Photo and Interview by Mike Olliver
Where are you from, and how did you enter the DC region? Where do you currently live?
I’m originally from a little town called Pacific Grove, California. I was going to college out west and suffering from wanderlust and decided I’d take some time off from school and travel. I ended up in Baltimore and thought I’d better start looking at going to school again; I chose the University of Maryland and I’ve been in the area ever since. After I closed my studio in Silver Spring, my wife and I moved to Annapolis for a couple of years, and now we’ve just bought a house out on Kent Island.
When did you realize you would become a professional photographer?
Well oddly, I think it’s more accurate to say I had a moment when I realized I *had* become a professional photographer. I started shooting after college and followed a few opportunities and my career took off pretty early, but initially I thought I’d ride it out for a while and then start applying for grad schools. It didn’t slow down for a very long time and I was having a lot of fun along the way, and at a certain point I realized this is what I was doing with my life. It was never a goal when I was younger though, I always thought I’d have a much more traditional job.
Did you ever assist others? At what age did this begin?
I did do a little bit of assisting, mainly picking up work with photographers who were doing jobs for the University of Maryland and people who used the same lab I used, L’Imagerie in Bethesda. I worked with David Hills, Bob Severi, Jeremy Green, Scott Suchman, and a few others. I think if you asked any of them they’d tell you I was a terrible assistant and I really was. I never lasted more than a couple of jobs with anyone I worked with, I simply didn’t have the experience but I definitely learned a lot from each of them. Further down the line one of my main assistants, Tim Devine, moved to New York and started working for Greg Heisler, and Greg hired me on a few occasions when he came down to DC to be his local 2nd or 3rd over a couple of years. That was the first time I really got to see what it meant to be a first-rate assistant, and how to manage a production and a crew. Greg was great to work for and learn from and I’d certainly consider him a bit of a mentor.
Did you have any mentors or influences in your photo education and career?
Absolutely, the biggest influence and teacher in my career has been John Consoli, the in-house photographer at the University of Maryland. Maryland didn’t have a photo program and I worked in the PR department initially as a writing intern for University Publications, but I became much more interested in the work John was doing in the same department. John worked with me to create a photography internship program and it was the best hands-on environment imaginable: we could be shooting product in-studio one day, throwing gels on lights in a research lab the next day, shooting in portraits outdoors in the golden sunlight the day after. There were portraits, events coverage, still-life, technical shoots, everything imaginable, and all for publication. I worked as a team with John and did my own share of shoots for the school. I really couldn’t imagine a better situation to learn photography in. Leaving school felt a bit like entering a vacuum and I reached out to ASMP and APA for help getting my business started, and Maryland alum Scott Suchman became a close mentor who helped me navigate the real world of assignment photography.
How did you meet your first few photo clients?
The nice thing about my internship at Maryland was that I left with a portfolio of published work and a number of portraits and other images that had been picked up in syndication by other publications, so I had a great book of tear sheets to show and a pretty sophisticated portfolio for a newbie. I also had a great network of Maryland alumni who helped point me in the right directions and got me and my book into places I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get into. I was fortunate to be starting out in the middle of the tech boom and I was one of only a few photographers around here with a website fifteen years ago, so I picked up a ton of work with computer and tech magazines shooting portraits and product work along the Dulles corridor and those places I visited became my commercial clients. I really took off running, it was a very different time from today.
Did you quickly develop a specialty, or was it an evolution?
I’d say it’s been an evolution and it’s still ongoing. I started out as real jack-of-all-trades and I’ve tried to move away from that. The truth is, I love the challenge of having to shoot different styles and different looks, and not feel tied down to one type of subject — variety is great. But I’ve come to realize that you really need to stand out at doing one thing really well if you want people to notice you. At the very least you have to have a personal style that’s obvious no matter what the subject matter is. Figuring out how to do that is the challenge, but it’s the way to get people to remember you.
I see that your site(s) showcase people, product, food, and architecture. What is your philosophy about distinguishing one specialty from another?
Well, I do get hired to shoot all of these different things, and I struggle with the idea that I need to be a niche photographer — I didn’t want to give up on some of these images yet, so I created a secondary website to separate my portrait work from my food/product/architectural work. The portrait work is my main site, that’s the work I’m pushing. But if a client wants to see more or asks if I can shoot an interior, I can send them to the second site. It’s worked out well so far, but I definitely identify more with the portrait work even though I enjoy it all — I just like to work with people.
In what region do you primarily shoot your jobs? Do you enjoy traveling for shoots?
Most of my jobs are shot in DC for clients outside of DC, but I’ve done quite a bit of domestic travel. I really do enjoy traveling for jobs, primarily for the opportunity of seeing new places, but in this economy I’m getting less and less travel opportunities. It’s also so much easier to find photographers online in far flung places than it used to be.
I’ve noticed, through your blog and addition of work to your site — you have become a well booked photographer! To what do you attribute the growing success?
I have been pretty busy over the last year in particular. I think the difference is I’ve finally started marketing myself again, and that means updating my websites, and reaching out to clients, old and new. I was able to ride that early wave from when I started my career for way too long and I got pretty lazy about marketing. It finally reached a point where I had a steady group of regular repeat clients, but whenever something happened to one of those clients it was devastating to my business and I simply had nothing new coming in so I had to do something.
Do you have a family, and how do they figure into your admittedly busy work life?
I’m married and we have a little three year old running around named Julia, and they are definitely a big part of my work life. My wife has been a really big support since my schedule is so unpredictable, but we definitely work as a team to make it all happen. They do occasionally get to benefit with some travel, so it’s not all that bad!
You seem to deeply value your ties to California. I can see why, based on the images on your site and blog. How does this relationship with the landscape and region inform your work?
I do — I have mixed feelings about why I left the place where I grew up, and I work a lot of that out through my camera. Ultimately, the answer is I was never going to truly grow as a person unless I left, but my family is there and I feel most at home there. Now that I’m here, what I’m left with is the feeling of time and place that I associate with California, and I translate what that means to me into a lot of my portrait work. Most of the time it comes out as visuals of strong individuals and vast dramatic spaces. I think that’s what I’m most drawn to create as an expression of where I’ve come from.
What do you plan to pursue, in terms of work and life, as you move farther into your career?
I really don’t know, I couldn’t say I have a master plan for world domination or anything. I just want to make satisfying, relevant work, and be able to live comfortably with my family. If that went away I think I’d do something else with my life. Photography could easily be great hobby, but I’d rather keep making living from it.
How do you feel about adding video services to your business? Have you had much demand from clients?
I don’t have a video component to my business yet. I’m not entirely against it, it just seems to be such a completely different animal to me that I’d rather do one or the other. I have plenty of connections in the motion world and I’ve been able to partner with them when a client has a need for it, but I’m not getting a tremendous amount of interest in it yet, but maybe that’s because I’m not advertising for it. I think I’d feel differently if I was a photojournalist, I can see the necessity of providing both kinds of content there.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
Haha, I don’t know. I’m a pretty open book, if people want to ask me a question they should feel free to reach right out and get in touch with me.
Thank you, Mike. We hope to see you continue to dazzle us with your imagery for a long time to come.