Congratulations to our Top Pic of the Week, Jamiya Wilson. Here we have an exclusive and in-depth feature where Wilson shares his expertise shooting headshots. Read on to learn more about the production of his photos.
How long have you been a photographer & how did you begin your journey?
I’ve been a professional photographer for 13 years. My journey began unexpectedly. I never grew up with much access to cameras besides the old Kodak disposables. I was attending film school in 2006 and interned as a video editor. My boss was probably the basis of the film “Horrible Bosses” and I was just tired of working crappy jobs. I wanted to branch out on my own. So, I quit one day after I had had enough. I went to the mall to get my mind off of it and in my grief, I stumbled into a camera store. I always loved gadgets and electronics, so I just wanted to browse. I came across a Canon Digital Rebel XT and loved the way it was designed. The clerk told me about a financing option and I thought, “What the heck!” and bought it. Becoming a better photographer quickly became an obsession. Fast forward several years and missteps later, here I am working full time in New York City! Whew!
How would you describe your photographic style?
I describe my style as being minimalistic with an emphasis on flattering lighting and balanced composition. From my headshot work to my portrait and beauty work, it’s an aesthetic I love and use frequently. It just appeals to me.
What tips do you have for taking headshots?
Headshots are such an interesting business. I’ve been doing it a while and I’ve seen lots of trends come and go and approaches to the business change over time. The first tip I can give anyone, especially if you’re working with actors is that headshots are about them, not you. The headshot needs to effectively communicate what it is they’re trying to achieve. If they’re a femme fatale, you need to highlight that in their expression, wardrobe, and location. If they’re a business owner with a health and wellness focused business that needs to come across in their image as well. I think photographers get so preoccupied with style or trying to shoot in a style we think everyone loves (trends) that we forget about the person in front of the camera. What are their goals and does the lighting, lens choice, location, wardrobe, etc. help them achieve that goal?
Going back to the “about them, not you” thing—I like my headshots to be identifiable in regards to my style, but I prefer my style to recede allowing the subject take center stage. It’s not about me. I don’t want a casting director looking through headshots and saying, “Oh that’s a Jamiya shot.” It’s happened to some of the bigger headshot photographers in the business and they’re style has fallen out of favor. Because for one, it just screams *insert photographer name here* and takes attention from the actor. And, for two, photographers will replicate the look and every actor will end up having headshots that all look the same. Casting directors want to see the actor, not the photographer.
Second tip, invest in quality gear that will last. This is a job, so you need tools that work. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or sexiest gear out there. Just workhorse sort of gear that can survive the rigors of day in, day out work as a professional photographer. Grow your kit over time and you learn how you like to work and you’ll eventually have the tools you need and not just a bunch of items you never use.
Third and perhaps the most important — care about your clients and deliver great customer service. I love my clients and appreciate each person coming through the door to shoot with me. They’re spending their hard earned money with me on something they’re hoping will change their life in some way. The least I can do is make sure they’re prepared properly, have a great time shooting, and deliver what and when I say I will. Do this and you’ll get more referrals and consistent business.
What other types of photos do you enjoy capturing?
In addition to headshots, I also work as a beauty and portrait photographer. My commercial/editorial portfolio can be viewed at my website. I actually got into headshots when a model friend of mine was getting out of modeling and into acting. She needed headshots and asked if I could do them. They came out great and shortly after she booked a small role in a film with Simon Pegg. She recommended I do it as a business. So I did! Ha! Mainly, I enjoy photographing people, but I go across different portrait genres. My work features portraits, beauty, nudes, and I’ve even started dabbling with street photography. I just thoroughly enjoy creating photographs so I like to stay busy and constantly hone my skills.
What advice or tips would you give to other photographers regarding finding their style?
If you’re a beginner, I would suggest learning the basics first and foremost, then start breaking the rules. If you’re a seasoned artist looking for a fresh perspective, I suggest going outside of your comfort zone. I mainly work in the studio, but started shooting street photography just for a fresh perspective and something different. It’s altered the way I view color in my work and I aim to incorporate more colorful themes in my studio work.
Style can take a while to find and I also believe it shouldn’t be something you discover and just stay there. Find your style, shoot that way for a while, then reinvent yourself. The photography industry is super competitive, so to keep your edge continue pushing yourself. If you shoot mainly women, photograph men. Do you shoot color all the time? Try a black and white series. Never be satisfied and that will force you to keep striving for greatness. You’ll find your style in there somewhere.
Oh and always be shooting. I know it sounds cliche but it’s true. I remember reading about how Michael Jordan would practice his jump shot for hours perfecting every aspect from the jump to release of the ball. The more you do something the more proficient you become. Spend more time shooting; less time groveling over gear or on photography forums, and you’ll find your style and be a darn good artist to boot!
Do you own multiple cameras? Which is your favorite?
I do own multiple cameras. I’m not brand loyal and have worked with all the major systems. I was a Canon shooter for a number of years then switched to Sony then to Nikon. I’ve owned a few Panasonic and Fuji cameras, the Ricoh GR, and the Olympus OM-D Mark II at one point as well. I currently own the Nikon D850 after my D810 finally clunked out on me (rest her soul). I loved the D810 and it was my absolute favorite camera, but the D850 is like that on steroids. It’s so fast, capable, and the image quality, oh my! It’s my workhorse camera for my client and portfolio work, but it’s not my current favorite camera. My favorite camera…wait for it. My favorite camera is the Panasonic G9. This camera is soooo amazing. I mean, oh my god. It’s fast, has so many bells and whistles, and customization options galore. There’s no reason you can’t take a great picture. The EVF is stellar, it feels great in the hand, and the files are beautiful. I know it’s micro four thirds, but I don’t need the largest sensor imaginable to do great work. The Micro Four Thirds system has some excellent lens choices. While the features are great, what I love most is the Panasonic color. The colors are just gorgeous. Out of all the camera systems (even Canon) I prefer the Panasonic color. It’s so vivid and saturated, but not overly so, which is how I feel about Fuji’s color(sometimes). Another great feature of the G9 and not unique to the G9 is the touch to shoot feature. It’s one of the coolest features available to photographers hoping to do street photography. You can just walk around with your camera at eye level and pretend you’re doing video. People will ignore you. With a tap of your finger, the camera will focus and capture the subject. The G9 does this brilliantly and nails focus 99% of the time. It has been one of the most fun things I’ve done with photography in a long time. Highly recommended!
What gear are you hoping to add to your collection?
Currently I’m hoping to add a couple Nikon zooms and a prime to complete my collection. I’d love the new Nikon 24-70 f/2.8E, 70-200 f/2.8E, and the 58mm 1.4G lenses. I just purchased a set of sigma primes(50mm, 85mm, and 135mm ARTs) for my studio work, but would love to compliment my kit with some strong zooms. They’re just so darn expensive! C’mon Nikon, give us poor photographers a break! I’d also like to add the Olympus 40-150mm, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens to my kit for street photography. Having a 35mm equivalent 80-300mm lens in my kit about the size of a small zoom on a DSLR would be super helpful for street photography. And give me a new perspective!
100 Faces Exhibition
I’m doing my very first photo exhibition entitled, 100 Faces, on January 31, 2019. 100 Faces is a street portraiture project capturing the interesting and unique denizens of New York City as I come across them in my daily life. I worked on the project for a year and photographed well over 300 people. Stopping for a moment to photograph someone and getting to know them, if only for a brief time, forced me to see them as an individual and not just another face in the crowd. I hope the images have the same effect on the viewer. The 100 images will be presented as black & white portraits and were captured on the Nikon D810 with 85mm f/1.4D lens (which I purchased from KEH). The exhibition will be held at Rogue Space, a premiere exhibition venue located in the heart of New York City’s gallery district. More information can be found by visiting my website.
This is probably my favorite photo from my project, 100 Faces. This wonderful woman, Elizabeth, generously gave me a moment of her time for a photo. She was heading home after running some errands and laughed when I asked to take her photo. “Who me? Why?” I told her I loved her eyes and where she was standing would make a perfect photograph. She gave me a skeptical look, but after I took a few quick shots, she laughed. “Okay, make sure to send me that? You’re pretty good!” She even told me I should be a photographer! Haha. What immediately caught my attention was her eyes and features. I love her wrinkles and the warm smile she gives to the camera. Her face shows age and experience, yet the warm smile reveals just a bit about her genuine personality. There’s a character to this image that you don’t quite get in a young face.The image was taken on a Nikon D810 with 85mm f/1.4D lens (purchased from KEH). RAW processing through Capture One Pro. No retouching.
Thank you, Jamiya, for allowing us to share these photos! Are you interested in being our Top Pic of the Week? Tag #KEHSpotlight in your photos for a chance to be featured.
http://www.jamiyawilson.com / IG: @jamiyawilsonstudio (Beauty & Portrait Work) http://www.jwheadshots.com / IG: @jwheadshots (Headshot Work)