This week’s Questions with a Pro features Craig Hadorn.
Craig is a Salt Lake City, Utah based photographer specializing in portrait and food photography. In his previous career, Craig was an art director for advertising agencies, which taught him various things that he brought with him to his photography career. Here, he outlines some of the skills that have benefitted him from his previous experience as an art director, his number one piece of advice for new photographers, and how he alters his photography technique between the different genres of photography.
We asked: Please describe your career path from art director in advertising agencies to full-time photographer. What specific skills that you acquired working in advertising have served you well in your own photography business?
Craig said: First, let me just say that I am honored and humbled to be featured in this series. I am an older guy, but a relative newcomer to the photography business. And I realize that I am surrounded here by thousands of more-experienced photographers – many of whom have taught and inspired me along this path, even though we’ve never met. Thank you.
My transition from art director to photography happened gradually. After working full-time as an agency art director for nearly two decades, I mutated into a freelance art director, then a serious ski bum and then a photo retoucher and finally a photographer over most of yet another decade. Five years ago, I hung out my shingle as a full-time photographer and have never looked back.
There are several basic design skills that benefit both art directors and photographers. Things like avoiding tangents in composition, assigning priorities to multiple visuals and the deft use of the color wheel, to name a few, are relevant to both disciplines.
Beyond that, an art director juggles a ton of other pieces in the puzzle to assemble a great ad. Clever words, tasteful typography and dramatic imagery must be combined into something that persuades and is memorable. In doing so, the art director must also meet deadlines, stay on budget and be subjected to a constant barrage of subjective, creative scrutiny. And to do well in the business, he or she will also need to get along with others and learn all they can from mentors. Except for the graphic design stuff, most of these skills apply to photography, as well.
Working in advertising was a pretty good ride for me. It allowed me to move around the country, win a few awards and make some lifelong friends. In addition, I hired and worked with a lot of great photographers. (And in retrospect, I probably rode a few of them too hard.)
I’m not sure whether my art direction background really gives me an advantage with photography clients, but I do know that it makes me especially attentive to their specific needs and concerns.
We asked: You mention the concept of “artistic problem solving” in your bio. What exactly do you mean by this?
Craig said: A small disclaimer is in order here. To be crystal clear, the term that I call “artistic problem solving” in my bio is certainly not an exercise unique to me. Every decent photographer out there does this every day that they shoot, and I’m no exception.
Obviously, the photographers who shoot mostly on location (like me) find themselves engaged in this practice more often than studio photographers. Aside from the usual array of technical Murphy’s Law abiders, there will usually be some unforeseen “challenge” on a shoot that needs to be addressed. The careful packing and backing up of gear usually resolves the former, and keeping an open mind, as well as your cool, gets after the latter. It’s all part of the process of being a commercial photographer and, to my mind, part of the fun, too.
We asked: If you could give a new photographer one piece of advice, what would it be and why is it so important?
Craig said: This is a tough one to answer succinctly, since even in my short tenure as a full-time photographer, I could write a book of “Do’s and Don’ts” that I have learned the hard way. That said, brace yourself, because now I’m gonna get metaphysical on you.
My single piece of advice is simply this: Be grateful. Yeah, that’s right. Be grateful that you can actually pay your bills with a camera. Be grateful for every new assignment that comes your way. Be grateful for your last gig when you’re now going through an inevitable dry spell. And express your gratitude to clients by going the extra mile for them whenever you can. I can hardly be described as a “spiritual” person, but I believe this stuff really works and will help grow your business.
We asked: Do you have to change your photographic technique when switching between portrait and food photography? Please explain.
Craig said: Aside from photography, food is my other true passion. I have been a serious home cook and foodie for most of my adult life. When I first started in photography, I expected food to sort of take over things, but then I fell in love with the work of Joe McNally, Arnold Newman and Gregory Heisler. That prompted me to learn all I could about environmental portrait lighting and composition before developing my food photography skills.
Today I do shoot a fair amount of food, and here are some technical things that separate it from environmental portrait shoots. I rarely, if ever, shoot food without being tethered and never use zoom lenses. My go-to lens for food is a 100mm Macro for everything but the overhead (or flat lay) shots, and when doing those, I go with either a 50mm prime or 40mm pancake lens. A tripod is always used, as well. For lighting food, I’ll use whatever works for the particular situation – be that window light, strobe or an LED.
For shooting people on location, the 24-70mm lens comes out for the environmental portraits, or I grab the 100mm if a headshot is needed. Some form of strobe lighting that is balanced with the ambient light is almost always used. And I may throw in a slight kicker, too.
We asked: How do you handle the stress of the industry? Do you find that it interferes with your creative process?
Craig said: To be honest, I only experience stress when I’m between gigs and looking for the next. Keeping my overhead low, driving an older car and not buying new gear with credit cards helps a lot, but if I do feel stressed, I just go for a walk.
To answer your second question: No, not at all. In fact, it sort of lights a fire under the right side of my brain. Cheers.
Find more of Craig’s work on his website.