The Path to Becoming a Director

Posted on: September 13th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Written by Zack Seckler
Edited by Greg Faherty

Like many other professional photographers I’ve been keeping a close eye on the motion phenomenon and have been quickly upgrading my skills so I can create both still and motion content for my clients and myself.

In the search to educate myself about directing motion I came across an excellent book called The 30-Second Storyteller: The Art and Business of Directing Commercials by director Thomas Richter. It’s a fantastic resource. Not just because it is indeed about the art and business of directing commercials but because it comes straight from a person who cut their chops as a director, not as a still photographer.

This is important because we get a peek into the world of full-scale commercial productions. Or in other words: we get to see how the big boys roll.

I interviewed the author/director Thomas Richter about his directing experience, his views on the industry and where still photographers fit into the mix. What follows is a ton of valuable information for anyone interested in professionally directing motion.

Seckler: What was your path to becoming a commercial director?

Richter: I went to college with the goal of becoming a director. At the time there was the perception that if you start off in commercials you get to work faster, and eventually you’ll have a shot at doing movies. Some of the recent graduates at that time, like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder, had done just that, become really successful commercial and music video directors. It hasn’t always been like that. There were times when it’s been difficult to be a commercial director and make it into the movies. But there was this opportunity, and so a lot of us just thought, let’s do a commercial reel because it’s cheaper than shooting a movie.

I graduated in ’96, with a commercial reel that was very heavily children’s commercials, be it a car commercial or food commercial or whatever. Doing that served me well to start out with, because it was a specialty niche, but I got tired of it pretty quickly and switched over to a more comedic style.

Seckler: How long did it take until you were able to start making a living at directing?

Richter: It was pretty quick. I was doing really well by, like, ’98. I got my first smaller jobs in 1997. Mostly in Europe. I had some bites here [in LA], but then it started going a little better in Europe.  Public service announcements, lottery type spots, etc. The types of projects where production companies hire fresh, new, young directors. The budgets ranged from $10,000 to $20,000.

Seckler: So, those things start to come along and then you start to get bigger jobs.

Richter: Yeah. Obviously it’s different for everyone. One of my student friends back then, he did this spec spot for Budweiser, and it was so funny that Budweiser actually used it for the Super Bowl. So all of a sudden he had a Super Bowl spot. And that’s just the way it is. You start with smaller jobs, and then hopefully someone will see it and it’s good enough so that your reel looks good, and some agency will give you a shot. Unfortunately, this is a really hard time to do that because of the entire state of the industry. But opportunities are always out there.

Seckler: When you started out, did you have a production company representing you at that time?

Richter: Yes, you always have to have a company, because they have the contacts. So it’s always good, almost necessary financially, to have a production company behind you that has some clout, that can curry favors and can get the equipment and have the insurance.

Seckler: Got it. So tell me, what’s the typical career arc of a director? You mentioned in your book that directors will only spend a few years at the peak of their career. That begs the question: what happens after your peak?

Richter: You can be a director for longer, but there’s usually a time when you’re really hot. And sometimes guys manage to make that peak longer, and sometimes they manage to have sort of a second peak or a comeback type thing. It’s different for everyone. There was a time when Tarsem Singh (who directed the R.E.M video “Losing My Religion”) was the hottest shit around. And, right now he’s not really doing many commercials. He had a very specific style that was hot for a moment, and now it’s not hot anymore. And the same for people like Michael Bay, who did a very specific kind of music video and commercial that was high-production, that was very over-stylized in a storytelling way. But he managed to move on into features. Very successfully, obviously. Others start production companies. Some keep working in commercials. So you definitely want to be aware that you might have a time when you’re making a ton of money, but that’s not going to last so you’d better put the money in the bank. And try to find some kind of solid income for whatever comes after.

Seckler: Can you give people an idea of what a director could make while they’re doing really well, and then what they could make after they’ve gone through that hot period where they’re just kind of working for the bank?

Richter: Well, if you have a really good year, you might shoot fifteen commercials, maybe twenty. That’s a lot. And these are not the A+ list commercials, because those take longer, so you can’t shoot as many. You’re probably going to make twenty grand per shooting day. That’s an upper average. So you can make upwards of $350,000 -$400,000 without being one of the super-hot top guys, who can pull $5 million or $6 million quite easily. I was able to make $100,000 – $120,000 for two or three years straight by shooting between eight to ten spots a year.

Seckler: Is that still a valid range?

Richter: It’s gotten a little tougher. A lot has changed with the recession and the general downturn in advertising, so the rates have dropped dramatically. For someone like me it’s pretty much stayed the same except there’s less work. Because I would consider myself the B- range, and there are a lot of A guys that are doing work now they wouldn’t have touched three or four years ago. They’re doing detergent commercials. I’m bidding against people that, and it blows my mind. I bid against David Mamet. And I’m just like, are you kidding me? I’m bidding against a literary icon? It’s like, if I were an agency and I had the choice between David Mamet and me, I’d be working with David Mamet, just because then they can walk around saying that they worked with David Mamet. So that’s why it’s gotten hard at an entry level.

Seckler: For the people out there who aren’t at the top but are getting ten jobs or so a year what do they do for the rest of that time?

Richter: Well, it’s misrepresenting to say you have ten shooting days, because each shooting is preceded by a one or two-week pre-production phase, and in some cases you’re part of the post-production. In some cases you’re not, but usually you’ll at least do a director’s cut, which will take two or three days. So each project is generally at least a two-week project. And then you have to take into account writing the treatment and bidding for the job. That can take a week, and chances are for every spot you book you were bidding on ten others that you didn’t book. So that’s all work, you know.

Seckler: What’s your opinion about where the industry is going? Do you think that it’s specifically tied to how the economy is doing, or do you think the industry as a whole is changing because of, for example, new media and people gravitating from television to online viewing?

Richter: I think that in a way it has been the perfect storm for this industry. With the recession and the overall economic downturn, the first thing to get cut is advertising budgets. But besides that, online media and the proliferation of things like You Tube and the web have caused clients to say, ‘wait a minute, why should I pay $500,000 for a commercial, and why should I pay a TV network $10 million to run it if I can distribute it for free over the Internet, get 10 million hits, and shoot it for $20,000?’ And the main change has taken place in the mid-field.

All of the commercials that were between $300,000 and $750,000, those commercials are gone. All the top commercials, the ones where they spend $750,000 and up, they’re still around. And the whole convergence of Internet and television that we’re witnessing, and the change of the entire prime-time network model, no one has really figured out how that’s going to work. Television networks are clinging to the old models because that’s where they make most of the money. They don’t have the answers. They don’t know how they’re going to keep their model in existence, quite honestly.

Seckler: What’s your opinion?

Richter: Well, I think the good news is that content is going to be king. Good content will be what takes a commercial to the top. That’s what we’re seeing with the video sharing, with people sharing cool little clips. Internet and television are going to be the same appliance. So I think the budgets are going to stay low. It’s never going to go back to the good old times. But even with that said, there’s still a pretty good paycheck in most cases because things just cost money if you want to do them right.

Seckler: You mentioned lower production quality…when the HD-DSLR cameras hit the market, how did that impact the motion industry, specifically commercials?

Richter: HD opened the door to a lot of high-quality cameras people wouldn’t have considered before, especially agencies. There’s a perception still in many places that it’s just low-budget and low production value to shoot HD. But agencies can be convinced that shooting on a digital format can look exactly the same as shooting on film. It really depends on the project how much is saved in the budget and how big the fit is.

Seckler: In terms of influence, I was thinking that it’s made high-quality video available at a much cheaper price to many more people, especially professional still photographers. So, in that sense, have you seen an impact? Have you seen a lot of still photographers make the transition into commercials?

Richter: Anyone can go rent or buy an HD camera nowadays, but that’s not going to make them a director. The good commercial is still an amalgamation of so many things. It’s the content; it’s how you shoot it. It’s how you conceptualize it. And then there is the editing, the music, that will make it look and feel professional. I think one of the major challenges for still photographers would be editing. You know, editing in motion pictures is probably the single most powerful tool. And it’s the only thing that filmmaking has that no other art form has. Everything else we borrow. If I was a photographer trying to break into commercials, I would study editing because that’s what sets it apart from still photography. You can look at a still image for ten minutes and appreciate every inch of it. In commercials, you can’t do that. You see an image for maybe two seconds, and yet you have to communicate something with that image instantly.

Seckler: Do you have any specific advice for still photographers who might want to break into directing commercials?

Richter: The editing is a huge deal. I would study editing. I would look into how editing works, because there’s a dynamic motion that can make things seem fluent or it can create conflict. And that’s because it all goes back to storytelling at the end. It has a lot to do with how your brain processes information. In animation, for example, your brain fills in the motion. It’s actually about the gaps in the motion more than it is about showing every second of one motion.

Seckler: What about advice for building a reel? In the book you recommend spec spots, right? Why is it important to actually feature a real product as opposed to just doing something that’s good in and of itself but doesn’t feature a brand name?

Richter: Your reel is what will get you into the door, not just with a production company but also with agencies and ultimately clients. And every step of the way is less creative. People are less creative, less artistic, less imaginative. And they’re going to be looking more at some sort of bottom line, be it financial or a fear of losing their job. So each agency creative who looks at it also thinks about, ‘how can I show this, how can I sell this to my client?’ They want to be able to say, ‘okay, this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s done this before. I can trust this.’ So if you have beautiful fantastic stuff, or even super funny stuff, but it’s something that’s not quite a commercial, then it raises questions. And the fewer questions that are raised, the better.

Seckler: So it’s about safety.

Richter: Yes. If you have a reel and everyone knows it’s all spec, they’re going to be scared. Ideally you want the commercial to look absolutely real, where they don’t even question, where they don’t even ask if it’s real or if it’s a spec spot. And those are the spots that will give you the most for your money.

Seckler: So how do you recommend people start out building a reel?

Richter: Well, the first thing you have to do is take stock of what’s out there and see how you fit into that. What’s your style? Do you like comedy, do you like pretty pictures, do you like tabletop? And then you look and see, what’s hot right now. What are people looking for? And you can either buy into that completely and do what everyone is doing, or you can try to do your art form and add something to it, make something that’s interesting and at the same time commercial. In the comedy world, one way is to ask creative if they have boards. Creatives will write, like, fifty spots for every spot that’s even considered by a client, so they have tons of stuff lying around. Tabletop is easy because you can go and buy some products and just shoot it really pretty. Cars are really expensive to do, so that’s one of those things where you’ve got to sort of work your way into cars rather than do a spec car reel because otherwise you’ll be spending a lot of money.  I’ve known people who spend $120,000 on their spec reel and never get any work out of it.

Ask Maven: How Do I Get Work Abroad?

Posted on: September 1st, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Ask Maven is a new column created to answer your questions about anything related to advertising photography. Questions about self-promotion, production, estimates…you name it and Maven can help. Maven has fifteen plus years of experience in the advertising world and for the last six years has been an art buyer at a highly esteemed international ad agency.

Email your questions to: maven (at) thefstopmag (dot) com. If picked, your question and Maven’s answer will be published on this blog along with the option of a link to your work.

Our question this week comes from Borna Cavrag:

Dear Maven,

I appreciate the work you are doing at the F STOP, it gives us younger photographers a great perspective into the higher tier of photography work so we can progress and adapt in the right direction, and I am truly grateful for that.

My question is: how often do you book photographers who are not local, let’s say from Europe, Japan, Australia, and also from smaller countries? It is quite hard for us in the third-world (Croatia) to get commercial work, since the imagery is more often than not imported from foreign companies for their local affiliates, and the few jobs that are around are given to three or four photographers that have been doing them since Beatles were an up-and-coming band.

Thank you for your time, and it would be great if you could look trough my portfolio linked below and give me a few pointers about the direction I should be going in.

Sincerely yours,
Borna Cavrag

Dear Borna,

President Barack Obama © Nadav Kander

Thanks for the shout out- very much appreciate. It warms my heart. I just burned dinner so this is a welcome respite from failing in the kitchen. Ha.

I am not sure I would hire a photographer from a distant city unless he/she was offering my creatives something they simply can’t live without. I would say one way you can excel in being an “import” (aka someone who can shoot internationally and get flown to and fro) is to do something that is mind blowingly unique. For instance, Nadav Kander could probably live in the Earth’s crust and people would still pine for him. In fact, it may even make him more appealing- that “gotta have him, no matter where he is” kind of thing. Why you may ask? Because his work is so unique, so compelling, and so “Nadav” that not many other people can compete with him when a creative calls at 2 am on your battered Blackberry and says “get me Nadav”. Yes that is a dream for most photographers to be in demand like that, but start thinking about making your work have a real point of difference and you may be the subject of a late night creative booty call of sorts.

Also there are great sites now like Wonderful Machine and Redux, which feature photographers from around the world. It could be a great spot for you when people are looking for regional talent, which they often are, and even better for those not looking to shoot with the same 4 guys who have been around since the Fab Four (I prefer the Stones).  I also think you would probably have to pay your own travel to places like London- it may work to sell yourself as a local for the right gig. Most people have a sofa to crash on these days in big cities, right? I know I do. Time to call in some favors…

Looking at your work was great. I dig your site a bunch and was thinking you should focus on the photojournalism scene, albeit through a commercial lens. If you could maybe do some travel photography for commercial photography, I do think they would be willing to work with a photographer from somewhere else. (For instance- if you’re shooting in Thailand, you would most likely fly somebody in anyway, so not sure it would matter where you’re from). Maybe focus on shooting travel/lifestyle and see how that feels. I also think getting together a killer team of production people at your disposal to pack a suitcase and journey with you on a day’s notice is valuable.  Maybe your next promo could be a photo journey through Croatia, just so people see how you shoot landmarks, people, culture, etc. Could be worth it. And if you think Croatia is a cost effective place to shoot with lots of locations that would work for that European feel, sell that too. I think ad folks would be up to go somewhere like that. (I may suggest it).

So yes, I understand your pain in this process. It’s tough. But the global village is indeed connected beyond belief, albeit digitally, and distance is not as much of an issue. Maybe really boost your social media/marketing campaign to show just how connected you are and build relationships that way, since you are not in the photo capitals like NY, LA, or London and want to virtually connect- and then you’re not so very far away, are you? I am sure your lovely work will strike an interactive nerve in no time. And your site feels very 2.0 in that way, which is good, very good. I like the technology and layout of it. Maybe start uploading thoughts and photos in real time too. It really is all about redefining “connection” these days, and it’s always been about a point of difference that art directors are mad for, so keep that in mind as well.

Pleasure answering your question. I’m always here so reach out (just not at 2 am). That goes for the rest of you too. Peace and love and connectivity until next time,

The Maven. XO

Dan Winters

Posted on: September 1st, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Written by Zack Seckler
Edited by Greg Faherty

Dan Winters’ images are iconic; and it’s not just because he photographs icons. The magic of a Dan Winters portrait is it’s authenticity. His pictures have a soul. They invite the viewer to connect with people in a very real and personal way. In a media landscape overflowing with “less subtle” imagery his always seems to stand out. It’s a talent that certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed.

For over three decades he has created compelling images of the world’s most familiar faces and has amassed a list of accomplishments too long to list in this introduction. His images are associated with the best in magazines, book publishing, and fine arts. He has won over a hundred awards for his work and is considered by many to be an icon himself.

I recently interviewed Winters over the phone. We begin talking about a recent shoot he did for Wired magazine that involved both still and motion components…not to mention one of the funniest people alive. We continue on to discuss some fascinating points about his career and craft.

Will Ferrell for Wired © Dan Winters

Seckler: Let’s begin discussing the still and motion shoot you did for Wired Magazine that was created for publication in print and on the iPad.

Winters: Wired’s creative director Scott Dadich has been working with adobe for over a year designing software and interface to create a version of Wired designed specifically for the ipad. It’s a fully-realized, fully-designed magazine. It opens up many new possibilities for information delivery. In the third iPad issue there is a feature story on Will Ferrell. It is a light-hearted look at various technologies that were promised but never came to fruition. Jet packs, food in pill form and so on. For this piece I created four short films that were basically motion versions of the still images used to illustrate the feature.

Seckler: How much time, from start to finish, from conceptualizing and designing the sets, to building them, and then to doing all the post work did this take?

Winters: I spent hundreds of hours working on these. The folks at Wired chose several of these failed wonders to focus on. Scott and I settled on five. We discussed treating the visuals as tests in a lab environment with Will [Ferrell] conducting the tests. Once the approach was agreed on, I began the process of creating the world where these vignettes would live. I designed a large set in which all of the images could be made. I drew up a set of plans with all dimensions, material and color specifications. The specs were then sent to the very talented Ed Murphy and OT Ashton at Artworks Hollywood. OT and Ed began prop shopping and I realized early on that some of the key props that I had imagined didn’t exist at the prop houses of LA. I began the process of building by hand those props at my studio in Austin. I then shipped those to LA for the shoot. Scott and I had a conversation with Matt Labov, Wills publicist to broach the idea of generating motion content in addition to still content for the story. Initially Scott asked Matt if we could shoot Will “screwing around” on set.

Will Ferrell for Wired © Dan Winters

His publicist seemed amenable but insisted that Will have approval. I think as time passes this type of shoot will probably become more common place but these are uncharted waters at this time. I realized that this opportunity could be much more than just Will “screwing around” so I decided to make these fully flushed out shorts.

I got as much footage as I could on set in LA. I focused on all of the stuff that involved Will directly. It was pretty ambitious to try and pull this of. I would first light the still images with strobe and shoot them. Then, move out the strobe equipment and walk in the hot lights and light for the motion, work hard to be true to the lighting used for the stills. I would then get Will back into position and direct the motion portion. Once I had covered the scenes in LA I went back to Austin where the majority of the work took place. I spent two weeks on additional photography. I didn’t have the time in LA to do any insert shots with Will so I had to replicate the LA sets at my studio in Austin and hire hand and body models in wardrobe to produce the additional footage needed. I also did all of the graphics that appear in the shorts. Graphic design is one of my passions and I really enjoyed this part of the process.

I also used several miniature sets. A rocket in its silo. A giant tower that served as Ferrell industries headquarters as well as a miniature of Ferrell’s aerospace division. The miniature construction was incredibly time consuming. The rocket miniature which measured 45” x 36” inches required three full days of construction time for three seconds of screen time. I had to call in favors for all post-production. Doug Halbert at Imperial Woodpecker in New York helped bring the project together. He had produced several of my music videos in the past. He put me together with Dan Oberle at the white house in LA. Dan did a great job cutting and Clark at Company 3 did an incredible job with the telecine. I ended up giving away 8 thousand dollars worth of prints to all of those directly involved with the post-production.

Laure Dern © Dan Winters

Wired couldn’t afford to produce the films properly so I had to beg borrow and steel and spend my own time and money on them in order to see the project through. I still feel that with more time on the shoot day I could have brought them closer to my expectation but I’m happy with the final pieces as they stand.

Seckler: Tell me what the response was like.

Winters: I believe [I] handed them something that they never could have imagined would come out of that shoot.

Seckler: You’ve clearly been shooting motion yourself, could you share your thoughts about the fast-paced phenomenon of still photographers shooting motion.

Winters: Hi-def cameras have been around quite a while. And it seems like this really weird phenomenon is happening. Because the digital SLR exists, and can generate both still and video content, add to that there is simultaneously an outlet; photographers are now directors. I think the outlet is what’s determining expectations. Historically whenever new technology comes around, people scramble trying to figure out how it’s going to be used. For so many years, still photographs have been in magazines. The still photograph works for a reason. The viewers ability to ponder and scrutinize a moment can only exist in a still image. The photograph of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima is a perfect example. There’s also film content of that identical event, where the army photographer was literally standing right next to Joe Rosenthal filming the event, but it doesn’t have nearly the same impact as Rosenthal’s still image.

Seckler: So many people say that there is a signature to a Dan Winters photograph, what, in your mind, is definitive of a “Dan Winters” image?

Winters: When I started out in the ’80s I was shooting for newspapers. I really wanted to do magazine work so I would utilize my newspaper assignment opportunities to try and understand my working method. I started to bring lights with me which at the time was not common in the newspaper world.

Denzel Washington © Dan Winters

I began shooting my portrait assignments with large-format and medium-format systems. I began trying to create for the paper, something that was more along the lines of what one would generate for magazines. When I moved to New York I tried to make pictures that weren’t like the pictures I was seeing. Partially because I wanted to challenge myself, partially because I felt like a unique voice would be sought out. If you look at the magazine photographs in the late ’80s, the early ’90s that I was making I think they looked different to some degree than a lot of the work being published. It was an exciting time in magazines. I was really trying to push the edges of the frame, doing really kind of deadpan stuff. Very studied, meticulously-composed pictures. Frames within frames, really compressed lighting. I was trying to keep it simple. I was trying to make things that seemed a little bit more timeless or lasting but odd at the same time. There’s also a specific emotional range that I like to work with. I find when people get quiet and reflective, there’s a catharsis that can take place. The viewer doesn’t feel intimidated. If the subjects eyes are averted, rather than making direct contact, I believe the viewer feels more comfortable looking at that person and studying them and feeling, not necessarily voyeuristic, but not feeling shy or reluctant to scrutinize the subjects physical self. Over the years I keep trying to refine my work and allow it to evolve.

Seckler: How did you gravitate towards doing the portrait work that you’re most well-known for?

Winters: Well, first and foremost I would say that if you asked anybody in the magazine field, ’What type of work does Dan do?’ They’d probably say that I’m a portrait photographer. But if you look at my body of work, I have deliberately tried to keep it very diverse.

Tom Hanks © Dan Winters

If I had to shoot one type of subject matter exclusively, I’d imagine that it could lose some of it’s magic. I made a conscious decision early on to try to be as diverse as possible with regards to the subject matter. I think the word “style” implies a technique, a technical approach. if X, Y, and Z are in place then you get a certain kind of picture. I try to apply a sensibility to my approach so the consistencies come from the voice and not the technique. Having said that, photography, like many mediums is steeped in technique. It’s always a challenge. Everyone has their own take on subject matter. To a large degree I consider myself a journalist. I choose to do editorial work, and I always try to be aware of the magazine and the magazine’s editorial content. Honor the story. How can I augment the story, contribute to the story? How can I give the written word what it needs in a visual sense?

Seckler:: What’s your process for getting people to let their guard down and emote in front of the camera?

Winters: I usually like to sit with the person before I begin shooting to talk about what my expectations are, what the magazine’s expectations are, what I’m trying to accomplish. I tell them right off the bat, ‘don’t think of this as a photo shoot, this is a portrait session.’ And I think they’re so completely relieved, because typically when people do shoots, every frame that’s fired they feel like they’re supposed to do something. And there’s also a realization that if I get hired by the New York Times to do a cover, right off the bat there’s a mutual respect. The Times isn’t going to hire just anybody to shoot a cover. I’ve shot a lot of people multiple times. There’s also a whole connect that happens. There are often mutual friends involved. So there’s a familiarity that’s established.

Seckler: Once the subject is on set and you’re behind the camera, what is the process like?

Jonathan Franzen for TIME © Dan Winters

Winters: I direct the whole thing. I will tell them exactly what I need, and I talk them through it. Chin up, eyes over here, do this, do that. My shoots are really short, usually. Sometimes I’ll shoot only thirty frames. I know what I want, usually, and it’s easy to get it if people allow me to direct them. I’ve done about thirty commercials and tons of music videos in my day and I have no problem directing. And I think it’s really easy for an actor, or anybody I’m shooting, to take direction, because like I said, they don’t feel like they need to be generating stuff for me. I’m telling them what I want.

Seckler: Aside from Will Ferrell what else have you been shooting recently?

Winters: I just did a portrait of Jonathan Franzen for a Time Magazine cover. The tagline is was to be, ‘America’s greatest novelist.’ He’s also a birdwatcher. And the magazine had asked for a bird watching photo. In my mind I didn’t know what that would be, and I started thinking, ‘wow, it would be really great if I could shoot handheld, and just figure out something that will work with him in the landscape.’ I didn’t really know what the picture was going to look like, but I had an idea that I wanted it to be expansive. It was in Santa Cruz. I’d driven around and found some spots that I felt would work. And we had driven up to UC Santa Cruz to shoot some environmental shots of his office.

Winters' father © Dan Winters

On the way up to the school I saw on a hill, an old barn, and I thought, oh my God, I could never have imagined this. This is so beautiful. So when I saw that, I asked him, would you ever bird watch up here? And he said yes. And so this location, this opportunity, presented itself. I framed him very small in the frame, sitting down in the brush. And he’s almost really kind of not there. The idea of being a birdwatcher is that you blend into the environment so you can really observe. It worked out in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.

Seckler: Tell me about the personal work you’ve been working on.

Winters: Well, you know I have so many bodies of work. I think photography, like anything in life, is best served when you work within a place of consciousness and being really aware of what you’re doing. And having the dialog with yourself, that internal dialog, ‘why am I doing this?’ And I think if you can establish that, that’s probably the most important thing a photographer can do.

So what I’m working on right now are bodies of work that I’ve been working on for years. I’ve been shooting my son since he was born, and I’ve thousands of pictures of him. I’ve been working on a piece on New York for over twenty years. I’ve been doing a thing on American cities for probably fifteen or sixteen years. I photograph my wife. I have a project of collages that I’ve been working on for a long time. I have several different ones going, and I’m doing one on the Cold War now. I’ve been photographing honey bees with a scanning electron microscope. I’ve been printing honey as photograms on glass, caramelizing it and printing it in a darkroom on glass. A lot of diverse approaches to different subject matter.

Seckler: You’ve created an incredible body of work over the years, where does your drive and passion come from to keep creating?

Helen Mirren © Dan Winters

Winters: Well, I guess you could argue that any profession or any life pursuit, regardless of what it is, if the individual puts everything they have into it, it’s a way that their passion is manifested in the physical world. It comes from the heart. I think we’re all here to express our passion. And creativity is just one way. An amazing surgeon, an amazing musician,an amazing housewife — if you do something with love and care and passion, that will manifest in some way. I think to express one’s passion is to sort of really soul search and understand that the stuff comes to you and channels through you. If a subject interests me, and I feel like there’s a photograph or a drawing or a collage application to it, it’s really interesting to me to grow by maybe trying to interpret it. Trying to see how I can contribute something to the physical realm, using this as a vehicle. Like you said, ‘why do people respond to your portraiture?’It’s because we’re all human. We can look at that person and have a cathartic experience that a whole bunch of other people can have at the same time. I tend to think about this stuff way more than “how” to take the picture…‘Why take the picture?’ People come and ask me to make pictures for them. Every single time I feel incredibly grateful that someone has asked me to do this, because it’s my true passion in life. Which is why I try so hard every time, and I try to bring as much as I can to it every single time. You make one photograph at a time and at the end of your life you look back and that’s your career.