Q&A

-Did you always want to be a professional photographer?

I did not. My dad was a photographer, and though I grew up around a dark room, I did not care to become a photographer. The irony. He is so happy to see I have become a photographer though. I was an illustrator and later took on a career as a designer and art director.

I took the plunge into photography 100 percent when someone broke into my home business and took my computers, scanners and printers along with my client database. I did not want to embark on rebuilding my business again, so I decided on a completely new career. Blessing in disguise. I now see photography as another medium for me to paint with. I paint now with light, and I do take it literally. I have always been trained to see light, I now only need to capture the depth of light and values in my portraits as opposed to drawing them on a flat non-dimensional plane.

-What words best describe your style of photography?

If I were to say one thing that constitutes my style, I would have to say it is EXPRESSION. Plain and simple. Embodying the person for just an instance in a capture is what I always strive to fulfil. My interaction with my subject is what creates my trademark style. I can have a comedian like Eddie Murphy or Eddie Griffin, and create amazing energetic honest laughter and joy, or record the stoic personality of Evander Holyfield. The personality of the individual will then dictate the style of lighting I decide to record my subjects with, to also compliment their personality. For this reason, you see a broad range of lighting styles in my work, but the common denominator is expression. Go back and choose any portfolio on my site and study the eyes. Something very special is in every portrait.

-Is there a theme or concept that runs throughout all of your work?

One theme that runs throughout my body of work is “Colour”. I have had an extensive education in colour, and I use it to convey a message, an emotion or to even manipulate the viewer’s attention. I can use it to neutralise a mood with the colour blue for instance, or I can use it to stir up chaos by using the colour yellow, which usually is used as an irritant. Most often though, I use a harmony of colour which is appropriate to the objective of the portrait, whether for commercial purposes or for classic portraits.

-What is your post-production workflow like?

I work with many agencies, publicists’ and industry clients, so my first step is image security. I create multiple copies per job on various drives for backup. I learned this the hard way. Early in my career, I was not diligent in backing up my files. On one occasion my computer hard drive stopped working and I lost 3 celebrity photo shoots. Not a good thing when you are trying to establish a solid reputation with the agencies.

After I create my backups, I then load a master folder in Lightroom. I subcategorise each wardrobe change within this master folder. Once I have the complete session, I prioritise a star rating for images the client will view. 5 Stars are the “money shots”, 4 Stars are my second choices, which the client will also view. The last rating will be a 3 Star, which is used only as backup images. The expressions might not be as strong but are still acceptable, or technical attributes might have to be reworked. In the past, I have sent my 5 Star and 4 Star ratings, and the client will ask to see more images. I then will send the gallery backup of my 3 Star images.

In Lightroom I will work with minor adjustments such as exposure, white balance, and subtle sharpening through masking. Once selections are made by the client, I will export the images to a new folder for further Photoshop adjustments. Photoshop is used for skin retouching and preparing final artwork for print. Since working as a graphic designer for many years, I use a prepress approach to adjusting skin tone values in each channel, which will guarantee accurate skin tones and proper white balance.

I really make all efforts to get everything ‘in camera.’ If I need to create a cinematic focus on my subjects, I use subtractive light by proper placement of cards and gobos. I never create vignettes in post production. The values and shading it creates are not natural and the whites will look muddy.

-What is your dream project?

My dream project has nothing to do with monetary compensation. For many years now, I have really thought about working with an association that deals with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. I saw a documentary about a family affected with this disease. It was very heart wrenching to see the struggles and the burden they carried every single day. They would only have a small glimpse of clarity or lucidity expressed by their loved ones here and there throughout the day. Most of the time they would be in a sense of ‘being lost’ because of the medications or the multiple personalities. I would like to spend time with these families and capture portraits of their loved ones. Portraits that they can identify with, even if it’s just for a fraction of a second. That is my dream project.

-You have photographed some of the biggest stars in the
world. What is this experience like?

I can’t say it’s like shooting anyone else because it’s not. I have been blessed to have photograph 9 World Champions including Muhammad Ali, and some icon personalities in the music industry as well. Their reputation normally precedes them. I either have a common knowledge of these individuals, or in doing my research, I find out how much more accomplished they really are in their field, so I always have deep respect for them as individuals and their success as well.

This though will not occupy much space in my head before or during the photo session. This approach really helps them feel at ease. The last thing they want is for me or my team invading their space. Once we meet, I do treat them as I would any other client. They really do appreciate this. Understand, they usually have everyone asking questions, expecting something of them, or invading their space. We just go over my approach to the session, what their needs are in regards to the shoot, and other minor details. They are not any different to anyone else. Some are insecure, nervous, shy, or some might have minor attitudes. It’s all okay for me. I just meet the individual in their state of mind and follow their lead. One thing that always helps though is music. Music always soothes the soul.

-How do you approach posing or directing your subject?

In regards to posing, I believe it is very beneficial for a photographer to have a working knowledge of basic poses that fall within the confines of classic portraiture. Having stated this, I do not let any specific style dictate the posing for any individual subject. It should be something that is natural which the subject can easily identify as their own. I will usually study my subject as they move around and sit in a chair without their knowledge. This gives me an indication of their natural body language and creates a less contrived portrait.

As they fall into their own body expression, I just make slight adjustments to their posing that follows a more refined structure. This can sometimes be a slight adjustment to hand placement or head tilt. Other times I let the subject completely dictate the posing. In occasions when I have gotten involved with the posting, I completely ‘loose’ the subject. Every subject is different and you need to practice enough to be able to discern which approach to take.

-What is your top technical tip?

I really have to give this one some thought, as there are so many technical tips one can apply to portraiture. I will have to say the best technical tip is one I see and apply everyday of my life. It is to study light. See how light behaves as you wake up and see it come through your blinds, how it bounces around the walls and reflects onto different surfaces. How it behaves when it is influenced by colour, whether it’d be coloured walls or how the colour of light (Kelvin) changes throughout different times of the day.

Make notes and try to emulate this for your personal work. I have been studying light since the age of five as I began to illustrate, and have not stopped since. I read books on physics to see how energy creates colour and light, and how I can apply that knowledge to my portraits. This will keep you prepared for the needs of any client you may have.

-How would you advise someone just starting out in portrait photography?

My advice to someone starting out in portrait photography is to not be limited to just photography to be an amazing photographer. A great portrait photographer will draw from many aspects outside of the confines of portraiture. You need to be a good discerner of personalities, which will involve a bit of psychology. This might mean you might have to study a few topics that deal with Non-Verbal communication. How a subject sits or moves might tell you where to start your portrait session.

Studying anatomy, for instance, will help a portrait photographer tremendously in creating well-balanced portraits and take them from the most flattering angle. Not only looking through fashion magazines but also studying the evolution of fashion will also help you identify specific periods, styles and genres, which translates into helping you become a very well-rounded portraitist.

Most photography blogs, articles, videos and books will teach you tonnes on gear, lighting, posing and specifics related to photography, but you need to think outside of the box to excel.

-What was the best career advice you were ever given?

The best career advice slightly resonates with the previous question. It’s kinda full circle and is very beneficial to any aspiring photographer. This comes from my mentor. When you start out in photography it can quickly become very overwhelming. You need to learn so much. But that is the key. It can all be learned.

My mentor was a huge technician when it involved photography. He knew ratios, lighting principles such as ‘Inverse Square Law’ and so forth, but this can all be learned. It just might take more time for some more than others. Study, study, study. In doing so, all these learned skills will help you evolve your personal vision and creativity. You see, I always thought outside of the box, but I did not have the technical skills to implement what was in my head. Now I do.

What you can’t learn from a textbook is your personal style. How you dress, how you decorate your house, or even what you don’t like. That stems from within. That is what is most important; Personal style. The faster you identify this, the quicker you are on your way to success.