Marc Addleman never had an all-consuming desire to become a photographer. After majoring in journalism at the University of Florida-and discovering it wasn't for him-he found himself working for an event coordinator in Atlanta, where he met a young photographer who was shooting for the Davison's department store chain (owned by Macy's and eventually converted to Macy's stores). Even though he had no specific training in photography, Addleman started out making sets and backgrounds for this photographer, and eventually became fully immersed in learning the basics of the craft, from helping with props and styling to darkroom technique, loading and processing film. "I didn't have the knowledge that one day I would be a photographer myself," he explains. "I just thought this was a very cool job to have as a 20-something."
But fate has a way of grabbing one's talent by the horns and directing it (albeit in a roundabout way) to one's final destination. Addleman did his time in Macy's darkrooms for a few years, then made the move to the Big Apple, where he toiled as a photography assistant. When he finally decided to make the leap from assistant to photographer, he had a couple of lucky breaks.
He first nabbed a one-year gig photographing fourth-grade girls at a special educational initiative in Amagansett, Long Island; after that he worked as a producer in the fashion and advertising industry in New York, booking models and studios. Then he got a call that brought him out to Seattle to work as the in-house fashion photographer for The Bon Marché, another department store under the Macy's umbrella. When he finally decided to branch out on his own as a freelance fashion and lifestyle photographer, he had built up an impressive portfolio and learned techniques from a variety of professional photographers. Today he shoots kids, families, and the occasional high-fashion job, keeping his finger on the pulse of the industry while using the techniques he's picked up over the years.
"With the market right now, even fashion tends to be more relaxed," he explains. "So with both kids and adults, I try to let them move and be as natural as possible, given the parameters. I try to give them a situation, like a living room with a computer, and then offer them a little bit of direction as if it were a motion picture-I even sometimes say 'action!'"
Keeping his subjects relaxed is one of the biggest hurdles. "When you enter a studio, most people freeze," he says. "They could be relaxed and talking in between shots, and as soon as the camera comes up to their faces, I see their backs stiffen and they assume a certain posture that isn't completely natural. So my key thing is to say, 'Do what feels natural.' Of course, 'natural' doesn't always translate to film, but you sometimes have to take a few bad shots to get the good shot. I try to set up a situation, even if it's on a white seamless, where they have some sort of action or series of events I want them to go through; they might repeat it 20 times as I try to get that one second in between that's as real as possible."
Getting his point of view across (in other words, transferring what's in his mind's eye to his camera) is also a challenge. "I do jokingly say to some of my clients, 'I tend to be on the ground a lot!' That's true whether I'm shooting kids or adults. However, in the next instant, I might be on a ladder."
Like a rock star who grabs his microphone out of its stand and works the stage, Addleman doesn't stay put in one spot. "I'm definitely a person who has a hard time with a tripod," he laughs. "I don't like to stay in one spot, because if you want people to move, you as the photographer have to move with them. I rarely stay in the same spot for more than a few frames. My composition, then, is sort of on the fly. I have a basic idea of what I want it to be, but each shot is not specifically composed."
Mixing Up the Lighting
Any photographer would kill for perfect illumination for his or her subjects. But sometimes the mark of a true pro is being able to take that not-so-ideal lighting scenario and still turn it into a successful shoot. "Shooting catalogs when you have 10 to 20 shots a day and you've got horrible midday lighting-you still have to make that shot look great," he explains. "That's unlike Sports Illustrated, where you [do] a shot in the morning and two in the late afternoon when the light is gorgeous. Just about anyone can shoot a beautiful image of a supermodel with gorgeous afternoon light in the Caribbean; what's really tough is when it's high-noon lighting in June and you have hours of horrible overhead light and you still have to produce nice-looking shots and make your people look great. I think that comes with years of experience and some tricks under your belt."
His varied background certainly has helped him effectively "light the way" over the years. "I came from a background working for several different photographers who were great studio lighters and good with natural light," he says. "The more you do it, the more you realize what works."