Andrew Faulk interviewed by Simon Slater for Busan Haps magazine.
Read the full interview about my creative process and artistic outlook as well as my thoughts on stealing ideas here.
More Photography Tips and Inspiration
On The Move
The gig is up. For one reason or another, it is literally time to move on.
If you are like me, you are not the kind of person who can spend a lifetime in one place. A new patch of grass is seldom greener but it is new. In the past fifteen years, I have lived in the mountains of North Carolina, in the historic sections of Prague, in the suburbs of Seoul and in the bustle of Tokyo. Every few years an internal alarm sounds and lets me know that it is time to go.
I am a bit of a nomad. This doesn't mean that I don't experience great amounts of stress and anxiety each time I move. Of course moving is something we all do with hesitation. The task of packing up and shipping your life to a new location is nerve racking to say the least. As a portrait photographer my stress is compounded. Even the thought of moving to a new city makes my mind spin.
Why is moving so daunting for portrait photographers?
Let's get specific.
- Your Client List Disappears
In the song Leaving On A Jet Plane, John Denver wrote about a man ready to ramble on. This lad is holding on to the notion that his lover might actually wait for him while he is gone. Now lets suppose you, a professional photographer, are the subject with your bags packed and ready to go. For giggles lets pretend that your clients are the lover being left behind. Do you think, even for second, that your clients are going to wait for you while you are gone? Hell no they aren't. They might smile for you and kiss you goodbye. But trust me, they will let you go and find a new photographer to serve their needs.
Don't believe me? The proof continues to roll into my inbox. Here is a message I got just last night.
More often than not, portrait photographers lose most (if not all) of their clients when they move. Unless you are a regular Annie Leibovitz, your client base is location specific. For most of us, setting up shop in a new locale turns our multipage client list into a tabula rasa. Those who paid the bills over the past years have to find a new photographer and you... Well, you are left with pleasant memories and blinding white space on your client roster.
- Local Search is Decimated
Photographers don't work for years to reach the first page of Google for nothing. To rank highly in local search rankings equates to a steady stream of clients. If you move, the countless hours behind your console devoted to achieving locale search engine steam will seem worthless.
- Your Network is Gone
You have cultivated relationships that are just as valuable as clients. Your network is that extended group of people with similar interests. You interact and remain in contact for mutual assistance and support (You know, those "preferred vendors" and your buddy that works at the regional magazine). You will still know them personally, but their value as part of your network has significantly decreased.
Perhaps more devastating than losing a network is losing a team. Behind every successful photographer is a solid team of carefully selected makeup and hair artists, production managers, stylists and photographer's assistants. Your team are those who provide you with a sounding board, who help you reason, who make you a better photographer. This core group of professionals is the oil in your machine. While you will still be able to connect with your team virtually, they will more likely appear in your Facebook feed than by your side. That fact is a gut punch.
Let's get real.
You crafted that client list. You worked for the search ranking positions. You built the network. If you move, you will likely lose it all.
Yes. A photographer on the move has large obstacles along their path. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't pack your gear and head to new pastures. Quite the opposite. You can rebuild. If you did it once, you can do it twice. The chance for a fresh start is worth the time and energy it takes to rebuild your photographic empire. After all, the move itself can be just the spark you need to take your creative practice to the next level. Luckily, there are ways to soften the blow of the move so that your business and mental state doesn't flounder.
The following action steps should be considered as you plan your move and transition to a new location
Before The Move
There are countless positive aspects of moving to be excited about but before getting lost in a daydream or looking too far into the future, it is wise to spend some mental energy in the present. Prior to your move, take stock of your current situation by being completely honest with yourself. Think deeply about your current practices as a portrait photographer. What is working? What isn't? Strip all of the b.s. away and touch base with who you really are as a photographer and business owner.
Use these questions as a guide:
2) The Web
The internet brings the world into our living rooms. Most of the information you could ever want or need about your new location can be accessed within seconds. Take full advantage of this resource before you take the leap from your current base of operations. You should find out as much information as you can so that you can make informed decisions moving forward.
Here is a sample of questions I wanted answered:
- What does the market look like?
- Is my niche market saturated?
- What is the going rate for various kinds of portrait sessions?
- What marketing strategies are other professionals using?
- What are types of portrait sessions are being offered?
- Is there any information on shoot locations I can easily access?
- What are the laws regarding photography in the municipality?
- Does anyone in my extended network operate in the area?
- Are there groups of photographers who meet regularly?
- Are there studio rentals available and, if so, at what rate?
If you want to see yourself high in search engine rankings, you have some work to do. Starting the necessary work prior to your move will open up the time for other tasks when you actually do step foot in your new digs. Naturally, your own photography website is the first place to start.
Since you have taken the time to reflect about your photography and your business (See #1 above), apply your discoveries to your website. Does your current portfolio reflect the work that you would like to undertake in your new home? Is your "About" page representative of you as a photographer? Look at your website holistically and as objectively as possible. Identify the changes and make the modifications.
Once you have reworked your website into a tool that best represents you, it is time to invest energy into what really matters on a website. As you know, It takes more than a few keywords on a webpage to reach page one. Headers, footers and metadescriptions should all be changed to reflect your new location. However, those items are just beginning of the work.
In a world where content remains king (at least for search engines), a big slice of your time should be spent preparing content. Go ahead and outline (or better yet write) content for the coming months. It is this content that will propel you in rankings.
(As you work, keep in mind that cheap tricks and " black hat" SEO tactics just won't do. The results won't serve you in the longterm and there is a very high chance that Google will penalize any attempt at beating their algorithm. Instead, employ ethical SEO practices for photographers. It is better to put in the hours and do the work properly than to climb out of a hole with Google.)
Changing your current location on your Instagram and Facebook pages will just be a drop of honey in an ocean of vinegar. However, your social media accounts remain valuable tools. Without exception, you will have company in your new location, other photographers already making a name for themselves. Sure, these industry professionals could be seen as competition. I prefer to think of fellow photographers as colleagues.
In my article Collaboration - 8 Ways To Work With Other Photographers, I outline how photographers can work together to collectively support each other while individually developing their own artistic craft. But to collaborate you have to engage. Spend some time introducing yourself to other photographers and photography groups via social media. Be polite, honest and, of course, remember that first impressions leave a lasting impact. I have found that photographers are eager to make new friends and to welcome new members into their group and these connections may very well be the beginning of a network,
After The Move
I get it. It is difficult to think about finding new business associates and a solid creative team when you don't even know where the grocery store is. Moreover, networks should not be contrived. They should be organic. These new relationships should come stem from camaraderie and be built upon mutual respect. But, you have to start somewhere. You have to start with "hello."
For me, the easiest place to begin was with social media. I had already made the first move by introducing myself (see #2 above). So, I followed up with a few of those preliminary connections. I extended an olive branch and invited a fellow photographer for a drink.
At first it will feel a bit like blind dating. Thats okay. If 22% of actual romances start online, surely you can find a mate or two to talk photography with. I urge you to brave. Invite a fellow photographer or creative out for a coffee. What's the worst that can happen? Sure enough, you will click with someone and that someone will become a contact, acquaintance or even a friend.
When you are feeling bold, take it one step further. Go on a photowalk or attend a local photography meet up. Photography clubs and meet-ups are a great way to connect with like-minded people. You already know you have something in common with every attendee. Look at the meet-up like speed dating except with Canons and Nikons instead of bottles of water and a bell.
Do you want to get freaking crazy (insane for those who, like me, are very weary and overwhelmed by unfamiliar social situations). Drop by the offices of a local publication. Even the smallest city has a magazine or newspaper. Whether it is your city's version of Time Out or the mom-and-pop outfit that prints classifieds, stop by and introduce yourself.
The more willing you are to put yourself out there, the quicker you will rebuild the network you once enjoyed.
These days, to be "on the hustle" means to do anything necessary to make money. I like to think of hustling in a more traditional way.
Among his many other adages, my father said, "There will always be someone better. Just make sure they don't out work you." Dad was right. For me, the photographer's hustle is simply good ole fashion hard work. While you slowly rebuild your network and earn paying contracts, there are many, many things to do.
Alan Watts said, "plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." If you can adopt this attitude about your move, your transition will serve you well. Be grateful that you have the opportunity and initiative to make the leap into the unknown. Work hard and be brave. Happy moving.
A couple years ago, I was asked by PIK Magazine to submit an article on a photography related topic. Having free choice, I decided to write a brief piece on branding and how photographers should reconsider the need to pigeonhole themselves early on in their career.
It is very interesting to look back and see where I was as a photographer when I penned this article. While my thoughts on branding and developing a photographic style have evolved over time (more on that later), I think many of my points in The Brand of No Brand are still valid and noteworthy to aspiring professional photographers.
The Brand of No Brand
Before going to university, I had a conversation with my parents about the fundamental aspects of change. Leaving home, my parents explained, was an opportunity to mold and craft a new identity. In a new environment, the preacher’s son can dye his hair pink. Nickolas can decide he wants to be called Beau. The loose girl can become a prude. Sally can decide to stop hiding her inner nerd. The bully can correct their ways. With fresh surroundings, we are no longer confined to geographic norms or bound by parental expectation.
The conversation with my parents struck me as odd. Personally, college was not a unique opportunity to develop a fresh identity. Seemingly, my inner landscape work took place frequently and I did not need a massive life change such as a move to a university to rethink my identity. To continually modify myself was not an identity crisis but was a set of identity trials that occurred both randomly and repeatedly.
My alterations were not the “change” that my parents were speaking of. It is one thing to foster an inward identity and another to project an identity outwardly. The way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us are two separate and independent things.
My parents were not speaking to change but to the creation of a unique, personal brand, an image that we intentionally project. It is this contrived image that we want others to consume and conjure when hearing our name.
The photographic community talks a lot about branding. There is little difference between branding ourselves as photographers and the branding that we engaged in during our formative years. Knowingly or not, when we share our images we are branding ourselves. This fact is one that we should remain conscious of. But our personal branding begins well before we upload our images to 500px, Flickr, Facebook or our websites.
For years now, I have personally branded myself as a photographer. Wanting others to guzzle this up, I projected the image of a photographer by talking shop, carrying a camera around and actually producing images. Others slowly began to recognize me as an image-maker. Now that I am successfully labeled as a photographer, the blogs, websites and photo gurus tell me it is time to hone my brand so that I can compete with other photographers.
From the start, many photographers wish to develop a consistent style. This is well and good, especially if those professionals rely upon photography for their bread and butter. While I have great respect for those who choose to brand themselves, I do question the importance of branding for those without professional aspirations.
What happens when we affix ourselves to a certain brand? Is there a consequence when our personal interests as photographers change? Will we discover ourselves sunken so deep into our own branding that we cannot change our .com address or our processing mixology? Moreover, will our brands be so established (or engrained) that we cannot allow our fluctuating moods to come through in our images?
The importance of professional branding rests solely in our objectives as photographers. The minutia of the brand directly relates to our aspirations in the field. Yet, branding is irrelevant in relation to the quality of our images.
When it comes to my own work, there are no prescriptions. I do not usually have a vision of a product when I leave for a shoot. I process according to how I feel at that given moment. I try or steal others’ techniques. Obviously, this is just another example of an identity trial. Considering this, how could I actually brand myself as a certain type of photographer?
If I cannot find a style or genre that continually captures my attention, why should I engage in the hard and active work of branding? Artists evolve and what we show today that “represents us,” will be merely be that... today’s version of us.
What is important is that we are happy behind the lens. The best brand is for us to be ourselves. If we love our work, it doesn’t matter what our logo font looks like. It doesn’t matter if there is no common thread or apparent style in the photographs we create. It doesn’t matter how many humans (or cyber bots) “like” our images.
Considering this, it seems that the inner work I need to do is to concentrate on making images that make me happy instead of projecting a brand that will, more than likely, not suit me in a fortnight. Seeing that I constantly change, I am hereby adopting the brand of no-brand (for now).
This article was originally published in PIK Magazine
What are your thoughts on branding? I would love to hear your reactions in the comments section below.
Content You Will Enjoy
It is rare to find a career creative who doesn't cultivate a social media presence. Facebook. Twitter. Something. Love it or hate it, the fact remains that a large portion of time is spent using social media to expand our creative reach and photography business.
Our time on social media doesn't stop after we make a post. We scroll the feeds of our friends and family and, just as often, we follow the famous. But why do we follow? Is it because we truly care about what others have to say? Do we follow along because it gives us a sense of kinship with celebrities?
There is another, more specific reason to follow. Like other forms of social media, Twitter can be a learning tool.
Like any widely popular industry, the business of photography has its own stars. Paying careful attention to the industry's heavy hitters provides a wealth of information pertinent to photographers. Identifying and analyzing the social media idiosyncrasies of our professional heroes can help us glean industry insight and allow us to have a snapshot of the creative well that famous photographers draw from.
Who do your favorite photographers follow on Twitter? What brain juice do they feed upon as they scroll, scroll, scroll?
Here is a look at some of today's most influencial shutterbugs and who they follow on Twitter.
David Hobby is a veteran photojournalist. Now, as a photography instructor, he has devoted his time to helping amateur photographers understand light. As the creator of the Strobist, Hobby maintains a blog dedicated to the craft of lighting.
Peruivan Mario Testino has been churning out quality work for nearly four decades. As one of the world's most influential portrait photographers he works with models, celebrities and even royalty. His fashion work has been featured over and over again in the three V's (Vogue, V Magazine and Vanity Fair). Testino's work doesn't stop there. He remains active as a creative director, editor and museum founder.
Pennsylvania native and Temple University graduate Brooke Shaden is an amazing portrait artist. Starting with self portraiture, Shaden's painterly techniques have brought her a great deal of acclaim in recent years. Her exhibition list is already an arm's length long and is proof of her hard work and determination as an artist.
Chase Jarvis goes hard with everything he does. He is a photographer, videographer and entrepreneur. For years Chase has been an outspoken champion of creativity, inspiring artists of all kinds to tap into their inner flow. As the founder of Creative Live, Jarvis continues to promote teamwork, community and collaboration.
Though she was born in the late 80's, Zhang Jingna has done more in her three decades than most achieve in a lifetime. A former air rifle shooting champion, Jingna dropped out of LaSalle College of the Arts. Yet, it wasn't long before the young photographer was shooting for Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar. She is currently producing Motherland Chronicles, a highly anticipated, fantasy artbook project.
With over 100 editorial assignments shot for the New York Times, Mott consistently delivers editorial eye candy for major publications. His commercial clients are some of the most recognizable brands in the world. Shooting any assignment with confidence, Justin is one of the industry's most versatile photographers. He also happens to be the resident pro on History Channel's Photo FaceOff.
With over a quarter century of experience, Los Angeles based Sue Bryce is an award winning portrait photographer. Because of her exquisite style and uncanny ability to make women look and feel beautiful, she is also a sought after speaker and teacher of photography. As a Canon Explorer of Light, Sue hits the road to help aspiring professionals realize their potential.
If you own your own gallery, you are a force. By this definition, Rankin is one to be reckoned with. With covers for Elle, Esquire, GQ and Rolling Stone, Rankin isn't exactly in need of a resume boost. He has published over thirty books and continues to create editorial and advertising campaigns for major brands like Nike and Swatch. He is the cofounder of Dazed and Confused and AnOther magazine. Rankin is actively involved with Women's Aid and Break Through Breast Cancer and has worked with OXFAM in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Basically, the guy is a boss.
Florida boy Scott Kelby is the founder and President of KelbyOne, editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine and host of weekly photography talk show The Grid. He is a best selling author with dozen of titles penned. But don't let his impressive resume fool you. Scott Kelby is a regular human who publicly admits that he loves romantic comedies.
If you didn't hear her distinct British accent, there would be no reason to assume that Lara Jade was not from New York City. Everything about this girl screams fashion. Her work has been featured in Elle Singapore, Hello! Fashion and Harrods. Ms. Jade is also a heavy hitter in the commercial world with clients such as Sony on her list. But her work in the industry doesn't stop when she puts her camera down. Lara hosts portraiture workshops for aspiring professional photographers all across the world.
Annie Leibovitz is a world renown portrait artist. As a staff photographer for Rolling Stone, she honed her style by documenting the music industry's most celebrated musicians. Having created some of the most iconic celebrity portraits of the 2oth century, Annie doesn't need much of an introduction.
What do they have in common?
Stepping back, I can identify four common trends among the photographers I choose to follow. Largely, they are:
1) Invested In Peers
Largely, these photographers want to see the work, news and opinions of their colleagues, This trend shows the power of networking and confirms that no man is an island.
2) Invested In Products
Famous shutterbugs are invested in the products they use. It doesn't matter if it is lighting equipment or editing software, these shooters are keenly aware of what products are available to get the job done.
3) Invested In Clients
These photographers follow their clients. Not only do they have a professional relationship, they keep their clients close on social media.
4) Invested In Themselves
Like anyone else, famous photographers are multi-faceted and complex. They are multidimensional, full of interests unrelated to the photography industry. They are curious and interested in more than just their job and feed their minds with a magnitude of creative sources. Who they follow reflects a desire for self growth.
Judy Garland said, "Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of somebody else." She was right. You can take as many photos of Afghani girls with green eyes as you like. But you will never be Steve McCurry. Sign up for every Creative Live class out there. You won't metamorphisize into Chase Jarvis.
Following the exact footsteps of a famous photographer will, at best, turn you into a second rate version of one of your idols. But that doesn't mean that you cannot learn from their social media habits. Pay close attention to our industry leaders and you will be led to valuable new resources, techniques and inspiration.
Just make sure you get off of social media long enough to apply what you have learned to your own photography craft.
Who or what do you follow on Twitter? Why? I would love to hear about it in the comments section!
Needed: Fuji X-T1 Grip
As a photographer in Tokyo, it is essential to have a walkabout camera. With crowded sidewalks and trains, there is no space in this city for excessive gear. Space aside, I don't have the desire or the physical strength to shlep my full frame kit across Tokyo day after day. As a photographer on the go, I chose Fujifilm's X-T1 and Fujinon glass as my everyday, around-the-city kit.
I love almost everything about the Fuji X-T1. It is nearly perfect for everyday use. Yet, the one central characteristic that I don't love about the camera body is oddly what makes it so appealing. It is just too small. Since recurring strain injuries are very common among photographers, it is hard for me to see how even a photographer with small hands can use any camera in the X-Series line without doing permanent damage.
To make the X-T1 into the ideal camera, I needed a grip that was ergonomically sound and that wouldn't break the bank. After researching my options, I decided on J.B. Camera Designs' Fuji grip, a model that is economically feasible and artistically crafted.
The Perfect Fuji X-T1 Grip
J.B. Moore, owner of J.B. Camera Designs, has an intense love for photography. He also happens to be a skilled woodworker. The combination of these two passions makes Moore the perfect designer to craft and build artisan grips for mirrorless cameras.
Conscious of highly sustainable and renewable resources, J.B. Designs makes a line of grips out of bamboo, one of the most sustainable and renewable resources on earth. Sustainability is key. But, the material choice is also a smart due to its weight. Being light, the grip doesn't add any significant weight into your camera bag.
Though the grip is lightweight, bamboo is incredibly durable. In fact, this grip is built to spill. J.B. Designs is so confident in their product that they provide a full warranty with every model. The manufacture's confidence in the product makes photographers, in turn, trust the product. Each and every time I pull my Fuji out of the bag, I am not worried about the grip casing.
Considering functionality, the grip adds significant bulk to the X-T1. With the extra inch in front of the camera, my sausage fingers are now less likely to press mode and function buttons on the back or the front of the X-T1. More significant is the way the grip allows me to interact with the Fuji body. The product's natural bamboo texture just feels good in my hands. I have loosened my grip and now the X-T1 fits comfortably in my hands. Finally, I no longer feel like my camera is going to fall as I shoot.
The handcrafted grip has a unique look that compliments the classic Fuji black. The contrast between the warm toned bamboo and the dark metal of the Fuji X-T1 body is striking.
Arriving in a custom printed recyclable bag, the JB Camera Designs Fuji X-T1 grip is appropriately priced (under a hundred dollars) and can be ordered directly from Amazon.
Fuji X-T1 users who are having trouble keeping hold of their camera should treat themselves to this grip today.
Long before I was a photographer in Tokyo, I was an amateur hunting for my own style in Seoul. I spent many late nights scouring the internet looking for inspiration. New to the addiction of photography, I wanted to see it all. I found the haunting photographs made by the master Antione D'Agata and the cleverly crafted scenes of David LaChapelle. I sat mesmerized by the portraits of Sebastiao Salgado and intrigued by Nan Goldin (The list goes on and on).
What I didn't know was that my then-home Seoul had a wealth of world class photographers who I was yet to discover. As I stumbled across a Facebook group whose content was provided exclusively by Korea-based photographers, I became shocked at what tremendous talent was literally all around me. One of the photographers with the most impact was the American, John Steele.
For the next months I became very familiar with Steele's work. He seemed to shoot everything. His landscapes and cityscapes were wicked. His infrared work was so unique. The man shot street and even turned his camera on his dog, Holly. John was doing exactly what the internet says not to do. He was passionate about many photographic genres and wasn't afraid to publicly show that he wasn't going to specialize anytime soon. I looked forward to John's regular posts on social media and found myself wondering about what he would post next. I also wondered if I would ever meet the man behind the lens.
To my delight, I had the opportunity to meet John at a watering hole before a group exhibition that we both had a piece in. With numerous other personalities in the mix, I found John to be humble, intelligent and soft spoken. Though he had a radiant smile, I could tell that John wasn't a bar man. I could also tell that he wasn't a man for crowds.
After that chance meeting, I met John on several occasions. But, more often than our meetings, I heard other photographers mentioning John Steele. They spoke of the Virginian as if he was a myth, almost whispering his name. I wanted to know why.
I know that you bought a Canon Elph in 1999. Was there a photographer in any sense of the word prior to 99?
No, not at all, and there wasn’t until the last few years. Although I didn’t have a camera prior to that point, I have always been very observant about what’s going on around me, a perfectionist, and someone who knows what they like. I think all of these traits have been instrumental in shaping who I am as a photographer.
Interesting that you mention the word perfectionist as a descriptor. I find that my need to achieve the “ideal” limits me creatively in that I, at times, cultivate something akin to tunnel vision. Do you think that this trait holds you back at all with your photography or does it propel you?
I think at first it frustrated me because I didn’t really know what I was looking for. Once I started to figure that out, photography got more fun. I don’t think it’s hindered my creativity because I do like imperfections in frames but I like to be in control and know why I like those imperfections. I think the perfectionist part ties weirdly into my love for minimal subjects and compositions. Those scenes are so hard to find and everything has to be just right in those situations in order to really pull it off.
What are your first memories surrounding photography? Your first subjects?
My first memories are pretty fuzzy as the camera was just an accessory I would bring out to the convenience stores when my friends and I would go out for drinks after work in Korea. I vaguely remember enjoying taking pictures of the convenience store owner, a Mr. Kim I believe, standing next to friends of mine. Nothing substantial happened with the camera until fairly recently.
You are known for capturing beautiful sunsets. But, just as often I notice sunrise as your subject. What does a sunrise shoot day look like for you?
Depending on the time of year, I wake up at 2-3am, take Holly out for a bathroom walk and get a feel for the air and weather conditions. I look at the sky. I am not a big weather forecast or app kind of guy. If it doesn’t look so good, we come back in and sleep. But if I have a good feeling I will come back in and quickly pack. I have places that I like to visit over and over, such as Doomoolmeori. I like places that have a variety of interesting subjects and compositions and that look completely different in each season. On special weekends that I don’t have any work to do, which is almost never these days, I like to go farther from Seoul. I love Jeollannamdo, Kyungsangnamdo, anywhere, everywhere. I love the water, the ocean - minimalistic long exposures. I love the moment when the sun comes up over the horizon and the sun’s rays hit me in the face. The morning light - there is nothing like it - so clean, colorful, and energizing.
How have you cultivated the ability to wake at the hours you do?
When I first realized the importance of good light, it got much easier. The quality of light and air at sunrise is generally better for landscapes than at any other time of day as the city or town has been resting all night and has had a chance to take a deep breath.
Considering landscapes, are there times when you actively choose not to shoot a beautiful scene?
I do quite often when shooting landscapes, not so much with street or other genres of photography. With landscapes, especially when shooting film, I only take a shot if I think that it has a chance of going into my portfolio or if I have a really strong connection with the scene that I want to remember. That means that everything - the light, sky conditions, mood - has to come together at the shutter moment. I already have tens of thousands of 3 out of 5 Star images on my computer which, while valuable as learning tools for what not to do, is enough.
Do you consider yourself to be an artist? A creative?
I think that’s for other people to decide. So no, I do not.
Can you describe an experience that could have led you to put all of your gear on Craigslist?
I think just about any time I work with a model or have to use flash lighting. I do love candid shots of people out on the streets or in the countryside, and working with them to get some gesture or emotion. But whenever there is a planned setting where I have to give direction or use unnatural lighting - I am lost. I just try to think “What would old Andy Faulk do in this situation?”
Does the frustration inspire you to develop your skills with different genres or does it reinforce your desire to stick with what you know?
I have never been on the verge of giving up, and I think frustration might be too strong of a word. In those situations I am out of my comfort zone. When I am out in the wild on my own all of these creative ideas just naturally come to mind inspired by the place and environment. I think there is a lot more previsualization required in what you and other photographers do, and I truly admire that ability and am taking active steps to get more comfortable with that. It’s exciting. I don’t get frustrated much I get excited, but it’s probably because I mainly do personal work instead of client work so maybe I am freer to explore and take chances without having to show that work to anyone.
Anyone who has followed your work has seen your use of infrared. As you describe on your website, the techniques involved with infrared are quite interesting. How did you stumble upon and fall in love with infrared photography?
I was introduced and fell in love with infrared photography through the surreal work of David Keochkerian. The first time I saw it I didn’t understand it, I didn’t know what it was, I just knew I wanted to create something like that. So I spent some time learning the technique, and there is quite a bit to know to do it well. The eerie, mysterious, surreal mood really fits well with the subjects I like to shoot - water, clouds, reflections, trees, old creepy barns, houses and countryside scenes. Yea.
You regularly post pictures to social media and have amassed a large and faithful following. In all honesty, what is your motivating factor in this practice?
My motivation is to amass a large and faithful following. Haha no, I didn’t really start out with a set purpose when I started uploading pictures, other than to show the beautiful places that I’ve visited to anyone interested (mostly my mom and a couple of family members and friends at the time). When my photography started to improve a little I created a dedicated Facebook photography page about two and a half years ago and the audience started growing slowly. I never really think about whether my pictures will be popular when I upload them or not, I just upload what I think is great, and trust me that is a very, very low percentage of the total shots that I take. I still don’t know what the ultimate goal is with all of this, and I don’t really think about it much. I’m just enjoying the ride.
Your lens is frequently turned on Holly, your faithful canine travel companion. How does her companionship make you a better photographer?
Haha, the famous one. Well, I think her being around helps me to tell the story of the day or trip that we go on. Incorporating her into some of the pictures of the places we go makes it a much more enjoyable viewing experience. Additionally as anyone who knows me can attest I am not always the best at talking to people I don’t know well, and she is the best icebreaker in the world. People always want to play with her or pet her and that naturally leads to conversations and photo opportunities.
Considering time and financial capabilities moot, is there a project that you would tackle?
This is something that’s on my mind a lot. I am always trying to think of personal projects that I’d like to work on but at the same time I don’t want it to be forced. I think any kind of longitudinal project requires much passion for the subject, so without that it’s unlikely to succeed or be completed. I have a lot of respect for photographers who work on projects and have the patience to put the body together and display the results in whatever way at the end. That connection and story that they are able to tell on the subject of their calling is really something that I envy. I am not sure that I am at that point yet. I am not sure that I’ve found that one subject or series or related subjects that I’m passionate about documenting. It has been brewing in my mind for some time and I hope to get there one day.
You have extensively documented Korea. What initial drew you to the subject? What about it still keeps your interest?
It’s where I live. When I first started taking pictures it was my way to share my life and interesting things that I saw with friends and family back home. Over time, as I got more serious about photography, I gained a great appreciation for the artistic qualities of the Orient. I love lines, shapes, harmony and balance. I love finding beauty or greatness in simple subjects and people that people pass by every day without much thought and making them really stand out. I love making pictures that I feel only I could create. The grand landscapes are beautiful as well but it’s usually things that I find along the way that are most memorable to me and which end up being my favorite images. Many of the pictures included in this post fit into that category.
Is vision inherent or is it a skill that can be cultivated?
I am certainly sure that there are those that have a natural head start when it comes to creativity. I do not think that I am one of those people. My creativity has been developed through my passion. I feel that everything that I do from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep every day filters into my photography in some way.
If you weren’t clicking the shutter, how would you be spending your time?
Before photography became my full time life (4-5 years ago), I used to have a variety of activities that I enjoyed. I did a lot of road biking, a lot of hiking (which I still do), I used to have a social life. I was pretty happy then, but not like I am now. I have found what I love doing, and there is no going back.
Beyond the lens, what inspires you?
That is a tough question as these days most of my inspiration comes from photographers and learning about their techniques and what they’ve done to distinguish themselves. I am inspired by great technique and execution of any type. I am inspired by anyone who is doing what they love and is in pursuit of their dreams. It could be an athlete, a farmer, a musician, or a student of mine.
When members of Korea’s photography community speak of you, there is a veneration in their tone. You have basically hit myth status in that others perceive you to be as elusive as a snow leopard. How do you react to that?
This is the first I’ve heard of this, so I am reacting on the fly. It feels great to be honest, and the respect is wholeheartedly returned by me. Everyday I see mind-blowing work on various social media that inspires me to go out and to keep getting better, so thank you guys!
Will your photos outlive you?
Yes, without a doubt. I mean I think everyone hopes for that. I do think that I will be remembered as a photographer, but I also think it will become increasingly more unlikely for photos to outlive photographers. I don’t know, I won’t be here anymore so I can only worry about things I can control.
All photographs protected under copyright law by John Steele and are used with permission.
TIME, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and The Guardian learned long ago just how capable Justin Mott is. The award-winning photographer has a wealth of experience with press editors and on commission for organizations such as the United Nations, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and well, the United States Government. It is a wonder why it took the History Channel so long to understand that Mott is the perfect resident photographer for their reality series Photo Face-Off (PFO).
With editors begging for his work and massive commercial contracts on his plate, it is doubtful that Mott gets any sleep. Compounded by his booming wedding business and continuing stint on the "small screen" with PFO, Justin and his Mott Visuals team are cultivating the resume necessary to become a household name.
I connected with Justin to talk about competition, camaraderie and his career just as Season Two of Photo Face-Off is set to premiere.
Photo Face-Off is the only competitive reality series with photography at its core. How does the show reflect or relate to the current climate of professional photography?
To win in PFO you have to be a well rounded photographer and to make a living in photography these days you really have to be versatile.
How have you changed as a photographer since becoming Photo Face-Off's resident pro?
I definitely haven’t changed my style or who I am, but the show has reminded me how much I love the communal sharing part of photography. PFO has connected me with so many photography enthusiasts and I love talking and sharing ideas about photography. As a professional I moved away from that and the show has brought me back. In fact, I’m starting a whole website dedicated to photography tips so stay tuned.
One catch phrase for Season Two of Photo Face-Off is, “Anything for the shot.” Can you think of a specific instance in your career that exemplifies this philosophy? Is the shot the only thing that matters?
This is tricky because every situation is different. When it comes to tragedy or a sensitive topic, I try to find that balance of getting the shot and being graceful and respectful. I want to earn the space between myself and my subject.
There are moments of PFO that are relaxed, even jovial amongst the competitors. Competition aside, how does the show promote the larger photographic community?
I think when people see me lose it makes them more confident in their skills and, for them, it closes the gap between professional and amateur. What I love about the show is that it sparks a debate on what makes a good photograph. An audience will have an entirely different view on which photos should win and why. I love that dialog on and off the show.
Since the beginning of your career you have been heavily involved in photojournalism, meeting hundreds of deadlines for editors at the New York Times, Newsweek and the International Herald Tribune. You continue to prove on Photo Face-off that you work well under pressure. How does a timeline influence a photographer’s final product?
I love the pressure. It makes me feel alive as a photographer. PFO challenges are exaggerated circumstances but not too far off from some assignments. I’ve had 10 minutes with a billionaire CEO and I had to produce something special. What I do is get something safe out of the way but always leave some time to try something special.
Editorial, travel, commercial, wedding. You shoot it all yet maintain a consistent style in all of your work. Can you elaborate on your process in maintaining focus for your brand? Do you feel that your style continues to evolve as your brand continues to gain steam?
I’m really proud that my style of photography is consistent across all my brands. My roots as a photographer are in documentary and photojournalism and that’s where I learned to be a storyteller. I’ve brought that style to the commercial market and I like to think we offer our clients a
unique vision and product.
With an increasing list of high profile clients, how do you balance a client’s expectations with your personal style and aesthetic?
For every client it’s a hard balance, but if you communicate properly before the shoot it can be truly special. I am extremely proud of the visual mood we’ve created with clients such as Intercontinental Resorts because it was a collaborative process. Sometimes clients want something brand new and
sometimes they want something more safe. For every shoot it’s all about communication. Even when a client wants to play it safe, I still try to sneak in a couple more artistic shots as options and sell them on it later.
If photography is a tool to help shape human perception, how is Mott Visuals molding the way we see things?
I’m always trying to come up with new ideas in my work, not just in my style but in what I deliver to a client. Something we are doing now which is really catching on is additional to our traditional photography shoots. I’m doing “Social Media” shoots. These are typically two days of shooting only with a camera phone and only toning with Instagram. I shoot everything from the perspective of a guest and it’s more about the experience then it is about room shoot and the resort features.
You are faithfully involved with Asia’s Canon PhotoMarathons, meet with fellow photographers and have a slew of shooters under your wing at Mott Visuals. Why do you feel it is important to nurture other photographers who could one day be your competitors?
I feel competitions brings out the best in me. My closest friends are photographers in the same market and without them pushing me, I probably wouldn’t have grown as much as a photographer. I also believe in sharing business ideas because no one did that for me when I was a young photographer.
You once stated that shooting a good picture is akin to solving a problem or a puzzle. Speak to the importance of perseverance and grit in photography.
Every single assignment and every image is a puzzle you have to figure out. Where is your light source? Where do you want your subject? Where should you be? What lens? There are so many factors to a great image but i love that challenge of figuring it out and when I finally do... I absolutely love that
feeling. I know a lot of photographers who walk into an assignment, get their “go to” shot and then just leave. I like to push myself beyond that. I like to think, "What am I missing? How can I do this differently?"
If art is theft, as Picasso once said, who have you stolen from?
I don’t steal, I borrow. James Nachtwey.
If you could travel in time to give yourself, the amateur photographer, three pieces of advice, what would you say?
Learn the business side of photography right away. Get on Instagram early. Use Rogaine.
Ernst Haas claimed that, “There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” What are your limitations?
Time is my biggest limitation, I want to explore and photograph everything but I still have to run my business and set aside time for my personal life.
Check out some of Mott's stunning work below or watch Justin face the competition each Tuesday (10PM SIN/HK) only on History.
All images © Justin Mott and are used with permission.
I have cultivated an immense admiration for the art of wedding photography. To capture "the day" takes special talent. Precision, quick reflexes and technical perfection are needed to archive the most important moments in a couple's life. Any photographer with these propensities would command my respect, though they would not necessarily inspire me. Erika and Lanny of Two Mann Studios (TMS) have more than the necessary skill set. They have vision, an inherent attribute that elevates the pair from photographers to artists.
Without fail, the Manns capture stunning documentary work on the wedding day. However my interest in TMS is solidified by the shots that are captured far from the alter with a retracted zoom. TMS pairs their subjects with fitting scenery, showing other photographers (and clients alike) that there is just as much impact with wide portraiture as there is tight. To highlight a couple within a massive environmental scene proves that the Two Mann duo can perceive something larger, more Gestalt in the union of their clients.
Through TMS's blog, one can easily identify why the photographic team is, and will continue to be in high demand. Slowly scrolling their blog feels like a gallery walk, confirming that it isn't just potential clients who should pay attention to their work. Fellow photographers will truly benefit from a deep study of Erika and Lanny's ability to feature their subjects within a greater context. Even with practice, I would be surprised if other shooters could readily match the apparent vision that the Mann's possess.
Want to learn Two Mann's secrets? Study their work at Twomann.com. Better yet, learn directly from the Mann's during their Balls Out! Workshop Series.
All images are used with permission and are under copyright by Two Mann Studios.