A photo student recently interviewed me for a school project. Maybe if I share my answers here, it’ll be of help to some other students out there? Let’s not flatter myself too much—I am only a few years older than you and am only pretending to be self-aware. Also, let’s take note that it’s been nearly four years since I graduated college and I’m still capable of stringing sentences together. Look at all these words I wrote.
How did you get where you are today?
I am addicted to work and very frugal. I save most of my money and only spend on rent and food. That’s how I’ve been able to survive my first few years of being a full-time freelance photographer. Technique-wise, I started photographing my friends’ shows in high school because I was obsessed with saving every memory and wanted to be doing something productive while they were onstage. I got an SLR and took a few photo classes in college and my obsession snowballed from there.
How did you get the clients you have now and what are they looking for?
All my clients have found me through word of mouth and mutual friends. When people are hiring photographers, they are generally looking for someone they can trust, and of course they trust the opinions of their friends. All my recent clients have come to me via the recommendations of friends/colleagues of theirs who happened to be previous clients of mine. Clients also look at your style of photography and decide whether or not it applies to their personal style/brand before they even consider contacting you. When clients look at your portfolio, they want to already know what they will get in the end before they spend their time/money on you.
What is it like to shoot festivals like Coachella? Where are those photos usually published?
Festivals are exhausting. You’re only allowed to shoot the first three songs of each set, and if you don’t arrive in time, the pit fills up and security won’t let you in until another photographer leaves. With the staggered set times and the sheer distance between the different stages, it’s pretty stressful racing back and forth between them with all your equipment on your back. But if you have a passion for the music, it’s incredible and it’s all so worth it even when your whole body aches. Be aware though that most festival photographers aren’t there for the music and don’t care about the artists or you—they’re just there to get that one shot that’ll sell on Getty. They smell terrible and they’ll have no qualms with wrapping their arms right over your head to reach a little closer to the stage. Where the photos get published depends on who sends you out there, be it a blog or a magazine or a band.
Also what is like to have ongoing projects like with Portugal the Man? What does it entail?
A lot of my friends are musicians and I often find myself at their shows or in the studio, and I never ever EVER want to be that person who’s just lingering around while everybody is trying to work, so I work too. I photograph because I love it and I’m obsessed with it, but also because I’m creating important historical documents for my subjects to look back at and maybe for the world to someday look back at. The first few years of my photography career just entailed me hanging out with my friends and documenting it all.
What equipment do you use?
I use the Canon 5D Mark III and various Canon lenses depending on the job at hand. My favorite lens for portraits is the 50mm 1.4 (would probably be the 1.2 if I could afford it!). I don’t like using lights unless the client asks for it. I muuuuch prefer the soft touch of natural light.
How has the field changed since you began working?
I’ve only been working full-time for a couple of years!
What are the challenges you face in the future?
I guess the main challenge I face is surviving a stretch of time when no jobs are coming in—which I’m always prepared for with my savings.
How do you maintain currency in the field?
I believe I’ll always remain current if I hone in on my personal style and deliver photos that only I could. There are a lot of people out there trying to be the next ~Terry Richardson~ or whatever (just an example). They’re taking Terry Richardson photos because they think Terry Richardson is cool. They’ll never stand out. No one’s every gonna look at their photo and think of their name, they’ll just think “Oh this looks like Terry Richardson.” I just want to take photos where people will look at them and think “Oh this looks like Jasmine Safaeian” and I can only do that by being myself.