Today I am interviewing a super talented photographer, Trevor Paulhus, who I met when he was shooting my portrait for a magazine. This Dallas local is the nicest guy ever, with the thoughtful patience and skill to navigate a shy subject through a photo shoot. If you are anything like me, you understand how significant that is. Examples of his work point to why he is in nationwide demand; you might find yourself begging me for his phone number. If you are a Sports Illustrated reader, you are probably looking at his work in the latest issue. Talent this good needs to be shared – meet Trevor…
Trevor, please tell us a little about your background- and the path that lead you to where you are today
I grew up on the east coast in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, eventually moving to Massachusetts for college and later work. I come from a family of amazing artists. Grandfather, Father and Brother all either graphic designers/art directors/painters/printmakers. Although none of those particular forms of creative expression ever spoke to me, I knew that it was just a matter of time before something did. I studied Printmaking, Literature and Photography as an undergrad and Art Education in graduate school. After school I spent a few years working as a photo assistant, school teacher and bartender (all at the same time) in Boston, MA and Providence, RI until I moved to Dallas, TX in 2004. In Dallas my career really began to transition into where I am today. I continued working as a photo assistant and lighting tech in the fashion and advertising worlds for a few years while building my own portfolio and working my way towards becoming a full-time shooter and leaving my days of assisting behind me.
What was your “tipping point” that launched you into fame?
Fame? Ha! Not even close. Even if I was at that level, I am far too anxious/OCD of a person for that. Staying busy and staying creatively satisfied is infinitely more important to me than having anyone even know my name… but those 2 things kinda go hand in hand. I have been fortunate enough to be able to do what I love for a living and for that I am very grateful, but I am far from where I want to be and constantly trying to hustle to keep up with the extremely competitive and talented industry I am surrounded by. To answer your question though, I am not sure that there was really a particular job or situation that really served as a jumping off point for me. I guess I just reached a point where I couldn’t stand assisting anymore. I hated it. So I stopped. I had to.Then I really committed to shooting work that meant something to me personally and presenting myself as I wanted to be seen by potential clients. I forced myself into a situation where I needed to make things work out and eventually pieces started to come together. Its been a long and gradual road with many turns and detours though.
Favorite subject matter to shoot
People. It is my favorite part about my job. Meeting people who I would never otherwise have met if I wasn’t standing in front of them with my camera. Learning about them, observing their character, sharing an experience with them, seeing into a window of their life for a bit. I love the feeling of being part of that and trying to capture that moment. Even if it is a totally contrived moment, there is still a personal connection to be found there.
Any funny stories, any celebs, war stories from the field?
I have shot a lot of professional athletes, successful CEO’s, and many other public figures and I must say that I have been very fortunate to not really have any major “war stories” beyond maybe butting heads with an agent or 2 or attempting to work within the stressful time constraints of only having 2 minutes with a subject (this happens a lot). One shoot that I did a few years back does have a bit of an interesting behind the scenes back story though. I flew out to Kentucky to photograph Anthony Davis for the cover of SLAM Magazine. At the time he was playing basketball for University of Kentucky and was slated to be the number 1 pick in the NBA draft. The shot was to be of him wearing the jersey of the team that he got drafted to. However, the catch was that we were shooting the cover the day before the draft even happened and wouldn’t know which team that was until afterwards. Therefore we had to shoot options of him in the jerseys of all 14 teams that could have potentially drafted him (in 1 hour), and then wait to see which team he went to so that we could select the final images and rush them to print that night. I am a huge basketball fan, so for me that was a pretty exciting 48 hours.
Another very memorable shoot for me would be an ad campaign that I shot for The Volunteers of America a few years ago. I spent 3 days in LA shooting portraits of homeless people on Skid Row, young war vets, children and other people who the great folks at VOA are helping through their organization. That was a very moving and eye-opening experience for me that I was honored to be a part of.
What inspires you? Who are your favorite photographers?
Film, fashion, sports, art, travel… you name it. There are so many people out there doing amazing things. And so many places that I am in awe of and want to see through my own eyes. These are the things that keep me restlessly striving to achieve new experiences and evolve in my own work and life. Some of my favorite photographers would be many of the great portrait photographers. Dan Winters, Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Martin Schoeller, Mark Seliger, Nadav Kander, Stephan Vanfleteren, Danny Clinch… this list could go on for pages..
Canon or Nikon?
I have used both. I started off with a Mamiya RZ67 and 35mm Nikon back in the days of film (I understand that those days are still alive and well for some, but they barely have a pulse for me). I switched to Canon a few years after they pulled ahead in the digital game. Then I just recently switched back to Nikon for my digital SLR system. However, I can’t say that I hold much loyalty to either. I just want to use whatever is best for any particular situation. Canon, Nikon, Mamiya with a Phase One back, etc… they all have their specific purposes. Recently I have been shooting a lot with my Fuji x100s for personal work and travel projects.
Will you talk to us about copyright issues and the usage rights of photos, from a photographer’s point of view… (I’m asking you this question bc so many people abuse the rights, thinking that web images are a free for all)
Ah yes… this is tricky. And I am by no means an expert on the matter! With that being said.. In respect to commissioned jobs that I shoot… every job is different. They have different terms, licensing agreements, contracts, etc. Some may be an editorial assignment with one time licensing in a publication with exclusive rights for 30 days, others may be advertising campaigns with 5 years unlimited usage in all print and electronic media, etc. These usage rights directly for clients (and compensation for them) are determined ahead of time on a case by case basis. From a photographer’s perspective I would just simply say that creating a photograph is my job. My livelihood. And I should always be fairly compensated for use of my work. But many times this can be a very complex thing to manage, especially when your work is out there on the web. Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent someone from downloading a photograph of yours and repurposing it somewhere on their blog or website or social media. It happens. And that kind of abuse is extremely difficult to monitor. Luckily there are laws in place to protect us from these abuses though. Fortunately I have never had any major issues with this kind of thing (that I am aware of). And I hope it remains that way.
Pointers for people who are getting their portraits done – your advice to the subject. i.e. What to wear, makeup, pose dos or donts, flattering poses, mindset, backgrounds, shyness, etc… This is huge. And god knows, I could’ve used this very advice before getting my portrait taken!
This too is really dependent on situation. Where the photograph is being used, where the photograph is being taken, who the subject is. Sometimes certain portraits will require a particular look that others may not. One thing may look horrible in one situation and work perfectly in another. I wouldn’t recommend the same things to a CEO wearing a suit and being photographed in his office that I would to you being photographed in your home (BTW, you were great. No advice needed) or a model being photographed in a studio or a basketball player in a gym.
For someone who is not used to being in front of the camera I would say that the biggest advice I could give would be to simply try to relax and have faith in your photographer.
Let them direct you towards what they feel will look best. Some people are naturally more comfortable in front of a camera than others. It is the photographers job to sense that and do whatever it takes to make them at ease and guide them in the right direction. Sometimes this can take time, so patience is important too.
In a situation like my shoot with you, because we were shooting on location in your home and because of the publication we were shooting for, I would advise on keeping your wardrobe very minimal and casual but classy. That way it wouldn’t get too busy or clash in the environment. No crazy patterns, super bright colors or anything too “fancy”.
Same with makeup, minimal. But again, these recommendations may not always be applicable. If I were shooting you in an all white room, I may want you to have a loud outfit on to stick out more.
My Favorite Trevor Paulhus Portrait
I wanted to share my favorite Trevor Paulhus portrait (so far, that I know of), an architect in his office, a stunning, moody environmental portrait. Incredible or what?
Trevor, thank you for your time and your thoughtful answers. I’m sure you have quite a few new fans now… which brings me to…
all photos by and with the permission of Trevor Paulhus