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September 17, 2009

PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER INTERVIEW: Dana Hursey

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Written by: Lawrence

“My immediate goals are to continue to grow the business, develop new clients, reach into new geographical markets, and raise my profile.”

 

PAST

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook ? What sparked your interest in photography? Do you recommend all the weekend photographers out there to initially stick with the subjects they know and build from there? Do you have any suggestions on how to build that progression? How did you progress to where you are today in photography?

DANA HURSEY: Funny you should ask, that is really how I got started. My stepdad was an editorial photographer for auto magazines and was ALWAYS taking photos at any opportunity. At the age of 12, I was offered the opportunity to do my junior high schools first yearbook ever. May stepdad gave me one of his old cameras and it was all downhill from there. What really locked it in for me was when I was a Junior in high school one of my teachers told me about a place where I could go and get a degree in photography and would not have to do any “regular” college courses. I was not big on “school” so I had to check this out. I visited the College in question (Art Center College of Design – Pasadena CA) and when I walked into the student gallery and saw the work that was being done, and realized people were actually doing this as a profession, I was instantly hooked. Later when I found out the teacher (who had told me “no general ed. required”) was, … well let’s say “speaking inaccurately” it was too late. I didn’t care what I had to do.. I was going to Art Center.

I would recommend that people stick with what they love, more importantly. And push yourself on every shoot to do something new / different / uncomfortable, but still something you are passionate about.

I would say that most reasons I am where I am at today start with “P”… Persistence,  Perserverence, Passion…
They type of work I do has changed a lot over the years, because for many years I did what I thought people wanted to see rather than what I wanted. It took a lot of years for me to learn that doesn’t work.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Do you still have photos taken from the early years when it all started? What were your subjects? Are the pictures online to share with everyone to compare with your work today?

DANA HURSEY: Sure I have them… I tend to not show old work as it does not pertain to who I am today. Certainly it has SHAPED who I am but it really only speaks to the past. I went straight from high school to a commercial art college and consequently my work has almost always been clean & commercial. It is really kind of who I am and I like it! Subject is not a big factor for me, it is more about the creative process. I love to collaborate, but more than that I love control!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What books did you read at the beginning of your photography career that helped you prepare for today? Title of book, author and price of book please…just messing around, the title of the books should be fine thanks to google search. Do you recall any other resources that you referred to heavily to help you prepare for the photography business? We want to know what the must have resources are to fully equip ourselves when and if we ever plan to take that leap of faith.

DANA HURSEY: My inspirations were Irving Penn, Yousuf Karsh, and George Hurrell. My Irving Penn Book seems to be out of print. The Karsh book is the Sixty Year Retrospective. I also remember having the TimeLife Photography Collection when I was a kid. What prepared me for the photography “business”? I came from a family that had it’s own business. In addition to running the business for a couple of years, I took accounting classes and studio managed for two photographers for two years. THAT is what prepped me for the “business”! Really…. Photography is about 10% of what I do.. if I am lucky, business is the other 90%. That is the reality.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What was your very first professional photography job? Was this purely out of luck that you were at the right place at the right time? Was there a hidden plan to penetrate the market from within? Would you recommend it to new photographers trying to break into the market and that are having difficulty breaking in? Once you had your first job under your belt was it difficult to get another gig? What did you do to acquire more work besides providing awesome images? Have you ever considered being agency represented? If you are agency represented how did you attract a photography agent?

DANA HURSEY: I guess if I had to say what my first job was after opening my own “studio” it would have been a single B/W portrait of a client of a friend of mine, who was a designer. The Job that I always feel was my first really big job was 129 jobs and 6 years later doing an ad campaign for Cigna Healthcare. But my first paying gig would have been a wedding when I was maybe 17. I’ll never do another wedding in my life. I have great admiration for wedding photographers… It is just not in my reality! I would only recommend this profession to those who are absolutely passionate about it. I would not want to discourage anyone from this profession, but it is VERY competitive and a financial and emotional roller coaster. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am currently repped… I have gone through long periods of both being repped and not being repped, and there are pluses and minuses to both sides. It is actually harder to get a rep than it is to get a job. But ultimately one should not worry about looking for a rep until one is too busy to market themselves. Getting work is all about keeping your name out there in any fashion you can. Advertise. Online, direct mail, source books, cold calls. Sell, sell, sell!!!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: After your first job, What was the next photography gig you obtained and how did you go about your execution? Did you apply all that you’ve learned in all the books you’ve read ? Did you buy more books or accessed any more resources to help you jump to your next big step in the game of photography? What tools do you recommend that are a must have that helped you get to where you are present day?

DANA HURSEY: I am NOT a reader of books. Let’s just get that out there right now. Most of what I’ve learned has either been from learning it at Art Center or learning it experientially. Art Center is not the end all and beall of Photo Education Programs. There are a lot of other valid and viable players in that game. I occasionally teach at Art Center and love sharing information. But there are a ton of different paths to this career and no one should get caught up in trying to figure out which one is the “right” one.  The “right” one is the one that you take. If you want to be a good photographer; 1.) learn all you can about lighting and composition, because that is what a photographer is, a recorder of light and composition. If you want to have a successful photo business, see step 1  AND then 2.) learn all you can about BUSINESS. If you want to have a successful photo business and be competitive, see steps 1 & 2, and get yourself tech savvy… We are all digital now and you need to be knowledgeable in this arena so as to speak intelligently to your clients and also know how most effectively and efficiently to accomplish any given shot. One of my favorite resources in this arena..? … http://www.lynda.com


PRESENT

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What keeps the money rolling? Your brand is possibly a huge factor to your longevity? Am iright?  Do you have any recommendations on brand building for weekend photographers and/or Photographers in general.

DANA HURSEY: LOL… Sorry I shouldn’t laugh, should I?.. This of ALL years has been a harsh and ridiculous year. Not just for our industry, but wow.. ourindustry! Everyone has really taken a hit. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. And anyone who says they haven’t is simply trying to paint a pretty picture and hoping no one challenges them. With that said I think we are starting to see a rebound.  But on to Branding. Branding is vitally important. It is about consistency. Consistency in your photography, in how you shoot, in your communications (both in style and appearance). www.phototherapists.com specialize in working with photographers on precisely this (and no, I don’t get any commissions for saying so)

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What is currently in your photography bag? Please be as detailed as possible for those starting out photographers that want to be just like you. From your photography equipment arsenal, what do you bring most of the time for your commercial shoots?

DANA HURSEY: Really?..okay…
In alphabetical order….

PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT
13″ Monitor Tray with Steadi-Cam Pin for mounting on Magliner
25LB SAND BAGS -6 @ $35.00
50′ Extension Cords x6
Avenger  Super Clamp, Stand Adapter, and Grip Head
Avenger 40″ C Stands w/ Grip Head, Ext Arm X 4
BLACK FELT FLAGS & CUTTERS
Bogen Pro Digital Geared Head 405
Bogen Pro Digital Geared Head 405
Calument 42″ Lightdisk Kit
Canon EC-D Focusing Screen
Canon EF 100mm 2.8 Macro USM Lens
Canon EF 16mm-35mm AF Lens
Canon EF 28mm-300mm IS USM AF Lens
Canon EF 35mm-350mm AF Lens
Canon EF85mm 1.2L AF USM Lens
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III Digital Camera w/extra battery
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital Camera w/ extra battery
Canon Extension Tube EF25
Canon MP-E 65mm 2.8 1-5x Macro Lens
Canon Speedlite 580EX
Canon TS-E 90mm 2.8 Tilt Shift Lens
Chimera SUPER PRO SOFT BOX (Lg)
CHIMERA SUPER PRO SOFT BOX (sm)
COMET GRID SPOT SET (3 GRIDS)
Foba Gamma Camera Stand w/Accessory Tray & Laptop Tray & Adapter
Gel-Stor Roll-Up
Gitzo Performance Rapid GT3540 XLS Tripod w/ GS3510S Center Post
Hasselblad 120mm HC  4.0 Macro Lens
Hasselblad 28mm HCD 4.0 Lens
Hasselblad 50-110mm HC 3.5-4.5 Zoom Lens
Hasselblad 80mm HC 2.8 Lens
Hasselblad Battery Grip x2
Hasselblad H13mm Extension Tube
HasselbladH3D-39II   39MP Camera Body
Hasselblad Pro Lens Shade V/H 6095 w/ 77mm & 95mm Mount Rings
HasslebladH3D II   39MP Digital Back
Jobo Photo GPS
Lensbaby 2.0 Lens with Canon Mount
Lexar High Speed Card Reader
LIGHT STANDS x 4
Lightware  Strobe Head Case T4444 X2
Lightware 50 Flip Lid Case C5042
Lightware 50 Flip Lid Case C6050
LIGHTWARE CARGO 32 CASE
LIGHTWARE CASE #1420 (Qty = 3)
Lightware MF1015 Camera Bag / Case x2
Lightware Tool Kit Wallet A8700
Lowepro Pro Roller 2 Camera Bag
Magliner Gemini JR Hand Truck w/top shelf
Manfrotto 685B Monopod
Motorola Talkabout two way radios x 4
PHOTEK UMBRELLAS x4
PHOTOFLEX REFLECTOR 52″
Pocket Wizard Radio Slaves (2 Tranmitters / 2 Receivers)
Profoto 5M Head Extension Cable
Profoto Acute / D4 Ring Light 330513
Profoto Acute2 / D4 Strobe Head w/Reflector and Cover x 6
Profoto D4 2400R Strobe Pack x2
Profoto SpeedRing QR
Profoto StickLight
Profoto WideSoft Reflector for RingFlash
RawWorkFlow WhiBal Pocket & Studio Full Kit Bundle
Sandisk Extreme IV 2 GB CompactFlash Card x6
Sekonic Flash Meter L-358 with RT Module
Speedotron Set of 4  7″ Grids
Tamrac 332 Tripod Padded Bag
Tamrac 603 Zoom Traveler Camera Bag
Tamrac Big Wheels Backpack Camera Case (697)
Tenba RS-M24 Wheeled Air Case
TIFFEN 77mm POLARIZING FILTER
Visible Dust Full Size Pro 1.0x Bundle
Wescott 3515 Speed Ring
Wescott 4830 16×22 Soft Box
Plus a bunch of expendables, i.e. gaffer tape, batteries, gel filters, modeling clay, tools, wire, A clamps, canned air, scissors & blades, etc….

On the computer Side.. briefly
MacPro w / 30” & 24” monitors and 8 TB of external storage
Portable 2 bay “Shoot Drive” (2 TB)
15” Mac Book Pro
24” iMac (x2)

What do I bring most to shoots? Literally.. see ALL of the above w/ exception of 1 iMac and MacPro Setup.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  What is your favorite image in your current portfolio and why? How did you approach the execution? Give us a glimpse on how you construct an image from scratch.

DANA HURSEY: My favorite image changes on a regular basis. So today.. It would probably be the image of topiaries that I did for UnitedHealthcare. I like it because it is clean, simple, graphic and a bit ambiguous. This particular shot we did on the crest of a grassy hill in Malibu. The day was a bit gloomy and consequently we had to drop a “pretty” sky into it, in post-production. I am a bit old school in that I believe in getting as much as possible “in camera” and not relying on post-production to “piece together” the shot. Don’t get me wrong, we utilize the digital medium extensively, we just find the imagery is better when we do the bulk of the work in front of the lens.

A lot of what we do these days starts as a sketch. Even for personal work. It makes it easier to relay to everyone involved what the vision for the shot is. From there we let everyone do their job. Set and prop stylists, wardrobe stylists,  even assistants, we hire the best people and give them the space to do what they do. Certainly we communicate constantly to make sure we are heading down the same path. When you get a good crew together all of the pieces generally fall into place. There is always a hiccup or two, but a gain with a good crew, we just address the issue and fix it.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  Is having your own studio space essential for any commercial photographer.  Do you have a photography studio of your own? If so, what do you look for in a photography studio?

DANA HURSEY: It depends on what type of work you do. The majority of photographers, at least in the bigger cities, don’t maintain a physical studio. These days it is standard to rent a studio as needed. For us, a large part of our work is on location so it makes no sense to have the overhead of a studio that you are not using all the time. When we rent we look for clean open studios with plenty of room for clients and talent, a good sound system that we can plug an iPod into, WiFi, and if it is close to or has it’s own equipment rental facility and catering, all the better!

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What types of commercial gigs are you currently involved in now and how did they surface? What are your recommendations on how we photographers diversify their product offering from Commercial and stock in today’s marketplace?

DANA HURSEY: Currently we are working on a Botox Campaign, a fun web site project and we have a couple conceptual projects waiting in the wings. These all came from different sources; Botox is a return client, the web site project found us online (imagine!) and the conceptual stuff came through our Chicago Rep.
Stock has also taken a real dump this year. It will be interesting to see if / how it recovers.  It used to be a very viable source for regular income. I have seen my stock income drop about 80% and many of my colleagues are experiencing the same. Consequently I am not investing a ton of time into stock. These days we are really trying to focus our energies on assignment work. It’s my first love and so I tend to not pursue other things that will dilute my focus. We used to do a fair amount of film and video production / post-production as well but have really scaled back on that as it tends to be a distraction.


FUTURE

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What are your immediate goals as a photographer and artist?  Are you planning on releasing any how-to books? What are your recommendations to people thinking about starting a photography book?

DANA HURSEY:  My immediate goals are to continue to grow the business, develop new clients, reach into new geographical markets, and raise my profile. I am also looking to get more work through the door so as to fund my personal work, which tends to be a bit costly. Being that I am not a reader, it stands to reason that I am not a writer. Hence, no how to books for me. I am more of the workshop / teaching type. As I said earlier, I occasionally teach at Art Center and that fulfills my itch to share.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: A lot of professional photographers are starting to run workshops. Will you start offering workshops in the future? I know TIME is not your friend, but there are ways to get around that maybe offering internship opportunities to intern with you for a small fee during one of your paid shoots. Or maybe provide an opportunity to be a spectator for one of your weekend shoots?

DANA HURSEY:  Workshops are always a potential for me. I partner with Rhoni Epstein occasionally. I have had many folks want to spectate and am not opposed to it in the right situation. I have a list of growing e-mail addresses for that. But weekends? Really? I think I have done a weekend shoot maybe twice in my 20 years…

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM:  I am sure you’ve read many articles discussing how in the future videography and photography will be one? What are your thoughts on that and how will you evolve to the new morphed medium?

DANA HURSEY: I am going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t think this is going to be the “revolution” that so many are making it out to be. There IS a lot of discussion about it, but I truly think the application is limited.  I have seen the systems that are available and while they may tout being able to do both in one fell swoop; I have yet to see one that does not have some major flaws. Some of the flaws I am told by those “in-the-know”are unfixable due to pure physics. Having done film and video for a lot of years, video opens up a whole new bag of, well, .. everything that one must be on top of, from hardware to software to so many technical issues that are inherent to video, that while I think there are some very valid applications, I don’t think it is going to become the “force” in the industry that some manufacturers might hope. But that’s just me. AND that’s me having a background in it such that if it becomes necessary I can easily fall back into it…

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Ok so thinking about the future and how it is very important in any endeavor especially the photography business. What do you suggest photographers do in the future to solidify their presence in the industry? What will you do to ensure that you remain on top, not taking into account your photography niche?

DANA HURSEY: The answer is easily said but not easily done. You need to stay current. Technically, stylistically, visually.  Your imagery needs to stay relevant. I think part of that is not being in a bubble, which I think so many of us can easily fall into. Working with good people helps. It keeps you on your toes. For me it is all about getting the client what they want, hopefully adding something of value to the mix, doing it in an extremely efficient manner, on budget, with a bit of fun thrown in.

LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Thank you again for your time and giving back. What would you like to leave for us photographers to think about when moving forward with photography for the future? If you have any words of wisdom will be appreciated.

DANA HURSEY: We all need to have a sense of responsibility to our industry. We need to ensure that what we do retains its sense of value. We need to produce quality work. We need to not giveit away. The world is becoming ever more visual, which means what we do should be more valuable not less. Those who would work for little or no compensation or undercut to get the job do damage to us all, including themselves.  If you are going to be a professional photographer, do it with integrity.  Oh… and have fun!

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About the Author

Lawrence
Lawrence Atienza is a Jack of all Trades and Master of ALL. Whether it be in the realm of Advertising/Advertising operations with over 10+ years of experience to dabbling in the creative realm of photography and founding/writing for http://www.PhotographySILO.com, Lawrence Atienza gives his all. You can find him on Google+,Twitter and the major social media outlets.




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