Photographer Travis Magee On The Business of Creation, Part Two

I’m a big fan of photographer Travis Magee, and I recently talked to him about his work, which ranges from striking art photos to portraits to event photography.  (You can read part one of the interview here.) For part two, we discuss the photographer’s influences, how he approaches shooting an event, the most exciting aspects of being a photographer today, and more. 


Who are your primary influences? Whose work do you admire?

Lois Greenfield, absolutely. The San Francisco based photographer RJ Muna — I’m in awe of the work he does. Mario Testino is a brilliant photographer. Annie Leibovitz. These are people I really enjoy for their ability to tell stories with a single image.

What is your approach to event photography?

When I’m in an event, I like to go back and forth between being present and also being as unobtrusive as possible. I really love catching those candid moments when people don’t know they’re being photographed.

The best part is when I’m at a party and people forget that I’m even there. Those unscripted moments are the most touching moments of an evening.

When somebody comes back years later and they’re looking through their album, the thing that they’re going to want see is that goofy moment that uncle Joe was having out on the dance floor that he didn’t think anybody was going to catch.

What are the biggest challenges in your industry and what do you find most exciting right now?

The biggest challenge is the progression of the technology. The ability to take a good photograph has really come to everyone.

So for instance, an amateur photographer can purchase a nice camera and be able to use the automatic settings and take a very good photograph almost instantly, and that is somewhat daunting for a professional photographer.

The cameras have gotten so good in low light that you can take a photograph in something that looks like it is almost no light. You can look around and think, “It’s completely dark here. I can barely see in this room.”

There’s always that moment when technology jumps, when you say, “OK now the amateurs are taking what the professionals were doing a year ago, how do we take it to the next level?” 

How I do that is a mix of using these cameras that can take incredible photos and using tools such as Photoshop and Lightroom in order to really draw out what you should see.

It used to be that you’d be looking at a sunset and you’d say,  “Man, I wish my camera could capture this.” Now if you take that picture and you bring it home and you take some time with Photoshop you can recreate the same colors and richness and detail that you saw when you took the photo.

With photography driving so much traffic on the Web these days, do you worry about people using your work and not crediting or paying you?

It’s interesting. I have this conversation a lot. I think the model is just changing. I really went pro only a few years ago when things started changing. For me it’s more about booking gigs.

That’s my business plan and that’s my goal: book more work so that I can keep doing my art.

I think the industry used to be very different. If you took a great photo you were going to make a lot of money off of that one photograph, and I think now it’s more about your body of work.

In this day and age, if somebody wants to steal your image they’ll find 500 ways to do that: they’ll erase the watermark or they’ll crop it or something. You just have to copyright all your images. I wouldn’t sue Joe Schmo blogger, but if a major corporation steals my image, I’ll sue them.

How do you balance artistic and commercial work?

By being very picky about the work that I take on. I’m very selective about the kind of gig that l take and then try and bring what I do into those gigs. That way I feel like I’m building my art, while at the same time, making my client happy.

I don’t stay in one genre for too long. So I won’t just do weddings or a ton of headshots or a ton of architecture all in a row. I try not to get pigeonholed into one thing.

If you just doing one genre over and over again you start to get into a pattern and then your art begins to suffer because you’re not challenging yourself.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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