Amanda Friedman Interview: Why You Should See Los Angeles the Way this Celebrity Photographer Does
Los Angeles is a huge city. Geographically speaking, Boston, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Manhattan, all could fit within its city limits. It’s also an unbelievably diverse city. There are hundreds of tiny, unique neighborhoods, each with their own cultural landmarks and distinct looks, smells, and feels. And not too far off, there’s the beach, the desert, the woods, and broken concrete — lots of it. Los Angeles can be many things, but it isn’t typically beautiful. Some of it can be downright ugly.
But Amanda Friedman has embraced LA’s many different faces. She’s even managed to find her own hidden jewels. Just look at her night landscapes. There, you’ll find LA at its most obscure and brilliant, finally understand the city’s gloom and color. And how about celebrity portraiture? There’s no place like LA when it comes to taking advantage of that opportunity. But it’ll just take a hustle like Friedman’s to be featured in Complex, the New York Times, Interview, and Vanity Fair like her.
In this interview, Friedman talks about how she got her start in photography, speaks about the advantages of shooting in LA, and explains her usual approach to portraiture.
You’re a celebrity photographer but also shoot amazing landscape and travel photography. How did you get your start shooting celebrities? How about landscapes?
When I first started out in 2000, I was sending promos to magazines. The work was mainly portraits and personal work I had shot during school. Nylon magazine took notice and started assigning me to shoot up-and-coming actors and musicians in LA. From there, the work started to snowball. The London Sunday Telegraph saw my work in Nylon and started to give me celebrities, which has been an ongoing relationship for over 10 years. I started shooting my night landscapes as a personal project while in college. The work got such a good response that I just decided to keep shooting it as an ongoing project.
There’s a consistent feel to your images. Your portraits, landscapes, and fashion work, all share a clean, sleek, and cool design. How would you describe your photographic style? Do you shoot with the same gear? Any lighting gear preferences?
Clean, graphic, natural, unforced photography. From 1998 until 2007, I was shooting all film for my assignments and personal work, using the mamiya RZ pro 2 6×7 along with the 4×5 Toyo 45a2 field camera. I reluctantly switched to digital in 2007 and now shoot with the Canon 5d Mark 3. My lighting preference is shooting with natural light when possible, but on the off chance I need to shoot with strobes, I use all Profoto lighting.
Your night landscapes of LA are beautiful. LA’s grit and color come out perfectly in these images. How do you find these locations in the city? Just by luck, driving around?
Yes, exactly—-driving around a lot and luck! The weather also has to be just right.
What advice would you give to other cityscape photographers hoping to find interesting locations? Can you trained your eye to look for the unexpected?
Scout as much as you can. Interesting locations don’t just pop up. You have to find them! I think you can train your eye to look for something interesting. Just takes time to hone your skills.
Westwood #1 is a great example of exploring to find something unique. For anybody who’s been to Westwood, this image would be surprising. It isn’t the first thing you think of when in Westwood. Could you explain how you made that image from start to finish?
I was actually on assignment for a friend who designs UCLA magazine. He loved my night landscapes and had me in mind to document UCLA’s orientation party on campus a few weeks before school started. As luck would have it, one of the main campus buildings in the quad had these amazing beams illuminating the sky and the fog was rolling in. The perfect combination for what I was after that evening. I spent some time looking for a good vantage point from buildings across the quad and ending up getting this shot. I was very lucky that night.
For most of your portraits, you seem to prefer light cool colors and window-soft light. This makes the photographs seem quiet and personal. What is your usual approach to starting a portrait? Do you spend a lot of time getting to know the person?
Not at all. I rarely have time to sit with a subject (especially a celebrity) before the shoot happens and often times I only have 10 or 15 minutes to actually shoot them! My approach to any job is to first find the perfect spot, get my lighting correct and then give a bit of direction once the subject arrives to be photographed. I do often try to engage with people while shooting, but sometimes that does not work as the person’s mouth moves, which we all know is not flattering.
You’re a Los Angeles based. Any advice to making it in the city? What advantages does this city give you as a celebrity photographer?
I think making it in LA is the same as making it in any big city. You have to hustle to get work and never stop! In the beginning of my career, I shot and tested as much as I could. I sent out promos 3 to 4 times a year, I entered contests and went to New York every year to show my portfolios and meet editors. As a celebrity photographer, living in LA does have its advantages, mainly its never cold, so you don’t have to always shoot in studio during the winter. The city is also so big, there are a million places one could do a photo shoot. I love the variety in landscape here. You have the beach, the mountains the desert and the city all at your fingertips. What more could you ask for?
The art, struggle, and quirk that is followed after becoming a Celebrity Photographer has been organically explained by Amanda.
Be sure to check out all of Amanda’s work on her website!