Crash Taylor interviews Jake Holt. Jake is a wedding photographer who works in Austin, Texas with his partner Kasey. They have been shooting weddings together since 2011 and have been featured in loads of magazines including Elle Magazine, Brides Magazine, The Huffington Post, Style Me Pretty, The Knot Magazine among others and have won multiple international awards. They are soon-to-be married and incredibly excited to unite their family of three cats. Enjoy this brilliant interview and leave a comment. I'm sure they would appreciate it. You guys are awesome and all the best with the upcoming wedding!
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m just a normal, somewhat silly guy that loves to take photos and is lucky enough to make a living doing so. I make up new rap songs almost every day and sing them to my fiancée Kasey and our three cats, and one day I plan to record all these songs and start a lucrative new career. I started Jake Holt Photography in 2005, met Kasey in 2010, and we quickly became an unstoppable, pale, freckled, wedding-shooting team. We’re currently planning our wedding for 2014 and couldn’t be more excited about NOT doing the chicken-dance.
Where is home?
Beautiful, exciting and toasty Austin, Texas. We have absolutely great weather for 7 months out of the year, so we always try to keep that in mind when it’s 100 degrees at midnight in August. Or, travel frequently during June, July, August and September.
If you could live anywhere on this awesome planet where would you build your dream home?
We still have so much traveling yet to do, so that’s a tough one! That said, there’s something about northern California that keeps drawing us back time and time again, so we figure that’s where we’ll eventually end up at some point in the next 5 years or so. Probably somewhere around Santa Cruz or Carmel - somewhere where we can be on the beach one minute and heading out on a short trip toward the mountains the next. Texas has been great to us, Austin in particular, but you live your entire lifetime in one of the flattest places known to man and you really start to crave some topographic variety.
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Excited and ready for new things! Kasey and I are planning our wedding, and the busy wedding season in Austin just came to an end, so in the coming weeks I plan to finally finish up our new blog redesign that entails adding lots of new content such as tech reviews, philosophy, how-to’s, etc. along with the usual heavy dose of images. I’ve always loved to write and mess around with gear, so adding that to my job description seems like a no-brainer. No idea why it took me so long to come to that conclusion...
Did you go to school to study photography?
Ummm, a little, but not really? I took all of 2 photo courses in college (traditional B&W and color darkroom) when I was a studio art major for a few semesters. While I loved the darkroom smell (and still do) I quickly realized that I had no desire to have an art degree, as most of the courses were excruciatingly boring and creatively stifling. Also, I found out really quickly from real working photographers that an art degree in most cases means exactly zilch when it comes to being a successful (and good) photographer. So, I decided to switch my major to philosophy instead, and volunteered at the student radio station, because I found them both intensely interesting, although I was well aware that a career in photography was my end goal and that a getting a degree in philosophy was a learning experience and not a career move. I never planned on being a professional philosopher or disc jockey, although I probably still think I’m a little too good at both for my own good when we have parties and I’ve had a few drinks. Thank you, Kasey, for letting me ramble on about the philosophical and moral implications of cheap energy on mid-century U.S.A. while I insist on playing every Pixies album.
Anyway, I stayed involved in photography by shooting lots of stuff for myself and I worked in photo labs all through college and the first 2 years after college developing film, printing photos and selling cameras. I estimate that just printing photos day-in and day-out at various labs for about 8 years (yeah, college was not a 4-year experience for me) put me close to the official Malcolm Gladwell endorsed 10,000 hours threshold when it came to seeing and understanding composition, exposure and color balance. I was able to get a few second-shooter opportunities through some of my coworkers that shot weddings, and boom, there we go.
How long have you been a photographer?
As a photographer running my own business, since 2005. Taking photos at gigs for money of any kind? 2004. Someone who loves taking photos and can describe the difference between aperture and shutter speed? 1997.
How would you describe your style?
Colorful, vibrant, fun, dynamic, and just a little humorous. Kodachrome, not Fuji 400H.
How many weddings do you average per year?
Around 20. Ideally, we shoot as much as possible in Austin between October and May and then escape during the summer to work in and/or just enjoy slightly cooler locales.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
Canon 5DMKII’s while on the job, and the same plus a Canon 1V and iPhone 4s for personal/travel work. The iPhone is the “always there” camera that picks up the slack when I feel like living in the moment without a brick around my neck, and it really does a pretty great job within certain limits, all things considered. I had a Pentax 645N for a while that I loved, but I really wanted to go to a bigger format for my personal film work, so I’ll probably add either a Pentax 6x7 or a 4x5 of some kind before long.
What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
Canon 600EX-RT, no question. We bought 4 last year, by far our best equipment purchase of all time.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
Canon 24mm 1.4. I’m looking at this in the sense of not necessarily having to choose my all-time favorite lens, but with what lens I could competently shoot a whole wedding with if I had to - I think I could make it work with the 24. It’s also a great “one lens only” choice for travel, as you can shoot a landscape with it one minute and then a candlelit dinner the next.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
Four Canon 600-EX-RT’s, a 580 EXII, an Alien Bee 1600, an Einstein, two Vagabonds, five light stands, three umbrellas, four grids, and four Pocketwizards.
Can you describe how and when you use flash, video light, reflectors and natural light during a wedding?
We will happily take advantage of great natural light when it presents itself. Early in the wedding day, we’re really big on personal space and being sure that our clients feel comfortable and relaxed, so we tend to eschew flash during the prep photos. For first looks and family group shots, and a portion of the bride and groom portraits, we go with nice backlit shade if possible. However, for a good chunk of the bride and groom portraits and many of the wedding party photos, we actually seek out opportunities to blast our lights. For those images, it’s never simply a matter of necessity, it’s a key part of our look - it’s what helps give some of our favorite images the very colorful and dynamic style that they have, and many of our clients seek us out specifically for that. We’ll often look for spots in direct sunlight and place our subjects right in it, knowing that when we pop the lights to balance things out, the saturation and contrast will be intense. Our favorite images almost always involve some sort of creative lighting and vibrant color.
For portraits, we usually use the Einstein to get the quantity of light that we need to overpower the sunlight. Sometimes adding the Alien Bee in there too. Sometimes it’s direct, but we also use various grids and umbrellas. For engagement sessions, which I often do solo, I bring along a stand with two 600-EX-RT’s - much more portable than the Einstein and much faster when working alone, and they give out way more light when combined than you might think!
For receptions, we toss two of the 600 EX’s up on tall stands and cross-light the dance floor, rarely ever using the on-camera flash for anything other than a trigger. The 600’s are perfect for multiple-shooter setups, as the remote units are smart enough to swap back and forth instantly between the settings that the different master units may be sending. (We don’t even own a video light or a reflector...)
What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Right now, I’d have to say it’s my LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt drive. It just looks and feels awesome, and it allows me to work and transfer files just as quickly when working on my laptop setup as I can when I’m docked to my Thunderbolt display with all the larger external drives. I love the big garish orange bumper thing, although I have no delusions about the fact that if I drop it, it’s probably toast just like any other drive!
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
Pretty minimal really. We run everything through ACR/Bridge CS6 (never liked the interface of Lightroom) and, with all the functionality that ACR offers now for cloning/burning/dodging, very few images per wedding actually make it into Photoshop proper.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
We don’t own a single plug-in. We use a smart-sharpen action instead of the built-in sharpening tool when we batch via ACR from RAW to jpeg, so I guess we use Smart Sharpen more than anything else.
Are you a MAC or PC lover?
Apple all the way. Although, it would sure be nice if they would get a move on with that new Mac Pro sometime soon. My first computer was a Power PC G4 from 2001 that I used until 2008, if you can believe it! Batching a wedding worth of RAW files out to jpeg on that thing was something that you started when you went to sleep and HOPED was done by morning.
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
We’re actually pretty well set for now, and any extra cash is of course going into the wedding fund! Our gear really does what it needs to for us and I don’t feel like there’s any gaps or needs to fill.
Can you share with us 25 awesome Jake Holt images?
I finally feel I have mastered my Crash-Art workflow; can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a wedding?
Get home, pull out the multi-headed hydra of card readers (four) and download all cards to the LaCie Thunderbolt, then copy to two more external desktop drives. Early the next week, get backup drive from our bank safe deposit box and copy over to that as well, so we have four copies of everything, in two locations. Then, I sort both of our files (which are originally downloaded into two separate folders) via Bridge into one collected folder of “keeper” RAW files - this is what will be edited and delivered. I sort through those keepers and select/edit 30-40 or so of our favorites to post to our blog, and then edit the full folder via Bridge/ACR for delivery. Once delivered on a USB drive, we archive all edited RAW and JPEG versions on 3 separate drives.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
Crop away! I’m very Type-A, so if a horizon is 2 degrees off or an unaware bystander is creeping into the edge of the shot, I’m for sure going to take care of that before delivery! Unless you’re shooting in a studio with a camera that has a 100% viewfinder, it’s tough to get it absolutely perfect in camera sometimes.
What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such awesome imagery?
The surrounding environment and unique situations at the time of the shot.
I’ve never been big on envisioning setups or photos that I may want to create - it never, ever turns out even close to what I may have thought. I just go into the location and immediately see what I want to do and where and how I want to do it.
How do you educate yourself to take better photos?
Most of my improvement over time has simply come from being honest with myself and brainstorming about my weaknesses and how I can improve them. I’m not big on comparing myself to others in the industry, as we all see in such different ways. Just going out and doing more work, either for business or pleasure, is how I’ve always grown as a photographer.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on wedding assignments?
Kasey and I shoot all of our weddings as a team - I consider myself INCREDIBLY lucky to have found myself in such a fortunate situation!
How many images do you average per wedding and how many do you usually present to your clients?
The average total shot count is just all over the place due to a number of factors such as reception length, but between the two of us we generally deliver about 700 or so.
Where would be your dream destination wedding?
I’d like to see a wedding on a beach in a tropical paradise, with the bride and groom both awesomely funny comedians. Maybe David Cross and Sarah Silverman? Also, there would need to be pet cats involved in the wedding. Pet cats as “flower cats” and ring bearers. The cats go out of control (as expected) and David and Sarah have to chase them down the beach. Wackiness ensues. After the cats are caught, David and Sarah are soaking wet from the waves from which they rescued the cats, and we get some amazing sunset portraits of them both holding their soaking wet kitties.
How do you make the bride and groom, bridal party etc. feel relaxed in front of your camera?
I try my best to be funny and make self-deprecating jokes to get the wedding parties to laugh, and that usually carries over into the images, if I’m lucky. Sometimes I just get blank stares, but you know, you can’t win them all. But usually, just smiling plenty and always being ready to be a little silly works wonders.
What is your favourite recent image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc. also your thoughts when creating the image and what it means to you?
I really love this image from a wedding we shot recently in downtown Chicago at The Art Institute. We had met with the bride and groom the day before to scope out some fun places to shoot in nearby Millennium Park - as luck would have it, on the wedding day during our portrait timeframe, a storm arrived and nixed those plans. However, it gave us this amazing view of the storm rolling in over downtown through floor-to-ceiling windows. As Allison (the bride) was preparing for her first look and was gazing out the window at the storm, we saw a great opportunity. I had set up one off-camera speedlight in the room for the first look, and that enabled us to balance out this exposure and capture all the details in both her amazing Vera Wang gown and the Chicago skyline and approaching storm. I think this photo is better than anything we had planned in Millennium Park, so sometimes rain on your wedding day can be a good thing! I honestly have no idea what settings the speedlight was on, but most likely it was set to around 1/4th power - camera settings were 1/160th, f/6.3 at ISO 200.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
Staying hydrated! I always dread the Sunday wedding hangover. If you’re going to have to deal with a hangover, you should earn it by having a number of quality beers, not by simply being a dunce and not drinking any water for 10 hours while sweating away pounds in the extreme Texas heat. Trying to catch up by downing glass after glass of water before bed does NOT work.
What do you think of the wedding photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
Look at what some of the best photographers in the world are doing today; it’s never been better. If you take a look at the work of the best of the best, some of it is just CRAZY good. Show the Fearless, WPJA or Junebug contest results to some photographers who just teleported in from 2007 and their heads would explode. The absolute best stuff from even just 4 or 5 years ago really pales in comparison. It’s a really exciting time for someone who feeds off of the competitive spirit to keep pushing the envelope, but it could be a real downer time for photographers that aren’t 100% committed to always getting better, since you’re going to get passed up by new, talented photographers even faster now if you aren’t constantly growing.
In 5 years? Who knows? As the past has shown, the industry is never, ever going to be stuck with any one trend for too long - this will all be totally different in a few years. I really don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a wedding photographer or become a wedding photographer - if you have talent and a unique style, you can get your work out to the world much faster than ever before. Push that unique voice and make it very clear in your brand statement, and you will stand out and draw in those clients that are looking for something different.
A wedding photographer who inspires you?
Bill McCullough, from right here in Austin, Texas. Just a complete coincidence that he’s basically my neighbor, I’d feel the same way if he were from Madagascar. He may be the only wedding photographer I’ve ever seen whose work would look just as at home in an art museum as in a wedding album. I’m not sure how he does what he does, but his work is one of a kind. Whenever I’m feeling a little too good about myself, I just go look at his portfolio and remind myself how much I still have to learn.
It’s almost that time of year for a Holt family portrait. Is there any photographer out there that you would be stoked to say – he/she took my portrait?
Ian Ruther. If you’re not familiar, he’s the guy that turned his van into a giant camera and he travels the country shooting giant wet plates. It’s such amazing stuff. Look up his video “Silver & Light” on YouTube or Vimeo.
A website and/or blog you visit often? Strange Maps! bigthink.com/blogs/strange-maps
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Ansel Adams - 1) his series of books is sitting right here beside me, and 2) he understood photography on a level that has faded to near non-existence in today’s world.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
I’ve never been to a workshop! I’m incredibly self-motivated when it comes to photography and creativity, so I’ve just never been very interested in having someone else try to motivate me - although I don’t dispute that there are probably some good workshops out there. If I were ever to attend a workshop, it would be either Rodney Smith’s, because he’s a genius and also seems to be quite hilarious, or Todd Reichmann’s Sexy Business workshop. I don’t often agree with what Todd has to say in his podcasts, but he’s smart and opinionated and always brings up great topics and generates interesting discussion. It’s healthy to be able to look at a 180-degree view of the business and be honest about how wrong or right your long-held beliefs may be.
What is Jake Holt’s marketing advice?
Always be nice. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t act like a pretentious artist. Have a great, easily navigable website and blog with big, sharp, clean images. Proofread everything 3 times - if you write poorly, admit it and get someone else to do it for you. Cull your portfolio ruthlessly - if you have any misgivings at all about an image, delete that sucker. Spend time and money building relationships with people that you have real, tangible contact with - venues, planners, other photographers - these sources will pay back a hundred-fold what most ads on a blog or magazine will. Give at least SOME time and effort to SEO. Use Facebook, G+, Twitter, etc., BUT don’t rely on any third-party service as a crucial part of your business. One “Terms Of Service” change and you’ve lost everything - your own website and/or blog should be the backbone of every effort, and third party sources should simply be how you drive views to your website. Don’t go all diva-tographer if you have to skip a meal or eat a sandwich at a wedding - bring a freakin’ Powerbar or whatever. I’ve heard so many complaints from planners about diva photographers having hissy fits about meals - guess who will never get a referral? Better yet, don’t go all diva-tographer EVER.
How important is an awesome website for your business?
Super duper really turbo important! Absolutely crucial - your website is your face to the world, and how 99.9% of everyone will see your work for the first time. Unless you rely totally on bridal shows and book everyone on the spot, you have to have a great site. If you don’t, it will catch up with you and you’ll look out-of-touch before you know it.
If not a photographer, I would have liked to be a marine biologist studying the great white shark. What would you have been?
Oh, so many things! I have too many interests, which leads to my having 15 books on 15 different topics that I am trying to get through all at once. My mother has a drawing I made around age 5 or 6 that says, “When I grow up I want to be a scientist!” and has a little stick figure Jake standing by a rocket. That dream was dashed when I discovered that I really dislike advanced math. However, my alternate-universe Jake dreams (or many years in the future dreams) involve being an archaeologist, an urban planner, a cartographer, an old grey- haired (Einstein-style hair) history professor, or Kasey and I developing a chain of boutique hotels in California
I realize that each great photographer has a particular penchant or love for photographing a particular subject whether it be nature, portraits, sea or landscapes, shadow and light, etc. as a result I would love to have you talk about and share whatever images you feel appropriate of your own private obsession in the magical world of photography.
Kasey and I have made it a big goal of ours over the last few years to travel frequently - my personal photographic obsession is with documenting each of these trips, from the beautiful sunrises to the nonsensical roadside attractions.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
The Aurora Borealis and the Trinity Test Site in Alamogordo, NM. The second one is on track for this fall during their twice-a-year viewing, so fingers crossed!
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding photography?
Don’t get swept up in what “the industry” is doing or what other photographers are doing. It may sound cliché, but stay true to what inspires you and drives you or you will quickly burn out. For example, say that you love shooting B&W images but the hip blogs want only yellow-filtered faded images, well, be content to make a name for yourself as a B&W shooter and let those blogs go do what they want to do. I’ve seen certain photographers, since when I started paying attention to wedding photography in the early 2000’s; go from being hard-core PJ, to textures, to VSCO. Not to say that there is anything wrong with any of these things or with changing styles, but the problem with this is that there never was any unique personal style there - it was all just jumping from one fad to another. While it is good to stay somewhat aware of technical advances and of what your competition is doing, it is sometimes just as important to ignore everyone and everything and do what drives you. Aim to build a style and brand that will outlive any trend.
Also - question whether the standard “industry milestones” are really what you want to aim for. It may seem like there’s a normal and expected transition from starting out to booking more, charging more, booking like crazy, entering the “upscale” market, charging even MORE, adding associates, getting a studio, developing a workshop, speaking at WPPI, and then being sponsored by Canon. And hey, if that really does all seem awesome to you, great, go for it with all of your energy. But for some, all that equals is burnout and unhappiness - some may be happier shooting 12 weddings a year for $3000 each while living spartanly in a little cabin in the woods and writing a novel in their spare time. I know that, for me, booking like crazy and getting a studio got me nothing but extra bills and mental and physical exhaustion. You have to find a balance - doing all that was a good learning experience, and it was fun at times, but I’m much more at peace with shooting 20 weddings a year and working out of my home office. A studio, a speaking spot at WPPI and lots of expenses won’t make you happy if what you really want and need is more time and energy to grow and enjoy life.
We know that each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
To be brutally honest, what drives me daily is the simple fear of sucking at life! As a child, I had to deal with my parent’s divorce and our family breakup at age 9, and I went down a long, slow slope to just simply not trying or even caring to be good at anything. I went from being the skinniest, most hyper kid in class to literally being obese. I quit little league baseball and Boy Scouts so that I could sit at home and eat Twinkies and play video games all the time. I went from being a straight-A honor student who loved school to being the kid that only passed the 7th grade after skipping over 50 days of school because he was able to get a handful of retroactive doctor notes for his “stomach ache.” Then, one day in the fall semester of 8th grade, (as I still vividly remember) I looked at myself in the mirror and just broke down crying. It had hit me full on that I had spent the last 4 years of my life slowly letting myself become someone who didn’t try in the least to do anything in any manner other than “barely passable.” You may say that I’m being awfully hard on a kid, but hey, that kid was me, and I still remember exactly what it felt like to realize that you aren’t doing anything in life well. I never want to feel that way again. That day, I started slowly turning things around, and it’s been a part of my core identity to always look for ways to live and be better in every way. Now, I rarely play video games, and I never eat Twinkies.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Absolutely...I would have stopped buying new cars every two years. Since I left college, I was one of those guys that traded my car in every 24 months or so to get a shiny new one. Dumb, dumb, dumb. So much money wasted for no reason. I could have a really nice nest egg from all that wasted money, or an armada of 1DX’s. I now look at a car simply as a tool, not an expression of myself. I’d actually love to live in a place where I didn’t need to own one at all! Now Kasey and I share one nice, reliable, paid-off car and it’s like a dream come true.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
I would love to thoroughly document just what exactly is going on in that epic Scientology complex on Fountain Ave. in Los Angeles.
I’ve learned the most from... Google
What talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be a world-class surfer. But first, I need to know how to do what I’m about to talk about in the next question...
Something you’re still learning?
I never learned how to swim proficiently. I mean, I love water and the beach and I can swim all around in calm waters, but toss me in deep water or big waves and I’m not feeling very happy. It stems from an early childhood incident in which I was underwater for about 5 seconds and was convinced that I was about to die. Anyway, I was scared of water for years and didn’t learn to swim at all until I was 12 or so. So, one of my major goals is to learn to swim properly and then learn to surf. Maybe I’ll never be world-class, but at least I’ll try.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Easiest answer of the interview - Kasey of course! A VERY distant second place is the peerless HBO series Six Feet Under.
What is your greatest fear?
Going broke and never being able to travel again. I grew up in a situation that didn’t allow for any traveling - I mean, I had clothes and shelter and food, but no family vacations. I left Texas twice before the age of 18, and those were road trips to Colorado and Oklahoma, not exactly exotic locales. Being a poor child was immediately followed by being a broke college student and a broke new business owner. So, I never really had the chance to travel much until about 5-6 years ago, and I’m now trying to make up for lost time. Hopefully, I’ll get to make up for lost time until the day I die. I have a recurring fear of my business somehow just falling off a cliff and then never getting to see anything but the flat Texas landscape ever again. I get a tightness in my throat just thinking about it.
Something that is overrated?
Any restaurant that has a wait longer than one hour.
Something you’re saving up for?
What item do you wish you had designed?
The Golden Gate Bridge
If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous or dead who would it be?
Where you’ll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
During wedding season, I’ll be cleaning lenses and double-checking camera clocks and memory cards. During the off-season? Since we’re saving for a wedding, you’ll catch us eating a delicious home- cooked meal and watching some Discovery Channel documentary on Netflix for the 50th time. Atlas 4D is our current favorite.
Your favourite film (movie) of all time?
Picking one is impossible. It’s a tie between The Royal Tenenbaums, The Godfather 2, Inception, and The Shawshank Redemption.
Who would play you in a film (movie) of your life?
I’d like to have it be some really cowboy-esque rough-hewn guy, since I’m nothing like that at all. Maybe a late- career Robert Duvall, or Tommy Lee Jones? I’d bet that either one of those guys is an excellent swimmer.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Mom gets a nice home and car. And a juicer.
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Funny, sarcastic, clumsy, Type-A, photographer,
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
To borrow from Keith Richards, “It's really good to be here, and as I always say, it's really good to be anywhere!” So, as long as I’m still breathing, I’ll be pretty happy about that. If I get to be picky, I’d like to still be shooting for a living and able to look back at my work from 2013 and say “can you BELIEVE that was the best I could do back then?”
And the last question, if you had one wish... We’d have a world economy that ran off of cheap and safe solar power. Yeah, I know we’d still need oil for manufacturing many products, but if we could get power and transportation off of oil we’d all be in a much better place.
Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Jake Holt?’ What would you say?
Just be yourself, no matter how clumsy you may be, because you may just meet the love of your life while tripping over a light-stand just like I did.
Your readers can find out more about me: