As part of a new series on dPS, we’ll be spotlighting commercial photographers on a (hopefully) bi-weekly basis to give our readers an insight into the minds of photographers doing great things. Our first in the series is João Canziani. João was named one of PDN’s 30 Young Photographers to Watch in 2005 and has an impressive client list including American Express, GE, LIFE, Marie Claire, Nike, Travel & Leisure and more. He’s photographed celebrities including Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Heche. Originally from Lima, Peru, he now lives and works in New York City.
What first interested you about photography?
I think it started when I was very young, looking at the pictures my dad took. I was living in Peru at the time and my Dad’s camera was stolen, so my mom got him a Pentax K1000 35mm camera as a gift. He kind of lost interest in it then and when we moved to Canada I started shooting more and my true interest in photography started in high school. I began really liking magazines. I started cutting out the pictures or ads that I liked and sticking them all over my bedroom wall.
How long have you been working as a professional photographer? What did you do before then?
About 9 years. I graduated Art Center College of Design in CA in late 2001, assisted a couple years and then decided to go for it. Before Art Center I lived in Vancouver, Canada. I feel like I was a permanent student… completed a degree in psychology while I waited tables. I’ve been in New York for a year and a half now, but worked in L.A. for 10 years before that. L.A. began to feel like a bubble – in good and bad ways. It’s kind of its own market, so it feels like you only compete against certain photographers, but also like you’re missing out on this big cultural opportunity. New York has that.
What do you consider the two most important aspects of your business?
There are so many important things, and they’re so closely intertwined that is hard to mention just two. Not to mention that this “business” is more personal to me in nature. So… I would say one is to be constantly shooting, even if it’s just while you’re hanging out with friends. It’s exercising that muscle. Psychologically it’s like fuel to me. If I don’t shoot often enough, then I start losing my mind a little. To take it a step further, it’s very important to shoot personal projects, or ideas that you want to investigate. These are things that give you your voice and develop your vision.
The other important thing would be to constantly hustling, promoting yourself, networking, keeping in touch with people and clients. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s such a competitive world that you need to do it to survive, and eventually thrive.
Yeah, I think it’s more like a non-routine. I can spend a few days not shooting where I’m kind of doing the same thing from one day to the next. Wake up, go for a run every other day, make some coffee and either be working on images, updating the website or blog, or doing paperwork – billing, invoicing, that kind of thing (which I think takes most of the time). But one constant seems to almost always go on the bike to get a good espresso in the late afternoon.
The days that I’m shooting, well, every day is totally different from the rest. I get pretty varied shoots that one day I can be at a beach in the Caribbean shooting kids running into the water – just an assistant and I and no lighting – and then another day I can be in a location with a crew of 15 plus tons of strobe lighting, plus a video crew of 30 shooting alongside me. Which is what happens with a lot of ad shoots.
Where do you find inspiration? What’s your creative process?
This is the principal reason why I moved to NY. This city is so incredibly inspiring and provocative. So the inspiration is everywhere and in everything. From going to museums to galleries, to biking around and taking the T4 with me, watching for interesting moments or noticing the light, to looking at magazines. Or movies. Ideas can be triggered at any time. After watching a movie and I’m in bed sleeping, an idea can come in the middle of the night. I’ll have a journal by the side of the bed and I’ll write the idea down. I regret it when I don’t and I think that I’ll remember it in the morning.
What are challenges you’ve faced starting your business and since then? What have you done to overcome these?
It’s a tough business I think, so it’s a slow climb. The only solution is being patient, constantly being at it no matter the challenges. Eventually you get better and people will start noticing you.
The financial aspect is a big hurdle. You have to invest so much to get started. When I first got going my promotion was very humble and I took on some credit card debt. I think it’s unwise to get into that kind of debt. What I learned was that you have to look at it in the long haul. Success is a long process, so look into things like lines of credit or an American Express. I paid my debt off with a few big jobs, but I’d do it the other way if I could go back.
When I started I supplemented my income by assisting a little bit. But eventually I had to quit that because I don’t think I was any good at it and I didn’t like it. But more importantly because I feel you can’t have one foot as an assistant and the other as a photographer. You have to decide what to do and concentrate on that if you want to make it.
What do you enjoy most about being a commercial photographer? Is there a specific job that you’ve really enjoyed?
Again it really varies, as I mentioned before. I like it that I get a wide variety of jobs, so I enjoy sometimes shooting a travel story just by myself, or doing a bigger production with a bigger crew where you have to collaborate. I really enjoyed this last pharma job I did a couple weeks back exactly because of this reason. Discussing ideas with the art director, then looking at wardrobe, seeing how the talent looks, and then collaborating with the digital tech in making the images look amazing.
Hopefully a lot sooner than 10 years I want to be shooting films and shorts, such as commercials. But for me my goals are simple. Shooting more… More creative campaigns, the kind that you go wow, it’s almost approaching art. And also be an established artist in the editorial realm, shooting portraits or fashion for feature stories, covers. I’m optimistic about this industry. I always look up. I don’t think magazines will die. There will always be a desire to look at pictures. And people will get more sophisticated in their taste in pictures. It’s just that the delivery will change… so hopefully a waterproof iPad that can withstand the sand at the beach will be great! The thing that will pull you through as a photographer is being authentic, original and creative.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to people looking to turn their photographic hobby into a career?
I think I alluded to this before… but if it’s a hobby you need to realize that you can’t start a career on one or two images. One needs to develop a consistent body of work, and develop a voice and vision. This is done by constantly shooting, coming up with ideas, and doing personal work. And then, getting feedback from people in the industry that you may admire or respect.
I definitely recommend people assist to get started. I think you need two things. Some sort of school or mentor program is important where you learn about art and culture and how to better form your photography into a fine art idea. Assisting then helps teach you the real life business, and interning is valuable as well. I’ve seen people who assist and it seems that years later they are the ones doing well now. The whole experience is a learning environment.
Where can we hear more from you or see more of your work?