As a fashion photographer, business owner, and teacher, Lindsay Adler photography has made a brand for herself in the world. And the clearest distillation of this brand might be her line of ebooks and videos that work through the mystery of creating good images by meeting it halfway. You can teach only so much about photography, and the part of deciding when to press the trigger may be ultimately unteachable. So, instead, her videos show new photographers what part does what and by how much — as, say, a dance instructor might impress upon you when to move your feet where, giving you some idea of what it’s like to feel your body moving on beat, but never truly giving you a way to feel what all the back and forth actually means.
While shooting, Adler is firm but positive. She believes in empathizing with the person photographed. Against a trigger-happy, aggressive approach that comforts the one doing the shooting with an ever greater amount of shots, she prepares beforehand and collaborates with her team on set to minimize a sitter’s time in front of a camera. It’s her brand of creativity, photography, and teaching that has won her financial success and critical notice. And it’s why we wanted to speak with Adler about her ideas on photography.
Adler spoke to us over email last week.
How did you get your start in photography? How would you describe your work?
I first discovered my love of photography when I was around twelve. It was a way to spend time with the women in my family. My mother, aunt, grandmother and I all shared a love for photographing the beauty around us. We would spend time together taking photos around the family farm, and this brought photography into a very special space in my heart.
I’ve been a professional photographer for sixteen years now, having started the first iteration of my business while I was in high school. I began as so many portrait photographers do — in a small market photographing any subject matter that would pay me. I photographed children, engagement sessions, high school senior portraits, product photography, event photography and more. During the early years of my career the diversity of my subject matter helped me hone my skills and adapt quickly to different subjects, environments, and challenges.
Today, I work as a fashion photographer in New York City, in a studio in Chelsea. I shoot a wide range of subjects from commercial campaigns to model portfolios to creative editorials. I describe my own work as clean, bold, and graphic. I want bold imagery that grabs your attention and makes you look twice or three times! In a world bombarded by images, I want the boldness to stand out.
Do photographers capture a moment of the world or create one?
I think this question really depends on the photographer’s approach and the genre of photography. In my photography I think I am somehow distilling all the incredible beauty I have actually experienced in real life, yet I’m turning it into a perfected, near-fantasy version in the form of a fashion or beauty image.
Did you ever feel like giving up? Were you ever unsure of your talents?
There were absolutely times where I questioned if I would be good enough to truly succeed in the incredibly competitive New York City market. In fact, sometimes I still feel this way. I think it is healthy to have a bit of uncertainty constantly pushing you to improve. You must always find ways to challenge yourself both creatively and conceptually. If you don’t, you will most certainly fall behind.
I distinctly remember a time that I seriously considered giving up. It was about eight or nine years ago. I had a meeting with an art director and editor at a London fashion magazine. After reviewing my portfolio, he implied that not a single photo in the portfolio was worth keeping. In fact, he suggested that I should start the entire process of portfolio-building again with a new style and a new approach. This was a massive hit to my confidence. Even worse was the fact that he was RIGHT. Fortunately, I used this feeling of short-coming to drive a personal project and series of images that eventually helped me discover the photographer I am today.
To take a question from one of my favorite writers: does shooting photography help make the anguish of life more bearable?
Perhaps I am just not in the same headspace as that writer, but I certainly do not feel life is anguish. Life thrills me, and I love being stimulated. I can be stimulated by sights, sounds, tastes, people, and I am driven to explore. I explore through travel or through creative processes or through deeper connections with people. While at times (in my more melodramatic moments) photography seems inextricable from my love of life, I do not believe that life would simply be a secession of burdensome days without it. That being said, photography has been an incredible vehicle for me to grow as a person and explore this world that so excites me.
This is one of my favorites. Could you explain how it was made from start to finish? What’s the story behind it?
About two years ago, I took a look at my portfolio and found that I was drawn to images in my portfolio that heavily featured the color red. These images tended to best showcase my clean, bold, graphic style. I decided to challenge myself by shooting a personal project exploring the color red in the different ways it could appear in my work. I shot fine art nudes, beauty images, abstracts, and fashion photography. While this was a personal project, it did also help me grow my portfolio.
Because of this project, I was scouring the internet, looking for red props, locations and styling pieces that would inspire me for my project. I found this INCREDIBLE headpiece by designer Posh Fairytale Couture while looking on etsy.com. I reached out to this amazing artist and asked if she would be interested in collaborating on this project, and thankfully she accepted!
After securing the ideal model from Major Model Management, I reached out to makeup artist Georgina Billington with the model, headpiece, and overall concept. Being an incredible artist herself, she sketched out a creative and graphic pattern for the makeup that would compliment the headpiece without overpowering it.
It really was a collaboration between styling, makeup and my lighting/posing. Because the look was so “over the top,” I felt that more subtle posing and light would be more appropriate for the shot. This image (which I have since turned into a cinemagraph) really unites all of the elements that I think are key to my photographic style.
What have you learned about yourself from shooting portraits?
Last year, for my birthday, I asked several of my photographer friends to create a portrait of me, in their style, in any fashion they wished. I found the process to be an unexpectedly profound learning experience about myself and about the process of making a portrait. Certainly, I’ve learned a lot about myself being a photographer but stepping on the other side of the lens seemed to be even more revealing. I learned several important things that I now use in my own sessions to empathize with my subjects and to better understand myself.
First, no matter how confident I am, I still crave that positive reinforcement while I’m a portrait subject. I want to help the photographer create a great image, not hinder them. Clicking is not enough of a “good job” but instead constant words of affirmation from the photographer are like a massage to the soul.
Getting your portrait taken can be an emotional experience. By emotional, I mean joyful, or self-conscious, or fun-loving . . . really any emotion, but that is really controlled by the photographer. How do they set the tone? Do they take the time to get to know you and show that they want to bring out your best, inside and out? Do they keep the energy up? Do they seem excited, even inspired to take your portrait?
All these things made such a massive difference, and I could sense the tone of the shoot almost the second I walked into the photographer’s space, even if I had known them for years! Getting your portrait taken is a very different type of dance than other usual social interactions, and you certain feel more vulnerable and at the mercy of their lead.
To more directly answer the question, as a professional portrait photographer, I have learned to really appreciate the beauty in every one of my subjects. In one way, you would think that being a fashion photographer may make you judge the appearance of the “average person,” yet I find this quite the opposite. I realize that most models are just a blank canvas. When they walk into the room they often do not have particularly inspiring looks. It’s the concept, hair, makeup, wardrobe, lighting, posing and all the energy that they contribute that helps make something striking. Knowing this, I realize that every single subject that enters my space can have this same glowing transforming, and it’s my job to feed them the energy and inspiration for us to work together to create something stunning.
For more information, Lindsay Adler photography tutorials and insight, visit her website!