(model: Rana McAnear)
Patrick Shipstad is a fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles. Read about Patrick’s journey to becoming a professional photographer and how he makes his work stand out (including using Lensbaby lenses), below.
Talk a bit about your path to becoming a professional photographer.
When I was the audio/video producer for Universal Studios Online/New Media division back in the early 2000’s, I was shooting and editing video but I also did some photography for them as well. I was doing product shots with a little Nikon 990, but I wasn’t really a “photographer”. It wasn’t until years later that I really started to get into it and realized I was not only having fun, but I was getting some improved results. I bought my first DSLR (a Canon 10D), some lights and started finding models to work with and slowly built up my portfolio, all the time getting a little better and more confident in all aspects of shooting. Outside of Universal, I can’t remember the first photography job I got paid for, but eventually I started to get some work offers and it felt good to get some validation for what I loved doing and put so much time into. So it’s been a fun journey of learning, trial and error, and immersing myself in every form of photography education I can lay my hands on. I am always challenging myself as a photographer, and it seems the more I learn, the more there is to learn! For me, the business and marketing side is more challenging than the actual photography side of things. Probably because that’s not the fun part! But I’m working on that…
What first got you interested in Lensbaby and how and when do you decide to incorporate it into a shoot?
I bought the very first version of the Lensbaby, and I played around with it but I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it into photographing people in the way I wanted to. Then a little over a year ago I thought I’d try and do a more etherial, almost vintage style series. So I revisited the lenses with the updated Composer, only to find myself completely revitalized and challenged by it. It became an essential element for that series of photos. It was a refreshing change, creatively and technically from my usual, kind of clean style. Although the lenses lend themselves to freely moving them around and getting very cool organic effects that way, I really love shooting with the Lensbaby in the studio.
What inspires you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere…from seeing a great face I want to photograph to looking at others’ inspiring work. Sometimes it’s nothing more than seeing something random and inspiration strikes. When I did the shot with the black leaf headdress, that was a plastic wreath I saw at a party store during Halloween. I thought it looked cool, so I bought it knowing someday I’d convince someone to let me shoot them with it on their head! Or the twisted twig wreath shot was just something I found at a craft store and once again, thought it would be cool to incorporate as a hat in a photo. The inspiration of adding the snow and particles to that shot was just because I wanted to add a cool blue tone to one of my Lensbaby series. I wanted to switch up the color pallet I had been doing. Weeks later, I’m still finding bits of fake snow to clean up, but it was worth it.
(model: Sam Aotaki)
What are your favorite lenses/optics and why?
Well, for creative portrait work, I find myself really favoring the Double Glass Optic. The Sweet 35 is pretty sweet too. I usually stick with either the f5.6 or f8 aperture rings, depending on how much of an edge blur I’m needing. For portrait work, I find myself keeping the lens pretty straight forward or barely tilting it, or whatever it takes to keep the eyes in sharp focus. For me, it draws the attention to the model’s expression and sharp eyes trumps everything when it comes to conveying the feeling of a portrait. I’ve tried the Edge 80 on portraits, but I like it best for longer full body shots since you can get a full slice of sharpness from head to toe vs. the other optics that create a more “around the lens” effect that I use on faces and on 3/4 shots. The Composer Pro is awesome, I can’t wait to do some videos with it too.
Describe a typical fashion or commercial shoot.
Well, I’d like to say that there is a crew of stylists, hair, make-up, and assistants running around. But the truth is, with the exception of two shoots, where I had a great guy who did hair, make-up and styling, every shoot in my portfolio is pretty much just me and the model working alone to come up with the look and feel. It’s ridiculously low key and unpretentious. Good pre-planning is important but quite often it’s the unplanned poses or the last minute “let’s just try this” that are the best of the bunch. Also, it’s great when you have a model who really knows what they’re doing, they can bring things to the shoot you never imagined. But whether you have an experienced model or you’re shooting someone who is new to being in front of the camera, I can’t stress enough the importance of good communication and positive, constructive directing of your model during a shoot.
How important is it to keep up with the latest photo gear?
Well, I am known among my friends for being a bit of a latest gear hound…but for over six years I’ve milked the hell out out my original Canon 5D. Nobody was saying “Hey what are you shooting with? The quality isn’t cutting it”. So instead of getting the latest camera bodies, I spent that money on different lighting modifiers to really shape and control my light. So after skipping the urge to get the 5D MKII, I finally upgraded to the Canon 5D MKIII. I’m really excited about the big jump in quality and workflow. I’m tethering all the time now and loving it! How “important” is having the best gear? I’d say don’t ever let not having the latest greatest gear ever stop you from doing what you can and being creative with what you have at the moment. Sometimes having less makes you more creative. Does having better gear sometimes help you achieve better results? Of course, especially regarding low light performance and focusing…but the latest gear can’t give you a creative eye and you can’t buy technical proficiency and experience…you have to work hard for that.
(models: Noel Fernandez and Dani Danger)
What advice can you offer for new photographers, just beginning their careers?
I guess it depends on what your goals are. Not that they need to be defined in black and white in the beginning. Some people just love to shoot for fun in auto mode and have no aspirations to go beyond that. And that’s totally fine! Have fun and rock on. But if you want to dig in, get manual and ultimately want to get paid for being a photographer, you’d better roll up your sleeves and learn your craft and gear in detail. Know why you’re making the creative and technical choices to achieve the results you want. If something isn’t working, be able to instinctively problem solve, know your options technically and quickly get improved results. Also, just look at a ton of other people’s work. Get your inspiration wherever you can. Learn to reverse-engineer a photo you like…where you study photographs and try and figure out how things were done based on the characteristics of the lighting, composition, catch light in the eyes, etc. Then try to recreate elements that you like about certain photographs in your own photos, and eventually you’ll start to see your own style come forward.
See more of Patrick’s work here.
Learn more details about how he shot these particular images here.