Meetup Preview with photographer Clay Cook

Photographer, Clay Cook, has learned the importance of going the extra mile, after an arduous run in the music business. As a result, his wisdom, field experience and work ethic have pushed him further into an inspiring career in Advertising and Editorial photography. Over a short period of time, Clay has shaped creative projects with brands such as: Livestrong, NFL, Dillard’s, Red Bull and Vince Camuto. In addition, he has brought to life, worldwide assignments for publications such as Forbes, Adweek, USA Today, ESPN, Modern Salon and Inc.  PATTERN will be hosting an intimate chat about all things photography with Cook this Thursday at the Harrison Center for the Arts!

How did you go from photographing babies and weddings to commercial gigs?

It boils down to one simple initiative: creativity. Once I discovered my love for unique lighting and portraiture, I knew I needed to make a statement. I had always been inspired by films and movie posters, so I created a portrait series based on my love for James Bond and the iconic female roles in the films a.k.a “Bond Girls.” No surprise, it didn’t gain a roster of paying clients, but it did gain some notoriety in the photo community. Fast forward 6 months and I started a portrait series based on Lady Gaga and her amazing world of music, fashion and all things crazy. Just like my first portrait series it gave me the opportunity to work with many talented models, once again gaining a spotlight, but this time more so from those outside the photo community. With the use of social media, my images had been spread beyond the small photo community and into the populace at large. Just a few short weeks after unveiling the ‘Gaga Series’ I was approached by an art publication to shoot their next feature and fashion editorial. They had a photography budget and I was thrilled. Then, publications, hair salons and agencies hired me to shoot for their respective companies. The point is; if you don’t start with creativity then the clients may never come.

Did your background in graphic design make you a better photographer? How?

I believe it gave me a great jumpstart. I learned Adobe Photoshop without any coaching or formal education. I discovered a workflow that doesn’t make sense and was usually completely destructive, but over time I learned the proper workflow from failure. When I transitioned into photography, I had a group of consistent clients, mostly record labels and bands. I often would alter a stock image beyond recognition with blending textures and compositing. But, I didn’t truly understand light and color. I think to be a great graphic designer you have to understand those attributes. When I picked up a camera to simply capture my own stock photography, my eye altered to prefer a more pure form of imagery. I never considered myself to be a great graphic designer, so now I leave the real work to my Retoucher Jordan Hartley, but I still color grade every single image we create.

What’s your favorite online channel for sharing your work?

I prefer to share my work across as many platforms as possible. While I love the Facebook Community, Snapchat as slowly become a rewarding resource for sharing content.

What’s one thing you wish you would have known about being a professional photographer when you started?

There are three types of photographers: those that rely on instinct and sunlight, those that rely on post processing, and those that excel at artificial lighting and formalities. Some of the best photographers are chameleons that shine in all three areas. As an editorial photographer, I love lighting, rigging, and all mechanics involved with photography. For many months, the subject came second to setup. But as an artist you need to ask yourself–what does the image mean to the viewer and how will they relate to it? I had spent half my career focused on the technical, but in a selfish manner I totally ignored the most important virtue of a photograph–the subject in front of the lens. It is the one thing I wish I had known; it’s not about the gear or the camera, it’s about your creativity, vision and ability to connect with people. Yes, you own the image, but take into consideration who is watching first.

Follow Cook on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

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