Luke Schneider was told to buy a camera for his birthday in high school. A few short years later (in college), he is on his way as a commercial and fashion photographer. Inspired by high end commercial work, think DKNY’s Peter Lindbergh, or Mario Testino for Michael Kors, Schneider’s work is clean and definitely well thought out.
Schneider is based out of both Chicago and Minneapolis, has been featured on FStoppers, and has completed a campaign with OMG! handbags.
In this interview, Schneider talks about finding his passion in high school, his influences, and his thoughts on how best to gain experience as a photographer.
To start, introduce yourself and tell us why you got into fashion/commercial photography?
My name is Luke Schneider, I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago and picked up photography during my junior year of high school when a friend suggested I get a camera for my birthday. At the time, I didn’t really think anything of it, but I was slightly interested in taking photos and really didn’t have anything else that I wanted. Through high school, I participated in the tech-theater/stage crew groups and eventually got interested in theatrical lighting design for school productions. Once I picked up a camera I realized that I was more interested in setting shoots up that were more planned out, rather than just shooting and capturing a moment. I started taking photos of friends with some off-camera flash to try to combine some lighting design with photography, which led pretty quickly to the fashion and commercial genres of photography.
Once I got a small portfolio together from asking friends to model for me, I moved on to contacting amateur models via Facebook, through friends, or occasionally Model Mayhem (which I don’t usually recommend, but if you really search you can find some good people to work with) and built my portfolio. I then started working towards the specific style that I wanted to produce and have recently been working with modeling agencies to work with better models, hair stylists, makeup artists, clothing stylists, etc. in order to build my portfolio. It’s always about getting better!
Who or what has most influenced your work?
There are so many great photographers out there, but, lately, I’ve been really into Peter Lindbergh’s work for DKNY as well as Mario Testino’s work for Michael Kors. These are the types of commercial fashion images that I absolutely love. Also, when I initially got into fashion photography I really liked Mark De Roo’s work. His portfolio has inspired me on many occasions. For studio work, Jeff Roberts has been a fantastic influence and mentor for me, and for location work I really got into Jordan Voth’s style, which got me interested in shooting natural light. About a year and a half ago, when I was starting to get serious about fashion photography, I decided to subscribe to W magazine as well as Vogue and these have been extremely beneficial to my work. While we always want to be original, it is important to see what others are doing and to learn what can be done, past what we already know.
How do you approach every photograph you take?
I am constantly finding inspiration from other photographers, in magazines, on websites, anywhere. I use this inspiration to think of a general idea for a photo shoot. Then, I throw together a quick inspiration sheet and send it out to the stylists and hair and makeup artists that I work with and see if they like the idea and have ideas of their own to make it come together. From there, I typically will choose a general area that we will shoot, along with the time of day.
While on location, I shoot pretty much only natural light with a reflector here and there. Once in the general area that we will be shooting, we really just walk around until we find something that catches our eye, be it a really nice building, nice light. With natural light, I do have to be very picky about where I shoot. I use some pretty standard techniques while shooting natural light, which can restrict the areas I can shoot in, based on the type of light that I am looking for. Once I choose the particular place I want to shoot, I usually take a few setup shots to get the light and exposure correct, and then I will let the models do their thing, with direction if needed.
Which do you prefer: studio work or on location? What is your particular method for finding the right environment?
I personally prefer location work, but each has its perks and challenges. I love working on location because I personally like having elaborate backgrounds and creating a feel for an image by showing the environment that the models are in. That being said, living in Minneapolis and Chicago, studio work is much easier to do year round, and being able to control every aspect of the light in an image is amazing and something that I’ve been meaning to work on more in order to get better with my studio work.
How has Chicago and Minneapolis influenced your work?
I am currently a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and I cannot say how thankful I am that I ended up choosing this school. The other schools I was looking at were in much smaller towns that didn’t have the resources and markets that I have been able to utilize being in Minneapolis. I’m very grateful that the agencies I test with in Minneapolis and Chicago are okay with me moving away from the super-commercial markets that they’re used to (think target ads) when I test with their models. I typically shoot on the fashion side of commercial, unfortunately there isn’t a huge market for that in Minneapolis, but I can build my book with good models and then bring that to Chicago which has a larger market for what I want to shoot.
On your blog, you write about setting up a DKNY inspired high end commercial shoot. I think your photographs in this collection are great, especially considering that you successfully achieved that foregrounded soft focus (top). Could you talk about why you were inspired by DKNY’s commercial photography? And how you achieved that high end commercial look?
Thanks! That shoot was a blast and turned out exactly how I wanted it to! My long-term goal is to shoot a campaign for DKNY or Michael Kors. I don’t really know what it is that makes the images stand out to me, but I just get pulled into these campaigns more than others. As you said, the foreground blur and bokeh is really a big part of this style of image, and I feel like it really makes you feel as if you are watching the models from down the street, rather than staring at an advertisement.
I knew from looking at the images that a telephoto lens was used for these campaigns, in order to get that subject isolation and foreground blur. Seen as it has to be a quick telephoto lens, my guess was either 85L, 135L or 200 f/2L, so I got my 85 1.8 on my Canon 50D (hopefully upgrading to full frame soon!) and shot pretty close to wide open. I don’t think I stopped down past f/2.5 at all for that shoot. The foreground blur was created by simply putting things in front of my lens, shooting through a tree, a bush, or right next to a wall. The rest was just post-production to make sure the final product had the desired tones and that everything was as clean (hopefully!) as the campaigns I was inspired by.
How did you secure your first commercial project?
That gig was actually complete luck. I was just starting with commercial fashion photography at that point and really wanted to build my portfolio, and a coworker of mine, at the restaurant I worked at through high school, was the owner and designer at OMG! Handbags. She had recently left the restaurant and is now full time with OMG!, and they needed to get some new photos for their promotional materials which they send to stores that purchase directly from them, as well as images for their website. We got in contact and set up the shoot, and I’m really happy with how it all played out, and I’m hoping to shoot more with them in the future!
What would you consider the most crucial advice for any other aspiring fashion/commercial photographers looking to secure their own commercial gig?
As far as securing commercial gigs goes I can’t really answer that. Without the experience, I am pretty much at that step myself, but as far as building a book and gaining experience goes I can offer some advice!
Firstly, shoot a lot and look at a ton of other photos out there. It is really important to go outside your comfort zone while shooting and try new things in order to be sure that, if a future client asks for that particular style, you can deliver it successfully. While we all try to shy away from free work, sometimes it may be worth it in other ways, such as adding really great images to your portfolio that can potentially get you work in the future, or gaining industry contacts. That being said, with any free work I strongly suggest having a basic contract to protect your ownership of the images.
Next, be extremely picky with your book, it’s better to have 10 GREAT shots than 30 that are mediocre. One of the first red flags I see with photographers online is that they upload EVERYTHING. It is important to show your best work, and only your best work. I took around 500 images for the DKNY inspired shoot discussed and shown above, I only published 4, and even that could have been one too many. The fact is that 5 images of the same outfit in the same location with a slightly different pose, crop, or what have you is not necessary for commercial fashion work.
Finally, meet as many people as you can in the industry, this is also something I need to do more, the more people you know, the better chance you have with finding people who need your services.