Interview With Fashion Photographer Curtis Eberhardt

When I asked who you wanted us to interview, New York based fashion photographer Curtis Eberhardt was a popular choice. Looking at his stunning portfolio of work, with shoots for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Allure and Vogue, it’s easy to see why. In this interview, Curtis talks about his background and technique and gives tips to aspiring photographers.

Andreas: How did you get started as a fashion photographer?

Curtis Eberhardt: I got started through my background in painting and drawing. I was hiring models at a studio to do drawings and I happened to work with one model who was very good and we became friends. Working with her led me to want to start photographing her with and without clothing as she had an amazing sense of style. Her boyfriend actually gave me one lighting lesson and I started to visualize the light from my background in fine art. About that time I had also met a French photographer who showed me how to use a darkroom and let me use his studio that had a darkroom as well as his apartment which was full of props. He also was very generous letting me use his various cameras including a Leica, Rolliflex and others.

Anyway, she was very inspirational and had a great wardrobe, becoming a stylist herself and we still are working together now as photographer and stylist. Some of my favorite photographs are still the ones I did of her and many are on my Flickr account.

What equipment do you use? Any favorite gear?

I mainly use Canon gear, a 1DS Mark II and sometimes the 5D Mark II along with a Panasonic GH2. I also still shoot film and have a number of 35mm cameras as well as a Hasselblad analog camera. Especially for black and white the tonal range is usually immediately more pleasing. Nik software is great for converting digital images.

Your photos often have really great poses. Could you tell us a bit about your technique when working with fashion models?

Getting great poses is definitely the art in fashion photography. Some great ones like Steven Klein definitely have very specific ideas in mind when they pose models. But I am of the school that likes the chemistry involved and seeing parts of the models revealed.

Part of it is experience knowing how much to let them try things on their own and if it’s not working, to make enough suggestions where you don’t stop their willingness to collaborate but enough to shake up their natural instincts. It also has to do with the talents of the models and not only their looks. It’s sometimes the hardest with really good models that are fairly successful as they’re less flexible with what they’ll try.

I have been working on a series though with models where there is no hair, makeup or stylist and it’s been very refreshing. Certain poses and interactions happen in this way that don’t when you have a “team” involved. I came to do this though after mainly doing shoots with large teams and wanting the spontaneity of the model and myself and see it as related to drawing. In drawing you get the models to do quick poses and long poses that they can hold for long drawings. The shorter poses are always better and this latest series taps into that energy.

What shoot has been the most memorable so far?

I’ve had a lot of great shoots so its hard to pick just one. One was shooting the actress Amy Landecker partially because of the magical way that it happened and because she was so nice and willing to try anything. I had seen the movie A Serious Man and really liked the character she played in the movie. So I went home and Googled her and she had a webpage. I thought I could shoot some better updated shots of her than she had and wrote to her saying that I’d love to shoot her if she wanted some new pictures. So she hired me and I did an editorial with her also with a great team.

Another great shoot was shooting Charlotte Kemp Muhl for Soma magazine. She had been very successful when she was young and was in a slight holding pattern at the time I shot her. She was an amazing model and the great ones really are inspirational to work with. She has a tremendous range and again was willing to try anything that popped into my head. A few years later and her career took off again and she started making music with Sean Lennon that’s very good in their band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger.

How has painting affected your photography? Do you still paint?

Painting has been very influential as its such great training for the eye in terms of training your eye in composition and relationships with color. I also have done a fair amount of design and art direction and I think any good photographer has an innate sense of design. I still paint and feel that personally I need to do both arts and that they feed into one another quite well.

Have you gotten any assignments through Flickr?

No, I haven’t gotten any actual paying assignments or traditional magazines through Flickr, but I’ve gotten a number of features of my work through online magazines.

Do you still feel the site has the same impact it had a few years ago?

I originally joined Flickr rather late in its history, to try and show my work that doesn’t always fit into my main site, especially since I have such a big back catalog. I like the way that work can be organized or more random and I don’t have to feel like I need to present a whole story, as I do on my site. It allows for more freedom of expression. I also like the feeling of a community here as fashion is a very competitive group of photographers and there’s not a lot of interaction.

I have met a lot of great photographers and have been inspired by many that don’t usually make it into major fashion magazines, although I’ve discovered a few that actually are pretty widely published through Flickr. Most of the photographers I’ve been inspired by all predominantly use available light and a lot of the ones I like have a slight surrealist edge and seem influenced by photographers like Sarah Moon, Deborah Turbeville and of current photographers Tim Walker. Its pretty hard to copy Steven Meisel or even be influenced by him since so much depends on the production values he has – the best hair, makeup, models etc. in the world today.

A lot of people want to start shooting fashion photography, but it’s a very competitive business. Do you have any tips for aspiring fashion photographers?

Yes, its amazing to see how many people are shooting fashion on Flickr and online magazines. Print magazines, which used to usually pay something, have become fewer and harder to get into. But the online ones publish many stories of varied quality. My tip is to try and discover what you really love and develop a personal style.

In this day and age its also good to figure out what aspect of fashion you want to do. High fashion is very competitive and there’s more opportunities when one can do general advertising and your own art as well as fashion, then you are bringing your own style to commercial jobs, as opposed to the opposite. If “high fashion” is all one wants to do you have to be incredibly committed and even then it may not be enough. It’s probably about as hard as making it as a musician at this point.

What is the number one thing you’ve learned that has been the most help to your career?

To try and be true to yourself and to not give up.

What projects are you working on right now?

I’m working on the series of models that I mentioned that is more candid and stripped down. I’m also working with a friend who’s starting up a website about children where there’s an emphasis on artistic photography that’s closer to fine art. We’re doing a shoot with children partially influenced by the films of Jodorowsky.

If you could shoot anyone or anything in the world, what would it be?

One person would be Tilda Swinton because I love her look and admire her as an actress.

Where can readers find you on the web?

On my sites:
And on Flickr and Tumblr