Photo by John Michael Cooper

First of all, what the heck am I doing posting on Scott Kelby’s blog? I haven’t shot for any major magazines. No advertising jobs have come my way. I’m not involved in any speaking circuits or training seminars. Haven’t published any DVDs about lighting. So basically, there’s 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 family’s 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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 I’m speaking of is Platon. If you don’t know who he is, stop reading this post and Google his work. Go on. I’ll still be here when you’re done.


Bill Wenner, my uncle, photographed in my studio


NYC actor Doug Drucker (Law & Order: SVU). Yes, they’re real

From that point on I’ve 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 O’Keefe, 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 that’s 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 family’s 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, I’ve 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 I’m not getting hired to do yet. Some examples of personal work that I’ve 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 they’ve also helped me get more work creating similar portraits for new clients. I’m currently working on a personal portrait project that I think is going to be the best one I’ve 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, I’m 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 haven’t had any major movie stars in front of my camera (you reading this De Niro?). I haven’t created a portrait of the biggest musician yet (preferably Jay-Z or The Black Keys). I’m 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 I’ve talked enough here on Kelby’s 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 I’ve made it to this point in my career. Scott’s blog is one that I’ve read daily for a very long time, so this is a honor. Thank you.

Rick.

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.

About The Author

36 Comments

  1. Rick, awesome shots, especially that last one, it is my favorite! Godspeed.

  2. Great post. I’m pretty much where you were when you left your graphic design job. Photography’s what I love and I believe I can do it. I got a lot of inspiration from your post. I’m actually about to head out to a networking event here in England (it’s 5:26AM!).

    Just as an aside your first image doesn’t display because the image link is wrong. I inserted ‘/blog’ in the URL it worked just fine. It’s a shame because that first image was my favourite of the post. Hope that helps.

    Thanks again :)

    • Great portraits! This is is inspiring and the timing on this couldn’t be more appropriate! I’m a graphic designer of 10 years and fell in love with photography a few years back and just recently started getting people booking me for photo sessions instead of design.

      I’m about where Rick was when he started (D300, couple lenses and some used Nikon SB’s + not much in the way of paid gigs) but I really want to see where this path leads me.

      All the best in 2012!

  3. Good blog post, Rick! I’m a long-time designer who’d rather be shooting full-time, too. Hopefully, it will happen. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Incredible work, and much agreed the The Given Motion shot is money.

  5. Great blog Rick!
    You are speeking right to my hart!
    Thanks for sharing and spreding motivation to others who are going down a simular raod.
    -Mark

  6. Hey Rick,
    Way to go mate…fantastic to see you here as a Guest on Scott’s blog.
    It’s been wonderful seeing how you seem to have ‘found yourself’ over the time we’ve known each other and geez….you sure have now!!!

    Wonderful series of images mate and yeah I have to agree with Ken; that last image is a killer.

    Keep up the great work and I’m seriously pleased that you’re getting the exposure you so richly deserve!

    Best wishes to you my friend (not forgetting the Michelle)
    Glyn ;)

  7. Great post and a great read. Very nice photographs. Heading over to your website.

  8. Congratulations Rick on hitting Scott’s blog, a good read and top set of images, absolutely love your shot of Lindsay.
    I have no doubt you will achieve all you set out to accomplish and people are going to see a lot more of Rick.
    Best Wishes
    Keith

  9. Great work and a great positive attitude towards your work, it shows! Nice job, Rick.

  10. Awsome story! Anwesome work Rick!!!!!!

  11. Amazing read, and your portraits *ARE* very compelling. Mission accomplished.

  12. Very cool! I actually work for Dream Theater and I’ve been really getting into the photography world recently (trying to take advantage of all of the traveling we do!) Excellent work – I remember seeing some of the shots you did in the studio.
    Take care!

    John

  13. Great story Rick, all the best of luck!

  14. Wow, I can not believe it!

    This text gives me wings, since it is a dream in which I embarked so much! Me myself am a graphic designer and made ??the photo in my spare time and know that there are people like me who realize their dream charms me more than anything.

    Congratulations!

  15. Just came here to say that I’m a huge Dream Theater fan and that it’s great that the one DT photo found its way onto Scott’s blog :D \m/ Great stuff.

  16. Rick,

    Fantastic blog post accompanied by some great photos. Love the portrait of your uncle & Eric B…well love them all actually.

    Think I saw you @ Zack Arias pre-workshop drinks in London a while back. Followed your work since and you have really gotten some good stuff down.

    Good luck for the future, inspiration for the rest of us.
    Neil

    • Hey Neil,

      Yup, I was at the mixer in London. My wife and I were there for our honeymoon and ran into Zack & Meg in Covent Gardens. It was great to meet all the people there. Thanks for your kind words of my work. Much appreciated.

      Rick.

  17. Great story, wonderful images.

    Love the Jordan Rudess portrait, it’s lit so well…

  18. Nice Job…. I would have enjoyed reading more…

  19. Hi Rick! Thank you for a great post as a guest blogger here. It really started my day on a positive note. Coming from a graphic design background I also aspire to be a full time photographer. Currently I work for a photo studio which at least allows me to shoot sometimes but the focus on weddings and events is far away from my interest in portraiture. I am not at the stage where I can leave my job yet but I am dreaming of the days when I can focus on what I love doing, capturing moments in time, creating fantasies and telling stories with camera in hand.
    Thanks again for sharing your story, I will be reminded of it every time I feel down.
    As you said it, I have to succeed there is no other choice.

  20. OMG I look away for one day from Scott’s blog and who the heck appears on the Guest Blog but my old Irish whiskey drinking buddy Mr Wenner ;-)

    Many congratulations on this achievement Rick which is a cracking start to 2012 for you, riding on the back of your achievements & successes of 2011 – proof if ever it was needed that hard work and committment does pay off in the end…..though sometimes it can take a while ;-)

    Great pictures as always Rick – must’ve been difficult choosing so few given the plethora of images I’ve seen on your blog over the years

    Hope to see you again in DC this March and all the very best to you & Michelle,

    David

    P.S. I’ve suitably cussed and chastised myself for being slow off the mark in reading this post.
    P.P.S. Hopefully my comment won’t get truncated on Scott’s blog ;-)

  21. Rick,

    Great post today, thanks.

    Jeff

  22. Loved the portraits Rick. Incredible work. you’ve come so far. especially liked Tim Mac Millan and the David Assoulin. Extremely interesting subject content and tecnique.
    The photo of Lindsay reminded me of portrait lighting that Dutch Masters used in their paintings from the 15th century but, yet you incorporated that as something that felt uniquely timely and engrossing. Loved it all. Please send this to James and keep up the good work. Thanks!

  23. Congrats on you post bro. This was a great read, thx for sharing your honesty on the hustle. We all know its hard when getting into this craft. Sometimes we need to hear it from others so we can calm down a bit and not worry about the little things.

  24. I love this guy. His images are incredible! But what I love even more is his determination. I am going to follow him and watch him go all the way to the top. I can just feel it!

  25. Mr. Wenner, Mr. Wenner, Mr. Wenner,

    All I can say is WOW! My happiness for you is without words. We met back in 2009 at Mr. Arias’ OneLight Workshop in NYC. I was the city host and we hit it off immediately being from the same town on Long Island. We been each others’ sounding board ever since. It’s been great getting together to talk photography and drink some great IPA’s. What has been even better is to watch your work improve each time we meet. Your passion, desire, tenacity and talent have been an inspiration. Keep up the great work. Keep moving forward. The next IPA is on me!

    Cheers,
    Nick

    • You had me at IPA. :) Thanks so much Nick. It’s been an amazing (and difficult) road to where I am at right now. As I said in this post, I know I have a long way to go but I’m determined to achieve my goals. Here’s to the future!

  26. What a great article. Thank you and keep up the awesome work.

  27. The Como Brothers Band — I have seen them live in Manhattan and they are an amazing band.  I haven’t seen that photo of them – it is so great!!! Great work!

  28. Hello, I like to thank you for all your honesty and your great work 
    I’m a wedding photographer but I really love people
    I want to start getting involved portrait photography
    what kind of conversations do you have with your subjects 
    to get them talking 
    thank you  

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