Justin and I would like to announce our first ever pHotographer of the month! As soon as we came up with the idea, there was no question who should take the innaugural role: Robert Norman has raised over $1000 dollars in three short months (shattering his initial goal of raising that much by Christmas) and has brought such big names to the cause as our Governor: Jodi Rell. We asked Robert to do an interview with us so he could shed some light on how he has made his business and his contribution such a huge success.
1. What inspires you most when you're shooting?
What gets me going is getting a reaction out of someone you’ve shot. Could be a smile, a laugh, an ‘oh my god’, maybe a tear. The fact that you have created a situation for a client to enter where they are comfortable and end up looking a way they never thought they could, is just incredible. Capturing those moments that will mean so much to them is just so great. I also love that moment when you realize that the subject has dropped their guard and are getting into the groove of what you’re doing---at that point you’ve got ‘em and they're yours…they open up, trust you, and trust THEMSELVES. Your shoot moves up a few levels at that point, and you can start finding shots you never expected to see.
2. What's your favorite lens & why?
I’m not much of a lens nut like so many photogs are – I have always been more into having a couple of ‘practical’ lenses that can get me through most situations. I have a Nikon 24-70 2.8 that I almost always use…give me something a little wide and a little long and I can make it work. I did buy a Sigma lens recently that is surprisingly sharp (I was hesitant to buy something other than a Nikon, but it’s sharper then my Nikon version of it, so I guess you never know)
3. How did you get into photography?
I actually got into photography because I had to, and by that I mean that it was a college requirement that at the time I had no real interest in. However once I got into it, I dropped as many of my graphic design classes I could and became a photo major. My design teacher was not too happy and thought I was possibly making a big mistake. The spontaneity of it was the real selling point for me, especially with all of the dragged-out studio classes I was taking.
4. What's been your favorite shoot?
Gosh that’s a tough one—there have been so many fun ones. I guess the highlight all in all was photographing Paul Newman at his house. I received the call and photographed him all in the same day, so it was a very surreal experience. But I guess in general what’s most satisfying is coming up with a shot idea off the cuff that ends up being better than anything I could have ever planned for ahead of time…that’s very rewarding.
5. What advice would you give to a photog just starting out?
I think the main thing is to not close yourself of to opportunity. Many things can pass right in front of you if you’re not paying attention or if you’re too focused on waiting for that ‘one thing’. In college I had a rather distinct vision of how things might proceed in my life, but if I were to map out what I’ve done over the years, who I’ve met along the way, and what that’s all led to – it would not only make my head spin, but is NOTHING like the way I thought my career would go. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I have done stuff I never dreamed of doing since.
Stick with it, have fun, be open to new ideas and don’t take it all too seriously.
6. If you had to start all over what would you do differently? The same?
My 2 years of assisting in LA were brutal but also fun and a great training experience, and I would not have changed that. I guess I wish I had more guts at the time to pursue assisting in NYC. I also wish I had a more focused vision when I was in college and had listened more in Art History (I often think about what I would get out of college if I were there now!) But you know, that’s all hindsight and I believe that I would not be where I am now if those factors had changed…we are all doing the best we can at any given time. Regardless, I’m not sure I’m cut out for anything but photography. I can’t ever see quitting or ‘retiring’ or anything like that…it’s what I do and has become who I am, so it will always be a part of me in one form or another.
7. What other photographers inspire you? What blogs do you stalk?
I am impressed by photographers who are uber-talented but don’t have an attitude about it. I have no patience for obnoxious boasting, which is SO easy to come across, especially in the wedding business, you know? I look at others work from the perspective of ‘Wow! How’d they get that?” of “What a cool angle.” I don’t see it from a competition point of view, or one of ‘if I praise you you’ll steal work from me’ That is absurd, since there are so any more components to each photographer than a single interesting shot!
I jump around a lot on Blogs, and will often check comments and then go to THAT persons blog…I’ve found some fun stuff that way. I check out some Photoshop ones, tech ones, Adobe, camera news/updates etc.
Aside from that, I try to keep open to the rest of the photo biz, especially documentary and landscape photography. I subscribe to LensWork Magazine for a good dose of that. It’s a narrow approach to only focus on the field you’re in, and I have always been interested in all aspects of photography and the arts in general. I can only read magazines on studio lighting and hard drive reviews so much. Reading about photography projects that I would have never considered inspires me (there’s a film about homeless people living in the NY subway systems they call home, I’m curious about seeing) All of these things can really help you out when they’re all tucked away in the back of your head. That’s why I try to take a trip once a year – just for myself – somewhere usually out west. I’m heading in January to Yellowstone for a seminar where they haul you out into the sub-zero weather to shoot animals and steaming natural sulpher pools. Not for everyone, but I’m really looking forward to it.
8. What made you get so involved so quickly with the PH?
Years ago I attempted to volunteer for Humanity but it never panned out for a number of reasons. When you guys mentioned it to me, a light went off and I thought “OH! Maybe I can get this to work this time.”
I believe that the environment you surround yourself with, as well as the beliefs and mental attitude you have about what’s possible for tomorrow are what actually create your future. If you think this is it, and nothing will ever improve, then that’s what you’re setting yourself up for. So many people are stuck on that treadmill to nowhere, with no positive role models and nothing to look forward to, hope for or even care about. So I really think the pride and personal responsibility that Habitat encourages is the best type of positive reinforcement. It can set a new standard in a neighborhood in such a positive way.
I’m at a point now where I realize 2 things – I’m doing well enough to be able to give more…AND most importantly, you really do get by giving! I know how corny that sounds, but it’s the truth. It’s no skin off my back, clients are happy, I work with people who WANT to be here and help out and so it’s a great felling. I haven’t once thought, “OH, that money should be mine.”
9. How do you organize your shoots for giving to PH? Do you donate a portion/all of the proceeds from every shoot? Do you have PH months?
To start, I decided to simply offer shoots for $100 of which 100% went right to Habitat. I had clients write their checks out to Habitat, so they knew I was not seeing any of it. My goal was to reach $1000 by Christmas, but that took mush less time than I expected! What I’m doing now if offering shoots for $200 of which I will donate $50.00 through December. After that, I’ll have to think about how I want to handle it. I think the key it to be sure that clients KNOW the money is really going to where they think it is and not in my pocket.
10. How did you get your clients excited about PH?
In a way that has taken care of itself – all it took was my putting the word out and it just happened (if you announce it, they will come!)I chose to make it a prominent addition to the main page on my website. I am really amazed at how many people have said how great an idea they thought it was – it’ s really gotten people thinking about photos they’ve wanted to take and have put off for one reason or another. I’ve done families, engagement, babies and even boudoir photos(!) all for the PH. Most of the people have spread the word to other friends who in turn have come for a shoot. It took virtually no effort other than asking to get the CT Governor to participate either! They also seem impressed that I’m just doing it and giving it all away…I have a feeling many of these folks will be back in the future for more photos because of their participation with the PH.