Crash Taylor Interviews Joel Grimes

This week I welcome Joel Grimes. What can't I say about Joel Grimes. His work is a huge inspiration to me and every time I look at his website I want to grab the camera, hire a model and head for the hills. Joel has been a photographer for over 30 years and to this day he still has the passion to create still images. His off camera lighting techniques are fearsome, mind-blowing and just pure awesome. Make sure you check out his behind the scenes blog, which has some excellent tutorials from lighting to retouching. I have learned a lot from Joel and can't thank him enough for taking my photography to the next level. As always your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated.

Hi Joel,

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I am 51 years old, and I have been married to my wife Amy for 21 years and we have four boys Ben, Aaron, Nathan and Levi.

Where is home?
I currently reside in Tucson, Arizona.  I say currently because I am a bit of a nomad and have moved around a bit.  Prior to living in Tucson, I spent 15 years in Denver, Colorado, as well as, Washington DC and Portland, Oregon.

Did you go to school to study photography?
Yes, I started studying photography in high school and then attended a junior college for about a year before I attended Arizona State University, and I finally received my BFA from the University of Arizona in the winter of 1984.  I told you I am a bit of a nomad.

How long have you been a photographer?
I guess technically you could say for over 30 years.

How would you describe your style?
Well, that has changed dramatically in the 30 years, which is the wonderful thing about how life works.  However, while attending art school I approached my work from a very traditional point of view.  I have always paid close attention to detail, and I believe the way light strikes a subject is paramount.   I will say this, as an artist, my identity is not in the image of being a photographer, but more so in an image that I can hang on a wall.

Favourite photos you have taken recently.

What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I have shot with most of the formats over the years.  Prior to digital I shot most of my work with a Mamyia RZ.  I also did a series of portraits for about seven years with a 4x5 view camera using Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film.  I must have shot at least 4000 sheets of that film. These days I shoot digital and use a Canon 1ds and Canon 5D.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
When I shot with the Mamyia RZ format, I couldn’t live without my 50mm, which is like a 24mm on a full frame 35mm type SLR.  That still holds true today, I hardly ever shoot a portrait with a longer lens than 50mm with my digital full frame camera.  This is very evident with my ‘On White’ series featured on my web site.

What lighting equipment do you shoot with?
I have gone through all sorts of lighting equipment over the years.  Since most of my work is on location I have used a number of battery-powered gear, like the Norman 400b’s to the Lumedyne system.  Currently I have been using White lightning and Alien Bee strobes with the Vagabond power supply.  For the most part, light is light.

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera?
I would say that since 99% of all my work is shot with strobes, I would be lost without them.

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Would my brain qualify?

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc…?
I have experimented extensively using layer blending to get the look I want.  If you do it right on the capture side of things, then there is no end to what you can do creatively in Photoshop.

How important is Photoshop (post processing) in your final images?
As I have said before, for me how light falls on a subject is paramount.  This is the foundation on which you can later build on if need be in the post processing.  As an artist, if I can fulfill my vision all in camera then so be it.  But if it takes an additional five hours of post processing to fulfill my vision as an artist, then again so be it.  Since the beginning of photography there has been a dual creative process from the image capture to the darkroom; or for most of us now, it’s Photoshop.

Are you a Mac or PC lover?
Have been a Mac lover since 1990.

What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet?
Right now I am waiting on getting the new Canon 5D Mark ll.

What’s the best part of being a photographer?
It has to be the ability to have a creative outlet and get paid doing it.

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh?
I have always viewed myself as an artist.  It is the passion of creating and the fact that there are no limits to where you can take your craft.  My only regret is that I don’t have enough hours in the day to explore all the avenues I want.  If photography somehow ceased to become a creative process I would be bored in a heartbeat.

Have you ever been published and if so who with?
Over the years I have produced hundreds of annual reports and corporate brochures as well as national ad campaigns that have run in all sorts of outlets from magazines to billboards.  In 1991 I produced a national interest coffee table book called, ‘Navajo, Portrait of a Nation’.

Do you work with an assistant? If so, what do you look for in an assistant? Yes, I always try and have an assistant.  I typically have lots of gear that I am moving around so having an extra hand is invaluable.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
That’s a hard one, but a few years back I shot an annual report for a company that sent me around the world to about 20 countries shooting my 4x5 field camera using the Polaroid Type 55 film.

Can you tell us about your first paid photo assignment?
I really can’t remember what my first official assignment was, but I believe it was a project for an architectural firm.  While in college I was a hard-core landscape photographer, it wasn’t until later that I started shooting people.

If you could shoot an assignment with someone who would it be and why?
I am not sure I have a name of one person that I would love to hang out with, but it would be someone that could share in the creative process and appreciate photography as an art form.  Elton John would be a great candidate.

Have you ever photographed a celebrity and if so who?
I have photographed some sports figures like John Elway and most recently Tori Hunter from the LA Angels.  In the past, most of my subjects that were of interest were politicians, billionaires and CEO types.

What would be your dream destination assignment?
I am not a fan of the cold so I would say it would have to be someplace fairly warm.  I have been to over fifty countries and to every continent across the globe, but I would love to revisit many of those destinations without the restrictions of a client.

Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work?
I am sure this may not be the most popular answer, but I don’t consider myself a religious person because religion is very suffocating, but I have a very strong faith in Jesus Christ.  He was the furthest thing from religious.

A website and/or blog you visit often?
What I do is go to resources like the Workbook.com and pour over images of photographers that are setting the current trends in the market place.  I feel it is very important to know what is going on in the industry, so this is where I focus my attention.

The hardest part of your job?
That is without question staying organized.

Things you say or do to put your clients at ease in front of the camera?
My goal is to make them feel like they are the most important person in the room and that the process of creating an image is a collaboration.   It is not all about me.

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Irving Penn.  He was to the portrait world what Ansel Adams was to the landscape world.

A photographer who inspires you?
Another photographer that had a major impact on me early on was Victor Skrebneski.

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
I just taught a workshop three weeks ago here in Tucson.  For me, having the opportunity to pass on what I have come to learn over a lifetime is a great privilege.

Do you offer workshops and if so, tell us a little about them?
My approach to workshops is a bit different than most.  Even though I cover a lot of technical information, that is secondary to what I believe should be a much greater emphasis.  When it comes to making an image, it is a thousand times more important to look at that process from a creative artistic expression than it is from a technical how-to nuts and bolts perspective.  I also stress that the source for the creative expression is found in the uniqueness that we each possess, not in trying to copy someone else's vision.

One way you market your business?
I have advertised in the Workbook for about eight years.  But there is no substitute for getting on the phones and drumming up work the old fashion way.

If not a photographer you would have been?
I have always had a love for music and have written a couple hundred songs over my lifetime.  Had it not been for the love of photography maybe this interview would be on a music blog.

Do you make time for personal photographic work?
I try and set up a test portrait that I would consider my personal work at least twice a month.  A good percentage of what you see on my web site has been shot for my personal work.  Very rarely do I get a project that matches the vision I have when I shoot for my personal work.  This is the nature of the advertising and corporate markets.

I'm very inspired by your beauty and fashion work.  Is this a big part of your business and who are your clients?  For somebody wanting to get into this area of photography what are your suggestions? Do you have some recent images you can share with us? All the beauty/fashion images that I have on my web site I have shot over the last year or so for an upstart lifestyles magazine here in Arizona.  I had never really worked on the fashion side of things so I was a bit apprehensive at first and I was surprised that they were interested in bringing me onboard.  In the end, I realized that my approach to light, form, composition, emotion, all play an important part of my vision as an artist and naturally cross over to any subject that I place in front of my lens.  It was a great lesson and in the end really helped me develop some new lighting techniques.

For someone just starting out, photograph everything you can get your hands on.  There is a very large pool of models and people that are willing to offer there services as a trade out.  The more images you have to show the better talent you can recruit.  Before long you will have a portfolio that will give you the opportunity to pitch the editorial magazines and fashion boutiques.  I believe that if you really want to break into a particular industry, if you spend enough time and energy door will open up for you.

If you could be invisible for one day with your camera...
My approach is most often in your face straight on portraits.  To be invisible would defeat that purpose and my whole approach.

Photographing penguins in the Antarctic, a fashion shoot for Vogue in Paris, Formula 1 in Monte Carlo or a shoot for Playboy magazine in Las Vegas? A fashion shoot for Vogue in Paris.

India, Iceland or Hawaii with a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and Kate Moss?
Photographing Kate Moss would be nice.

Is there anybody, living or dead you would love to capture on film and why?
I would have loved to have photographed the Beatles when they were first starting out.

What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
Survival as a photographer is based on three things, have a passion for the craft above all else, look at yourself as an artist and promote yourself as such, and most important, take thousands of pictures.  I have yet to meet someone who is just starting out in photography that is producing more images than me.  If I can out shoot you at 51, then you are in trouble.

Photography is constantly evolving. What do you think will be the biggest difference between photography now and in 5 years time?
The difference always comes down to one thing, if you are an artist with a camera you will get noticed, if you are a technician with a camera you will blend with the masses.  In the end it really doesn’t matter what new technical advancement is on the horizon.

What talent would you most like to have?
The ability to write a novel.

Something you’re still learning?
How to keep a calendar.

What do you love to indulge in?

Something that is overrated?
A light meter.

Something you’re saving up for?
My kid’s college tuition.

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be?

Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.?
Most likely learning something new.

Your favourite film (movie) of all time?

First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Work on my next coffee table book.

Three words that describe you.
Driven, honest, and loyal.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
Same as what I am doing now.

And the last question, if you had one wish…
That my kids would discover their own faith.

Oh one more please, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Joel Grimes?’ What would you say?
One of the greatest discoveries that we can make about life is that we should never want to be someone else.  The greatest thing we each posses, is exactly who we are.  If you come to the understanding of how precious and unique you have been created, then to be the next Joel Grimes would be a bore.

Your readers can find out more about me:


Found at a link on my web site.