Frank Doorhof Interview: From Being Bullied to Commercial Portrait Photography

commercial portrait photography - Nadine Schloss Woklum

In 2012, the last time Frank Doorhof spoke to us, he had recently joined Kelby Training as a workshop lecturer and was already gaining international recognition for his glamour, fashion, and commercial portrait photography. How have the previous four years treated him? Well, it turns out that he hasn’t lost any steam. He’s still making exciting work while gaining more and more fans every day.

For this interview, we wanted to revisit our first conversation with more personal questions. Instead of asking about technique, we wanted to ask about Doorhof’s journey into commercial portrait photography. We wanted to know more about him. We learned, for example, that Doorhof was bullied when he was young — “without a doubt, this forced me to improve myself constantly” — and that photography, in its way of putting you in front of others no matter how you feel, has given him a way to find his most open, friendly, and generous self.

We spoke with Doorhof over email last week.

commercial portrait photography - Karina Phase One workshop

Let’s start with a few questions about your thoughts on photography. Are you comfortable with the technical side of photography? 

I’m one hundred percent comfortable with photography. In all honesty, I think it’s very important to know the basic and advanced functions of your gear and, of course, the “rules” of lighting. Many people nowadays buy a camera and just use it like they do their point-and-shoot or iPhone or other mobile device and expect great results. This can lead to some “surprises,” but I was brought up analogue and stopped for a while before I “rebooted” digitally, so stuff like light meters and understanding aperture, shutter speed, and so on, were hardwired. I think that helps a lot. When you know your basics, you can spend all your energy on creating the image, telling your story.

Do photographers capture a moment of the world or create one? What do you think?

I think both. Sometimes you capture a moment in time that never comes back like in street and travel photography, and sometimes I orchestrate an image, like with the use of strobes, wardrobe etc.

commercial portrait photography - nadine

How did you get your start in photography? How would you describe your work?

I was brought up in a family of enthusiastic image makers both video and photography but as hobbies. I loved to draw and play guitar/keyboards, so I was always a bit creative. Photography just took my heart in the end I guess, although I still love to draw and do video.

commercial portrait photography - Nadine childhood

What’s your first childhood memory? Do you think this first visual memory and its emotional pull might have influenced your work?

Very hard to say, I think it had nothing to do with my work. I did experience a lot of bullying in my childhood, and without a doubt, this forced me to improve myself constantly. Even now, I’m still insecure and force myself to be the best I can and be very precise and accurate. It’s like a constant drive to prove and improve.

commercial portrait photography - HyperFocal

Did you ever feel like giving up? Were you ever unsure of your talents?

I think you do if you try to be the best you can. It’s like sports. The man with the hammer will visit you in every ride, every row, every run. But the thing is to NOT give in. If you go on, he will go away and you will improve. I think every creative has his “man with the hammer” — call it writer’s block or the feeling that you’re not good enough. We all know it. I experience it regularly, but then I look at my social media, the responses from students, and I continue with new energy.

commercial portrait photography - something personal

What does it feel like when you capture a photograph?

Photography is an art and expressive form, so in all shots there is something personal. Nowadays, photography has become an expression of the masses with internet and a gazillion images uploaded every minute (or so). Art has always been about storytelling from the old times till the semi-modern times. Only the last few years has it become a mass media. Sadly, this also means that the value people attach to photography has declined, and photography has been degraded to snapshots in many cases. For me, I always try to create something even with my snapshots, so every shot is something special. With my model photography, I try to create something more interesting, more elaborate, and you could describe it as more of a personal outing. Still, every shot I make I enjoy. I just love being behind the viewfinder and seeing the world in MY way, because that’s what photographers do.

commercial portrait photography - bullying happens

What have you learned about yourself from shooting portraits? 

I learned that I can interact with people very well. Back to my bullying from my childhood, when bullying happens, it gives you an impression that you’re not “liked” and also limits your interaction with other people. Photography opened my eyes to the idea that I was regarded as a very open, nice, and “popular” person, so you could say that photography had a very, very healing function as well.

It has also taught me that as a photographer you have a tremendous responsibility to be the best you can because every shot you take of a person can be the most important one. This is also why I believe so much in projects like Help Portrait and do give a lot of myself to these kind of projects. It’s important to teach future generations that photography is MUCH more than posting selfies on snapchat. Snapchat is something that is gone in days, and it’s the “lowest” form of photography. Why create something that is gone in days? Do you have so little love for your work that you consider it trash that has to be taken out in a few days?

I teach a lot for photoclubs and sometimes schools and try to tell the attendees that photography is freezing unique moments in time that never come back so that the photographers duty is to capture this moment as best he or she can because it’s unique and should be treated that way. Take into account the fact that all life is very fragile and you could indeed be taking a person’s last photo . . . so treat it that way.

commercial portrait photography - Nadine Professional Imaging

All images © Frank Doorhof. Read and watch more commercial portrait photography here from Doorhof.

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