Hometown Heroes: Matthew Roharik

We love our local photographers. Their accomplishments never cease to impress us. They are proof that Columbus is a great city for photographers. Hometown Heroes highlights a Columbus photographer that we think is doing amazing work.

Matthew Roharik is the owner of Roharik Productions. A seasoned commercial advertising and editorial photographer, Matthew has produced images for Vogue and MTV and stylized branding for Nationwide Insurance and Stanley Steemer, among other national outfits. Matthew is also the founder of the annual Columbus Creative Industry Mixer, now in its fifth year. Check out more of Matthew’s work at Roharik Productions’ website or Facebook page. Check out our interview with Matthew below!

Roharik Productions wears many hats. You take on editorial work, marketing and branding, and various studio projects, for a wide variety of companies, yet your aesthetic clearly shines through in every image. Do you find it challenging to transition from one type of photography to the other while still retaining your own aesthetic vision?

I knew since the age of five that art and music would be my life’s path. I was shooting with a 110 camera in grade school. By the time I got to college, I had developed a style that was refined through my training as a fine artist in painting and drawing at OSU and has been incorporated into my photographic image making process. My retouching and stylization of images was greatly influenced by all the years of painting and drawing. Those skills, combined with the Wacom tablet, allow me great control over the final image. I know my style has evolved and has been influenced by the clients I work for and agency art directors I work with. When I am fortunate enough to shoot a national ad campaign the client usually hires me based on one of my self-assigned portfolio series that showcase my style.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik
Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik

There are obviously different demands you face as a photographer and as a business owner, not to mention the work you do in the local creative community, specifically with the annual Columbus Creative Industry Mixer. How do you balance these different aspects of your professional life?

It’s no secret that small business owners work long hours. I average at least 60 hours of work a week.  Luckily, when I’m shooting it doesn’t seem like work. I make a lot of friends through my work, many of which I would have never had the pleasure of knowing if it wasn’t through my photography.

I have an accredited internship program that has enabled me to tap into a strong talent pool to mentor over the past ten years. I have built a network of loyal freelancers that I can call upon to employ for projects. I prefer to hire within my intern network and have been able to employ several interns full-time for years at a time.  When a project calls for a crew of 15 people, I am ready  in a moment’s notice to assemble a crew that can get the job done.

And the Columbus Creative Industry Mixer has grown so fast that this year I assembled a board to keep the event on track and to make it the best creative networking event to date!

You’ve been the owner of your own studio for almost 15 years. What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to open their own studio?

I am only qualified to speak in regards to a commercial studio.  Wedding and portrait studios are a whole different ballgame.

My first commercial studio was 1000 sq. feet and my overhead was relatively low, so it made sense to sign a long-term lease. I would only recommend renting a space if you have established clients and let their needs warrant how much space you will need to utilize. Consider partnering with another photographer who shoots in the fields of photography that do not conflict with yours.  I would strongly recommend renting a lot of your gear per shoot. Have a base equipment set-up and rent as needed. In this business everything digital depreciates so fast that renting is often better than owning.  Invest in lighting and good glass; they have the greatest retention of value.

My current studio is 2400 sq. feet. It was built custom for a photo studio and has an additional attached warehouse space for storage and overflow.  Since the first year of the studio opening we have offered studio rentals. The Columbus market is a bit saturated and we shoot an average of 3 days a week so it made good business sense to offer renting the studio at a half-day minimum to fill our non-shoot days while still being able to work in the studio.  Turned out to be a great way to help cover operating expenses, or at least the monthly studio rent.

When it comes to image making, establish you own niche and keep your brand consistent in your marketing materials.  Resist gimmicks like Instagram and Hipstamatic filters and design your own post treatments in Photoshop. Have confidence in your work and don’t be afraid to ask for deposits and create contracts with your terms and conditions outlined for your clients to sign. Charge usage fees on the images you create and don’t shoot for free; nothing good ever comes out of it in the long run.  Sometimes shooting for trade makes sense and you usually can turn them into cash clients over time.

You have a background in painting and drawing. How do you think these skills translate to your photographic work?

My lighting has been described as painterly, and I pay attention to the edge of the frame as a painter does with a canvas. I also prefer limited color palettes and using my lighting to describe all the textures that comprise the photograph, and I build all my own sets and props that brand the image. I strongly suggest studying fine arts in college. I have noticed the successful photographers that I respect and identify with come from a Fine Arts background. Starting out shooting film was a great experience, and one that I miss. But you have to embrace new technologies and exploit their strengths. The learning curve has been greatly reduced with the invention of the digital sensor.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik
Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik

Do you try to make time for personal projects?

I try my hardest but it’s easy to get off agenda when a client calls. I average only few personal portfolios shoots a year.  The majority of my time is spent shooting advertising assignments and overseeing the various productions that we have going year around. The projects shot that are not assignments or commissioned by clients still seem to be influenced by the need to produce original commercial content for my portfolio.

I feel my sense of humor shows in these portfolio shoots and I enjoy them tremendously.  I am making a conscious effort to get back to art-making and self-assignments this year by blocking out dates on the calendar. The sets I build for the Columbus Creative Mixer give me an excuse to shoot a concept series before the public gets to play. I am already working on some storyboards for the shoot in May!

Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik
Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik
Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik
Photo courtesy of Matthew Roharik

What is the best part about being a Columbus photographer?

I travel to larger markets for photo assignments and they were exciting adventures, but I was glad to be home by the end of it. It’s a blessing to have the studio that I have, the network of artists in this community, and all the beautiful people I have met through my work.

Midwest Photo

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