Former photography student returns with pro tips

Former Brookhaven College student Kathy Tran began her career as a photojournalist and used the connections she made to branch out into other areas of photography.

Angel Zetino, Social/Fashion Editor

“This is a light modifier,” former Brookhaven college student, photographer and photojournalist Kathy Tran said, pulling a rumpled mass of sheer white cloth from her bag. “I call this the diaper.” The mass communications students who filled the classroom in front of her laughed.

“When my brother helped me years ago, he did it like this,” she said, slipping the modifier over the stem of a black-and-white photography umbrella and opening it in two smooth, rapid motions.

“But before, we were doing it like this,” she said, removing the modifier and fumbling to stretch it back across the already-open umbrella.

This was a full circle moment for Tran. Not long ago, she was a journalism and photography student at Brookhaven. During her time at Brookhaven, she was Photography Club president and won the Readers’ Choice Award in the State Fair of Texas’ 2013 official photo contest.

Tran said her passion for the arts goes back to her junivor high days. She attended art magnet schools in both junior high and high school. She was in a visual arts track and often made collages and paintings, but did not pick up photography until her sophomore year in high school.


Her career goal was originally to go into advertising, she said, but when she came to Brookhaven to register, she had an epiphany. She said she picked up an issue of The Brookhaven Courier and realized she would not necessarily agree with the ethics of advertising. 

“Journalism, it’s just like any other type of medium, but more authentic,” Tran said. She said photojournalism has allowed her to meet many different people and understand their experiences, And having her photos in publications is like graffiti artists having their work displayed on a wall, she said: Thousands of people see it.


Tran said her experience at The Courier gave her an inside look at a newspaper, helping her understand deadlines and how writers and editors work and giving her an advantage over other freelance photographers. “When I’m talking to an editor from the [Dallas] Observer, I’m imagining the newsroom full of them, going around reading copies and checking back and forth,” Tran said.

She said one of her first questions when working with a new publication is about the speed of the press cycle, which varies by publication and gives her a sense of which deadlines to expect she will be given for each type of assignment.

She said that during her time at Brookhaven, she took all kinds of photos, ranging from street photography to breaking news, but that food photography was what she enjoyed the most. 

“I didn’t expect [food photography] to turn into my main bread and butter for my career,” she said, but food gigs were the most lucrative.

However, she said, “I will always do journalism pieces for the papers, because I’m passionate about that. And I know there’s not a lot of money in it, but I just believe in the industry.”

At first, Tran said, she had reservations about using advanced lighting equipment in her photography. As a photojournalist, she thought they produced unnatural effects that were not in line with the ethics of journalism. 

She started with lights that complemented natural light, but eventually learned to replace it altogether. But she said she does not regret waiting to learn about artificial lighting because of how much lighting technology has advanced in recent years. With today’s more compact lighting devices, she said, she is more mobile and can set up more quickly and efficiently.


To become a photojournalist, Tran said, students have to be passionate about journalism. Journalism is all about meeting new people and staying busy, she said, It puts photographers in situations and events that might not be possible otherwise. 

For that reason, she said, journalism is a great way for beginning professional photographers to get to a wide range of opportunities.

“I am lucky to photograph full time because I [get to] shoot a diverse range of subjects,” Tran said. She said categorizing the types of work she does and making sure she improves in each has helped her become successful in her career. 

Those categories include food, breaking news, commercial, fashion, and event photography, Tran said. “I find myself fighting the saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ You can be good at many things.”