I spent the better half of my career shooting all sorts of colorful and bright portraits for magazines and ad campaigns– with an occasional still life editorial in the mix. Once I began working with creative prop stylists in the studio I really started to see how much more control I could have creatively and conceptually with still life and products than I did when photographing people. As the calls for editorial assignments slowed down back in 2018, I really began pushing the brand + product photography side of my skill set thru our production company Sludge Studio.
" Nothing seems to compare to when I finally made the decision to stay true to my style and weirdness– and that’s when we created Sludge Studio and when I really started to attract clients that were looking for the skills and creative style that I offer. "
What was your background before photography?
I am self-taught in photography (aside from the high school dark-room film days). In my early twenties I began working in the industry through various production roles: photo assistant, production assistant, and art department. It was almost like going to art school, expect I was getting paid to learn from the pros. It gave me a good foundation for understanding how the business of photography works and what I needed to do to find some amount of success.
You’ve worked with some pretty prolific and exciting brands! How did you find and book your first-ever clients? Did you reach out first, or did they find you organically?
This is a tricky question to answer, as I’ve been doing this professionally for 14 years...
The way this industry works has changed dramatically, that’s for sure! I can say, these days, a majority of our clients find us through word-of-mouth/colleague recommendations. (We do get an occasional new client inquiry through Instagram too.) As a freelance photographer I used to spend SO MUCH time and money designing and printing mailers, making expensive new portfolios, sending out email campaigns, and sure some of that worked over the years. Nothing seems to compare to when I finally made the decision to stay true to my style and weirdness– and that’s when we created Sludge Studio and when I really started to attract clients that were looking for the skills and creative style that I offer.
I love how bold you are with colors, how did you develop your style in colors for photography?
Thank you! It’s hard to say where my color-style came from. Looking back, bright lighting and bold colors have always played a part in my art. I supposed I lean into playfulness and these colors palettes because the world can be a not-so-joyful place to be sometimes, so if I have the option to go wild with color or not, I’m gonna go WILD.
" I typically take the lead on the creative side of any projects we’re working on, while Jon handles client management and shoot production. At the end of the day we both support each other as much as possible– everything is very much a team effort. "
What piece of advice would you give to other creatives who are just starting to dabble in product photography?
My first piece of advice to anyone looking to get into the photo industry is to find a professional photographer/studio whose work you admire (and who is shooting the type/style of stuff you want to shoot too) and reach out to see if you can assist them. Even just a few times in the studio with someone who knows what they are doing can vastly improve your skills. You just get a finer understanding of all the components of a still life shoot.
Second piece of advice– learn how to light! Natural window light is cool and easy, but find ways to utilize atificial light to make your photos stand out from all the noise.
What are three must-have set styling tools or resources you can’t live without?
Oooh. I love styling tools! Let’s see…
- Acrylic cubes for propping things up (in various sizes)
- Loooong tweezers (in various sizes)
- Metal step-blocks (in various sizes)
You two seem to masterfully partner with one another in everything you do. How do you two split up your specific tasks and responsibilities?
About a year ago, when Jon and I decided to combine our strengths and develop Sludge Studio together, it took us a couple of months to really sort out each of our responsibilities. We decided that I would take on the role of Creative Director and Principal Photographer, which made sense as all our photography clients were coming to me for exactly that. And after wearing all these different hats over the years while running my freelance business (photographer, art director, stylist, producer, etc) I was eager and relieved to have Jon on the team as our Executive Producer and Set Designer. His background in custom fabrication, project management, and theatre set design was a perfect fit for Sludge (not to mention, he’d been on-and-off photo assisting for me for years). I typically take the lead on the creative side of any projects we’re working on, while Jon handles client management and shoot production. At the end of the day we both support each other as much as possible– everything is very much a team effort.
What advice would you give other creative duos to help strengthen their work and partnership?
Ha! Well, we are married, so there is definitely a built-in trust and support system that we have been nurturing for well over a decade. One thing I have learned working this closely with each other is to take the time to listen to one another. At the end of the day I think we all just want to be heard and appreciated.
And last (but certainly not least), what exciting projects or updates do you have in store for 2022?
We had the awesome opportunity to shoot a big campaign for IZZE (soft drink) back in December! It was one of those big shoots where everyone worked together and kicked ass and we all left the studio happy as heck once we wrapped. Those images should be going live sometime in the next month, so stay tuned for radness!
Oh! And we also just moved Sludge into a new studio space at the beginning of the year. We have so much more room for shooting, prop storage, and hanging out. Plus we just picked up a new 3D printer to start designing our own custom shapes and risers, so that’s something else we are looking forward to getting into this year!
See more of their work!
@nicolleclemetson and @sludgestudio