Earlier this month, APA|DC member Yacouba Tanou sat down with one of the chapter’s up and coming shooters, contributor level member Zach Miller to talk about music, inspiration, and what it takes to make it in today’s photographic landscape.
Interview and images by Yacouba Tanou
Who is Zach Miller?
I was born in Olney, MD and raised in Gaithersburg, MD. My favorite color is blue. Seafood is my favorite food. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and Meridian Hill park is one of my favorite places in D.C.
That’s awesome Zach. How long have been shooting professionally?
I have been a professional photographer for 4 years now.
Why photography?I was always a shy person and this type of art gave me an outer body type experience. Photography broke me out of my comfort zone and forced me to go meet people. Photographs are moments in time, capturing life. A picture is forever caught, showing our amazing world. This craft allows us to slow down time to gather and collect beauty.Can you recommend any book that helped you along your journey?
I am not really a book person, but I do believe that you are only as big as whom you surround yourself with. The internet is an open book for us to see who is around and see what’s trending. I love portraits and fashion, so my quest was to find who the best photographers in the area were at the time when I started. I wanted to learn what they were doing and to find a mentor to model myself after.
What inspired you to become a Photographer?I studied Business Management at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 2008, I moved back home to Maryland in pursuit of a music career. In my spare time, I was always traveling and taking pictures. Wow, that’s pretty impressive. Are you still performing music? What’s your Musician name?Yes, I am in a band called G2O. We’re a funk, soul, and rock band. A while back, one of the band members said that I should take a couple of photography classes. Little did I know that those couple of classes would turn into a year of photography classes at the Art Institute of Washington. Who and what inspires your photography?
I find myself shooting a lot of landscape and street photography in my downtime. My inspiration comes from Ansel Adam whose work I find very uplifting.
Will you share with us how you have penetrated the market and what advice you have for the photography community?I had a day time job for a while, and realized how hard it would be to become a professional photographer if I did not take the leap of faith and follow my passion. So, I had to get my name out there, and I did so using social media. Get out and shoot as much as you can, and you will get into a flow of growth.That’s beautiful Zach. How would you describe your photographic style? And where do you see yourself 5 years from now?We are starting to view D.C. as a colorful city with a sense of style. Our city is becoming a place to be, and the rest of the nation is starting to see that. To be honest, I am still trying to find my niche, but in 5 years time, I would like to travel and tell stories that will inspire people.What’s your happiest memory as a Photographer?Well, this is a little personal. My Father always wanted to take a road trip, traveling across country on Route 50, so last October on his 60th birthday we crossed that off the bucket list. For 16 days we drove across the country, witnessing stunning views and open county. Utah was by far my favorite part of trip because before leaving the state, we ventured off to the Arches National Park. It was a photographer’s paradise. There is so much beauty in the American landscape, from California to Colorado. Plenty of “wow” factor going on out there. It was on that trip, I decided to be a travel and portrait photographer.
became interested in visual media after his parents brought home an early black and white video camera. Eli’s first of many videos on the camera was a stop-motion battle between He-Man and Skeletor, which he made when he was four years old.
Always passionate about storytelling and beautiful imagery, Eli found that his purpose as a photographer was to capture genuine and intimate moments from the human experience. Clients include: AARP, Bank of America, Dwell, Essence, Good Housekeeping, Pentagram, and The Wall Street Journal to name a few.
photos and interview by Matthew Rakola
. . .
Starting with a pair of softball questions: where are you from and how did you learn photography?
I’m from Teaneck, New Jersey. I took a few classes at the International Center of Photography. One of them was a documentary photography course with Andre Lambertson that got me thinking about a career seriously. Then I studied photojournalism as a grad student at The University of Texas at Austin. I started shooting professionally in 2009.
I have to admit– I’ve been trying to come up with a witty little line that describes the huge range of work you in a single sentence. It’s just not possible. You’ve photographed everyone from farmers to restauranteurs to city kids, with an additional helping of soul musicians, athletes, and tradespeople. And, let’s not forget the CEOS, architecture, and your lifestyle images. You’ve raised the idea of being a generalist to a whole new level. Was this intentional?
Thank so much for the very kind words. Of course not! I think I have such a broad range of subjects because I’m indecisive and there are so many subjects out there I want to explore. I’m also always eager to challenge myself and expand my skills. I got into the field purely through documentary photography. I was initially focused on the art world. I went to photojournalism school, but I quickly realized that I didn’t like the assignments I was getting and I started to explore other subject matter and clients. At first I wanted to completely change the type of photographer I was and I tried a bunch of different shoots that didn’t fit my style, but I eventually found that I couldn’t leave my documentary background behind entirely and be somebody else. So in the end the decision was made for me! It’s weird because I still have the urge to do something completely different sometimes but that’s gotten less and less.
So do you consider yourself more of an artist or a communicator?
Definitely more of a communicator. That’s the business I’m in. Any time I try to be artsy it doesn’t work.
Ha! I can relate. So what kind of research do you do on a subject before you make a portrait of the person or shoot a photo story? I’ve talked to photographers who don’t want to know what the person looks like prior to the shoot because they are afraid that it will affect their own images, and I’ve met others who sill spend hours researching how others have photographed a person or shot a similar story. Where do you fall?
Good question! I definitely don’t like to see how others have photographed the person, but I do at least read a bio so I have something to talk about. Sometimes I watch a video clip if there’s one available—I read that somewhere.
How do you motivate yourself on those mornings when it’s just hard to get out of bed?
Good question. I think about prospects in the future that I’m excited about. Projects, relationships that I want to build.
Any pre-assignment rituals?
Bring anything I think I could possibly need. Charge all my batteries. Look up the person I’m photographing. Double check the address. Print out any instructions and highlight them. Load mood boards on my iPhone or iPad.
Making a portrait of a person can occasionally create a very unique bond with them– you’ve literally pixel-peeped at the pores on their nose. Have you ever developed an ongoing friendship with a subject because of a shoot?
Yes! I actually met two of my greatest friends through an assignment for The Wall Street Journal. It was just a couple hours but I thought they were pretty cool. I went back to photograph a portrait of them on my own and ended up hanging out. Actually, they introduced Takoma Park to my wife and I (where we live) and have really become our extended family. Never thought that would happen in a million years.
Did you have a single assignment or event that you would describe as being “your big break”?
Yes, as a photojournalism grad student at The University of Texas at Austin, my master’s thesis was a documentary project about a boy with autism and his caregiver. I aggressively pitched it to a lot of publications and ultimately it appeared on Time.com, which has since been replaced by Time Lightbox. It also appeared on the Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent website. Having the story in the spotlight on those two sites was my foot in the door of the editorial market.
What is some advice you’d give to your younger self?
Just get started earlier. I definitely took my time. I think my brain wasn’t fully developed yet.
At the end of the your photography career, at your induction into the Photographer’s Hall of Fame, how would you like to be described, and who would you like to give the presentation?
I definitely would like to be recognized for projects that had a greater purpose than just the advancement of my career and I would like my images to be described in some way as capturing authentic moments from the human experience. It would be cool if one of my future children gave the presentation. This is all hypothetical of course.
When you meet Tracey Brown the first thing you’re likely to do is smile. This is probably because she was smiling first and once you see it, you just can’t help but join in yourself. It’s just one of those things. Such was the photo shoot and interview.
¶A commercial and editorial shooter, Tracey photographs people and building equally well, an enviable skill. Her very graphic style is a natural fit for her many corporate, medical and architectural clients, yet it complements, rather than overpowers, the subject’s personality. ¶The shoot took place in her fantastic studio on the third floor of an old factory in Baltimore– one of those with incredibly high ceilings and the old wooden floors that most of us can only dream about calling our own. The space is light and airy with just enough eclectic props to make it feel personable but without the slightest sense of clutter. It’s the kind of place that just makes you want to create images…
Photos and text by Matthew Rakola
Okay, first question. Tell me about Paper Camera. What’s in a name?
I decided on the name Papercamera, as I was looking for a name that fit my business and was memorable. My name is unfortunately very unmemorable! Papercamera to me describes what I do, as I’m working with a camera, but my images get translated into annual reports, brochures, magazines, and the like. It’s also a nod to my background in Studio Art, which is what I studied in college.
So you studied studio art in college – what led to the transition to photography? Do you ever wish you had gone a different route?
I studied everything in college- drawing, photography, painting, ceramics, printmaking. I would say that my twin passions were photography and drawing, but photography made more sense as a career, since I wasn’t interested doing illustration commercially. I don’t have any regrets over the way anything turned out, and I’m happy with the direction of my career.
Do you think that this background has influenced how you shoot? Can you see any similarities, stylistically between how you illustrate and how you shoot? Composition? Color Palette? Lighting?
Yes, I believe it does. In both drawing and photography, I am drawn to the effect of light and contrast, as well as texture in my work. A good image to me is where the light works as a player in the image, setting the scene and creating the feel of the finished image. I think that’s what draws me to architectural and interior work especially, but I try to use it in all of my work.
how did you find work when you were starting out in the business? And, is it different than how you find new clients now?
I’m sure I’m not the poster child of how to run a business!
I found work in unexpected ways when I was starting out. Sometimes, I would get a job referred to me from a photographer I assisted when the job was too small for them. I would also research clients I wanted, ones I thought I would be a good fit for and contact them and try to meet and show them my work. This is so unpredictable though. Sometimes, I would come out with a good feeling and never hear from them. Other times, I would hear from them months later and get a small “tester” job to see if I was a good fit with them. I would also do mailings to keep my work in front of people I was interested in working with.
I definitely think I find clients differently now. This is partly because I’m more experienced at it and understand the business end of things better, and partly because of where I am in my career. I think making connections with people is still critically important, but I think social media is also important because it’s a great way to get seen and keep your work in front of people. It’s definitely still a multi-pronged approach.
So a mysterious benefactor hands you a blank check and tells you to spend two weeks on any project you’d like, what would you shoot?
I’m not sure if I need a blank check to do this, but I would love to photograph the old mills surrounding my studio that aren’t rehabbed yet. I love all of the textures, the light, the history of these places. They definitely have personalities that I like to document, sort of like portraits of places.
[Too bad the blank check couldn’t buy me a building! Or access to places.]
Hey, why not? When we were shooting we talked about how we both loved to have a shooting space to call our own, even if that’s not where we make the majority of our pictures. What kind of building would you buy? And what do you think it says about you?
I would definitely buy an old industrial building, as I love the character of old buildings. There’s just something about the quality of the materials used, and the attention to detail in these older buildings that is missing in so many structures.
So what do you think that says about you?
I think it says that photographers generally enjoy having interesting locations to work with! (laughs)
Seriously though, I think it says that I appreciate the built environment, especially when done well. These spaces often have great light, because the builders wanted to bring in as much daylight as they could to light their space, since artificial lighting wasn’t the best at that time. These spaces tend to be a great combination of wonderful light, great textures, and solid construction. These spaces often have great nooks and crannies that are great to explore. I like exploring and working with what I find.
You started your business in 2000. If you could text message your younger self, and offer one piece of advice, what would it be?
I think I would tell my younger self to position myself for growth. I became a photographer because I am passionate about the art, not because I’m a business person. In the beginning, I knew less about running a business than I do now, and getting any type of work was a big deal to me. I would text myself the importance of how to price myself, when to start passing on certain jobs to be open to other opportunities, and just the importance of doing what you’re good at and outsourcing other tasks, rather than trying to perform every aspect of my business, so I can focus on the things I am essential for. I think that these things help one do more of the type of work they want to do.
Last one: three words that describe you as a photographer.
Ken Cedeno is an editorial photographer based in Washington, DC. With over 20 years of experience and a variety of clients that include The New York Times, The Ad Council, Central American Medical Outreach, Corbis, and Weber Shandwick, he keeps busy. His images have appeared in National Geographic Magazine and National Geographic Traveler, Newsweek, TIME, Paris Match, and many more. We met up recently to make some studio portraits and talk shop.
Let’s start with the basics: When and why did you decide to become a photographer?
It all began in high school–ninth grade actually. As a young boy, cool sounds were always interesting. One of them was the sound of a motor drive. I started thinking, “hmmm, photography.” I was always drawn to photojournalism–I grew up on LIFE, LOOK and National Geographic magazines.
So it started with the sound of a motor drive, huh? Have you ever pursued music?
Would you count playing the clarinet in 5th grade? In the early 80’s, I was a radio DJ at KWHL in Anchorage, Alaska for 4 years (I was an Air Force brat so I moved around a lot as a kid) and got to go back stage for a lot of concerts. So, to answer your question—no.
So you went to school at Brooks but only stayed a year. What happened then?
I moved to Chicago for four years and assisted many different kinds of photographers, honing what I really liked to do. And quickly became aware of what I never want to do again.
I assisted in a catalog house and on industrial shoots, and assisted photographers with table top products, cars, corporate, fashion and Playboy. I then moved to Washington, DC where I was a lab tech with AFP (Agency France-Presse) and also got to shoot some assignments, covering the White House and Capitol Hill. After AFP, I started freelancing, which I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. And while I’ve really enjoyed covering politics in DC, I’m starting to focus more on travel and stories. Capitol Hill can get a little dry–people standing at a podium, two men shaking hands, or people testifying at a hearing. About five years ago, a vacation to Costa Rica led to an assignment for a travel book. There were no stiff politicians, no jockeying with 15 other photographers for the same photo, and no pressing deadlines. That got me away from the Hill and to places like Haiti, North Dakota, Honduras, Alaska which opened up some opportunities for me to refocus my work.
You’ve pretty much run the gauntlet in the photo world– how do you think that affects how you approach your current editorial work?
Perhaps subconsciously that range of experience kicks in to develop a new look when shooting editorial. I’ll look at a situation and try different angles, locations, and lighting situations and play with it. I’m sure everyone applies their past experiences to solve a present problem—photographers are no different.
Speaking of which, what have you been shooting lately?
In April, I was in Israel and got to photograph Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the West Bank. I send everything worthwhile to my photo agency, Corbis Images, in New York City. The Israel trip provided some incredible images especially because we were there during both Easter and Passover. The religious history goes way back, and the ongoing issues between the Jews and the Palestinians is ever present in the West Bank. Last fall I was in North Dakota for a self assignment covering the rich oil boom and the massive increase in population as well as the ongoing need to increase its infrastructure.
And later this month, I’ll be returning to Honduras to cover CAMO (Central American Medical Outreach), an organization of dedicated U.S. doctors who provide primary medical care and other important surgeries for the local community. Through a friend of a friend, I was asked to help them improve their visual storytelling and the images on their website to help them raise awareness about their mission and work. And while there, I also stumbled on another story of destitute families who pick through these massive piles of garbage—the dump—to earn literally a few dollars a day.
I always ask photographers, “What makes you want to make pictures for a living?” In other words, why do you want to do this for a living as opposed to a hobby– what motivates you to shoot?
I love what I do and never considered photography a hobby. I’m attracted to the involvement of breaking news, and of sharing it. People, places and moments are what motivate me to shoot. Whether it’s a simple portrait, a wedding, covering a protest in Greece or a clinic in Honduras, I like to capture the moment and people’s emotions.
Is there one specific moment in your career that you wish you had made a different decision? Or, the opposite– can you think of one definitive decision that has shaped your career for the better?
Hmmmm. This one I regret: I wish I had listened to my heart and gone to a photojournalism school rather than to Brooks Institute. Brooks is a really great place for commercial photography, but it wasn’t for me, and I went for the wrong reasons. Had I taken the time to research more, I might have found the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia or RIT in NY. Either one probably would have been a better fit for me. I sometimes wonder where I’d be with my photojournalism today if I had gone to one of the other schools.
Follow your passions harder people!
Dream client and assignment?
Well that would be the commonly and often mentioned National Geographic Magazine, who most people would love to work with. There are other admired organizations like the Pulitzer Center, who shed spotlights on stories and issues that are under reported and ignored. There can be many great stories the Pulitzer Center can help push through. As far as assignments, there are many. I think covering the Arctic Circle or the Antarctic would be a fantastic opportunity. Or any location where people just don’t go. You could also throw a dart at the globe and I’d do my best to make the most of that spot and get the best images possible. We’ve all heard the saying that our own backyard has thousands of opportunities …
Thanks for taking the time to do this. I have one last question. I always associate you with eyeglasses? How many pairs do you have? Do you think of it as part of your personal and/or professional branding, or are they simply utilitarian?
I have many pairs and styles and divided into two different strengths. One is used for shooting. I look at the images on the back of the camera rather close to my eyes. The other pair is for editing. The distance of my eyes to the laptop is a little further away. I don’t like the standard glasses for men. They’re very boring. I actually buy women’s glasses. Nothing too feminine– no diamonds and flared corners but a good fancy design is great. I often get great compliments on them with the occasional, “Really?” or “You look gay” comment. I really don’t give a shit if I do. I’m fine with it. I think it’s developed into sort of branding both personal and professional.
I just ran into a great friend and colleague, Melina Mara who’s shoots for the Washington Post. We both have the same pair. [Editor’s note: awkward.]
If you’ve been in the DC photo scene for any period of time, odds are you’ve run into Robb. Or, perhaps he’s run into you pulling a nutty U-turn on G Street in his Mercedes wagon. Splitting time between DC and San Francisco, he has shot for a wide variety of advertising, commercial and editorial clients from Amtrak to Wyeth and just about every letter in between. In the last several years alone he has been recognized by the American Advertising Awards (a pair of silver and one gold in 2014), Luerzer’s Archive Top 200 advertising photographers (2012/2013) and One Eyeland’s ‘Best of the Best’ (2012-2014). He can now add ‘APA|DC Featured Member” to his CV.
Robb, you have been working as a professional photographer for 28 years now. When you were right out of college you spent a very brief time working an office job, what made you decide to take the jump into a photography career, and what struggles did you encounter when you first started working as a photographer?
Like most answers to ‘life decision questions’, this one is a bit lengthy. At the time I graduated from school (SFSU) I was still in a job I enjoyed – working at and helping to run a busy SF bar & restaurant. The bar (the key component of this equation) was located only three blocks from The New Lab, at the time one of the three best K-14 & E-6 film labs in the country. During my time working at the Supper Club I met and befriended many VERY noted photographers, who’d end their day shooting by dropping their film at the lab, come to the bar for a drink, and then go back to the lab/edit/walk to FedEx/ship/come back to the bar and have more drinks. This happened pretty much every day. I made a LOT of contacts.
My first and only ‘real job’ – working (in my education field) was doing research and analysis on energy resources (mainly petroleum/oil), its movements (rail/ship/pipelines) and then helping to plan for emergencies related to said oil. As you might imagine, being inside for 8 hours a day, in a cube, for a few weeks didn’t quite jibe with what I’d envisioned I’d be doing with my degree after school ended. At the least, I expected to be out in the field, ideally in some far-away land.
Around week three I went to the principal partner of the firm and asked him ‘so, this work . . . the plan is to . . . be inside . . . mainly, staring at a screen?’. He seemed somewhat surprised at the question, thought for a moment and said ‘well, yes.’. I replied ‘like, everyday? All day long? Like, five days a week, 50 weeks a year?’. Again (looking even more puzzled) ‘um . . . yeah. This is mainly how analysis and research get done. By being inside. On the phone, the computer, and by going to meetings.’ I nodded and went back to my desk. After coming back from lunch, I went to the fellow, thanked him for bringing me on-board, and entrusting me with the responsibility I’d thus far been given. And then I told him ‘as important as this work is, and as much as I understand the need for it, I just can’t do it. I can’t be inside all day, every day. Just can’t’. And that was that.
As for ‘struggles’ . . . I’m not exactly sure I’d say I had any really tough spots per se’. I started to assist, for many of the people I knew from the bar. And then went full time with one fellow, a noted advertising & editorial portrait photographer, for two years. After that time I could pretty much pick who I wanted to work with, as he had a reputation of being quite demanding, and the theory seemed to be that ‘if I could work with him for two years I must not only be very good, but also very thick-skinned.’
Ironically, I ended up full-time again a few months after that, working with Dan Escobar, a great studio shooter and one with mad lighting skills. Eventually I branched out into production and quit assisting. I was a Location Scout and Producer for four years and about halfway through that time I also was introduced to casting by my late friend Loni Weholt.
Basically my plan was to learn and excel at every part of the overall process that makes an ad campaign shoot run smoothly; and at the same time as I was learning all the ins-and-outs, to also be paid well and bank that money for when I was ready to head out on my own.
I ended my production period working with Jim Erickson, who’s been a good friend for close to 20 years. Jim’s jobs were like graduate school – LONG hours, lots of work & stress, but an incredible experience. At a certain point I knew it was time for me to go out on my own. Which I did.
Coming out of CA is like being part of a Fraternity or Club – I run into people I know, or those who know people I know, all over the globe. It’s a great place to be from.
All of your photographs and multimedia pieces look like you had a lot of fun creating them. What motivates you and what photographers do you admire?
One of my rules on set is ‘if we’re not having fun, we’re doing something wrong.’
What motivates me? I’d say visual challenges, creating a tight & compelling narrative, conveying brands visually, the opportunity to collaborate with other creatives, travel & light, and great food.
You spend a lot of time writing, what inspires you to write and do you feel that your writing goes hand in hand with your photography?
Reading, and writing BOTH work to help strengthen your skills as a storyteller. It’s simplistic to think that any of us is always (or even often) creating something ‘new’: rather we all follow on the shoulders of giants. Much the same as writers are inspired and fed by what they’ve read, the ability (or opportunity?) for photographers and other visual artists to actually step away from the ‘creative process’ of photography, and immerse oneself in reading & writing narrative only helps to hone our OWN skills as storytellers. But in the visual medium.
I’d challenge you to research any noted (and posthumous) photographer, and find that he or she was NOT a skilled writer. That ability, to create a visual narrative, is EXACTLY what our clients want, and why, in this ever-increasingly visual age, is why ‘a picture IS worth a thousand words’.
I can tell that you are very passionate about film photography and the craft. When you show up to a shoot with your large format camera how do your clients react, and do you feel that your technique and tools help set your work apart?
‘How do they react?’ . . . well, the older I get, the more puzzled they seem to be when they see a 4×5 or an 8×10. And the comments (priceless) range from – ‘wait, it’s broken! The picture’s upside down!!!!’ to ‘well, I keep looking at the back of this, where’s the “zoom in” button?
Seriously though, I don’t often have the opportunity to shoot film, esp. LF sheet film, on jobs anymore. Especially on ad jobs – the premise of ‘there’s not enough time’, and ‘well, if I can’t see it, how can I approve it?’ seem to be working against that. Now, if we COULD get LF Polaroid film back . . . maybe. But, that being said, I always bring a film camera along, and I’ll shoot a few sheets, and send them in along with the digital edit – I usually scan the film first. I must say though, that sending a FedEx package with a box of 4×5 or 8×10 chromes to an AD or AB (and photo editors too) who WERE skeptical when I was shooting with them on set . . . I can always tell when the FedEx has reached them, The phone rings, and they’re just in love with the tangibility, the look, the dimensionality – all of it. I have spent about the past 15 years collecting an array of unusual, rare and oft-times VERY fast old LF lenses that I LOVE to shoot with. And, I don’t care how much you muck about in post, you’re not going to get the same look. It’s just different. Plus the process of shooting LF slows things WAY down, which is a good thing, in my opinion.
You mentioned that it is very important to be able to work fast, and that much of your work is shot with one lens. At what point in your career did you realize that “less is more” and in what way did your work change?
I think instead of ‘working fast’ I prefer to think that I work decisively. That comes from years of experience and practice. After being a location scout for about 18 months I found that I was submitting fewer & fewer locations to my clients. Same with my casting choices – you hone your eye, and just know instinctively – this will work, this is it – the location, the composition, the talent, etc. That’s part of it. And then, by using (primarily) one lens, usually the equivalent of the 50mm, I’m seeing like our eye sees – in terms of spatial relationships, DOF, scale, etc. My work on some level has always (according to clients and friends) been ‘very graphic’ and ‘almost simple’. But that’s HARD, not easy. It’s EASY to clutter up a frame, put in lots of visual detritus and hope for the best. The challenge is in making a simple AND powerful SINGLE frame. Every time. My goal nowadays is to do that – to take away every superfluous element until I’m left with something simple, graphic and compelling.
Personal projects keep you inspired, what are you currently working on?
I always have a few projects going on, always. I’ve been working on three books for the past . . . well, one of them was started back in 2004. Almost done with that one! The other two . . . one will (should) be done in late 2015 and the other in 2016. Most of my projects start as simply things that I find interesting. And then, when I show them to others they tell me they feel the same, so I keep pushing.
I’m lucky, because I’ve been doing this a long time, and as a result it’s easier to get the work shown, and that builds (and sustains) momentum. Clearly paying jobs take priority; so keeping the momentum of personal work going takes discipline and focus. Ideally one finds a balance and if possible a way to combine the two! Incidentally I just started another project about three months ago – that one should be ‘done’ – by the time I’m 50? I hope.
What advice do you have for photographers starting out today?
First off, before anything else, be patient. And humble. Please.
I’ll never understand the belief that simply having a degree in photography or art, and owning/knowing how to use a camera makes one ‘a photographer’. I mean, if you went to cooking school, and bought some knives – would you call yourself a chef? Does owning a full set of copper make you a better cook? Similarly, just because you went to law school and passed the bar doesn’t give you the qualifications to be a partner in a firm. You EARN that.
Be nice- always be nice. Because, odds are, if you’re a jerk to someone, that someone will have more power over you than you’d ever expect. I watched a photographer I assisted for, who’d been a jerk to a janitor we met, suddenly have to contend with having no power in the location he wanted to use.
• Courtesy and hard work are two things that are ALWAYS appreciated and oft-times overlooked.
• Assist. And be prepared to work harder than you ever have.
• Be early, being on-time is late.
• Always have a grip bag, a watch (on your wrist), and a sharpie. Sharpies are key.
This month APA|DC is pleased to introduce you to one of our favorite Assistant-level members, Erika Nizborski. Erika earned a BFA in photojournalism from the Corcoran College of Art + Design in 2010 and has been cutting her chops assisting area commercial shooters and shooting weddings and events since leaving the photo retail space a little over a year ago. (You might recognize her from the rental department at Penn Camera.) Find out what makes Erika tick, below:
What are your earliest memories of photography? Do you remember a specific photograph or the work of someone in particular? Or did you grow up in a family that took a lot of photos?
My earliest memories of photography are when I was about nine years old. I started constructing still life’s with dolls and action figures in my parents basement. When I was in high school I took my first photography class, my teacher introduced me to the work of Diane Arbus, Duane Michaels, and Ralph Meatyard- just to name a few. I was instantly hooked and began collecting antique cameras and searching out rare nearly obsolete films to shoot them with. I stated taking college darkroom classes my junior year of high school because my high school only taught digital photography. Growing up my family took lots of snap-shots and family movies. My father loves technology and I remember the day he came home with an early Kodak digital camera, it was 1.5 mega pixels. The photos it produced were terrible, that’s pretty much when the family photos stopped being taken.
We met when you worked at the rental counter at the former Penn Camera (RIP). I was new to the industry and you were extremely helpful and taught me something new every time I came in it seemed. How much did YOU learn from working there either from your colleagues or customers? And did many of the regulars share their experience or knowledge?
I worked at Penn in the rental department for almost 3 years. Jim, I think you were one of my favorite customers! I majored in photojournalism in college so, I had only taken a few lighting classes. While working at Penn I learned an exponential amount about studio lighting and grip. Mostly I learned techniques from my colleagues Anthony Herfort, Ken Hipkins, and the late Harrison Thomas. Those guys really took me under their wing and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today with out them. The customers also provided me with a wealth of knowledge. I got to see trends in rental reservations, I learned what the commercial photographers were using to produce their work, and I saw what the freelance wedding and event photographers where keeping in their bag.
You recently completed your first year as a full time freelance photographer. How did school (Corcoran School of Art) and then your experience at Penn prepare you to go out on your own? And how much have you learned on-the-job (if that’s even possible to quantify)?
The Corcoran College of Art + Design prepared me to think quickly in any situation; it was there that I learned how to be a photojournalist- a storyteller. However, it was my first college The Delaware College of Art + Design where I learned my craft, developed a strong work ethic, and where my passion for photography blossomed. Working at Penn gave me insight into the real world and business of photography. Now that I have been out on my own for a year I have found that I am still learning something new everyday. I believe that it is important that we continue to learn in this industry because it is ever changing. It is hard to quantify how much I have learned, but I still hear the lessons of my first photography professor playing over in my mind on a daily basis.
In your own personal experience how would describe the differences in your approach and/or thoughts and feelings toward photography as a profession and as an art form?
There are few people in this world that get to turn their passion into a career. I have seen photographers that have lost their passion for photography and just go through the motions, this for me is when it is no longer is an art form- it’s just a paycheck. I hope I never lose my passion for photography. I see no reason why professional photography shouldn’t be considered art. If the drive to create the work is there and the images convey something to the audience why wouldn’t that be art?
As a young person in an industry that’s highly influenced or motivated by technology and all things megapixels you are known to shoot and develop your own medium format film. Where does that desire/passion come from?
My first “real” camera was digital. I am fascinated with history and learning how we got to where we are today. When I was 16 I began getting into film photography because I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to learn why I was using certain tools in Photoshop. In elementary school I learned that I have dyslexia, I was constantly told I was doing things wrong. The one class I never got told I was doing anything wrong in was art class. When I got into the darkroom and began using a manual camera numbers made sense to me. It was like everything just clicked and numbers suddenly had a purpose. Working in the darkroom helped me overcome my learning difference and gave me confidence.
Is there a style of photography that you admire and would like to try but haven’t yet? (Sports, wildlife, high end fashion, commercial…)
I have assisted a lot of studio photographers. I feel confident in lighting and much of what goes into it yet, I have done very little of it myself. I would like to someday shoot more in the studio setting whether it is product, food, commercial, or portrait photography is fine with me. I find it all fascinating.
March 2014’s featured photographer Jim Darling, is one of APA|DC’s newest members. A DC-based portrait, interior and wedding shooter, Jim comes to the photo industry with seventeen years of graphic design experience, including stints on both the board of DC’s AIGA chapter and the Art Director’s Club. Aside from his professional work, he has developed a reputation for his mobile phone photography and is a founding member of the International Mobile Photo Group, InstantDC, and has lectured on the subject locally and at the Apple Store in New York City. Jim sat down with February Featured Member Jon Goell recently to talk about the transition from design to photography and much more.
You got your start in graphic design – Where did you study?
I went to school at SUNY New Paltz in upstate New York and graduated in December of ’91. My sister and her boyfriend had just moved down to Maryland from New York so I followed them down here February of ’92 – just days after the Redskins won their last Super Bowl, actually, so it’s been a long time. But I didn’t get a design job for a couple of months. I basically drove up and down from Gaithersburg to Rockville and Bethesda looking at graphics places and walking in. That’s how I got my first design job but I don’t recommend that as a strategy anymore.
So what led to the switch to photography?
I got a digital SLR in 2008 after joining Flickr in late 2007. I had point-and-shoot for a couple of years before that and I was starting to really fall in love with photography again. I just always had this in my head that I was going to be a graphic designer even though I felt like I really liked photography and I was really good at it. Ever since I first picked up a camera, I was drawn to taking portraits. So, it was always something in the back of my mind, but I think photography changed so much from ’92 to ’08, and I went a long time without even having a camera. But it was 2008 where I started to notice sort of a new passion arising.
When I was laid off at the Mortgage Bankers Association in March of 2008 I started a personal project, shooting street portraits of strangers. I was still working as a designer and had a series of short-term contracts and freelance jobs over the next two years, but all the while my photography was getting better and starting to get noticed within the local community. By the end of 2009 I noticed the imbalance between my passion for design versus photography – and photography was winning. I landed a part-time design job at the start of 2010 which allowed me the flexibility to also pursue work in photography, while still having the stability of a regular paycheck. The job ended last April and since then photography has been my only source of income. The relationships I had built with the design community over many years, as well as some exposure in local gallery exhibits, were integral in getting my foot in the door, especially with the designers that were now hiring me as a photographer.
So your connections came through? How did you build that network?
When I got into graphic design, I joined the local AIGA chapter where I ended up being a Board Member for 5 years. Then I was on the board of the Art Directors Club of Metro Washington, which now, sadly, is defunct. But having those connections in the graphic design community really helped with doing photography and getting jobs by word-of-mouth. But I didn’t really know about APA or ASMP or anything. I joined a social group on Flickr and got to know other photographers, hobbyists and professionals.
You started through Flickr?
I guess you could say that, yeah. I realized very quickly that there was a social aspect to it. I noticed local photographers going out on photo walks, doing happy hours, and putting on shows. I remember, after one of the DCist Exposed photo shows in the spring of ’08, sitting at the computer thinking, “Wow, I wonder if I could do that?” “I wonder how they got into a photo show; that sounds amazing.” Through Flickr I reached out to Kai Harth, one of the photographers I started following early on, and I asked him how I could get involved. He directed me to the ‘DC Social’ group and I went on my first meet-up with them in June of 2008. Some of those people are my best friends to this day.”
And a lot of this was also mobile phone photography…
I didn’t start until 2010, but quickly became involved with the mobile photography/iPhone photography genre when it was first coming up I was asked to join an international collective, the Mobile Photo Group, and I think that Flickr and Twitter got my iPhone work noticed. James Campbell, founder of InstantDC, actually tracked me down on Flickr because I was the only one shooting portraits on my iPhone in the area and that’s how our friendship started We put on a show and through that first show I met Greg Schmigel who was the founder of MPG, (Mobile Photo Group). I’ve been profiled on Mashable and done two talks at the Apple Store in New York City– all on mobile photography.
In those years, when you were starting to make the switch, did you do any photo workshops or get any training? Or are you mostly self-taught?
I guess you could say self-taught, or left over from high school and college. I learned 35mm and twin lens reflex and shot for my high school and college year books. I also studied some 4×5 view camera in college which I really enjoyed
That’s great. I want to backtrack a little. During any of these years that you were in design, either independently or working for other outfits, did you ever work with outside photographers?
I did. When I was at the Mortgage Bankers Association we had a photographer come in to shoot a stock library for us, using our staff. He did head shots and business lifestyle stuff and he probably shot over three days. Later, I worked with Thomas Arledge on an ad campaign that the MBA was doing. I learned the process of location and talent scouting, and was on the shoots with him and watched him light and art direct. Little did I know that I was going to go down that road. But working with him helped me learn that there was so much more to it than just buying pictures. That was really good. I’ve worked with him since and he remains a friend and mentor.
So, do you feel that your design background has a strong influence on your photography? If so, how?
I see my design influence in the way I compose a photo. Especially with environmental portraits, the space that the person is in and where they are in that space is very important to me. With fine art or landscape photography I’m constantly looking for interesting combinations of shape, color and texture.
Looking at your portraits now, you show a wide diversity of people in your personal work and an underlying feeling of sincerity and trust. How do you go about approaching a stranger on the street to photograph them?
I feel that one of my strengths is my sense of humor and my ability to connect with people, which is why I have always sought out portrait photography. [When approaching someone] I meet on the street, often times there is a brief interaction with the individual where I can quickly assess whether or not they’d be into having their picture taken. Even if there is hesitation in their approval you can usually tell that they are flattered at the same time. I’ll explain to them what it is I see in them that I think would make a great portrait. And I always give them a business card.. When I schedule ahead with the subject, like with corporate clients, they have time to prepare for the shoot mentally and I think that can make a difference. I do my best to explain my vision or scope and how long I think it will take. More creative shots, with people I know, we can be a lot more flexible and we take the time to try new things or just experiment with light, etc. And I can get their feedback while we’re shooting.
Who are some of the photographers, commercial or otherwise, who you admire and why?
I love Noah Kalina’s work. His environmental portraits are moody, mysterious, and beautifully lit. They have a Edward Hopper feel to them but can also evoke a slight sense of humor.
Also NY/San Francisco designer-turned-photographer Michael O’Neal. His work dispels any feeling that Instagram isn’t a place for real photographers.
How has the APA been helpful to you? What have you learned?
It’s been helpful to create relationships. Sometimes just the emotional support that comes with belonging to a group of photographers, even though I am new at this. I’ve learned a lot from different members, because they are open to helping me with questions that I have. I can call Matt Rakola; I can call Jason Hornick. Jason assisted me on a photo shoot with one of the Washington Redskins and that was really good. He was basically my lighting guy and that helped me focus on communicating with the subject. I’ve gone to them with questions about bidding and things like that. I think I learned through my involvement with AIGA and Art Directors Club that by belonging to a club you are supporting your industry, and that’s important to me. I’ve always been an advocate for personal connections. Even though you have followers on Twitter and Facebook, personal connections are still the most valuable to me.
So as you’re developing your own style you have to be thinking, at least a little bit, on where you want to take your photography. So the age-old question- “If you could get paid to shoot anything, anywhere what would it be?”
I would love to get paid travel to new places and spend time with the people that live there and photograph them and their environment. I think I could deliver a nice combination of portraits and landscape photos that tell a story. Basically be sent somewhere and be told, OK, find some street/stranger portraits here and come back in a week. Oh, And I’d like to photograph Tina Fey and come up with something hilarious but beautiful, like her.
Jon Goell has been teaching photography at Montgomery College in Maryland since 2000. Before that he was a commercial, editorial and advertising photographer in Boston, Massachusetts and Washington, DC. His clients have included The Boston Globe (where he also served as photo critic), Business Week, Fidelity Investments, and Polaroid. He holds an undergraduate degree from Boston University and an MFA from George Mason University. He currently has a 50-year retrospective showing at Montgomery College through February 21, which includes work from Paris, Italy, Turkey, and the United States. There will be an opening reception on Wednesday, February 12th.
So the first images that appear on your website and in your current one man show at Montgomery College are images from Paris from when you were studying abroad while at Boston University. What really struck me is that they felt very familiar. The specific places and faces are different, but I could see echoes of my semester abroad in London. I also see similarities in subject matter and approach between your work and what young shooters, almost fifty years your junior are shooting today.
Photographers are born opportunists. I was studying in Paris and I had some friends who were familiar with the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, who had been shooting street stuff since the 1940’s. Doisneau’s work was sort of funny and offbeat and HCB was, of course doing composition for movement. I was just blown away by the books of these two photographers. It just hit something that I can barely describe– it was extremely deep. The trip coincided with the time that my father left me his black 1935 Leica around December of 1963. At the same I was traveling around Europe on vacations a little bit and everything was brand new. It was as if the fog had been peeled from my eyes, and this camera was my way of experiencing it. I was aware of the photographs I was looking at by others and I was also unconsciously aware of the compositional training I was using in art school and just started snapping away as much as I could afford. I was absolutely in love with it. By the time I got back to Boston University in 1964 the writing was on the wall so I knew that I would eventually switch. I started shooting for the Boston Globe while I was still in school (it was easy back then) and I never looked back. All I wanted to do was shoot. I was like a dog with a rubber ball and that’s all I wanted to do.
I agree, I think photography is born both of opportunity (HCB‘s “decisive moment”, for example) and the physical barriers inherent to the existing technology of the day. It’s unlike painting, for example, where you can really just make it up after the fact.
For the first thirty (plus) years of photography, photographers were extremely influenced by painters– by the composition, by the use of light, by the way you had people facing in group portraits. All of this came out of painting, and a lot of early photographers were very aware of the painting of their time. In fact, Louis Daguerre was a painter.
And you started off as a painter as well if I remember correctly…
I had already started off taking the history of art, art studio, and had already gone through a year of art training at Boston University in the early sixties, but I had been drawing all my life and my mother was an artist as well. So I knew a lot even then about design, depth, and the use of light.So, when my dad gave me that Leica, which was ancient even then, I was able to take it and run with it.
And once you began shooting professionally, how did your photography change?
For the first ten years I couldn’t not shoot. Ironically, it was when I started getting busy professionally that I didn’t shoot as much because I didn’t have as much time to wander the streets. but I always did, and always do, have a camera with me, even if it’s just my iPhone.
When I was studying photography in college it was still a very step-by-step oriented program, especially when shooting 4×5. Loading the film holders in pitch black closets, composing upside down and backwards, mastering camera movements, checking focus, processing B&W, C-41, or E-6, printing, etc. It was a very tactile (and often smelly) experience. How do students think about and learn about photography today?
Very few student know how to learn by reading anything now. Too many don’t understand how to get the knowledge by reading a chapter. Going back to the 1840’s, cameras were functionally mechanical devices, with three major controls: focus, shutter speed, and aperture. It didn’t take too long to get into what those those three controls were and not only how they controlled the technical aspects of photography but also how they allowed you to do creative things with your pictures. It wasn’t too hard to get that from reading a book.
In modern life everything is digital. It’s meant that a lot of younger people coming up- almost anyone under 35- really don’t have a sense for mechanical things. Not just cameras- everything. It’s all little buttons now– you learn what you need to do, but if it’s a physical thing you don’t know how it works because your mind was never trained to think in that way. I hate to be one of those, “well when I was a kid” people, but I will. As a teenager in high school I was like anyone else. I’d pull the carburetor out of the car and put it on the kitchen table to repair it. It wasn’t that big a deal and I was no genius, but I did understand how to use tools and how mechanical things worked together and how to listen for the right sound versus the wrong sound. It made it easy to learn the basic mechanics of photography- not so much processing film and printing it well- but you could learn it.
I feel badly for the younger students in my classes now who are struggling so hard and love photography but don’t know how to do it any other way but through digital devices and usually with a fully automatic pocket camera. That doesn’t make their images less valuable, or less well composed, because some of them are just brilliant at that because those rules still apply. But the mechanics of dealing with capturing– “capturing”, because that’s what it’s called now– has changed and it’s a huge mindset that’s changed not just with photography but with all devices of any kind.
I accept this because I have to and because, frankly, people looked at my generation when I was a kid and said “I can’t believe it, you guys are just never going to manage, you’re never going to succeed…”
And the larger format shooters said, “35mm… that’s so small. How can you ever work with a negative that small???”
The very limitations and deficiencies of film contribute to it’s beauty.
So what do you think about the computer and smartphone apps that emulate film? It’s like they’re reintroducing limitations and deficiencies, but sometimes only after the initial image has been captured. Do you think that that takes some of the magic out of it?
I understand why they’re doing it and for some people it will be a really good thing. In another way it’s phony and it’s theatrical. You’re asking one process to imitate another process, and my tendency as an old-fashioned guy is to say that you might as well go back to the original process.
Look, everybody in every generation has their tricks that the former generation will say sucks. Take Paul Strand– I knew Strand. He did stuff that people before him would think was insane. Take for example his famous street shots that he did with a 5×7 camera and glass plates. He didn’t point the camera directly at the blind lady or the other folks in the street in 1914. He had a little right angle mirror attached to his camera so he could pretend to be pointing it down the street when he was really shooting ninety degrees to his left at something four feet away. So in a sense that was cheating also. But, photographers are opportunists, like I said, so anything they can find that will help them get the results that they want is legitimate. So, it’s going to happen whether the previous generation likes it or not.
So do you think using a device like that [90 degree finder] was a way of avoiding human contact?
It was a way to avoid confrontation with another human being that he was were trying to take a picture of. Remember, in those days there was no sense of privacy like there is now, at least in this situation. Strand was looking for a certain kind of picture that would be a shocker to the audience. The picture of the blind woman at close-up range, street survivors, the guy with the bowler hat, etc. (Alfred) Stieglitz absolutely loved them, and he had been doing similar things in the 1890’s but on a tripod. They were both about making pictures of life in the raw but in their own ways, based on the technology that they had available. Strand didn’t consider it cheating, he considered it a way to show the world a different kind of image of life on the street. He wasn’t doing it long by the way. 1914 to 1916 maybe, and after that he was doing different kinds of work.
Three years- that’s like three different generations of iPhone and a dozen different photo apps. You mean he actually stuck to the same tool for that long?
[Laughing.] You know I exchanged letters and phone calls with him in the late 60’s when I was a grad student in Arizona. (I called him on a dare.) I later interviewed him twice in ’73 and ’74 when I was serving as the photo critic for the Boston Globe. He and his wife were very cordial. I had lunch with them and he gave me a tour of his home in Orgeval, France. He still had those 5×7 cameras, but I looked in his darkroom and he also had all of the latest gear in there. So he was up on whatever was new.
I’ll tell you something else I admire about Strand– he shot right up to the day he died. He was in his garden shooting a picture with his Rolleiflex and keeled over right there and died.
To this day my favorite camera is my old Rolleicord. I had another Type E with the Planar lens, but the smaller one just felt better in my hands and the shutter makes just the sweetest little whisper. Do you think younger photographers still have the same loyalty to the actual camera as perhaps some older shooters do?
I think they really do have a loyalty towards photography, as we all do, but I think the digital revolution has gotten us all used to the idea that every eighteen months something really new will come along that will make their photography better. What they are committed to, I think, is getting better and sharper pictures with bigger files. And whether the camera is this particular Nikon or Canon is less important to them than the idea that the camera with the higher resolution, and lower noise allows them to get the kinds of pictures that they want more easily than they could a year or two ago.
I think that what we’re talking about is a shift between photography being based on a physical thing- a negative, a print, a mechanical camera- to being more conceptual. You never really hold your original image in the same way that you did with a negative. When you’re working with images in a database program like Lightroom, you’re never actually altering the original image, you’re basically just giving it instructions for what to do when you export it. How do you see this shift?
I actually enjoy that aspect of it and I have no conceptual problem with that being the norm today… with one exception. My preference as an older photographer in the digital age is to still do as much as I can in-camera, because you can get lazy, assuming that you can fix it later in Photoshop. I like the simplicity of that [doing the work in-camera], but to someone now it is not necessarily how it’s done. It’s simpler for them to plan on getting it done later and just capturing the picture (or pictures) now. It’s like capturing words and assembling the sentence later. That’s the current ethic and the people who learned that way are comfortable with it and do it well. In twenty years they’ll look at a younger group of photo students and gripe about how they don’t do it their way. I see this as a continuum that will never, ever, ever change.
When a younger photographer comes up to me and wants me to look at their work, one of the first things I always ask is, why do you want to make pictures for a living? Photography is something you can do as a hobby. (I know many hobbyists who are better than a lot of pros out there.) Everyone has their own reason. What made you want to choose this for a living? What’s your motivation?
I couldn’t have answered that question at that age either. I am an opportunist without planning. I’ll carry a small camera, something will come up, there will be non-sequitur moments, and I’ll whip out the camera and I’ll shoot it. Occasionally some of those things will show up in a show like this. Looking back it’s always been a way of experiencing the world and preserving what that experience was. I also came out of an art background so I had a basis in design, composition, lighting, etc. and it was just really interesting to try with the camera. I also loved using that ancient pre-war Leica that my father gave me. The very mechanics of it were fun, the sound of the “click” was fun, taking pictures of people without them knowing was fun. I couldn’t have told you why if you asked me at the time, except that I was absolutely taken by it.
It’s a brand new year and APA|DC’s Featured Member Profile turns one year old this January! In the past twelve months we’ve met old-timers, newbies, people who shoot things, shooters who snap people, snappers with big cameras, and camera-toters with iPhones. As we continue to grow we look forward to introducing you to even more of your peers.
If you’ve been around APA|DC for any amount of time, odds are you’ve run into Renée Comet. Known for her beautiful food photography featuring strong compositions and luscious lighting, Renée has worked with national and international clients for the last twenty years. These clients have included the American Diabetes Association, Australian Lamb, Marriott International, Ritz-Carlton, and the US Postal Service. She has photographed over fifty cookbooks including The Founding Fathers Cookbook, Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper, and Dining with the Washingtons.
December Featured member Tim Coburn recently headed over to Renée’s Glover Park studio with a fantastic sense of humor and a complete disregard for the chinaware. This happened:
First the obvious; what got you interested in photography? And why food?
For me photography is a way of communicating without words. Food shooting fits my personality. I like collaborating with a group.
Do you ever get to eat the food after shooting it?
Yes, only after we got the shot. You definitely don’t want to pop that cream puff in your mouth when we might need a replacement on set.
What’s the most frustrating thing about working with inanimate objects?
Ha, this from a fashion shooter. Well it was alive at one time and it is aging, drooping or melting as I shoot so you have to shoot fast. Really the hardest thing is making the food look alive, the environment someplace you want to be.
Being a food photographer, I imagine that you cook a lot. Is this true?
That is not really true, I am surrounded by people who love to cook and I like to eat. I do cook but very simple dishes and don’t like using a recipe.
Forgive my ignorance but I wouldn’t expect to find a full-time food photographer in D.C. Are most of your clients local?
I have a mix of out of town clients and local. DC is a city that likes food.
What is the weirdest food-resembling-prop you have used in a food shoot?
Pouring motor oil on a salad. It made a lovely pour but ick.
When you walk into a shoot, what is your biggest fear?
That the team I am working with will not connect or work as a team to reach the same goal… to make a beautiful shot that you want to eat.
What would be your dream gig? The pinnacle of your career ?
The pinnacle has not happened yet. I would like to produce something tangible. Food gives us life and is an integral part of life. I would like to create something that gives back to the community.
Can I hang out with you on a shoot and nibble all day long?
Our October Featured Member, Lawrence Getubig, recently met up with fellow APA member, Tim Coburn for a portrait shoot and interview. Tim is a fashion, portrait and advertising photographer with a studio in Fairfax, Virginia and whose clients have run the gamut from Ann Taylor LOFT to the Washington Redskins.
One hopes we are not boiled down to categorical archetypes. Nonetheless are you introverted or extroverted?
I don’t see any reason you can not be both. That’s how I would describe myself. Some days I thrive on being around people while other days I can’t even stand to be around my cat.
In your website, you describe how you came about settling into a professional photographer as a career. Can you briefly reiterate how you came about this path? Include, if you could, how one draws a path from DJing/radio talk show host to professional photographer?
I had always been shooting for fun. One day my best friends’ mom gave me a Nikon D100 as a gift and said to me: “You are talented and you need to be doing this.” I knew that her faith in me was enough to have me believe in myself. I put myself on Craigslist and advertised myself to shoot anything for $50. I shot pets, children, the most miserable family portraits. And I mean miserable! One family portrait was shot with all members wearing black on a black background using one light and stern facial expressions. Each job taught me how to get better. One job led to another and I found myself working 80 hours a week between radio and photography. Then the moment happened. I jumped into the deep end (scared to death).
Did you ever do assisting, if so, who with? Can you share one of the most valuable lessons from that particular studio(s)?
Not really. But I really wish I had. I felt like my growth as a photographer could have been accelerated had I reached out to other photographers for help. I was kind of stupid, in that I thought, I could teach myself. But I ran into many obstacles that could have been avoided if I had assisted.
Because of that experience, I always welcome young photographers into my studio, regardless of their formal training or experience.
You are Model Mayhem #212723. You joined around 2006, around the time you decided to fully commit to your professional photography business. Can you share with us the decision process of why you joined this community and help us rookies understand how this network has helped you (and if you would recommend it)?
I wanted to get more into fashion but I didn’t think I was good enough to reach out to local agencies and use their models. I did a few test shoots from the site and the models were very good. Overall, I found ModelMayhem to be a good way to explore and learn. At times though, it does lack the professionalism and can become hit or miss.
How have the following helped you to where you are now:
1) Facebook and other social media? (you have 10k+ followers, did you know?)
I like to showcase my work on FB but it does not help me get jobs. Instagram is my preferred social media channel for expression.
2) Networking (events & behind the curtain deftly nurtured contacts)?
I am the worst networker in the world. When it comes to events and gatherings I can be socially awkward. I think it’s one of my weaknesses. (the introvert shines!!)
I do mostly online marketing and a lot of organic SEO.
5) Your talent?
Talent may have gotten me here far more than I realize. When I evaluate how much time I spend actively marketing myself versus how many clients arrive to me based on testaments of my work alone, that’s talent? ….Right? …or is that called luck?
Tell us a little more about your studio and Softbox Studios and the community it galvanizes.
I started Softbox Studios in 2011. I find this space attracts new amateur to semi-professional photographers. It’s a beautiful 950 square-foot space with a 30-foot ceiling, but it’s not quite equipped for big commercial shoots. I wouldn’t suggest driving an SUV into Softbox Studio. I rent the studio out on monthly contracts, based on the number of hours the photographer wants to use it. Recently, the space has attracted a lot of photographers interested in fashion. You can see what the photographers are shooting on the website: www.thesoftboxstudio.com
Your attention to highlights is impeccably detailed. Your retouching is also pretty impressive. Who does your retouching for you?
A magician never reveals his secrets.
Any networking and/or marketing tips for the APA website readers?
Just get yourself out there. Tell people who you are and what you do. Do the exact opposite of what I do.
Please comment on the DC vs NYC conversation. In appears your business practice doesn’t even seem to find that conversation relevant, but in case it does, can you share your opinions and insights? Your clients range from local institutions such as the Washington Nationals to Target, Facebook and Chanel. How do manage to work in DC yet maintain a pan-professional photographer practice?
Yes, you’re right. It’s not a really relevant question for my business. But all the work I do is local for those companies listed. Most of the clients I deal with are located out of DC.
Tyra Banks’ triumphant return to the cover of VOGUE.