How would you describe your style?
That’s so difficult to say, to be honest. Mostly because I still feel very curious about photography and how I want to express myself with it. My style can be pretty fluid. The last few months, for instance, the weather in New York has been bleary and dark and cold, and I think some of my photograph is starting to reflect that — really dim black and white portraits, long exposures with blurred-out faces, cooler tones/white balance. Whereas back in Texas and during the summer months here, I opted for rosy-hazed, warm portraits.
In a nutshell, I’d say my style leans toward trendy/cool portraits with just a tinge of street style.
How did you get started with photography?
I’ve always been a photographer but never took it seriously until maybe 2009 or so when I began experimenting with time lapse videos with thousands of frames compiled, mostly of parties and things of that sort. Growing up I’d take a disposable camera to school all of the time to take pictures of friends sitting together at lunch or of pretty girls I knew, edit those photos and give them prints afterward. I think my parents were a bit upset at one point I was spending so much of my allowance money on making prints for people, hahaha. And at one point the 35mm Olympus camera I used, which belonged to my mom, broke while in my backpack. When I became unreasonably sad about that, I knew that photography wasn’t just a hobby. It was something that I was stuck with, for better or worse, for the rest of my life.
11th grade — my insanely cool physics teacher saw me playing around with a small digital point and shoot I used pretty much every day. He walked over to a cabinet underneath the back row of lab tables and pulled out an old leather camera bag with a Polaroid Land Camera and a few packs of film and told me to go wild with it. I held onto that camera for a few weeks, taking some really amazing photos at parties and on the nearby beach. That was pretty significant for me, in retrospect. I bought a Polaroid camera soon after that.
I think the final push was my senior year in college. I sought out a film camera that could do more than just the Holga I had been messing around with for a few months. My photographer friend Caleb told me I should buy his Mamiya. So I did. I bought a Mamiya 645 with an 80mm f/1.9 lens and even now it’s still my favorite camera to use.
What do you think contributed most to becoming the photographer you are today?
I think a never-ending sense of curiosity would be the most important factor in becoming a photographer, for myself at least. When I see a photo I really like, I don’t *just* enjoy it. I have to know everything about it, really soak in the details and maybe even try to emulate it in the future.
What’s your main camera? Main lens? Why?
I’ve never owned many cameras, as much as I’d want to. Everything I do is on a budget. My main camera is still the Mamiya 645 I bought in 2010. That gorgeous 80mm f/1.9 lens I mentioned earlier broke in my hands last year and it took me a few months to save up for an 80mm f/2.8 lens. I love that camera because, besides taking breathtaking photos I can’t really get with a digital camera, it’s built like an absolute tank. A few weeks after buying it, I took a drive and didn’t realize I had left it on the roof of my car. I was devastated. Drove back to my apartment and saw it lying in the parking lot on its side. A couple of tiny scuffs but it was totally fine. Worked perfectly well. Amazing that it’s lasted me and its previous owners this long.
What interests you about portraits?
What’s more interesting than people? I love landscapes and still lifes, but there’s something to be said about the range of human emotion, expression, feeling that can be captured in a photograph. Every single face is rich with a complex history.
Where do you usually draw inspiration?
It’s difficult for me to say where I draw inspiration from because I don’t feel like it’s reflected well in my work as much as I’d like it to be, as least not yet. I think the biggest culprits would be old horror movies and the music I listen to. For a long time (and even now, still), I wanted my photos to look like the first 15 minutes of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Bohemian kids, bright buttery yellows and grainy, something a little mysterious and ominous and weird about the situation, if that makes any sense. Old movies in general are huge for me.
Actually it’d probably make more sense to say I get inspiration from old movies in general. Especially the ones I like — Jean-Luc Godard’s “Bande à part” probably influenced my black and white portraits most recently more than anything.
Sometimes I’ll hear a song and I’ll want to make a photo that goes along with it. Like if you listen to Ariel Pink’s “The Ballad of Bobby Pyn”, I always imagined myself listening to that song late at night in dirty 1970’s New York. Like it’s 4am in the morning and I’m just sitting in my car in Times Square watching a drug deal go down across the street from a neon pink-lit strip club. A few weeks ago I happened to be on the outskirts of Times Square and it was drizzling rain, late at night, and I got as close as I’ll probably ever get to making that photo I just described. Thank you, iPhone!
How do you come up with an idea for a shoot?
Up until a few months ago I pretty much always winged it. I always tell the model I’m shooting that it’s going to be very chill, almost like we’re two old friends hanging out and I just happen to have a camera. The modeling agencies I’ve been working with aren’t too keen on that sort of approach and want a little more structure, so now I try to create mood boards of what I’m going for in a shoot and try to play off the model’s approach to shooting to get something a bit more cohesive. Everything’s still very fluid during a shoot though, especially considering I only shoot with natural light and tend to shoot on location most of the time.
Do you like to plan ahead? Or go with the flow?
I definitely prefer going with the flow. The less structured and informal a shoot is, the more fun I’m having.
Where do you find models?
Friends, friends of friends or people I meet at social gatherings, Tumblr and Instagram. I don’t scout out models much anymore unless I have something very specific in mind. Like lately I’m looking for heavily freckled women and/or girls who really like pizza for a long-term project.
How do you find your locations?
I just go to places I would enjoy hanging out at, and if it happens to be photogenic, then it’s the right place to shoot at. I don’t scout out locations, really. I just think about places I’ve enjoyed spending time in myself.
Where is your favorite place to shoot?
My rooftop. I think 70% of my shoots happen up there. It has a gorgeous view of the NYC skyline and is absolutely brilliant at dusk. I’m trying to shoot less up there because it kind of constrains what you can do. Second place probably goes to Coney Island in deep south Brooklyn. Gorgeous beach with lots of dilapidated buildings, creepy amusement park rides, delicious Nathan’s hot dogs. It’s only good to go to in the dreary, dark winter or late autumn when there’s no one else there and you can truly feel isolated from the rest of the city though.
What’s your favorite lighting setup? Least favorite?
I don’t favor any lighting setup besides what I can do with natural light. I used to be a sucker for backlit photos at sunset but now I aim for much more subdued, even-lit photos.
How do you set your exposure for a shot?
Typically I aim for photos that are just a bit overexposed. So I’ll set my aperture around f/2.8 to f/4 on my Mamiya, depending on weather conditions. I always set the aperture first because depth of field is one of the biggest things I’m concerned about in a photo. Then I’ll set the aperture — usually no slower than 1/50th of a second.
During a bright evenly-lit sunset I’ll probably shoot at f/4 at 1/500th of a second on ISO 160 film. That’s ideal for me, anyway.
Do you tell models how to pose? Or let them do their own thing?
A bit of both. Like I said, I always tell models to pretend like we’re just hanging out, like we’re old buddies. It makes the atmosphere a bit more relaxed and fun. We’ll keep a conversation going and then every so often I’ll tell them to pause and “make that face again?” or “do that thing you just did with your hair again!” — that sort of thing.
Any tips for working with models?
Be kind, warm, inviting, and respectful. Play music in the background if you can (I favor Aaliyah, TLC, and old soul music for shoots — anything kind of cool, sexy and energetic). Know their boundaries and respect them. Communicate with them constantly. I can’t tell you how many models have told me they especially liked working with me because I communicated well with them. Just a few weeks ago I had a model tell me the last two photographers she shot with were completely silent during the shoot and it made things kind of creepy and awkward.
What do you think is the best advice you could give a model?
There’s a million things but the one I always mention is to get a good night’s rest before the shoot; it does wonders for your mood, face, and being on time. I can tell when you were up until 4 last night drinking tequila because it shows in your face and on your breath. Not very cute! There’s a time and place to party, but the night before a shoot isn’t one of them.
Any camera tricks you’d like to share?
Mmm… If you’re shooting with film: take a really stunning landscape/cityscape, leaving plenty of space above the horizon. Then turn your camera upside down and take another exposure on the same frame. It’ll look like two worlds layered on top of each other. Easy trick that often comes with impressive results.
What camera trick helped you out most?
Not really a trick, but learning about how focal length and aperture affects photos was the biggest hurdle for me. Learn about why the perspective with a 300mm lens looks different than the perspective with a 50mm lens. Stuff like this is especially significant when it comes to portraits.
Any advice for aspiring photographers?
This is a learning experience, and you’re going to grow exponentially once you really start to engage yourself with it. Shoot from the hip as often as you can. Shoot as much as you can afford to. Get to know every single aspect of your camera — read the manual, keep your lenses and sensors clean, treat your equipment with care and respect. Network with other photographers. Go to the Flickr page for your camera or lens and see the amazing things that are possible with the very camera you own.
What advice has helped you the most?
This quote from Jim Jarmusch
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.”
If you feel like there’s anything more to add, please walk me through the process of a regular shoot with you.
We meet an hour or two before dusk. We’ll talk about music we like, what we did that weekend, how we found each other. We start shooting about 15 minutes later, keeping things as casual as possible. As the sun starts to dip low in the sky the photos will invariably become more serious, more mysterious, mystical, sensual. We’ll be done just as the sun falls below the horizon and then we’ll probably eat pizza or drink Blue Moon on my balcony and discuss the shoot and how I plan to edit them.
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