Toby Nguyen: Photographer

Fashion Fantasy Photographer

A recent graduate of George Fox University, Toby Nguyen is excited, if not a little surprised, at his budding photography career. “I never thought of it as my main source of income,” he says. “I thought I would be working as a graphic designer or in marketing.” Mostly self-taught, 23-year-old Nguyen first picked up a camera in high school, when his father gifted him a DSLR camera for his birthday. Like most high schoolers, Nguyen started out taking photos with friends, but as he entered college and his interest in photography grew, he began shooting senior portraits and working on more complex photography projects.

Nguyen describes his work as “conceptual fashion fantasy photography,” and cites Annie Leibovitz and Richard Avedon as idols. It’s a viewpoint that Nguyen was finally able to define after completing a project that he called “365.” “I shot a picture a day for a year,” Nguyen explains. “It really helped me to go back and look at my original work to see where I’ve ended up and what my style is all about.”

Nguyen’s focus on the fantastical is certainly evident in his early photography projects—classmates costumed as Disney characters play a large role in his portfolio—and in his recent professional work. A recent shoot for Sophie Chang, a Portland-based bridal designer, features models on horseback, misty lighting, and flowing dresses. “I love doing conceptual work because I can be as creative as I want,” Nguyen says.

Both Nguyen’s amateur and professional work are available for viewing on his various social media sites, which Nguyen credits for his success. In fact, he notes that his Facebook page has brought him more client work than his website. “I guess Facebook is more personal. They get to see who you really are,” he muses. Nguyen is also very active on photo-sharing site Flickr, where he showcases over 400 photos and participates in Flickr meetings, where he says “other photographers come to discuss ideas and sometimes work on projects.” He also frequently posts on his Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts.

In addition to posting his work on his own pages, Nguyen also submits his photos to other Facebook pages and photography sites, receiving comments and critiques from fellow photographers while increasing his fan base. Last May, some of Nguyen’s work was featured on Dark Beauty Magazine’s Facebook page, reaching an audience of over 77,000 photography fans who share Nguyen’s interest in “dark glamour.” Thanks to his submissions Nguyen’s photography has also appeared on Vogue Italia’s website and in Paper Aquarium Magazine, an independent online art and design magazine.

Nguyen’s client list demonstrates that his social media hustle has definitely started to pay off. His portfolio features professional work ranging from headshots for various modeling agencies including Wilhelmina Models and Option, to editorial spreads. This past summer while vacationing in Asia, Nguyen also managed to fit in some photography shoots for local businesses and designers there, some of whom he connected with via Facebook.

Looking forward, Nguyen plans to open his own photography studio in Portland in the near future. He also hopes to continue traveling and working on shoots that allow him to grow and collaborate with other creatives. “I like working with a big group where people pour their ideas out with me,” he says. “It allows my imagination to become even bigger and broader.”

About The Author: Katie Mitchell