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Meet Echo Park Photographer: Jonathan Labez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jonathan Labez.

Jonathan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I went to UC Santa Cruz for literature. As I was finishing up my degree, I picked up a prosumer digital camera. There was no way of taking classes, so I went to the bookstore a block away and just read up on photography. It was the pre-youtube and smartphone era, which meant dirty looks from the employees of Borders as I wrote notes in a notebook on what I was learning.

Flash forward a few years and it had become a more engulfing hobby. Bought a DSLR and some used flashes. Being out with my skate friends gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph them. Eventually, a few guys I didn’t directly know, noticed and asked if I wanted to shoot them. One of those shoots lead to my first feature for skate magazine and snowballed from there. I’ve met a number of pros and some of my childhood heroes. I spent 2 years filming a full-length skate video called ‘Take Your Time’ with filmer Gregory Preston and Pro skater Jeremy Soderberg. I’ve managed to work on a number of projects I didn’t think I’d ever be a part of just a few years ago.

All the while, I’ve worked industry side jobs for Milk Studios, been a digital tech for a few fashion-celeb photographers, even a PR job building relationships with editors at magazines and learning what makes for a featured image. Every job is one step closer to understanding what it takes to be a successful photographer.

Has it been a smooth road?
A friend of mine once said I was a private person living a public life. The life of a photographer is out in the open and I’m a quiet person in my day to day life. Finding the balance in this industry has been an important lesson. You learn how to socialize and get outside of your comfort zone. You have to in this industry that’s all about getting out there and putting people at ease as you photograph them. The flipside is knowing how to capture someone being themselves because you recognize that moment from your own life. You see the faces they make for everyone else, then figure out who they are when the camera is off.

When you look back, can you point to a period when you wanted to quit or a period that was really frustrating?
There hasn’t been a moment I’ve thought about quitting. Once you decide on a creative path mixed with work, you’re constantly trying to find your niche. What do you do that others don’t? How can I market that? Some photographers I’ve seen are all over the place. They shoot weddings, sports, portraits, concerts, the whole gamut. Great on them if that’s what they want to work on. Go where the money and your interests take you. I’m in the belief that you stick to a few things that you enjoy and the money will follow.

Sure, it’s been a slow road building a style and learning what I like to shoot. When someone hits me up to shoot, they want to work with me because I bring that style with me. You’re not just hiring me to point a camera. Anyone can take a photo with an iPhone. You’re hiring me because of the vision and flavors I bring to the final images. That in itself is tough because you spend so much of your early career imitating other people that you look up to. Or thanks to Instagram filters, you see photographers skip working on images in a post by applying filters. That’s someone else’s vision of what a photo should look like, not yours. Make an image yours but don’t forget to keep the client’s parameters in mind. Even if you shoot for fun, always imagine it was for a client or magazine so you keep that “look” in mind. That alone raises you above the growing number of photographers shooting with kit lenses and relying on filters.

What advice do you wish to give to those thinking about pursuing a path similar to yours?
Plenty of people are photographers now thanks to affordable cameras and lighting gear. I’m not here to denigrate that. I started out shooting my earliest published stuff on a Canon 30D that I bought 3-4 years after it released and some cheap speedlites off craigslist. We all have to start somewhere. It’s that there are 1000 other voices shooting 10,000 photos.

You find a way to make yourself known. Take on a photo project (I’ve got a polaroid one I’ve been working on for 4 years). Work on your technical skills before you go after jobs. Biggest peeve is seeing someone who isn’t proficient take on a shoot, do a mediocre job, and because of it, underprices. It sets a low pricing standard everyone in the area has to live by. Research magazines that look similar to your style and follow them. Shooting should always feel like you’re having fun (at least for your client). The moment it feels like a burden, you might as well be in an office. It’ll show in your work how much you don’t care.

What are you most excited about these days?
I’m working on a few projects at the moment. One is a polaroid book project I’ve been working on for 4 years. I think that’s finally come to a head and I have to start the long process of scanning and organizing. There’s my collaboration with 9 to 5 Media on a video/photo release that I’ve been spending my weekends shooting for. I’ve got a few trips in the works, possibly one out of the country. I’m honestly just looking forward to devoting time to image creation and seeing where that goes.

Contact Info:

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Image Credit:
Jonathan Labez

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