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Clay Blackmore on a Lifetime of Photography and Staying Inspired

by Chris Gampat on 07/16/2013

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All images by Clay Blackmore

Clay Blackmore has been shooting for longer than some of us have been alive and breathing. The photographer was trained by the legendary Monte Zucker and has been teaching workshops as well as professionally shooting for years. His images, no matter what he is shooting, elicit the feel of a fine art painting. His compositional and overall photographic skills are unparalleled due to his methods of developing new ideas and adapting to the industry.

We had a chance to chat with Clay recently and pick his brain on some insights into the industry.

Also: Clay Blackmore is doing a workshop on creativeLive later on this month on July 29th – 31st called, “Pose it, Light it, Love it.

Phoblographer: You’ve been photographing for years and years. In all of our careers, we see a point where our work starts to improve dramatically. Tell us about that major climax point in yours?

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Clay: I have been very fortunate to carry the bags for some of the world’s top photographers. My mentor, for example, Monte Zucker and I traveled throughout the world sharing ideas on posing, lighting and refining portraits. Monte’s influence on the world of wedding photography has been unsurpassed. Carry the bags for 10 years the constant drip of Monte’s 50 plus years finally rubbed off on me. Monte would always teach using live projection through a video feed. I think I am still one of the few, if not the only teacher working with Live View to show the evolution of each image as I make it in front of an audience.

We were at the PPA trade show in 1990 and Monte had a spot in a booth and he was no where to be found….being tugged in so many directions at those large shows, it was not surprising. We had a model and I went to work. Using the live video feed to share the images made all of the difference for me and the light bulb seemed to go off for me. This was way before the days of digital. I knew that I was getting great images as I could begin having the finished picture in my mind and create it on the screen. Using the live feed became my regular thing and it gave me a great deal of confidence, as there is no place to hide…the images were out in the public as we were making the refinements..

Phoblographer:  How do you search for new ideas and formulate new concepts when shooting?

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Clay: New ideas often come to me from old books. I collect many master photographers’ best portfolios and constantly strive to create imagery that would stand up to their work. Why re-invent the wheel? Some of the best work that will ever happen was done years ago. On the reverse side of that coin is the Internet that is a constant drum beat, 27/7 of imagery. I am watching for ideas every day there, too.

Phoblographer:  A lot of your images have a feeling of being a fine art painting. How did you develop this technique?

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Clay: The comment is very flattering. I think composition and lighting play the major role. When a painter is ready to create his masterpiece, knowing he could be on that canvas for months, maybe a year or more, the artist will begin with solid foundations of composition, posing and lighting.

Phoblographer:  What has been one of the biggest business challenges you’ve faced in your years?

Clay: The biggest business challenge for me is simply being a solid manager with my staff and learning to: do it, delegate it, or dump it! Many times I have to get into everyone’s business too often and show him or her a better way of doing the project. Constantly trying to surround myself with good people is one thing. The more important thing is taking their advice.

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Phoblographer:  These days, everyone talks about how photography is changing and going more and more mobile. But no one hits home on how it’s important that we put creativity first. What do you think of this whole debate going on in our times right now?



Clay: Photography is going more mobile. From the day I joined Monte in 1984, however, we took the entire studio to the events and to the customers’ homes. We were mobile, but not traveling as light as we can today with the advent of smaller and lighter equipment. Battery operated flashes can make incredible results when harnessed correctly. Trying to travel light, however, can be a disguise for being lazy. I think many photographers are trying to take the easy way out. For me, taking the entire studio, with a great assistant and second photographer going all the way is the easy way out! The creativity will flow when you are in your element, with no surprises.

Phoblographer:  Tell us about what’s in your gear bag these days.

Clay: My gear bag is pretty solid. For cameras the Canon 5D Mark III has been an amazing addition to my battery of bodies. I am a huge fan of all of the Canon glass, especially the faster lenses in the 1.2 family and supreme wide angles. We are creating DSLR films on a regular basis so owning most of Canon’s prime lenses is a big plus. Studio lights include: ProFoto D1 Air, and the FJ Westcott Spider Lights. When we are combining our efforts with photo and video I might be using the Tiffen Blenders to help us share the light. Portable lights include the new Canon 600 Rt’s and my favorite Quantum Q Flashes. We take posing stools, backgrounds and posing blocks and step ladders everywhere we go.

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Phoblographer:  If you had to give one piece of advice to a photographer that wants to quit their day job and go full time with their passion, what would it be?

Clay: Quitting a day job for photography is a tough decision and I think if I were looking for the full time photography position I might work for another photographer for a few years to learn the day to day tasks of running and owning a successful business.

Also: Clay Blackmore is doing a workshop on creativeLive later on this month on July 29th – 31st called, “Pose it, Light it, Love it.” Be sure to check it out.

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