This week we’re heading west for our Kansas City workshop to help photographers figure out how to create photo business wins from shooting what they are most passionate about.
As we pack our bags (complete with extra wet naps for a little bbq) and put the finishing touches on the event details with the folks at Digital Labrador, we thought we’d take a moment to check in with the man behind our day two shoot, Canon Explorer of Light Nick Vedros. What’s he passionate about shooting? What are his tips for building and maintaining a successful commercial career? And what’s he got up his sleeve for next weeks workshop?
Q: How did you get started in photography?
Nick: At age 13 my Uncle Mike showed his amazing Black & White photographs to my family on the kitchen table. I fell in love with photography. Announced that night I wanted to be a professional photographer some day. My degree is in Photojournalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. [After graduating] I went Freelance and started my own studio in 1977.
photo by Nick Vedros
Q: A lot of your work has a unique sense of humor to it. How did you find that voice, was it always there, or is it something you’ve developed?
Nick: My style was sort of there in me, but it definitely has evolved. My many styles shift and change with the marketplace, but have a memory chip of my original style and intent. “Your philosophies create the software of your mind” I figured humor was a good way to stand out in the marketplace of ideas. It is better to inform and entertain than to just inform. It can create an alliance with the reader.
photo by Nick Vedros
Q: What are some of the essentials that you always carry in your bag?
Nick: I shoot all Canon, I love the Canon 1DS Mark 3, but pack and carry the 1D Mark IV for it’s amazing speed and clean file too.
I also pack a Canon 5D for back up large file and wonderful video capabilities.
Favorite Lenses: 70mm-200mm, 24mm-105mm, 24mm PC lens, 80mm 1.2
I use all Lexar Media Cards, usually 8 Gig and 16 Gig. And a Lexar Card Reader.
I pack a Hoodman to view the LCD Screen when on location.
I downsize my model releases and Property releases..always carry in my trusty bag.
Laser pointer to help identify the wrinkle that needs fixing to my stylists. It saves me describing or walking. I simply point the laser at the problem so she knows what the heck I’m talking about.
Photo by Nick Vedros
Q: It seems like you really embrace the post-production process. Has this always been a part of your work or has it evolved? Do you work closely with a team on that?
Nick: Once my photographs have been shot..I put them into my digital department. Michael McCorkle and I have had an amazing working relationship. I credit him for the 31 years we have worked together. Michael adds a lot to my images. Many times I will process an image and set a direction for the look that I am after. He takes it and always makes it better. There are times that I want his complete participation and will just give him a file and say let me see what you come up with. I love doing that because I get his impartial input on a project that he was not emotionally tied to by not being present at the shoot. I love to collaborate with Michael he is amazing to work with.
Q: We are getting to ready to shoot some portraits in Kansas City as part of our Focus on Passion workshop. How do you approach a project like this?
Nick: I start by asking all the right questions. Who is this job for? How will they reproduce? Are we using street people or models? What style of mine do you think is right for this project, or we can create a new style if we discuss it. I begin to assemble the puzzle like this.
Q: You’ve shot for a lot of iconic brands, including Apple, Coca-Cola, Kodak, Microsoft, Sony, and Sprint, does working with such well-known clients change the way you approach these assignments?
Nick: Not really change my approach much…I like working with any client who pretty much knows what they want. I love when a pencil sketch of a layout gets sent to me and I can start to envision what look I feel the project needs. It is always important to discuss your vision with the Art Director or Art Buyer. It helps them get on board to work together. You need to listen carefully to what they want and what they need. Then create a plan to solve it. Part of the fun challenge is coming up with an approach that works with the assignment at hand. I try to create a sequential systematic approach that allows my creativity to flourish. I know that sounds like an Oxymoron. Systematic and Creative can co-exist.
Photo by Nick Vedros
Q: The workshop is focused on following your passion. What are you passionate about shooting?
Nick: Focus on what you love to shoot….within reason. For me it is all about problem solving. When I shoot personal work it helps steer my career in the direction that I want to go. If you’re smart you can tweak your career to have the right percentage of Studio and Location work. People, Humor, Still life etc. I love variety within the realm of my specialties that I have created nationally. I have found that I love working with a good team…not so much solo.
Q: Have you found that shooting what you are passionate about has paid off for you professionally?
Nick: Yes, shooting what you are passionate about is one of the quickest ways to illustrate your style and get work. It is essential to have your passion projects viewed by the right people, otherwise they won’t know about you. Clients many times have seen my own personal imagery and then hired me to take on their assignments. I landed the Apple Computer PowerBooks Launch campaign from a single Passion photograph.
The Passion projects are also great for achieving the necessary experience needed for the real client projects. Passion projects have also launched new styles that the client actually wanted to use for their complete ad campaign. In my opinion a photographer’s style is the accumulated wealth of knowledge and decisions that expresses itself in a pictorial way. It just seems to emerge like a fingerprint in my work. Once your style has emerged, people begin to remember you. They may even look for your work. People have told me ” I can tell that is a Vedros Photograph”[But] The style that helps you become successful can also have drawbacks if you’re not careful. It can be difficult to break your style when a different style is needed on a project.
Remember that style in the marketplace is ever changing. Over the years it has become very easy for me to break a single style and deviate into another look. Also don’t be so egotistical to ever imagine that your one style works for every project that comes along. I have become an adaptive photographer that crafts the right look for the project I am currently working on. This way your work never becomes tired. Imagination has no limit.
Q: What is your approach to client relationships, both establishing and maintaining them?
Nick: I primarily try to bring something to the party…and I try and take the load off of the client. We choose to take on the brunt of pressure so that they feel relieved on they’re end.
Then I simply work as hard as I can to nail the style and look. Then have great follow thru on the back end. Then they come back again.
Photo by Nick Vedros
Q: We share a lot of tips with our readers on how to promote their work and market themselves. Is there anything you can share about how you approach that part of your business?
Nick: With what I produce with humor and crazy complex sets…it pays to produce marketing pieces that differentiate from the norm. If you don’t stand out in the photo market you might as well be invisible. For instance I did sets of coasters that stay on top of the desk… and work for beverages. I hire different top designers to help me produce pieces that are difficult to throw away. It is part of the fun of my career.
Q: Without giving away any trade secrets, what are some of the bases you are going to be covering in your portrait shoot at the workshop next week?
Nick: In my upcoming workshop I’m going to put all this together in demonstration form. I work with a team and create an environment that my tattoo subject will appreciate. I also love to demonstrate how easy lighting can be.
Photo by Nick Vedros
Q: Any last thoughts on passion and photography?
Nick: [Passion] has served as the rudder that steers my career. Everyone wants to be in charge of their career direction. Although that seems to be getting harder and more difficult in this industry. Making great images is what we’re all about, it all begins with your passion projects.
Nick will be leading a portrait shoot on day two of our workshop in Kansas City. If you’re in the KC area and want to join there are a few spots still left, but they are definitely going fast. Register now at Digital Labrador