Last month’s contest, Strike a Pose! sponsored by Westcott, was a huge success. It’s no surprise that the winning photos (selected by Westcott) look like they were from magazine shoots.
We wanted to highlight the winners, so we got in touch with the photographers and asked them a few questions.
First Place Winner: “Sunglasses” by Pete Springer
MPEX: It’s difficult to tell in your winning photo, “Sunglasses,” that this was actually shot in natural light. How did you achieve this “studio-like” effect?
Pete Springer: “Sunglasses” was shot in direct sunlight late in the day. I saw the wall, saw the light, had the model pose in front of the wall, and it all worked out. I’ve become a huge fan of natural light lately – even though I own six strobe lights.
You have a wild background. It seems like you didn’t plan on being a full-time professional photographer, but that different opportunities kept popping up. Can you explain how you got into photography?
The short story about how I got into photography is that I used to be a wildland firefighter. I used to shoot photos while on the front lines of wildfires and it wasn’t long before crew members started asking if they could buy photos of themselves. This was in the days of film so almost no one had a camera and 35mm film on the firelines. One season, the National Park Service purchased a series of my wildfire photos from a fire in Yosemite. That’s when I realized I should get into another career. I began to study journalism and photojournalism at a local university and interned at a local television station.
Any chance I had, I volunteered to shoot photos. Eventually got hired full-time as journalist and kept shooting photos. Multimedia projects were my specialty. I started picking up freelance photography work too.
It just sort of snowballed from there. When I started calling in sick to my day job to do photo shoots for clients, I knew it was time to become a full-time photographer.
What draws you to the commercial work that you do? It seems like a big leap from the photojournalism background that you have. Do you see these two genres overlapping in any way?
I’ve always loved being outdoors and I’ve always loved water so shooting swimwear is my favorite. Unfortunately, living in Portland, Oregon, swimwear photography jobs aren’t quite as common as I’d like.
So I also shoot a lot of catalog work, model portfolios, and fitness work.
In terms of applying photojournalism to my current work, learning to shoot news events made me a much faster shooter. I learned to get exposure and composition right on the first shot. Commercial clients appreciate efficiency so that comes in handy.
You are also teaching a class this semester at the Art Institute of Portland. Do you find that teaching affects your photography?
I’m teaching a location photography class at the Art Institute of Portland for Fall 2012 term. So far, the experience hasn’t affected my photography. Teaching that class is really a match made in heaven. I prefer to shoot outdoors with a minimum of equipment so teaching students those same skills is a blast!
What advice would you give to new photographers?
Aspiring photographers should take business classes or somehow learn the financial side of being a photographer. Shooting photos is the easy part of being a photographer. Marketing and charging appropriate fees and dealing with financial matters is a lot more involved.
Photographer Pete Springer
Second Place Winner: “Grace” by Paul Aiken
MPEX: We really admired the use of lines and curves in your photo. It was very elegant. Can you tell us how you got that shot?
Paul Aiken: As a serious fitness buff, I always look for lines with my subjects. In this case my model who is not a pro, was not very confident with her posing. So to get her to relax and have some fun, I asked her if she ever did any sports or acting and she mentioned ballet. I asked her then to just forget that I was here and start dancing. It was then that she started to open up and use her amazing body.
How did you get started taking photos?
My journey started over 25 years ago in the days of film when I couldn’t even afford to develop the shots I captured. Digital was my dream come true. I came from a business background – I started my first business at the the fresh age of 19. It was a bodybuilding gym. I was a skinny runt and after high school I really needed to gain some weight. The gym was where I saw so many different people that were conscious of every aspect of their body. I loved capturing these bodies and the rest, you might say, is history.
You are located in Dubai. How do you like living and working there?
I am from the Cayman Islands, a small island in the Caribbean located between Jamaica and Florida, best known for its amazing beaches and as a tax haven for the rich. I moved to Dubai three years ago and decided to start a new career as a full-time photographer. Being a photographer in Dubai is very different from [being a photographer in} the West. I love living and working here; there are so many different cultures here, plus a host of countries nearby that offer incredible photographic diversity, which is great for one’s creativity.
Your studio provides a wide range of photographic services, including beauty and fashion, street photography, food photography, and corporate professional portraits, among others. What do you primarily shoot?
Due to the incredible competition from amateur and professional photographers from developing countries like India and the Philippines, who can survive on charging incredible low rates, I have to be very diverse in my photography to keep working. However, I focus and I’m best known for fitness portraits, beauty and fashion. You have to really step up your game and strive to be better and better in this highly competitive market.
What advice would you give to new photographers?
I am a teacher of private photography workshops, sharing my knowledge with amateurs as well as working pros. The best advice has always been to realize that each and every photograph is simply a product. Once you have gotten over the illusion of your friends “liking” your photos on Facebook and Flickr, and you start to charge money for your work to make an income, a harsh reality sets in. Learn marketing, sales and basic business if you want to be a working photographer. Otherwise, you will fall into the large pit of poor broke photographers.
If you are not looking at becoming a professional photographer, then my best advice is to learn everything about your tool (camera). Make sure you can capture the best possible shot under any condition. If you are a people photographer, learn to love people, because every capture of a person you make is a reflection of how they feel about you.