project inspired by people having different perceptions of reality. He leans toward fine art photography, which he said he finds more conceptual, unlike professional photography, which focuses on technique.
Scott Chandler, a neuroscience professor at UCLA, started dabbling in photography as a high schooler. After he spent time taking pictures at his daughters’ soccer games, he applied for and received a pass to cover the UCLA women’s soccer team in action. He then submitted prints of his photos to the athletic department.
Seventeen years later, he is now a regular photographer for UCLA Athletics and covers different sports games at UCLA. His photos are featured in the department’s websites and magazines and at different sites on campus. He said student photographers often approach him for advice at games.
“They’ll come up to me and talk to me and ask me questions,” Chandler said. “Often they’ll call me the shooting professor.”
From students to faculty, the enthusiasm for photography on campus is widespread. Costello said one of the reasons he loves photography is the fact that there is no entry barrier to the field, regardless of one’s experience or equipment.
“It does not matter what kind of camera you have,” Costello said. “If you have a camera and you want to make great images, you’re already set.”