Lindsay Adler: Always Fashionable
by Martha Blanchfield
January 01, 2012 — “I love fashion photography because I can take any idea in my head and make it a reality,” shares Linsday Adler, an emerging NYC photographer whose fast-moving career has just kicked into overdrive in one of the photo industry’s most competitive genres. “For me, fashion photography is a challenge that involves all aspects of intelligence and creativity—technical and photographic talent, collaboration and vision.”
The rising, young star counts two books, a string of successful workshops, educational DVDs, a growing roster of clients and more to her list of achievements. As of September 2011, the date she hit her first full year of operation with a midtown studio, Adler also added magazines such as Zink, Bullet, Fiasco, Chaos, Papercut, Sublime and Faint as clients, along with a host of private customers.
But fashion photography did not find Adler; she found it. Noting that she tried several other types of photography at the start, she reveals, “I first experimented with nature and photojournalism, but found those genres beset by too many rules that stifled creativity.” She gave portraiture a try, then wedding photography, where she found an ability to inject more personal style and creative latitude. Her work soon began including more and more high-style touches. “I loved fusing concepts that are usually employed for pure fashion photography—such as defined styling, careful selection of backgrounds and locations, specific lighting, props, etc., in an effort to make bold and eye-catching photos for clients.” Adler soon found that aspects of fashion photography really spoke to her; that by bringing more fashion flair to her imagery she was able to go far beyond simply a basic headshot or portrait.
During her high school years Adler was already earning an income (and building a client base) producing portraits of upperclassmen and shooting weddings. By the time she graduated from Syracuse University after studying political science, photography and entrepreneurship, she was nurturing a vibrant business in an enviable niche that created fashionable imagery, first for a burgeoning wedding and portrait clientele; expanding into editorial/commercial client work in New York City.
Despite her studio’s growing success, Adler took a leap of faith upon graduation and headed overseas for eight months. “I had studied abroad in Europe and felt invigorated by the history, culture and embrace of avant-garde fashion. I felt that it would be a great place to begin to really perfect my creative style,” she explains.
Europe and London afforded ample opportunity to refine a signature. Adler notes that the European fashion and publishing communities impose fewer restrictions on an artist. For example, when hired to shoot for publications she often had only to adhere to the overall editorial theme, thus being allowed to interpret the vision as she wished. She was able to experiment, train and build a portfolio rounded out with both private client work, plus an increasing array of commercial assignments from editions such Chic Today and Sublime.
“While overseas I continued to refine a body of work and grow comfortable with my style,” she says. “London is a great place to become a fashion photographer. While there I traveled a great deal and experienced different cultures which have influenced my experiences and imagery.” But Adler knows New York City is the number one fashion photography market in the world. “That city is really the place I knew I could grow and let my career take flight.” In less than two years after returning from Europe, Adler took the plunge and decided to shift her studio from her hometown of Binghamton, NY, to Manhattan.
But the move was not without careful planning. To her credit she had a strong base of private clients in her hometown, but all the while was making strategic moves in preparation for relocation. “Fortunately I had been teaming with an influential stylist who helped pave the way for a significant number of assignments in the city.” The stylist, Lisa Smith Craig of 4 Season Style Management, was responsible for building the images of professional women athletes and asked Adler to produce portraiture that presented the WNBA ladies as athletes, professional businesspersons and strong, influential women.
“We would plan several different stylized looks to help express the varied aspects of each woman. I treated them like models, styling each in high-fashion clothing and brands, then creating images that exuded power and success.” In doing these sessions, Adler learned that fashion photographers don’t just make a living photographing clothing or jewelry, but also by creating fashion-influenced portraiture. “Glance through the pages of Vogue and other fashion magazines and notice how many editorials don’t even contain models, but actors, performers and other influential individuals.
“Had I not nurtured that initial relationship with the stylist,” she continues, “things may have not precipitated as rapidly in my career.” To ensure success in the NYC photo industry, Adler definitely recommends putting oneself out there as much as possible, networking, connecting and exploring. “I also cannot stress enough the power of social media and using the Internet. While there is no one right tactic or set of tactics to help reach specific objectives, I can definitely say that tools like Twitter and LinkedIn have been boons to my business. Finding and engaging with key targets via the Internet have been made far easier with tools like these.”
With a growing roster of accounts and project assignments, this photographer knows that creating new work is essential. “I try to spend at least one day per week shooting purely for myself, where I practice and experiment. Your portfolio needs to grow.” To stay inspired, she seeks out things that influence, and she allows those references to seep in. She enjoys looking over other photographers’ imagery—both in galleries and online, and permits even the most incongruent things observed set her creativity down a new path. From a crystal with its multi-faceted edges came a desire to create a set of multiple images.
“I want to keep learning so I challenge myself to invent new techniques. I recently discovered a film director who obscures his lens, and in doing so, produces a dreamy creative effect.” She points out that she purchased a variety of “tools” (usually just plastic or crystals) with which to experiment while trying to imitate the mood and feel of his effect. “These tools help add dimension and mystery to the image, and help me explore styles I have not explored. Whether it’s a crystal, or certain unfamiliar lighting technique or even a new type of makeup application, I try to reach beyond my comfort zone and experiment in order to grow as an artist.”
Aside from a camera, Adler asserts that software is a strong creative mate. She feels that strong post-processing skills are essential to bringing her images to full potential. Photoshop is a creative necessity, and she advises photographers to truly learn the tool and understand its power.
In her upcoming WPPI workshop, “Creative Portrait and Retouching Techniques,” Adler promises to share numerous retouching tips and techniques while walking through many of her own images. She will demonstrate how retouching is essential to her creative process and how the software enhances one’s ability to express an idea. In the workshops she will touch on plug-ins, tools and techniques, including how to fake lens flare, make porcelain skin, add textures, utilize localized coloration and more. Many of the items covered are touched upon in her recent book, Fashion Flair for Portraiture and Wedding Photography, recently named to Amazon.com’s Top Ten Books of 2011 list in the art photography category. “Mastering the tools a photographer has at hand is imperative for success, but keeping a strong focus on marketing and networking help make a talented photographer into a successful photographer,” she says.
20 Percent on the Job
An incessant marketer, Adler employs any and all means at her disposal, including routine postcard mailings, e-mail blasts, personal visits and a serious dose of AdBase targeting and outreach. She mixes and mingles at select parties, gallery events and industry events. Every month she updates with new work to show growth and evolution. "Even if I'm refreshing to show only images from personal experiment sessions, this grows the portfolio and gives potential clients the impression I remain active." She also commits to blog posts—but reasonably only once a week. "While my portfolio is home to the best of my work, my blog is where I share current personal and professional projects. I can show outtakes from editorial, offer insight into my creative process and further express personality."
To illustrate the importance of marketing, Adler calculated the amount of time spent pursuing work versus the amount of time actually spent producing work—either shooting or re-touching. "I'd say on average 20 percent of my time goes to actually photographing for revenue (the actual clicking of the button and on shoot days). An additional 10 percent of time is spent retouching or archiving. Overall I estimate 30 to 40 per-cent of waking hours go to photo-related activities that include the shoot and retouch, gathering my creative team, researching, seeking inspiration." That leaves the balance of time dedicated to some sort of business marketing or business generating activities. "Obviously that's a large chunk of my time, but I'm a workaholic and could spend 24 hours a day in this profession. I love what I do."
While she acknowledges the necessity to perform rudimentary tasks such as portfolio update and postcard mailing, she's adamant in pointing out a photographer's demeanor can also contribute to landing an assignment. "Personality is almost as important as raw talent. I've found that being upbeat naturally attracts others. A client wants to hire someone whom they feel can get the job done, so exuding complete confidence is para-mount. How you make others feel about your work and being around you also bring huge bearing onto whether or not you may land the account."
2012 and Beyond
Adler spent 2011 focusing on building her brand and creative style, and worked on developing and refining her portfolio in order to help distinguish herself. In 2012 she plans to focus even more on the client. “Now that I have work I am confident in, I can strive even more to get it in front of clients. I will shoot spec campaigns, organize meetings and do my best to target bigger names. I am proud to have grown (creatively and monetarily) so much in just one year in Manhattan, but now I am in 'game mode'. I am ready to really make my mark in the industry."
Last year she also tried her hand at imagery in the motion realm, having directed a few fashion film pieces for various magazines and online publications. In 2012 she plans to continue creating “moving photographs,” commonly referred to as cinemagraphs. As an image maker, Adler anticipates great changes within the marketplace as publications place more and more content online and accessible via new mobile devices such as the iPad®. She's accordingly positioning her work for still and moving imagery, plus short films, to be receptive to more business opportunities as technologies and publications develop.
Lindsay Adler will be teaching the Platform Class, “Creative Portrait and Retouching Techniques,” at WPPI 2012 on Tuesday, February 21, from 8:00-10:00 a.m.
Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade PhotoShoots (http://www.meetup.com/Renegade-Photo-Shoots-Bay-Area/) and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant.
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