It is with great pleasure I have the opportunity to interview Dave of Camersity Photo, from St. Louis , Missouri. He is one of the top Fashion photographers in the modeling industry today. He openly shares his technical expertise with models and photographers that are striving to reach the next level. Everyone always walks away feeling enthused and enriched after working with Dave. What is equally as unique is his degree of professionalism and rapport with the team with which he works.
GlamModelz Magazine: Let’s get started! Tell me about your background…how did you get started in Photography? Dave: This is gonna date me right off the bat. I was in 6th grade and growing up in Tulsa. Richard Nixon, who was then vice president, was coming to town to campaign for Congressional candidates in the off-year elections of 1958. Everyone in the class was assigned to go to the Fairgrounds, listen to Nixon and write about some aspect of the event. I waited until everyone else had picked a topic, and there wasn’t much left. Then I said, “I hate to write. Can I take pictures instead?”
Since there wasn’t much left to write about, the teacher agreed. So I took my $5.95 Boy Scout plastic camera, a couple of rolls of 620 film and a pocket full of No. 5 flashbulbs. All of the photos were blurred, and I wanted to find out why. (The answer, of course, was that most cheap cameras had a shutter speed of about 1/30 second, and Nixon’s entourage was moving pretty fast – but I didn’t know that then.)
So I walked two blocks to the grocery store near my house and bought copies of Popular Photography, Modern Photography and US Camera and read them from cover to cover. I didn’t find the answer there, so I read every book on photography in the Tulsa Public Library. Some of them twice. Somewhere along the way I got hooked.
I got my first “real” camera – a used Yashica-Mat twin-lens reflex –at age 12. When I was 14, I had a summer job in a one-person used camera store in the downtown area. It paid $1 a day plus 25 cents for the bus. My father would drop me off on his way to work, but I had to take the bus home about 3pm to do my newspaper route.
Royce Craig, who was the chief photographer at the Tulsa Tribune, often came into the store during his lunch hour, and we’d talk photography. He said he’d like to see some of my photos. I was already developing my own film and making contact prints. At the end of the summer I gave everything I had earned from that job back to the store in exchange for a used Federal enlarger, trays, an enlarging easel, etc. I made several 8×10 prints, made an appointment with Royce and took several photos for him to look at.
A few months later he called and asked if I’d like to apply for a summer photography internship at the Trib. I applied and got the internship. That would be the summer of 1962. When I started high school that fall, I took most of the Trib’s high school sports photos and started doing a little commercial work.
GlamModelz Magazine: If you had to group models into categories. (expert, beginner, etc) Who would be the easiest to work with and why? Dave: Oh, expert – by far. If a model knows how to pose and express, it makes my job much easier. A good model can pose herself much quicker and much more naturally than I can direct her into a pose. So I can just tell her the look I want and let her pose, and I focus on lighting and other ways to express the mood. Since she can’t see herself from the camera position, I make adjustments as needed, and I suggest a pose from time to time.
If a model is really good and experienced, sometimes I’ll appoint the model vice president in charge of posing at the beginning of the shoot – and then make adjustments as needed and suggest a pose from time to time.
GlamModelz Magazine: When you are involved with an important “must rock photoshoot” how many images on the average do you shoot? Dave: That varies all over the place. A few weeks ago I shot four poses – 4-6 shots per pose. I’ve shot over 1,000 photos in a day-long shoot with multiple models and multiple wardrobe changes. My typical shoot is about 500 photos in 4-6 hours with multiple wardrobe changes.
GlamModelz Magazine: What was your funniest experience shooting in the field? Dave: There have been several. I’m gonna go with one from the internship at the Trib, but I’ll start before the “in the field” part.
It was after the 1pm photo deadline for the afternoon newspaper, and it was my day to stay in Photo while everyone else went to lunch – in case of emergency (or, more likely, just to answer the phones).
The managing editor walked in to talk to the chief photographer, but instead, he found me. So he asked me, “How come you can you re-refrigerate Polaroid film, but you can’t re-refrigerate beer?” I was 15, and I had no idea. So I said, “Harmon, have you ever tried to drink Polaroid film that’s been re-refrigerated?” He laughed and changed the subject.
A reporter (who was considered by many to be a little strange) was writing a feature story on mating pairs or animals at the zoo, and I got the photo assignment. So when the others got back from lunch, I picked up my 4×5 Graphic and a case with several film holders and, wearing the obligatory suit and tie, went outside and, since I didn’t have a driver’s license, caught a taxi at a hotel a block away.
The driver asked me where I wanted to go, and I said “the zoo.” He started laughing.
The subjects of the article were chimpanzees, giraffes and snakes. The reptile area was indoors and fairly dark – and because the snakes were poisonous, I’d have to shoot them with flash through (dirty) glass. I passed on the snakes.
The chimps were named Oose and Osa. The curator of the zoo was a family friend, and Oose was raised in his home for the first few years. I had shot him once before, eating an ice cream cone in the kitchen of the curator’s home.
I was shooting Oose and Osa in their area when I realized that I was only shooting one chimp. Before I could look around and find Oose, he dropped out of a tree – right on top of my head with a screech.
Next we went to the giraffes’ area. The area was entirely fenced, except for the area where their bales of food (hay, I presume) were kept. It was like a pole barn with no walls – just the poles and roof. There was no fence around the barn, which was separate from the public areas of the zoo, and that’s where we entered.
Beforehand, the curator said, “When I say it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Don’t dawdle.”
There were 8-10 giraffes, and he pointed out the ones that were the subject of the story. I got 4-5 shots before the curator saw something that told him it was time to go. He shouted “RUN!” and headed for the feed barn. The giraffes were all running toward us, and they were surprisingly fast.
Once were in the barn, we were safe. The roof of the barn was at about the same level as the base of the (obviously frustrated) giraffes’ necks.
GlamModelz Magazine: What challenges do you face in this industry? What would you change about it, if you could? Dave: I stopped shooting professionally in 1981, when I was offered a public relations job that was too good to turn down. My last shoot before that was a luggage ad. I started again in September 2011. In all honesty, the biggest challenge is getting back to the level where I was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when I was shooting several assignments every day. I’ve been working at it for two years, and I still have a long way to go.
The Photoshop learning curve has been a challenge for me. After two years, what I don’t know about Photoshop is much greater than what I know.
More broadly, the industry has changed, and it’s much more competitive than it used to be. In the past much of my non-newspaper work was for magazines. Even the tiniest magazines used to pay at least $10-$15 per photo. “Respectable” magazines generally paid $100 and up per photo. Multiply those numbers by about 5-6 to convert them to today’s dollars. Now many of the largest magazines don’t pay at all.
Back in the 1970’s, when I was working for newspapers in Oklahoma City, I had a model portfolio business on the side. Two (and later three) local agencies would call me on Fridays, find out what my schedule for the next week was, and fill up as much time as I had available at $100/hour. Of course that included film, processing and black-and-white prints. Today it’s much more difficult to fill up a schedule at that rate. Partly because of technological advances, there are a lot more photographers than there were. There’s always someone who will do a job cheaper, so there’s a constant effort to bring something to the table that others don’t.
But for me personally, the biggest challenge is starting back at ground zero after all these years and rebuilding skills (and learning new digital skills) and contacts.
GlamModelz Magazine: What equipment is essential for you as a photographer, to capture your “best shot”? Dave: A camera, a lens, a CF card and some lights. A model with good skills, wardrobe, makeup and hair is another necessity.
For almost two years I’ve shot everything with a Nikon D3X. While I have nine AF lenses, the one I use most is a Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8D, followed by Nikon’s current 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, a 135mm f/2D AF DC and an 85mm f/1.8 lens. I use 1000-watt/second Photogenic Solair strobes, almost always powered below 200 watt seconds.
Lately I’m using a beauty dish as a main light more often than not. I have an 18-inch Photogenic dish and a 33.5-inch Mola Euro. Sometimes I use a 37-inch SP Studio Systems octa-type box, usually with one or both diffusion panels removed, as the main light. When I use a fill light, more often than not it’s a 45-inch Westcott Halo Mono. I have three 12×38-inch SP strip boxes that I use for rim/hair lights. I have a large assortment of modifiers, but those are the ones I use most.
GlamModelz Magazine: How has model portfolio photography changed over the years? Dave: Back in the day, photographers were paid by the hour. But an hour wasn’t 60 minutes. It was a 36-exposure roll of film. For me, that was usually a little more than 60 minutes. Each pose was carefully posed and lit, and you’d do 3-4 shots of each pose. Film cost money, and with only 36 exposures, you didn’t want to waste a frame.
Today it’s not uncommon to shoot bursts that reach 10-20 poses per minute. There’s a lot more life, energy and spontaneity in today’s shoots. Even if a pose is flawed, I shoot it, and then I make adjustments to it and shoot it again, to keep the rhythm and flow going. Rather than lighting each pose, I use a number of generic lighting setups that are designed to give the model maximum freedom of movement.
Not every pose is perfect, and not every pose is perfectly lit. I set up the lighting, but the way the model’s face and body are turned factor into the lighting for each shot. The idea is that out of 500 photos there will be some where the pose, expression and lighting all come together – with more energy and spontaneity than was typical during the film era.
Lately I’m taking a step back into the days of film photography – shooting pose after pose until one grabs me – then slowing down the shoot, adjusting the lights for that single pose and working to perfect the pose, expression and lighting for that shot. Then it’s back to one pose after another until another one grabs me.
GlamModelz Magazine: Why Glamour/Beauty/Fashion? What other genres and styles interest you? Dave: I enjoy working with models because, unlike many genres, you and your team are building a photo from scratch – not just shooting what happens to be in front of your lens.
I’ve always enjoyed architectural photography. I sold my three 4×5 cameras and my 8×10 several years ago, but I kept my 6x9cm Cambo view camera and a few lenses. One of these days I’m going to start shooting architecture again – with film.
Sports – especially collegiate and NFL football – has always been one of my favorite genres. But it’s difficult to score a sideline pass these days unless you’re affiliated with a newspaper or a sports magazine.
GlamModelz Magazine: What are your goals for your photography? Dave: If I were younger, I’d seriously consider moving to South Florida and trying to make a name for myself in fashion. If I were a lot younger, I’d consider LA or NYC. At this stage of my life, it’s to keep improving and building my business here in St. Louis.
GlamModelz Magazine: What qualities should Models/MUA’s/Stylists, etc., have to work with you? Dave: I like to work with models who have good posing and expressive skills and the ability to grasp the mood and look we’re going for and create appropriate poses and expressions for that mood and look. I frequently make verbal adjustments to poses, but not having to determine and dictate every detail of a pose frees me to focus on lighting, camera angles and point of view, watch for stray strands of hair, makeup that needs to be freshened, and look for different ways to express the mood and the look.
I think many photographers (probably subconsciously) look at a model’s portfolio and ask themselves, “Do I want photos like those in my portfolio?” I try to separate the model from the photography, and I’m pretty good at spotting models whose look and/or skills are better than their portfolios represent.
A model doesn’t have to be “perfect.” I look for classic beauty (which isn’t necessarily the same as Playboy model beauty) as well as “Interesting” looks.
Conceptualizing makeup and hair styles isn’t my strong suit. I’m making an effort to apply color theory in my work more. While color pallets often suggest themselves, I rely on MUA’s and hair stylists for designs and styles that help to create the look and mood that I want.
With all team members, creativity, participation in pre-shoot planning, communication and working as members of a team to achieve a common goal are important attributes.
GlamModelz Magazine: How do you characterize your style? Dave: That’s something I’ve thought about from time to time. Many successful photographers (Barry Druxman, Michael Rosen and Julian Wilde, among others, come to mind) have such a well-defined and distinctive style that I can spot their work from a thumb-nail photo on a monitor from across the room. I like to shoot different genres and express them in different ways. I’d get bored shooting the same things in the same way day after day.
A couple of weeks ago, another photographer whose work I respect said something about my style. I asked him how he’d describe it. He said, “Your models are almost always serious. You have your own style of lighting. You make your models look their best. And in your photos the models always have perfect skin.” I like to think there’s more to it than that, but I really can’t describe it. I just shoot it.
GlamModelz Magazine: What advice do you have for new models who want to model? Dave: The obvious things are to develop their posing and expressive skills and work with the best photographers they can. New models tend to think about posing a lot more than expressions. That’s probably why we see so many blank or “deer in the headlights” expressions from newer models, as well as frowns and expressions that seem to say “I sure hope this pose looks good.”
There are principles of posing that I was taught, and most models were taught. In a first shoot with a new model I often end up teaching them. Once they learn the principles, one goal should be to achieve what I call Stage 4 posing – getting past the canned poses that are repeated from one shoot to the next and learning to flow from one good pose to another. That gives a model the ability to create a theoretically unlimited number of unique poses. Once a model becomes good at Stage 4 posing, the model can put his/her body on autopilot and think about expressions.
The nature of the shoot suggests appropriate poses and expressions to create the desired look and mood. I’d say that, for every 15-20 models who can pose well, there’s probably one who can express well. Yet it’s emotion, which is largely expression, that creates a powerful connection between a viewer and a photo. A model who can do both well is golden.
One other thing I’d suggest, not just for new models but for all models (except those whose portfolios are as good as it gets and will never need to be updated), is to create a wish list of photos and looks that they’d like to have in their own portfolios. I’m not talking about mundane photos and the same cliché shots that many models have in their portfolios. When they see a photo that moves them, that they can see themselves in, they can just add it to the list. Pretty soon it becomes automatic. That will help any photographer who has the sense to look at the model’s list to plan a shoot with him or her – and greatly increase the odds that the model will get the type of portfolio photos that he or she wants.
GlamModelz Magazine: What or who inspires you as a photographer? Dave: I’m always trying to outdo my last shoot – and of course get back to the level where I was when I was shooting every day. The best shot from my next shoot won’t always be my best photo yet, but that’s what I’m striving for.
As a baseball player, I got a high from hitting a home run or making a spectacular play. With football players, it’s catching a pass and outrunning the defense or sacking the quarterback. In photography, it’s coming up with a photo that I just sit and stare at on the monitor and ask myself, “Did I shoot that?”
There have been dozens of photographers who have influenced me over the years, from Ansel Adams to Helmut Newton to George Hurrell to Richard Avedon and many, many others. The two who have influenced me the most were Alfred Eisenstaedt and Yousuf Karsh. I consider them the best at their respective genres, photojournalism and portraiture.
It wasn’t Eisenstaedt’s composition (which was superb) or exposure or selective focus that set him apart from other photojournalists. It was the emotion that he was able to get into his photos. With Karsh it was his ability to show something about the personality and character of his subjects. With models you aren’t necessarily trying to reveal their personality and character, but I look for opportunities to use Karsh’s moody, low-key style of lighting and produce those rich. dark skin tones.
GlamModelz Magazine: In addition to photography, do you have other skills/interests/talents in which you excel? Do you have any special charities you donate work for and why? Dave: I played baseball for a number or years and later coached and managed for several, and I like to think I was pretty good. I’ve been an avid St. Louis Cardinals and Oklahoma Sooners fan for as long as I can remember, and I still am. I wish I had found more time for music.
As for charities, for the last 14-15 years that I was in Oklahoma, I was on the board of directors of the National Kidney Foundation of Oklahoma. Now most of my charity work is photography. I’ve done a number of one-time projects – benefit plays, concerts and other events. I’m always open to requests.
GlamModelz Magazine: Where can we see more of your work? How can models who wish to shoot with you contact you? Dave: I have three web sites planned, and I’ve had the URL’s reserved for a couple of years, but I haven’t found much time to devote to developing them. The number of my primary Model Mayhem account is 2475887. I can be contacted through MM, and my email address is email@example.com.
Appearing in this article are:
Our gorgeous cover model is: Marjorie Braddock; Marjorie’s makeup was provided by: Megan Melone; and hair styling by: John Napoli. Gallery, Left to right, top down: Model:Cherlier McClendon. MUA and hair: Stay Paparazzi Ready. Photo 2: Model: Miss Ashley F. MUA/Stylist: Candee Scott. Photo #3: Model:Miss Ashley F. MUA: Candee Scott Hair Stylist: John Napoli. Photo $4: Model: April Berry, MUA: Valerie Walls. Hair: John Napoli. Photo #5: Model: April Berry, MUA: Candee Scott. Hair: John Napoli. Photo #6: Model: April Berry, MUA: Candee Scott. Hair: John Napoli. Photo #7: Model: Miss Amanda. Photo #8: Model: April Berry Makeup and hair by April. Photo #9: Model: April Berry. Makeup and hair by April. Photo #10: Model: Miss Ati BG. Photo #11 Model: Emily Triola. Makeup and hair by Emily. Photo #12, Model: Ladi KNS. Hair/Makeup: Kendra, (Ladi KNS). Photo #13, Model: Ladi KNS. Hair/Makeup: Kendra, (Ladi KNS). Photo #14: Model: April Berry. Makeup/hair by April. Photo #15: Model: April Berry. Makeup/hair by April. Photo #16: Model: Kendra Torino. Makeup/Hair: by Kendra. Photo #17: Model: Kendra Torino. Makeup/Hair: by Kendra. Photo #18: Model: April Berry. Makeup/hair by April. Photo #19: Model: Heather Heckman. MUA: Patrice Singleterry. Hair: John Napoli. Photo #20: Model: April Berry. MUA: Patrice Singleterry. Hair: John Napoli. Photo #21: Model: -CHARiSMA-. MUA/Stylist: Candee Scott. Photo #22: Model: -CHARiSMA-. MUA/Stylist: Deanna Roberts. Photo #23: Model: -Maria-.MUA/Stylist: Candee Scott. Photo #24: Model: -CHARiSMA-. MUA/Stylist: Jenn Mariman. Photo #25: Model: April Berry, Stylist: John Napoli. Photo #26: Model: Marjorie Braddock. Photo #27: Model: Michelle White. Photo #28: Model: April Berry, MUA: Jenn Mariman. Hair: John Napoli.