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Doug recently sat down with Matt Reese, a local Columbus photographer. Matt is currently the owner and chief photographer of Commons Studio, co-founder and producer of motive., and also does a good bit of our photography work here at Serif. Here’s his story:
(Doug) First Question, how did you get into photography/whats your story?
(Matt) How did I get into photography? It’s been kind of a natural evolution I guess. I’ve been involved in creative things since I was a teenager. I started out in bands and just out of necessity, from being in a band, we needed things like websites, t-shirts, and graphic design, so I became a graphic designer. And in my graphic design work, I was always drawn more to conceptual art work; so I was doing a lot of graphic overlays, compositing, and just kind of out of necessity, I incorporated a camera into the workflow. Before, I was using a lot of stock images and compositing those together but then I wanted more control so I started taking photos. I could have more control over the angle and get specific pieces I wanted for that concept. But even then, I didn’t consider myself a photographer, it was just a tool.
So you became a photographer to compliment your design?
Yeah, and I got into design to compliment the music I was making.
Do you feel like having a background in design has assisted in your photography skills?
Absolutely. My stylistic approach is a lot different because I think graphically. That’s why my work works very well in advertising and editorial because I’m always thinking about where the copy is going to be going.
That’s pretty dope. I mean that’s something I think you have as an advantage over other photographers, because you can think from a different point of view.
Yeah, I see the final product in my mind before I even pick up the camera. Theres a lot of pre-visualization that goes into it.
How do you get ready for that? Is there a way that you can flip a switch to start pre-visualizing? Is there a method that you have?
I like to have reference images to start out with or do a walk-through of the space while kind of piecing it together in my mind. Sometimes I’ll sketch it out but oftentimes I don’t need to because I can just see it, remember it, and then execute.
How do you separate yourself from other photographers since everyone thinks they’re a photographer these days?
That’s a good question. I don’t really think about it. I just do what I do. I guess, honestly, I do look at other photographers work but I’m more influenced by design, paintings, and other art forms.
You don’t really try to consciously separate yourself from other photographers?
I don’t really try to compete with anyone else. I just do my thing. I am a photographer by trade, but I guess I just have a different way of thinking about it. I approach my projects from the mindset of a painter and film director, and find myself somewhere between those two roles. I didn’t originally intend to be a photographer, but it’s something I naturally grew into.
That’s cool man
What are some of your favorite tools or equipment that’s currently in your camera bag?
My Profoto D1 Air studio kit. I have four units in that setup: (2) 500 watt, (1) 250 watt, and (1) 1000 watt. They’re pretty phenomenal. I also love my LumoPro modifiers. Pretty much the same thing you get from Profoto but at a fraction of the cost. It gets the job done.
What software are you using for shooting and or post production?
When I’m shooting I like to process through Capture One. It just gets a nice crunchiness to it and renders the raw files in a different way. It pulls more information out of a raw file. I didn’t even realize that was possible before I started using it. In your darkest darks or your lightest whites, you can pull more information out of the raw files than you can with Lightroom. So, I use it for that initial capture and then for any special effects or a processed look, I’ll take them into Lightroom. I’ll use VSCO for filters and I’ll tweak it from there to get the exact look that I want to convey the mood or what I’m going for.
My workflow is Capture One; then if there is any retouching or compositing I’ll take it into Photoshop; And for the final layer or to get that filtered feel or mood, I’ll finish it out in Lightroom.
What’s your favorite VSCO filter?
Everything I use is customized. I don’t go with just a standard filter. For my Clampdown photos, I used a heavily modified version of the Fuji 800Z ++. My favorite part about VSCO is the Toolkit it includes. I’ll shift a lot of the tonal values with presets such as Creamy Highlights, Magenta Shadows, Highlight Save, Lows Boost, etc. I also really love the B&W filters. Kodak T-Max 3200+ is my usual starting point.
What are some of your favorite moments you’ve had as a photographer?
There are a lot of those. That’s the great thing about photography; the camera can serve as a key into anywhere you want to be. I don’t know, I’ve had a lot of really cool opportunities because of photography. I’ve made a lot of friends and business connections out of it, many great experiences. To be more specific….
What if we narrowed it down to your favorite gig or job where everything was just clicking and coming together?
I mean of course if you’re going to work with me, it’s always going to be like that (with a smirk).
Yeah, that is true, I can attest.
JK, sorta. Favorite gigs…Clampdown was fun but that barely felt like work.
So is Clampdown your favorite gig of all time?
Yeah, it’s probably the most fun gig I have ever had. It was definitely a job, I did it for about 3 years, but it felt more like I was getting paid to hang out with friends and take a few photos while there. If I didn’t love that scene the photos wouldn’t have looked right. I was in the thick of it, partying with everyone else. Had the event been shot in a fly-on-the-wall, documentary style the photos would have been awkward. A creepy guy lurking with a camera makes people feel uncomfortable.
That’s true. Because now that I think about it, with all of the photos from Clampdown, you’re right in the midst of it. You’re not shooting as an outsider.
I was right along in it with everyone else. I had to be a part of that scene in order to tell the story.
As for my more commercial work, ChicagoLawyer.com was a great production. Three full-days of big production in Columbus including car wreck, courtroom, and hospital scenes. Easily the biggest production I have worked so far. My client hired all local talent at full industry standard rates, which is more than what we’re usually used to seeing in the area. That was pretty exciting to experience. It was nice to get a taste of what it could be like here to bring out of town clients to Columbus for their productions. It’s cheaper and easier to work here, and our creative talent rivals any of the major markets.
Whats a current project that you’re working on?
I’m starting to put together ideas for a few personal projects. I’m still locking down the concepts, but you know how bands release albums? I want to do the same thing but with photography books. Everything in the series will be based around a central theme. I also want to do gallery shows and sell prints.
Are you thinking print or digital?
Whats the ETA?
Whenever I get around to it (laughing).
Why Columbus? Why are you here?
Because it’s Columbus. Columbus for a reason! Cost of living and quality of life, that balance is perfect. It’s a great lifestyle. We’ve got all of the conveniences and tastes of a major city. It is home to several universities, so it’s filled with well-educated people. We’ve got CCAD, The Ohio State University, and so on. We’re actually seeing the opposite of a “brain drain,” where graduates are staying and putting their education to work here in our community.
How do you feel creatives benefit most by being in Columbus?
Tight sense of community. Everybody is eager to work together, collaborate and share ideas, all working toward a common goal. That’s a lot easier to do here than in a major city because in a major city, there are so many people it’s kind of cut-throat. Whereas in Columbus, there is something different here. As I said, there is a tighter sense of community. Everybody wants to work together and everybody wants to see each other succeed so there is less competition.
If you had to give 3 career advice tips to creatives, what would they be?
Learn how to price and negotiate. That’s a big one. For me it was trial and error. There are books and resources you can read but when it comes to negotiating, that is a skill you learn over time just with experience.
Less talking more doing. Stay active. Keep doing something creative. That’s very important. A lot of people will spend time stewing on an idea and then they’ll never follow through with it because they want it be the most grandiose thing ever and they’re afraid to settle for anything less than that vision. Work within your means and just keep creating. Just keep doing.
Get involved. Back to that idea of community. Network with other creative professionals in complimentary fields. Attend networking events, things of that nature.
One of the reasons you’re so successful is all of the free work you did originally. Did that help build up your network and how critical was that?
Absolutely. I didn’t necessarily do that work because I was trying to network and get myself ahead. A lot of it I did because I wanted to do it. A lot of the editorial stuff was fun, it was a great opportunity. Some of the smaller businesses I worked with I did it because I wanted to expand my portfolio and help them out. It was just a lot of spreading good will and it was a certain reciprocity that came back.
I’ve known you as a guy who’s constantly getting out there…
Whether its paid or not, it’s just what I do. So staying in practice of working constantly. I don’t like that expression of, “fake it until you make it.” I get it. But I don’t like the phrasing of it. I like it phrased more as, “be it until you become it.” If that makes sense. If you already know that you’re that person, be that person until you become successful at being that person.
Tell me about your studio. What’s its history and what are your goals with it?
Common Studios is intended to be a shared creative resource, similar to a shared workspace but more specific to photography and daily rentals. You can rent it out by the half or full day. Part of what helped me out in my career early on was renting resources as opposed to owning them. Lighting equipment, cameras, lenses, etc. I would rent them and bill it back as a production expense to my client, even including studio space when necessary. A lot of photographers (and videographers) don’t know to do that. I want to play a role in promoting that idea so that other aspiring creative professionals can achieve their career goals.
As far as the history of the space, that’s one of my favorite parts actually. I didn’t know about the history of the place until I moved in and started researching the building. I Googled the address and as it turned out, it had already existed as a photography studio for about 50 years in the early 1900’s. It was originally Orr Kiefer Studios. They did a lot of municipal work, The Ohio State University was a client of theirs, and they were pretty well known for their portrait photography as well. In addition to them, there was another photographer named Lorenzo Baker who worked in this space for a while. I believe he photographed Annie Oakley and William McKinley in this space based on some dates I’ve seen. I have some fact checking to do on that, so I’ve reached out to The Ohio Historical Society. Another cool thing was this professional organization called The Pen and Pencil Club. They were a club, network, consortium, or whatever you want to call it, of artists and creative professionals working together and this space used to be their clubhouse. They would meet once a week and discuss ideas, kind of like a salon, and help further each others careers.
And that’s interesting because you’re kind of naturally falling into that yourself with the Commons Studio by bringing other photographers in here and sharing the space with them.
Yeah, very similar to that. I want to host events here catering to photographers and other creative professionals. I am a member of the American Society of Media Photographers. I recently joined the American Advertising Federation and Ohio Art League. I also co-founded and produce motive., a networking event and program for the creative community. All of these organizations serve a similar purpose as The Pen and Pencil Club did in the past. I definitely want to bring that tradition back in this space. It is a crazy coincidence, very serendipitous.
So you have Matt Reese Photography, The Commons Studio, Motive, can you rattle off everything that you’re involved in?
(Laughs) I just like to stay active. My personal business is Matt Reese Photography. Then I have Commons Studio, which is where I work out of and make available as a shared creative resource. I’m co-owner of We Are Glitterati, a photo marketing company. I also co-founded and produced motive., which operates as a 501c3 non-profit organization. I think that’s everything for now.
If I were at a cocktail party and I wanted to introduce you to someone, how should I introduce you?
I don’t even know anymore…(laughing)
This is my friend Matt Reese he…
…uh, does stuff. I should probably think about this. Every professional needs a good elevator pitch. On LinkedIn I say that I’m the Producer and Chief Photographer of Commons Studio. That’s probably the most efficient way to describe who I am. There are other things that I am heavily involved in, but that is my main focus.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Ummm. I’m good for now. Maybe I’ll start another business and you can add it in there later. But hopefully not for a long time.