Perhaps the benchmark of “making it” in this business is to earn an assignment that would cause all but those with the strongest moral character to push both ethical and legal boundaries if an opportunity to supplant the rightful hire were to present itself. Bicoastal photographer Navid Baraty is one such photographer that might draw out said envy from his peers with the most recent addition to his client list.
“Everything with Apple – those people move so fast,” Baraty explained over an Intelligentsia coffee, not far from his new Los Feliz, Los Angeles pad. “They called me in November and asked if I could shoot something for their Chongqing Apple Store. The next week I was on a plane to China.”
Throughout the account of his Chinese adventure, fraught with tales from the great collaboration he had with Chinese-Canadian painter Yangyang Pan to the high levels of pollution in the area, it was apparent Baraty was in a humble but realistic awe over the affair just as anyone would be. Having grown in popularity from a strong online presence, his work has been featured in National Geographic and Popular Photography. Past clients were respectable, including AirBNB, New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL), and many more. But few are prepared for a call from Apple – especially just a few years after switching from an electrical engineering job to photography full-time.
“I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering,” Baraty said. “I was on Flickr when it was just starting around 2005, maybe. When I moved to San Francisco, I met with these photography groups, and we’d shoot together.”
Baraty’s popularity on Flickr eventually led to jobs for SF Magazine. By 2010, he took on photography full-time and moved to New York, where he shot spaces for the popular rental listing website, AirBNB.
“Working for AirBNB gave me access to all kinds of rooftops,” Baraty said. “That’s when I started my 'Intersection' project in New York City, which became very popular online. Apple wanted someone who did cityscapes; and their creative team searched online and found my images.”
After some time examining success such as Baraty’s and what it takes to get there, several questions crop up. Is a willingness to sweat a bit all it takes? How does one go from graduating from Ohio with an electrical engineering job to living between New York City and Los Angeles, photographing for some of the best clients in the world? And how much of it is luck?
A closer look into Baraty’s career proves, however, that it’s not all just luck. He worked early and hard to grow his Flickr following, made sure to keep shooting no matter what, and always followed through. “I never say, ‘No,’ to anything,” Baraty said when talking about his work ethic.
Another current client relationship even came in a roundabout way. NASA JPL saw a photograph Baraty took of people in Times Square anxiously looking up in amazement at a live broadcast of the rover, Curiosity, landing on Mars. The awe captured in their eyes prompted JPL to request use of the photo in one of their publications.
Where many photographers would stop there, pleased with NASA having used a photograph of theirs, Baraty went on to The Planetary Society to ask if they could use his “images of the landing in any way to help them get funding restored for Planetary Science at NASA,” Baraty said. They took him up on that offer and used the photos to help explain the significance of planetary science at a House of Representatives meeting in Washington D.C. Later, when the meeting took place, Baraty learned they wanted a photographer to capture the events of the day. Though he was in New York, Baraty volunteered to take a bus to D.C. and help cover the event. That relationship still continues today.
Taking everything in his career to the next level is what ultimately put Baraty in front of the right people – his love of photography, posting to online, shooting for AirBNB, using that access to shoot from New York City rooftops, posting that work to all of his social media outlets again, and finally being noticed through an online search.
Luck can always play a role, but in the end, it’s persistence that earns a great career. Plenty of proverbs even from the world’s most ancient cultures say the same thing, but I’ll leave it to Thomas Jefferson: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Anyone to earn Apple as a client is a very lucky man indeed.