It is often and rightly said that light is the fundamental component of photography. Madeline Tolle knows it well, she has landed from Chicago on the sunny beaches of California and the starry nights of Los Angeles. If her shots now appear in major magazines, from the Hollywood Reporter to the LA Times, one shouldn’t believe that hers has been a linear path. But with a little star-spangled optimism and a desire to reinvent herself to escape the office, Madeline has left many lives behind and perhaps she has finally found her own. Her images of interiors, as well as her more personal ones, seem to shun the most trendy rules. Soft, tidy colours, houses we’d like to live in and not just buy. Similarly, the “golden hours” of the city seem suspended in an almost idyllic atmosphere, far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Her subjects, models with a soul.

1) Your career as a freelance photographer didn’t start immediately out of college, right? Tell us something about your first steps.

I studied art history in college. Following graduation I moved to Philadelphia and worked as a buyer for a fashion company. I did that for 3 years, before leaving to start my own jewelry company. In running my jewelry business I started developing my art direction and photography skills as a way to differentiate my brand both online and through social media. I ran out of money doing that, and went back to working in fashion for a year. I really struggled working in an office again, so then I quit, not knowing what I was going to do after. I ended up freelancing in Philadelphia as both a stylist and a photographer. I realized that I liked photography much more than styling, so I decided to put all my energy into pursuing photography. After a year of freelancing in Philadelphia, I moved out to LA. I joke that I’ve lived like “nine lives” by this point.

2) You said that when you first went to Los Angeles, you were full of ups and downs and often worked for horrible people. Yet, you consider the decision to move to California one of the best of your life. How’s that?

I moved to LA with nowhere to live, no job, a place to stay for a month and two months. When I look back, I don’t really know what I was thinking. It was a huge risk and really hard. I remember taking any job or assisting gig with a day rate I could get. When you have to say “yes,” to everything, you can end up in some pretty wild situations with some very interesting people. The first year and a half were really hard, but I was just so determined to build my business and keep shooting, that I just kept working. I sent so many cold emails, asked for meetings, worked on personal work, and so far it seems to be working out. Living in LA is just so special as a photographer. The light is incredible every single day. It’s also really competitive. I think it really pushes you as a photographer to maintain a very high quality of work.

3) Your interior shots don’t seem to follow trends, but nevertheless they are very glamorous and authentic. How do you achieve this?

Thank you! I’m glad that comes across. My approach to interior photography is to approach it as a storytelling opportunity. I try to identify what is special about the space that makes it unique from all others. It might be the light or a design feature and then try to arrange my compositions to tell the space’s story.

4) As an entrepreneur yourself, you understand the important of your images for branding new activities. How is important to build durable relationship between clients and photographers?

There is absolutely nothing more important than having strong long lasting relationships with your clients. I like to think of my relationship with clients as a partnership. It’s my job to capture and highlight their designs in the best way possible. I always have a phone call or meeting with new clients before taking a job to make sure that I can deliver what they want from a photographer and that it will be a beneficial partnership for us both. I encourage designers to work with one photographer as much as possible as it helps keep their portfolio looking consistent and you end up growing together from project to project.

5) As this series of interview is called “Rule of thirds” I have to ask if there are any rules you follow when shooting interiors.

The only big rule that I tell everyone is to keep your lines straight. If your camera isn’t level or you aren’t composed keeping the straight lines in mind, the shot can end up looking wonky and make the viewer kind of “dizzy.” And then personally, I try to use almost exclusively natural light. But in general, I don’t have a lot of rules.

6) What do you like the most about shooting interiors?

I love seeing the wide variety of designs and working with different designers. It’s also so voyeuristic. I love seeing how different people from all different walks of life design their homes. How else would I end up in a $10 million Hollywood Hills home or a luxury Tahoe mountain house?

7) How does your previous experience reflect in your style?

Because I don’t have a traditional photography background, I think technically I have my own way of doing things. Nothing I shoot is perfect, but I think that helps create more interesting pictures. Also because of my art & background, I have a deep respect for interior design as a subject.

8) I personally like very much your private work. What are your main subjects and inspirations?

Again, thank you! In my personal work I do a lot of travel, street photography, and portraiture. In general my personal work tends to be described as “dreamy.” The subjects vary widely, I just use my camera as a way to explore whatever I’m curious about at the moment. Lately I’ve been working on a few series that are exploring the point where dreams and they way we imagine things in our minds intersect with reality.

9) It looks like you’re a fan of analogic photography. What can it still offers that digital cannot?

Yes, I love film! Film just has a tone that you really can’t recreate in digital. Some of the old cameras also have the most beautiful lenses that are really sharp and the combination with film makes these really dynamic images. Sometimes digital can feel rather flat. You really have to do a lot of work in editing with digital to even get close to the same results.

10) What is the question you hoped for and that I didn’t pose? What’s your answer?

What’s your dream project?

I really want to shoot hotels. I want to start working on projects that combine my personal work and interior photography. I think a hotel project would be perfect to use both sets of skills.

11) Tell us 3 young photographers we should follow.

I could give you a list of like 30. Everyone is amazing, but if I have to choose just three…

Thomas Prior
Sasha Arutyunova
Alice Mann