“Our clients really seem to connect with the authenticity and storytelling in our images,” says Nash. “It’s a delicate balance between directing and letting things happen naturally. We like to say that we make you look like you’re having your best day ever.” Onstott adds, “We realize not everyone loves having his or her photo taken. Our goal is to make it fun and leave our clients a bit better than we found them.”
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ASMP: How long have you been in business?
Leah Nash and Christopher Onstott: We formed NashCO about a year ago. However, we’ve both been professional photographers for about ten years, Leah as a freelancer and Christopher in the newspaper industry.
ASMP: How long have you been ASMP members?
LN/CO: Leah for about four years, and she has been Oregon chapter co-president for one year. Christopher for a little over a year, as the Oregon chapter communications chair.
ASMP: What initially prompted you to join ASMP?
LN/CO: We both knew people in the organization that reached out to us and encouraged our involvement.
ASMP: What do you consider the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?
LN/CO: The community of photographers.
ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
LN/CO: Because of ASMP, we’ve been able to develop a strong relationship with our local camera store/rental department, Pro Photo Supply. We consider the owner a friend now, which is a pretty invaluable connection. We’re also quite close to the ASMP Oregon board, local photographers who are great resources.
ASMP: Do you have a favorite ASMP-related story to share?
LN/CO: We may be biased, but running and participating in ASMP’s Portland Squared event (http://leahnash.com/pdxsquared/) has been pretty special. This entails 70 photographers photographing four square miles of downtown Portland in 24 hours, with a live judging, prizes and a party at the end. The adrenalin, the relationships — there is really nothing like it. Shameless plug.
ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
LN/CO: Well, we specialize in photographing real people in an authentic way. That shows up in travel, food, reportage, portraiture, education, corporate/industrial, lifestyle and office culture.
ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
LN/CO: Each other. Gag, right? But seriously, you can’t replace having an amazing photographer as your partner. Our gear is just a tool for crafting our vision.
ASMP: What is unique about your approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
LN/CO: Our clients really seem to connect with the authenticity and the storytelling in our images. It’s a delicate balance between directing and letting things happen naturally. We like to say that we make you look like you’re having your best day ever. Plus, we try to make sure everyone is having a blast at the shoots. We realize not everyone loves having their photo taken, and our goal is to make it fun and leave our clients a bit better than we found them.
ASMP: Please describe how you work together, both in terms of process and how you divide up responsibilities.
Christopher: Leah is basically the boss. I find that when she’s in charge, things tend to run more smoothly. Both in life and in work.
Leah: Such a smart man. I would say that our success has to do with how well we complement each other. We joke that Christopher is tech support, editing and the lighting and video department, while I am accounting, marketing and directing.
ASMP: Do you have any kind of formal partnership agreement for your collaboration?
LN/CO: We incorporated the NashCO business, which is an equal partnership and both our individual businesses live under that.
ASMP: Previous to NashCO you were both photojournalists. Did you ever work together or collaborate on assignments in that capacity?
LN/CO: All the time! Editorial, travel and portrait work is still a big part of what we do, and every so often Christopher will assist/produce for Leah or vice versa.
ASMP: Do either or both of you continue to shoot documentary projects or newspaper assignments in addition to your “crafted reality” shoots?
LN/CO: Constantly. Leah regularly shoots for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, where she recently did a front-page story about post-partum depression. Christopher recently finished a personal project about average Americans called In Passing, and he is always working on his street photography.
ASMP: In the beginning, how did you transition from newspaper photography to photographing office lifestyle imagery? How did you reach out to clients?
LN/CO: It was pretty seamless. We actually had companies see work on our editorial blogs and reach out to us because they wanted images for their Web sites and marketing that felt real.
ASMP: You coined the phrase “Crafted Reality” to describe the niche you fill. Please further describe that niche and talk about the kinds of needs your images fulfill for clients.
LN/CO: Crafted reality is a term we invented to describe our shooting style and technique. Both photojournalists, we take a genuine approach to our imagery, using real people having real moments. Whether for advertising, corporate, educational or editorial clients, the result is colorful, authentic, storytelling photography. Most companies don’t have professional pictures of their work environment and themselves; instead the fallback is stock photography, which ends up feeling generic. We satisfy the need for personalized, high quality photo libraries.
ASMP: You also describe your work as personalized stock photography. Do you set up shoots to imitate a day in the office, or are the images captured on the fly during a regular workday?
LN/CO: It’s a little bit of both. We meet with clients and decide together what scenarios they want images of. When we see things that are organically happening during the shoot we make a point to photograph that as well. Also, we try to create situations that are as true to life as possible. So if a client wants images of a team meeting, we say, have a team meeting, talk about work, talk about projects, do what you normally do, just ten percent bigger. Then we are capturing real interactions and real people doing real things. I think that’s what comes through in our imagery and makes it stand apart.
ASMP: Before you start shooting, how much time do you spend at a given location getting to know the company, people, workflow and office culture? What kinds of preproduction meetings and planning do you do with your clients?
LN/CO: Our goal is to know branding messaging, the space, the people, the vibe, what we are shooting, who we are shooting and when. We have a list of questions we ask our clients to better understand their culture, as part of our discovery for each shoot. We also try to scout locations and storyboard in advance, especially when working on video projects.
ASMP: Who is your primary contact within a company and what kind of usage agreement do you negotiate? Do clients license the rights to use the images for a particular timeframe or type of use, or do they have rights to the images in perpetuity? Do you retain any rights to the images?
LN/CO: Usage usually includes publicity, advertising, internal and external collateral use and commercial display for five years. We retain the rights.
ASMP: Are the employees always welcoming and happy to be photographed or is this sometimes a challenge? If the latter, what strategies do you use to bring people around and get their cooperation
LN/CO: I would say it ranges from open and willing to amused. Most people are pretty cooperative. We also set a very upbeat and lively tone, which includes joke telling, dancing or even wearing a smiley face t-shirt. Whatever needs to happen to get the job done.
ASMP: Your images are very colorful and lively, mainly depicting fun, collaborative scenes of an office at work. Do you find that most of the locations you shoot in are like that, or do you have to work to create that atmosphere?
LN/CO: We’re lucky in that many of the creative office spaces have a cool vibe — think dogs at work and toys on desks. That said, we choose specific backgrounds that best fit the feel of the client and then build lighting schemes and scenarios that are both flattering and motivated by the surroundings.
ASMP: What is the duration of a typical shoot? Do you spend an entire day in a given office location or break things up into distinct segments?
LN/CO: This depends on the client’s needs.
ASMP: Are there other team members you work during these shoots? Do you work with a stylist or makeup artist, or do models handle hair and makeup themselves?Do you guide the employees in wardrobe selection?
LN/CO: No. We are a pretty bare-bones and low-key operation, which helps add to the natural feel of the images. Subjects will sometimes independently have their hair and make up done and we tell them to dress in the outfit that makes them feel the most fabulous (and to avoid loud patterns or logos).
ASMP: Please talk about the amount of postproduction work you do.
LN/CO: We do very little postprocessing, mostly just minor adjustments in Lightroom. Headshots do get a bit more love with a Wacom Tablet. Day to day, we use Photo Mechanic for editing and Lightroom and Photoshop for toning.
ASMP: What type of equipment do you bring on set? Do you shoot in a documentary style, capturing images as you see them, or is the lighting staged to create a documentary feel?
LN/CO: Most of what we shoot is lit with strobes, which are relatively unobtrusive and can be broken down and moved fast. We mix these with ambient light to give the lighting a very natural and documentary feel.
ASMP: Do you have certain go-to lenses that work particularly well with this type of shooting? Do you find that the equipment you use on these shoots is similar to what you used on your newspaper and documentary work?
LN/CO: We predominantly use prime lenses in both our documentary photography and crafted reality. We find they produce cleaner, sharper images with better contrast and a shallower depth of field. Not to say that zoom lenses (24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8) don’t make it into our kit when we’re running and gunning.
ASMP: Has your work shooting Crafted Reality images generated new clients or markets for your work?
LN/CO: Crafted Reality has opened up an entirely new client base for us. In the past we were primarily editorial. Now we have expanded into industrial, corporate lifestyle and headshots and office culture markets.
ASMP: Shooting for corporate image libraries has become common practice in recent years. Does your work differ from photographers shooting that type of work?
LN/CO: That’s basically what we’re doing, creating corporate image libraries. Again, I think our photojournalism background gives us an edge because our work ends up looking very natural and moment-driven, not staged. Through the years we’ve learned to be flexible and adaptable.
ASMP: You shoot video as well as stills. How did you get into video production, and how much of your work is now video?
LN/CO: Christopher first started doing video while working for newspapers, primarily short news videos for the Web. Today, about ten to 15 percent of our work is video. We don’t see video being our primary type of image capture in the future, but having the ability to do both opens us up to more opportunities. Clients who want both like the idea of hiring a single team, so the look is consistent.
ASMP: How do your video clients differ from your still clients? Do many clients hire you for both still and video shoots?
LN/CO: All, or most, of our video clients are also our still clients. Companies are starting to see the value in capturing video along side still images.
ASMP: In addition to producing Crafted Reality images for specific clients, do you license your work as stock?
LN/CO: We currently do not license our corporate/education work as stock. Our clients are looking for very personalized photography, so if we sold their photos as stock it would defeat the purpose. But we do photograph and license a fair bit of travel, lifestyle and food photography.
ASMP: Please talk about your marketing strategy and your target markets for both your commercial work and your documentary work.
LN/CO: The things that work for us are word of mouth, face-to-face networking, and good SEO. Leah has been freelancing in the Northwest for over ten years and she has developed a pretty strong editorial client base. This has helped the NashCO brand and visibility.
ASMP: Do you promote NashCO via social media?
LN/CO: We’ve been too busy to focus on social media and marketing and have just hired someone to focus on that aspect of the business. We see social media as a great outlet to expand NashCO because it connects us with clients to which we wouldn’t otherwise have access.
ASMP: Do you work with a rep or an advisor to help develop your marketing strategy and build exposure?
LN/CO: We did hire Stella Kramer to help us edit our Web site and define our place in the market. We also hired designers to create a series of printed promos pieces and to do our logo.
ASMP: Do you both work on all assignments as a team, or do you sometimes work solo depending on your workload, schedule and the size of a project?
LN/CO: The second one.
ASMP: Successful business partners often have complimentary strengths and divide the work accordingly. Please talk about your individual strengths and how you combine these strengths to make you successful as a team.
LN/CO: We do have complimentary characteristics in almost all aspects of our life. Our roles break down to this:
Christopher: Photographer, videographer, gaffer, editor and all things equipment related. Also lighting wizard and corny joke teller.
Leah: Photographer, creative director, and producer. Number cruncher, blogger, schmoozer/marketer, also known to break into impromptu running man.
ASMP: Have you found that your documentary/newspaper work has inspired and fueled your commercial work and vice-versa?
LN/CO: Our documentary work has gotten a bit more polished, feeding off our commercial work. And the commercial work feels spontaneous, feeding off our documentary work.
ASMP: What is the most important business advice you’ve ever received?
LN/CO: Remember that you are a brand and that this is a business. From what your Web site looks like, to your logo, to what you wear and say, all that is part of the package.
ASMP: What’s been your most valuable business decision to date?
LN/CO: Working as a team.
ASMP: What is the most important advice that you’d give a young photographer starting out now?
LN/CO: Make pictures that you desperately want to be making, nonstop. Then figure out how to do that differently than it’s been done before. Always have a personal project going. Network. Join professional organizations. Find a mentor. Remember that this is a business and no one owes you anything. Have a plan and work hard, learn about contracts and licensing.
ASMP: Where do you see yourselves in five years time? Have you set any major personal or professional goals for the years ahead?
LN/CO: Well, the business is just over one year old, so I think at this point we’re just happy that it’s successful and keeping us well fed. I think for us the real trick is finding a work-play balance, because we both have tendencies to be “go, go, go!” I’d like to see more international travel in our future, combined with social documentary projects and perhaps some workshop leading — and, of course, world domination.
I think part of our success is due to our drive for progress. We’re always brainstorming new ideas, dissecting what we could have done better and figuring out what comes next. Our lives are constantly moving forward because we love what we do and we always want to be doing it better.