The Model Mayhem Interview: Stephen Eastwood

A former model turned professional photographer, Stephen Eastwood specializes in commercial, glamour, beauty and fashion photography. Stephen is also one of the select few to be called a Canon Explorer of Light, and when he isn’t shooting, he spends a great deal of his time lecturing and teaching workshops on various photographic techniques. We took some time to talk with Stephen about his life and work, and what it takes to succeed as a photographer.

– MM Edu

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: How and when did you get started as a photographer?

Stephen Eastwood: I got into photography back in 1999. When I was younger, I was a fitness model, which helped me get into photography. Up until ’99, photography was sort of a hobby that would later turn into a profession.

At first, I gradually started shooting and working with magazines, and then I approached small clients and model agencies in the city and began doing work for them—my career just progressed and grew from there.

MM Edu: How did modeling help you as a photographer?

Stephen: Well, yes and no, I mean being a model helped in terms of introducing me to photographers that I could learn from—I mostly learned from just watching and paying attention to what they did. I also met a lot of models, so when I started I had a lot of people to practice with.

So, yes, being a model helps, but fitness modeling is very different from what I was shooting. My modeling experience didn’t help with my shooting style, but it certainly helped me understand how to deal with models and understand what they’re thinking. From the photographer’s point of view, you are seeing something very specific from behind the lens and the model doesn’t always know what you want. Because of that, the model might not know how you want them to move, or how to capture the best light (I’m not big on flat light, by the way), so it does help a little.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: You’re self-taught as a photographer, what’s your opinion on learning through trial and error versus photography school?

Stephen: When I began, digital was just starting to hit and the learning curve was a lot harder than it is today. Trial and error was the easiest way to learn, because you can immediately see it on a digital camera and start changing whatever you’re doing; sadly, I see plenty of people that don’t actually learn from that, but that’s not the way my brain works. I mean, you take a picture and can immediately see what it looks like, so you can see if you like the lighting, or the angle and if you need to change something, you can. So, I think trial and error is probably the best way to learn, as long as you take advantage of the process, though.

I think workshops are helpful, and that’s why I’m choosing to spend more of my time teaching them. However, many of the students I see coming from the photography schools aren’t learning how to be creative on their own. I’m not exactly sure what these schools teach them, because they come out and they’re not necessarily good photographers: some have learned the technical stuff, but not the creative concepts; others are creative, but lack an understanding of the technical aspects. It’s certainly not what I would expect coming from two years of school.

Most of the people that I think are talented photographers learned from mentoring programs, where they assisted photographers, experimented with trial and error and, most importantly, shot a lot of pictures—I always tell people you should be shooting a lot.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: You mentioned trial and error as being essential to the learning process. Are there any examples from when you were getting started that stand out, any particular assignments (good or bad) or lessons learned that you still find valuable today?

Stephen: Before I shot digital, my girlfriend and I would take a piece of paper, and we’d write a number on it. I’d shoot a picture of her holding it with a lighting set up, we’d write down what we did, and then we would go develop the film at a 1-hour photo place. We’d look at all of the film and stare in total disbelief when we’d do something wrong—it wouldn’t make any sense! So, you would do it badly a couple times before you’d figure it out. Then, with digital, I think my learning curve went through the roof; you immediately could see what you were doing and what you needed to change.

MM Edu: Yeah, the feedback loop is faster, more convenient and affordable.

Stephen: Definitely, yeah, you get people complaining now that the price of cameras is so expensive. Theoretically, if you buy a higher-end DSLR camera, the price is somewhere in the 4,000 rolls of film before you hit break even. The difference is once you hit that you’ll be able to experiment more because you’re not paying for each shot. Time is another big factor. People forget the time involved in going back and forth to develop the film and everything else.

If you get a cheaper camera, it’s even faster. Entry-level DSLRs sell for around $700. In that case, you’re talking about less than 100 rolls of film before you hit your mark, and everything after that goes towards a profit margin. It does work out to be more cost efficient if you shoot a lot, but either way, the learning curve is faster now.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood; Model: Stefaniya

MM Edu: Why did you choose fashion and beauty photography?

Stephen: I like interacting with people and I like directing people, so I definitely wanted to shoot people as opposed to still life or something. I like the idea and concepts of lighting for still life (it’s a very specific type of lighting), and beauty uses a similar kind of lighting.

I originally started with glamour and shot a lot of glamour in the Playboy or Maxim style. Pictures like that tend to get a lot of “oohs and aahs,” because you’re shooting a hot girl who’s usually half-naked. So, you get used to a lot of people looking through your work saying positive things about every page. When I switched over to fashion, where it is more story oriented, it’s not full of “wow” shots on every page and that rather annoyed me a bit. So, I went back to beauty, and beauty put me right back into the “wow” category, with people saying great things about every page—often for no logical reason. For instance, shooting a full size picture of lips that takes up two pages isn’t difficult, but when people see it big they’re like wow, just so impressed. The same thing is true with eyes and things like that. Anytime you see a face up close that’s flawless, people instantly put it in the “wow” category. So, I’ve stuck mainly with beauty, but you can’t really do beauty without doing fashion on occasion. I also do a lot of commercial fashion, which isn’t very exciting (things like sweater campaigns, etc.).

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: You’ve touched on the business element there, and obviously, you’re very successful at the business and marketing side of being a photographer. How did you develop those skills, and what do you recommend for someone just getting started?

Stephen: Well, ideally from the business side you should have an agent, because photographers are notoriously bad at the actual business of photography, i.e., pricing, finding clients and so on. However, when you start out, you have to do it all. Agents don’t often come looking for you before you have clients, so you have to start out doing everything. I started little by little, mostly by word of mouth. I shot nearly every girl in almost all the agencies when I was starting. I met a lot of agents, and those same agents had clients that were not just looking for models, but also looking for new photographers, and little by little they would start recommending me. Those clients would end up going to work elsewhere, and they would end up recommending me there.

I had one client that booked me for a sweater shoot, and then she went to another company, and when she went there she booked me for that company (they had 26 sweater lines). I still had the first client, but that original recommendation led to the second. Then one of the people in one of those sweater lines left that company and started his own, and now he has seven sweater lines and I ended up shooting for him, too. Little by little, it all gradually expands. It’s about building public relations and networking. I would say that’s most of the business.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

I would say the best way for new photographers to learn is to get assisting jobs with photographers and to pay close attention to how they deal with clients. How do they market? What are their marketing materials like?

Direct mail does still work. Nowadays, everyone’s all about emails, but my clients get so many on a daily basis that most of them are never opened. Direct mail is something they never have to click on; it comes in the mail as a flyer or postcard and it’s delivered straight to them. If it interests them, they hang on to it. Some of my clients still have my postcards from back in 2002, and it’s an embarrassment to me. I walk in and I’m like, “Oh my God, can you throw that out? I’ll give you a new one!”

MM Edu: I’d like to expand upon why your business skills are so valuable by talking about rates. I’ve read that you can charge upwards of $10,000 for a shoot and have banked $300,000 as a percentage from an ad campaign. What are your current rates?

Stephen: It varies dramatically depending on the job and the client. You can have starting artists that are producing their first independent album and I’ll do that for $1,500 or so for an album cover shoot. However, if I were doing the same type of shoot for a big record label, I’d charge them $10,000.

I have commercial clients that do bulk work (for sweater campaigns and such), and they want volume shots, so it’s not like a one-day advertising shoot. It might be 8-10 days of shooting a month, plus all the retouching afterwards, so I have to price it a little bit lower. I can’t hit them with a $15,000 per day fee, because they’re just doing too much volume to want to pay that. So, in that case I drop it down and give them a lower package rate depending on how many outfits, how many looks, etc. Retouching usually comes in as a separate line item.

So, I think my rates currently range from anywhere from $1,500 to $12,000, but it can go up depending on usage and things like that. I’m not doing as much advertising usage as I used to, because I’m busy with sweaters! I’ve also been taking off more time because I recently got married, and I’ve been teaching more workshops, too.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: I was just about to ask, what do you like about workshops?

Stephen: I love teaching. I don’t think I would love teaching every day, but I do love teaching workshops. I like it because it also helps me learn new ways of thinking. You get questions that you would never have thought of from students, and most of my students aren’t kids. They’re older, retired or business people who took up photography as a hobby. What’s interesting is the way different people think of things, and sometimes they ask a question that just clicks something in your heard where you wouldn’t have ever thought of doing something like that. They may not be doing it well, but they give you a new idea that you can work on. I like that aspect of teaching. I also like seeing people improve; I get to see their advancements, which is thoroughly enjoyable. Before I was a photographer, I was teaching clinical and medical hypnosis, as well as Neuro-linguistic programming, and I even enjoyed teaching then.

MM Edu: How often do you teach workshops?

Stephen: Canon sends me around for a lot lecturing, which is nice because it hits a higher volume compared to the small workshops I do.

I’m probably averaging about 15, but there are a few different workshops: There are ones where I actually teach a full workshop, and then lectures that I do where Canon sends me to trade shows. Lectures are usually only an hour at a time and only for a couple days. I’m going to Massachusetts in two weeks, I think maybe for three weeks of lectures, and I have a workshop at the end of July. For the actual teaching workshops, I do five or six a year, and for seminars and lectures, I do about six a year, three days at a time. Every once and in a while, I’ll squeeze in something else or Canon will ask me to do something else. I’ll also do shootouts, I have a partner that I do shootouts with, they’re a little different but most of the workshop people will come to that because it’s less instruction and a good place to practice.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood; Model: Stefaniya

MM Edu: In addition to workshops, are there any other learning resources you recommend?

Stephen: When I started, I learned a lot from reading photo magazines, but magazines were more in-depth back then. Now everyone is teaching you how to use Photoshop, even in photography magazines, and don’t get me wrong, I live to retouch in Photoshop, but in a photography magazine I want to learn photography and in a retouching magazine I want to learn retouching. This wasn’t pre-Photoshop, but Photoshop wasn’t mainstream back then, so they were actually teaching you all the lighting rules, all the angles, and portrait stuff. Today, I would say YouTube is probably better, which is one of the best sources for new ideas and learning. There are also websites, like Creative Live, which broadcasts full photography workshops live. I would recommend watching those, and then go and practice shooting as much as possible.

Most importantly, pay attention to the back of the camera! That’s the biggest flaw I see in newer photographers: They’ll set something up, take a picture, look at the back of the camera and they won’t be happy, but they’ll still go ahead and shoot more pictures. Then the next day they won’t be happy with their pictures and you’ll ask them, “Did you like the first one?”, and they’ll say, “No, not really.” Did you think it would have gotten better on its own? Why didn’t you change something right away? It’s surprising how many people never change a thing—they set up, they shoot and they go onto the next thing. Why? If you didn’t like it right away, you should have changed it immediately. You can always put it back if you made it worse.

By the way, that’s not just amateurs, I’ve had one or two professionals where one of the complaints they had after going digital was that they kept blaming digital cameras. They’d say to me, “I’ve been lighting the same for 25 years and now it looks different.” Apparently, the photographer flat lights everything, hands his film to an art department and they would do all the retouching for him. All of sudden, he has a digital camera and he’s shooting tethered and he doesn’t understand why everything looks like crap. He doesn’t know why there aren’t any shadows, highlights or contour. He’s one of those people that won’t change a thing. You just have to ask him, did that make any sense to you? So yeah, I would say workshops and shooting a lot.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: Any recommended reading?

Stephen: There are some pretty good books. I like “Creative Lighting” and “Shoot.” Joe McNally has two that are excellent (“The Hot Shoe Diaries” is one). “Mastering Flash Photography” and the “Lighting Cookbook” are also pretty good.

MM Edu: You mentioned how some people struggled to transition from film to digital, was it difficult for you and do you have a preference?

Stephen: The day I took my first digital picture, I had my preference for digital, and it’s partially how I ended up working with Canon. My local camera store actually recommended Canon to contact me about their new digital cameras, they let me borrow one of their first digital SLRs and that was back in 1999. I was going to a shoot to use it as a digital Polaroid, just to take some test shots alongside film, and while I was doing that, I took a whole lot of digital Polaroids. I went home and retouched some of them with a little Photoshop and had already sent a couple of basic proofs over to a client who approved one of them, which in my mind I was like, “Uh, oh, now what?” They weren’t even supposed to be usable pictures! It was only a 3.3 megapixel image, and we ended up doing a billboard with it and you kind of hope and pray it’s going to look okay. In the end, there was no way you could tell the difference, not that a billboard is very difficult to print in the first place, but the first time you do it  from what you think is substandard digital file you’re a little bit nervous, and right after that I basically switched over to digital. I’d say about 80 percent of my clients wanted digital at that time, but there are still a couple clients who preferred film. And then about two cameras after that I think it’s when the 1DS came out I switched over completely to digital and I’ve been digital ever since.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: Do you have a favorite camera? Are you a gadget person?

Stephen: I’m a complete gadget person, I’m still a huge Canon 1DS Mark III fan and I love the Canon 5D Mark III.

MM Edu: You do most of your own post-production work, is this correct? Can you describe your set up and workflow?

Stephen: Yes, I do a majority of my own. For high volume catalog stuff, I sometimes farm out because it’s almost nothing to do there and sometimes it’s 2,000 pictures at a time, but anything beauty or ad related I do.

But, let’s start with the most unusual thing: I am a PC guy. Although I have a Mac, I am a PC guy almost exclusively. I have a MacBook because it’s nice and light, but even on that I run Windows. I use Breezebrowser  Pro to sort, I find it to be the fastest and most convenient software, and from there I go right into Photoshop, and right now I’m using CS6. I don’t use any plugins but I have a lot of preset actions, and presets and curves for adjustment layers.

It’s hard to say how much post-production work goes into a shoot, because it really depends on the specific shoot. Some shoots have very little involved, while other shoots require a tremendous amount of retouching. I do a lot of liquefy. If it’s a beauty shot, I generally try to start with a model with good skin; however, that’s not always possible, so I could go from 10-15 minutes per picture to two hours. Depending how involved I get, I may do large (40×60) prints in between, because first when you print a big poster you can see all of your flaws that you missed on screen.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: Who inspires you?

Stephen: Many people have inspired me over the years: Marino Parisotto, Robert Randall (he was on Model Mayhem for years and always inspired me), Alix Malka, Warren Du Preez, Nick Thornton Jones, Ishi, Benjamin Kanarek, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, Raphael Mazzucco, Greg Lotus, Michel Tcherevkoff, Greg Gorman, Armold Newman and Albert Watson.

MM Edu: What do you consider your major career achievements to date?

Stephen:  Becoming an Explorer of Light, because that was probably one of the goals that I had from early on when I started with Canon. I definitely set that as a goal and I think that’s pretty impressive, since there are only 62 of us.

MM Edu: Do you have a favorite location?

Stephen: Italy and Greece are two places that are nice. They have a little bit more culture. Places like the Grand Canyon, Utah’s Red Rock Country and Death Valley all interest me. New York is probably my least interesting location; it’s just so boring. I also like some parts of California, some architecture Miami and Louisiana.

MM Edu: What do you most enjoy about being a photographer and what do you least enjoy?

Stephen:  I like the constant interaction with people; generally speaking, I’m on good terms with everyone, and everybody is usually happy. Models are always happy that they’re working, and it’s usually a fun atmosphere to work in. My shoots tend be very laid back and easy going, kind of like a bunch of people hanging out and having fun, so work is very enjoyable that way. What do I like least? Probably the contractual side of the business, paper work and stuff like that. Oh, and you know one of the things I’m not too much of a fan of: writing bios.

Photographer: Stephen Eastwood

MM Edu: If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing instead?

Stephen: I’d probably still doing Neuro-linguistic programming and hypnosis.

MM Edu: What was it that you liked about that?

Stephen: The God complex that you’d get when you’d fix somebody. I’m just kidding! It’s about the challenge of fixing things and fixing people, and I like that.

MM Edu: What makes a good photograph? What do you look for in your work and from others?

Stephen: I think the answer is different for each part of that question. For my own work, I’m a little bit more crisp and exact; I like things to be exact.

In other people’s work, I look for something that causes me to think. I want their work to put me in a scene I can imagine. In my work it’s a little too hard for me to do that, because my imagination wouldn’t work because I was there creating it. But in someone else’s work, I don’t want it to be crisp, sharp or saturated, it just has to make me think and imagine what was going on.

MM Edu: You seem to be a big fan of cigars, where did that come from and what is your favorite?

Stephen: It actually came from having nothing else to do at country clubs with lots of people that were twice my age. Do I have a favorite? Sure, yeah probably still something called Drew Estate Tabak. They kind of taste like Kahlua, and they have a very mild mocha flavor.

MM Edu: And finally, what does Model Mayhem mean to you?

Stephen: I’ve been there for a very long time. I originally joined because a friend of mine talked me into it back in 2005. I started with my NYPHOTOGRAPHICS account, it’s a non-moderator account and so I’ve been on there for a while.

I like the forums, the forum interaction, being able to reach many people and answer a lot of questions. I gained a lot of information in the forum, too. You were asking me earlier about photographers that inspired me and Model Mayhem plays a big part. You can learn from anything, including the range of work on MM. I’ve learned some ideas from some great work and I’ve learned ideas from horrible work, ideas that were executed badly but the idea itself was sound and I know I can actually shoot it better. I’ve also learned some things not to do. And, the volume of pictures, you can literally go through hours and hours looking at stuff and find ideas and inspiration.

MM Edu: Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us.

Stephen: You’re welcome!

MM Edu

MM Edu brings you tips, advice, and knowledge in modeling, photography, post-production, style/makeup, and Using MM. The expertise comes from our beautiful and brilliant members!

More Posts - Website

Follow Me: