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Beauty in the Park with Makena Summers and Exclusive Interview with Daniel Graham

Photographer: Daniel Graham Model: Makena Summers
Photographer: Daniel Graham Model: Makena Summers

To begin, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how did you get into photography world? Do you have any formal training in your background?

My photography career was by chance and not by choice. While in college pursuing a career in journalism, I was expected not only to interview and write for the college newspaper but to photograph my subjects or environment for the articles I was writing.

I had no experience in photography and was given a brief education on the use of a camera (Rolleiflex TLR Camera) and the elements of the exposure triangle. After practicing with the camera, I was sent out to interview and photograph a member of the college’s board of directors.

After returning from the session, I was informed that I was expected to develop and print the images for the newspaper. Once again, I was quickly educated on how to load film onto a spool, develop the negatives and print on a Beseler enlarger….It was definitely a baptism by fire. But, I quickly gained experience in both photography and printing.

I began to truly enjoy photography and the experience of seeing my prints come to life in the darkroom and eventually in the college newspaper. To that extent, writing became a secondary career path.

In 1966, unfortunately I had to give up photography when I entered the Marine Corps and was sent to Vietnam.

In 1972, I began as an independent contractor for a newspaper and was often sent on assignments to document events or take headshots of important persons for the newspaper using a Nikon camera (with flash). That continued for nearly 5 years. During that time, my photography skills continued to improve.

However, my finances (or, lack thereof) required that I find a different occupation in order to pay by bills. That led to an infrequent opportunity for photography.

After retiring from my job in 2011, I resurrected my photography and began photographing friends, landscapes, etc….The big change was moving from film to digital.

What inspired you to get into fashion photography?

As I continued my adventure in the digital world, I began receiving requests to photograph weddings, engagements, events and headshots. The requests became more frequent and I eventually found myself photographing several times a week. And, then I began photographing beauty and glamour models for MUA’s portfolios.

What's the best part of being a photographer? What do you love the most about your job?

Working with others on a successful shoot was most gratifying. Although it is wonderful to see my images in a magazine, the true enjoyment involves the relationships I develop in the fashion industry. The artistic collaboration that results in a beautiful and fulfilling image is breathtaking. A mentor of mine informed me that the most impactful images are those when a model gives you something of herself/himself during a shoot. More than just posing it’s the relationship. And, that only comes from caring about the team members and, specifically, the model.

What is the best way to find work as a fashion and beauty photographer?

As I noted earlier, gradually I began photographing beauty and glamour models for MUA’s portfolios. This was the result of looking on platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram) for clients that were looking to develop their portfolio. I wasn’t expecting any financial compensation. My desire at the time was to find opportunities and gain experience with this style of photography. This led to the opportunity of working with teams of individuals on a shoot. I learned to collaborate with MUAs, fashion designers, hairstylists, models and creative designers for magazines. I entered into fashion photography and magazine publications.

Do you plan each photo out or are they created more organically?

I always plan a photoshoot and visit a site several days in advance. When feasible I scout the location at the same time of the schedule shoot to best understand the impact of ambient light, the best location for the shoot, etc…And, for a studio I evaluate the workspace in a studio. I create a mood board and collaborate with team members to best understand what the team is expecting for the images. However, there are times during the shoot that I (or, team members) recognize the images aren’t providing the expected and hopeful results. At that time, often the direction of the shoot changes and takes on a more organic approach..

What inspires you and what gives you ideas to create your beautiful images? Can your ideas change depending on the model you are working with?

My inspiration us normally drawn from fashion magazines and images of photographers I have grown to respect and enjoy their work in the fashion industry. When I initially began photographing fashion projects and images were not meeting expectations, I would begin doubting my skills. However, I’ve learned over time to listen to my team members and, through dialogue, find the solutions that result in a successful photoshoot. A successful photoshoot is the result of a blend of all team members efforts and vision. Including the model.

From your experience, what is the key to getting the best out of a model?

During prep time, I will spend time discussing the expectation, expressions and mood of the shoot with the model. During this time, I try to provide a palette of ideas and emotions for the shoot and answer any questions. In most situations, a professional model will be able to tap into their emotions and experience to provide the necessary expressions for the shoot.

Who is the person(s) that inspires you the most and why? What will be the suggestions to new photographer?

Although I’ve been encouraged by a number of photographers (past and present), my two (2) most influential and inspirational photographers are Roberto Valenzuela and Joel Grimes. Both are not only accomplished photographers. They are great educators of both the technical aspect of photography and the subjective/vision of photography. I have discovered that without a vision, photography can become boring. With a vision, photography will become personal.

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Jerry Ghionis…Although he is a wedding photographer, his style of photography suits my vision for fashion. And, wedding photographers often need to have experience in a variety of genres.

What projects are you working on next, and what are your goals for the future?

I’ve been very fortunate in the journey I myself in. I learn all the time from my mistakes and successes. Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a very successful photographer and he offered some great advice: “Use your technical skills to enhance your vision”. At times I found myself setting up lights, backdrops, etc…based on a set of technical guidelines involving the placement of lights, v-flats, etc….and, forgetting the importance of the vision. Once I understood his advice, I reversed the sequence and focused on my vision and how I could place all the equipment to fulfill my vision. That significantly changed my view of photo shoots and the final product.

I have several projects in the near future that include the beauty/glamour and fashion industry. I’m looking forward to a magazine shoot in Los Angeles within the next few weeks that involves a model who has been photographed for an international, well-known magazine. And, as often as I continue to photograph, I find myself as nervous as ever. Maybe it’s my desire to find the perfect shot in every photo shoot. Or, to take my skills to a new level.

I have gained a great deal of experience from the years of photography. But, I continue to find opportunities to learn and improve my vision and skills. I hope this interview can help another photographer in their pursuit of capturing the moment.

Where can we see more of your works and get connected with you?

Instagram: @dpgphotos0105

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