Commercial photographer Jonathon Kambouris
Interview with professionals series
Jonathon Kambouris was born and raised in a state that resembles a mitten. In 2001 he moved to a state that is known for empires and apples. After studying art and photography at parsons school of design, Jonathan learned the business by assisting leading artists and creatives in the industry.
In 2012 mr. JK Studio was born which specializes in art direction, high fashion, beauty and conceptual photography.
Jonathon, as far as I know, you’ve been studying photography at Parsons School of Design. How did you decide that you want to be a photographer? Did you work at related areas?
I was always artistic and originally studied painting. I grew up loving artists such as; Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat and Jackson Pollock to name a few.
When I was a senior in high school I discovered black and white photography.I learned how to process film and print my own pictures and I was hooked. I made a portfolio and got into art school. Once I was in school I realized that I wanted to be a commercial photographer so I could mix being creative as well as running a business. I find that having a photo studio is a perfect balance of the two.
Can you describe your experience when you worked with already established and well known photographers? What did you do at the beginning of your career?
When I first got my start I assisted photographers to learn about the business, have flexible hours and make money to support getting my photo career going. At times it was very hard, I worked long labor intensive hours, mopped floors and dealt with many colorful personalities. However, I think it is super important to pay my dues and get my hands dirty. I had my fair share of this and while I was assisting I was starting to shoot my own editorials for low budget magazines.
From each story I shot I made connections and built relationships with photo editors. One story led to the next and then another magazine saw my work and hired me to shoot for theirs and the whole cycle continued. It was a long process and did not happen over night. But, I stayed dedicated and my resilience paid off and got me to the place where I am today.
How did you find you very first clients? What’s the most important thing to hook people by your works?
My first client was shooting a story for a small Brooklyn Graffiti and pop culture magazine called Mass Appeal. Sadly they are no longer around. A friend of a friend introduced me to the photo editor, I went in for a meeting, showed him my work and he assigned me my first story a few weeks after that. I think the most important thing to keep connected with clients and future potential clients is having new and fresh work to show.
I try to do test work every few months to use as promotional work. This work has won many awards and got me plenty of jobs. Clients want to see who the photographer is and what they really love to photograph. By testing I create work that I care about and shows my vision.
You shoot a lot of different things. What kind of products attract you the most as a photographer? Do you like challenges or prefer to shoot well known stuff?
I don’t think I am necessarily attracted to a specific product. I am however very interested in concepts and applying creative concepts to commercial work. I am more than just a photographer and technician. Clients hire me for the art-direction and concepts I provide for them to create images for their brand. So I am most interested in being creative and conceptualizing ideas.
Do you work with team? If so, how many people involved in a regular photoshoot?
I have a team of assistants, usually one lighting assistant and one digital tech. I also have a post production/retoucher that I work very closely with. Often I collaborate with a prop stylist as well, typically I like to keep my sets to a minimum amount of people, however, the bigger the job usually the more people are involved. My ideal working situation is my two “go to” assistants, my retoucher, and my favorite prop stylist.
How do you keep your vision fresh in a daily routine? Any mental tricks you use to stay creative for each photoshoots?
Sometimes it can be hard to produce new and fresh ideas. It can get exhausting. I usually find inspiration from dreams and unexpected places. Maybe I have a crazy dream and I use part of that dream and apply it to something that I can use in a photograph for a client.
I like to sketch ideas a lot and file creative visuals that I come across and find inspiring. I am an active runner and soccer player- I find this helps to keep me energized, clears my head and pushes me forward in my career.
How do you find clients? What kind of media and social platforms you use to reach new contacts?
I find clients and market to clients in a lot of different ways. I don’t think any single way is the answer however I strongly believe marketing on various different platforms is a strong formula for success. I pay to subscribe to a few marketing and client source companies such as Le Book, Agency Access and At-Edge. I send out a printed promotional mailer at least once a year to roughly 500 clients and potential clients. I email directly to countless editors and art buyers on a monthly or semi-monthly basis updating them with new work, campaigns, and projects.
I also promote on social media, specifically Instagram a lot. I use this as a blog for new work, personal projects and behind the scenes imagery. From this I have built a little following and can connect with other creatives in the industry. It is free and a great way to advertise work. All of these things come together and has been my marketing strategy for the last few years.
What equipment you use in a studio (camera, lenses, lighting etc)?
I shoot with a medium format Mamiya DF+ body and Credo 50 digital back with Schneider lenses. My equipment is Broncolor, I love the quality of light I get with this lighting.
Do you have a vision what will be with photography industry in the next 10 years? Do you prepare yourself for upcoming changes?
I try not to think that far ahead. What is most important as a photographer and especially a commercial photographer is being able to adapt to change. One thing that I have had to deal with in my short career so far is the high demand for quality imagery as well as creating moving imagery. Clients want both now to be able to display on different print and digital platforms. I try to take every year as it comes, embrace change and continue to be inspired by the field I work in.
How to succeed as a photographer nowadays? I’ve heard a sentence there are a lot of photographers now, but only a few good photographers. Do you agree with that statement?
There are a lot of photographers today, the real question is how many of them make an actual living being a photographer and what makes their work worth money? There is a lot of competition for sure but I try to not focus on my peers too much and really focus on myself. Setting goals and having high expectations is something that pushes me forward. I am constantly trying to grow my work and create visuals that I am proud of. Every shoot I do I learn something new and I have a strong excitement and desire to keep going.
When a client hires me they are not hiring just a photographer they are hiring me for my ideas and art-direction as well. I think this is very important and makes me stand out from the rest. To be honest photography really excites me. I get a thrill and there is nothing that fulfills me more than the satisfaction of creating visuals. This excitement drives me to succeed.
Could you tell about your methods how to break away from competitors?
Personal vision is what separates one photographer from another. You could have 5 different photographers photograph the same subject and you will most likely get 5 completely and totally different results. Light, composition, vision and style all contribute to what makes each photographer’s work unique. It is important to stay true to this vision.
A photo editor once said when they look at a photographer’s portfolio book that every page should look the same. What she meant by this is not that it should be the same image but every picture should feel like the same photographer. Most clients hire me for my vision, not just my lighting or composition but for my ideas. I like to art-direct my shoots and I think this is something that gives me an advantage from my competitors.
What would you suggest to beginner photographers which wants to be a pro?
The way that I made it to where I am today is by assisting and emerging myself into the photographic industry. I worked for various photographers and studios and learned about lighting and how to function and make money as a photographer. This was key for me, it gave me the flexibility to work freelance and support myself while I worked diligently on my portfolio and got my career going. My advice for someone trying to make it as a photographer would be to contact a working photographer that you admire and ask if they need an assistant or an intern, do what ever you can to work for them, even if it means working for free for a little while.
Emerge yourself in this world and learn from someone who is successful. Then you can take that knowledge and apply it to your own career. There is so much to learn from a successful photographer thriving in this industry. This is something school can never teach you.