Updated: Apr 3, 2020
CA: What made you want to do photography? TB: It started as extension of cinematography at the age of 13. Being that I was at church every day, one of the guys there who is more like my mentor asked me to help him with the video cameras. They just started to record sermons and performances live. I learned the basics of it and at 14 he handed me a DSLR. He told me to roam around and take some pictures. I started with that and I was rough around the edges. Eventually, I started to get better and better and better. In high school one of my elective classes was photography. That was totally different, I was using a 35mm black and white film Pentax (type of camera). That taught me how to maximize. This was film now, not digital where you can erase something inside the space there. You have thirty frames in your film. You already waste one getting the roll in so now it is down to 29. Use them wisely. I learned a lot from this class and it helped me refine my craft more. It laid dormant for a little bit and I got back into it following the purchase of my first digital camera for myself (Nikon 3100) a couple years back. Now it is what is now.
CA: How do you incorporate photography to encompass how you see the world? TB: Even back when I was in church, I didn’t want people to know I am shooting them. I like to capture raw emotion and I would never really edit pictures. One of the most iconic pictures I have is about two of my friends in church. You can tell it is candid, so candid. A lot of emotion going on in the picture and that’s what I like. Other pictures I have taken recently are capturing them when they don’t expect to be caught. One of my most successful pictures on twitter got over 700 favorites and over 200 retweets and that was of my favorite celebrity KiD CuDi. He retweeted because he didn’t know I was taking that picture and in it, he’s giving his fans a farewell thumbs up, something powerful and grateful. There’s also fans reaching up to get his attention or taking pictures, and stuff like that. I think the world, we all take each other too seriously and take life too seriously. There is a lot of things that happen that people don’t quite catch, and I try to catch it with my camera.
CA: I see you tend to display a ton of images of your clothing ensembles, how do you photography to display your fashion sense? TB: People book me for photo shoots and I say you can wear whatever you want to wear. We can decide on the place depending on what you are wearing. It’s all about flexibility and versatility. One outfit can make very different statements depending how you wear it. I can take a topcoat over a tee shirt and have it look cool. I can take a topcoat over a sweater and make it look cool. I can put it over a blazer and have it look cool. My style is very eclectic and I aim for my photography to be eclectic as well. I can go from shooting landscapes today, to portraits tomorrow, and editorials the next day. It would be seamless to me.
CA: How often do you shoot on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? TB: I’m a minimalist. I like to get things done quickly and efficiently. I try to get as much done in the same 24 hours as everyone else has. I don’t book a lot of shoots a week, I have a job and I do go to school full time. It is hard to get time out to just shoot. To save time, I always play with my functions before I do a shoot. I usually take five pictures. Always take five pictures to make sure my stutter speed is good, my aperture is good, my f stop is good, and make sure my ISO is good. Then I take a test photo with the person in the picture. If all of those are good, then the five pictures are perfect. If not, I’ll take some more. It all comes down to preparation. I shoot outside more often then not, so I’ll kind of know the weather. If it’s cloudy, the sun isn’t going to be too strong (going to be ambient light), I might need a reflective board to get light on my subjects face. It is really sunny, I need to change my ISO to be lower so it is not as sensitive to the light. Certain things you are mentally prepared for it and adjust your settings as such. As you get on site, you adjust your settings more. It shouldn’t take me more than 30 minutes to get used to my setting typically.
CA: How do you work with your clients for shoots and events? TB: It is a little different. Not too much different. The photos are still photos. My thing is to capture emotion, subtle emotion otherwise overlooked. If I am working on a one on one basis versus a definitive group of people, I have more power to manipulate it. I wouldn’t say it is easier but it is more open. I can tell you to stand like this, sit like this, look this way, look that way, to get what I need to get.
In an event setting, you’re being active. You are looking through your lens to take a picture but you can’t only look through your lens. You have to be aware of what is going on around you. I might be taking a portrait picture in front of a backdrop of this person in their outfit and see someone in the corner of my eye. This person is laughing meeting up with friends he hasn’t seen in forever. I will stop and take that picture because you can’t stage that again (it might not happen again). This portrait in front of a backdrop, I can stage again. It is a little different. Speed is also of the essence. You have to get in and get out. The settings have to be perfect before you start shooting. The lighting should be the same, everything should be the same. Get there before and do a quick little test run. Keep shooting and take as many pictures as you can. Take two or three pictures. Take four or five so people have options to choose from. Always appeal to your audience by giving them the power to have options to choose from.
CA: Do you have any inspiration from the world of photography? TB: I don’t keep up with the world of photography, I’ve been pretty much doing my own thing. There is one photographer I did meet that stood out to me. His name is Christopher Levy (his IG is @topher_b_lev) and his photo manipulation is amazing. It is so crisp and clean. You almost can’t say that was manipulated on photoshop because it’s so seamless. For example, he took a self portrait of himself but you look at the picture, his head is missing and his hands is missing and his clothes are in a position where it looks as though they’re being worn by someone. It makes the shirt seem like it is holding the cup of tea by itself. How do you do that? Eight different frames and manipulates each frame appropriately until you put them all together to make it look amazing. Another one he did was a photo of himself looking into the mirror. One of his hands is on the mirror and the other is holding a book. You have to ask how did he take this picture? His hands aren’t free so how did he do it? It’s really dope to see stuff like that. His editorial work is dope. He has done one for every day last year and this year is one for every week. I definitely think people should check him out on instagram.
CA: What do you do to improve on your craft? Techniques? TB: I got better by shooting more (it sounds corny). I’m sure the greats will tell you that to get better you have to do it more. At 14, my composition, settings, and colors were a little off. Everything was a little off. You keep doing it and doing it will help you get better and better. Anyone can be really great at photography if they do it. I don’t mean anyone just pick it up and say they are a photographer. Seriously, take it serious. It really is not that hard to build a foundation. It’s something that you practice and as you practice it you will learn basic things like the rule of thirds. Most basic rule in photography. There are certain lines you want to have your subject in. If your subject is looking from left to right, don’t put them on the right side because it looks like there are looking off the camera. Put them on the left side to make it look like they are looking through the camera. Certain things like that. You don’t want to have the subject in the middle of the picture unless you want to emphasize them only, not something beside them, behind them or in front of them. If you want to show height, you don’t take a picture with their head at the bottom of the picture. You have it at the top of the picture, looking up maybe making them appear tall. You pick that up eventually because you say wow how can I make this picture better. Aesthetically, it will get better. I feel like anyone can be a photographer if they take it seriously.
CA: Does anything help drive your passion for photography? TB: Photography is what I do now but ultimately in life it is not what I will be doing. I started off in cinematographer and will continue to work in cinematographer long after I give up photography as a profession. It is a great extension and something I love doing. Inspiration would come from 8.6 million people in NYC, 8.6 million stories to tell, and 8.6 million different events that happen in a day. There is so much happening in a day, why not capture one piece of it and keep it. You can take a picture of the same thing every day and somehow it will be different like a tree growing and you aging. Capturing moments is something a video can’t even mimic. A photo is an instant in time. A video is a set of instances in time. Videos aren’t necessarily as concrete or definitive as a photo. Pictures are what people remember for the most part.
CA: What is the perfect picture to you? TB: By the science of photography, there is a perfect picture. There is always something you can improve on though. Me personally, I’m very self critical. As I’m posting it, I am saying this is dope. A day or two later, I see some points I could have done better. People will say it is still dope and I will say it’s not good. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. A good photo to you, maybe a great photo to me, and a perfect photo to someone else. It is all in perspective. If you follow the golden rule, the golden ratio, and the rule of third; theoretically you could formulate the perfect picture. It is still all about perspective.
CA: What helps you get in the mindset to shoot something? TB: I listen to a lot of Daft Punk (mainly their first two albums) during the entire editing process and right before a shoot. Their older music gives me a lot of energy. So uptempo and fast. I have recently listened to a lot of Majestic Casual with their remixes and collections of music. For a photo shoot, it really helps me get moving. When I am working with a client, I don’t normally listen to music during the shoot. I will be thinking of music during the shoot. Everything is methodical for me. I mainly use Daft Punk and Majestic Casual as the music to get me going.
CA: How long have you been doing photography? TB: Photography for 8 years and cinematography for 9 years
CA: What do you feel is the biggest asset that you have right now? TB: Vision. I feel people see what I see. That is very important to a photographer because you don’t just take pictures to take pictures. There’s always a reason why you took that picture. If you take pictures to take pictures, you are in the wrong industry. There has to be a passion behind it. Every photographer out there, everyone is taking some sort of emotion with every picture they take. I feel that with myself, a lot of people see the grander scale in my pictures the way I do.
CA: And the biggest opportunity you have as of right now? TB: Consistency. Doing the cinematography and event planning makes it tough to be consistently active in photography when I’m not in school or at work. I feel like I have a lot of room for growth. I am starting to use better equipment now and you don’t buy that stuff to have it lay dormant. You don’t want to fall into complacency and stay the same. There is a lot of room for me to get better. I am nowhere near as good as I should be.
CA: What is fun and rewarding for you in regards to photography? TB: There are a lot of things that are fun and rewarding. You can go from the reactions of people who are used to being on camera to the person who is getting their photo taken for the first time. They’re nervous or happy, there’s so much going on for them. For a lot of events I go to, I always get the shyest person and take pictures of them. They eventually get comfortable and that is the coolest thing about photography. You see someone or something completely change in front of the lens. I feel like that is rewarding because you really get to share a part of someone’s experience for a couple of minutes, a couple of hours.
CA: How do you want your work/portfolio to be remembered for? TB: Creativity. I only dabble in editorial. My photos are easy to replicate. I feel that beautiful simplicity is what I want it everyone to remember it as. I took a picture of an up and coming artist Mo Dinero for a possible album cover. I like that pose you did and told him to do it three more times in three different places. I told him to come close to the camera and took another picture. Before you know it, I had a picture of him in five different poses in one picture. That isn’t hard to do and at the same time it looks cool. For another picture, I was walking down Park Avenue in the summertime and thought to myself I wanted to live here. I found a nice little spot and took a picture in front of it. I turned myself to dust and I thought it was cool. It is very easy and you can do it using tools on photoshop. My best pictures are my landscapes. You will find that on my instagram more than clientele pictures. Most of my pictures you will see is of nature and landscapes which are easy to do. These are the simpler things in life you would otherwise take for granted.
CA: What is the best advice you can give someone with a strong desire to do photography? TB: Do it! If you want to do it or you are thinking of doing it, do it! Even if this isn’t a career path for you, it is a great hobby. It is something that is fun, especially if you travel a lot. Everyone has an audience. People are going to know you for one thing and you will always have the opportunity to expose them to other things. Everyone needs to be cultured in this world because ignorance isn’t cool anymore. Maybe back in the day when ignorance was bliss, now it’s not cool. You need to be worldly and go out to explore things. If you are person who is interested in photography, keep taking pictures. Whether you like your pictures or not, somebody will love them. Go out and take your pictures!
Follow Tareak Black on his IG @putonyourthinkingcap