David E Jackson
I approached David about a year ago about doing an interview for Canon Rumors. Right off the bat he was eager to go. After much delays, here it is!
Why did I approach David? I was drawn to his work and the sense of humor in it. I could tell this was a photographer that was putting himself into his work and not trying to be anyone else.
I hope you enjoy the read and his work.
Web Site: http://www.davidejackson.com / http://www.davidejackson.com/blog / http://www.simpledirty.com
Tell the CR Readers a bit about yourself. (name, age, location, married?, kids, dogs, music, sports, a short blurb)
I’m a 35 year-old photographer from Appleton, WI. My wife Melanie (married ten years as of June.) teaches high-school math and I have three, yes, THREE daughters. Someone must have played a joke on me somewhere along the line. Seriously. Who’s paying for all these weddings? How much ammo will I have left in the house when they start dating? Are we gonna literally live at the mall throughout the high school years? How am I gonna handle all the mood swings? At some point I’ll need to get a hobby.
Seriously though, I’m a proud father to my three beautiful girls, ages 6, 3 and 21 months. It’s crazy how much your life can change once you have kids; dirty diapers, spilled milk, the house becoming wrecked on an hourly basis, always late to everything and lots of tears. Lots and LOTS of tears. Glamorous, I know. The best part of it all is love. My family comes first and everything I do is for them. There’s no other way around it. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
I’m just a devoted husband, a dad and a regular guy that loves making pictures. I was once a cop. I’ve been shooting since early 2000. I made a career transition to become a full-time photographer in 2007. I don’t take myself too seriously. I have goals, but I haven’t even come close to reaching them yet.
My father. About seven years ago my “pops” showed me a photo he took of my mom, somewhere in San Diego back in the late 60’s or early 70’s. Not only was my mom the most beautiful women in the world, but the photo was composed like nothing I’ve seen before in which she was dropped into some amazing light. The photo made my jaw hit the floor. I knew then I needed to aspire to something better than a typical snapshot taker. I really dig the work of Travis Shinn, Joey Lawrence, Joe McNally, David Hobby, Fritz Liedtke, James Davis, Phil Tolendano, Zack Arias, Jeremy Weiss, Jon Canlas, Michael Howard, Adam Elmakias, Rob Dobi, Brandon Merkel and Nathan Baker amongst others. Some of these dudes I would love to meet over a beer and others I call my friends. I get great inspiration from my peers.
When did you first pick up a camera?
Well, I think it was sometime in elementary school. But truthfully, I first dug into photography (with any real intention of learning about it) back in 1999-ish. Yeah. I was shooting bands for an online music ezine that friend and I ran called the eKo. I used a point n’ shoot camera and a note pad to get in contact with national recording acts, conduct interviews at concerts and often managed to slip backstage. I sucked at that point. “Aim camera. Push button. Blast with flash. Pray for the best.” It was ugly.
What was your first digital camera?
I started with my Dad’s old 1968 Mamiya/Sekor 1000 DTL 35mm he picked up in the Philippines. The light meter didn’t work, but it was a starting point for me. My wife and I were eventually given a Canon Rebel 35mm as Christmas gift in 2001 by my parents. Needless to say, she never got to use it. I then saved all my weekly “allowances” over the course of a year to upgrade to a Canon EOS-3. I miss that rig. Once the pro-sumer DSLR era hit, I picked up a heavily used and abused Canon D30 from a local camera joint for $600, boasting a smoking hot 3 megapixels. I was still shooting film at that time, slowly transitioning to digital. It was awful at first. I thought digital would eternally suck.
Ever been into developing or darkroom?
Not really. I learned the mechanics of photography by shooting film. I wish more photographers these days would learn by shooting film. It forces you to strip the veneer off of the ease and instant feedback of shooting digital. It requires you to shoot using manual settings, find good light and learn how to use your light meter. All the film I shot was taken to a local lab for processing, but at that expense you really needed to calculate your shots and expose properly. I played around in a darkroom one time. My dear friend Rob Buettner has a makeshift lab in his basement and just two years ago, we processed some black and white film. I’m still not afraid to pick-up a film camera from time-to-time…
Any formal training in photography?
None. All self-taught since day one. My current body of work is a culmination of blood, swear, tears and countless mistakes. I fell flat on my face over the course of several years and would eventually pick myself up and continue to trudge through an awkward process of learning, frustration and personal development. If it wasn’t for shooting film in the early days, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I should back-track a bit. I did have a one-day photography course while obtaining my Evidence Technician certification when I worked as a police officer. Yes, I was a cop once upon a time. And no, donuts weren’t a huge part of my diet.
Any books that stand out?
Currently, David duChemin’s book, “VisionMongers.” Also check out WAR by the VII Photo Agency… if you can find a copy anywhere. I’m not much of a book guy honestly. Ever try “Photography for Dummies”? I have.
What has been more difficult to learn; photography or the business of photography?
Clearly, the business part. We (Melanie and I) have come a long, long way since we started this thing. But we are now at a very comfortable place within our business. To say we know it all or perceive ourselves as the model authority on running a successful, high-dollar photography business is just straight crazy. We still have our struggles, stumbling points and find the need to reach out to our peers for advice every now and again. In fact, we often look to each new month as, “Hey, we paid our studio rent this month. Let’s see how next month goes..” But it is and always has been a process of growth. And to think we have it all figured out is when we fail as a business.
At first it was hard for me step away from being the creative and focus on business, marketing and financial success. But I attribute a lot of my progress to those whom I elect to surround myself with. My wife manages the financial portion of the business and Trevor, my studio manager, handles the day-to-day operations. By bringing the right people into my team, I have been able to get a portion of my life back and has allowed me to push my photography to the next level. We have a long way to go to reach our goals and have many struggles ahead of us, but we continue to move ahead with our agenda and learn what we can each new day.
When/how did you start to make money in photography?
Shooting bands. But where I’m from, there isn’t much of a music scene. Period. And when a band would approach me to shoot their promo shots, I was lucky to get a 6-pack of Hamm’s out of the deal. So it was weddings for me. At first, I viewed weddings as settling for the money. Maybe it was my first wedding experience. I went into it thinking I had to shoot it like everyone else. You know, cheesy bridal party poses, selectively colored photographs, everything posed and fresh out of the 80’s. It just wasn’t me. But I grew into shooting them and began building great relationships with my clients. To this day I love shooting weddings, but I also know my style of work is evolving to new areas within the commercial and editorial marketplace.
When did you become a full-time photographer?
On December 18th, 2007, I left a 14-year career in law enforcement to pursue photography. How do you walk away from a career that provides a steady paycheck, lush benefits and a retirement package most would dream of? It wasn’t easy. Believe me. But I tell all kinds of people struggling with a career change, that with enough planning and thought-out direction, it can be done. Regardless of obstacles we all face from day to day. Oh and did I mention three months before I left my cop job I was informed that we were pregnant with our third child. Surprise!!!
You were a police officer prior to being a photographer, does that give you any unique insight into the artform and business?
I walked away from the job being able to shoot some sweet crime scene photos. It wasn’t glamorous and sometimes, downright grisly. The biggest thing I took from that career was confidence, discipline, patience and the ability to interact and effectively communicate with people. Contrary to popular belief, the law enforcement world is very much customer service oriented. My survival and success was sometimes based on being able to simply talk to folks.
Best decision you ever made?
Listening to my heart.
On August 29th, 2002 my life was changed. Two of my partners and I were part of an officer-involved shooting on a call for a guy acting suspiciously. When we located him, he tried to attack my partner with a machete. The suspect was shot six times and survived. It was that point where the career became about life and death. It wasn’t about writing speeding tickets and taking coffee breaks anymore. It was the real deal. Over the next several years, the job eroded on me. I hated getting up in the morning, I hated people and I hated who I was becoming. I felt as is if I was drowning. Although my eventual career transition was not an easy one especially with three kids in tow, it was clearly the best decision I ever made and definitive turning point in my life.
Aside from getting stopped by the same cop twice in the same week while I was in high school, both times doing 30+ mph over the speed limit, which led me to losing my drivers license? How about barely graduating from High School? That’s a tough question..
Photographically however, I think trying too hard to emulate other photographer’s styles. I searched long to find my own voice and often times it lead me in the wrong direction. But those mistakes developed who I am as a photographer today and I was able to take all the bits and pieces from other photographers work and put it together to eventually create my own style.
Three pieces of advice for aspiring photographers in this ultra competitive field?
I had a photographer once tell me, “Don’t do it.” I digress. Don’t be afraid to follow your ambitions. If you have it in your heart, why not pursue photography to the fullest extent? If you got it, run with it! I think photographers also need to remember to shoot for their heart and not for what others expect to see. To truly excel from the abyss of photographers out there (whether you’re a weekend hobbyist or a working pro), your work needs to stand out beyond the crowd. Your work needs to have a voice of it’s own, remain timeless and not get channeled into a “what’s hot now” vibe. More importantly and as one of my good friends said, “Don’t sacrifice your family at the altar of photography”. Something I need to remind myself of every day. Keep your focus on what’s important to you and everything else will fall into place.
Do you do any advertising? If so, what type?
I think the strongest marketing is word of mouth and getting your work out in front of people. I’m not ashamed about putting my work out there for others to see and having to hustle on the streets to get work. I do very little advertising outside of word of mouth. Getting jobs, especially in this current economy is a tough thing. You need to be salesperson of your own and market your work to the clientele you desire. I’m starting to get to a point where my clients are hiring me for the work I elect to showcase in my portfolio and on my blog. As far as my wedding work goes, I have advertised in a few wedding localized publications, both online and in print. Getting published helps too, however I haven’t put my foot forward in doing so lately. I see all kinds of people out there paying outrageous amounts of money to have full-page ads in well to-do bridal magazines. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but get your work circulated to blogs, features in magazines and in the hands of vendors. It’s free and gets your work out there in front of people. Let’s not forget about Facebook and Twitter. Social networking is also a great way to get your photography in the laps of others, especially in the wedding, family and senior portrait world. You can reach a broad range of people through simple and inexpensive means.
Do you belong to any associations?
I’m currently an award-winning member of the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP – www.ispwp.com) and the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA – www.wpja.com). I’m also a PPA (Professional Photographers of America) member. An invaluable resource for any photographer.
Describe your shooting style:
I am definitely a portrait shooter by heart and really love shooting editorial-based work. I generally like my work to have a dramatic, well-constructed feel. I love working on a shoot for several days including pre-production, shooting, resource coordination, concept development and post-production… only to deliver a handful of final images. The inner workings behind the scenes interest me the most. Then putting those logistics together to create a final product is truly rewarding. My wedding work is very different from that. Although I take time to shoot the cool portraits, most of the day is unscripted and shot with a documentary approach.
Are you continuing to evolve?
As I always say “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”. Evolving as a photographer is essential to success. Yes, I’m constantly trying to re-invent myself through new work. It can get tough at times and very frustrating, but I need to put myself into an uncomfortable place in order to work through it.
Is there any type of shooting you’ve done in the past that you don’t do anymore:
No, I never look past the opportunity to shoot. I do it in my own style and that’s why my clients seek me out. I shoot in my way and my way only. I don’t care if it’s a family or an emo-band, I’m going to put my own spin on it. That’s how I look to set myself apart in the photography industry.
Favourite things to shoot?
People. Just not kids. Especially my kids. They don’t have the patience to stand on one spot for more than 15 seconds. And then some usually gets crabby. That would be me.
I’m really drawn to more conceptual-based projects. Anyone can stand there and stare into a lens. But to drop a person into a unique environment and have them interact within the frame to tell a story of sorts is really cool.
Do you ever go out and shoot things that are the complete opposite of what you get paid to do?
Absolutely. I have a weird fascination for shooting abandoned buildings. I love color, light, textures and environments that people won’t dare put themselves into without a gun and/or a current tetanus shot. Sometimes I have to go out and shoot these things just to keep my head on straight. It’s quiet. You don’t have to interact with anyone other than angry property owners and squatters. And the only person you have to please is yourself.
You like off camera lighting, it appears… was that difficult to learn?
Yes, at first it was a pain in my butt. And I still don’t have it all down like Arias, Hobby and McNally. I experimented over the course of several years and still find myself struggling with certain aspects of it today. It’s a huge element to a lot of my current work though.
Tell us a bit about the workshops you’re leading.
Believe it or not, I love education. Contrary to my high school days, I find value in learning and it’s a vital part of developing ourselves on a personal and professional level. When I began taking interest in photography, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to drop what I was doing and attend an accredited art school. I found myself having to seek out information from every corner of the internet. Emailing other photographers I admired with questions left me at numerous dead-ends and typically went unanswered. It wasn’t until an emerging photographer offered up some genuine insight and bits of technical how-to, that I was able to grow more within my work. It took just one person to share themselves and their knowledge with me in a rather candid way that I realized I too looked forward to giving back to other photographers someday. It made an impact on me.
I had previously tossed around the idea of doing a workshop, but never felt I was at a place in my own work to do so. Over the course of the past two years, I have given numerous talks to local photography groups and was met with a humbling response. As of February of this year, I’ve begun to offer a handful of localized workshops called “Breaking The Rules”. It’s tailored to portrait shooting. It’s not my place to offer up a workshop to talk about business management, marketing or wedding photography, as I am newer to this portion of the photography industry. There are plenty of great workshops out there that focus on that. What I can offer however, is more technical-oriented instruction.
The workshop is about re-thinking the way we approach shooting human beings, interacting with the subjects we shoot to create a more visually impacting image, freeing ourselves from frustration while shooting and re-evaluating the wasted time sitting behind a computer in post-production. The workshop itself is a one-day event, which typically runs to the 14-hour mark. It’s fairly low cost and is geared towards the advanced amateur and working photographer. I’m not by any means the authority on everything photography, but I feel I can bring a unique perspective to shooting people and share my thought process in creating more personal images.
I have some really exciting opportunities to teach elsewhere, later in the year. We’ll see where it goes. I’m pretty stoked for the future!
Why not? It’s the only brand on the market truly trusted by professional photographers worldwide.
(Does this qualify for an endorsement?)
To be perfectly honest, it’s what I was given back in 2001; a Canon Rebel. So I started buying lenses for it and was too lazy to go to another system. Lame response, sure. But it’s what I learned to shoot on and have been using ever since. If I had to shoot a project today on a Nikon, it would get ugly. I’d look like a desperate idiot.
What cameras & Lenses do you use?
Well, I’ll preface this by saying the following: Solid photography is not about the 120 megapixel CCDCMOSXYZ sensor jammed into a camera body, not the color of the band on the edge of your lens and not about this brand or that brand. It’s about what comes from your heart, visualized in your viewfinder and spewed out as art onto a print. I preach this time after time after time. If you were to look in my gear bag, people would laugh. And I’m not afraid to tell people that it ain’t pretty either.
Canon camera bodies: 1D Mark II, 1D Mark III (LOVE!), 1D Mark IV (LEARNING IT.) , 40D, 10D (ICKY AND SLOW), D30 (REALLY? Yep, just shot with it last night.) and an EOS-1n 35mm.
Canon lenses: 16-35L 2.8 (scratched to all hell), 24-70L 2.8, 70-200L IS 2.8, 50 1.4 (broken), 85 1.8 (barely works) and 100 2.8 macro (rarely used).
What’s your favourite photography accessory other than your camera/lenses?
Lighting gear. Cheap stuff. My AlienBee 1600 and my Quantum Q-flash T5-D. Most of what you currently see in my portfolio was lit with a Sunpak 383 hotshoe flash. Yep, $60.00.
If you could only have one lens, which would it be and why?
24-70L 2.8. It’s all I need. I could shoot an entire wedding with it.
What lighting gear do you take on shoots?
Well, depending on the shoot I always roll out with my AlienBee 1600. It has plenty of power to shoot mid-day and gets close to overpowering the sun. I love to shoot with multiple lights on-location, so typically I bring my 580EX II and my Q-flash. I also have two AlienBee 400’s, but they typically stay in the studio unless I’m shooting a bigger project.
Describe your computer and software workflow.
Hello, I’m a Mac.
Without going into too much detail, all my post-production is done on my Mac Pro and dual 23” HD cinema displays. I just recently switched to using Adobe Lightroom. This is where I cull down and edit my work. For the past several years I was using Adobe Bridge + Adobe Camera RAW. Lightroom just seems to handle the files better. As far as Photoshop, I avoid integrating it into my workflow. I couldn’t imagine opening each photo from a large shoot, such as a wedding, in Photoshop, running an action, retouching faces and saving them. I have a life and typically like to enjoy it without a caffeine overdose and bleeding eyes. Shoot consistently, use manual settings and cut through an entire wedding shoot or large commercial shoot in 2-3 hours. That’s how I look at it…
Have you ever bought any gear you regretted 2 days later.
Truth be told, I generally feel like I’m gonna throw-up on my shoes when I have to buy anything. Generally, I only buy gear when I a.) have the cash ON-HAND and does not cause me a single penny of debt, b.) I absolutely need it. c.) I’ve reached my current gears limitations and need something to improve on furthering my vision and d.) whatever I’m currently using is in the process of falling apart, is missing major components and has more than ¼ roll of gaffers tape holding it together. Everything I purchase is for a specific reason. But yeah, buyers remorse. All the time.
Gear advice for people starting out?
KEEP. IT. SIMPLE. Don’t buy crap just because it makes you look like cool or think it’ll make your photos that much better. I warmly welcome all the “Uncle Bob’s” of the world to make me look like I just got my photography merit badge at scout camp. Also, buy used. I do this often, especially lenses. But buy smart and do your research. And finally, never upgrade your gear until your photography work has exceeded your gear’s limitations.
Oh, and buy Canon. (**endorsement**)
Name one photographer you would like to take a portrait of?
I’ve never given this one much thought.
Name one public figure you would like to take a portrait of?
Maynard James Keenan. He hates cameras.
I’ve learned the most from…
…the internet. Because everything on the internet is valid and can be proven. Seriously though, trial and error. If you’re not out there shooting and making mistakes, your not growing as a photographer. For years I dragged a camera with me every place in went. My wife hated it. But it’s how I learned the fundamentals. You see, I often stress the importance of getting out there to shoot personal work. By shooting personal work I remain fluid with my gear, fresh with creativity and I’m continually evolving my portfolio. Currently, I make specific time to shoot personal work on an almost weekly basis, regardless of my schedule. Crazy? Sure. But I’m constantly growing into new areas of potential client-based work.
Something you’re still learning?
All of it. I’ve never stopped this process yet.
What is your greatest fear?
Heights. When we were building out our studio, my good friend Steve did all the tall stuff. I’m hard-pressed to go four steps high on a ladder.
Oh, and mice. When it comes to rodents, I’m like a little girl. No way. I’m out on that..
Something that is overrated?
Those plastic thingies that go on top of flashes, or whatever… I’ve seen those before. Anyone know what I’m talking about?
Something you’re saving up for?
Yes. First and foremost, my girl’s college educations. Three girls. It’s not gonna be cheap. After that it’s a toss up between a patio in the back of my house so we can enjoy evening fires and PBR… or parts for the bmx bike I got free last year. Maybe a bike helmet.
What item do you wish you had designed?
Those damn plastic thingies…
Biggest Photographic Pet Peeve
I’m staying away from this one. Thanks for asking though.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Halloween. The original 1978 version, directed by John Carpenter, although I’m a huge fan of Rob Zombie’s film work. I love Fincher and Scorsese films to no end.
TOOL. I’m a huge Tool fan. I’m big into post-metal bands like Isis, Pelican, Russian Circles, Mouth of the Architect, etc. I really dig a lot indie hip-hop too; Aesop Rock, Doomtree, P.O.S., etc. Music has a huge influence on my life.
If someone said ‘how can I be the next David E Jackson?’ What would you say?
PBR, loosing sleep, lots of coffee, a house full of estrogen and the ISIS channel on Pandora radio.
Thanks for taking the time David, It’s been a pleasure to meet you. I hope you enjoy that Mark IV!