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April 20, 2010


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Written by: Lawrence

“MY best training came from my newspaper working experience at the Chattanooga Times. It helps me to work fast and to do the job right under pressure.”



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?


I didn’t have any interest in photography until my last year in college. I bought a Canon A1 camera just to get my mind away from my insecurity of continuing medical school.  Then one day at a magazine store I discovered Darkroom Magazine, and read an article on Ansel Adams and was very fascinated by his work & life story. His passion was photography but he was trained as a classical piano player and that is what his folks were hoping for. So I felt I was in a cross road just like him. OF course at that time I didn’t know much about photography or thought that would be my calling.  That said when I finished the whole story I dialed information got his phone number and called him. We then develop a mentoring friendship, which lasted until he passed away.



For sure anybody interested in photography should take photos of what comes naturally to them. IT doesn’t matter if is shooting your pet your kids, landscapes or clouds. Just stick to that and from there you can branch out.  IT takes a while to learn and grow. The main thing is to be patient and to shoot plenty. And keep on shooting and after that shoot some more. MY career has been great to me and I had been very fortunate. One of the main things is never to take anything per granted. Many clients had given me an open door and by doing great work and by been responsible and real to my subjects that opened many other doors.





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?

MANUELLO PAGANELLI: Yes I still do and most of those images were street photography. I had always been passionate by the work of W.Eugene Smith and Robert Frank and as someone who wasn’t born in the USA the work of Frank spoke very close to my heart.



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.

MANUELLO PAGANELLI: I gotta tell you that I had never taken any photo classes.  The only book I bought was one on strobe lighting. I thought it was a great book when I got it and 3 weeks later my photos were more creative and looking much better than the images on that book. Then I tossed the book in the trash can.

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?



MANUELLO PAGANELLI: MY first photo job I got was working at the Chattanooga Times. I had zero experience and somehow I was able to meet the Managing Editor of the paper. He gave me a chance during the summer of 1983. I was only going to be there for 3 months or so. Once summer was over he called me to his office and the room was packed with the director of photography, city Editor, Sports Editors and others. I was ready to hear “Son you had done great and we want to thank you and wish you well in your career.” Instead what they said was, “How would you like to work for us full time.”

Two years later I moved to Washington DC where I was hired to work for Agence France Presse.  They were the new kid in town and I was there for only six months.  AFP was the worse place I ever worked. They were nasty to photographers and very condescending. After that I said, “will never work for anybody again.” and began my solo freelance career. I started shooting for USA Today, The Washington Post, NY Times, and LA Times & Reuters. Did that for almost a year then I learned to used strobes and started showing my work in NYC and a week later after I got back to DC Forbes magazine called me with my very first job and that was a HUGE push for my career. I remember Forbes asking me, “how much you charge for an assistant” and I didn’t even know what an assistant was.  After that first gig other magazines commenced to call me.

I thought about representation from a photo agent. Once I got a call and this agent wanted to rep my work. At this time I had constructed quite a client list that kept me very busy: Times, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, People, Business Week, Forbes to name a few. Yet this rep wanted me to split not only new clients that she would find me but also any income I would make from my already established clientele. I told her thanks but not thanks. For the most part I get my own gigs and I had been blessed so I don’t have to give any 20% or whatever the going rate is with an agent. Also for the most part I am very good at negotiating my own deals so it can be a win/win deal. I hate leaving money on the negotiating table.  The other day I lost a bid for a one-day commercial shoot. It would have netted me 25 K but according to the adv agency the client decided to go with a different photo style. I just hope that whomever they went with was charging properly for the licensing usages they wanted plus his creative fees.

The new photographers need to trust in themselves. Faith, talent and consistency are the only values that will carry them to the next level then ad a dose of luck.




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?



MANUELLO PAGANELLI:  MY best training came from my newspaper working experience at the Chattanooga Times. It helps me to work fast and to do the job right under pressure. And honestly I can’t remember who my second client was.  After the first one the rest came pretty fast. YOU know you always will remember your first girlfriend but can you name the second and third one.  The tools comes from inside of me that inner feeling that hits my eyes when the light is perfect or the moment feels right. Too many photographers relied too much on the technical aspect or Photoshop tricks and they are missing so much.





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

MANUELLO PAGANELLI: Besides my vision and executing my jobs in a way that a client will be proud is what keeps me going and paying my bills and mortgage.  Either shooting for some top magazines or a few adv gigs here and there. Some folks also collect some of my fine arts images. Younger photographers should come into a photo shoot with an open mind and thinking that is going to be their last one. So they better hit a homerun. The moment you see it that way is when your shooting gets much better and each time you learn from the last one. The best way to learn is by making mistakes. As long as those mistakes are not crucial then you can be on your way up.



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?

MANUELLO PAGANELLI: If I am traveling overseas a canon 5d, Canon 5D Mark ll, two hassy cameras, a couple leicas, a Diana and a Holga, an array of lenses from 20-35mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm lens, a couple Canon speedlights 580EX. At the start of my career I did plenty of sports and used to have a couple fast 300mm F2.8 lens and a 600mm f4 lens.  Those lenses were very pricey and heavy. Also a pouch with over Twenty 8 GB flashcards. IF am shooting black & white film then I carry my T-max 100 & 400 ASA.   I also don’t leave home without my ipod.  ON local shoots my bag is lighter.

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.

MANUELLO PAGANELLI: Honestly they are so many. I do love my black & white documentary work from Cuba and my black cowboy series.  My Black Cowboy series was shown  last year at the Annenberg Photo Space in Los Angeles. But some images on my website that I am very proud of is of my friend and singer Ke$ha. I met her and her family a few years ago before she became famous with her song Tick Tack. I went to college in Tennessee and her family is from there so we hit it off very well. That was our connection when we met.


When it comes to my editorial photo shoots usually the client will give me the free range. Is a pretty open thing with them usually telling me “Just go there and do your thing.”From time to time the client will have a photo concept especially for covers or if this is an advertising photo shoot.  But for the most part they give me plenty of creative freedom.



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?


Never had a studio. I really don’t think is essential especially with all the overhead involved.  Usually rent it when the shoot calls for it.  Just rented one yesterday while shooting one of the talent in Dancing with the Stars TV show. Sometime the shoot is even done at my home.  They usually come alone or with their entourage. Then once their agent/publicist/assistant sees that all is cool they chill out in the backyard with some refreshing drink while I am working inside with my crew. Chris Issak had a ball at my place and so did singer Fantasia.  Regardless where you do the shot make sure is comfortable, with plenty of safe parking, have wifi available, the temperature is right, and you got the right music and the food to served. And have a great crew to help you to the finishing line.



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?




Just finished working a cool photo cover with colorful TV chef Guy Fieri. Who was a ball of fire and energy just like his larger than life personality that you see on TV. Can’t show those images yet but they came out beautifully. For that shoot we had a makeup person, food stylist and 3 assistants. For the location we rented this amazing place in Sonoma wine country.  Afterwards he sent me a cool email inviting me and my kids to a show that he is having at Disney. He wants to meet my girls so we are his VIP guest which is pretty cool.


Also the way to diversify is by shooting other style of photos different than what you are used to. We need changes or are like eating scramble eggs with butter-toasted bread each morning. Too many new shooters want to do the same style of the glossy or gritty look while doing lifestyle or celebrities. There is a lot more than just that. Not need to get jammed into one or two things.





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?


I get asked that question all the time. I  had never been a person of how-to-books. Maybe since I am self-taught all came from the inside. From a strong deep gut feeling. SO in all fairness I am not the right person to give book advices. I do know that now is much easier to have self-publishing books. I do would love to do a book just on my black & white images. But I had been saying that for a few years now. Maybe this will be the year.

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?

MANUELLO PAGANELLI:  I had been doing workshop for a long time now. I don’t do it often but whenever possible I do it. I had done some overseas in Europe, Argentina, at the Brooks Institute, The Pasadena Art Center, and the Julia Dean workshops. In fact I am doing a cool workshop April 24th at the Julia Dean:


and a few days before, April 21,  I will be the guest speaker in Los Angeles for ASMP:

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?



That is here to stay and is part of our future. I had been learning a bit about videos. As many of your readers know the Canon 5D Mark ll has set some benchmark for video making. Is one brilliant camera for making high def videos.

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?


I always tell new photographers to always keep their © and make sure that while doing business make it a win/win deal. Never jump at the first offer given to you. Usually they call you with the lowest prices. There is not need to give the art buyer an answer right away. Just jot down the information and say, “ok I got all the details of the shoot including your name and phone number/email now let me get back to you in a day or two.”  That is the time for you to do the research and learn more about the client.


Photographers need to learn a few things about the business of photography and the cost of running a business. Is not all about taking beautiful photos but also about making sure that what you create is respected and that you are compensated right for it. Ironically a client can value our work but doesn’t mean they feel the same about us.


That is when we had to show them that we know our business and that we are serious people. And that MUST come from us first other wise nobody is going to take us seriously at all.  Also there is nothing wrong about asking questions or sharing information. SO if a client calls a newbie and he/she is clueless about how much to charge or how to go about doing a contract then reach out to a well established or more experience photographer and ask them.

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.


I would tell them follow your dream and what your heart tells you. Ignore all the negative vibe that may come from your own family, friends and even other photographers who may want to shot you down before you can even fly. IN life is about trying and experimenting. There is nothing to loose by trying and so much to gain. At this juncture you may feel that photography is your calling and you give it your best ride and along the way you discover that you are better suited to be a filmmaker or a writer. Still the very first path that you took lead you to this soul revelation. When you eventually arrive to your destiny and you are given that long waited chance then do it with the same passion and love that got you there and do it well for you may only get one shot at it.

I can’t finish this interview without repeating again, ALWAYS, keep your ©. All those images are money in the bank. I recently licensed a couple images to a client for 20K to be use for two years for the web, in house collateral and a magazine ad. So protect your work and its value at all cost. At the end clients will respect you even more.


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About the Author

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, Lawrence Atienza gives his all. You can find him on Google+,Twitter and the major social media outlets.



One Comment

  1. Jenn A

    Beautiful and inspiring article. His work is AMAZING too. Just spent over an hour looking at his website. His Cuban work and Black Cowboys is as powerful as they come. And the fact that is done all on black and white film. WOW!

    Thank you Lawrence for doing this great interview. All photographers, young or pro, should read it 🙂

    Keep it up you are doing wonderful work spreading all this great news and making sure the rest of us do discover master like Paganelli.

    I must buy a few of his fine arts prints 🙂


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