I’ve often been asked, “How does one become an accomplished photographer?”
I usually tell them, “Hard work, knowing your craft and being a good communicator. Recently, I was asked that question before giving a slideshow presentation of my photographs of State Street Ballet. That’s when I realized that there’s one more very essential ingredient necessary for success: you’ve got to have good luck.
My good luck came in 2000 when I met Rodney Gustafson, artistic and executive director of State Street Ballet based in Santa Barbara, California. I had heard that the company was going to be performing a production of Carmen, so I bought a ticket.
The production completely blew me away—Bizet’s driving score, its dramatic love story, stunning costumes and beautifully executed choreography. I knew immediately that this was a company I wanted to work with. So during intermission I went looking for its decision maker.
I found Rodney in the lobby and introduced myself, “I’m an L.A. based dance photographer. May I show you my work sometime? I’d love to work with you and your company.”
Rodney told me he’d be happy to take a look at my photographs and gave me his contact information. A week later, I drove up the coast with my portfolio. I had inserted into the book’s sheer plastic pages a selection of photos that I considered my best work. To my delight, he was significantly impressed and hired me on the spot to create marketing images of his growing repertory. I was to produce images that reflected the company’s unique brand—full-length, heavily costumed storybook ballets like The Nutcracker, Beauty and The Beast, Alice in Wonderland, Carmen and others.
Our shoot took two full days and required a large photo studio with a cove and lots of rented gear—strobes, stands, packs, umbrellas and a few different colored backdrops. Michael Turner, who worked for a number of L.A. based photographers, assisted me. Michael and I would eventually end up working together for more than a decade—another stroke of luck!
For the first time in the company’s history, it had photographs that truly resembled its distinct look and brand. Rodney reprinted the images many times over for marketing, posters, programs, reviews and his website. Creating images that definitively captured the company’s signature required that I draw upon all of my training, both as a dancer and a photographer. It set in motion what would become among the most challenging working relationships of my photographic career.
Each subsequent shoot required that I come up with new concepts, lighting setups, backdrops and choreographed moves for the dancers to perform. And, in so doing, it elevated my technical skills and stimulated my imagination and overall creativity. It’s only now that I realize that what makes an accomplished photographer is having a vehicle that challenges you to up your game and expand your potential. State Street Ballet was that for me and still is more than seventeen years later.
I’ve been very lucky. But, I believe that luck is something that comes to you when you take the initiative to sway it in your direction, seek it out and invite it in. Luck isn’t just something that finds you. You can play a role in finding it.
Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just starting out, go out and make your own good luck.