Oct 23, 2013

Phlearn Interviews Nick Fancher

Nick Fancher began his photography education in high school in 1997. He attended Ft. Hayes High School’s career center for Commercial Photography. He went on to get his Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the Ohio State University in 2005. In 2007 Nick founded Shutter-Think Photography, LLC, specializing in portrait and fine art photography. Some of his clients include Jack Threads, zulily, The Ohio State University, CVS, Getty and ESPN Magazine.

Currently Nick is based in Columbus, Ohio and is available for freelance work worldwide.

Join us in this exclusive interview with Nick Fancher. He tells us about his workflow and process, what inspires him, and much more.

Your photography education began in high school in 1997, then you went on to get your Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the Ohio State University in 2005.
With all of that said, how did this interest in photography start?

I was always interested in art. I took every art class available in school, growing up. Photography became available when I was a junior in high school. I took a class and that was it. I was smitten.

Currently you are the lifestyle photographer for the brand “Jack Threads”. It’s not the typical lifestyle shoot though as seen in your video “A Typical Day at Jack Threads”

{note: (You really need to watch the video to appreciate the capacity of these photoshoots, it’s amazing!)

To summarize, a typical day is pretty time constricted. Because Jack Threads operates in a flash-sale format, with an average of 20 different 2-day sales running simultaneously, lifestyle images need to be created daily. A typical day 8-12 brands will have to be photographed, in 4 hours, and you give yourself 1 hour to edit.

I’m sure now you are pretty used to this kind of pace, but how intimidating was this to take on in the beginning? And how did you prepare yourself to work with such time restrictions with both the models, the assistants, traveling, and editing?

I am actually no longer the lifestyle photographer at JackThreads. They moved their operations to Brooklyn over a year ago. I left them in August of 2012. I was their shooter for 14 months though. When I first came on, JackThreads was a lot smaller than they are now. They had around 20 sales going on at a time and I was shooting around 10 brands and editing them in four hours. By the time I left, we averaged 50 sales at a time and I was shooting almost twenty brands and editing in five hours. I got a lot faster in that year as well as learning when I got the shot and not losing time shooting additional images when they weren’t necessary. As I mentioned in the video, I would pick a location that could pass as three or four different locations so we could save time. But I couldn’t plan ahead at all because I didn’t know what brands, which models or how many brands we were shooting until I showed up that day (let alone what the weather would be like). Whenever the models would ask where we were going, I would always answer the same- “I have no idea”. The other limiting factor was that I didn’t want to shoot any brand in the exact same location or manner in which I shot one before, because I still wanted to create images that I could stand behind. I didn’t want to “mail in” my performance.

Has anything ever went wrong during one of “Jack Threads” lifestyle shoots? Whether it be a model, make-up artist, or assistant not showing up, or lights or cameras malfunctioning etc…

Once a model blacked out and busted his head on the ground. He hadn’t eaten enough that day and he had to be run to the ER. We always had several models for the day, and they were all roughly the same measurements, so another model had to step in for me, and luckily the model ended up ok. Once or twice I would forget my memory cards back at the office and would already be at the location, set up to shoot. This really sucked because time was already so precious.

Along with being a lifestyle photographer you also shoot weddings, engagements, musicians, mens and women’s fashion, product & commercial photography, portraits, and photojournalism. How do you keep up with everything? And what is your favourite type of photography to participate in?

I don’t do too many weddings any more. Usually only a couple a year. I currently contract two days a week at (another flash sale website), shooting product and apparel for them. I also launched my own apparel photography company, Perp Collective, that works directly with brands, creating photographic contents for their collections. It’s the same format as with zulily and JackThreads in that the brands ship the samples to me where my stylist preps the looks and we book the models, shoot the collection, return the samples and send them the images, all remotely. We never meet face-to-face. It’s a one-stop-shop for these brands that need creative content several times a year as they release their collections. So that keeps me busy as I add more brands to the roster.

I also shoot for companies that need lifestyle shots and/or staff portraits. These are often repeat clients as well, as they hire on new staff or have new projects that need documented. I also do the occasional regional freelance for business publications like banking magazines.

How differently do you approach each different type of photography? What type of preparation do you have to do before a shoot?

I try to shoot each subject- whether it is a portrait, a product or an event- with an outlook that elevates the subject. I rarely go into a shoot with a preconceived idea on how I will light or shoot the subject. Granted, I am perpetually looking at other photographers, so their influence in my work is no doubt present.

Is there anything within photography that you wish you were better at?

I never want to stop growing and learning and evolving. There will always be someone more creative or innovative than me, which makes me try to figure out how they did something. I am currently really into product photography. It is super challenging for me because it is so detail oriented. There are no happy accidents as there are in portrait work. Every detail is there because I did or didn’t do something. The styling, lighting and editing has to be perfect or the shot won’t work.

Your wedding photography has received awards from the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA) as well as Brides Magazine and Photo District News’ Top Knots competition. This is amazing! Tell us about your passion for wedding photography, and what was your most memorable moment while shooting a wedding?

Thanks! I never planned on shooting weddings when I was in school. This was the one thing I actually said that I didn’t want to do. But I started shooting my friend’s weddings as they asked me, and I found that I enjoyed them. I had never shadowed any wedding photographers or even looked at wedding photographers online, so I wasn’t influenced by other wedding work. I feel like this put me in a unique position to use my own style in shooting weddings. Since the beginning of shooting weddings, I have shot in a predominantly photojournalist perspective- not interacting but rather capturing. I then came across the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA) and realized that there were hundreds of amazing wedding PJ shooters around the world that made me want to improve. So while I still don’t pursue wedding clients or even consider myself a wedding photographer, I embrace the opportunities I get to shoot them and try to be as creative as I can while doing it.

What’s on your gear list? (Camera, lenses, editing software etc)

I shoot with a Canon 5DII and have a 35 1.4L and a 70-200 f/4L IS. I have four 430EX speedlites and Radiopopper PX transmitters. I use Lightroom 5 for 99% of all my editing.

How important is Photoshop and/or Lightroom to your work?

I use Lightroom on every photo I ever shoot. Sometimes I do the color grading in Lightroom and then do the heavy lifting in Photoshop. That said, the original image must be good to begin with. I don’t rely solely on post. I’d say it’s equal parts in-camera and post editing to get a finished image.

Straight out of camera (top), After revisions in Lightroom (bottom)

Lighting Diagram (top), After revisions in Lightroom + lighting (bottom)

Tell us about your “iPhone 4S Photoshoot”. What were you hoping for people to get from this shoot & what was your inspiration behind it?

It was just a fun “response” video to the original Fstoppers iPhone shoot. People were complaining that in the original video that they employed a professional retoucher and used expensive lighting equipment, so the final image was not pure. So I set about to see what could be done with a reflector and in-phone editing software. It was for fun, but it angered a lot of photographers. They said I was wasting everyone’s time that was involved. They totally missed the point. It was not a shoot I was doing for a paying client. It was a fun promo piece. And it drove me a lot of traffic, so I would say it was a successful experiment.

Recently you released a lighting book titled “RGLR Run & Gun Lighting Resource“, which is 100 pages long with more than 25 lighting diagrams, and is formatted for smartphones and tablets but comes with a high-res PDF for optional printing.
What was your inspiration behind writing this book? And will you ever release a hard copy?

I have been teaching one-on-one lighting mentorships for a couple of years now and I created a small workbook to accompany the lessons. During this past winter, when work is slower for me, I decided to build out the workbook into a more complete book on lighting. I am all about being transparent with my methods and sharing the lighting love. And if I can make a few bucks off it in the meantime, all the better.
A physical release for the book is unlikely. I have been talking to a publisher for a while now about publishing a book with them. They tell me that the market for lighting books is saturated and that even well known photographers aren’t selling a ton of books. They are moving more into ebooks now though and are discussing releasing my current ebook but split into two new, more flushed out and updated lighting books.

Along with releasing a lighting book, you also teach lighting workshops. Can you tell us what an average day at your workshop would entail?

Each workshop is tailored to the individual student. For example, if they are a wedding shooter, we cover lighting scenarios that are more commonly found in weddings. Also, I show them all their lighting options for their current system (Canon or Nikon; Pocket Wizard or Radiopopper, etc). We start the day off with me reviewing their portfolio and then move right into shooting a model in studio. After lunch, we work with a second model but on location. We wrap up the day with us going over the images they shot that day, and me showing them my Lightroom workflow.

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

Well, probably at least once a week I catch myself looking at the house I paid for with my career as a photographer, and find myself not fully able to believe it. Plus, every time I hear my three-year-old son pretending to be going off to work to take pictures, it makes me really happy. So probably that.

What inspires you?

Amazing light. So many of the ads and editorials in magazines like Interview, W, Vanity Fair, GQ, etc. Fashion photographers use color and light in a way that I don’t see anywhere else. They are at the top in the field of photography, in my opinion.

What is your favourite photo you’ve ever taken?

That changes all the time. Probably once a month I take what I think is the best photo I have ever taken. And I stare at it for a few days. Then I get bored and want to shoot again. And then that becomes my favourite photo. The dangerous place to be, in my opinion, is a place where you stop growing. If I did have one favourite photo, and that never changed, that would mean I have peaked as a photographer, and that is a scary thought.

What is the craziest thing you’ve done to get “the shot”?

Not really sure. I have a couple crazy stories from my time at JackThreads. I often found myself shooting on the west side of Columbus in “The Bottoms”, which is a rougher part of town. It was a short drive from the studio and had a lot of interesting places to shoot. A lot of the time I would go out by myself, with a lot of product that needed to be shot without models. One day I was shooting a bunch of shoes in an alley in The Bottoms. A rough looking woman approached me and started chatting with me. I kept my head down and kept shooting as she chatted me up. After I explained what I was doing and what JackThreads was, etc, she propositioned me. I respectfully declined, grabbed the product and promptly left.

How do you spend your free time when your not behind the camera?

Thinking about what to shoot next. Seriously. I’m not happy if I go more than a couple days without photographing something/someone.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?

I’d love to have all my photo debt paid off (taxes are a bitch). I’d love to have a few more, larger repeat clients. Maybe have an employee. I’d love to travel abroad for more shoots as well as more editorial work.

Do you have any advice to offer to us fellow photographers?

Shoot as often as you can, blog regularly and tag everything. Also, do right by your clients whenever possible because word of mouth will always be the biggest factor in getting you work or killing your reputation.

To keep up with Nick and his work you can do so on his Website, Twitter, and Facebook page.
And if you’re interesting in purchasing his lighting ebook you can do so here.

Interviewed by Angela Butler, thanks for reading!


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    Karl Shreeves

    Amazing stuff, Nick, especially on the timeline you had to deliver for JackThreads. Are shoot permits an issue with all the different locations you work? I’m curious how you handle that because it’s a big deal in California where I work.

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      Nick Fancher

      Not an issue in Columbus, Ohio. I never had issue one. We would just roll up, act like we were supposed to doing what we were doing and we were good to go. Models even changed on the street with no issue.

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    Mark ODonnell

    Kudos on your interview Nick. I live in Columbus and follow and I am inspired by your work. I am envious of how updated your social status is. Never a dull moment when I see something posted by Nick Fancher. Nick always has a new photo or behind the scenes peek ready to view.