“…there are innumerable ways to affect the outcome and emotion of a shot.”
Rubin, can you tell us more about yourself and what first drew you to photography? I have been an artist my whole life. When I was young, one of my favorite things to do was draw. This runs in the family and wasn’t a surprise. My dad (also an artist) is a photographer and always had camera equipment in the house, and I think that was a strong influence in my gravitation towards that route. I had some form of camera on me, most of the time. However, I didn’t start taking photography seriously until 2004, when I got my first DSLR, the Nikon D70.
What is it that interests you most about photography? What keeps you there? This is a very easy answer for me. It is the degree of customizability and options that keeps me there. The fact that there are innumerable ways to affect the outcome and emotion of a shot, by changing a limitless number of factors both directly (what appears in the photo), indirectly (the techniques and equipment used to make the photo), and then in post-production, when there are another infinite myriad of ways to edit a photo.
From your experience, what are the biggest challenges for an independent photographer? I would say marketing and advertising kinds of concerns; the process of getting your name out there. I think there are lots of opportunities out there and always a need for photography. But finding, connecting with, and following through on those opportunities is another ballgame.
A common misconception about photographers is that we…? We take cameras around with us everywhere we go. Oh wait, I do that, frequently.
What is one last impression you want to leave in your photos? I always wanted to have a “signature” look on my photos, by employing certain styles and editing. I wanted people to be able to look at a photo and recognize or at least hypothesize that it might be one of mine, some extra “edge” to the photos that gave them an additional flair. I think this was easier to do when I started, since technology was fairly limited and not everyone had a camera. It got harder and harder to do as time progressed and technology allowed even phones to create superb images. So nowadays it is quite challenging to stand out from the mass of talented photographers out there.
From your experience, have your most successful shots come from perfect planning or accidents? Any experience to share? Well, if I were to go by my “most successful shots”, those were all planned. So I think that is a pretty clear answer here. However, I am a huge fan of candids and spontaneous types of photographs as well, and always incorporate those into my shoots in addition to the “planned” kind. This is curious but my personal favorite shots are candids / not posed.
What is your mental checklist before a shoot? I want the shoot to go as smoothly as possible so I’m keeping in mind all of the things that will make that possible. So I am corresponding and following up with all involved parties to ensure things happen in a timely and expected fashion, keeping time restraints in mind, any other requirements. Equipment-wise, I’ve charged all the batteries, cleared memory cards, setup lights and other effects for the looks we are trying to achieve, and so on.
What is going through your mind when you are on set behind the camera? I am keeping the vision and intentions of our desired images in mind as much as I can, and comparing that with what’s coming out on screen. I feel it’s very easy to get side-tracked in terms of the looks you are trying to achieve if you are not continually aware of those looks, so I keep those intentions in mind while shooting. If the on-screen results aren’t what we were expecting, then I am switching things up, changing settings and equipment, trying to get closer to that desired look.
What type of photo-sessions are your most favorite and why? My favorite photo-sessions are on-location in the city or other dynamic areas where I can really flex the interplay between the subject and background scene. I make my most powerful images when I combine a strong subject with a strong background and mix those with a strong composition and angles. This might seem obvious when it’s explained that way, but I feel it takes some focused direction and effort during the shoot, to maximize the effect. There is always something more you can do to make the shot stronger.
How do you choose your locations? Is there anything specific that you’re looking for? I have some favorite locations that I go back to when I can, but overall I am looking for new locations. Living in Chicago, this is not too hard to do. Regarding specifics, it depends on the type of shoot we are doing. Industrial, City Lifestyle, Lakefront, Parks, Architecture, Nature, I would generally say these are the main categories of on-location photos for me. I’ve always got my eyes open when driving for new spots and keep those in mind for future shoots.
Who or what are your greatest influences or inspirations? Do you, or have you ever, looked to other photographers or artists for inspiration or education? For people, my inspiration comes from the likes of Herb Ritts, Anton Corbijn and Mark Seliger, to name just a few. I’m also greatly influenced by Ansel Adams, for landscape photography and try to keep those kinds of emotions and moods in mind when shooting with models as well. I always look at the work of my peers, on any of the various social media channels, and carefully gauge the feedback and responses. I think this is so very important to do in terms of growth and perspective because it helps understand the climate and in turn helps you adjust your own approach, if needed.
In your opinion, what are the ingredients for success with photography? It begins with the photographer’s eye. From there, it expands to an understanding of the equipment being used, from the cameras, to lenses, to lighting methods, not necessarily in that order. (I would say the lighting is the most important part of that equation). Next comes the subject, which the photographer must understand dynamically in order to make compelling images that work. Next comes the background and an understanding of how that works together with the subject. The final aspect of a final image is the post-processing / editing. These edits can make or break an image. Once the final image is completed, it is marketed in any number of ways to get the exposure needed for further possibilities. There are a wide range of these so I will generally say the primary Social Media outlets are a great place to start and stay consistent with. If all of these ingredients come together as an artistically sound representation of the artist’s vision, the product will speak for itself.
Do you have any tips for non-models on how to look good in front of the camera? It’s my understanding that anyone in front of the camera looks their best, when they look comfortable. And this can be a model or non-model – so I shall refer to them as the subject. So, I ask the subject what they want the viewer to feel, when looking at their image. This helps them focus their feelings on what mood they want to project. For fashion images, the subject might want to come off as mysterious / elusive, pointed, pensive, fleeting, or slinky (just some examples). For lifestyle images, the subject usually wants to come off as care-free and relaxed. For head shots, the subject wants to give the impression of being approachable and friendly. Just a few examples.
Do you feel Photoshop has created a skewed perception of the ideal body image? I do feel Photoshop has attributed to an atmosphere of photographic product that can feel like a fantasy world – I try to limit how much I do in Photoshop. I’m especially interested in preserving a model’s look in comparison to real life, because I think such disparities can work against a model’s intentions, if they go too far. Moderation is something I keep in mind when editing images.
What is your retouching/production philosophy? How important is Photoshop in your final images? I use Photoshop as the icing on the cake rather than the cake flour. I like Photoshop, but I try to create as much as I can for the final image in-camera. I am not a fan of replacing backgrounds, removing /modifying big parts of the background, or adding fog or clouds or other elements. These things are OK once in a while, but they drift towards the realm of “photo manipulation” and artistry, rather than photography. I am most pleased when a shot comes together in-camera.
What advice you would give to a young photographer working toward building their social media profile? The first thing is quality content. That is what gets people interested and keeps them interested. The second thing is consistency and frequency of that quality content. The third thing is appropriate and relevant tagging and hashtagging. The fourth thing that is optional but recommended is incorporating text as a story or other development, as part of a photo. This step can increase interest and engagement with your audience.
What are your thoughts around social media? Do you feel it has helped your photography business? Social media is a huge aspect of modern photography and I am all for it. It has helped my photography immensely in terms of business prospects and opportunities over the years. It has also helped me assess and identify my strongest work, and while this is not super critical in terms of being an artist, in terms of being a successful artist, yes I think it is important. This information helps you grow and fine tune your vision.
Any words of wisdom for photography enthusiasts at the beginning of their journey? Work from your personal vision over anything else. Try not to listen to too many people regarding how to use a camera or how to take photos. This is the stance I take with anyone who asks me for help with photography. I want to see what’s going on in your head and the vision you have. I don’t want it to be affected by the vision of others. Now, there are always factors that can be studied to strengthen your images, and that is fine. Next comes practice and perseverance – keep shooting photos, anywhere you go. Share your favorite images on social media and find out what is your strongest work. Keep pushing yourself, never get settled on your photography, if you plan to take it farther. Don’t let success get to your head.
One thing that bugs you about humans is that…? The natural human tendency to bring others down and discourage others from following what’s in their hearts. In the words of The Terminator himself, “Don’t listen to the naysayers… pay no attention to the people that say it can’t be done.”
What superpower you wish you had and why? I wish I could fly. It would be fun to fly around the world with my camera quickly and take photos of everything.
Please tell one surprising fact about yourself. I am a law school drop-out.
Thank you, Rubin.
Published in 2017 May Vol III: BUY NOW