Justin Clemons, a University of North Texas alumni, is an editorial and commercial photographer based out of Dallas. Some of Justin’s clients include Texas Monthly, NY Times, and American Airlines. While Justin travels some for work, he says he is most inspired by Texans!
How did you get started in photography?
I started taking some photo classes in college, and enjoyed the classes so much that I just kept taking more and more until I decided to make it my major. Strangely, I never really considered myself very creative growing up. I was actually an embarrassment in high school art class, but I absolutely loved the process of creating. In college, I learned to loosen up and not to be so controlling, and I also learned about design, composition, textures, concepts, etc.
The biggest component that pushed me into pursuing photography on a professional level was my professor Dornith Doherty. She saw something in my work and told me that I could make it in the real world doing photography. I interned for a summer putting together kitchen appliances and cabinets to be photographed by a JCPenney’s photographer and loved every minute of it! During this time, I learned about lighting techniques, business strategies and dealing with clients, and I finally started to make the leap toward having my own business. From then on, I worked on building up my portfolio and started pursuing editorial work.
I think it’s really important to have your business and brand spread out like fingers in lots of different areas instead of just one single promotion tactic.
How do you manage the business side of photography? How do you promote yourself to potential clients?
Oh my gosh! So much time and energy is put into getting estimates together, producing jobs, managing assistants and crew, dealing with clients, billing, TAXES, post-production, promoting, updating websites, updating blogs, updating work on other websites and being active on social media. I am forced to do the business side. Business isn’t my strong suit, but I make it happen.
I think it’s really important to have your business and brand spread out like fingers in lots of different areas instead of just one single promotion tactic. I have both an editorial and an advertising list. I try to do a printed piece about twice a year. I am working on a magazine size promo piece at the moment. I am on some websites that show photographers and their work in order for creatives to go and find good shooters. Some of these have a monthly fee and some are free like: PhotoServe , Wonderful Machine , and FoundFolios. Hopefully, I Love Texas Photo soon too, haha. Carissa (my rep) sets up lots of book showing at ad agencies and I try to stay pretty consistent with updating my blog. Social media is playing a decent size role in promoting these days as well. It’s just a good way of showing that you are busy shooting cool stuff and helps keep your name and work on people’s minds. I mostly use Instagram (@justinclemons).
What would your ideal/dream assignment be?
I recently shot a job for a publication called Whiskey Advocate. The piece was focused on a small whiskey distillery in Waco, TX called Balcones.
It was one of those jobs where at the end of the day, I got in bed thinking, “Today was a really amazing day!” And then I thought, “I actually get paid to do this!”
It was just so much fun walking around this whiskey plant having Chip (head distiller and owner) explain the whole process while showing you the storage of old wood barrels and letting you taste all of their amazing whiskeys (After I got my shot of course)! I love learning new things and experiencing new things. I love people that are specialists in what they do and love doing it – people that had a dream and followed it. So, maybe my dream job would be traveling around shooting people that are creating something they love and learning about their process while I’m there.
Why have you chosen Dallas as the place to work and be?
It’s pretty simple really… family. Dallas is where both my wife and I are from, so we have a huge web of friends and family around here. It would be difficult to leave that behind. And since graduating college in 2003, I have had 10 years of making connections and relationships in the Dallas photo world, connections that continue to lead to jobs. It would be really hard to start that whole process all over again somewhere else. I really like the people in Dallas. I just wish we had better weather and terrain.
Who have been or are your influences and mentors?
Like I said earlier, my professor Dornith Doherty was a huge mentor for me. I share studio space with Andy Klein, Scott Slusher and Matt Hawthorne, which is an amazing privilege. All three guys are extremely talented in different areas, and we all get along really well. It is so helpful putting together a series or promo piece and being able to get them to come look at it and get their opinion. Specifically those who Influence my work and style, I would have to say people like… Eric Ogden, Peter Yang, Dan Winters, Chris Buck, Chris Crisman and Julia Fullerton-Batten to name a few.
Where do you find inspiration in Texas?
I find inspiration in the people of Texas rather than a location. There are some extremely talented and interesting people that are doing really creative things that I am challenged by. If I were forced to name a place, I would have to say my backyard. Just sitting back there on a nice day smoking a cigar and sipping on scotch relaxes me to the point that my mind can wonder.
Do you feel that social media (twitter, facebook, and instagram) has impacted or changed the way you do business? Has it helped more than hurt?
For better or worse, it has changed things somewhat. Negatively, it adds another thing for me to do. I always feel like I’m not Instagraming, tweeting or on Facebook enough. I always feel behind in those areas, and when I do make time for it, it seems it’s when I’m at home or at dinner with my wife and daughter and should be paying attention to them. On the positive side, it is a way for people to see that I’m busy and I’m shooting interesting work. Social media is a good way to keep on the front of job giving people’s minds. I do have some art directors and creative directors I know that follow me on Instagram. It just raises their perception of you. When you are posting images from shoots or BTS shots from locations or you are just able to make everyday life look cool in photos, they put a higher value on you and your work. They feel they can trust important shoots to you.
Who are some of your most recent or notable clients?
Some recent clients include: Texas Monthly, D Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc Magazine, DFW Airport, and Walmart.
When you are posting images from shoots or BTS shots from locations or you are just able to make everyday life look cool in photos, they put a higher value on you and your work.
What is the must have item in your camera bag aside from the camera? Most interesting thing in there?
Wrigley’s Doublemint gum is a must. No matter how cool or good you are, if you got skanky breathe nobody wants to talk to you.
What goes into setting up a portrait shoot for you?
I just like to be as prepared as possible, because I don’t like surprises.
I’ll answer this as if I was shooting an editorial portrait….
I want to shoot in a place that describes what they do visually, but isn’t cluttered or boring. If people will give me the time, I try to show up at least an hour and a half before I am supposed to shoot the portrait.
When I get there, I meet the contact person and get them to give me a tour of the facility in order to scout where I want to shoot. While I am doing this, my assistant is unloading all of the equipment from the vehicle. I’ll pick out two locations (minimum) where we can shoot. I explain to my assistant what lighting I want to use and where we will be shooting first, and we get to work putting it all up.
Once the lights are up and placed in the area I feel is good, my assistant stands in as the subject, and I photograph him. We make tweaks and changes until I’m excited about the image. We will do this at the two or three locations I have picked before the subject arrives.
The subject is sometimes in a hurry and doesn’t have a whole lot of time to shoot, so we are as prepared as we can be. If the subject is in a hurry or doesn’t like pictures, we still get good shots, because we have everything set. They can just walk up, shoot and they are done. If the subject is cool and doesn’t mind pictures, its even better.
We can take our time, try different things, add in some relevant props, have him move around some, and get amazing shots. So much of it depends on the subject. But even if you have a boring, crabby subject, if you have cool composition, great lighting and interesting background, you can still get a good photo for your client. I just like to be as prepared as possible, because I don’t like surprises.