Photo by John Michael Cooper
First of all, what the heck am I doing posting on Scott Kelbys blog? I havent shot for any major magazines. No advertising jobs have come my way. Im not involved in any speaking circuits or training seminars. Havent published any DVDs about lighting. So basically, theres a pretty good chance you have no idea who I am.
Although this may or may not be true, I am determined to make sure that you know who I am through my work, whether it is sooner or later. My determination to succeed has got me this far into my career and I only see it bringing much more success as time passes. I always say to myself “I have to succeed. I have no choice otherwise.” But I also know that it takes a lot of hard work and time.
Tim MacMillan, a NYC playwright, photographed in a bar in Queens, NY
I come from a graphic design career of 10 years. I used to work for my familys bread manufacturing company on Long Island. Sounds exciting, right? NOPE. Not so much. Not for me anyway. It did pay my bills, put a roof over my head and food on the table though. It was a comfortable job but it wasnt fulfilling my creativity in a way that I needed. So about 9 or 10 years ago I picked up my first digital camera and started shooting landscapes and abstract/macro type stuff. It was fun but I still wasnt really happy with my photography. This is mostly due to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing with a camera. Then it happened. I created my first portrait and fell in love with photography.
A composite photo of Korn
From that point on I have been studying portraiture and the technicalities of photography. I figured that if I could get such a great reaction to such a bad photo, imagine what people would say about a decent portrait or
dare I say
a great portrait. My research into photography brought awareness of many great photographers, many of which have posted here on this blog. I became a member of NAPP, read tons of magazines, attended a bunch of workshops, and kept creating portraits of anyone who would get in front of my camera.
Tommy Sica of Sweet Cyanide (NYC) photographed in my studio
I attended a seminar at PhotoPlus in New York City. All I knew going into this seminar was that it was based on portraiture. I didnt know who the speaker was or what he has done in his career. I was immediately blown away by his unique take on how portraiture. He told stories of his conversations with his subjects and how he photographed some of the most important people in the world. I was inspired. The photographer Im speaking of is Platon. If you dont know who he is, stop reading this post and Google his work. Go on. Ill still be here when youre done.
Bill Wenner, my uncle, photographed in my studio
NYC actor Doug Drucker (Law & Order: SVU). Yes, theyre real
From that point on Ive been working my butt off to create compelling portraits. I put up a website, blogged a little bit, and posted photos on Facebook. My work was starting to get recognized by local musicians and actors (a.k.a. potential paying clients). I took the advice of a friend and kept my pricing low in order to get paid gigs while developing my skills. The only reason I was able to keep my pricing low was because I was still working for the bread company. But guess what, all those low paying gigs got me more work. I was developing my skills as a portrait photographer and shooting often.
Tavish OKeefe, NYC actor and model, photographed in his Brooklyn apartment
As time went on I was able to put together a decent portfolio of portraits, which consisted of mostly bands and models. I signed up for a portfolio review event and got my portfolio in front of 10 different art directors and photo editors. Looking back on it, I now know that I was nowhere near the point of putting my portfolio in front of Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sony, and Island Def Jam but I did it anyway. The critiques that I got from those reviewers however were more valuable than any workshop, blog post, or magazine that I ever read. I want to shoot for these companies so it was important to know what they thought of my work, what they liked, disliked and why they felt that way. After my reviews I went back to the drawing board and decided I had to push even harder to succeed.
A Polaroid from a shoot with The Como Brothers Band
I kept shooting bands, actors and model test shoots. My work was getting technically better and I started to get more emotion and interaction in my portraits. Then I got a phone call from one of the creative directors from that portfolio review event I mentioned. It was Roadrunner Records and they wanted me to shoot Dream Theater. I have to be honest with you, I had no clue who the band was, but I immediately took the job. I researched everything about Dream Theater and found out they are a big deal around the world. This made me pretty nervous, but that research was important for me to get to know whom I was shooting. I spent the day in the recording studio with the band, shooting documentary while they recorded their new album and got to shoot some portraits as well. I was most interested in the portraits that day, since thats what I do, so I really pushed myself to create the best work I could. The record label loved the work and those photos have been seen by millions of people around the world. That still blows my mind.
Dream Theater at Cove City Studios. Each portrait was shot separately and then composited together in Photoshop
Portrait of Jordan Rudess, keyboard player for Dream Theater
I was still working a full time job at my familys company and my photography business was picking up to almost a full time job. I kept the graphic design job because it was paying my bills but I really loved my photography work. I was extremely fortunate to be able to change my working hours at the company so that I could split my days between my two jobs. This change was the best thing I could do to move my business forward. I was able to work more on my personal project, One Question, and meet with potential clients at more reasonable times for consultations and photo shoots.
Portraits from my One Question series. What does music mean to you?
About two years passed as I split my days between the bread company and my photography business. I was getting progressively busier each month. After a couple years of splitting my time between the two, I decided that it was time for me to leave my job as a graphic designer. As much as I wanted to leave that job, it was still very hard to do. It was a comfortable job and paid well. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do in order to be happy. I left that job 6 months ago.
I shot this hanging out the back of my SUV while a friend drove his custom motorcycle over Robert Moses Bridge in Long Island
Portrait of Lindsay who was diagnosed with Alopecia, a disease where hair is lost very quickly
Since I went full time with my photography, Ive been working harder than ever to be successful and keep a roof over my head. I still take on personal projects because I feel that it helps me improve my skills and create work that Im not getting hired to do yet. Some examples of personal work that Ive shot is the biker riding over a Long Island bridge, the portrait of my friend Lindsay who has alopecia, and the owner of a high end antique & art store in The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. These portraits were a lot of fun to create and theyve also helped me get more work creating similar portraits for new clients. Im currently working on a personal portrait project that I think is going to be the best one Ive created yet. I am not releasing any information about it just yet, so keep an eye on my Twitter and blog for updates on that.
David Assoulin, owner of Elliot Stevens Ltd., in his antique & art store in The Waldorf Astoria Hotel NYC
So after almost 10 years with a camera in my hand, Im starting to shoot what I want to. I emphasize the word starting because I know there is still a lot of work to be done. I still havent had any major movie stars in front of my camera (you reading this De Niro?). I havent created a portrait of the biggest musician yet (preferably Jay-Z or The Black Keys). Im still working on getting my first big advertising campaign. I know that as long as I keep saying to myself, I have to succeed. I have no choice otherwise. those jobs will come soon. Work hard and you will get what you want!
Portrait of Eric B., a Long Island hip hop artist, in a dirty bus stop
Photo of NY rock band The Given Motion
I think Ive talked enough here on Kelbys blog. If you made it to the end of this post, I thank you for allowing me to waste some of your time. I am incredibly appreciative of Brad and Scott allowing me to talk about my work and how Ive made it to this point in my career. Scotts blog is one that Ive read daily for a very long time, so this is a honor. Thank you.
You can see more of Rick’s work at RickWenner.com, keep up with him on his blog, and find him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Tumblr.