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In Focus: Retoucher Mike Moreali on Nike and Freelancing


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Have you ever wanted to know how product image editing works at Nike?

Or what it’s like to be a freelancer finding your feet in the commercial photography and post-production industry?

Mike Moreali is a professional digital retoucher and photographer based out of Portland, Oregon, currently with HereNOW Creative. In this wide ranging interview, he reflects on his experience entering the industry as a retoucher, his years “permalancing” for Nike, and how retouching has shaped him as a photographer.

No Nike images are used in this post.

The Nike Years

For those looking primarily for insight into how post-production is managed at major brands in the USA today, check out these excerpts about Mike’s time at Nike from 2014 to 2016:

Contractors and Work Environment

“When I first started with [Nike] I was on a six-week contract. When you'd get to your fifth week, about halfway through the week our manager would ask, ‘Are you going to be available for the next three weeks? Four weeks?’ It was on a weekly basis like that, which was good, but it wasn't comfortable knowing that every six weeks you might have to be looking for another job.”

“They offered me a full-time position, but not a full-time position -- I wasn't working directly through Nike, I worked for a talent agent called Filter Digital. They're the ones that got me into Nike in the beginning. I'd work ten weeks and then I'd have two weeks off. That was more of a permanent, solidified schedule.”

“We also had freelancers that worked on a week-to-week basis. I felt like that type of environment was more competitive because you're competing against everyone else in the studio, since we are all technically freelancers. You're always worrying, ‘Oh, I got to be better than this person, than that lady, than this guy,’ just because you want to get that call back. The stress was a lot heavier, because you're worrying about ‘I hope they call me back to come back and work. I hope I get the call to come back.’”

Team Structure and Day-to-Day

“I was on the footwear team in the global brand studio. We had two teams, footwear and licensed apparel, which was just like college, NFL, NBA type of clothing. For footwear there was a team, at its height we had probably 12 people. Our lead was also a contractor -- they call them ETWs at Nike for “external temporary worker.” You might hear that with people talking about Nike, ETW is all the contractors.

There were about 12 ETWs, including our senior editor. We'd come in every day, I'd go to grab some breakfast and see my buddies who worked there. Then we'd come back and our senior would be like, “We have this amount of models to do,” which was standard profile out sole type of work. Then also there were spins, where you take the model and color it up as many colors needed by the category; change the color, swap out materials. That type of work was more creative and more intuitive, so I enjoyed it a lot. That was a lot of fun. The model work is just basically clean up, balance out your blacks and whites and continue on.

They would determine how many models there are, how many spins there are, how many special projects are in. Then they delegate the work out to the team. If you finished what you needed to do, you just communicate with your team: ‘What do you guys need help on? What can I dive into now since I'm done with my prioritized work?’”

Grey hat on mannequin

How Projects Are Managed

“[Tasks are assigned] In person. We stored everything on one of the servers. ‘Can you work on these five spins today? If you finish up just come back and I'll see what else there is and you can be done.’

You finish your workload and then maybe a special project would come in later on in the day. Someone from the category would be like, ‘Hey, can you guys photograph this? Change this colorway to this because the factory made the sample wrong.’

You do all your base work and then you go around and see who needs help with what. Then go to your lead, ‘Everyone's set on where they are. Where would you like me next?’ Then he would just say, ‘Yeah, take a handful of these,’ or ‘Why don't you just work on models the rest of the day.’ That folder was always full of images because they were constantly being populated.”

Quotas

“For our base imagery for the archive shoots, we had I think about 20. We had to hit 20 a day. Each image had a profile view and an out sole view. You'd have two images per one set. You're talking about 40 images a day to try to hit. There were times where I got pretty close to not making that quota but definitely had to make it work, cut some corners here and there.

Sometimes I'd catch myself spending too much time on one part when in reality no one would really see it because the image is going to be pretty small at the end. You have to bite the bullet and not put as much energy into it as you want, because it's not going to be that big and it's not going to be pushed out to the masses.

That was something hard for me to get around. Because during school and with other freelance jobs, it would always be ‘give it 110%.’ Always make it as best as you can. You put all your creativity into it, and then these jobs are like, ‘Just do it. Just do it as fast as you can.’ Push it through, kind of like a factory. Like on a conveyor belt. Shoot it, retouch it, next. Shoot it, retouch it, next. You couldn't really spend as much time as you wanted on it.”

Automation

“They like to use as much automation as possible, which makes sense in that environment because it's all a lot of repetitive work. We used a lot of Actions and scripts for color, for sizing, for saving, for knocking out backgrounds. You just have to make sure everything's consistent across the board.”

“We had a guy when I worked at Nike, all he did was generate these insane scripts that were pages and pages long. He had a script where you shoot the photo, you run the script, it knocks out the background because it selects a certain percentage of white in the background. It knocks out the background, it sizes it, it creates the adjustment layers that you need already populated so then all you have to do is just make the mask for it. Blacks and whites.”

“It's amazing the type of work you can get done and how fast you can speed up your workflow with Actions and scripts. There's a downside to it too, because not everything is going to be the same. You're always going to have to fine tune something in the end if you're doing color. Anything visual-wise for automation, you're always going to have to fine tune it at the end. It'll get you to a certain point, and then you have to use your eye to get it to that final point.”

“[Nike] depended highly on scripts, which worked, but then also sometimes things would crash or layers weren't in the right order, so there was a lot of troubleshooting and going back.“

Full Interview: Get to Know a Pro Retoucher

Mike Moreali Photography logo

All images via mikemorealiphoto.com

All right. Let's just take it from the top. How did you get started in this biz?

I grew up snowboarding and skating and watching all the movies and looking at different magazines, TransWorld mostly. I was really influenced by all the photography, the different video parts, and how photographers and cinematographers would get creative at different angles. I was just really inspired by how they would shoot throughout the feed and then come up with the video, and same with photography. I was really heavily influenced by imagery and visuals, basically.

Then I snowboarded and skateboarded for a long time and always filmed and photographed my friends. After a while I figured this would be a really cool profession to get into -- I'm sure there's more to it than just the action sports. I did some research and found some different schools I thought could pertain to that type of work.

I enrolled into the Art Institute here in Portland and got into their video program. I was into that for about a year and then I met some people in the photography and photo classes and I felt like I grasped it more, and I was just more intrigued by still imagery than video. I took the plunge and switched majors into photography and did some more research and talked with professors to see what what kind of work there is. Are you just a photographer? How do you get jobs? How do you get clients? Then down the retouching side of it and just felt like there was more opportunity for me to be in this field doing photography than videography.

Purple snow gear

Professionally do you do more retouching than photography?

Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

Is that how you hope it remains, or are you looking to transition eventually more into photography?

I'm looking to transition into photography more. As of now I'm just absorbing as much information as I can from all the professionals I'm around and all the different experience I'm getting, retouching in the studios or assisting on shoots. Then I feel after I grab all this, have all this experience and knowledge and people I've worked around, that I'll feel a lot more comfortable diving into the photography side better.

How did you end up at Nike and then eventually HereNOW?

After I graduated from the Art Institute I assisted for a handful of photographers here in Portland, and I would set up lighting areas for them. Set up the cameras, do all the equipment work.

Then this one photographer, Michael Jones, he handed off this one job to me and said, “Hey, are you good at Photoshop?” I was like, “Yeah, I can work my way around it.” I worked on a few of his images that weren't that high-end. I succeeded and then he started handing me off more and more retouching jobs. I grasped it and I realized there was more consistent work in retouching than assisting.

Assisting, I was pretty consistent with jobs but I'd still have a lot of downtime in between gigs. Retouching, I felt like it was more consistent, so that was the route I decided to take work-wise.

Were you self-educated with retouching or is it something you studied in school?

I studied it in school. I took a few classes with digital imagery. I started off in the basic Photoshop classes, putting someone's face on someone else's. Just fun sort of stuff like that.

Then the other classes started getting harder, more intense. At that time too, I felt like this is really cool. I really enjoy Photoshop, I feel like I have a good grasp of the program. I felt like all I needed was more experience using it and figuring out new, different ways to problem solve around different issues.

During school I never really thought of it as a career. I just thought of it as, “that's what you do after you take the picture,” and didn't really know there was an actual whole profession in retouching. Then the opportunity was brought to me from different photographers I was working with: “Hey, you can do this as a profession instead of just photography.” I thought that was really neat.

One thing I really like about retouching, also, is that I think it will make me a better photographer in the end run because I'll know what I'm looking for when I'm starting to take the pictures. I'm like, “Here's some certain things I need to look out for.” That'll just make the project a lot easier and go smoother.

One thing I really like about retouching, also, is that I think it will make me a better photographer in the end run because I'll know what I'm looking for when I'm starting to take the pictures.

Can you already tell if that's happening? Are there things you catch that show you've improved in your own photography?

Yeah, definitely. Just by looking at light and shadows, when it all comes down to it to me it's all about light and shadows. You can read where your highlights are going, your shadows are. You can really match up a lot of stuff. If you can do as much stuff in camera as possible then you're going to save a lot of time in post production.

If you can do as much stuff in camera as possible then you're going to save a lot of time in post production.

Before, during school and a little bit after school, I would just take pictures and think, “Oh, I can fix it later in Photoshop. Oh, I can fix that later in post.” That's really bad. I would end up spending just a ton of time on my personal projects and stuff. “Man, I really need to find a way to make this a lot more efficient.” Then you start working stuff in camera that you can avoid later in post.

What would you say are the biggest differences between doing a personal project, working freelance, and working in-house at a brand like Nike?

Well, I'll start with Nike first. When I worked for Nike I was an in-house contractor, a “permalancer,” as a lot of people here call it. You were contracted for a certain amount of time. That's nice because you have some stability. Then when your contract starts coming up, you start to get a little stressed like, “Oh, I hope they renew my contract.” They always eventually did.

In that environment we also had freelancers that just worked on a week-to-week basis. I felt like that type of environment was more competitive because you're competing against everyone else in the studio since we are all technically freelancers. You're always worrying, “Oh, I got to be better than this person, than that lady, than this guy,” just because you want to get that call back.The stress was a lot heavier there because you're worrying about “I hope they call me back to come back and work. I hope I get the call to come back.”

I felt like that type of environment was more competitive because you're competing against everyone else in the studio since we are all technically freelancers. You're always worrying, “Oh, I got to be better than this person, than that lady, than this guy,” just because you want to get that call back.

Where was the most pressure? Was the competitive pressure to be higher quality, to be faster, to be more exacting to the style guides?

Yeah, I'd say overall everything, because they're really tight on time. You had a handful of different types of work flows you had to do. We had our base imagery, which was used internally for archived or presentation reasons. That was the most consistent work flow we had because you had to photograph and retouch every single shoe that they designed, pretty much. That was the most consistent work.

We had a certain amount we had to do a day. You try to rock out as many of those as possible, and then also there were more projects that were a little bit more creative, but still on that really fast turnaround time. You still have to reach that quality that they have, their high Nike standards, which comes back to the style guide. You're just trying to work on stuff as fast as possible and keep the quality as high as possible also.

It was a little bit more stress than doing a freelance job at home where you have a few days to work on something, you work on it on your own time. You can take a break here and jump back on it, work your own schedule. With Nike it was “got to get this done as fast as possible, as efficient as possible.”

Someone's always watching over your shoulder.

What type of quotas or turnaround times would they put you guys on?

For our base imagery for the archive shoots, we had I think about 20. We had to hit 20 a day. Each image had a profile view and an out sole view. You'd have two images per one set. You're talking about 40 images a day to try to hit. There were times where it got pretty close to not making that quota but definitely had to make it work, cut some corners here and there.

Sometimes I'd catch myself spending too much time on one part when in reality no one would really see it, because the image is going to be pretty small at the end. You have to bite the bullet and not put as much energy into it as you want, because it's not going to be that big and it's not going to be pushed out to the masses.

That was something hard for me to get around. Because during school and with other freelance jobs it would always be, “give it 110%.” Always make it as best as you can. You put all your creativity into it and then these jobs are like, “Just do it. Just do it as fast as you can.” Push it through, kind of like a factory. Like on a conveyor belt. Shoot it, retouch it, next. Shoot it, retouch it, next. You couldn't really spend as much time as you wanted on it.

When you're saying “permalancing,” how long would a contract be for?

Well, when I first started with them I was on a six-week contract. When you'd get to your fifth week, about halfway through the week they'd come up to you and our manager would be like, “Are you going to be available for the next three weeks? Four weeks?” It was on a weekly basis like that, which was good, but it wasn't comfortable knowing that every six weeks you might have to be looking for another job.

Then after, I think I was there for three months, my contract was ending for that time and I picked up a job with Cabela's, where I'd go and assist and retouch with them. I was going to be gone for a month. Then I told them, “I'm going to be gone after this contract is up, but I want to come back and continue working with you guys.” They're like, “Yeah, it's totally fine,” because I'm technically a freelancer at that time.

I came back from that job and they offered me a full-time position, but not a full-time position -- I wasn't working directly through Nike, I worked for a talent agent called Filter Digital. They're the ones that got me into Nike in the beginning. I'd work ten weeks and then I'd have two weeks off. That was more of a permanent, solidified schedule.

I would work ten weeks on then I would take two weeks, work ten weeks, take two weeks off and that was an infinite schedule. Then management decided to change the structure of the studio and they wanted just freelance positions instead of having this permalance position. I got laid off for three months, but then they could say, “Well, after your three months, after you were laid off for three months you're welcome to come back as a week-to-week freelancer.” So I would have had to take a mandatory three months off from Nike if I wanted to come back.

I don't know. That didn't really settle too well with me. I was looking for something more permanent. In the meantime, I went over and I was freelancing for Columbia Outerwear. Worked there for like four weeks and then I reached out to some other talent agents around here. The one I'm with now called Vitamin T, they're the ones that found me the position with HereNOW. “Hey, there's an opening at HereNOW. It's for a three-month contract that's contract to hire. After that three-month contract you'll be on there full time if they decide that.”

I thought that was a great opportunity where I could work for an agency and have a full-time job doing retouching. Then I went and interviewed with HereNOW. Everything went great and then they offered me the full-time position instead of the contract-to-hire job. I was able to just start directly with them.

What are the biggest differences between the agency and all this freelance temp-to-hire work at a brand like Nike?

Freelance work, I feel like it's more word of mouth. I got a lot of jobs word of mouth. When I worked for Michael, some of the agencies that he would work with for jobs would have their in-house, they would have their own agencies that did retouching, or sometimes they'd contract out a photographer to do the retouching and then he would contract out for a retoucher.

I got a lot of jobs through him just by word of mouth and saying, “I know he's a beginner to intermediate retoucher who's looking for work and can work for cheaper than someone who's been doing it for a career.” I got a lot of word of mouth work through him. That's how I stayed busy freelance retouching and assisting also. That's how the assisting world works too, it's all word of mouth. You do good on one job, they'll talk to somebody and refer you and then that person will refer you.

It's all word of mouth. Plus it's a small town so you always have to be on your game, definitely. Because if you do sub par it'll definitely be known.

Ski Goggles Close-up

Got to keep that network going.

That was always an issue. Yeah. That was always stressfu,l but it's fun work so I always kept a good attitude about it. Did the best I could. Took any kind of feedback I could to heart and just to better myself. That type of work was consistent, but still in the back of your head you're always thinking, “Oh, I hope I get another call. I hope I get another call.” I'm booked out for the next few months which is good, and then what happens after those few months is up?

With HereNOW it's like a combination between freelancing and working in-house with Nike. There's always work, but there's down time. Then in that down time you come up with different ways to increase your work flows and production. Try out different techniques and stuff. You're constantly learning and evolving, but it's permanent.

What are some experiments you try? What are some ways you've found to save yourself time?

If you're doing stuff pretty consistent, I create a lot of Actions. I've been using a lot of Actions lately for repetitive stuff. For sizing, saving out images, creating -- like if I have a deck of images and I need to photo correct them all to the same color, I'll create an Action for that one image and then just run that Action in all the images that are that color. You're going to save yourself so much time if you create Actions and scripts, which I don't have much experience creating scripts myself, but I've used them where other people created them. Automation really increases workflow a lot.

I've seen ups and downs of automation at places I've worked, like Nike. They like to use as much automation as possible, which makes sense in that environment because it's all a lot of repetitive work. We used a lot of Actions and scripts for color, for sizing, for saving, for knocking out backgrounds. You just have to make sure everything's consistent across the board when we want to use these types of Actions or scripts. In the long run it saves so much time, which is always good for yourself and the clients.

Are there things you've tried to automate that you haven't been able to?

Yeah, I would like to get better at scripting. I really need to get into actually typing out my own scripts. We had a guy when I worked at Nike, all he did was generate these insane scripts that were pages and pages long. He had a script where you shoot the photo, you run the script, it knocks out the background because it selects a certain percentage of white in the background. It knocks out the background, it sizes it, it creates the adjustment layers that you need already populated, so then all you have to do is just make the mask for it. Blacks and whites.

It's amazing the type of work that you can get done and how fast you can speed up your workflow with Action and scripts. Then also there's a downside on it too, because not everything is going to be the same. You're always going to have to fine tune something in the end if you're doing color. Anything visual-wise for automation you're always going to have to fine tune it at the end. It'll get you to a certain point, and then you have to use your eye to get it to that final point.

It's amazing the type of work that you can get done and how fast you can speed up your workflow with Action and scripts.

How was the workflow at Nike? Would it go through scripts before it came to you?

They would use scripts after photography to get it to us and then we would use scripts for certain jobs, for color and for saving. Yeah, they depended highly on scripts, which worked, but then also sometimes things would crash or layers weren't in the right order, so there was a lot of trouble shooting and going back. I learned a lot about how to go back and read through scripting and all that.

I think that's the way most people learn. First you learn by fixing it, and then eventually you can start from scratch.

Yeah, definitely. There's just a lot of trouble shooting too on things when it happened. An error would pop up and you would have no idea what it's even reading. Then you go and ask a few people, “Hey, have you seen this error? Have you seen this error?” “No, I've never seen it. That's a new one.” Then you have to go back, troubleshoot it and eventually figure out the problem. Just lots and lots of problem solving.

In general with retouching, it's majority problem solving. You're trying to solve a problem for your client. They want your image to look a certain way. You have your tools to reach that point and then you just have to use your brain and your experience to accomplish that goal.

It's majority problem solving. You're trying to solve a problem for your client.

What sort of guidance can a client give you to make your job as easy as possible?

Definitely style guide. The most information a client can give you is the best because, when they give you just a vague, “Oh, this and that… make it pop. I want it to look moody...” There's some information there and you can use your own creativity and feed off that, but here's just so much more into it that you'd have to contact a client for clarification.

Then they're out on a meeting or they're not getting back to you. There's a lot of downtime when if that could have been brought forward in the beginning it would save a lot of time in the end run.

That's one thing I've learned: When you're doing estimates and we’re being briefed with a client, just ask as many questions as possible, put out as many scenarios as you can think of just so you can pick their brain as much as possible. Even if they're not thinking it, if you say the right word, that'll trigger them. “Oh, actually yeah, do this too.” Then later on when you go to turn your image and they're like, “Oh, I really need this also on top of that with this.”

What are the type of questions you ask them? What are the pain points that you come across with some regularity?

Yeah, so I would start off with, “How's it going to be used? What size do you need it? What kind of color treatment do you want? What kind of mood? How do you want your tones to feel? What kind of energy do you want the image to provoke?” Because there's so much you can do with just tonal work that will just make the whole image feel different way from one way to another. I think that's a big one for me is any type of tonal and color changes. That's a big one.

You can get someone who says, “Here's an image, can you just clean it up for me and make it look good? Pop it and done deal.” Do the color work. Clean it up. Do some creative stuff as you want. Give it some texture. Then you turn your image in or have a meeting with them. They're like, “I feel like I want the mood is not really there. We're not capturing the feeling or the mood.” Well, what kind of mood are you looking for? You can either make it super dramatic or you can make it really energetic or making it really high key.

There's a lot of different ways you can take just a base image. You can make it feel any way you want. You can make it happy. You can make it sad. You can make it energetic. That's just a big one I like to run across my clients first is how do you want this to be projected to your viewers? What kind of feeling do you want them to have when they're looking at it?

When you're processing images do you do it all in Photoshop, or do you use programs like Lightroom or Capture One to do some processing ahead of time?

Yeah, definitely. We'll do, like we'll set certain looks and feels in Lightroom or Camera Raw, like adjust the highlights and the shadows, some sharpening here and there. Takes in your exposure a little bit. Majority of my work I do in Photoshop. I'll do minor adjustments in Camera Raw, Lightroom, or in Capture One. Mostly they're all Photoshop.

Do you have other unexpected tools, apps, like little techniques or strategies you've picked up that you think are outside the norm?

Yeah, definitely. I think for people who are getting into photography and in retouching; I feel like most people start getting into photography they'll learn more about retouching than “Oh, you're not just making a model prettier,” just the type of stigma that retouching has. Right now what I'm doing, I'll take landscape photos and just really anything with my phone. I love taking pictures with my phone because it's small, it's right there, the quality is pretty good.

I'm doing this little personal project right now just through my phone. I've been using this app called Snapseed. It's an amazing app. You have total control, color control, your sharpness and then now you can even do little spot removals in it. I feel like it's a lot faster and a little more fun than digging into Photoshop and spending a lot of time in Photoshop with it. I'm doing a little personal project, making a little coffee table book out of a lot of images I've taken with my phone. I've been processing them through Snapseed. I can do the same stuff in Snapseed in Photoshop but it's a lot faster and a lot easier to do it in Snapseed. I can just do it on my phone.

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What kind of phone are you using?

I'm using the iPhone 5. Old school. It's amazing where the camera technology is going now with phones. That just blows my mind. I mean the phone is my favorite camera to use. I'll be honest with that. I might get some heat for it later on.

It's really what you're capturing. I'll compose something and I'll look at the shadows and I'll look at the lighting and creativity takes off. You can really do with anything you want. Then you have these apps like Snapseed that help you create your vision.

Are you a big Instagrammer?

I'm starting to. I was really hesitant for a while on Instagram. I was like, “I'm never going to use Instagram, I think that's stupid.” Then I actually started using my phone more to take photos and was like “Actually, no, no. This is pretty cool.” You can do a lot with a phone. Yeah, my Instagram's building. I have a little mix of phone photos and DSL art images on there also.

Would you ever do any client work on a phone or a tablet?

Definitely, if it has a certain look. If that's the look they're looking for then yeah, totally. I've been using ... I went and photographed my girlfriend's sister, Becky, who is an amateur pro snowboarder. Right now she's looking to take up some more sponsors and more people to ride for. She came up from Lake Tahoe and we went up to Mount Hood a few weeks ago and I photographed her with my Canon 60D Crop Sensor. People always give me heat for that. Oh, you're using a crop sensor?

Doesn't matter. Yeah. I went and photographed her using just my camera. Then I processed the images using Snapseed on my phone. I was doing a little hybrid of both and I felt that Snapseed worked really well. It handled everything I needed to do, it took care of it. It gave it the look I was looking for. I was able to adjust the shadows and highlights, give it a tonal look, add a little vignette. I was able to take out certain little dirt spots. Yeah, I thought it was a great tool. It was just a little experiment. I was like hey, let's use a DSLR on it. I emailed it to my phone, saved the image into my phone and then just edit it with Snapseed and I thought it came out great.

Got to love technology.

I know. It's pretty cool now. Limitless. I think it's all in your head. You can go as far as your creativity, it’s the only thing that stops you.

It's all in your head. You can go as far as your creativity, it’s the only thing that stops you.

What was your team like at Nike and how did you guys collaborate? What's the project management there?

Yeah. I was on the footwear team. I was in the global brand studio. We had two teams, it was footwear and licensed apparel which was just like college, NFL, NBA type of clothing. For footwear there was a team, at its height we had probably like 12 people. We had our lead who was also, they call them ETWs at Nike for contractors and external temporary worker. You might hear that with people that are talking about Nike, ETW is all the contractors.

There were about 12 ETWs including our senior editor. We'd come in every day. I'd go to grab some breakfast and see my buddies who worked there. Then we'd come back and our senior would be like, “We have this amount of models to do,” which was that standard profile out sole type of work. Then also there were spins, where you take that model and then you color it up as many colors needed provided by the category. Then you'd change the color, swap out materials.

That type of work was more creative and more intuitive so I enjoy that type of work a lot. That was a lot of fun. Because the model work is just basically clean up, balance out your blacks and whites and continue on.

They would determine how many models there are, how many spins there are, how many special projects are in. Then they delegate the work out to the team. If you finished what you needed to do you just communicate with your team: “What do you guys need help on? What can I dive into now since I'm done with my prioritized work?”

Did you have some sort of central software that you would use for that?

Just in person. We stored everything on one of the servers. “Can you work on these five spins today? If you finish up just come back and I'll see what else there is and you can be done.”

You finish your workload and then maybe a special project would come in later on in the day. Someone from the category would be like, “Hey, can you guys photograph this? Change this colorway to this because the factory made the sample wrong.”

You do all your base work and then you go around and see who needed help with what. Then go to your lead and be like, “Everyone's set on where they are. Where would you like me next?” Then he would just say, “Yeah, take a handful of these or why don't you just work on models on the rest of the day.” Because that folder was always full of images because they were constantly being populated.

Yeah, it was on a daily basis what's priority. You get your work done, communicate with everyone, see where they're at with their project, if they need an extra hand. Maybe passing some stuff out or something that won't confuse them in their workflow. Anything to help out.

Did it feel efficient?

I felt it was, because I would get done what I needed to get done. Then I would see where I could help, what other areas needed help. Luckily I never hit a point where I was unable to hit my numbers for the day. I'd always get my work done; I'm trying to do stuff as fast as possible and as good as possible, because you want that call back. “Wonder why Mike's numbers are down today, maybe we'll bring this person on instead.”

I was always running full speed, which was tiring, but you do what you got to do.

Did you see a lot of turnover there?

Yeah. There is, because in the studio I was at it was all freelance. You saw a lot of people come in, come out. Some people would only come in for a few weeks and then they would find freelance jobs somewhere else. Then they would come back a few months later. Once they restructured everything then they started to phase people out and new people would come in for a few weeks. Yeah, there was quite a big turnaround of people, but that's just how they're running their studio.

HereNOW, a lot of these people have been with them since for like eight plus years.

That's got to be nice after doing contract work for so long -- to actually be able to make long-term plans.

Yeah, exactly. You still have the pressure to do stuff that's highest quality that you can, quick turnaround times, but it's not like when I was at Nike: “Oh, god, I hope I get this call back.“ You don't dwell on the little things, I should say.

Any advice for somebody getting started?

Yeah, I think advice to people who are looking to get into photography, I would say explore the retouching aspect of it as well because it won't hurt. It'll just make your photography better. Same with retouching, I would say ... I was asked in an interview with Nike, “Are you more of a retoucher or a photographer?” I said, “I'm both.” I use my retouching to better my photography and my photography to better my retouching.

I think they're just two great tools that go hand in hand. For people that are just fresh out of school, I would say start from the bottom. Intern, learn as much as you can. Gain as much experience as you can until you hit the real world because it's not as lenient. If you mess up on a job, that could be your last job because it's all word of mouth, especially in small towns.

I see a lot of people who struggle right out of school, myself included. I had these big visions like, “Oh, I'm going to pick up these huge clients, these big thousands of dollars jobs.” Reality is you have to build a reputation. You have to learn skills, gain experience, and I just learned that more and more. I take every job as a professional job but also as a learning experience and something I can take to my next job and skills, skill-wise. I've learned a lot of stuff.

Reality is you have to build a reputation. You have to learn skills, gain experience

Interning I learned a ton of stuff retouching like freelance-wise. I learned a ton of stuff when I was contracting. Now in my permanent position I'm still learning a lot of skills that I can take. I do some freelance work on the side still also. There's just so many skills out there that you can grab and just put into your toolbox. When a situation comes up you can just pull it out or you'll know five different ways to problem solve something.

If one thing doesn't work, I got five other ways to figure this out. Experience is key.

There are a lot of people, myself included, just “I'm going to be a huge fashion photographer. I'm going to blow Annie Leibovitz out of the water with all my work.” You're not going to, to be honest.

Cover of TransWorld your first year and then work your way to Vogue in your second year.

Exactly. Yeah. I mean I thought, “Oh, I can just take a picture of someone snowboarding and I'll make it look good.” Nope, there's a lot more to it. Same with lighting. Commercial work is an art: you're sculpting people with light. Even if it's natural light you're still watching your shadows and highlights, how they're landing on your subject. Even if it's product or person you're still using light and shadow to sculpt the image. The stronger you have an understanding of that, the better.

Commercial work is an art: you're sculpting people with light.

Who have been your major influences?

I have a few photographers I've learned a lot from and I still talk to now. Michael Jones, I interned with him. He took me under his wing. I learned a ton from him. He's a product photographer, also does lifestyle and fashion, but mostly high-end products. I learned a lot of my studio skills lighting-wise and just studio etiquette from him. Also, Andy Batt, he is an amazing action lifestyle photographer. He just has a really neat look; he's always got a really good vision. His clients go to him because he has a certain look. He’s been really important: just his workflow, the way he works with his crew, it’s really inspiring and it's always a learning experience whenever I get to be around him.

Stuart Mullenberg, he's a big disc golf photographer now but he also does stuff for Portland Monthly. He does food photography a lot. He's the one who put me out here in this world. I was taking a web portfolio class with him and he was like:

“What type of work do you want to do?”

“I want to be a snowboard photographer.”

“Well, where are your snowboard images?”

“I don't have any.”

He got me on the line of, what kind of work do you really want to do? I took more of a commercial product, catalog type of work and he set me up with Michael and Andy and another photographer, Jesse Schofield, who was a photographer for Cabela's. Stuart connected me with them. I learned a ton. It was all location shooting; we were able to travel around the US and take catalog photos for Cabela's, and that was amazing. He's got a certain way he works. I try to just take little pieces of all these people I've worked for, and been inspired by, and mix it into a little concoction of my own.