Interview: Digital Photo Pro (2012)

This is an interview I did for Digital Photo Pro Magazine in 2012, as a photo of Mosh is a finalist for their “The Face” contest.  It ended up as a #4 finalist, meaning I got published in the magazine and subsequent book but didn’t win any of the prizes.


How long have you been shooting photos of people/portraits?

Since 1999.

Why do you like to shoot photos of people/portraits?

I think there are less limitations to the imagination when one is working with another adult human being, as opposed to shooting landscapes or wildlife etc.  There’s also a level of excitement and engagement you get from a human subject that feeds back into the shoot.

What’s the toughest situation you’ve faced when shooting a photo of people/portraits and how did you overcome it?

Probably the most difficult shoot involved taking a bunch of equipment on a rooftop in downtown LA to photograph a nude model body painted like a beetle.  It was 2 AM and there were helicopters everywhere, and of course we were by a billboard with bright hot lights going.  The extension cord had to be snaked through a kitchen window on the floor below.  Every time I heard a helicopter I had to cut the power to the lights.  We shot that in maybe 20 minutes after 6 hours of body painting.  All the equipment went up and down this small, scary fire escape ladder, and the model was freezing, but it was a ton of fun.

What’s the best advice you’ve received from a teacher, mentor or colleague for people/portrait photography?

I had a teacher at ASU, Carol Panaro-Smith, who encouraged the students to make unique, individual pieces.  That wasn’t exclusive to people photography but it’s how I approach my shoots, individual portraits unique to the scenario and the person rather than a series.  I use Jay Maisel and Brooks Jensen as a “vitural mentors,” because I’ve never met them but I voraciously absorb their interviews/ podcasts.  What both have in common is they lead photographic lives, always taking their cameras around, being open to everything, working as minimally as possible.  Jay says “the more crap you carry around the less pictures you take.”

What’s the story behind this photo? 

This was a fashion shoot for a clothes designer, Vital Vein Fashion.  We were going to emphasize the red in the latex so the model, Mosh, brought along a wig that had a red streak in it- she emphasized it was quality because it came from an “authentic transvestite.”  The studio was pretty spare so I asked  Mosh to do different gestures within a certain amount of space with the idea that the images would be torn up and reattached.  We shot maybe 20 of these gestures.  I printed them out at home, tore them up, and taped together the half images.  The taped up print was rephotographed.

What equipment did you use (camera, lens, lighting gear, tripod)?

Nikon D700, 50mm, Profoto 7b with a beauty dish, manfrotto tripod

What do you think makes a great people/portrait photo? 

I like when the photographer’s vision, the subject’s personality, and the environment all blend together so each portrait is a unique piece.  The environment has to be simple but support whatever the subject is doing, whether it’s a natural setting or seamless backdrop.  The subject should have some identifiable emotion, and caught in a gesture, not blank or lifeless.

Whose people/portrait work do you especially admire or feel influenced by?

Sebastio Salgado, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Sally Mann, Richard Avedon, Dan Winters, W. Eugene Smith


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I'm a multimedia artist in Phoenix, AZ. Main Site - Instagram @primordialcreative + twitter @dbmillerphoto

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