The first big break I had was when a local ad agency hired me to shoot a campaign for Silver Jeans. I don’t think at the time I realized what a huge endorsement by the client it was to have me shoot something on such large scale. At the time I was used of clients telling me exactly what to do, and how to shoot it. This Art Director basically said, do what you want, I want what you do well. I barely knew what that was at the time!
My first camera was a Practica which was an Eastern German camera based on the old Pentax screw mount which at the time was already outdated. Eventually I moved up to a Nikon Fe and I’ve been shooting Nikon 35mm ever since. For the first phase of my career I shot a ton of medium format using the Mamiya RZ67 and a ton of 4X5 sheet film for product shots.
My first digital camera was a $1500 point and shoot and my first DSLR was a Kodak DCS760, which cost just under $10,000! The first few years of all digital shooting were tough. Here I had invested thousands of $ into this DSLR and client would remain skeptical and I had to shoot on film. As most of my work goes direct to layouts and to print, the colour accuracy issue was also a big deal. Clients wouldn’t know how to colour correct or convert to CMYK properly, So they’d end up writing the whole thing off as “not there yet”. Things have becomes simpler with workflows, direct to plate technology, and now clients work within a colour profiled workflow.
In 1988 when I was 22. I had been working at a camera store all through high school and college and in 1988 I quit my job to try freelancing. I was mentored by another photographer, much older and established, and that helped immensely. I learned from his mistakes rather than make my own. This was pre internet of course so there were no resources where you could just ask for help. In 1988 many people were sceptical I could make a decent living as photographer. Let me tell you it was way easier than it is now!
Being a commercial photographer my job is to find solutions to the needs of my clients. So over the years I have become very adept at emulating what ever style the client needs. I do pride myself on being very flexible and accommodating to work with. Client enjoy my love of collaboration, I very much enjoy working with creatives to find solutions. But if you pushed me for a definition of a visual style? Iguess my style is “lit” I use lighting for mostly everything. I come from the film days when you just HAD to light everything, you couldn’ use any ambient light, unless you did massive amounts of colour correction. Studio lighting is my advantage I guess, as a lot of up and comers use available light or those dinky speed lights. I tend to shoot with softer light for works for my client, and harder light for my personal work.
I love documentary style portraits. Richard Avedon’s portraits of the American West still rock my world. I’d love to get a commission that allows me to roam around and get B&W portraits of a range of subjects like that! I don’t’ think I’d shoot it on 8X10 though! When I was in college I studied to be a photojournalist so I love anything Photo-related. I just bought the Fuji X100s in hopes to stretching out, leaving the lights at the studio and shoot more street style.
Obviously the equipment side of things has changed so much since I started. Back in the day if you bought enough gear, you’d get the work. Now the barriers of entry are gone, and everyone’s doing it! I’m fortunate that I have an established client base but if I was starting out again I’d concentrate on developing my own visual style. That’s what people will hire you for, you’re view of the world.
The pitfall I see younger photogs fall into is the social media game. Yes its important to develop a social media presence but don’t replace the pursuit of “likes” for the shooting. The best lesson I learned early was be prolific, shoot all the time, shot as much as you can, that more than anything will make you a better photographer. I have to remind myself of that idea now more than ever. It’s so easy to spend the day on the computer, bouncing between Facebook and Lightroom. You have to get up, get out and SHOOT! talking about HOW you would shoot something on forums doesn’t replace the ability to actually do it!