It's easy to find Caitlin O’Hara. The photographer's typically posted up in the sunniest corner of a cafe in downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale. She’ll be the one surrounded with camera gear, busy jotting down notes or editing photos. O’Hara was born in the U.K. and raised in the Indianapolis area. She studied journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington, and Korean at Yonsei University in Seoul. Now, she's a contract photojournalist, and has been Valley-based since 2015.
Her outlook as a “nonfiction photojournalist” is simple. “It’s really about the people who share their stories with us," she says.
O’Hara – a tall and incredibly polite woman with bright red hair – has had work featured in some impressive publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, ESPN The Magazine, BuzzFeed News, and Agence France Presse. She’s covered everything from the Final Four in March to the fate of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed David and Gladys Wright House to Frontera Arizona.
O’Hara started taking photos in high school as editor of the school paper. They kind of didn’t have a photographer, so O’Hara stepped in. Naturally, her craft has evolved since.
"I’m really motivated to find not just the facts, but also the truth in all of the noise,” she says, speaking loudly over the chatter of a busy evening at Phoenix Public Market Café. “I’m really motivated by telling people’s stories and giving them a platform … I’m hoping to empower people through storytelling. And it’s really fun. I’m really lucky.”
So how does she pull off spotlighting Arizona news for publications around the country and the world? She has five essentials for that.
O’Hara usually wears either Doc Martens or hiking boots when she's on assignment and working outside, or out and about in general. They’re ideal for traipsing around town, reporting in the desert, visiting the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant with a camera, and lugging her massive camera bag from point A to point B.
The durable shoes are great for hustling to make a deadline, or even – as she mentions out of the side of her mouth – making a run for it if the pepper spray comes out. “I did get pepper-sprayed this last year,” she says.
Sun Protection and Hydration
This one is obvious. O’Hara depends on sunscreen, sunglasses, and a water bottle to stay cool when shooting.
Always juggling a handful of assignments, O’Hara keeps a journal and date book on her to keep track of upcoming shoots and meetings. She also has a pack of colored pens, which are mostly for decoration, but, “I’m a big procrastinator, so when I don’t complete something, then I have to highlight it.”
Family Photo Album
“I have an interesting relationship with photographs because I have all of these old pictures of my family in England and my life there,” she says.
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O’Hara keeps a specific family photo album, one she inherited after her grandmother passed away, close to her bed, and sometimes brings it with her as inspiration. The photos are set in England and Indiana mostly, and even though she says these can be your standard snapshots of family and special occasions, she finds many of the images “pretty brilliant.“
This is a big one. O’Hara says she almost always carries around her gear like a pack mule, and looking at her personal effects, she’s not kidding. Her large camera bag holds most of what she needs to complete an assignment on the go, including obvious things like cameras and lenses, but also charging cables, spare batteries, her laptop, press passes, memory cards, and camera straps.