Adam Elmakias

 

Contact Information

Web Site: www.adamelamkias.com
Web Site: www.lensbracelet.com
Twitter: twitter.com/elmakias
Tumblr: elmakias.tumblr.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/adamelmakias
Flickr: flickr.com/elmakias
Email: adam at adamelmakias dot com

About Adam & Photography

Kids, Wife, Dogs, Guinea Pigs?
I laughed out loud at the first sight of this question. I’m 22. I don’t imagine any of these are in my near future, but everything changes so fast these days that I can’t keep up. I have had girlfriends, but because my work schedule is all self-assigned, I often find myself choosing work time over girlfriend time and that generally leads to my current status of single pretty quickly. I really want a dog, but I am not allowed to have them in my apartment complex. Instead, I settled for a potted plant from IKEA. I think it’s growing, but I can’t tell yet. I need to get some more interesting plants wherever they may be at.

 


When did you first pick up a camera?
I started shooting when I was in high school, I was 15 or 16, I can’t recall exact age. I had been assigned to take some self-portraits for my yearbook class. They let me borrow Canon Powershots so that I could get the job done. I took it home and snapped away using the good ol’ ten-second timer. I never really put that much time into anything having to do with school, but I surprisingly took a liking to this project. We weren’t really taught much past the basics in my yearbook class, but it gave me a taste of photography and I was hooked from there. I eventually signed up for dpchallenge.com and shot around a bunch for that site. I am very competitive so that site really got me into photography. Whenever someone tells me I am lucky to be so good at photography I always relate back to the old dpchallenge days when I still had a lot of learning to do. Photography was not something I was naturally good at, it took me a while to get good at it. Maybe to the outside world it only seemed like a few years, but those few years were packed with nothing but practice on my end. It took me tons and tons of practice to get anywhere. You can actually still view my first images on that site => http://www.dpchallenge.com/profile.php?USER_ID=49948

Are you a pro photographer?
I have been shooting for almost six years, and for approximately four of them I have been working as a professional photographer. The first two years I don’t really count, because they consisted of me running around to local shows and photographing all the bands I wished I could be in. Those were definitely big “learning the basics” years for me.

I shoot mostly for bands, record labels, print / online publications, and clothing companies. I tour with a few bands for about 3-4 months each year. Touring consists of me hanging out with a bunch of friends in a band and harassing them with my camera on a daily basis. When I first started out the bands I worked with were traveling in vans for the most part. After about a year or so of touring in vans I graduated to bus tours. This is partly because I started to get bigger clients–but also because the van bands I was touring with started getting bigger. Buses make life more enjoyable because you can do more than just cram into them until you get to the next venue. You can hang out, watch TV, play video games, eat, and sleep comfortably. They make me feel like I am the most productive I could possibly be, because even while I am sleeping, I am traveling 100’s of miles. I don’t always get a bunk on a bus, but having a whole back lounge to myself is never something to complain about. When I am not on tour, I am busy driving to LA or flying around the US for shoots. Recently the lens bracelets have been taking up a lot of my time as well. I keep myself pretty busy.

I also released a tutorial DVD that I filmed, edited and put together on my own about 3 years ago. I decided to make another one, only this time I put a lot more time into it–and hired people to do all the things that I am not so great at. We actually just wrapped filming for it so it should be edited and out by the end of July if all goes well.

When did you start photography as a business?
I started turning into a business in early 2007. I had been trying to make money off of it in 2006, but I was just starting so I didn’t make very much. I started e-mailing publications and started working with a manager in the music industry by October. I snagged a job with Alternative Press and shot for them from time to time, I also shot for a small online site called punkrockvids.com (I shot the images). Anyway all those things combined together started getting me more shoots, and I kept networking with all the people I met along the way. I stopped going to college in late 2007, and come early 2008 I started touring with a few bands and everything just kept growing and growing from there. Photography slowly became more and more of a business, and now I do it full time.

What do you like to shoot most?
I tend to shoot one “concept” for a period of time before moving on to another idea. I go through phases with a lot of things in life; I get hooked on something for X weeks, and then I move on.

I thought photography was going to be like this as well, but I am still going so I guess it is the one exception. At first I shot mostly live images, then press shots, followed by candid and live images. As of late I have been shooting some freaky close portraits of people that I snag on the fly with a speedlite or two. I usually try to photograph everyone I am on tour with, not just the band, sound techs, tour managers, merch guys, tattoo artists…just about anyone who is hanging on the bus is fair game. This really involves shooting on the fly because everyone is almost always working, and when they aren’t working they are probably well into their night and not “photo ready”.

For example, I was interested in photographing all the techs when I was with A Day To Remember while I was touring with in Europe, so I set up my lights on stage, and grabbed the guys when they had a spare minute. It’s fun, challenging, frustrating, and really pushes my patience. I have learned to be VERY patient with people. I am in their world and on their schedule. Actually I am not on their schedule, but I try my best to weasel my way in.

Any photography books that may have influenced or educated you?
I haven’t really every taken a look at many photography books up until about a year ago–and even then it was just a few my friend had sitting on his coffee table. My friend went to school for photography so he showed me some examples of things he had learned and gave me the rundown of some of the more famous photographers that have graced our planet. Other than that, I mostly keep to myself as far as looking at other people’s work. I am indifferent on looking at other’s work too much. I find that I get attached to how I think my images should look and try to emulate their look subconsciously. That being said, I do really like looking at other peoples work in small dose, this way it just has a little bit of an impression on me.

Describe your shooting style.
I try to be very quick and on-the-fly for the most part. My locations are very thought out (time permitting), but I like the first thoughts that pop into my head while I am shooting. I feel like anything that I generate after that isn’t instinctual and usually produces images that are not so great. I usually start out by explaining what we are doing, and then showing them how to pose by standing in myself. Luckily I work with a bunch of band guys so me pulling off their poses isn’t all that difficult. After we get into actually shooting the image, our shoot moves into more of a conversation with some images in between. I am pretty quick and I try to keep it that way so that they don’t over think their pose and start to look unnatural. From there, we just keep switching up locations and repeating the process.

Do you feel you continue to evolve?
Yes, definitely. I try to switch up what I am shooting, and how I am shooting every once in awhile. I mostly learn how to get better by making mistakes, so the more mistake prone the better. For example when I started shooting live images with a speedlite on stage, it took me a few full shows of shooting to get one useable image. After I get decent at something I try to perfect it. Once I perfect something I get bored after awhile and move on to something else. Repeat that over and over and that is how I grow. Same goes for photoshop.

Is there styles or types of photography you used to do, but don’t anymore?
Yes, yes. I started out shooting live bands at local venues, but it was more because I felt pretty bad ass, being able to photograph bands. I was 16, so cut me some slack. Anyone would be stoked to be that close to all the people they look up to. Anyway, what started out as a thrill for me quickly turned into a task, and I slowly migrated more towards press shots/ photo shoots with the artists I once photographed live. I basically started letting bands sleep at my house, as most of them traveled in vans and needed a place to stay. I say my house, but I really mean my mom or dads place. We didn’t have big houses, so the bands basically slept all over my bedroom or living room floor, couches, and in my bed while I slept on the upstairs couch.

Best decision you’ve made in photography?
To move out of Wisconsin. I didn’t think that location mattered all that much for my job–as I am not home that often anyway, but it does. I didn’t really enjoy Wisconsin all that much, so about two years ago I decided to move to San Diego. San Diego itself isn’t that great for photography, but I am close enough to LA to make it work. I like living in an area that I actually want to be in, so when I am home from work I can keep busy with activities I enjoy. In Wisconsin, all I had was photography. I guess I do owe Wisconsin a thank you, because if it weren’t for its lack of other stuff to do. I probably wouldn’t be a photographer. It takes a lot for me to be able to sit down and concentrate on something when I have a lot of distractions. But Wisconsin got rid of the whole distraction aspect and made it possible. San Diego has just been a good place for me to be able to relax, stay healthy, and keep active with things outside of photography.

Biggest mistake?
I am not quite sure. I make mistakes, but all of them somehow got me to where I am today, so I don’t really look at any of them as mistakes.

Are you into the HDSLR video craze?
I haven’t really gotten into it yet, although almost every single one of my friends has. I have a few friends who shoot video for a living, and I am trying my best to work with them so I can learn. I feel like it is just a matter of time before all cameras are just video cameras that you grab a single frame from and use it as an image. I am pretty sure you can do that with the RED Epic already. I am always trying to grow and learn as a photographer, and I think becoming well versed in the way of the video is the next step for me.

Any advice to aspiring photographers? It’s such a competitive field now.
Network. Becoming a successful photographer these days revolves around who you know and, more importantly, who knows you. I figure, network as much as possible, and learn your photography along the way. There are plenty of photographers out there that are not the greatest. Heck, some are even pretty bad. We have all seen the images, you know the ones you look at and go, “I can take a better picture than that, how did they get that job?” It is because they know how to network. People like to hire people they know, or that come recommended. I would say about 90% of my jobs come from someone who knows someone I have already worked with. Use social network sites to your advantage as well, twitter, Facebook, flickr, tumblr, linkedin, and whatever else works for you…use them all. I also suggest keeping track of everyone you meet. A good start is their name, number and e-mail. Seems like a no brainer, right? In addition to that I also leave a little note that says where I met them and what I did with them. This way the next time you hit them up you can refer back to your notes and jog your memory. It helps a lot.

Gear

Why Canon?
I started with it, it ruled, so i stuck with it. Their cameras are so comfy in my hands and I like the glass.

What cameras and Lenses do you use?
I own a Canon 5D, and I am well overdue for an update. I have a Canon 24-70 f/2.8L, which I shoot a lot of my candid/lifestyle images with, but I only got this one recently. I used to shoot most of these images with my Canon 50mm 1.8 and my Canon 85mm 1.8. I have done almost all my press shoots with my Canon 17-40 f/4.0L and then I have a Canon 70-200 f/4.0L that I use for a lot of my live images.

What’s your favorite photography accessory other than camera/lenses.
I have a Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp that I attach a Manfrotto 237HD Heavy Duty Flex Arm to, and then I attach my speedlite that is equipped with a Pocket Wizard to that. It basically enables me to clamp my flash anywhere on stage and aim it in any direction. It rules. It has literally changed the quality of the live images I am able to snag. I have other clamps and stands, but I need stuff that stays out of people’s way and can be hit without toppling over. Here are a few images I shot using this set up:

If you could have one lens, which would it be and why?
The 35 1.4 is one of my favorites I have ever shot with. I need to get that one, I have rented it a few times. Or maybe one of those 500mm lenses, so I can look badass.


 

What was your first digital camera?
I can’t remember what it was called! But my school counselor was a member on dpchallenge.com, and he had gotten me involved in the community as well. He actually ended up getting someone to send me a digital camera for free. I think it was a 1.3 megapixel camera? It was huge, about the size of a Polaroid camera, and very difficult to use. I shot around with it for a few weeks before purchasing my own Canon S2is. I was 16 years old, and I went to the bank with my mom to withdraw the $400ish from my college account. It gave me an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I vividly remember thinking “this is so much money, I have never spent this much money before, should I really do this?” My mom convinced me it was a good investment, as I enjoyed photography, and it made sense to get a nice camera.

Ever been into film, developing or darkroom?
I feel like most people get the opportunity to use film/darkroom set ups in school, as it’s not exactly something you can just conjure up at home. That being said, no I never really got to experiment with it because I didn’t take any classes for photography. I hope I get to try it out one day, but for now I am going strong with digital.

Describe your computer workflow
I start by downloading all my images onto two different hard drives. I learned awhile back to always buy hard drives in pairs, otherwise they are pretty much pointless. When one of my hard drives dies I always have a spare lying around so that I can immediately back up all the info that is now only on one drive. I sort my images by month, then again by shoot date/name. After I have them all sorted out I sift through the photos in bridge, and separate them into color-coded categories. If I have 8k images from a tour, I will go through and put each band into a different color group. If there are just 2k images from a shoot, I will separate them by location/set up. The first locations will be green, second will be yellow, etc. It’s pretty straightforward. After I have everything sorted out I go through the images again and star any that I am thinking about using. After I get my images slimmed down to an editable selection, I open them in Adobe RAW, then I go ahead and edit them all. If they are press images I will probably spend a few hours on each shot. If they are live images, probably a few minutes. I have a ton of self-created actions that I use to speed things up, as my editing process is very lengthy. Then I use good ol’ batch processing or image process to save the images on two different hard drives, and that pretty much does it.

For large groups of naturally lit images that don’t need much editing I use Lightroom to edit/save them, so basically skip every step above except for putting the original images on two different hard drives.

Ever had buyers remorse on a piece of gear you’ve bought?
I buy minimal gear. I usually try to do as much as I can with what I have, and I borrow as well. Then as a problem comes up, I buy gear to solve it. For example, “Damnit, I just want my flash to be clipped anywhere on stage in a matter of seconds” = buy an A clamp for my flash. I feel like a lot of people make the mistake of buying way too much gear when they first start out, and really all it does is slow you down. There is so much to learn about photography in the first place, the last thing you want to be doing is learning how to work 10 things when you can’t even master your manual setting first. I am not saying don’t grow, but I am saying don’t overwhelm yourself. Learn about what you have, and then move on.

I didn’t stick to this rule one time back in 2008. I had been talking to an older and more experienced wedding photographer and he told me I should get a light meter. I didn’t know how to use it or what it was for, but he told me it would help me with lighting. So I thought, “what the hell?” and I spent a couple hundred on a mediocre Sekonic light meter. I brought it to a huge shoot that I actually had him assist with, and he used it and showed me how to use it. I didn’t like the thing, I still don’t like those things. I understand how they work now but I much rather use my own strategies. Unprofessional? Maybe. Regardless, I sold the thing as soon as I could on craigslist, got my money back, and spent it on something else.

Photo Credit: Collin Hughes

Business (Lens Braclet)

Tell us about Lens Bracelet ™ bracelets
A Lens Bracelet is basically all the key components of a lens squished into a half-inch wide silicone bracelet. It’s the same size as the yellow Livestrong bracelets. Some people refer to them as focus rings, but I would say to use that term loosely. I have 15 different designs in two different sizes, and I ship them all over the world daily.

I really enjoy the business aspect of the Lens Bracelet. It has been a whole new world for me. I knew absolutely nothing about the world of selling and marketing a product before this. I have been marketing myself/my photography for years, but this is my first time working with a tangible product. It has its stressors that I never imagined, such as shipments showing up late, molds being made incorrectly, customers being angry, and things along those lines. This happens with every business, it is just never made public. It’s a matter of learning how to work the problems as they arise and handle them the best way possible. I had to hire a guy to answer all my customer service e-mails and to fill all my orders, as after business picked up it became much too time consuming to do it all on my own.

Why did you start doing bracelets?
I was trying to do some kind of collaboration with one of the clothing companies I worked with and the idea came up in conversation. We were going to create a shirt, but instead we tried to think of something more unique. Eventually the idea of a camera related silicone bracelet came up. It didn’t really make sense to collaborate on it, so I just made them myself. I Googled a few different companies and emailed them my designs. They got back to me and told me what they could and couldn’t put on a bracelet. I never thought there would be so many restrictions on where you could/ couldn’t print. Anyway, I changed the design up so it met their criteria and we went ahead and started creating my first bracelet. The hardest part of getting the bracelet design right was the language barrier I had with the factory. It took a few extra e-mails from both parties to make sure we were on the same page, but in the end it all worked out.

I didn’t really have money to order a bunch of them, so I got about 200 50mm bracelets and used them as my photographer-to-photographer business card for a month or so (with my website printed along the inside of the bracelet). Almost everyone loved them, so I printed more and started selling them online. I wanted to sell a lot of bracelets and have a successful company, but I never imagined they would get this big.

I had been running contests on my Tumblr, and through that network a buyer from Photojojo came across my bracelets. After a few months of working out the business junk we came to an agreement that they would sell two different bracelets in one size on their site. They did a soft release, which gained more attention than either of us expected. I remember when it happened, I was in the studio with a band called The Devil Wears Prada, and one morning I woke up and was like “Hey guys, check it out, my bracelets are featured on Gizmodo.” It was cool to see. Later that day my bracelets were featured on a handful of other well known blog sites…Wired, Peta Pixel, Laughing Squid, swissmiss, engadget, and various smaller sites as well. My hopes were that Phojojo would get a bunch of sales, but in addition I wanted to generate more traffic to my site. Lucky for me one of the blog sites linked people to my store. When I got off the plane in Denver for my layover I turned my phone on to check my e-mails and was greeted by an overflow of order e-mails. I was stoked. In addition, somewhere within that pile of e-mails was one from Photojojo saying they had already sold out and would need to reorder a bunch more already—and all of this was during the soft release. I called my mom during my layover. I was excited.

Photo Credit: Collin Hughes

What is the most popular bracelet?
The 50mm AF is definitely the most popular as it is the original bracelet I made. In addition a lot of people have the 50 1.8 because its so affordable.

Are there any products beyond bracelets you want to get into?
I had one project in mind that I was going to take on with a friend, but the minimum order was 10,000. We decided to put it off until a later date or until we could get an investor. Anyone interested? (Seriously. E-mail me.) I, however, did make some photography pants . Random, right? I hit up Peter Firmansyah, the owner of Petersaydenim.com via Facebook. I had never worked with or spoken with Peter before, but I had heard of him because he has collaborated with a few of the bands I toured with and made custom jeans for them. Jeans are not really a normal merch item for most bands, so I thought it was rad he was going in that direction. After a few months of working together we eventually came up with a design that worked. We actually just recently released them. They have special pockets for business cards, lens cloths, lens caps, and CF/ SD memory cards. I am always trying to find good places to put these items when I don’t want to take my backpack with me. They also have my logo on them in a few places and some other fun stuff as well. As of now I only have skinny jeans, because that’s what I wear, but I am working on normal pants, shorts, and girl pants. I have never received over 50 pairs of personalized pants in 10 different sizes at my doorstep before. I think that was my favorite part of this whole thing. I am also working on a few more things that should come out soon as well, so keep an eye out!

Has it exceeded expectations?
Yes, yes it definitely has. I never expected to sell many of these, and I definitely didn’t expect to sell thousands upon thousands all across the world. It was one of those ideas that I just stumbled across buried in my head, and I went with it. For a while I would always think about what I should be doing next, but all my best ideas seem to come to me naturally and when I least expect it. I figure there are many people in this world who want to be photographers, or at least be able to take photographs that look nice for their Facebook and friends. Anyway, people who are photographers like to have other people know they are photographers, whether they admit it or not. I mean, you see people all the time walking around with their big DSLRs hanging out in the most obvious spot possible. They didn’t put it there by accident, they want people to see it and say, “Hey they are a photographer, cool.” Maybe this isn’t true 100% of the time, but most of the time for sure. I know I did it when I was first starting out. Anyway, the bracelet takes the camera on the chest and brings it down a notch, to a more mature and not so obvious level. If you happen to get into a conversation with someone who likes photography and they see your bracelet, it will likely spark up a photography related conversation. People who wear my bracelets say it happens to them all the time. Good to know it is working!

Has it brought you business for your photography?
Yes and no. I mean, I don’t think I have been hired by someone who only saw my bracelets online, but it has definitely helped me with the networking side of photography. My network within the photography community has grown tremendously because of the bracelets. I placed ads on some photography sites (like yours) and met people (like you) through it. It has reassured me that this really is an awesome community I get to work and live in. The people behind fstoppers.com, DIYphotography.com and PetaPixel are all chill and awesome dudes. In addition, I have been contacting a lot of photographers and bloggers to try and run contests with them. Even if the contests don’t go through I had a chance to speak with someone that I otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to connect with.

I have also used my bracelets as a thank you, or a way to give back to all the people that have been helping me for the past few years. I travel a lot and occasionally get stuck in cities with nowhere to stay. With Twitter and the usefulness of social media, all I have to do is tweet and I can usually find a couch to crash on. It rules. I love this community. Thank you everyone.

Photo Credit: Collin Hughes

Odds & Ends

Name one person you’d love to photograph.
Jim Carrey 20 years ago or Eminem. I know these are two celebrities (cliche, eh), but I couldn’t choose. I respect both of them, and, while I don’t always agree with their views, I love how wacky they are. Jim Carrey is out of this world. I follow him on twitter and he says some of the wildest things. In addition, I love the characters he portrays. Eminem is just a guy I have always liked learning about. It would be nice to top that off with an image.

I’ve learned the most from………
Doing. When I started shooting I was an incredibly different person than I am now. This is partially because I did a lot of growing in the past years as anyone does in their early 20’s. I definitely did not start out with the majority of the skills I have now. I learned from my experiences along the way. I figure I do everything wrong on at least a handful different occasions before I even grace the possibility of me being pretty good at doing it the right way. It gets rough because you have to deal with the repercussions of messing up, but on the other hand you get the real world experience that everyone needs. There are so many little tips/ tricks to every profession that we can only learn through experience. As soon as I realized that I didn’t know very much and it was okay to mess up a lot, I started learning a lot more. I am not sure if everyone needs the hands-on experiences, but for me it is a must. I don’t retain information very well when it is presented to me in a classroom setting, I have to get out there and mess the world around a little bit.

Something you’re saving up for?
I still can’t justify a reason for me to save my money. I always spend it. Not to say I waste it, but if it makes sense to have something, I will buy it. I have saved up money a few times to get gear, but I usually use my gear until its too beat up and broken. For the most part now it’s just a matter of upgrading and getting better gear when it makes sense. In addition, I love good food. I can never convince myself to not spend money on food. Food is the single most important thing in life as far as I am concerned.

Biggest photographic pet peeve?
I guess my pet peeve is pretty simple. Sling your camera on your body in a way that makes sense. I feel like a lot of people walk around with the lens pointing away from them, and this causes me to bump into their camera. The last thing I want to do is break another persons camera. Turn your camera in, protect it!

Favourite film of all time.
Ace Ventura Pet Detective: When Nature Calls. I even got this guys face tattooed on my shoulder. I just think Ace Ventura is one of the best characters ever crafted. I could quote him all day. I wish I could walk like him. He struts and bobs his head in the best way possible.

Favourite music
My favorite artists have always been these two local bands that I started out listening to when I first started going to shows in Madison, WI. One of them is called Number One Fan, and the other is Ivory. You actually did an interview with David Jackson, who shot all my favorite images of both of these artists. I looked up to that guy so much when I was growing up, and I still do. He is quite the character, and we still have yet to meet! I think its because my lack of facial hair intimidates him.

Favourite sports team
Green Bay Packers – partly because I am from Wisconsin and partly because I don’t know any other sports teams.

Conclusion
Thanks a lot to Adam for taking the time to share his story with us. Please enjoy the gallery of images below.

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