Why Experience Trumps Everything Else – An Interview With Dixie Dixon
Dixie Dixon is a Dallas based badass and one of the sixteen “celebrated contemporary photographers” of the Nikon ambassador program. Dixie specializes in commercial fashion photography and is a prime example of how hard work, apprenticeship, and relentless dedication pays off in commercial photography. I recently chatted with her and stole all of her secrets of success for you, the reader. Because that’s how much I love you, reader.
Dixie Dixon is a Texas born and bred commercial fashion photographer. Just a few years out of college, this 20-something’s career is unfolding one adventure after another.
She was given her first Nikon Camera, a Nikon FG, at just 12 years old, which piqued her curiosity in the field and served as her sidekick in exploring the world. She would continually clock seven to 10 hours in the darkroom without even realizing it. While in college she studied in London with a world-renowned fashion photographer and became deeply inspired by the beautiful illusion of fashion and commercial photography.
It has been said that her idealistic vision of the world is reflected into every single frame—full of life, beautiful energy, and most of all, Soul. Her passion has lead her to shoot internationally in places such as Cannes, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Ibiza, and Barcelona recently for various brands, TV shows, commercial campaigns and editorial projects. Just this year she was named the 2013 Emerging Photographer of the Year by GraphiStudio.
Sensuous and polished, her images create a dream world in which romance is always alive. Her fresh vision has attracted clients such as Florsheim Shoes, Inside Edition, Nikon, CBS, G-Technology, Profoto, MAC Group, Billy Jealousy, Nha Khanh, ProFoods, American Heart Association & Angelberry Organics. Her work has been published in Rangefinder, PDN, Professional Photographer Magazine, Dapper Magazine, Living Magazine, Beverly Drive Magazine, and Nikon World.
“Honestly, I’m an incurable dreamer with a wild imagination. That’s what I truly love about fashion photography—there are no rules, no boundaries, just pure self-expression. Anything your mind can imagine, you have the power to bring to life in a single image or series of pictures. It makes me so happy to be able to work with such amazing creative people day in day out.”
Dixie. You probably have the coolest name of anyone I have ever met. How cool are your parents? Can you reveal your middle name?
Haha thanks!!! I was actually given the nickname- Dixie- in 6th grade by one of my best friends. My real name is Lyndsay Dixon. You see there were 5 Lindsey’s on the soccer team so it made it confusing calling each other on and off the field, so “Dixie” was born. Then when it was time to pick a website address, I figured Dixie was much easier to remember so I went with dixiedixon.com and it has stuck ever since.
I’m going to pretend like you didn’t just tell me that. Ok, how did you get your start with photography. How long did it take before you considered yourself a photographer?
Growing up, I had just about every job in photography that I could get my hands on. From little league pictures, to yearbook staff photographer to weddings, boudoir, & portraits. And now my all time favorite genre- Commercial and Fashion Photography- its definitely the ultimate passion. I love bringing brands visions to life in an image!!
I began calling myself a photographer during college when I started my business!
Was there a defining moment in your life where you knew you were going to make it as a photographer?
I think I’ve always had an inner knowing or belief that I was going to make it. I just never thought otherwise.. even through the many struggles and setbacks. I’ve always thought that we all have the power and imagination to make our dreams come true if we truly believe it can happen.
Did you ever consider another career?
Yes, most definitely! When I was about to graduate from college, I actually applied and landed a job with an investment firm, but I ended up turning it down. A mentor told me that if I truly wanted to pursue my passion in photography, “now” was the time to go for it. So that’s what I did
What does a typical day look like for you?
One thing I love about photography is that every day is different depending on what shoot is in the works. Every shoot is different so it always depends. But days can consist of shooting, traveling, editing, retouching, conference calls, meetings, dreaming up new ideas, emailing, pre-production, casting, cold-calling, networking, planning, and etc. Long days and a ridiculous amount of work but I love it!
Who are the people in your career that you most depend on? What does your team look like?
I have an amazing team I’ve built over the past few years of go-to makeup artists, hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, assistants, digital techs, producers and etc. who I depend on to help make my shoots a success!!! Every shoot is a huge team effort so having the right people on set definitely makes all the difference. I love surrounding myself with positive enthusiastic folks who inspire me creatively!!
How much of the business side of photoshoots do you tackle? Meaning marketing, self advertising, bids, pre-production, etc…
All of the above! It has been a big learning process of trial and error, lol.
What’s your recipe for self advertising? What’s the most important tool for getting your name out there?
I do a lot of networking! In photography, the key is getting that in person meeting with potential clients because people love to work with people they get along with well. So I usually try to call and setup meetings.
Where do you make your portfolios?
I actually make coffee-table books for my portfolios- they are printed and bound in Italy by a company called- Graphistudio. And then I use a great printer- Black River Imaging to print my promos and business cards.
You are part of the Nikon team, right? How did this come together?
Yes indeed! I met with them about a year ago, which went really well. So they started hiring me to do shoots and speak at their booth at trade shows. They are such great people to work with!! This past month they launched the Nikon Ambassador program which I am really honored and excited to be a part of!!
Do you think Nikon is better than Canon? (hehe)
Haha, of course I do, I’ve been a Nikon shooter my entire career… the quality that comes out of the Nikon cameras and glass (lenses) is friggin amazing!!!!
As a company, one thing I think really sets Nikon apart is that every person that works there actually shoots and does try out and work with the gear. And every picture that is used to advertise a certain camera is actually shot with that camera system…. even the small compact ones.
How do you approach retouching? Do you do all of your stuff or hire that job out?
It all depends on the job, sometimes I do it myself, sometimes I’ll hire it out to a retoucher in LA. But before it goes to the client, I always add my spin on it. I prefer to make the finishing touches, I am a bit of a control freak! I try to get a great image in camera and just do enhancements in photoshop.
How does a photographer like you find their style?
Just through shooting a ton! Style isn’t really something you have to go out and find, it already exists within you.. the better you get to know yourself and what speaks to you, the easier time you’ll have expressing your own style and view of the world. The more you shoot, you’ll start to see a style unfolding that sets your images apart and see a quality that is uniquely your own!
What life experiences have helped your get to where you are today?
Travel has really helped me evolve I think. It is such an adventure and you really get to know yourself as a person when you travel. There are so many unpredictable things you’ll experience and so many interesting people you’ll meet along the way.
If you could hang out with three people for four hours, and they don’t have to be alive, who would they be and what would you do with them? You can be anywhere in the world.
Who have been the people in your career that have influenced you the most? Did you apprentice with someone?
Yes I sure did! I studied abroad in London with world-renowned photographer, Jeff Licata and I think he had a huge impact in the way I see the world. That is when I truly fell in love with the illusion of fashion photography and creating magic within the lens.
If your career didn’t exist, what would you be doing for a living?
I would probably be a musician, ha, I play the saxophone so probably would have done something with that. Or definitely something in fashion or advertising.
What have you had the hardest time perfecting in your practice? What have you worked at the hardest to hone in. They say you have to do something for 10,000 hours before you really understand and perfect it. What was that for you?
I think that 10,000 hours rule is so true. I’ve really worked hard on lighting… studio light was very challenging for me to learn since I’m not an overly technical person.
What has been your most rewarding project to work on and why?
I did a gig recently for Magpul, a rad gun company, which was truly a dream project to work on, amazing team, client and crew!!! The energy on set was perfect and the idea was really cool, basically I photographed their 2014 calendar- they went very high fashion with it instead of the normal girlie calendars you see everywhere. We literally closed down and blocked off main street to make one of the shots happen… it was a huge adrenaline rush.
What has been your most challenging project to work on and why?
That is a very good question! Every shoot has its own challenges and it is our jobs as a photographer to be good problem solvers and make the best images we can in each unique situation.
What would be your ideal project to shoot. Any budget, anywhere in the world.
Anywhere on an exotic island!
What image/project has taken you the longest to complete and why?
I guess I would say shooting for the TV Show “Get Out”… I shot 7 seasons of the show until the network was bought out… it was basically a travel show where models would travel to exotic locations and tour the islands and do photoshoots at each location. I got to be the photographer for the show and landed this gig a year into shooting professionally. We went all over the world- Miami, Puerto Rico, Vancouver, Toronto, and Ibiza, Spain to name a few. That is why I have so many swim images in my portfolio. It was a blast!!
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your career and could it have been prevented?
Ha problems always come up on shoots. The more you shoot and the more things that go wrong, the better and better you get at problem solving and thinking fast. That’s for sure. I was shooting for an airplane company once and they added a random shot when I arrived the day of that I wasn’t quite prepared for. They wanted me to stand in the very center of the runway and were going to have a jet fly directly over me and capture a cool image of the jet in air just in front of me. Well I have to tell you, when a jet flies at you going 350mph, its quite a shocking experience. So shocking in fact that I completely missed the shot, I was stunned. My hat flew off, my scarf flew backward and I just stood there with a glazed look on my face. Whoops! Ha, luckily they didn’t mind spending the extra thousand dollars to fly over again. Eek! But the second time, I got it! I set my camera on the appropriate “Continuous Shot” Setting instead of “Single Shot” and the image turned out really cool. Sometimes are mistakes are our biggest teachers ;)!
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Balancing it all- there are so many different aspects of the job to keep up with as a commercial photographer.
What’s more important, learning from your own mistakes or traveling?
Can I say both? Sometimes I feel like the more mistakes you make, the faster you learn. And traveling will help define yourself as a person, so both are equally important.
If you could have a passport to another country, where would it be?
Italy for sure!
What advice do you have for the millions of people that are stuck in a job they dislike that are doing something photography creative on the side trying to make that their career?
Go for your passion and get as much experience in that industry as possible!!! In photography its extremely important to focus on what you truly love to shoot! And be sure to only feature that work on your website and portfolio even when you’re shooting other jobs for $$$. The law of attraction will work in your favor and you’ll start attracting only the kind of work you love to shoot often when you only show that type of work to people.
Who are you listening to right now? If you aren’t listening to anyone now, who’s on your latest playlist?
Right now I’m listening to Gregory Alan Isakov, its very mellow, great for late night editing and working.
If you had a month off to do what you want, what would it be?
I’m actually planning on doing that soon! Travel to some beautiful places on my bucket list with friends! I am a bit of a workaholic nature, I think my biggest trouble is finding time to play, so thats def on my radar.
What’s your favorite lens of all times?
My current fave is the new Nikon 85mm 1.4 lens. It’s sooooo sharp and gorgeous.
What’s in your carry on camera bag?
Do you have a “go-to” lens for portraits?
Yes, for headshots and most portraits, I love to use the Nikkor 180mm 2.8, its an older lens but its my fave because it blurs out the background beautifully and has a way of making everyones face look great.
Would you rather shoot women or men? How are they different to work with?
I honestly look for soul, whether it be a woman or man doesn’t matter too much. The person in my photographs and their personality are a huge part of my images. I think there is a balancing act when finding how to express your vision as a photographer while also expressing the soul of the person you’re photographing. Its my goal to do that! And its my hope that my work is expression of a bigger theme and my idealistic worldview where romance, genuine-ness, and sensuality is always alive. Not just a pretty picture of a pretty person. I think the connection is where it makes the difference for me… I really go out of my way to connect with my subjects and clients. Most fashion photography is focused specifically on the clothes, and the model is just the mannequin but I love to bring out his or her personality in the images- a mood- while showcasing the fashion as well!
What’s the best way to break down barriers when you first meet models or clients? How do you quickly get into the groove on a shoot with clients and creative directors?
I always hug people when I first meet them, it definitely helps break down barriers. Then I always have music playing on set, food, and a fun atmosphere. This helps people feel comfortable and able to express themselves.
What’s the best advice for photographers that are new to working with creative directors?
Ask a lot of questions and always make it a point to capture exactly what the art director is looking for… and then shoot your own vision at the end. In other words, give them what they didn’t know they were looking for ;).
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 20 years?
5 yrs- hopefully shooting for iconic brands such as David Yurman, CK, SI Swim, Michael Kors, Victorias Secret, Guess, Acqua Di Gio, Chanel, and many more. And 20 years, hopefully finding a way to make an impact in the world and helping other people achieve their dreams.