What makes a good photo? You know it when you feel it, Photographer of the Month Kayla James says.

Kayla James is the October Photographer of the Month
Kayla James is the October Photographer of the Month. (Kayla James)

Emotion, as much as her eyes, leads Kayla James to her photography subjects. It’s an instinct that guides her, she said, rather than formal training.

James’ images — a mix of still life, architecture and color experimentation — all come from her iPhone. The 27-year-old Mount Vernon resident’s work has inspired this month’s SunShots photo contest category, “Cellphone photos.” Read more about James and her photography style below.


Enter a photo in the SunShots contest at the end of this story for a chance to be profiled yourself and be featured on the @baltimoresun Instagram account.

1) How long have you been taking photos?


I’ve been photographing unprofessionally for 10 years. I think it was close to the time where taking pictures on your phone was becoming more of a thing, post-flip phones.

2) What kind of camera do you shoot with?

Right now, I use my ancient iPhone SE. I hope to one day own a real camera. I’ve had it for about four or five years now. I’m definitely not one to get the newest phone when they come out. It still works, so I’m going to keep using it.

Security bar "skulls" on the windows of City Hall in downtown Baltimore.

3) What is your favorite type of photo to take? (i.e. portraits, landscapes, nighttime, black and white, etc.)

My favorite type of photo to take is of buildings with interesting architecture. Interesting being historic, detailed, decaying, and interesting colors.

I just kind of find places anywhere around where I live. A lot of them are in the path of my everyday life, whether I’m walking home or walking to work. I’m kind of drawn to all the brownstone buildings, and then being inside of them is something that I like. I guess you could say I like things that haven’t really changed much since they were initially put there. I see things a little differently, too. A lot of people see vacant buildings and think it’s depressing. But I see beauty. And I’m like that with a lot of things.

4) What inspired your photography hobby?

I started seeing beauty in unexpected things. I had a camera before I had a phone that took good pictures. The first camera I ever remember owning was a Polaroid that my aunt gave to me for Christmas, maybe when I was like 8 or 9. I was very fascinated with it. So I guess it kind of stems from that. I didn’t have a digital camera until I was in high school, and I don’t know what sparked it again. I didn’t have a real interest in photography or anything like that.

A northbound Marc train at Baltimore Penn Station.

5) What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

Photograph things, settings, and people that make you feel an emotion when you look at them. You’ll know it and feel it when you see it. I feel like you have to have a little bit of creativity. I don’t really look deep into the subject I’m photographing, it just kind of comes upon me. I’m a very observant person. So, I’d say, pay more attention to your surroundings because a lot of things you miss in daily life, whether walking to work or on the bus. Instead of looking down on your phone, look out the window. That’s what I do.

Instead of looking down on your phone, look out the window.

—  Kayla James, Mount Vernon
The National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor.

6) What do you do for a living?

I work part time in the Inner Harbor and go to school part time at Baltimore City Community College.