"Coty Tarr is an active lifestyle photographer based in New York City," so says the not quite so lengthy bio on his website. On initial thought, one might think the concise personal description is a little off-putting, but to anyone that has ever met Coty, it is nothing if not an apt discriptor. In a world where many photographers feel the need for shameless overpromotion (not that there's anything wrong with that), Coty takes a more subtle approach, working tirelessly and letting the caliber of his images and his work ethic speak for him.
Can you tell us about yourself and your photographic background?
My name is Coty Tarr, I’m an active lifestyle photographer based in Brooklyn. I’m 26 years old and grew up in a small town just south of Pittsburgh, PA. I’m a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, have the best Pug ever, and like to ride bikes sometimes.
In 2005 I picked up my first point-and-shoot camera…and here I am, still going strong.
What got you started in photography?
As a teenager my group of friends seemed to be going on small road trips, hardly more than 4 or so hours away, all the time to get out of the house. It was the best means of adventure we could afford, and loved “being on the road.” As the family shutter bug that she is, my mom thought it’d be a great idea to get me a point-and-shoot camera for my birthday to take on my trips. She wanted me to have something to record all the good times I was having.
Fast-forward about 6 months and it was time to choose a college. I had never thought about it, but knew I really liked this whole photography thing. So, essentially I decided to wing it and enroll in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
A few months after graduating college - my girlfriend, my pug Rudy, and I packed our bags and moved to New York City. I literally had my share of 1-month’s rent and about $35 to my name – but I made ends meet by assisting and shooting my own work on any off days I had. Look Mom, I’m still here!
What kind of gear would we find in your bag?
On most occasions, I travel very light. I have a Think Tank Airport Commuter backpack that fits almost everything I need to shoot on location guerilla style around NYC with no permits. I can move around easily, with an assistant holding the light next to me.
In my left hand:
Standard light stand
22-inch beauty dish
Do you prefer strobes or natural light?
Funny, it depends on how you look at it. I actually rely on both quite a bit. Any time I’m shooting on location with a strobe, I’m almost always using the sun or natural light to compliment what I’m doing with the strobe. Often times my strobe will be my key light, while the sun is my side or rim light. This makes my shots look like they are lit by multiple strobes – while still allowing me to shoot guerilla style with only 1 strobe.
Where do you find the majority of your inspiration (both inside and outside of photography)?
My main two sources of inspiration are movies and my friends.
Early on, I quickly found myself in a trance watching movies, studying the lighting of every single scene. You can learn SO much about understanding light from cinematographers. Every movement a character makes, you see 8 different ways light falls on a person.
This is cliché, but I have surrounded myself with a great group of friends here in the industry that I am constantly learning from and inspired by. Never be too good to learn from others ahead of you in your field – or more importantly, what not to do.
What is your mental checklist before a shoot?
I’ve never left my apartment without thinking I forgot my camera and tearing my bag apart on the sidewalk. Apparently I don’t have much of one.
What is your thought process for location scouting? When shooting studio, how do you approach it differently?
I love shooting in wide-open locations with lots of light. Since I use mixed light, I have to pay special attention to how the light falls at what time of day. Beyond that – it depends a lot on the subject and the story we are trying to tell.
For in studio, I like the lighting to stay simple and strong. I try not to over-light things. Overly lit and produces images are hopefully a thing of the past.
What is your favorite thing to shoot?
Obviously almost all of my subjects are athletes or people with active lifestyles – but my absolute favorite thing is when somebody shows up motivated and WANTS to be in front of your camera. Its so much fun and always creates the best photos. It is a collaboration after all.
Can you take us though your workflow from shoot to post?
I like to think my post-production is pretty simple. As I’ve mentioned, I mostly shoot with a run-and-gun style. Doing this means I typically can’t tether to my laptop and shoot to card instead.
Once I get home, I upload everything to my hard drive and immediately import into Lightroom. This is where I do a majority of the work. Everything from narrowing down the selects to my base color adjustments.
Once I know my final selects, they then make their way into Photoshop for some clean up, dodging in burning and further color adjustments. Vwah-lah!
What do you do differently on a shoot when it's for yourself versus for a job?
Again, it all comes back to collaboration – so they are very similar to me. Whether between the subject and I on a personal shoot, or the client and I on a commissioned job, I approach it with an open mind.
What do you do on your down time?
Lately, I’ve been trying really hard to disconnect more. Sometimes you need to leave the iPhone off for a while and just cut out some of the noise. Especially in New York City, I enjoy any and all peace I can get.
I really just love sitting at home in Brooklyn, reading a book outside on my back patio space and grilling out. Its all a man needs.
What has been your most memorable moment in your career so far?
Easily shooting with Sidney Crosby for Gatorade. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Sid is obviously a very big deal to me. He’s the face of the NHL, but also one of the nicest, most selfless people on the planet. I look up to him and respect him a lot, so it meant so much to be able to work with him. Class act.
What is your favorite part of the whole process?
I love being able to do what I do as a freelancer. I get to meet so many people, and the fact that I never have the same schedule or do the same thing week in and week out means so much to me. The idea of a full time job scares me to death!
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins