Photographer Conor Harrigan on Creating Scenes Based On His Vision of the World

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All images by Conor Harrigan. Used with permission.

Conor Harrigan is a photographer that hails from NYC and is one of those shooters who when you stumble upon his work are absolutely dumbfounded. Harrigan not only utilizes some of what NYC offers in terms of locations, but much of what the connected Long Island does as well. His work teaches us that there is a lot that goes into the production of an image–and that each image should have a ton of effort and feel like a production. He puts a high emphasis on the lighting, composition, etc. but mostly goes along with the flow to create the best images that he can.

We had some time to talk with Conor recently about his work. Be sure to also check out his Instagram.

Phoblographer: Of most modern day up and coming photographers out there, we have to say that your sense of composition is amongst the most impeccable that we’ve seen. What’s the secret behind your seemingly natural ability for this?

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Conor: Thank you. It is funny you say that, because I’ve actually been told my composition is somewhat strange by many people. So, I bought my first DSLR (Nikon D40) in my senior year of college. Prior to that, all I carried around was a Samsung point and shoot. A friend at the time, who was an experienced photographer, told me that the best thing I could do for myself was to purchase a fixed lens. So, I purchased a 35mm f1.8, and that was all I used for about one year. I offer that same advice to people now. Using only a fixed lens during the “beginning” stage of photography is key. Really makes us think about how we are composing a photo. Currently I’m considering how I can totally rethink my composition.

Phoblographer: Your formal portraits often seem to mix darkness and beauty. What makes you do this?

Conor: You know, it’s a question I have a hard time responding to. I’d have to say that the mood in my photos reflects my world view. The world is beautiful, yet incredibly dark. We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity and “progress,” yet we are part of a world that is currently in one of the most unstable states we’ve ever witnessed. For as connected as we’ve become, we are just as fractured. So, in a sense, I think my photography conveys what I see about the world, and about people. We’re beautiful, but we have a dark side. We experience feelings and moments of happiness, beauty, contentment, and satisfaction, but there are always the antithetical moments of isolation, despair, etc.

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Phoblographer: Tell us about the gear and editing process that you use.

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Conor: My gear set up is relatively simple. I use a Canon 5D Mk II body, paired with a 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8, 135mm f2, and 24-105mm f4. I’d say 60% of my photos are taken with my 135mm f2. That lens is such a beast. I do enjoy natural light, but lately I have been really enjoying shooting outside with my Genesis 200 light and neutral density filter combo. Love using a studio light outside at, say, f/1.8, 2, 2.8. I use Lightroom for my post-work. It really is a great program. I’ve learned quite a bit on it, and now I am looking to expand my knowledge into Photoshop.

Phoblographer: Tell us about where you get your final vision for the images that you take. Many of them seem cinematic and almost story boarded.

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Conor: I usually just let a shoot develop over time. I’m starting to find that my best photos have come from just walking around, observing the scene, and just letting things develop naturally.

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Phoblographer: Your sense of lighting is also very good. When you approach a scene and subject, what is going through your mind? Do you put an emphasis on lighting, posting, composition, etc? Or all in a specific order?

Conor: I definitely consider the angles of light first. Then I consider the pose of the model, of which I am very instructional and particular. Once the light and general posing are set, I then move to composition, and fine tuning the pose. I am SUPER particular about poses. Any of the women I’ve shot with will attest to that.

Phoblographer: What inspires you as a photographer? Is it the work of others?

Conor: I really love the work of my friends Amanda Diaz in Canada, Carl Timpone here in New York, and Sarah Orbanic out in California. All very inspirational. Amanda’s post production is something I really enjoy. I enjoy the artistically-driven scenes created by Carl (he has been a great mentor, and I still assist him on shoots to this day), and the beautiful, clean, full lighting employed by Sarah. I encourage everyone to Google their work. My motivation, though? Really just to document life. You know, as photographers, we are not simply documenting life, we are battling death, giving people things that will live on after both we and they are gone.

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In many senses, photography is an artistic pursuit, where a photographer is driven by their artistic inclinations. However, there is another side of photography, one that moves at the behest of an imperative, where we aren’t working in the interest of artistic development, but in the interest of human need. That need, that imperative; it is collective remembrance. Documentation. This is, in a sense, the “utility” side of photography. We NEED people there to cover our wars, natural disasters, victories, and celebrations. It helps society remember things in a collective way. Our work helps to “memorialize” impactful events, if you will.

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Phoblographer: Most of your work is centered around people. What attracts you to the subjects that you work with?

Conor: I enjoy shooting with people and seeing what sort of demeanor comes out most in the photos. Sometimes, a subject will exude a gentle demeanor. Sometimes, a notion of confidence, bordering on arrogance. I like that; seeing different attitudes develop in front of the camera. I’m also a very social person, so it’s nice to get to meet new people and chat with them.

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