The music business is a brutal, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world and I lived it for nearly 10 years. Since the age of 16, I struggled as a touring musician, surviving off nothing but cold Spaghettios and sleeping in a decade-old 8-passenger van. I was fortunate enough to explore the nation and see things that most will never see, but by the time I left the business I was completely burnt out.
Articles written by Clay Cook
It all started with a conversation between filmmaker Justin Gustavision and I this past Friday. Justin works for Nadus Films who just released a brilliant award-winning documentary “BBoy For Life” which shows how break dancing has provided teenagers a way out of Guatemalan gang life. The film has been picked up by Starz and Discovery Channel, yet their social media presence could be considered dry, when it should be arousing a well-deserved tornado of hype.
During an initial meeting with local publication NFocus Magazine, the Editor-In-Chief asked for a unique aesthetic on Louisville's theater and arts community and wanted a massive group shot, but not your traditional group shot. I threw out the idea to shoot actors and their "characters" from directly overhead on a theater floor, as if they were action figures laid out and organized. Two seconds after I uttered the idea, I realized I had no clue how I would pull it all off.
I always tether. Whether it's for a client or fashion editorial, the CamRanger has played a very important role in capturing rock solid images. But, before the wonderful technology of wireless tethering came into the picture, I always tethered to a workstation. However, that came with the annoyance of a long tether cable dangling off your camera. I always felt the sense of being trapped or held back from moving freely, I was always concerned and it was always a distraction.
Whether you’re a fan of social media or not, it’s definitely here to stay and constantly evolving at lightning speed. It’s completely changed the fabric of how we (photographers) do business: from publicizing images to marketing tactics and communication, our daily life is inundated with a constant barrage of notifications and a conditioned head-down-to-phone routine. Unfortunately, if you aren't using social media to its fullest, then you may be left behind.
Zoom, focus, spray and pray. That seems to be the M.O. of many photographers who shoot runway. I admit, I was one of those photographers. The one who scours through thousands of images at the end of the night, wishing they had shot more strategically. And, after two hours of culling, flagging three images per look, they’d be lucky if only one was tack sharp. After many shows, I’d criticize my every move and would long for a time machine to do it all over again.
Getting it right in camera is one of the most important steps to achieving a great photograph, but color grading is what can really take your work to entirely new level. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find the right process and perfect combination to obtain the right look. And, over the course of my time writing for Fstoppers, I've been asked dozens of times about the coloring and process behind my imagery. Well, I've finally broken it all down in one quick tutorial.
As photographers we face challenges day in and day out, but one of the toughest facets of the job is posing our subject. Regardless of experience, when a model steps in front of your lens for the first time he or she will expect some direction. It’s up to you to give that proper guidance, otherwise your images will just come up short.
Sharpening is a mystery to many, some do it well and others don't. There are quite a few methods to sharpen an image including the use of a High Pass Filter, Unsharp Mask, Smart Sharpen and Camera Shake Removal in Adobe Photoshop CC. However, it’s similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard when I see an image that is over sharpened. I'm no saint, I'm certainly guilty of cranking Unsharp Mask, I just never found the right solution. Until now.
I've been there, standing in the middle of a field on a hot day with a scorching sun, mulling back and forth on how to capture a quality shot. In the back of my mind, I'm wishing for some cloud cover or an overcast sky to magically move in. A commercial client or art director doesn't care what time it is, they just want the right image. It’s up to you to capture that image with the weather Mother Nature has dealt.
I'm guilty. As a commercial and fashion editorial photographer as well as a writer for Fstoppers, I love lighting, bokeh, rigging, and all technicalities involved with cinematography and photography. For many months, content fell second to setup. From my experience, there are three types of photographers: those that confide in instinct and sunlight, those that rely on post processing, and those that excel at artificial lighting and formalities.
Creative clients and photographers love shooting on white. Whether it be seamless paper, foam core board or a cyclorama wall. I’m not sure if it’s the simplicity and absence of color or it just creates such clear contrast for eye popping subject matter. Yes, it's versatile and can go dark with less fall off but frankly, I've always found white somewhat boring.
Some may say it’s quite the phenomenon. I only shoot commercial and editorial fashion and I seem to make a living out of it without shooting weddings, families, babies or seniors. I don’t live in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles and I don’t travel like George Clooney in the film “Up In The Air.” The number one question I’m asked on a daily basis: “Clay, how do I get more paying clients?”
Day in and day out I see images that raise the question; what is the photographer truly trying to convey in the photograph? In fashion photography, editorial story-telling is commonplace, but you must have a strong foundation for that to manifest properly in your image. Forget the lighting, focus or pose, first you need to question the frame.
Compositing is no beginner’s tactic. Before you dive in, provide time for the proper research and learn the skill set to prior to the job. Like many photographers in the game, initially I had serious trouble with lighting groups of 3 or more. There was always a face with a hard shadow or one more exposed than another.
Photographers and artists alike are extremely passionate people. With strict deadlines and hectic schedules, we all have the tendency to jump the gun and act or open our mouth before taking a step back from the situation. There is one word which you will be hearing a lot throughout this article. It is a trait at the core of what we do and it’s very much a necessary virtue: patience.
When I first picked up a DSLR and got a taste of artificial lighting, I loved shooting in darkness. I felt like I could control light a lot easier without having to fight the ambiance of a location or sun. Using an array of speedlights, I would light the location and subject how I wanted. Sometimes, that included putting speedlights in lamps or mounting them in the background. Eventually, that style took a sharp 180 degree turn, now I love using natural light in my favor to create a dramatic portrait.