On Friday, Molly and I met with local Seattle photographer, Alex Lim. We met him at his studio in SoDo. Covered with plants, and other aesthetically pleasing interior decor, it was a nice setting to conduct this interview. To start off, we wanted to ask him a little bit about his background. Alex decided that he wanted to become a photographer after college in 2005. Prior to this, he had no formal art training, and didn’t attend art school. He mentioned that he, “started just like everyone, by just picking up a camera after college.” He started off by telling us that his career began when, “digital was not brand new, but it was still at the point where people were still asking the question, ‘Do you shoot with film or do you do digital?’ ” He then elaborated by mentioning that he shoots digitally because he had bought his first SLR camera around that time he started in the business. Initially he was shooting photos for clubs, such as his martial arts clubs, and various other events, and fundraisers. He bought the camera for those reasons, and through this, he found a true passion for photography. He also mentioned that this passion conveniently coincided with when he was graduating from school. His first job after college was working at a graphic and web design studio, but shortly after starting there, he figured out that working on anything that involved coding was exponentially changing year by year and it wasn’t really his interest. His career path became a natural evolution. Once he found his place in the photography industry, honing in on what he really wanted to do, he began his career. He spent the first 4 or 5 years learning, growing, networking and building a strong portfolio which he could use to get photoshoots. Today, having been in the industry for around 13 years, an average day for him as a freelance photographer is sporadic. We asked what a typical day looks like, and Alex mentioned that he doesn’t really have a regular schedule. Every week, month and year is different. Over time, he found that his interest and specialty lies more with model type photos, as opposed to commercial shoots. He likes to use his unique style to tell a story with his pictures; each photo goes beyond the person who is standing in front of the camera. He feels that shooting in foreign locations is a good way of achieving this. We were curious about the process of choosing his models, and how he works with them to create the outcome he is looking for. For Alex, personality is very important. He likes to look for models who also have unique personality traits that will make a shoot more interesting. Sometimes he will have models participate in test shoots to test not only the model, but also the location and the concept. He doesn’t want these to feel like an audition though, so sometimes he will work with a heavy hand, and sometimes not, depending on the model. We were curious about what photographers have influenced his work and his thinking around photography over the course of his career, and Alex mentioned that he admires different artists for different reason, but he named in in particular. He admires portrait photographer Peter Lindbergh for his talent capturing expression and emotion, and also Erik Almas, who is a digital photographer with a real ability to visually conceptualize a shoot/project, and bring everything together into a composite of hundreds of photos.
We followed these questions about Alex’s personal story with some questions about the photography industry today in general. To start this conversation off, we talked about how Alex has seen the industry change throughout his time in the field. He talked about how the industry is constantly changing, especially with the addition of the social media boom. Social media has changed the culture a lot, where many influencers can post photos for a brand, and get sent free clothes for example. This is very different from before, as some brands don’t even need to hire a professional photographer to get their brand exposure throughout platforms. “There is a homogenization of everything” Alex noted. There is less specialization and he finds that people today don’t notice the small details as much as they used to, and they don’t care as much about real quality of photos. This he feels has lead to a change in the perception of the field of photography and of the industry as an occupation. Nowadays almost everyone has access to devices with camera capabilities. With the huge influx of social media posts and the integration of modern smartphones, our next conversation moved into the difference between professional photographers and hobby/Instagram photographers. Alex feels that there are a few main difference between the two. Professional photographers naturally work with strong degree professionalism and experience with equipment and technique. This experience is not only with cameras and other photographic equipment, but also working with and directing the models. Professionals know how to engineer a mood board and create the desired effect with their own style vs. an amateur who wouldn’t have those skills, and Instagram photographers, for example, can only create good content for one medium, i.e. Instagram as opposed to a variety of different mediums. Next, the idea of what makes a photo really stand out from the rest got brought up. He simply said that if you look at it in a thumbnail size, or Instagram cube size for example, it should draw you to it. He gave us an example we could easily relate to, looking at someone’s feed on Instagram. He mentioned that usually, you won’t click on every single photo on a feed. Instead, you will click on the ones you are drawn to. That is how he explained how a good photo stands out. Finally, we asked Alex what he felt was the hardest part about being a professional photographer today. His answer was simple, “I don’t know if there are any easy parts.” He said that to him, the key is keeping the interest and the passion and sticking with it, and that can be very hard. In his 13 years in the business, Alex has seen so many people come and go. People these days get so easily distracted; either their expectations for their career didn’t match up, or they didn’t know how to direct models, whatever the case, Alex stressed that “if you don’t stop, you won’t fail”, so just stick with it.
Check out his website! http://www.alexlim.com