James Robinson Photography Blog is pleased to have Shannon Greer share his photography and insights with our readers. Thank you Shannon for sharing a few moments with JRP Blog.
Shannon Greer: It is my pleasure James.
JRP: Where do you call home?
Shannon Greer: I live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn with my partner Charlotta Janssen, a painter. I grew up in Manhattan (Soho, before it became a mall). I urge anyone visiting NYC to come to Fort Greene if you want to get a better sense of what Manhattan might have felt like in the 70’s and 80’s.
JRP: What led you to photography? Do you have any formal training or assisting in your background? How would you classify your work?
Shannon Greer: I picked up a camera when I was 12 or thirteen first. However, I ended up going to college more for my drawing and painting then for my photography. After a taking some time off (and just walking out on a restaurant as a busboy), I ran into a high school friend who introduced me to a modeling agent. I ended up shooting with Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Arthur Elgort, and Pamela Hansen. I really enjoyed working with them, and I decided to go back to school for photography. It was a Fine Art program, so I was able to study with Jan Groover, Gregory Crewdson, and Jed Devine. It was a lot of fun to work with so many different processes. Upon graduating, I started assisting for five years. I worked with some really wonderful fashion and lifestyle photographers, like Francois Deconinck, Philip Newton, Pamela Hanson and Dewey Nicks. Spent a ton of time assisting on JCrew jobs. Then, I decided to go on my own. This was back when you could call an editor and they would answer their phones (before photographers overtook actors as New York City’s most populated profession). I brought in a portfolio of 10 laser copies from a JCrew job I was a second unit shooter on. It did the trick. I was working the following week, and now I’ve been on my own for 14 years.
JRP: Are there photographers whose work has inspired you and your approach to your craft?
Shannon Greer: Arthur Elgort, Pamela Hanson, Francois Deconinck. They could all get so much life out of their models. And because it’s lifestyle, they do the dance. It’s a back and forth movement with the model, and they become syncopated in their movements, and begin to anticipate each other (in a good way). It’s really fun to watch.
JRP: How important are personal projects in the development of a photographer’s growth?
Shannon Greer: I think it’s invaluable to work on independent projects, particularly if they take you out of your safety zones. It teaches you to think and see in different ways and It increases your photographic vocabulary. And, its great fun! You don’t want to only stay with what is comfortable. You have to sometimes play and experiment, otherwise you either stagnate, or become locked into a style of shooting, and can get left behind while the world (and business) is changing around you. A word of warning: Do not go on a job and start talking to your client all day about your future book, and how you are really a great art photographer. You want them to know that you enjoy what you are shooting for them, and aren’t stooping to shoot “commercially”. You want them to know you love what you do for them too.
JRP: What would we find in your equipment bag for a typical shoot?
Shannon Greer: Canon 1DS Mark III, Canon 5D Mark II (Always have at least one backup camera), Canon 50mm 1.2, Canon 85mm 1.2, Canon 17-40mm 4.0.
JRP: What is your approach to lighting? Do you prefer artificial or available light? Is there a set up you tend to start with? What are your most used light modifiers and could you give us a visual example?
Shannon Greer: I mostly use available light. When shooting interiors, if I have to light, I like lighting from outside in. Living in NYC, it can be complicated (I am rarely shooting on the first floor of any building). My most used light modifiers are scrim jims and flex fills.
JRP: Do you spend a lot of time processing images? Could you describe your digital work flow and the software you use?
Shannon Greer: My digital tech does all the processing and file management. She uses Capture One. Basically, my job is buying a million hard-drives.
JRP: Do you make use of custom white balances and color checks when you shoot?
Shannon Greer: We have a color card that we put into each shot. Sometimes if I have a job and I’m on my own (some travel jobs), I’ll come back and my tech will be furious because I will have forgotten to use the color card.
JRP: Image printing, how do you handle that?
Shannon Greer: I have an Epson 9900, so we buy tons of roll paper. I had to buy a huge cutter (it’s about 5′ tall). My studio is in The Brooklyn Navy Yards, and luckily, B&H has two outlets here, so I don’t have very far to go to pick up supplies.
JRP: As you look through the viewfinder what would you say is the most critical moment in the capture of an image?
Shannon Greer: It’s all in the action of the subject and decisive moment, as Cartier-Bresson would say. However, I have the luxury of staging my moments a bit more than I imagine he did. But really, as long as you didn’t have to kill any kittens to get a great image, there are a million ways to go about getting fantastic images, and each shooter will find what works for them.
JRP: With today’s economy what changes are driving the market place and how have you adjusted?
Shannon Greer: Well, for sure we are working more with less. The worst part of my job is when I am on a travel assignment, and as there sometimes is no budget for an assistant, after a hard day of work, I will be sitting alone for dinner while newlyweds are cooing at each other from across their tables in bliss, every once in a while casting a glance at the weird guy eating by himself (me).
JRP: What seems to be the biggest obstacle to over-come in building a client base today?
Shannon Greer: While digital photography has made photography as a medium even more available to the masses, it has also produced a million new “professional photographers”. The influx has made it more difficult to reach editors and art buyers, and therefore I think that sourcebooks have become an important way to be seen. I also think not having super powers, like flying faster than a speeding bullet, or shooting lasers from my eyes has been a real drawback, as the attention I would garner for doing good (or evil) could only help secure a larger client base. Dating celebrities can help in the short-term too (One month with Snooki = ten new clients, minimum). Really, I think eventually we will all need to hire PR agents.
JRP: If not photography what would Shannon Greer be doing with his time?
Shannon Greer: I think I would like to keep doing video portraits. That has been a lot of fun (although I am a horrible editor). I also really want to learn to surf. I would also like to perfect a flying triangle choke (or even a normal one). All that being said, I like nothing better than being on location on a Caribbean Island with a great crew. Figuring out great shots by day, followed by a swim and then on to a dinner of fresh local snapper and a few glasses of wine with happy festive co-workers: priceless.
JRP: What has been the best advice given to you by another photographer?
Shannon Greer: “Go to law school, kid!”
JRP: What advice would you like to share with photographers who are starting out?
Shannon Greer: I think you have to shoot stuff you like. If you like food, shoot food. If you like clothes, shoot clothes. If you like Iguanas, shoot Iguanas.Your love for your subject will come out in your photos, and your potential clients will be responsive to that.
Also, in the very beginning, try to shoot like your heroes. Over time, you will develop your own style that says: “me!”. Until then, you’ll learn a lot emulating, and probably realize that what looks incredibly easy actually requires a lot of work.
Photography takes a lot of sweat. And you will experience tons of rejection. Be thick-skinned. I lose jobs to other photographers everyday, Sometimes they lose to me. It’s just the nature of the business. If it bothers you, then become the best photographer in the business. There is nothing holding you back.
Last, and most importantly, date or marry a stylist :). They are the most important part of doing a good test. What they do is hard work and it’s not easy getting them to do your projects for free. Unless, of course, you’re living with them.
JRP: Thank you Shannon for sharing your thoughts and images with us. It has been a real pleasure. We wish you continued success.
Shannon Greer: Thanks! The pleasure was all mine!
JRP: To view more of Shannon Greer’s photography please follow these links: