As a photographer, my skill set is constantly put to the test. In most cases, I’m handed an idea on a slab of wood and the mission is to hand that idea translated to a tangible artifact back to my client on a silver platter. It’s never an easy process, but it’s a part of my job.
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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.
I’m always one to preach the importance of prevention and preparation before walking into a photo shoot, but there are some things you just can’t prepare for. The more you shoot the more you come to find that gear will tend to fall apart after a excessive number of uses... and abuses.
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.
Lighting isn't easy, a world-class-perfectly-lit studio portrait happens with a lot of instinct and experience. A strong grasp of lighting comes with experimentation and practice. Those that know my aesthetic know I'm a huge fan of one light photography. With that said, every image I produce I try and maintain the look of one light, even though it very well be lit with six lights. If I'm shooting for a hair, the hair needs to be well lit. If I'm shooting for makeup, the light needs to fill the face and really show detail. The same applies to product photography or fashion. I always give the client what they need, but always retain my dramatic lighting style.
I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 years as a professional artist. I’ve learned a lot about fear, failure, and success. I’ve been fortunate enough to mentor and educate thousands of photographers all over the world. Even as a young four-year photographer who many would still consider “green,” I’ve taught photographers from all walks of life, all levels of advancement, and even some who had reached a level of comfortable success.
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.
I have only been shooting photography for a little over 3 years now. Things have progressed so quickly during that period of time that I haven't really had the chance to look back at the evolution of my photography. I had to think thing long and hard about the investments I have made over the 3 years and the things that really changed the game for me.
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?”
I’ve always been enthralled with first person movie scenes, games and music videos. Clocking countless hours with Duke Nukem 3D in my parent’s basement on an old Packard Bell PC planted a seed that forever changed me. To this day I think The Prodigy's breakbeat electronic hit “Smack My Bitch Up” is one of the greatest first person videos of all time.
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.
If you’ve shot in any studio, then you know the rules. Larger studios may require the use of protective booties on a freshly painted cyc wall or some practice the unsaid "no shoes" rule when stepping onto background paper. But, unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen and if the subject is jumping or moving look after look that background is going to get dirty. We all know the pain of re-touching that dirt.
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.
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.
Throughout my career so far I have failed over and over again. Although it’s the successes that I'm remembered and known for, it’s the failures that are always the catalyst. At the end of the day, the key to success lies in failure. This improvisational beauty shoot was only a success because I set myself up to fail.