Photography Month continues here on the ADC Blog, a chance to showcase the shutterbugs within the ADC community, sharing both their work and their stories. Photographers aren’t the biggest segment of creatives amongst ADC Members, but their passion more than makes up for their numbers. Whether they’re veterans with years of experience, newcomers just starting to make a living, or just people who love to shoot on the side.
For our next featured ADC Member, we head south down to Miami, and a professional photographer who intimately knows that his craft is as much business as it is pleasure.
How old were you when you became interested in photography? How did that interest come about, and how was it fostered?
I first became interested in photography when I was 9, using my dad’s point and shoot camera on family vacations. I always had a knack for tech, and since cameras are covered with buttons I wanted to know what they all did. My father was the first to notice that I had an affinity for pictures; it runs in the family, and he was paying attention. I’m one of many in my family to have picked up a camera, and not the first to do so professionally…(although I didn’t know that at the time.) My uncle is an award-winning filmmaker, my father studied and worked in photography in New York for a time, my grandfather was a scientist and his dad removed the roof from a house to let the light in and make it a studio.
Do you remember the earliest photograph you ever took that moved you?
I don’t remember the first picture I took, but I always had access to a camera and unlimited film. Back then my father had a health food store in a mall in Puerto Rico and there was a photo lab right across the hall. Eventually I became a regular, picking up / dropping off film and asking the employees lots of questions about everything photography. By the time I was 11, I had already commandeered my mother’s Nikon EM, a semi-manual prosumer camera that was aperture-priority only with manual focus. When I was in the 7th grade, I approached some seniors (my school was 6th – 12th grade) who were on the yearbook staff and I was allowed to join them because they didn’t have pictures of the kids in 6th-8th grades.
What type of photography would you say is your specialty, and how did it come to be your specialty? Can one be transient — starting in one area of photography but evolving into another?
My specialty is making images that are graphic and clean. I like symmetry, organized composition and balance. I like all lines to be organized and leveled, and negative space is my friend. As for genre, lately I’m shooting a lot of food. Everyone in my family is a foodie, starting with my dad who’s a chef and restaurateur, so it seemed like a natural fit. That being said, I really enjoy portraiture, travel and black and white photography so I continue to shoot that on a regular basis.
In this business, it’s frowned upon to be a jack-of-all-trades, and I understand why. That said, I think it’s important to be flexible. I believe it makes you a better photographer. Many of us start by shooting anything and everything. Most of it is garbage, but it makes you who you become. When we abandon that curiosity, we deviate from what got us here in the first place. Basically, don’t drink too much of your own Kool-Aid. I’ve shot everything, and the things I enjoyed the least (like weddings) were things that made me better. Weddings and events in particular are good training because 1) the moment is never happening again and 2) you have to get the shot. As Neale Donald Walsch said “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.
“Many of us start by shooting anything and everything. Most of it is garbage, but it makes you who you become. When we abandon that curiosity, we deviate from what got us here in the first place.”
Define your photographic style in a single sentence.
I have a rabid — albeit undiagnosed — case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for symmetry!
What’s your favorite camera to shoot with? What’s so awesome about it?
The best camera is the one you have on you. Ansel Adams once said, “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!” Of course, there are tools that allow you to execute your vision better than others, and knowing how to use the myriad of tools is important…but sometimes this gets in the way of learning how to use the most important tool of all, your eye.
I currently shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III, but if you have a trained eye, the make and model are largely irrelevant. Look what Apple did with the “Shot on iPhone 6” print and outdoor campaign, which features real photos taken by real iPhone 6 users that Apple found online and loved enough to print on billboards worldwide.
What is the hardest part about making a living as a photographer? Any advice on how to overcome that challenge?
Manage your downtime. It’s easy to do what you do when you have to do it. Client calls, you go shoot it and then go home. But what do you do when the phone isn’t ringing? Are you working on personal projects? Are you getting in touch with art directors and producers? Are you getting better at running a company? Are you making the best use of your time or did you waste your day? Running a photography business is 90% business acumen and 10% photography skills. Anyone with proper training can take good pictures, but not everyone is made to be an entrepreneur. Know thyself and embrace paradox.
“Running a photography business is 90% business acumen and 10% photography skills. Anyone with proper training can take good pictures, but not everyone is made to be an entrepreneur.”
Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?
My personal black and whites are my pride and joy. If photos were children, these would be my firstborn. This is my main project and will always be there. Like children, this project will continue to grow and eventually become its own person. All I can do is feed it and foster its growth in the hopes that it’ll grow up to be big, strong and healthy. For me, this means traveling and keeping that wanderlust spirit alive. I travel at least 2-3 times a year. This year we have two big trips booked…Colombia and Southeast Asia for a month.
What would be your dream client/project/collaboration?
A National Geographic cover would be a ‘drop the mic’ moment. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing than shooting a National Geographic cover because I was given a subscription to the magazine when I was very young, and I hold them up on a pedestal. They’re my unicorn, except they’re real. I’d like to think that my curiosity, passion for nature and love for exploration would make me a good fit for them.
Nowadays everyone has ‘cameras’ in their pockets and Instagram on their phones. How has this changed the photography game? How has this changed your photography game?
I think it’s great! My language is photography and now more and more people are using that language to communicate. The more people that speak my language the better off the industry at large will be. Back when video started to become more prevalent, the suspicion was that it would kill photography. I wasn’t so sure, and sure enough, photography today is stronger and better than it has ever been. Pardon the cliché, but a picture is still worth a thousand words, and brands have taken notice by pouring tons of money into social media campaigns. Personally I’m still shooting the same things I would be without Instagram, except now I have another channel to share images through.
“…photography today is stronger and better than it has ever been. Pardon the cliché, but a picture is still worth a thousand words…”
“So, you’re a photographer?” What’s the strangest question you’ve received when someone learned what you do?
It’s not so much the questions, it’s really the comments I hear. People often say things like “You’re so lucky…you must see a lot of naked chicks.” I find that most people assume that a photographer’s job begins and ends with the click of a button…and that our profession is glamorous and sweat-free. Unfortunately, this job isn’t as glamorous as it seems on TV.
What are your other creative outlets and sources of inspiration?
I like to cook. Sometimes you have a recipe and other times, out of necessity, you’re inventing with whatever is in the fridge. There are parallels to commercial photography in the kitchen. Sometimes the client has a strict shot list and tight control on the elements in the frame, and in other cases I’m given freedom to improvise and “whip something up” with what’s in the fridge. I also have a lot of fun plating a dish in creative ways and also how you set the plate on the table. In many ways it’s just like making a painting, except with food. I’m also a bit of nerd so I love watching nature and science documentaries; they feed the dreamer inside of me. My favorite is “Baraka”, a cinematic world-tour that every human needs to see.
Fill in the blank: “When I’m not shooting, I am…”
…I am still working. Usually editing, making calls, emailing, quoting, invoicing, delivering files, upgrading computers, backing up my archive, organizing gear, networking, and the same thing we do every night Pinky, plotting to take over the world! There’s always a bigger fish that wants to take what’s mine and that motivates me to stay on top of my game. When I’m not working, I’m cooking, traveling, eating, mountain biking, eating some more, watching movies and spending time outdoors with my wife.”
Which professional photographers do you look up to, whether from afar or as mentors?
Currently I’m paying a lot of attention to Rodger Hostetler’s still life work. I also just found out about Kenji Aoki, and I’m blown away by his stuff too. I save screenshots of anything I find inspiring and organize them all into an “Ideas” folder with a ton of subfolders (here’s the OCD I had mentioned earlier).
Another endless source of photographic and life inspiration is Warren Richardson, a self-taught photojournalist, former Aussie sniper, and most recent winner of the World Press Photo of the Year. He’s absolutely insane. He’s a close friend and an inspiration for reminding myself to be compassionate. It’s easy to lose that when you grow up and live in an aggressive city like Miami. It’s also important to mention my commercial photographer friends that in one way or another help me every single day. Whether it’s fighting alongside me in the trenches, consulting them before bidding on complicated jobs, curating my portfolio, helping me produce shoots, patting me on the back or ripping me apart… these are the ones that have really helped me the most.
When all is said and done, what is it about being a photographer that gets you up in the morning and drives your passion?
I love creating images that nobody has ever seen before. Sometimes it’s of things we’ve never seen but other times it’s of the common and mundane. I get a real thrill from showing a new perspective. But what I really love is collaborating with creative/art directors to make an idea come to life as a team. Photographers are often solitary creatures, creating images in a vacuum in the beginning of their careers. Some of us make the jump into the commercial space and then everything changes. We begin to work with large crews where there are many people higher up on the food chain than you, and everyone has their own unique vision for the project. This process alone is an art, and it’s exciting to see everyone work towards a common goal to make something that’s not only esthetically valuable but also commercially. In the end, we become so much more than just photographers…we’re problem solvers, businessmen (and women), creators and bridge builders.
Photography Month takes place throughout March, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!