I recently made contact with Jason Ulsrud who is a Portrait and Advertising Photographer from Dallas, Texas. He specialises in amazing fun creative family portraits and i have been a huge fan ever since i came across his work and overjoyed when he agreed to an interview!
Do you think composite photography is becoming a crucial skill for photographers within different genres? I am a newborn photographer and i am seeing a massive increase in newborn composites using digital backgrounds.
I believe that Composite Photography is simply a skill, that if done well, can differentiate one from other photographers. For me, Composite Photography has made it possible to create family portraits that are Different, and that my clients are willing to pay top dollar for.
For many photographers, Compositing can open up new and different markets, provide a source of new income, or give the photographer more expressive freedom.
I always say, however, regardless of whether your a straight shooter or a Composite Photographer, “An image is only as good as your subject.”
No amount of photographic or Compositing skill will make a boring subject or story great. All great images and all great Composites start with great subjects and great stories.
Have you done many advertising composites? Do you have a couple of examples that i could include?
When I started out on my journey into the world of Composite Photography, like most other photographers, I wanted to become an Advertising Photographer. Who wouldn’t want to be a Bad Ass photographer shooting for top magazines and ad agencies?
As I practiced and developed my voice in Composite Photography, I began to realize that I didn’t see the world through an advertising lens. That when I sat down to develop a story, it was never around a product or campaign, but instead around a life and personalities.
To answer your question about Advertising Composites, YES, I have worked on a few small budget projects I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up through existing portrait clients. You can see a few samples at http://www.photillustrator.com/commercialportraits/.
Now, looking back at my very first Composite, which you can see here (http://www.photillustrator.com/compositephotography-2015/), I realize I was never destined for anything but portrait photography and helping people tell their stories in a Different way.
Additionally, and most importantly, I want my images to impact the world, even if it’s just the world of a family. I imagine those families looking back at their portrait in 20 or 30 years, smiling and laughing about a time they all shared together, I imagine the kids in their portraits one day sharing their fun stories with their kids, and I imagine these portraits being a visual record of real lives lived.
In a world of consumable photography, where most images created have a shelf live of between a few minutes to a few months, if you’re lucky, creating photography that impacts a life is a rare thing.
That’s why in 2017 I committed myself 100% to only pursuing family portrait projects and in 2018 I am focused on pursuing a celebrity clientele.
What’s key to creating a good composite?
Practice your ass off, persevere past that annoying voice in your head, tell your critics to F&$K OFF, get really good at Solving Problems, and don’t lift your head up until you’re alone.
To quote Les Brown, “To be successful, you must be willing to do the things today others won’t do in order to have the things tomorrow others won’t have.
Let me break this down…
Like everyone else, when I started down the rabbit hole of Composite Photography, I had no idea what I was doing or how to find out. I watched hours upon hours of video tutorials and I practiced my ass off for 12 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. I was relentless and wasn’t going to stop until I could create a portrait that could sell for several thousands of dollars.
If you want to be good at Composite Photography, you have to be willing to put in the time and practice your ass off.
As you go through the process of developing your skill and style as a Composite Photographer, your inner critic will likely tell you that you’re not good enough and that you shouldn’t even waste the time because there are too many other photographers way better than you. At least that’s what my inner critic keeps telling me even to this day.
You will either decide to listen to your inner critic and quit, or you will decide to persevere past the annoying voice in your head and prove your inner critic wrong, and you can guess which choice a great Composite Photographer will make.
Humans are inherently designed to critique anything that challenges us. Whether it be from another photographer in a Facebook group letting you know how some small technical detail isn’t quite right or it be judges from the PPA telling you how your image doesn’t fit traditional portrait standards, if you’re creating images worth looking at, people will criticize your work.
I say tell your critics to F&$K OFF because the only opinion that matters when it comes to your images are the opinions of those paying you dollars, and sometimes they don’t even matter.
Every single Composite comes with it’s own special set of problems. From dealing with clients, to dealing with photo shoot variables, to technical editing issues, you will run into problems on every single Composite you create.
If you want to become a good Composite Photographer, you’ve got to become a Great problem solver.
The one thing we all want as photographers is for our work to Stand Out, Get Noticed, and to be appreciated for the awesome work we do. The problem is, those things don’t happen near as fast as you want them to. You’ll create a pretty good Composite and when it doesn’t get enough “likes”, you’ll try a different style of Composite, or you’ll try editorial portrait, or newborn portrait, or maybe go back to a traditional style of portrait. Always changing things and always looking for the attention.
In the beginning, as you’re developing your technical skills and style, you’ll be like everyone else getting little attention, but as you keep on doing your thing while everyone else is changing and trying different things, you’ll lift up your head from all the hard work you’ve been doing and realize, you’re all alone and getting noticed.
There’s very little room for Greatness in the world and while so many want to be great, very few are willing to do the work it takes to become Great.
Which part of the process throws up the most problems?
Regarding the technical process of Composite Photography, I believe the area most photographers struggle with the most is LIGHTING, and understanding the relationship between light and shadows.
I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to my Composites, so I like to light everything with a pretty flat light, giving me the opportunity to build the light and shadows as I desire. Because most of my Composites use 40+ separate images, many times photographed at different times and locations, building my light and shadows means I have to have an excellent understanding of light and shadows.
As photographers we must become better students of light and shadows.
What do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy being Different.
From the branding, to the marketing, to the process, to the portraits, and most importantly to the experience, I enjoy being Different, and I’m always looking for ways to stand out and be Different.
When I ask, every single client I have says they chose Photillustrator because my portraits were Different.
I’m super proud about being considered Different.
And lastly, because you probably get asked those questions all the time, is there anything you haven’t been asked before or would like me to include as a personal statement?
Composite Photography is a technical skill, not an art, which means it can be taught and learned by anybody willing to put forth the effort and time.
Nobody has ever paid me thousands of dollars because I’m technically a good Composite Photographer. In fact, none of my clients even know or care about “Composite Photography”.
How you compose the elements of your Composite and the story behind those elements is an art you must discover on your own.
People are willing to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for art that means something to them.
So, the question becomes, how do you take the Composite Photography skill you’re mastering and turn it into a meaningful product people are will to pay a lot for?
The reason you know of artist like Andy Warhol and photography icon Richard Avedon isn’t because they created artwork and images that were “better” than everyone else. It was because they understood the art of promotions, marketing, and public relations.
In other words, they hustled to become the icons we know today.
The key to Standing Out and Getting Noticed is Repetition. The more Composites you create and the more you share your art with the world, the better your chances are of standing out and getting noticed.
Never accept “I can’t” or “No” as an answer, because you can if you just work at it hard and long enough.
Jason Ulsrud, (2017), Kitchen Chaos [ONLINE]. Available at: http://www.photillustrator.com/signature-family-portraits/ [Accessed 14 December 2017].