Dennis Murphy: A Great Advertising Photographer Who Barely Photoshops

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My name is Dennis Murphy. I’m an advertising photographer based in Dallas, TX. I’ve shot on four continents for clients such as Ducati, American Airlines, GM, Pepsi, and Nike. My greatest pride is that my photographs reside in the collections of both of my daughters.

I shoot with Canon, Phase One, Hasselblad, and Sony and will use any lens available. For lighting, I use either Profoto or Broncolor. I’ve been shooting for over 30 years and have been shooting exclusively digital since 2005. I approach every project with an open slate with regard to equipment and technique. I get as much enjoyment shooting outside or in the studio. Although this article is about getting it all in-camera, I also appreciate what Photoshop can bring to a concept.

I got into photography when I was eleven. My Dad, who was a chemical engineer, loved to shoot, and because of my interest he built a home darkroom for us to use. I have a B.S. in Photography from what is now Texas A&M Commerce.

My biggest influencers have been Ernst Haas, Jay Maisel, W. Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon, and Neil Leifer. But, the list of influences is lengthy and in today’s world of social media, literally every image is an influence. I’m drawn more to the work of the “craftsman” than the current trend of “snapshot”.

I’ve been shooting nearly my entire life and I’ve been shooting professionally, as a freelancer, since the ’80s. Evolve? In photography, you either change with it, or it will change without you.

My Identity? I think my clients hire me to help them solve the problems of production in relation to the creative concept. They also know that I’ll give everything I’ve got and will come in on time, and on budget. My wife and both my daughters work in the motion side of the advertising and content production industry. My wife’s a wardrobe stylist, my oldest is in production design in LA and my youngest is a producer in Texas. When we talk or get together, the projects that we’re each working on dominates the conversation. When I shoot for myself, I like to bring a lot of unique visual elements to the shoot that I try to solve.

I listed my gear above. If I don’t own it, I rent it. Plus add gyro stabilizers, walkie talkies, underwater gear, safety harnesses, lenses from 14mm to 600mm. If I don’t know what type of equipment to use, I usually talk with the rental houses to see what’s available and then use the web to learn how to make it work for me. I like to solve problems with lighting, cameras, and grip gear. As an example, the shot of the oranges in the back of the pickup truck. It’s a personal photo, meaning no client. Each orange has a clear 10-watt bulb (on a Christmas tree stringer) crammed inside of it. Those are torso mannequins, the hats are attached to the ceiling of the cab, the back window was removed to prevent glare (plus it was cracked pretty bad) and those are actually peach trees. It was shot on 8×10 film at dusk. The swimmer with the goggles (also a personal image) had the swimmer tied to the ladder of the pool so that she was, for the most part, swimming in place.  It was shot with a 200mm lens. To be able to get it framed like that, and that close, with that amount of detail, would’ve been impossible if she was swimming normally (unattached). The shot of the duck’s foot was part of a personal series of animal paws and claws. All live animals and none were harmed. Shot at wildlife rehabilitation refuges.

I shoot with both artificial and natural light. Love to mix them both.

Shooting brings me happiness. It also brings me money. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love and to share what I see. I recently read a quote by Walter Isaacson that, “a vision without execution is a hallucination”. Damn. That’s got to be the most motivational phrase a photographer could ever hear. And it could be adapted to pretty much any of the arts.

I’m definitely more of a creator than a documenter. What’s going through my mind when I’m working on the process? I first try to envision the final image then work out how I’m going to get there. Then figure out how to do it within budget. The quote by Isaacson sums that up.

I shoot a lot of different genres. Some are dictated by the assignment. My favorite is probably shooting action, staged, where I can control all the elements. I also like shooting water. When shooting for myself, I like to have no rules. To be honest, my work doesn’t resonate with everyone, whether it’s a client or just a random viewer. They’re just photographs, and I’m just trying to do the best I can. Some people will think: ‘cool’, others will be more like: ‘meh’.

To be totally clear, every one of these images has been in Lightroom or photoshop. But, it’s all minimal stuff, like basic cleanup or levels. I chose these images because of what was done on set, and in-camera. No matter what I shoot, I’m almost always tethered with Capture One.

All images by Dennis Murphy. Used with permission. Check out his website and his Instagram.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.