Guest Blog: Portrait and Lifestyle Photographer Drew Gurian
How have your thoughts/techniques on lighting evolved? Do you find yourself using gear now that you didn’t think you would use when you started out? Or are you using the same gear but in different ways?
I worked very hard over the first several years of freelancing to perfect lighting techniques, and certain aspects of lighting have become second nature. I’m constantly experimenting to keep things fresh, but one big lesson that I’ve learned is that focusing on lighting alone doesn’t guarantee a great photo. We often get too wrapped up in technical perfection, and I’m certainly guilty of that myself.
As a portrait and lifestyle photographer, I want to make the talent look amazing- and sometimes that’s largely based around the lighting. However, even more important than the lighting, is connecting with whoever I’m photographing in order to create a compelling portrait. Thinking my way into how to make that happen has proven to be more beneficial over time than stressing too much over what type of lighting I’d like to use.
As for gear, though every shoot is different, I try to use a fairly minimal gear pack. Lighting has evolved quite a bit over the last five years, and the Profoto B1 in particular has changed the way I’m able to work on set. It’s enabled me to work lighter and faster than ever before with access to a massive lineup of light shapers for any scenario imaginable.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made that has proven to be a valuable lesson? Has learning from that mistake saved you in some way on another job?
The biggest mistake I made when starting out was saying yes to everything. We’re all hungry for work, and oftentimes seriously undervalue our talent when we shouldn’t be doing so.
Almost every single time I’ve taken a low paying job just for the money, it’s been soul sucking work where there’s zero respect for the creative process. I’ve been learning this lesson all along, but am just starting to consistently turn down jobs for this reason.
Some of those clients have gone away entirely, but I’m okay with that. The truth is, I believe it to be more valuable to spend my time shooting something I’m invested in creatively.
What kind of balance do you keep between editorial and commercial clients? If commercial clients pay more than editorial, what value do you see in working for editorial clients?
About 75% of my client base has been commercial since day one. I never really marketed myself to one type of client more than the other initially, but because my work is commercially oriented, that’s been the majority of the work I’ve gotten. Brands tend to pay a lot more than editorial- which is cool since I live in Brooklyn and the cost of living here is less than ideal.
There is a huge amount of value in editorial work though, and I thoroughly enjoy diving into these jobs when they come in. There’s generally a lot fewer people on set for editorial jobs (sometimes just an assistant and myself), and I find that I can use the talent’s time much more efficiently when that’s the case. There’s often a lot more creative freedom on editorial jobs, and I try to dive in as deep as possible to create something I want- which isn’t always possible on commercial jobs.
What’s the best business/technical/other advice you would give yourself if you could talk to five-years-ago Drew?
Accept the fact that work comes in waves, and that there will be times where you have absolutely no work. For the first few years, I consistently had a few months per year where I had zero work coming in, and I struggled to deal with it. We’re all somewhat insecure artists, and it’s easy to assume that we’ll never work again. It’s tough to make it through this.
Instead of getting into a funk, the only thing that’s ever fixed this for me is picking up a camera and shooting. It always brings me back to my love of photography and reminds me of why I do this in the first place.
If you could re-do one shoot, which one would it be and what would you do differently?
I’d really love to have an opportunity to work with Kendrick Lamar again. I spent a day with him about 4 years ago just before ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was released, but didn’t completely get what I wanted. I was shooting a media day for Reebok in a hotel suite filled entirely with Reebok branding, so there was very little in the way of candids without logos surrounding him.
I managed to shoot a quick portrait on the terrace, I wish I had pushed a little harder to have some more time with him outside of the hotel suite.
If I were to ever have another opportunity with him, I’d love to shoot something more journalistic.
What would you consider your most successful shoot and why? How do you define a successful shoot (your happiness with the final product, how much you made on it, the size of the production, the biggest name client, etc)?
I was assigned to photograph David Byrne of the Talking Heads, in his Soho studio earlier this year, and it’s definitely one of my favorite shoots in recent memory. David is a true icon, and I did tons of research to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I watched documentaries, interviews, and gathered photographic inspiration to share with him on-set. He was an incredible collaborator, and I shot a few frames that feel very true to who David is as an artist- which was the ultimate goal, and the sign of a successful shoot for me.
This particular shoot was not a moneymaker (in fact, I spent some money on it), but I’m really happy with the photos and the entire experience with him.
How do you keep your creativity fresh? How do you avoid getting visual burnout (consuming so much imagery you just get tired of it/numb to it)?
Personally, a lot of it has to do with being in New York City. As crazy and as living in the city is, there’s more inspiration here than I can imagine just about anywhere else. I feed off the energy, grit, and hustle of the culture constantly, and that’s what keeps me pushing forward.