Photography Confidential: Interview with a Commercial Photographer
Andrew B is a photographer and visual artist based out of Vancouver, Canada. Photographic Flow sat down with him via Skype back in February, to discuss his career as a professional photographer -- particularly as a photographer who works mostly in the commercial realm.
Photographic Flow: Thank you so, so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us. It's really great to get a professional photographer's opinion,
Andrew B: It's my pleasure.
PF: How did you first get into photography?
AB: For me, photography came out of a general love of all the visual arts. I've been painting and doing pencil drawings since I was seven, eight years old. And good ones, too, at least for that age. [laughs] But photography came a little later for me, I think I started taking pictures' on my Dad's old Nikon film camera when I was like 11.
PF: Was your dad a photographer at all?
AB: Nope! Not at all. [laughs] He had a couple different cameras over the years, but honestly most of what he was shooting could have been achieved by a disposable camera. I say all this with love, of course. He's got an iPhone 8 now and honestly he's never taken better photos. So there you go, sometimes lowering the barriers of entry works pretty well.
PF: When did you start taking photography more seriously?
AB: I got my own camera, a Canon EOS 500N, in the mid-to-late 90s for my birthday. This was a low-level SLR camera but the power it had compared to the point and shoot machines I'd been using as a teen was like night and day. I used that guy for over a decade, there were certain circumstances where with the right film stock, you could capture this grainy, dramatic mood. I see photographers going absolutely nuts trying to capture that style now, that washed-out 90s nostalgia. But that what those early SLR camera did!
PF: When did you switch to digital cameras?
AB: I didn't switch, I use film and digital photography in my work. But my first digital camera came only a few years after my Canon, when I was at art school. It was, if I'm not mistaken, a Nikon D100 DSLR. When you're in art school, you're shooting a lot, and film was starting to get prohibitively expensive. So I haven't really looked back from digital cameras since the early 2000s, but I also haven't abandoned shooting with film by any means.
PF: What about shooting with cell phones?
AB: I don't love working with cell phones, honestly. And it's not even that there aren't good cameras in them, or that you can't great excellent lenses! The problem is is that they just don't feel like a camera. I'm posing unnaturally the entire time, trying to get a shot. I'd rather have a hulking big camera from the 1950s than use a cell phone. It just doesn't feel right. I have a brand spanking new iPhone and I use it just to take pictures of my cats.
PF: So how did you end up doing photography professionally?
AB: After I left art school, I moved back in with my folks in Burnaby. And there I did what a lot of art students do after graduating, which is work at a coffee shop. But I also started a side hustle of portrait photography, and that was great for me to start building up a reputation and a more serious portfolio. When 2010 rolled around, I felt confident I could go out on my own. So I moved to Vancouver and started assisting in commercial work.
PF: What does it mean to assist with commercial work?
AB: So most commercial shoots have a main photographer who's either the producer or is answering to a producer. They're really the primary artistic vision in the whole endeavour. Assistants are there to help the photographer, help the producer. They're skilled technicians and great photographers in their own right, but they're not exactly running the table artistically.
PF: So you started getting a lot of these jobs?
AB: I was lucky enough to get hooked up with a couple agencies with high-profile clients. Like, within my first month living in Vancouver I was on a Pepsi shoot.
PF: Did you like assisting?
AB: Next question. [laughs] No, it was fine. But the hours are long, you're often the first one there and the last one out, and it's really hard to find time to work on your own projects when you're working grueling 50 hour weeks making sure that that shot of a hamburger bun is flawless.
PF: Did you do a lot of food photography?
AB: I still do! When I started producing, probably 2015/2016, the food industry was where I found the majority of my clients. I've done some other stuff too -- book covers, some magazine work, I did an ad for prostate cancer awareness. But I think, somehow, I've become one of the big "food guys" in western Canada.
PF: Does your work make you travel a lot?
AB: To Abbotsford. Or North Vancouver. It's pretty rare I get to produce a shoot in, say, Los Angeles. And that's because LA is just teeming with photography producers. So I'm definitely in the Vancouver bubble, but there's a lot of work to be found here so I can't say I really mind it all that much.
PF: What do you foresee in your future in this industry?
AB: I'd love to take my work as a producer and really mainline that into being the Artistic Director at an ad firm or something. Better hours, you know?