All images by Luke Fontana. Used with permission
Luke Fontana is a celebrity photographer–not the type that stalks them outside in public but instead the type that captures who they are in a single portrait. He went through the whole process of learning how to light and work with subjects the same way that many others dude, but Luke also is a talented networker to have shot the likes of Patrick Stewart and many more. And like many successful photographers, Luke agrees that it’s not all about the gear.
We spent some time chatting with Luke about his craft.
Phoblographer: You’ve shot lots and lots of celebrities. How did you first get into photography?
Luke: Photography was always in my family while I was growing up, and in high school I went halfsies with my dad on a DSLR kit. I quickly learned it was a great way to meet people and that really motivated me. Through an internship I did in college I learned about lighting and dealing with subjects. It took me awhile to figure out what I really enjoyed shooting, but once I found that I just ran with it.
Phoblographer: Lots of people confuse getting into the industry with needing the best gear possible at all times rather than putting an emphasis on networking and developing a portfolio. What do you have to say to something like this?
Luke: My photographer friends and I are constantly getting emails asking about what our specific settings were for particular shots, and we find it hilarious. The gear is something that we don’t spend too much time thinking about. Yes, it’s important to have the right tools to realize your vision, but that shouldn’t the main focus of your work. Photography is this special medium in which there is a very technical, mathematical side in addition to the creative side. I think lots of people can get caught up in the numbers. Maybe it’s just a left-brain/right-brain thing. Personally I don’t even know how to use a light meter, but those things don’t really matter if you can learn how to see. I’ve been using the same light and softbox since I was in college. There are only a couple shots in my portfolio that were lit with anything more than that.
Phoblographer: Tell us a funny story from one of your photo sessions.
Luke: Shooting with comedians can get pretty wild. I try not to get too goofy with my shoots, but depending on the personality of the subject, crazy things can happen. A few months ago I was working with two comedians in a hotel in Manhattan. Things started normally enough, but cut to an hour later and they’re jumping on the bed in their underwear. You just have to roll with the situation.
Phoblographer: Usually when you’re working with celebrities, you don’t always have a lot of time to shoot a lot due to time constraints. What do you usually do to prep and create the images that you want?
Luke: For these kinds of shoots I always arrive as early as I can. There’s rarely room for experimentation once the subject is on set, so I make sure I settle on a clear idea before they arrive. I’ll set up my lighting using an assistant as a stand-in and select a specific pose that I think works best for the situation. Once the subject is on set, I take one shot to make sure I don’t need to make any quick adjustments, then I just shoot and give any direction I feel appropriate. It doesn’t always work out the way I hope, but you just have to do the best with what you have.
Phoblographer: Most of your portraits have a very unique lighting to them. Why do you choose this particular setup?
Luke: I wouldn’t say that my lighting is unique, but rather that it is consistent. I’ve been using the same light modifier for over five years, but the way I use it constantly evolves. Portability is a key component to my set-up too, so I can take my kit on the subway if I need to. There’s plenty of ways to get a specific look, but getting 100% comfortable with the gear you already have is definitely better than having a bunch of new toys.
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