Neil Kremer Photography [Interview]
Welcome to Featured Pixels! To kick things off, tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in a cross-fire hurricane And I howled at my ma in the driving rain, But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas! oh wait, that’s someone else. I’m 43 and I was born in Rochester NY, went to a small Catholic college in Rochester. Moved around the country a few times until calling LA my home in 2001. I’ve been in private label apparel and sporting goods manufacturing most of my life. Mostly running the sales end but that means I had to wear all hats. I was a big part of the design on thousands of items. I worked with major retailers as well as some of the biggest names in sporting goods and apparel. In 2010 I ended up in the hospital as a result of drinking too much, I mean way too much over a long time. The docs told me that I had to stop, so I did. I had a lot of free time on my hands and my professional life was changing quickly. The need for my service was depleting as the economic and socio political climates shifted in 2008.
I had a Nikon D50
that I bought a few years earlier but never took out of the box. I thought I should learn how to use it. I went to the internet, quickly found Flickr and saw some vivid, wild and crazy images that intrigued me. I noticed the letters HDR repeating in comment sections. A quick search brought me to “Stuck in Customs”
where I found a painful introduction to HDR and Photoshop
. I was hooked, I created my first HDR image within 30 minutes, it was so bad. Since then, I’ve emerged myself in learning as much as I can about the creative process, photography, the business of photography and what makes a good photograph. I also spend way too much time in Photoshop. I’ve since started a small commercial photography company with another photographer and friend, Cory Johnson.
Where do you consider home?
Los Angeles, CA but I think my heart is still back East.
Where is your ideal dream home?
New York City in a large flat on Central Park West.
Before we begin the interview, how is your current state of mind today?
Frustrated, business is tough. But I remain in great spirits.
Usually an interesting question is the Education one. Did you attend school for Photography?
I have a BS in Business Administration. My photo and re-touch skills come from hours of mistakes and youtube videos.
How long have you been a photographer?
About 2 years
How long have you been a landscape photographer? What is your favorite type of photography?
I’ve been doing landscapes since I picked up the camera in 2010. I can’t see myself making a living shooting landscapes at 43 years old. I’m now focused on advertising photography and portraiture. I’m hooked on lighting and trying to construct thought provoking images that stay with the viewer.
What or who got you started in photography?
My uncle was a small time collector. He introduced me to the work of many but Sebastio Salgado
‘s work stuck in my subconscious. There was a gallery on my street in St. Louis that was showing the work of (my all time favorite) Margaret Bourke White. I wandered in (it was free, can you believe that) and they had to kick me out at closing, seven hours later. I didn’t know it then, but my uncle and that day in St. Louis would later have a profound effect on my life.
How would you describe your style?
My “style” changes from day to day. I really don’t think I have one but some people told me that my look is “hyper-realistic.” I shoot based on two things. 1. My mood 2. The clients needs.
How many photographs do you think you average per year? A guess is ok
I publish about 500 on the internet but I create about 10,000 for clients. I take about 50,000 / year
What is your current gear setup?
I have a Nikon D300S and a Canon 5D Mark II (I know, I know.) About 4 L series Lenses from 18mm to 200mm and a couple super wide Nikon lenses. I actually use my 8mm fisheye.
I have a a couple speedlights and 4 Alien Bee B800 heads with all of the Paul C. Buff Modifiers. I use the Paul C. Buff wireless triggers too.<
For many commercial jobs, we rent gear.
What is your favourite photography accessory?
My Spyder screen calibrator. It changed my life. I can see the light…seriously, if you don’t calibrate, you don’t know what others are seeing.
What is your favorite lense and why?
Canon 50mm 1.2 is the pure joy. Tack sharp and the bokeh is like butter. Once you learn to focus it, anyone can make magic. The first time I used it, I released the shutter, look at the display and laughed with joy, it was beautiful, just beautiful.
What lighting equipment do you take on a regular shoot if any?
Portraits, I take 3 mono-blocks and about 5 modifiers. One C-Stand and 2 regular stands.
Fashion, I bring it all.
Tableau Vivant / large scale location shoots, I rent and have it delivered because I don’t own all the good stuff yet. We usually rent Pro Photo or Elinchrom.
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? How about software?
I LOVE my Wacom…. I can’t re-touch with out it.
I used to be a slave to all the Photoshop plug-ins. I realized they only make me lazy and stopped me from growing artistically. I owned all of them and I deleted all of them. I only use Photoshop CS6 for editing. I use Lightroom for file management and I still crank up Photomatix now and again.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
I shoot to get the best image I can in camera. I also have re-touching in mind when I set up the shot. I would say Photoshop is about as important as the photography for me. I’m trying VERY hard to change that. Very Hard.
Are you a Mac or PC lover?
Microsoft is dead to me. I wish they would just go out of business.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment in the near future and if so what do you have your eyes set on?
As soon as Nikon merges the D4 and the D800, I’m in. I hope they call it the D4X, it has a nice ring to it. I hear Chase will be offering low interest 30 year fixed mortgages on it.
Along with the new body will come the nikkor 14-24, 50 1.2 85 1.2, Tilt Shift of some kind (they are wicked sharp) 24-70 2.8 and the 70-300 VRII.
I”m also planning to trade in the Alien Bee heads for the Einstein heads. We like the Einstein’s because I can high speed sync and the quality of light is much better than the Alien Bees/
Your work really inspires myself and many others to pursue photography in a wider degree. What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such amazing imagery?
I start with whatever enters my head, then I go look for it. I look on the internet for a location or I drive around looking for a location. If there’s people in the shot, I cast like you would for a movie. After that, it’s all about memories. Most of my images come from the past. Chances are that if you remember something, there’s a powerful emotion attached to it. Memories derive from senses, old factory, hearing, tactile and taste all play a role in what ends up being visual. I try and work my memories into my surroundings and create an image. Chances are that if something had a profound effect on me, it will for others too. So if I shoot a dentist office, I conjure up memories of my experiences in a dentist office. I then create an image that matches that memory by appealing to the senses. So if I remember a moldy smell in the room, I visually try to make it look like it would smell of mold. This should work better as I age because the older I get, the more my memories become a combination of outside influences like films or lyrics and the truth.
That was a long explanation, too much coffee.
What has been your most memorable or favorite project and why?
A major airline asked me to do a cover for their inflight magazine. The main story was about Hollywood and it’s history of opulence. They wanted me to re-shoot the cover of the Eagle’s “Hotel California” Album cover. But they wanted it in HDR. After doing some research, I discovered that the original image was shot from a crane, 120′ above Santa Monica Blvd during rush hour traffic. Shooting directly at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where they haven’t allowed a photo shoot in over 30 years. I didn’t think it was possible to re-create but a week later, we were on a crane over Santa Monica Blvd waiting for the sun to set. We got the shot as well as a full 3 hours in the main bungalow shooting a spread for the centerfold. $13,000 per night is the discounted rate to stay in the room. It’s always booked.
That was really cool…
What is your most favorite photograph you have shot recently? Can you how the composition came to life and what the photograph means to you?
We were shooting for a tee-shirt company and the theme was a “frat party at the university of Oregon.” We had about 26 characters in a tight space because we shot it on location. After trying several setups involving way too many people, we scaled it down to about 8 people playing beer pong and it worked. We shot and lighted each person separately and composited them later. We learned that if something isn’t working, get creative and move on.
Do you have or ever use an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on an projects?
Yes, I use an assistant every chance I get. Way too much goes into a shoot for one person to do it all.
Do you have a website and/or blog you visit often? How about forums?
I watch most of the B&H speakers on their youtube channel. I’ve learned a lot there. I also pay attention to anything Calvin Hollywood and Glyn Dewis puts out. I check out Phlearn.com at least once a week and I’m always looking for good Photoshop tuts on youtube.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photography?
Without a doubt, making a living at it is the hardest part. I got into photography because I want to make great images. I have no desire to shoot weddings, parties, family portraits, etc. I would rather get a job to be honest. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, to the contrary, I believe the wedding photographer is the most challenging and possibly the purist form of photography but it’s not for me. That means I have to compete in the commercial arena. Nobody will help you, nobody will tell you who the buyers are and nobody will tell you if you’re good enough. You have to be very persistent and have very thick skin with the ability to adapt.
What do you think of the current state of the photography industry and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
Currently, it’s a hot mess. It’s a mess because there are too many photographers for the market. The only “photographers” that I see doing well financially are the ones selling their brand(s) and that usually means selling teaching aids or “you can do it with an iPhone and some spirit” videos that they sell for $10.00 It’s hot because I believe technology has peaked for the time being. Yeah, we’ll soon see faster cameras that shoot at ISO one billion and a range of exposure that is better than the human eye. We’ll see a Photoshop that can correct a blurry image but none of those things will get us much better images. I think that the stage is set and the cream will rise to the top in the next 5 to 10 years. Right now everyone is out there clicking away and processing until their fingers bleed but I’m not seeing many images that will be around in a hundred years. In 5 years, I think we’ll see someone create imagery that separates the professional from the amateur. That should correct the business end of Photography as the supply side will shrink as the demand shifts to more refined images. I’m probably wrong though, it happens often.
Name the first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Michael Grecco….he’s one of the best portrait photographers in the world and one of my favorites. He stopped by my studio last week while I was shooting. I shook his hand and by the time I realized who I was, he left.
A landscape photographer who inspires you?
Cliche but I have to go with Ansel Adams. I’ve been able to listen to two of his assistants speak in small venues here in LA. Knowing his story, I’m amazed. The man was truly inspiring.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
Joel Grimes spoke at the Los Angles Professional Photographers Association or something like that. I went because I’m a big fan of his work. I got to talk with him and he was a really cool cat.
What photographic organizations do you belong to?
None, but I probably should. I’m too busy taking pictures to research it. Any ideas?
Do you advertise in magazines?
No. I would if I had the budget.
If I wasn’t a photographer, I would have loved to have been a writer or a film director/cinematographer. What would you have been?
If I could do it over agin, I would go to film school. I would start as a PA on some small film and work like a dog toward directing fils that will be remembered. (or sell out and make giant action flicks.)
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Yes, I would have went to School for photography. Anyone that tells you that it’s a waste of time, is trying to sell you something.
Is there a particular person in your life that you could say has taught you the most out of anyone you know?
Honestly, no. Everyone in my life thinks I’m wasting my life with photography.
What talent would you most like to have other than photography?
I would love to play guitar…like at Eddy Van Helen’s level. I would wake up every morning, turn all 100 amplifiers to 11 and just start whaling away until dinner. Wouldn’t that be cool?
What are you currently learning/working on?
Classic art. I’m studying the history of painting and photography. I’m convinced that learning how to make a great image starts in knowing the past.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My Wife, Karyn.
What is your greatest fear?
Snakes, I’m really afraid of them. I don’t want to hurt them, I’m just really scared of them.. I watch as many snake related TV shows as possible. I want to get to know my enemy.
Where you’ll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m
Friday nights are for watching the TV shows we taped on Sunday. Mostly Showtime and HBO series… Breaking Bad too.
Your favourite film / movie / tv series of all time?
Forest Gump / Six Feet Under but there are so many that I could say that about.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Buy a Hasselblad and tour the planet for a decade. My wife would be my Tenzing Norgay
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
I would like to believe that I’m an accomplished advertising photographer.
And the last question, if you had one wish…
This will sound selfish but I would want the answer to the biggest question of all. I want to know how, when and where time and space began. What was there before it and how much of it is there.
My second wish would have to do with children and disease.