Sheryl Nields is a portrait photographer working in the celebrity entertainment industry. Sheryl’s work is described as perfectly orchestrated chaos. From her earliest published work to commissions for Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, Interscope, Sony Music, Hollywood Records, Esquire, Elle and Entertainment Weekly, each of her images testifies to a creative environment in which intensity and spontaneity are fused in perfect balance.
How did you get started in photography?
I started shooting and taking photo classes in 10th grade. I’ve always had a camera in my life and I was in the darkroom when I was like 14 years old. I’ve always ripped magazine pictures out. I spent all my allowance money when I was really little on Italian Vogue. My parents were like ‘what are you doing. How do you know what Vogue is.’
I made the most of art school. I naturally fell into it – something about the way I am and who I am coupled with a camera in my hand made it really natural for me. I don’t think I ever set out to be any particular type of photographer. I think I was just like I’m going to take pictures of pretty things and cool things . I didn’t know anything about business so I floundered through the school of hard knocks for a good decade or so. Once I got out of art school, I worked my way through every facet of our industry.
Back then we were still shooting film. I feel fortunate that I came from a film background and now I’m in a digital forum. I was a pretty intense darkroom geek.
I do miss my film cameras though, just the way they work. they are so different from the digital cameras. There is something about it that transcends reality. The digital world has gotten so refined and so precise and so tuned in that things sometimes look just too real. I miss the weird aberrations of camera lenses and the film.
My style is really spontaneous. I’m calculated going into it. I’ll map out the 4 or 5 lighting styles I want to do and then I’ll get there and once you start feeling the energy of the room and what people are into and what the stylist has brought – you have to in a quick kind of way take the temperature of the room and figure out how you are going to approach it. Once I get into the energy of the people we just kind of riff off of each other, we just flow with one another.
I won’t be like I need this picture of this person seated in this exact pose doing this thing. I actually find that whenever I try to approach a shoot that planned out with what I want to get from the talent, I’m always disappointed. It’s so much better when you let them reveal things to you. I think they also respond to it better, they feel a little bit of trust because you aren’t forcing them to be something specific.
Whenever people ask me what I shoot, I say anything that moves. Usually people. I describe myself as a portrait photographer. I work in the celebrity entertainment industry. I think that just happens to be where I got my grounding. I love what I do. I love creating images.
I love fashion. I love when stylists have clothes left over from a big pull and want to shoot. Let’s go crazy.
I love editorial clients or otherwise who have killer taste and they are like ‘yeah go buck crazy’ and they are ok with the weird shot of half of a face or an odd use of negative space. I love that. It lets you be a little big freer.
What gear do you use?
I usually shoot everything with strobe. A lot of the stuff that I do, I need to shoot it at a high f stop. Camera wise that’s from medium format to now I’m shooting the Nikon d850. I miss medium format cameras but they are too slow digitally. I’m a really fast shooter. I work really fast to sort of get those caught in between moments.
I need to be flexible and need to get the highest quality capture. I don’t have a lot of clients that like things at 1.4 wide open at a 1/125, just the mouth is in focus. I shoot a lot of strobe because it keeps everything sharp and I made the switch to Nikon because the file format is ridiculously large and I love the quality of the capture.
I like parabolics – any parabolic reflector you can give me. I love that.
And HMIs. If I could afford to only shoot HMIs I probably would. There is no light like an HMI. period. But when you start getting into HMIs, they are sensitive and expensive. I love the quality of an HMI. It’s so fucking beautiful. I did shoot with some larger HMIs in my lifetime but for the most part I did the majority of my work with the pars. The 125 Jokers they were my life for awhile – for all my editorial stuff they looked so amazing. That and a gold or silver shiny board and I was on fire. And a little hampshire frost and that was a day. It was a date with destiny. It was always good. I love those little damn lights.
Join us June 6 at Venice Arts from 7-9 p.m. for a discussion with Sheryl Nields on her creative process from pre-production through production and post. Reserve tickets here.