Q&A with Weston Fuller
I've been following Weston Fuller's work for years now. I believe the very first image I saw of his was from his Atlas Project. I'm a sucker for a good CGI or complex composite image. Once I saw that his work often centered around purpose and specifically the health of the earth/ocean, I knew I was a big fan.
"Catch & Recycle: Spear Fishing" by Weston Fuller
I was lucky enough to be an assistant on set recently for Weston and can say with confidence he brings no ego to his sets. He treats everyone with respect and expresses interest in each person's input on the project. Assistants in particular don't always get this kind of treatment in our industry (I can say from personal experience) and it was such a calming and refreshing interaction to have that respect from the head honcho on set.
Following in line with his character of kindness, Weston offered to answer any questions I may have and I instantly took him up on that. I was interested in knowing how he got to where he was professionally and what lessons he had learned along the way
Q: What differences do you see in your career from your 20's to your 30's to your 40's?
A: I started later in my life to pursue photography as a career and didn’t really get into photography until my mid-30’s. Although I wasn’t considering myself a professional in photography in my 20’s I still was looking at the industry and viewing commercial photography as an active observer. So, I have some opinions but can’t speak to being fully engaged with the business side of running a photography business until my 30’s.
When I was in my 20’s photography was switching from analog/film to digital. I started to notice a more creative approach that blended photography and composites more seamlessly than before. Because of the analog to digital transition in the industry it was a huge factor for me to rediscover photography in my life with the ability to have a “digital darkroom” embedded into my computer for all image processing. Prior to this, it kept me from being as involved with photography because I didn’t have the means or resources to access a wet/dark room.
In my 30’s I was doing a lot of self-discoveries with photography and went back to school to earn my MFA from the Academy of Arts, in San Francisco. Digital photography was primed and was the main focus for instructors and students to interact with each other, especially since my classes were online. I observed that the creative side and the ability to access professional grade images was being globally accepted by the advertising and art world as well as the mass public. DSLR cameras were the main tool for most photographers who were taking the leap from point-and-shoot cameras to pursuing their professional and amateur careers.
In my 40’s I think it’s sad to say that social media has been the big driving factor that is leading the industry. Advertising agencies are budgeting around the social platform and no longer print campaigns. Camera makers are pushing functions that help speed the use of capture rates to publishing in social media, and video is taking the lead with ad agencies looking to have both video and stills created for everything. Camera makers are providing professional camera bodies that also can provide a dual role in taking stills and video to appeal to everyone who wants to create digitally. I think this is also creating a larger separation of artists who can create. There are those that want to be more of a purest and not mix all the digital advances into once career or one camera, so film, stills, and videos are all finding their place again in the art world.
Q: Was there anything about the industry that you struggled to learn or understand in the past?
A: We all have our strengths and it’s impossible to do everything and everything well, so there are a lot of things that I feel I can do well and a lot of things that I definitely struggle with. So here’s a big one for me…..trying to identify myself as a single genre photographer. This is truly the hardest question for me to answer because as I’ve learned and experimented with all types of photography, I have loved specifics about each genre that I still use in all my photography today, but I don’t consider myself a still life photographer although I shoot still life. I don’t consider myself a portrait photographer, but I shoot portraits regularly and this also goes for landscapes, architecture, lifestyle, etc. I hear it often that if you want to take photography seriously as a career you need to focus on one genre and work that part of the industry until you’re successful. I agree and disagree with this, and I think back to an example an instructor told me in my first year at art school:
"QUESTION: What is the difference between the photo of model posing in front of the camera wearing (or not wearing) clothing holding something in his/her hands.
The same picture could be classified as a portrait, beauty, product, fashion, lifestyle, fine art, etc. It’s not so much about the picture as it is about the reason it was created. This is a huge topic and can easily be debated because we all see things differently, but as soon as some information is shared on why the image was created, it immediately shifts our perspective to view the image as it was intended to be created- which could be for the purpose of any of the before mentioned genres. It’s just hard for me to classify myself as one type of photography when my images can be different, but my intent be one.
Q: What pro's and con's do you believe there are to having an agent/rep?
A: I’m new to having an agent and have only been represented for less than a year. I always wanted a rep because I felt like if you were good enough, skilled enough and drew the attention of others, then having a rep meant you were at the top of the industry. I have learned that it’s not really that way. A lot of photographers have a rep because they’re good enough to be busy and having an agent helps them take on more projects and bigger projects, it’s not just something that involves your skill or talent, it’s a business decision.
You can’t rely on a rep to get you work. You also need to be finding your own work. Think of it as your ability of just expanding your business and marketing.
Having a rep for me helps me to have someone I can talk production, estimating, shoot ideas with and when I’m lucky enough to be invited to the table to give an estimate on a shoot, I have confidence that there is someone with me at that table helping me get the job.
Q: What's been the most valuable self-marketing strategy/tool you've implemented so far?
A: This is a loaded question because in evaluating the ROI in our marketing, it is tough to know the outcome from the efforts in this industry. Maybe not for someone else, but for me it’s tough to track. I can say it was tough to commit to getting involved with Workbook and At-Edge because it’s a financial commitment to do it, but all of my larger shoots have come from being involved in those two artist books/sites. It’s happened multiple times when I have heard during an interview about working on a shoot that the client or agency saw my work from one of those two sources.
The other great resource that is free has been having my work on Adobe’s social artwork site, Behance. Out of all my social media platforms, this is the one resource I have a largest global following on. A lot of those that follow me are artists themselves, but when it comes to marketing it's all about exposure and the more you can have the better you’ll be at being in the right place when someone comes looking to hire you.
Q: Have you always been based in CA, and how important do you think living location is to commercial photographers?
A: I grew up and started shooting professionally in Utah. I moved to California for personal and family reasons. I was hopeful at the time I moved that it would be beneficial to my career to be in a more populated area, but I have found that it doesn’t really matter. Most of the local agencies will hire artists outside the area and bring them in based on their needs for creating what they need to. I’ve worked for local brands that had me travel, but it was more about what they needed created for their purpose (intent) than it was about where I was located.
I will say, I believe it is important to “own your own backyard,” which means to be able to work locally because if you’re hoping and waiting for a big shoot to fly you into town or have you travel with them...that doesn’t happen as much as you think (at least not for me). So, being able to work locally for all types of brands is important because it creates a foundation that allows you to stay busy, pay the bills and to pursue those bigger opportunities for when they present themselves.
Q: How often are your projects with an agency vs direct to client?
A: It’s usually 50/50 for me. I love working with agencies because they “get it”. They know what it takes to create an image, where it’s harder for businesses. But working directly with businesses has given me more creative freedom to put more of my own style into the images, where with an agency you’re working with another creative individual and trying to balance their own expectations with your own. Q: Best advice for photographers who haven't done larger production shoots yet and what to expect when they do get that larger gig?
A: You can’t do it on your own, so make sure you have a team that will help you succeed. This goes with everything from just how to market yourself, to producing the shoot and to completing the final deliverables. It takes a village, but you also need to own it and make sure you’re the one who is directing the shoot to get the results you want, because at the end of the shoot you’ll be the one responsible for how those images turn out. You can kill yourself trying to get to the end results or you can enjoy working with friends and creating new friends along the way. If you’re like me, I like working with friends because it makes work not seem so much like work.
Having that strong team working behind you for your success helps so that no matter what size of shoot you end up working on, you’re prepared for whatever it is.
Q: Was there a project in your past that you felt was your first big break? And how did you land that job?
A: Another tough question. I’ve had a lot of little wins in my career, that have helped me keep pursuing my dream, but if there was one project I had to pick I would say it was my “Plastic Surf” series that helped give me exposure and helped me meet others globally that shared in the purpose of why the images were created. It was a personal project that I marketed so I’m proud of the project because I did everything in the images from producing, shooting and retouching, to planning how they'd help me promote what type of images I can create and the ability I possessed to create those images. In the end it was more about me proving to myself that I could create images with the message in them and share it publicly and stand behind it.
Before that, my “Edible Truths” series was a big factor in my development because it’s the first real comprehensive project that I created in the narrative conceptual genre to help me realize how big of a story you can create by showing only a single frame…it’s just what you put into that frame that makes the difference.
Thank you so much to Weston for taking the time from his busy schedule to give me some insight into his professional journey. Be sure to check out his work and give him a follow! His journey is one worth watching.