How do you capture a sense of solitude and loneliness in one of the busiest cities on Earth? What were your biggest challenges starting out? What is the best piece of advice you ever received? All of these questions and more were answered yesterday when Sony, 500px, and travel/NYC photographer Vivienne Gucwa teamed up to host a live Q&A session in Groups.

Vivienne — a Sony Alpha shooter whose images of New York City have made her a best-selling author with her recently released coffee table book, NY Through the Lens — has quite the story to tell. She’s gone from broke and taking pictures with a broken $79 point-and-shoot to one of the most successful NYC photographers in the world.

And yesterday, she was at our users’ beck and call, submitting answers for over an hour as questions continued to pour in. Below are, in our opinion, 23 must-read answers from that session.

Since you are a part of the Sony Artisan program, can you share your experience with us about how Sony products have given you the tools to create the work you are so proud of and can you also share which Sony product you enjoyed working with the most?

Vivienne: Sony found me when I spoke on a panel at a blogging conference back in 2012. I was the lone Sony photographer there and we started a dialogue.

I was still very broke (despite having a huge following). They helped me out immensely by lending me gear that I was able to use for various projects. In 2014, I became officially sponsored by Sony and it’s been a great relationship.

I am currently in love with the Sony A7 II and the Sony RX100 III.

In your photos of one of the busiest cities in the world, you often have none or one lonely person. What’s your though process behind this?

Vivienne: I am fascinated with the loneliness of the city experience. In a city of millions, most people feel a certain level of isolation. That isolation can be cripplingly sad or even cripplingly beautiful. I like to capture that spectrum in my photography and writing.

I have a question about the “stillness” that is captured in many of [your photos]. How do you manage to achieve this especially when such cities are so bustling? Have you ever considered doing the same image twice? Once as a very still image and a second capturing motion?

Vivienne: Living in Manhattan for well over a decade, I can honestly say that the moments of stillness are many. I often don’t have to go far to experience it and capture it with my camera. It’s an interesting misconception that Manhattan is teeming with activity all of the time :).

I have taken many images more than twice. Life changes, perspective (and gear) changes, and moods change. That same image taken 3 years ago will look different even at the same angle now if I shoot it and edit it.

I love your winter black & white photos. How much time do you take to prepare your composition? The framing and angles are wonderful 🙂

Vivienne: I usually only have less than a few seconds to take the shot in snowstorms. However, I like finding backdrops and then waiting for the right characters to inhabit my scenes. This can take anywhere from a few minutes of waiting to an hour or more.

What is the inspiration behind the images that you create? Do you put in a lot of research into other iconic images before you go out to a shoot?

Vivienne: I am inspired by a lot of things: cinema, music, literature, painting, art history. I am currently exploring different forms of nostalgia with my images both in motifs and in tones used (in editing).

I have a background in art history and am a rabid consumer of art and cinema and music. I think that all plays a role in what I shoot and how I shoot/edit everything.

What’s your advice for new photographers and creating a body of work they love as well as sharing it with others?

Vivienne: Just shoot and don’t worry about pleasing others. Learn what makes you the most passionate and learn which scenes and images make you the most excited.

Those images that give you chills? Share them with others. If they feel the same, that’s icing on the cake.

What do you feel gave you the best results in growing your blog/social media?

Vivienne: I think realizing that every platform has such a different audience was a huge eye-opener for me. I manually publish my posts to every platform because I want to reach as many people as possible and not get hung up on algorithm issues (Facebook, looking at you!). And every audience is so different and wonderful to interact with.

Also, I like to take the time to interact with people who interact with me. Even with sometimes thousands of comments, I feel the need to respond to as many people as possible. Nothing makes me more bummed out than leaving a heartfelt comment for someone and not getting a response back.

What was the key to acquiring millions of followers?

Vivienne: Being sincere, being humble, realizing that every audience is different, manually posting my work to each platform, interacting with people, answering questions :).

How do you decide which pictures to process in B&W and which in color?

Vivienne: It’s all really a matter of mood and careful analysis when I edit the photos.

I am also a musician and music plays a huge role in my creative process during editing. Sometimes the music can take me on more of a black and white journey vs. a color journey.

Sometimes some photos just scream to be converted to black and white. I have to listen to those screams!

What would you say were 3 things that took you from undiscovered talent to where you are now?

Vivienne: Persistance, passion, openness.

Which mid-level camera would you recommend for a budding photographer? Which camera you love the most?

Vivienne: The Sony A6000. It’s a great price point, has one of the best focusing systems on the market currently, and features great image quality.

What impressed me about your photographs of the NYC Snowpocalypse was that they showed a sense of warmth, as if the city was embracing and protecting the lonely people in those photos. What’s your personal relationship with the city (NYC specifically)? Do you think you have a closer relation (photographically) with the city than with people subjects?

Vivienne: I grew up here in New York City in Queens. I grew up the daughter of immigrants to the United States and my father worked a rather un-glamorous job to support us growing up (night union pressman for the Daily News). Manhattan and everything it represented to them when they first ended up here in New York City after they were married in the 1960s always seemed like a weirdly unobtainable pipe dream for me: a girl wearing raggedy hand-me-down clothing embarrassed by her father’s blue-collar job growing up.

As I got older, I started to embrace the opportunities that New York City represents. I made a conscious choice to anything in my power to stay in New York City after I was disowned by my parents at the age of 18 (they also moved 3000 miles away!). I worked many jobs to support myself just to stay in this city.

I think that context absolutely informs my view of the city when it comes to my photography and writing.

I grew up with a vivid imagination fueled by the New York City in film and television and having always thought cinematically about my surroundings, I think all of this contributes to my overall evolving fantastical vision of New York City.

Where do you see your photography in 10 or 20 years? What do you want to leave behind with your work?

Vivienne: I have no idea. If you had asked me 6 years ago if I would be sitting here answering over 300 questions about my photography career, I would have looked at you as if you were crazy. 🙂

I am teaching myself video this year. I think cinematically about everything. Who knows where that will take me.

Who knows where photography will take me?

I would hope to leave a lovely legacy of images that are timeless and chock full of emotion.

My question is how to become more notable using 500px as my current platform and I have no idea of which blogs to use to get my work out to the public. Would love to know how you did it.

Vivienne: I think that being active in the community helps to get your work noticed both by the guest editors, and the other great people who use the platform.

I don’t mean that you should go and mass comment on people’s photos with insincere drivel but rather poke around and find the work that truly inspires you and then reach out via comments to those artists. You would be surprised at what a nice effect that can have on your own photography. Take advantage of the groups here too!

What is the best piece of advice you received in your journey to become a photographer?

Vivienne: I would say that doing what I love and not letting people dictate what is appropriate to post or not post has helped the most.

A really tough question, but which of your images is your favourite so far? Why? Or is it still to be found..?

Vivienne: This is my favorite image so far:

Vivienne (continued): It was on a ridiculously cold night during a really severe blizzard. I was having a lot of issues with the blowing snow and had my back to the wind gusts. I turned around for a split second to look into the blowing snow and a couple had stopped to enjoy the snow under an umbrella facing into the same terrible gusts I was now facing. I had my camera and captured that touching moment.

It’s a moment that so perfectly described for me the emotion(s) I feel when shooting in the snow — the awe, the romance, the danger, the rawness of the city at night during a storm. All of those elements combined create an intense beauty that is overwhelming.

I love the way your pictures of NY capture the essence of the city and in your blog you tell us how the deep longing for a place haunts you, so what kind of tools do you use for post-processing?

Vivienne: I use Lightroom primarily with a variety of plug-ins (Nik Software Suite, OnOne Software Suite, VSCO).

I learned to use Lightroom by applying presets and then watching what happened with each slider and control. I would then play around with every slider to figure out how to make my own ‘magic’ happen. This also helped me to learn about editing. It took a lot of practice and work but it was a fun way to learn.

I use the plug-ins as inspirational tools sometimes. I never apply a preset blindly. I will look at certain presets and try to contemplate why they are appealing or unappealing and then go from there.

Do you have a favorite story to share that you’ve experienced along the way?

Vivienne: I showed up at a swanky event being thrown by the country of France’s official tourism board. A friend was supposed to introduce me to their marketing team. She texted me as I got into the doorway of the event space to tell me she couldn’t make it. I knew no one there. I basically worked my way around the party talking to every single person trying to deduce who was who and telling them all my story while showing them my NYC images on my phone.

The next day, I sent a follow-up email to the people who gave me their business cards.

I never heard anything back.

I chalked it up to free-flowing wine and shrugged it off.

Two months later, I received an email asking if I wanted to do a commissioned photo-shoot in Paris which would culminate in a gallery showing and that they loved meeting me at the party.

I laughed, practically stroked out (because what a dream email), and thanked my lucky stars that I decided to be a social butterfly in a room full of strangers!

Do you feel success has contributed to your work a higher level of creativity or is it the opposite feeling?

Vivienne: I think success is so strange. I still am not sure how success is truly defined since it’s such an arbitrary sort of thing to measure, no?

I think that having people reach out to me over the years as they felt they connected with my photography has definitely contributed to a higher level of creativity and feeling comfortable to do what I love and not conform to doing what I think people will like. For me, I am more concerned with striving to reach my own vision which I think will be a life-long task. That my striving to do something like that resonates at all with an audience is something I don’t take for granted and is something that fuels me.

Since you were completely broke by the time you started, how did you manage to maintain your blog and social media?

Vivienne: Having lived on my own from the age of 18 with zero parental support or any sort of safety net, I quit the 3 jobs I was working (7 days a week) and took out student loans to put myself back in school to finish up a Bachelor’s Degree I had abandoned nearly a decade earlier out of necessity.

Those loans (barely) kept me afloat. A friend (and my roommate) also helped in the early stages. I can’t thank them enough for being one of the few people to believe in me wholeheartedly and for giving me a chance to fly.

The blog was (and still is on Tumblr) which is free to use. Social media is also free to use. I was also using free photo software (GIMP) and I used the small amount of money I had – around $79 to buy a point and shoot off of Amazon.

Would you have One Inspirational Phrase for someone who is in a similar situation as you were six years ago — no work, no social security, no decent gear, but completely addicted to shooting photos…

Vivienne: Someone shared with me this quote by Henri Matisse when I first started sharing my work online:

“A large part of the beauty of a picture arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium. ”

It’s such a great quote to think about. When I started I had nothing but a broken point and shoot and those photos opened up so many doors for me. I had to learn to work within my limitations and in some ways I always am doing that even when doing travel photography now for a living.

Keep shooting and sharing and striving.

When did you feel that what you were doing was worth hanging on to and what motivates you the most when it comes to photography?

Vivienne: What motivates me the most is the feeling I get when I get back home after shooting and start going through my images to find those few images that induce the best sort of chills. That’s a feeling that I wish everyone could experience.

When I started sharing my work online, it wasn’t amazing work. But to know that it was resonating with people was (and still is) such a humbling and incredible feeling. Those first messages I got on Tumblr when I started my blog which were heartfelt fueled my desire to get better at photography and to strive to make photography something I could maybe do as a career at some point.

Any tips on getting a book published?

Vivienne: I feel as if I got super lucky with my book deal. I was presenting on the Sony stage at PhotoPlus Expo about my photography and someone from a publishing company listened to my story and approached me about getting published. I almost didn’t believe it at first, in fact. But it ended up being such a magical experience and led to a best-selling book.

I would say that getting a book published and having it sell in this day and age all comes down to having an idea that will resonate with a large audience. The ability to reach a large audience also helps, of course.

You need to think about your photography as a collection that will be in someone’s hands all at once. How will that read to them? How can you make your photography tell a compelling story that people will want to hold in their hands and hopefully share?

We had an awesome time hosting this Live Q&A — if you need proof, consider that this was supposed to be a Top 10 post… and a certain editor couldn’t narrow it down any further than 23. What’s more, Vivienne really enjoyed it as well! Here’s her sign off from the event:

What an incredible experience this has been. I want to give a big thanks to 500px, Sony, and everyone who asked questions and participated. The questions were wonderful and I tried to answer as many as I could. I appreciate every question asked!

We can’t thank Sony and Vivienne enough.

Sony for helping make this Q&A happen, nurturing artists like Vivienne, innovating like few camera companies do, and giving away a camera for free!

Vivienne for her time, he words, and her work, which are always a source of deep inspiration for us here at 500px. To see more of her work, check out her 500px, visit her website, or buy her NY Coffee Table Book.

Be sure to check out the full Q&A by clicking here. We had over 300 questions submitted, and there are many more answers you should read. And if you’d like to find out more about the cameras Vivienne uses to capture her images of NYC and beyond, head over to the Sony Alpha website.