“My work is really just a representation of myself in other people, and when I photograph them, I want the photo to be multi-dimensional. I want them to see a depth in themselves that they couldn’t see beforehand, and to go back into a moment in their life when they felt alive, even though the photograph is a imaginary possession of a past that is unreal. I am inspired by the natural wonder of the world, and even though my work is by no means landscape work, I want the viewer to see the natural beauty of this world as a focal point, not necessarily the main point, but merely part of the world we are all a part of. My Goal is to work in Conceptual editorial through a Magazine, or Organization on the West Coast, along with working on personal projects with Local Designers, and other Artists.” – Conner Allen
In our interview with Conner Allen, a conceptual portrait photographer based out of the Inland Northwest, USA, he shares his knowledge learned through trial and error in photography, through his experiences shooting weddings, portraiture, and fashion. Many of Conner’s photos can be seen represented by Vogue, and among other exciting things he came 5th Place in “Digital Manipulation” by Kenmore Camera, and was featured in many magazines and online articles such as Lilac City Fashion, Midnight Muse, Essere Magazine, Atlas Magazine, F-Stoppers and many more.
Hi Conner, thank you for joining us for an interview.
Thank you so much! It is an honour!
So, how did it all begin? How did you become interested in photography?
I always wanted to be a artist. I knew it from a very early age when listening to my aunt who was trying to become an artist herself and was attending college at the time. I would spend time with her and she would show me painters, architects, dancers, and photographers from all over the world. I knew this was something I wanted to do, and it gave me a clear direction.
One of my fondest memories of my youth, is an old women who saw me drawing in a class when I was in second grade, and she told me I was going to become a artist. For some reason this stuck with me all this time, and I still think about it from time to time.
So in middle school when the pressure for careers became a staple of the learning environment, I decided that I wanted to become a fine art major. So starting in High School, I started every art class possible. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I started a 35mm Film Photography Class. I fell in love with photography and was given the opportunity to photograph a wedding in my sophomore year, and at that point i knew exactly where I wanted to go in art.
Do you have any formal training in photography or do you consider yourself self-taught for the most part?
I had a 35mm Film Class, and a Beginners Photography class In High School where I learned simple lighting and some terms. But my teacher Dirk Linton really instilled in me a love of photographers such as Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz. To this day one of my favourite movies was shown in his class entitled “Life through a Lens” by Annie Leibovitz.
What inspires you?
Some of my biggest inspirations come from music and the world around me. I love driving, blaring music and just daydreaming while driving through the wilderness, I imagine the creatures, people, worlds that are connected through the music and the wilderness, and start thinking about their lives, and my mind will wander on this for long periods of time.
Within your photography you participate in creating many different types of work – portraiture, editorial, conceptual, fashion, and weddings. Do you have a favourite type of work that you like to create above all?
This is my constant problem, if I don’t have direction I go all over the place all the time and dip into anything I can, so it really changes on the season living in the now. During the Spring all I want to shoot is Conceptual Photography, I’m incredibly inspired by rebirth and all of the new life. During Summer it’s all about weddings; and trying to further my skills when it comes to working with couples and posing, and attention to the small details. When Fall Hits, I want to start shooting editorials, mostly because fall has my favorite colors to photograph. And when Winter hits I try to photograph anything in snow.
Is there anything in photography that you wish you were better at, or had the opportunity to learn or know more about?
I wish I was better at all of it. Every shoot I want to further myself in my art and get better at it. Most importantly I wish I had more opportunities to shoot for fashion designers, whether it be in studio or creating more of a stage for the clothing (conceptually).
How long have you been photographing weddings? Over time, how do you like it? What is your favourite part about photographing a wedding?
I have been shooting weddings since I was 16, so 6 years going on 7. And I love it more and more every year! When i started out it was my main driving point on achieving a style I wanted to convey, so I obsessed over it and I am still not there! So with every wedding I feel like I am getting closer to where I want to be, but still not there. Honestly my favorite part about weddings is when I get to spend time with the couple, and seeing them be happy together on their special day.
When reading your website, I notice that you specifically offer “conceptual wedding photography”. For you, what is the push that makes it conceptual? Or what makes the conceptual wedding photography that you offer different from “non-conceptual” wedding photography?
This is for people that are normally up to shooting a lot of scenes before the wedding. Often the day before we will brainstorm some cool out of the normal shots for them, often taking quite a bit of time for preparations, and creating 4-5 amazing conceptual shots for them, and then shooting their wedding day as well!
What’s on your gear list? (Cameras, lenses, editing software, lights, etc)
Nikon D600, A Nikor 50mm 1.4, Photoshop cs4 and Lightroom
Do you have a favourite piece of gear or a tool in your camera bag that you just can’t live without?
I love shooting on only my 50mm, I feel like it’s perfect for someone like me who is comfortable running around for shots, it makes me feel like an adventurer where you have to get all these pieces to fit the bigger puzzle, and the limitations only gives me more drive and adrenaline for the whole day.
How important is Photoshop and/or post-Processing to your works? Would it be possible to see a before and after?
This Depends, For weddings I try to do only minor retouching for photos, such as exposure, sharpening, chromatic flare, things along those lines. I like to keep the photos light and easy, perfect for people and their families, normally only using Lightroom. But when it comes to anything else, I love Photoshop. I love working for long periods of time on photos to try and get something really cool, and when I think I have something, I frantically start trying to recreate it. I love using the “Brenizer Method”, and Photoshop is required for a lot of it.
Tell us about the many Photoshop Actions that you offer! Are Photoshop Actions something you use regularly when editing?
I personally love Photoshop Actions, because they are great for anyone from beginners to seasoned photographers, and everyone in-between. I have a few for sale now, but I have been working on actions made for specific photo series, I would like to continue working on them, and they won’t be released until I am happy with the full series.
Your small series titled “Daydreams” is exquisite. So beautiful. I am wondering, what is the inspiration behind this series of images, and do you plan on continuing?
The inspiration behind the series is really just a representation of myself in other people, with every photo, in exception to one photo. A lot of them come from dreams where I feel like I am in a third person or out of my body. I will often ask friends last second if I could photograph them in odd places, at weird times, and sometimes driving long distances blaring music until we find something that fits for a background.
Tell us about your creative process. When conceptualizing ideas for a photoshoot do you ever write, draw sketches, or create mood boards to help yourself visualize the end goal?
I love creating lists of ideas, and will often try and talk to people about what they think could make it better. I love the idea of working with lots of people for a collective idea.
And on average, how long would you say it takes to create a photo. So, conceptualize an idea, book models, location scout, shooting, editing, etc.?
It depends. Some of my favorite Photos have been planned in the wrong season and I will have to wait. If it’s something I can create soon, It will normally take a day to plan, and another day to try and get a model, hair, makeup and possibly wardrobe. Then a day to shoot and sometimes 1-10 days to edit and cull for photos.
Can you please tell us about your “Contrary Space” series? I think it’s beautiful! Do you plan to continue the series?
This series was special to me, because i think a lot of time we are put into boxes where we feel trapped, and this was my way of expressing this, I plan on 4 more photos in the series ending with a self portrait, but have yet to decide on how to execute the rest.
Who are some of your favourite artists and/or photographers?
Sarah Ann Loreth, Brad Wagner, Robby Cavanaugh, Kirsty Mitchell, Jordan Voth
In this photo (below, right) the model is wearing an amazing headpiece. When talking to you earlier in the week you told me that you had an idea for a headpiece and you had a friend help make it. Please tell us about the importance that you feel lies on artists collaborating with one another?
I feel that it’s imperative to creating more as an artist. Some of my favorite shoots have been when I worked with multiple people on a set to create something. I honestly have grown to a point where I always try to include someone no matter what for multiple points of view and ideas.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?
This is hard but probably this one.
In 2013 you hosted a workshop which was about “location scouting and understanding what challenges you may face, along with thoughts on lighting, shooting with a model on location and help with directing a model.” How was your experience of hosting a workshop? Do you think you will ever do it again?
I loved hosting the small workshop in Spokane; it was an amazing experience, and if I had more time to prepare for a larger one I would instantly.
As much as some people may not want to admit it, one of the keys to great photography is good light. How important do you feel good lighting is in photography?
Yes! Lighting either makes a photo or ruins it. Especially when using natural light, and thinking about how it will make people look, whether they are backlit, in shade, direct sunlight, or when using reflectors. Natural light effortlessly makes people look younger and that’s one of the main reasons why I love it so much. Since I rely so much on natural light I often have to think about where to shoot, the time or day, along with trying to figure out the weather.
What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not shooting and/or editing?
I love to hike, geocache, kayak, go on road trips, have bonfires, and spend time with my family. Family is incredibly important to me so I love spending time with them.
Tell us where you would like to see yourself in around 5 years? (What goals do you hope to reach?)
This is an odd thought to me, because I plan nothing with more than 3 months ahead of time, but my main goals are to be still doing photography, spending more time on creating conceptual pieces, hosting a “Weekend Workshop” of sorts, and finally being completely happy with my wedding work, and maybe having a student.
Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers and/or artists about photography or life in general?
Work with other Artists.
It was was one of the happiest decisions I ever made. Working with people to create something is something that makes me so happy and is the coolest experience I have ever had. I would recommend to work with as many people as possible, and to find people who are artists, and learn from them.
Keep up with Conner Allen and his work you can do so on his website and Facebook Page.