Wednesday, September 4, 2013 • 3:22 PM •
Interview: Fashion Photographer Pier-Alexandre Gagné
What does it take to be a successful fashion photographer in Montreal? What kind of skills are required in order to stand out and what to commit in terms of time and equipment? These are questions frequently asked by hobbyist photographers. Pier-Alexandre Gagné responds based on his own personal experience.
I encountered fashion/editorial photographer Pier about a year ago at around the same time when I was just beginning to delve into the business of fashion blogging. I have to say that we have both evolved considerably ever since our first shoot together. Although I have gotten to know and understand Pier’s tastes in photography, it is only recently that we decided to sit down and go into details about his art and the aspects of his work that separate him from the rest. It is clear that this emerging artist is of a separate league from many editorial photographers. Read on to find out how.
Daura: Alrighty, let’s get right down to why we’re here! So as we’ve seen time and time again, you have great Photoshop skills. How did you improve your photo editing over time? What learning sources would you recommend to other photographers?
Pier: To be completely honest, most of what I learned was through experimentation. In my desire to manipulate photos, I would learn something new with each new project. I think this is the best way to go when it comes to Photoshop – just make sure that you achieve something new and out of your comfort zone each and every time you produce a photo. This tool is limited only to your imagination. Of course, it’s important to understand the basics of photo retouching, by taking online courses or tutorials at the beginning, just to understand the basics. Then, just experiment with all the functions available to you. Break the rules to achieve what you want in an image.
After I gathered a ton of retouching skills, I passed a lot of time redoing old photos that I had taken when I first began photography. I really made an effort to perfect my old work. That`s why you`ll see me republishing the same shots in a completely different light. Through experimentation I learned how to edit, and I also got to understand light a lot better.
D: How long would you say it would take a starting photographer to get to your skill level?
P: It`s been four years since I started photography, and today my approach is more geared towards crazy or messed up retouching as opposed to just normal captures. In my journey to improve, I touched on a bit of everything – wildlife, landscapes, people…it`s better to touch on everything and find your voice than to aim for something at the start. This is what takes time – finding your own style. Learning the technical skills is not the hard part. It`s important that people see a photo and know that it`s been done by you and not by another photographer. It`s good to have a strong and bold message. So the time it takes you really depends on that.
D: You say that you found your voice in photography. Explain how you evolved as a photographer since you started.
Back in college I studied social sciences, and so I did some documentation with my camera. After that I did landscapes, portraits and clothes. I started doing fashion because it mixes a bit of everything together and is the most interesting and challenging to me. After publishing several photos of a certain style, I decided it was time to improve my technical skills. It was then that I really started to get into retouching photos. After gathering all my new skills, I had the strong urge to go back to what I had previously shot and use what I had learned to perfect those photos. What I do is attempt to see a photo more as a painting than as a real life photo.
D: More as a painting – no wonder you’ve produced such masterpieces! How much time would you say you contribute to one photo or one set of photos?
P: I spend about 2 hours for one photo, but I only start once I have the right inspiration for it. I don`t often do “series” for editorials. I think it sends a stronger message when I produce a one-off. This way it leaves more to the imagination of the viewer. He or she can fill in the blanks as to what is happening in the story the photo is trying to tell.
D: Now that we’ve talked photography skills, let’s talk business savvy. Would you say that in Montreal, it is as important to make connections in the fashion industry as it is to possess good photography skills, or will people recognize a good photographer, whether he/she is well-connected or not?
P: It is extremely important to make connections with people. Here’s the thing – just because someone recognizes that you produce good work, doesn’t mean they’ll show you support or hype you for others to see. If you’re not a friend or at least a colleague, don’t expect your work to go viral. Connections in photography are important, not necessarily with money being the main goal in mind, but for the people who will want to work with me to help me do large projects. I meet many people online. Facebook is great for that, because it is mutually beneficial for me to add someone who works in the same field that I do. Before accepting my request, this person can view my work on my fan page and see if I am someone of interest. There’s no shame in networking, so there’s no need to fear it.
D: What did you do at the very beginning when you did not have as many connections as you do now?
P: There has always been someone could lend me a hand. Sure, they weren’t professionals, but that’s how it starts. As an example, I knew a fashionista who gave me many tips in that area of expertise.
D: What do you think you will be doing in terms of photography in 5-10 years?
P: I would say I’m simply going to be bigger and better, but the correct answer is that I’ll be doing more photos for artistic magazines or galleries. Since I’m leaning more towards art than fashion, I doubt I’ll be making tons of money off of it. At that point, I won’t really care. I know that as long as I keep doing what I love in terms of photography, I won’t be rolling in cash. What makes me happy is when people really appreciate my work, and most importantly, when I myself am satisfied with my work.
D: That’s some deep artsy fartsy talk right there.
P: Haha yep. But I’m being 100% serious.
D: When you were doing fashion you were shooting a lot of professional models. Do you still prefer shooting typical models (tall, skinny, etc…) as opposed to other body types or are you now more interested in versatility?
P: I need to be inspired by people before deciding to shoot them, model or not. I need to imagine how the composition of their face will be in an image before going ahead with the shoot. I have a very good idea of how the shot will be even if I just meet the person online and see sample images. I’m started to shoot real models less and less. Since I’m leaving the fashion scene I do less models because I’m simply less inspired by that domain. This isn’t to diss the fashion scene or anything – I’ve just been there, done that and got over it.
D: Moving away from fashion and more towards art, would you say your photos are becoming less pretty?
P: I never wanted to make people look pretty, but more interesting. This is what defines me as an artist.
D: Good answer. Let’s talk about your photography gear. In order to create your beautiful shots from beginning to end, what do you use?
I basically use a Canon 6D and a ton of Photoshop, however I truly believe that these tools are there to enhance what is already captured. Without a vision, it’s useless to carry the fancy gear.
D: That being said, do you think you can take a really nice photo with an iPhone? How would one do it? Is Photoshop required?
P: Yes, it’s definitely possible to take a really nice photo with an iPhone. Photoshop would be a great help but if the lighting and colors were working in harmony then it is definitely possible to get a crazy sick shot! As I’ve mentioned, Photoshop is a tool to help accentuate these things and add pop to what’s already interesting in an image.
D: Do you think that a photographer can develop a taste for fashion? What if someone doesn’t know fashion but wants to do fashion photography?
P: You need to see fashion differently, not just for the clothes that’s on a body. Instead of watching a high end fashion show and asking yourself why the model is wearing an outfit made entirely of wood, ask yourself what kind of composition it gives. What kind of structure it gives. See is as architecture, not as a means to make money. You need to know the difference in the image of Louboutin compared to Prada compared to Valentino, instead of just seeing the individual items of clothing as simply nice items of clothing. This way you will know how to use the right setting and lighting which flows well with the image that the clothes gives off. For example, you wouldn’t take an haute couture dress from McQueen and place it in a wedding setting with saturated green grass and blue skies…or would you?
D: Thanks for the informative answers! Lastly, can you name me two of your favourite photographers?
P: My two most inspirational photographers are Nick Knight and David Lachapelle, for their advanced photo editing techniques and for their ability to elegantly mix a large palette of emotions together in one image.
I would again like to thank PA for this interesting and informative interview. I hope it helps those in this domain pave their own paths to success!