This is interview #3 in series designed to showcase some of our amazing clients, their work and learn what inspires them to be the best in the business.
Meet Clark Vandergrift. Clark is a Maryland-based photographer that travels the world looking for unique ways to share his vision. Clark is a visual storyteller inspired by a sense of pure wanderlust. He describes his photographic style as being based on reality and embellished by his imagination.
You have a really diverse landscape portfolio ranging from mountains to lighthouses and everything in between. Where is your favorite place to photograph and if you could only shoot in one state moving forward where would it be? That is a cruel question. I love traveling, exploration, and finding new places. To have to narrow my options to one area would be like prison. However, there are two states that I keep revisiting; Colorado and California. I love them both equally, but if I had to pick just one I would say California; but only because it has more diversity in the terrain.
The Yukon Crossing shot in the Landscape Portfolio is stunning. Did you just happen upon that scene with the northern lights firing or was that a shot you had to wait patiently to capture? That shot is actually somewhat of a figment of my imagination. It is composited from multiple images. I actually did video depiction the compositing/retouching of a similar shot in that series. After the first time I saw that train station I knew I wanted to photograph it. I just didn’t know how I wanted to depict it. It is actually located about an hour from my studio in Maryland. Once I settled upon a concept I calculated when the light would be right for the composite and shot it then.
Your website is a collection of both photography and video. Which medium are you most passionate about? That depends on the day. I always seem to be most excited about what I’m doing at the moment. Video is a little bit newer to me and that has made it exciting. But there is also a certain magic about that frozen instant that is the still image. What I enjoy about both is the entire process from conceptualization to finished file. This is true for me whether the magic is still image compositing and color grading or creative cutting of video.
You have a couple video’s about baseball that are loaded with great nostalgia for the game. Are you a fan? I am a fan, but I would say that I’m a super fan of baseball. What I am a super fan of is nostalgia itself. My studio is a rehabbed barn (on my residential property) that is loaded with vintage props, signage, gas station memorabilia, and neon.
You are a master of post-production. Is this process something you love or is it a necessary process to achieve the end result you are seeking? Both actually. One thing I love to do is to routinely learn new post techniques. I often will just learn how to do something regardless of whether it is part of my current process. Ultimately what this does is put another tool in the shed and it opens up more possibilities during conceptualization and capture.
Your “Tree People” gallery is jaw dropping. How did you come up with this concept? Thank you. That project is one of my favorites. Purely by happenstance, I noticed at one point that I had a small collection of landscapes that featured trees. I continued to capture these types of shots while knowing I was going to do something with them eventually. I was doing some research one evening and came across a very talented body painter, Jen Seidel, and at once settled upon the concept of painting people to match these unique environments.
How long do each of these shots take to prepare? It usually takes about 3-5 days not including the time it took to capture the initial landscape. Once a landscape image has been selected/processed/ created the usual steps are to: 1) Cast the model 2) Build a set in the studio to replicate the environment and lighting in the landscape 3) Shoot the unpainted model on the set 4) Do a quick composite of the model in the landscape 5) Print a large format print of this composite and hang it by the makeup artist so that she can understand the size and scale of the model in the scene and determine how to apply the paint and at what scale to paint the tree bark, etc 6) Shoot 7) Compositing and finishing of the image
I am assuming you work with an exceptional make-up artist to achieve the camouflage of your subjects. Is this artist someone you collaborate with often? Jen also does traditional Make Up Artist work and we do work together outside of this project.
You have a distinctive look and feel to you work. How did you arrive at this? Has your style changed over time or have you been pretty consistent since you started? I would say that I am always evolving and shooting different things with different looks. I have a much more diverse image library than what is outwardly visible. However, I am careful to keep the images that I use for branding (the ones on my site) consistent and distinctive.
What is one piece of camera gear/equipment you simply can’t live without? Photoshop and whatever gear I purchased most recently.
What advice would you give to a young photographer looking to get into photography as a career path? You have to be tenacious and have equal parts humility, introspection, and self-confidence. There will be setbacks, or at least something that feels like a setback at the time… perhaps just a mental or emotional setback (i.e. writer’s block). Learn from them. Secondly, you can’t waste time on projects that don’t take you where you want to be going as an artist. Where most people want to be is a combination of creative satisfaction and financial success. There is a balance that has to be learned. Some projects will be very lucrative and others will be very creatively satisfying. An ideal project is rewarding in both aspects. Avoid projects that don’t satisfy one need at all and only partially satisfy the other need. The sum of both sides of the equation should equal 100%.
What do you see as the most challenging part of the photography industry today? For me personally, marketing is always a challenge. I love the creative process and working with others, but marketing has always seemed like a chore. It’s a necessary evil in my mind. With that being said, any freelancer should know that you are constantly selling yourself/your business. Even to your most long time clients.
Your mind must be constantly in motion to conjure up all your creative ideas for photos and video. What do you do to unwind? I’m and avid cyclist and I usually ride about 200-300 miles a week.
What does the perfect Clark Vandergrift day look like? Somehow it would have to involve shooting, riding my bike, hanging out with my family (I’m blessed with 3 wonderful sons and a beautiful and supportive wife).