Editor’s note: Right now, Ian Spanier is in Uruguay shooting for a client. A few weeks ago he worked an MTV shoot for season three of “Snooki & Jwoww”. Just before that, he created all images for a ready-to-wear look book.
Based in New York, but ready and able to shoot anywhere in the world, Ian is an award-winning photographer with an impressive roster of clients (such as MTV, A&E, HBO, Runner’s World, Fast Company, Shape, Condé Nast Traveler, Danskin, plus many more), and two published books: “Playboy, A Guide to Cigars” and “Local Heroes: Portraits of America’s Volunteer Firefighters”.
We caught up with him a few days before he flew to South America and have this profile to share of his work and his next-up projects.
If you happen to be at PhotoPlus Expo in NYC this week, check out some of the stunning imagery in our booth (#163), courtesy of Ian and his cool sensibility.
Danskin ballerinas. Local heroes. Cigar makers. Ultimate Fighting Champions. Your range of subjects is pretty wide. How do you approach such a variety of work?
I was always a fan of the original masters of photography and most of them shot everything. Coming up as a young photographer so many people want to put you in a box and say that you need to have a focus and shoot one thing. I never seemed to fit that mold. I’ve always been someone who shot a bit of everything. Slowly, as my body of work grew, I was able to present the lot of it and show that there was one vision behind this mixed bag of work. Thankfully it began to be acceptable to those I was looking to work with. I’ve always believed that photographers shoot what they see, so if it’s fighters one day and ballerinas the next it’s just a different mindset, but ultimately it’s about understanding the client’s needs – even if I am my own client! My approach to any shoot is to try to tell the story of the image. Lighting to me is a huge part of the “feeling” of the image. Whether it’s available light or artificial light, that’s what I am looking at first to make an image that tells a story.
Was there a telling moment when you knew photography would be your true vocation?
I hate to admit it, but I fought being a photographer so many times over the years. I’ve had a camera since I was six years old, and despite studying it in college, I thought it would always be a hobby. I worked as a photo editor for 13 years and shot on the side, but was always hesitant to shoot fulltime. The last fulltime job as the chief photographer for a media company, when they went Chapter 7 in 2008 I had no choice but try to make it as a fulltime photographer. At this point, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I love shooting.
Any new hardware “toys” you are getting into right now?
I’m always looking for solutions to the variety of problems we face on shoots, and technology is advancing so quickly that it’s hard to have time to test everything. I love the advances in Photoshop and Lightroom for sure, and some of that advance in the light modifiers that Photoflex has come up with lately as well. In particular I have been using their TritonFlash portable lights and having some great results in a wide variety of challenging assignments.
Favorite Lowepro bag(s) and why?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one, or even a few for that matter. I really like how there’s a bag for any job, from snowboarding to making it through the airport and even crossing chest-deep rivers. I absolutely LOVE the Pro Roller x200. It’s what I use on nearly every shoot. I can fit all my camera and digital gear inside and the ease of traveling with it from the airport to the plane is incomparable to anything I have used in the past. I also recently got the Transit Backpack 350 and am really impressed with it. Initially I didn’t think it would be good for my needs, but it is so comfortable, even with two bodies, accessories and lenses inside; so now it’s in the mix regularly.
(Editor’s note: Here’s what Ian packed in his Transit Backpack 350 AW on this trip…)
B-Grip camera belt
3 batteries, 1 charger (in square pouch)
Wolverine 120GB card reader/drive
1 Hoodman LCD Loupe
6 Gepe Memory Card Holders
1 ND filter
Canon 85mm 1.8 Lens
2 Canon 5D Mark III (one with additional grip)
Canon 24-70mm II Lens
Canon 70-300mm Lens
15″ MacBook Pro/cord
1 Shutter Hat Camera Rain Cover
1 Benadryl Itch Relief Stick
1 Lowepro pouch for pens, iPod, headphones, etc.
Snacks for plane
1 Lowepro Bottle Pouch
1 Lowepro Phone Case (on shoulder strap)
All in, feels like a heavy bag, but on my back it’s very comfortable.
What upcoming projects are you excited to shoot?
I have been working on a long-term project this year for the launch of a new cigar from a major cigar manufacturer. We have shot in the Dominican Republic as well as one of the world’s best tobacco fields (which is in Connecticut of all places). That should be out by Christmas.