Christian O’Grady, CCS graduate and one of StyleLine’s former contributing photographers, has an extensive background in many different forms of photography. From fashion spreads to basketball action shots, Christian consistently cultivates his craft and learns from his mistakes with every click of the shutter button.
Christian, in his eloquent way, tells us his story in today’s Q&A.
DG3: Tell us about yourself and how you got your start in photography.
Christian O’Grady: The Wizard of Oz as a little boy was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, and from that my immense fascination with motion pictures began. Cinematography has always been one of my main inspirations with my photography. I picked up a camera a few years before the turn of the millennia when my late nana, my biggest fan (who would let me climb on top of her head when I was a tot), split the cost of a Minolta 35mm film camera with my supportive and rather loving mother. Constantly experimenting with what I could do with long exposures, double exposures and time in the darkroom took me all the way through high school into college. Starting in community college, I finished my BFA while I was attending College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Halfway through my four years at CCS I started my first major photo job working with the Detroit Pistons. Working with the Pistons, I met Dan Lippitt, who is an incredibly versatile photographer and has been a huge influencer and my greatest mentor, as well as a personal friend.
As I continue to work on taking the best photos I can, my next big learning experience will be working with video. Motion pictures are my original inspiration and I look forward to diving in and producing some beautiful moving images.
DG3: How long have you been shooting fashion photography?
CO: The first fashion photograph I took was in 2004 in my first studio lighting class and it was a failure in my eyes. I completed the assignment with a good grade but I knew something was off. This was upsetting to me and I felt incredibly frustrated. As I talked to my teacher I realized that it was all of the details that added up to the image not looking how I expected it to look. It didn't look like the fashion photos that I had come to adore peering into fashion magazines. From there I decided I would fix all of these tiny details and that would add up to a great image. (I still take this approach when retouching.) This realization gave me a jumping-off point to constantly push myself to make better photos. I have taken very few images that I'm completely satisfied with. Usually I find things I wished I had done differently. In the end there are no perfect photos but striving for perfection is a powerful way to create.
DG3: Shooting products, what have you learned that could be helpful information for business owners who want to have their products professionally photographed for a website? Any tips, hints, suggestions to share that could make the job easier for everyone?
CO: Product shoots are funny. I don't think very many people stop to think that product photography is even a thing. It's one of those situations that is best when you can't see the wires, the behind the scenes – you just see the final product on the screen and have no thought of the camera. Retouching is the same way. It looks great but no one knows about the work that goes into all those little details. As a business owner, it is great to know how you want your product to look. Do you want to have it totally clean with no shadows so it appears to be floating, or do you want it grounded and natural? When I'm shooting in the studio and working with Photoshop the possibilities are nearly endless, so I need to hear what my client wants to accomplish. Having a clear idea of what you want, and possibly showing me inspiration photos of that idea are beneficial to both the client and myself.
In 2012, I had an online boutique menswear company come to me and requested the clothing look like an invisible person was wearing it. At the time I had never done anything quite like that, but I was confident in my skills so I accepted the job and made hundreds of images of gorgeous ultra-high-end menswear pieces that looked as if a ghost was wearing them, when really this guy was wearing them.
DG3: For professional headshots, how do you suggest your subjects loosen up, and what do you do to help people get comfortable in front of the camera to get the best picture possible?
CO: If you are coming in for a photography session the worst thing you can do is walk in and say, "I hate having my photo taken," or "I look awful in photos." If you say that, I know that you are not in a good state of mind; the negativity shows in their expression, even if they are putting on a smile. Getting your mind to a place of comfort and confidence is the best thing you can do for a photo shoot. When I'm working with a subject who is very nervous or a subject who tells me they hate getting their photo taken, I try to gain their trust. Sometimes, I'll just start taking photos and hope that I can get them feeling use to the camera or I'll show them some of my work to try and make them feel comfortable.
DG3: What's the most important thing you want your potential clients to know about you?
CO: I want to make my clients happy. Working with people is the highlight of my job. As a client, know what you want but be flexible and allow for progress during a shoot. It is unfair to compare photographers only based on price. There are many factors that go into pricing. I try to dictate my prices based on the overall effort and time put into the work.
DG3: How much equipment do you typically bring to a photo shoot?
CO: The gear I use is totally based on what I think will be the best for the situation. It ranges from one camera with one lens all the way to a car full of lighting, cameras, supports, backdrops, fog machines and hopefully video equipment will be added to that list soon. I want to stress the importance of light in photography because it is the basis of the medium. I try to consider each photo shoot as its own entity and work with what I have available. If a shaft of light is streaming in across the room then I will try to take advantage of that. If no good light is available then my lighting gear becomes quite important. I have the best equipment I can afford; however gear doesn't make the photographer. I have shot images with a point-and-shoot camera that have been published. Shoots are not about the gear. To me shooting is about the connection between the subject and myself while the camera is in the middle.
DG3: Do you have any advice for new photographers who want to get into fashion and how do you suggest they get started?
CO: Shooooooooooot!!!! As much as possible, take photographs – there is no replacement for practice. Look at photography, look at film and look at everyone around you. Think of how you could make pictures of everything around you. Make pictures in your head if you don't have your camera with you. When you find a photograph you really like, try to take a similar photograph and see what you learn. Look at the differences between your work and the original. When you are on a shoot get a safe shot, then push past any conventions and try to make a knock-it-out-of-the-park, home-run picture. There's so much to learn from looking at photographs, from movies and from watching things in the world around you while thinking about how it would look through a lens.
Also, network. Find other people who are passionate about what you do and work with the best people you can find. From there, reach out to other people who are passionate about hair, makeup, styling, and whatever else you might need and share your passion for photography with them. Be open to working with a lot of different people, learn from all of them, and you will figure out your own way of doing things.
DG3: What inspires you?
CO: 1. Film, cinema, movies: yes, yes, yes!
2. The female form is delicate and one of the most beautiful things in this world.
3. Travel or seeing something new.
4. New technology is often a catalyst for me to start something new.
Right now, I'm so into brushless motor 3 axis gimbal setups for video. It's an amazing new technology that brings a beautiful fluid-like stabilization to the prosumer. Google Movi to find out more, or check out this video: Movi behind the Scenes.
DG3: What are your services and how can people get in touch with you if they'd like to use your services?
CO: I’m freelance through and through; my experience ranges from portraiture to product to event photography. You can contact me directly through email: firstname.lastname@example.org, on my website: www.christianog.com, add me on Facebook: facebook.com/ogphoto or walk around Pontiac till you see me riding my bike, then tackle me and beg me to take your photo (just kidding).
DG3: What's the craziest/most fun photograph you have taken? Or have you done anything funny with while retouching photos?
CO: When I staged this photo we did so many takes because I didn't want to Photoshop people in, I wanted it to be real. The timing, the placement and the expressions had to be great for everyone.
DG3: Terry Richardson or Bruce Weber?
CO: Terry Richardson isn't comparable to Bruce Weber. Terry Richardson's photography is about him as a character and what he can get people to do. He has little regard for lighting (sticking mostly with his on camera flash look), which is the very essence of photography. Bruce Weber is a master of the medium and he also can get amazing moments from his subjects. All that being said, I'll take Richard Avedon.
DG3: Nikon or Cannon?
CO: Canon is the gear that I shoot with but I have used Nikon and various other systems and they all have their strengths. The little spinning wheel on the Canon cameras keeps me coming back.
Images courtesy of Christian O'Grady