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Interview with Dean Bradshaw

Published by Jen Tse · October 7th 2011

Every day we see stunning photos from our peers in the 500px community, but not often do we turn the lens back upon the photographer. The Portrait series focuses on remarkable 500px users who may have something to teach us about their field of photography. This week's feature is Dean Bradshaw.

Tell us a little about yourself, Dean.

I'm a photographer and digital ninja based in Southern California by way of arguably the most isolated city in the world: Perth, Western Australia. Before taking up photography full-time and moving out to the U.S., I was a full-time biologist, catching snakes and lizards in the Australian Outback. Talk about a career change. I create dramatic images for brands—whether that be a person, corporation or cause. I suppose what makes my work different to others is my lighting and post-production techniques. I love what I do and am inspired by the world around me!

How did you get into commercial photography?

I had always doodled and sketched throughout school—moving into oil painting in high school. I didn't have the attention span for the hyper-realistic paintings that took me months to complete, so when I unwrapped a small digital point-and- shoot for my 18th birthday—a gift from my parents—I was hooked. Having grown up building websites and playing in Photoshop, I took to digital quickly.

I began by photographing wildlife and remote places on zoological field trips and gradually realized that photographing people was my main interest. I have a great passion for travel and so as I got into travel photography, I was picked up by the Wideangle agency as one of their photographers. I travelled to Africa, Eastern Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia shooting assignments and personal work. I have plans at the moment to get back into that rhythm.

Back home, I joined a studio run by Perth’s most successful advertising and commercial photographers and further refined my lighting and business skills. Eventually, based on my portfolio and vision for lighting and retouching, I had an opportunity to move to the United States to work as a retoucher in a commercial photography studio. I took it, without ever having been to the U.S. or knowing what I was in for. I sat in Photoshop building elaborate composites and hyper-real imagery for about a year until I realized that I wanted to work for myself and create the images that I wanted to create. I’ve been out on my own for about a year now and it has been an incredible journey…

Your style is very dramatic. Can you describe some of the technical aspects of achieving that look for your photos?

My style is based on dramatic lighting to sculpt a scene, build atmosphere and draw the viewer’s eye. I work in a very pre-visualized way—coming up with a concept/image in my mind and then assembling all the parts I need to make it happen. Every image is a different recipe and as such requires different ingredients in terms of lighting, models, location, props and post production. That said, I do leave room for spontaneity as sometimes that makes for the best pictures.

Concept is also a big part of your work and style. How do you come up with your ideas?

I sit on a mountaintop and I chant ommm. Haha actually no—that’s probably the most challenging part of making images—coming up with visually compelling ideas. I try to spend most of my time musing about concepts rather than about equipment and the other more obvious aspects of being a photographer. Most of the time ideas come to me after a prolonged buildup in my mind. I then sit with them for a while and the ones which stay with me are the ones that tend to happen. Usually my mind is swimming with ideas for shoots or single images and ultimately it comes down to making them happen—a much slower process than coming up with ideas in the first place.

Which photographers or artists inspire you the most?

Cinematography is probably the most inspiring visual art form to me. The way that filmmakers use light, build depth and use props is something that I’m always paying attention to. Currently, some of my favorite photographers would have to be Erwin Olaf, Art Strieber and Sebastiao Salgado.

What gear do you shoot with? What is your typical setup like, if you have one?

I usually shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II. It is light and easy to work with. On commercial jobs I sometimes use the Phase One Medium Format system. It has spectacular image quality but is slower and more cumbersome. I also use a number of lights, always dictated by the scene. Anywhere from 1-8 lights is what I tend to use. I like to shoot with prime lenses where it is practical—I prefer their sharpness and quality, but also how they make me think more about composition.

Marketing yourself must be a significant challenge. How do you find publications and brands to work for?

Mostly through word-of-mouth and the web. I find the best way to market myself is to focus on making better and better imagery. Sooner or later someone will see it. I’m also a very social person in real life and on the web. That makes a big difference: I’m always out meeting with people, some of whom may hire me sooner or later. Ideally I like to be in a place where my imagery is so unique that perhaps I’m only competing with a handful of photographers with similar styles. There is so much amazing talent out there—being personable and conveying a unique vision is the most important thing.

What are some of your favourite parts of your work? Your least favourite?

I really enjoy creating: everything from arriving on a set and setting up lights to polishing the images in Photoshop. I think one of my favorite moments though is setting up lighting and getting it to the point where I can look at my images on the back of the camera or capture computer and be really happy with what we’ve created. Beyond that, seeing my images in print, on billboards and in magazines is a great feeling.

My least favorite part of commercial photography is the business aspect. I’d much rather be creating than running a business. In saying that – I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love.

What advice do you have for photographers who might want to get into commercial photography and sell their images?

Make better images! Always be improving your craft. Be different. As Seth Godin puts it, be remarkable. Once you've done that, show as many people as possible and never give up!

For more of Dean's photography, check out his 500px page, Google+, and his website.

Login or sign up to comment on this post.

Jim Purcell  about 3 years ago
Johnny Lam (inactive)  over 3 years ago
I like! great work Dean.
Awesome Account
Philip Gann  over 3 years ago
Great interview and excellent images Dean. Very creative I'm a fan of your lighting in particular.
Alexander Markevich  over 3 years ago
Plus Account
Scott Neumyer  over 3 years ago
Absolutely awesome images!
Abhijit Roy  over 3 years ago
Rznag Rmrod  over 3 years ago
Cool interview...very inspiring...thanks for that Dean.
Awesome Account
Dave Flynn  over 3 years ago
Papa Kojo Adabie  over 3 years ago
Norman Herms  over 3 years ago
Great pictures. I like
Fernando De Oliveira  over 3 years ago
A wonderful gallery,Dean!

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