As the Photoshop Editor for Tuts+, I am fortunate enough, on occasion, to meet some very talented photographers and retouchers. Recently, I had some time to chat with one of my favorites, Sarah Silver, a New York-based photographer and director that has worked on some very exciting projects for Vogue, TRESemmé, and America's Next Top Model, to name just a few.
In this interview, we talked about a variety of topics including how to best manage your time, how to interact with clients, the importance of education, as well as some tips on how you can turn your clients' ideas into reality. This interview mainly focuses on client interaction and time management and applies to anyone interested in graphic design, advertising, photography or retouching. Let's take a look!
QHi Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Can you tell our readers a bit about your background? What do you do? Where are you based? What notable projects have you worked on?
I'm an NYC based fashion, beauty, and movement photographer. My most visible work currently is the TRESemmé ad campaign that was launched in Times Square for Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week this past fall. You can see it all over Manhattan right now on taxis. I was also recently on air in two episodes of America's Next Top Model. It was definitely a real treat to work with model great Alessandra Ambrosio. She's incredible.
QI know a lot of photographers that are self-taught. Did you go to school for photography? How helpful has your schooling been in building your career?
I have a BFA degree in Middle East Studies from Vassar College and a MFA degree from School of Visual Arts for Photography. For me, schooling was very important first and foremost because I have always wanted to teach. Also, having come from a very different background (Middle East Studies), I really wanted to round out my education in art history. I know that every idea I incorporate into a photo comes from our rich history of art and culture.
QAs a working photographer, how important do you think it is to give back the community through education?
I was given some amazing opportunities as a student and I believe strongly in giving back to young photographers. That's why I believe strongly in having interns with me in the studio. There's only so much one can learn in a classroom. 99% of what we teach our interns and what I try to stress when I'm talking to students is that thinking on your feet, quick reflexes, and logical problem solving is the answer to just about everything.
Also, let's be honest. I always tell the interns I need them as much as they need me. They teach me, keep me informed, show me fresh perspectives. Explaining a point of view to someone opens up my eyes to new ways of seeing everything around me. I can be stuck on something and by simply discussing the problem I see the answer clearly!
We play a game in the studio called "what did you learn today" and the answer can be anything. ANYTHING! You would be surprised by how much I have picked up from this exercise.
QWhat role does Photoshop play in your workflow?
Better yet, what role does Photoshop NOT play in my workflow? If my computer had a voice and could tell you which program is used the most on a daily basis it would tell you Photoshop is constantly open and working. I'm sure if we could log the hours with a script, it would be very telling!
QHow do you keep the retouching process in mind while you shoot your photos?
I actually spend a lot of time on set bringing multiple images into Photoshop and working them up in front of the clients. It's so much better to show them on set where you want to go with an image and to get their feedback right then and there. I usually print out my quick comps and they take them home (sometimes even in the layout, too). Everybody looks like a hero - they go back to the office with something that is really close to the final image. In addition, I get to put my creative mark on the image from initial capture to final delivery.
QClients often approach photographers to create imagery that will be used for advertising campaigns. Under these circumstances, do those clients provide you with a layout, sketch, or mood board beforehand?
They may provide everything or nothing, depending on the client. Sometimes I have very complete instructions and sometimes I have just a few words to get the idea going.
QWhat tips would you suggest to help designers or art director create better sketches, layouts, or mood boards?
I love all forms of mood boards, layouts, sketches. I think the only direction that can cause problems is the one where it's a sketch based on nothing that's actually attainable, but we are meant to follow it quite literally. What I mean is that the sketch isn't proportionate to any realistic human and she/he is doing something that only a gumby doll could do with their limbs.
Then I have to get a real person in and try to make them fit inside an impossible model that looks cool in a drawing but literally is not humanly possible!
QWhen reading client briefs, I've found that clients can often use very descriptive words to describe what they are looking for. A client, for instance, might say they want the art to look "dynamic but also flat." How can an artist learn to translate these types of requests when the words they use to describe the project can sometimes be conflicted or confusing?
I find that incorporating backup visuals can usually clear up any confusion. I can say "do you like this or this" and they point to a visual that hits the mark. I also like to ask leading questions that help them discuss their ideas until I have a clearer idea of what the answer is. These conversations also help me learn what their concerns are and what they are hoping to get out of the photo shoot. Sometimes the only way to come to these answers is by talking the ideas through.
QWhat is the most important project that you have ever worked on?
Every project is the most important project. Whatever I am working on that day gets 200% of my attention and focus. I don't delineate between bigger jobs and smaller jobs, bigger money jobs and smaller money jobs, because the very act of judging a project's worth puts your creative integrity at risk. There's no "low hanging fruit" or "snoozer" jobs in my mind. Someone comes to me and wants me to shoot and that commands all of my attention and respect.
QHow important is it to learn to delegate your workload?
Not knowing how or when to delegate is the single biggest killer for a creative person. The minute you are overwhelmed is a minute too late to delegate. I have very strict ways of doing everything in my studio. I mean EVERYTHING. These habits are instilled in everybody and enforced in every part of our workflow. I always tell people that if you follow the rules when you're having an easy week, you will always follow the rules when you're slammed and up to your eyeballs. It's when we are slammed that we don't have time to think AT ALL. So are you ready for the hard days? Kind of like a fire drill, we are ready every day. (Oh, and a breezy day can turn rough at any moment!)
QAt what point should an artist, designer, or photographer realize that they are overwhelmed and hire some one to help?
Well, if you are spending more time worrying about details and not enough time with creative, then you need help. Are you stuck so deep in the process that you aren't seeing the world outside of you? Are you balancing your checkbook on your only day off instead of going to the museum? Creative process happens when it happens, but it certainly won't happen when you are doing your billing!
QThanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Have any last minute advice to share with our readers?
It is important to do your homework on a project from start to finish. Just because they like your photography doesn't mean you're going to hit the mark on the job.
Things to always keep in mind:
- What is the product? Can you touch it, taste it, try it? Then do it!
- What is their previous imagery? If they are changing direction, then WHY?
- Who is their target audience? What is their goal with these images?
- How do their competitors use their imagery?
- What's the history of this product vis a vis marketing (not just THIS product, but past similar products by other vendors)
- Listen to your clients' concerns. They want you to understand them as much as they want good pictures.
Sarah Silver on the Web