JRP: We are pleased to have Fashion Photographer Seth Sabal as the subject of this JRP Blog spotlight interview. Thank you Seth for sharing time with us.
Seth where do you call home? How did you get your start in photography? Is there any formal training in your background?
Seth Sabal: My home is New York City, I live in Tribeca. When I was very young my mother, who was camera crazy had cameras sitting around the house and she introduced me to photography. I went to college for photography, and didn’t really learn outside the scope of technical stuff. It was not until I started working for a professional photographer that I started to really understand the psychological workings of the art. Photography as a living is 5% technical and 95% psychological.
JRP: Every photographer has a moment where it clicks that this is what he or she should be doing. When was that for you and why fashion photography?
Seth Sabal: I really wanted to be a landscape photographer. Eventually, I needed to make money and started doing commercial product photography. Fashion really happened by chance. I have always had an appreciation for clothing, stylists, creative directors, makeup, and hair. Fashion was the result of deep admiration for people who make the whole thing work. A photographer that shoots fashion is really a result of the team effort of everyone involved. From creative directors, even to the guys that help to clean the studio.
JRP: Which photographers do you feel have impacted your work and why?
Seth Sabal: Simple Richard Avedon & Irving Penn. Avedon for his direct invasive and genius connection with his subjects, and Penn for his dreamy and thought invoking work. With both Avedon and Penn you feel a sense of strong design background, ultra technical knowledge, and images that will and have endured the test of time.
JRP: Do you have a support staff? What areas do they handle?
Seth Sabal: Of course, I have a great staff of people around me. I have an agent, a production manager, retouchers, assistants, and interns.
JRP: What equipment would I find in your camera bag or studio for a typical shoot? What lighting equipment do you favor and why?
Seth Sabal: Well, I tend to like the Hasselblad with the Phase One backs. I like the 6×4.5 format because it translates my vision most closely to the standard magazine and advertisement specs. I use strobes and literally keep it simple most of my work is done with one light. Simplicity breeds elegance.
JRP: Could you describe your digital work-flow and the software you use?
Seth Sabal: I don’t use cards, I like to see things as we go instantly, it’s like having a Polaroid camera at all times. We capture directly with Capture 1 software and output with the same program. Retouching is done in Photoshop. Color proof and match prints are made of all the finished work.
Personal work and landscapes I go back to film and camera sizes range from 2 1/4 to 8×10 view camera.
JRP: Do you personally print your images?
Seth Sabal: I personally oversee the printing and retouching of all my work in-house. My production manager handles all the workflow. I see everything through the work stages and make notes and corrections as needed.
I am really lucky because I have one of the finest retouchers in NYC, Jonathan Luciano. He also works for photographers like Patrick Demarchelier, Marc Baptiste and Greg Kadel.
JRP: With today’s economic conditions tell us how you keep productive and retain your creative edge.
Seth Sabal: I don’t buy into the idea that economic conditions dictate whether you have work or not. Keeping a creative edge and accommodating the concerns of clients and costs is a matter of self-principal. The money will always come to those that create relationships where you make yourself indispensable. I always try to remember there is always someone better, someone smarter and someone who wants it more. That is what keeps me on my toes.
JRP: Are there any memorable images or shoots you could share with us? What made that image or shoot special?
Seth Sabal: I have done a Vogue shoot here and there, but a recent shoot I did with Kasia Struss is just one of my favorites. Kasia is my wife’s best friend and we have all been friends for years. She was just about the only model that I had not worked with. I asked her to do a shoot for me, we got a team together and she made some magical images.
JRP: What do you feel is one of the major mistakes new photographers make in pursuing a career in fashion?
Seth Sabal: The biggest mistake is thinking that because you have a new camera you are a professional photographer. The advent of digital cameras has really revolutionized and prostituted the industry. It’s made professional quality cameras accessible to the general public without the brains or talent. It’s like a Ferrari frame without the motor.
Fashion is about clothing, it’s about selling a product. The global market of capitalism has manipulated the consumer to subconsciously associate a lifestyle/image to create a must-have salable brand. Let’s be realistic, does Victoria’s Secret make the best underwear in the world? No, but they have genius people doing the catalog and advertising based on financial results.
When a woman sees those catalogs, they want to look like Adriana Lima. When men see it they want their wives or girlfriends to look like Adriana Lima … it’s genius!
If you want to pursue a career in fashion photography, you better know everything about it. From the beginning to now. Know your history; Edith Head, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Cristobal and Balenciaga. The visionaries Alexey Brodovitch, Diana Vreeland, Carmel Snow, Grace Coddington, Anna Wintour, Franca Sozzani, and Liz Tilberis. And, for God sakes, know your photographers; Cecil Beaton, Horst, Lillian Bassman, Steichen, Avedon, Penn, and Newton.
Learn to keep what most people throw away … the references are valuable. These artists have laid the foundation to be a great success.
JRP: What has been some of the best advice given to you by another photographer?
Seth Sabal: Take each moment with all the presence of mind, and enjoy the process.
JRP: What special advice would you like to share with other photographers?
Seth Sabal: Trust and empower the people around you to support your success and pay them well. Be loyal, don’t forget the people who helped you. Keep your word.
JRP: Thank you Seth for sharing your thoughts and images with us. It has been a pleasure.
To view more of Seth Sabal’s photography please follow these links: