You might say that L.A.-based fashion photographer Matthew Barnes is an "out of the box" thinker. With no studio, he operates uninhibited by his environs, giving each shoot an individual style and expression, "I like the organic, less structured approach to photography. The challenge of fitting location to a given image is what I live for," says Barnes.
Traveling wherever the assignments take him-Hawaii, Seattle, New York, Telluride, Scottsdale, Phoenix, West Palm Beach, Miami, and San Francisco-he is unbound by state lines. "It all depends on the client's location and need. We will go anywhere."
His free-spirited outlook is very much a generational legacy, passed down to him from a family of artists. "I grew up wanting to be a painter. We were exposed to all types of art: painting, illustration, etchings and photography. My father has a huge library of fantastic art books from design to painting to photography. I grew up with a museum in my home."
Barnes' first professional venture was in graphic design before he switched to full time photography work, which, according to Barnes, has given him an edge that other photographers don't have. "I have a better understanding of design as it relates to the final use of the image."
An experienced team player on both sides of the camera, Barnes has developed a well-balanced approach to his craft, from capture through output. For more than 20 years, he has attracted such high-end clients as Coca Cola, DreamWorks, Hanes, Pepsi, Rolling Stone, Warner Brothers Records, Wrangler Jeans, Ford Motor Co., Target Stores, and Virgin Records.
Collaboration Is Key
Working with two to three assistants per job, depending on the shoot's budget, Barnes considers his them an integral part of every shoot. "My assistants are the most critical component for me. They can teach many photographers a few things, including me. At some point, they will be my competition, but that's what keeps me going," he says.
Barnes brings in his own crew of stylists and makeup artists, and works side-by-side with ad agencies, from capture to print. "Once the job starts, I usually meet the CD or AD on the project and we go over their concepts for the campaign. I like to be involved in as much of the planning as possible, choosing locations, talent, stylists, etc.," he says.
Barnes tries to visit the photo shoot location and meet with the people involved with the project in advance.
"I like their excitement and energy, from the AD to the talent to the stylists to my assistants," he says. "We try to have fun while we work. We have a shot list for each day, but we do our best to keep it loose. After the shoot is over, we process and do an edit for the client. I like to sit with the AD and edit," Barnes explains.
When working with models, Barnes not to give them too much direction. Instead he likes them to do what comes naturally. "I'm not a big, loud screamer photographer. I'm not the star. I'm there to make great images. I prefer to talk to them about a feeling or an idea and let them interpret for themselves. I don't want to inhibit their spirit," he says.
Moving to digital was an easy transition for Barnes because of his four years' experience as a graphic designer. Speaking about the digital advantage, Barnes notes that not only has digital streamlined his workflow, but it has also kept his overhead to a minimum.
"Editing, retouching, and storage are quick and easy. All you need to do is process the files. I don't have to worry about adding costs to the job for additional scans or for down time waiting to get the chrome back from the separator. It has given me more choices for composing imagery and a lot more freedom with my work."
Post Is Key
To Barnes, the advantages digital has brought to the industry, outweigh any disadvantages. "Besides a more streamlined workflow, I'm able to generate more fees for the studio, such as processing, color correction, contact sheets, high-resolution files, and retouching. All these items are being done by someone else, and the cost for me is minimal."
Retouching is a huge part of Barnes' craft. It's where most of his work is done, in fact. He rarely sends an image to a client without extensive retouching.Barnes will bring in extra help for retouching if he has a high volume of images.