“I find that showing up and expecting that the universe will deliver, actually paves the way for it to do so. You need patience because often it takes time.”Deanne Fitzmaurice
For Deanne Fitzmaurice, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Think Tank Photo co-founder and Nikon Ambassador, luck is a state of mind. Her creative philosophy has taken her around the world, with curiosity, wonder and a knack for storytelling in her heart.
With a celebrated photo career beginning in the 1980s, Deanne Fitzmaurice has produced compelling photo stories for many clients and media outlets, including The San Francisco Chronicle, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and ESPN.
We sat down with Deanne to walk through a wide range of personal and freelance projects to outline what makes a memorable photograph and how to use the art of storytelling to make an impact. With the right mindset, anyone can leave their mark.
Take a look at the Q&A from our conversation below!
Cover image by Deanne Fitzmaurice.
Our Q&A with Deanne
This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.
You’ve been a PhotoShelter member for over a decade now! How does PhotoShelter play into your day to day photo business and workflow?
DF: Well first of all, front-facing, it’s my website. So PhotoShelter has hosted my website for the last 10 years. Any time anyone goes to my website, they’re looking at a PhotoShelter website.
Behind the scenes, I can talk a little bit about my workflow and how PhotoShelter plays into that. When I go out and I shoot an assignment or a story, I come back, and I download my images to my hard drive. Then I go through the shoot, edit my selects using Photo Mechanic. I choose maybe 20 images. I work up those images, make real nice TIFs, large and high res, and upload them in a folder to PhotoShelter. So I’ve got my high res selects from every assignment I’ve ever shot on PhotoShelter. I feel like it’s another backup. It’s a cloud archive of my best work.
Additionally, I use it for client services. I deliver my images to my clients using PhotoShelter. So, I will also make a folder of the jpegs, sized and everything, for the client and create a folder. And then I send a password-protected link to the client to access these images and they can download them if I set it that way. So it’s great. Works really well.
Who is or was your biggest influence as a photographer?
DF: Oh, wow. You know, there are so many. I’m going to throw one out there, and that is Elliott Erwitt. I posted that photo yesterday of the big Great Dane with a little chihuahua because it was International Dog Day. So I posted that image and several people commented that it’s a homage to Elliott Erwitt.
Elliot has an incredible photograph that’s similar to that. And I’m sure Elliott was in the back of my mind as I shot that photo. I’ve just always loved his sense of humanity and his sense of humor. And I’ve tried to carry that through my work.
This year, we’ve been talking a lot at PhotoShelter about the importance of photography mentorship. Did you have any specific mentors when you were first getting started?
DF: You know what, I think I have to say my peers more than anybody. I went to the Academy of Art and I got a fine art degree; a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. Of course, I took photojournalism classes, but there was a strong emphasis on art. Shortly after I graduated, I started working at the San Francisco Chronicle and I really learned a lot of photojournalism on the streets and just from my peers. I learned so much about the ethics of photojournalism and newsgathering. So yeah, I think I would say my peers have really been a huge influence to me.
You mentioned that in some situations, you make yourself be forgotten or invisible. Do you have any tips on becoming and remaining relatively invisible? How do you go about doing that when you’re making images?
DF: I do. What I find I have to do is I have to make a connection with the person that I’m photographing. I mean, it’s funny – as a photojournalist, sometimes you feel like you just can’t get involved. But over the course of my career, I feel like I need to be a human first. Sometimes in a situation when I go to photograph somebody, I need to make a connection with them. Because it’s very weird, you’re home and all of a sudden this photographer shows up and wants to photograph you. It’s very awkward, really. So I understand that.
What I do is I just put the camera down for a minute and just talk to them. And I explain my process, too. I explain, “Hey, this is why we’re doing the story. I just want to capture real moments in your life. I say, “The more you can forget about me, the better.” And then I share something about me, find some common ground, and then they feel at ease. So just make that human connection, I would say, and then back off and let real life unfold.
What’s in your camera bag? When did you make the switch to digital?
DF: So through the 90s I was shooting film. It was black and white film, and then we started branching out and actually doing color film and that’s during my time at the Chronicle. And then we switched to digital around 2000. And the early digital cameras were really
challenging. There was this Kodak camera, I think, early on that was a ridiculous amount of money. And the files were not that great. I was there through all the evolutions of the different cameras. And little by little, the camera started improving. And so we were going through that transition throughout the early 2000s with the cameras.
Currently I shoot with Nikon. I was on assignment yesterday and I was using my D5 and I was using my mirrorless Z6 ii. I also use the D850 and I use the Z7. There are certain times when I definitely want to be using the D5 – for sports, when things are happening quickly. I love the files on all these cameras, but I’ve been using the mirrorless more and more – the Z7, the Z6. I love the way it’s lightweight and it’s unobtrusive and that I can use a silent shutter. I love the electronic viewfinder, too, where I can see as I change exposure.
What is your approach to pitching a story or finding your next assignment?
DF: It’s a balance. Being a freelance photojournalist is challenging, but, I think we all love it so much that we just work really hard and make it work. I’m taking assignments, although, you know, during the pandemic, it’s been really crazy. There haven’t been as many assignments as usual. And so I’ve been just forcing myself to come up with story ideas: Brianna, the urban cowgirl, and the Starling story, for example. And then I’m trying to pitch these stories and trying to get them published, trying to figure out what’s the outlet?
And I think a lot of it comes from networking and creating your network of people that you can reach out to. A lot of that networking happens in places like workshops and webinars. You’ll hear photo editors on webinars these days and they’ll talk about how they want to be pitched. And oftentimes you send them an email, really concise. They’re so busy. Share one paragraph. Why is this story important now? Do you have access to this story? Have you started shooting it or not? When you just kind of lay it out and they’re so busy, sometimes you don’t get an answer right away. Wait a week, follow up and pay attention to the publications that you want to work for. See what they’re publishing, what they’re doing and don’t pitch something they just ran.
Can you shed some light on how the pandemic has changed the photojournalism industry?
DF: Yeah, it’s hard to say because we’re still in it, really. Currently, it’s just forced us to be really careful and to think about how we go out and photograph, how we go and tell these stories. I think it’s just still ongoing. We’re going to have to see where it goes from here. But, I think, the pandemic I have found is a great chance to work on some other things. I’ve been spending a lot of time going through my archives over this last year. So I think we just have to roll with what’s happening. And right now we’re in this kind of strange space, but we need to make the most of it.
We need to say, what are the things I can do now? Once things get busy and we’re back to work, we’ll have lost this opportunity. So take this opportunity to do some of those things that you’ve always wanted to do now. Do you want to work on a book? Do it now. This is the time.
Do you have any advice for photographers or photo students who are just getting started?
DF: Ah, yes. Believe in yourself. Follow your dream. Don’t let anything stop you from doing what you want to do. Like I said, we all work really hard. I work all the time. If I’m not out shooting something, I am at my computer. I’m pitching stories, researching stories.
Work hard and follow your passion and don’t give up. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this. Find your niche. Find out what is the thing in photography that you love more than anything and find a way to do that. Just follow that.
I think it’s good to really be diverse as a photographer, to be able to do a lot of different things, to be able to work for different clients – commercial clients, editorial clients, to be able to do work on different platforms, to be able to do video and audio as well as stills – But I also think that it’s important to have something that you’re passionate about, that you’re known for. Really dive deep into that and learn everything you can about it and be the expert in that niche within photography.