First off, thanks to Scott and Brad for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with such a great audience. It's much appreciated! I’d like to take a second to introduce myself- My name is Tom Medvedich and I’m a commercial photographer based in New York City.
For the entire time you're on this planet, people will be telling you what you can't do. I was at a portfolio review a few months ago and I got great feedback from 95% of the reviewers. One of the people I met with was a photo editor from a fashion magazine. She looked through both my still life and portraiture books and seemed to be unimpressed. She put them down, looked me in the eyes and said, "You knowâ¦ It's clear that you have absolutely no connection with people and you should definitely give up this ‘shooting rappers’ thing. It's really time to pick your pony." I smiled and thanked her for the feedback. It wasn’t the first time someone’s told me I can’t shoot still life and portraiture. Thankfully I didn't entertain her comments. Little did we both know that a few months later Eminem's team would choose me out of a group of photographers that I highly respect to shoot Eminem, Jimmy Iovine, and Dr. Dre for the cover of XXL Magazine in LA.
When I was a kid, one of the main things that drew me to photography was the freedom of being able to do whatever I wanted (within reason). The thought of being stuck in a routine job wasn’t my idea of how I wanted to live life. Back when I was assisting, I was always bouncing around between different photographers that shot various disciplines. Still life, fashion, celebrity… you name it. I really enjoyed it. I had great relationships with most of these photographers and occasionally during the course of a 10 hour job, the topic of what I wanted to shoot would come up. I would reply with "Still life. And portraiture." Nine times out of ten, I'd get the same type of responses. "There's no way you'll be able to do both," "Clients won't take you seriously if you don't specialize in one category," "You’ll need two different web sites," and on and on. They were trying to tell me to master one discipline and not spread myself thin. They meant well and I understood where they were coming from, but I just couldn’t subscribe to that mentality.
How could people possibly think they could tell me what I was supposed to shoot? What if you were passionate about food and architecture. Who’s to say you couldn’t shoot both? That being said, I would recommend that if you are strong in one area and weak in the other, I’d leave the weak stuff out of your book until you get better at it. But that goes for any body of work in any discipline of photography. Your book should have a strong, clear voice. If you only shoot beverages, make sure all of your images can stand on their own. Conversely, if you shoot beverages, cosmetics, soft goods and urban landscapes, you’ve got to take even more care to make sure each category is buttoned up and polished because people will be weary if you have too many different galleries on your site. So you’d better have knockout work.
This stance in photography is one that I enjoy. It’s humbling because it’s an underdog mentality where you constantly feel like you need to prove yourself. People are usually expecting you to suck at one of the two things you do. One thing to note is that if you’re just starting out, your work might suck. I know mine did. But I kept working at it and trying to improve with every shoot. I knew the naysayers had a point when they were trying to tell me to tighten up my work. Now I enjoy seeing the reactions of people when they see both my still life and people books. They often say, “Whoa, I didn’t know you shot still life AND portraiture,” or “Wow, your portraits look just as clean as your still life images.” That kind of recognition is nice after all the years of committing to these various disciplines.
One of my newest clients is The Chia Co., and I just got back from shooting their CEO, John Foss, at one of their farms in Nicaragua. I was excited when they asked me to shoot this portrait because at the time, we were on location shooting a still life ad for them where we had one of their Bircher Muesli Chia Pods in a NYC park setting. They’ve had me shoot three full fledged still life jobs and next thing I know, they’re asking me to shoot portraiture. I genuinely appreciate a client that trusts my abilities and doesn’t get caught up in “he isn’t that type of photographer”.
I’m so fortunate that photography has taken me to so many amazing places around the world and I’ve met some incredible people along the way (including my wife). I’ve been very lucky to have worked with people that trusted me to get the job done well. It wouldn’t have panned out that way if I had listened to a handful of people who thought I couldn’t do it. At the end of the day, strong work will stand out and people will recognize it. There’s nothing stopping you from landing jobs in various categories of shooting. I’m living proof, and I’m certainly not the only one to do it. If people don’t want to hire you because you shoot more than one category, chances are you wouldn’t want to collaborate or work with them anyway, so it all works out in the end. Believe in your goals, stay true to your voice, and most importantly, keep shooting new and better work!