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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.