I came across Eric’s work from a video (posted below) which I saw. He was walking around with some contraption on him taking portraits in the desert. I thought it was hilarious so after a quick look at his work an email was sent. Have a look.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Hello, my name is Eric Schwabel, and I am a photographer.
What made you get into photography?
It was either this or be a rockstar. No, lets see… Well, in High School I was a nerd who liked looking at Diesel ads and imported magazines printed on heavy paper. I appreciated journalism but had no interest in writing the stories. I loved design but a career as a graphic designer didn’t seem like the right match, and I effectively have no illustration skills. So the technical and mathematical aspects of photography appealed to me, and I found a way to be connected to what I considered visually interesting and a culturally relevant and important medium.
How did you get started?
Professionally speaking, I began working on national ad campaigns as an intern and assistant at the age of 17. Instead of going to high school for half the day, I’d load 4×5 film, move lights around, pick out props or, on slow days, just play with the gear and shoot still lifes. It was the best possible introduction I could have had and it gave some purpose to school, which I saw as a waste of my time at that age.
From there I went on to attend the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology. As I get older I appreciate that my experiences there lead to many other more amazing experiences, but again, school structure was not necessarily for me.
I was head of a student organization in 1999-2000. We flew celebrity photographer Len Prince in to do a lecture. He became my mentor, and I would assist him on shoots in New York. When I finished school (2003) I told him I was considering LA (where I am based now) and so he brought me out to do a shoot in LA, and I stayed. There was also a brief stint in Paris in 2001.
I was first published, with a 10-page feature in the Australian photography magazine “Blue” in college, and it just sort of went from there.
What sort of photography do you mainly do?
You could call me a portrait photographer. My career is focused on being a commercial advertising photographer, but what I shoot are portraits. My introduction to commercial photography was through still life photographers. I loved the attention to detail, and how they manipulated light, and I made a deliberate decision to apply that principle to portrait photography. I’ve always built my own lights and rigs, and I firmly believe that messing with things is the best way to learn. When I moved into my Venice Beach studio in 2005, I just built and played and built and played all day and night. I’m a little more 9-5 now, but I still enjoy tinkering. I created a whole studio-on-my-back that i took to Burning Man in 2010 – I shot on medium format digital and lit with profoto kits, all strapped to my body. This was about 2 weeks after shooting a campaign for Toyota. I enjoy the corporate work as much as less conventional.
What gear are you using?
I’ve had a Mamiya RZ67 since i was 18, I upgraded to the newer digital body and shoot with that and a Mamiya 645 AFD body when I’m doing personal work or on my own. I’m ready to get my hands on the Mamiya / PhaseOne DF with the new lenses as my main body. I own a Mamiya DM28 digital back that I love, it’s so easy.
On commercial shoots we tend to use Hassleblad and PhaseOne gear. It’s sharper and the assistants are more familiar with it. I’d like to use the DF but the rental situation in LA is pretty sad, they’re not really available.
I also have a Nikon D7000 for video.
I’m all Profoto for lights, except for the ones I’ve built myself. I’m in the market though, time for upgrades.
Whats your favourite lens and why?
I don’t really have a favorite, but I do only use prime lenses, and I prefer older-model lenses that actually use an aperture ring. That’s my only gripe with modern gear, and the reason I still prefer my RZ, I much prefer manual controls. I’m the same with my car, I prefer to drive a manual 5-speed. It must be a control issue.
But when it comes to gear, I have what I have and that’s what I use. When we need to rent, I trust my crew fully, they’re the gear heads. I think it’s like wine – I don’t know which year a specific grape from a specific region was best, but I know who to ask. It’s the same with gear.
How are you marketing yourself?
We market the studio primarily through email, but we are starting a round of physically mailed pieces. SCHWABELSTUDIO.COM won PDN’s self-promo award in the people’s choice category a few months ago. We put a ton of thought into redesigning that site and it paid off immensely.
When I first opened my studio in Venice Beach, early 2006 I did a series of photographs of the human body on a rather large set that I had built, the primary feature of which was water. We rigged half a dozen shower heads and built a collection pool and pump system. I still love those shots, the whole process was fun.
On the more commercial side, I’ve always loved this portrait I did of painter Mb Boissonnault, and of actor Chris Pine. I’m including all of these.
Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?
Nike got it when they said “just do it.” That really the best advice. This is a job you do because you love to do it. If you love it enough to go out and do it, then trust your instinct and go for it. Nobody can create your vision but you, so go out and create it.