Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Beyer.
Christopher, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was 21 and desperately in need of direction in my life and on a bit of a spiritual search as well. I was making some much-needed changes and decisions on what I wanted to do with my life and oddly enough I chose photography because of its seeming simplicity. Very soon after making the decision to pursue photography and without a plan, I crossed paths with a gentleman who was on a similar spiritual search. You don’t meet too many celebrity photographers in Sacramento (my place of birth) so when he said he was a photographer, with a big cocky grin on his face, I was convinced he must be into pornography or something. The guy was just really out of place in Sacramento and like no one I had ever met. When he showed me his work I was amazed. I knew that our meeting was more than a chance and that this was how I would learn to be a photographer.
I was absolutely a beginner knowing nothing more than how to develop a roll a film like what was taught in the only class I ever attended in High School. I wasn’t qualified to do anything let alone be anyone’s assistant but I was determined to make myself useful to him. I did whatever I could for him on small shoots he was doing in Sacramento while he was figuring things out for himself before heading to Los Angeles. I would carry his camera case or take a film to the lab for him. Pay was never even discussed I was well aware that my exposure to him was my payment. Along the way, he would let me shoot on some of his jobs and recommend me to small local magazines where I would shoot bands on assignment. This all felt amazing and after about a year when he moved to Los Angeles I began to fly down for a couple of weeks at a time.
The jobs my mentor was working on had budgets for assistants at this time, but I was nowhere near qualified to be paid as an assistant but I wanted to learn so he would buy me a plane ticket (which is $110 from Sacramento) and in exchange I would work on whatever jobs he had over a 2 week period while sleeping on either another assistant’s couch or on his. I was willing to do anything to be around photography. The jobs we were working on were for clients like Bacardi Rum, Miller Lite, Von Dutch, etc. We were, of course, shooting all Film no digital yet it was about 2002. I was learning so much and falling in love with even deeper with photography and also discovered a love I hadn’t intended on which was with the city of Los Angeles.
I was soon able to make the move to LA. I had never considered LA for a home as being from Sacramento there are a lot of odd opinions about LA like North-South pride stuff. It must have been a small town small mind type of situation because I realized once in Los Angels that it was very one-sided. No one in LA was worried or in any type of rivalry with anyone from Northern California and I think its the same for anyone who makes assumptions about LA. There are all kinds of wonderful people here and I believe each is functioning to make this city the large diverse international city that it is and it’s just a beautiful place to call home where I am constantly inspired. I have called it home since 2002.
With no Formal education apprenticing was how I was to learn photography. Through being utterly dedicated and constantly on call, as my mentor’s jobs grew in complexity I grew in skill level. I was moving up in the line of assistants who wanted to work and we began to travel extensively. The day came when I was promoted to 1st assistant and was being paid a decent wage to learn photography and travel the world. Over the 5 years I worked for him we traveled to 6 different continents filling our passports and It was exhilarating as well as very very hard work always traveling with tons of equipment needing to be shuffled between cars boats and planes. Commercial photography is not glamorous, it’s long hot sweaty hours of being tired and uncomfortable but extremely rewarding. During this time period, I was often not paid for many jobs and my duties included office work and even house sitting, diaper changing, picking up dog poop. I did whatever I could to be useful and dedicated to show I was “here to help” and I knew exactly what I was doing the whole time. I was making myself available for an opportunity.
The opportunity came one day when I was exhausted from a day of work and was driving a van of equipment back to the photographer’s house up Laurel Canyon. I got a call and he said: “come to Joaq’s house you’re shooting him”. At that moment my mind told me to try to make it for another day because I wasn’t prepared and I had just worked for 15 hours. This was a huge opportunity Joaq was Joaquine Phoenix one of my mentor’s close friends whom we had also worked with many times. The 2 of them decided it was time to give me a shot. Reluctantly I went to the house thinking that this may be the single most tragic event of my life. I was gonna get a chance to shoot someone cool (the chance of a lifetime for a photographer) but tired unprepared and even worse in front of my mentor. I met them at Joaq’s house and basically they were laughing and teasing me cause I was obviously nervous but my mentor said he would be my assistant while I shot. He said “you’ve got 10 minutes to shoot him Go”
I found that a funny thing happens when I look through the lens and start shooting. Everything outside that frame sort of melts away and I’m inherently inspired to open my mouth and direct. Once this happens a change takes place and I fulfill a role of sorts. I don’t know, the nerves all go away and I can shoot for hours without needing to even eat. It all catches up to me after the shoot but while looking through the lens and directing the subject nothing else matters. It’s when I am most confident and happy. The shoot with Joaquine turned out great and it opened up many doors for me. I have since shot hundreds of celebrities, editorials and commercial shoots, everyone, of which I was nervous before hand and fantasized about how to get out of it if you can believe it but I have come to know and be familiar with that feeling as part of the process. As soon as I have the camera in my hands and start to shoot that all goes away and it makes sense again.
Virtually all of my clients have in one way or another been passed down or come through someone I associate with my time as an apprentice/assistant. I travel regularly having shot for clients such as Turner Broadcasting, CNN, The CW, General Motors, Lexus, Dita Eyewear, and Von Zipper. My work can be seen in such publications as. Esquire, Elle, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, People, Marie Claire, Billboard etc. All of this work has come from being dedicated and loyal and having a sense of being of service to those I am photographing and always recognizing that photography is a team sport at this level. I could not produce the work I do without my creative team of assistants.
Has it been a smooth road?
Most of my early struggles consisted of how to really break out on my own and not starve or go crazy. Learning how to live as a freelance photographer. How to get paid on jobs after the fact. To this day I have not had one job I didn’t need to call about payment for. Other things just include production issues. How do you get 50 bags through customs in Mexico etc.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Well in the immediate future I have a shoot in Hawaii for 8 days that I am looking forward to the first week of October. I am also on hold for a shoot for the FDA the end of October.
Future goals that are in the works now include preparing for possibly 2 solo shows of my work. First will b e a show of my commercial work including celebrity portraiture and the 2nd show will be of my more personal work, actually a nude series that is a complete opposite which is a color study series. I actually released it on Instagram already but got a lot of positive feedback so I believe it will be a show soon. I would love if these could happen simultaneously, which I think would be interesting.
I also have plans for a photo school which is in its infancy now. I am also considering setting up a business that will be a collection of photographers rotating through a studio providing high-quality headshots for actors.
Let’s explore some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way. What was the most difficult part of your career so far?
Transitioning from being an assistant to supporting myself solely on my own photography. As an assistant for a busy photographer I reached a level where I was making decent money, enough to basically pay my bills on time and have new cars and be a little bit comfortable. I think they call it “the golden handcuffs”
To go out on your own requires a leap of faith and being comfortable being broke. This is my personal experience anyway. I don’t come from money and had no help from anyone financially. I found a couple of clients that shot somewhat regularly and decided to start saying no to assisting work. I was sat down by my mentor and the question was posed to me. “do you want to buy a house and have a family and work for me while you shoot fine art or do you want to be a photographer?” This was the moment I could have chosen whichever proposition was given to me next (a raise and a contract or something similar) or pursue my dream. I chose the latter. There were unpaid bills and heavy anxiety. I once paid for a loaf of bread with nickels, not quarters or dimes, Nickels. Believe it or not, those 3 different coins have different levels of ego-smashing capabilities attached to them. I guess I’m glad it wasn’t pennies, though. I think I understand the term starving artist for sure.
I just knew I had to keep going. I believed in my work and my ability and I knew inside that I was going to make it. There was no doubt in my mind. Looking back on it now it gives me a sense of pride knowing I earned my career with hard work and dedication.
Do you ever feel like “Wow, I’ve arrived” or “I’ve made it” or do you feel like the bulk of the story is still unwritten?
Well for me every time I get a job it feels amazing all the way through the shoot and then on the way home and then looking through the images until the next day. Then I crash. It has happened on virtually every shoot. I get a high from the job then there is a crash. At first, I love the work and then I always hate it for a couple of days and can’t look at it for a couple more until I can see it objectively and not from an emotional level. It’s odd but I am used to it and aware when it’s happening. As far as making it, I don’t think I ever feel like I have. There is always another job to get. This is not 9-5. Every shoot could be your last. No idea where the next will come from but the universe provides. My goal is to always be amazed at life whether my business is booming or slow. Otherwise, I would go crazy.
- Website: www.cbeyerphoto.com
- Phone: 323-481-2552
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: cbeyerphoto
Naomi Watts, Blake Lively, Robert De Niro, Aaron Paul, Joaquin Phoenix, Gina Rodriguez, Bill Hader, Dave Grohl