Member Spotlight: Gale Zucker

Gale Zucker 

Gale Zucker Photography

First off, tell us about yourself: where do you live, and what type of photography do you do?

I’m a commercial and editorial photographer. I photograph people on location in a storytelling style, with a specialty of handmade, knitting and the yarn industries. I create images with connection and am committed to representation of diverse existence. My home base is in Branford, CT in the Short Beach neighborhood. 

How long have you been in business?

When I was 26 I started freelancing full time.  My business plan: say yes to everything. I’m not kidding, that was it. I had NO IDEA there was such a thing as being a photo assistant….so I plunged in.

What inspired you to become a photographer?

I’d graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Photojournalism degree, pairing my love of photography with storytelling.  My passion was advocacy projects, creating visually artful narratives to effect change.  I had zero zippo education about running a business.

What happened next?

I really did say yes to everything. I shot a lot of jobs I’d describe as  “I Paid My Dues.”.  By 27 I was a stringer for The New York Times, covering Connecticut and beyond.  Shooting for The NY Times week after week was an amazing experience in visual and technical problem solving on the fly.  It was also a great door opener. One thing led to another, acquiring lighting skills along the way. 

I evolved into photographing for magazines (everything from TV Guide , Smithsonian and Forbes, to airline magazines), and then corporate, educational and nonprofit work. I gained a reputation for being able to take an assignment and run with it alone, especially with quirky and sensitive subjects. I became interested in longer term projects and photographing books. 

In 2003 I photographed a book commissioned by a non-profit, looking at kids who age out of foster care across the U.S. It led to more work photographing youth at risk/in the justice system. It was rewarding and gritty and intense. I de-stressed with my lifelong favorite distraction, knitting.  It occurred to me I could combine my passion for making and hand-knitting with photography. (DUH! I don’t know why this hadn’t crossed my mind before then).

A book agent client asked me for ideas at that time.  I proposed a coffee table book profiling people who have fiber farms and ranches all over the country, raising animals for their wool.  Thrillingly, we got a good contract from Random House for it. That spun me into a career shift of photographing in the wool, yarn and handmade industry. Now about 70% of my work is lifestyle fashion photography of knitwear or handmade items, most often on location. The other 30% is corporate and non-profit. I especially enjoy photographing book projects or longer commercial campaigns and brand libraries. I still view every shoot as a storytelling opportunity, even for commercial work. I love a brand narrative. 

Along the way I discovered I like working with a crew and clients on set. It might be better self-confidence or because I’ve found truly wonderful people to team up with. 

What does your creative process look like?

I am always saving ideas and images that inspire me, from any source  – instagram, literature,  magazines, street art, gallery exhibits, and fashion. When I need to put together a treatment for a project I let all the inspo rumble around in my brain. I’m definitely not someone who sits down with paper and makes a linear outline (though I adore a good page of lists). I do my best creative processing while swimming. Everything from putting together budgets to planning a color story and lighting strategy comes together in a long swim. 

Who or what are your inspirations? I used to be inspired strictly by photographers. I still love the work of Graciela Iturbide and Mary Ellen Mark. Recently I’ve been less interested in looking at photography and more drawn to other art forms, whether sculpture, film, textile works, mixed media, fashion. Also seeing artists from cultures other than USA/Western Europe is exciting and fresh. 

What personal projects are you working on?

She Shoots Sheep Shots is my alter ego. I’ve kind of  blended personal projects and  my main income producing work.  I love photographing the whole process of fiber ranching, farm to fashion. Within this is my most favorite ongoing subject, an annual sheep roundup and shearing I take part in every spring, photographing on a tiny unpopulated island off the coast of Maine. 

How have you been handling COVID?

What a weird year! Mid March through the end of August 2020 … I spent a lot of time swimming and on the beach down the street. I mean a lot — I swam in the Sound every single day from June 1st through early October.  I am lucky to live in a tight little community, and we had the outdoor beach space to be socially distant. My whole family landed back home.  I was not isolated! I’d like to tell you  I revamped my website (I MEANT to) or reorganized my office….but nope. I appreciate the PPP webinars and Strictly Business programming that ASMP offered during those months.  I took most of them. It moved me forward even as the world stopped. 

My jobs picked up again in September 2020. I lost some clients who went out of business, so I’ve got some marketing to do. (See the to-be-revamped website, above).  Thanks to COVID I’ve been shooting in studios more than usual.  Working with a crew on a photo shoot in public during a pandemic makes people uneasy. A  studio solves that problem.  It’s a silver lining for sure;  I used to avoid studio photo shoots as much as possible. I embrace them now.

Also? If I never hear the word “pivot” again I will be very happy!

Why is ASMP important to you? Why did you join?

Earlier in my career I felt isolated. I had so many questions that I knew other professional photographers could answer if only I could meet them. The ASMP business resources on negotiating, contracts, and figuring out pricing were a huge help when I first joined the organization. I had no clue about licensing and how to protect my rights (and earn a decent income). I got involved in the CT ASMP chapter, eventually joining the board and serving in a few positions.  Best choice ever! I found  a true community of colleagues and valued friends. We have a really strong active chapter here. 

What do you think are the secrets to a successful photography business?

It doesn’t matter how fantastic your portfolio is, you need to treat your business as …a business!  Some things I’d advise:

  • Calculate your cost of doing business (CODB).  It might be a cold slap but it is so important to making a living as a professional photographer. 
  • Never give out pricing for a potential job orally in a conversation. Gather all the information, ask pertinent questions and tell the potential client you’ll send them an email with a proposed budget within the hour.  Be clear, friendly and helpful in the written communications — not all clients know the lingo. 
  • Share information with colleagues, whether it’s pricing strategies, finding assistants, how you negotiate or how you light! It floats all our boats a little higher.  If your ego or your imagery is too weak to withstand talking about your photography business with other ASMP members, you’ve got issues to address. No one else can do you! 
  • Come up with ideas you’d like to shoot and pitch them as jobs to publications or clients. Even if they say no, they will be impressed that you are thinking about their business, and how you can be useful to them.

Thank you Gale!

You can see more of Gale’s work by visiting the following: