Turning Every-Day People into Superheroes: An Interview with Jonathan Thorpe
Jonathan Thorpe is a commercial photographer and cinematographer in Washington D.C. His unique blend of lighting and humor help his images stand out above the rest. Being self-taught and only shooting now for four years, Jonathan has carved out a niche for himself in the photography community, and plans to keep looking forward.
We recently had a chance to speak with Jonathan and discuss his short but very successful career.
What got you interested in photography in the first place ? (What age were you and what was it that intrigued you?)
It was actually all so random, I went to a hip-hop show years ago and, with my point-and-shoot camera, took some shots of the artist performing. The next day I emailed him the photos, and a month or so later I found out they were published in a large hip-hop publication and had my name everywhere. From that moment on I was hooked.
Did you pursue a formal photographic education or are you self-taught?
I’m 100% self-taught. I remember staying up all night reading as much as I could and practicing every technique I could find, eventually leading me to the stylized look in my work today. It was a lot of practice, studying other photos and trying to learn how to read the light.
When did you make the transition from still to video and how would you define some of the major differences in creating still vs. video productions?
I wouldn’t say I’ve made a full transition into video from photo. It’s about 70/30 with photography being 70% of the work I do. I really didn’t think I would enjoy working in video, but it really has taught me a lot. Mainly it’s shown me that slowing down is a good thing. As photographers, we often teach ourselves to find one moment to define.
Could you describe your personal “style” in your still work. It looks like it combines some fairly traditional portrait approaches, almost like Norman Rockwell but with a fresh, clean, contemporary look?
Wow, to be compared to Norman Rockwell is amazing. I figured out early on that I didn’t want my pictures to look like every other portrait I had seen. In fact I recall telling a girl I was dating at the time that I started that I couldn’t see myself ever photographing people. Ha, how wrong was I?
I tend to use a lot of lighting on everything I shoot. I’m not a natural light guy at all. Even my photos that look naturally lit, I promise have some sort of lighting added to them. I wanted my photos to have a hyper-realistic look to them, almost “cartoonish,” but still retaining human elements. I try to have some elements of humor to my pictures as well. I think humor can be an incredibly important tool to use when trying to relay a message to the viewer.
It appears that you tend to intentionally select “normal” every-day looking people, instead of “perfect” models. Is there a reason for that and how is working with untrained models different than professionals?
I like to shoot every-day people and make them look like superheroes. I use my friends for a lot of my shoots because it makes the shoots relaxed and fun. When it comes to shooting professional models, I will use them here and there, but often times for the story I’m trying to tell, the “perfect” model just doesn’t convey it well.
Do your clients tend to select you for your style and if so, how do you work with art directors to make it coincide with their needs?
Usually I am booked for my style. I’ve turned down bigger shoots, simply for the fact that they were hiring a guy with a camera as opposed to wanting to hire me, and because I’m pretty upfront with a “what you see is what you get” attitude. Art directors and I never really have any issues. If you’re hiring me, you know what to expect.
Your blog is an interesting mix of backstories to certain images you’ve created, product reviews, and thoughts on branding yourself. How effective has this been in bringing in new clients?
Blogs are so important. It’s a way of giving insight into who you are to potential clients. Let’s face it, a lot of times the best photographer for the job doesn’t get hired, but your personality and online presence gets you the work. Being able to reach out to clients and fans and discuss things related to photography in a open way like that is huge right now, and it helps other photographers too.
What tips could you give up-and-coming photographers entering today’s market that seems to demand expertise in both still and video production?
PRACTICE! Shoot things you care about, and things that excite you. Shoot things the way YOU want to shoot them. Find a niche, make it your own and stick to it. Do a couple jobs for free to get your feet wet.
Ah, I love Tamron’s stuff, especially their new line up of VC (vibration compensation) lenses. I had been using Tamron products for a while before I started working with them. I always found their lenses to be as sharp, if not sharper than everything else on the market, and for a much more reasonable price. Now with the VC feature, shooting video and getting great, smooth, stable shots is even easier. I tend to use their 24-70mm f/2.8 VC and their 90mm f/2.8 Macro VC the most for my photo and video needs.
Do you use the same camera for both still and video productions or do you prefer different cameras for each?
Usually yes, I shoot everything with my Canon 6D. I love the camera, a slightly smaller full-frame body with an awesome sensor, not to mention I use the camera’s Wi-Fi all the time for showing photos to clients on set. Occasionally a video project will call for a different camera, but generally I shoot everything on a DSLR.