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Friday, June 15, 2007

Bob O'Connor - Echoes

A young professional who was raised in the digital age prefers film and available light when he's behind a camera and goes high-tech in post

The “Location” Photographer

“In the most generic of terms,” he says, “I call myself a location photographer. I shoot architecture, but I'm not really an architectural photographer by the way most people would use that term. I haven't really got a good classification. I kind of have my hands in everything, but none of it's a specialty. I think the thing that's great about photography is that you don't have to be just one thing. Doing the same thing all the time isn't that good. It's tough for me to even figure out what I am or what I'm supposed to call myself. I shoot primarily assignment work—mostly editorial stuff, some real architectural stuff for architects and I do stock, too, with Getty and Workbook stock. More of the stuff that's on my Website is in the stock realm, and the commercial work is a little less artsy.”

O'Connor uses his marketing approach to go after only the types of assignments he wants to do, but he also takes time on most assignments to get something for his portfolio, even if he knows the client won't publish it.

“I'd say maybe 25 percent of the work on my Website came from assignments,” he says. “A lot of the stuff is coming from me being on an assignment that perhaps isn't so exciting, and then, once the real work is done, shooting for myself at that same location. You can't turn it off, I guess. A lot of the places I may never see again, so if I have access to someplace that I'm not likely to see again, I'm certainly going to try to make my time worthwhile there, both for the assignment and for myself.”

A Commercial Shooter With An Artsy Portfolio

Showing a portfolio full of the type of work he'd like to do, O'Connor has fared well. It doesn't mean he always gets the jobs, but he does receive positive feedback. With conservative clients, he always can pull out more conventional commercial samples that may be more akin to what they're looking for; with more creative clients—who typically offer the more creative assignments—they're usally more willing to take a risk on an up-and-comer with a stunning book.

“I think the more creative people are willing to take that risk with me,” O'Connor explains. “Some people need to see what they want to hire you for. If I show people this work and they respond well, but are like, ‘We need to see this,' I can pull that work out and show them at that point. I've never had anyone say they don't like the work; whether they don't hire me because I do this work is a different story. But it always gets a good response, whether or not it's commercially viable for their project. I guess if they don't get this work, I'm probably not the right fit for them anyway.”

To “get” O'Connor's work, it helps to have an appreciation for his minimalist style. Some of it comes from his training as an architect. Some of it comes from an appreciation for contemporary German photography. Some of it, he says, is simply because of age—the fact that he's a young photographer working with young clients.

“Editorial, generally, I'm dealing with a lot of younger people,” he explains. “I think there's a certain generational thing. I've found that younger people are more used to seeing available light along the lines of what I do, whereas people 20 years older than me are more likely to light the hell out of everything. There's definitely a look between different generations of photography, for whatever reason.”

Adds O'Connor, “The older people I know would scoff at the idea of shooting something with available light. It's my goal to represent what's there rather than try to relight something. If I can shoot it all available light, I do; otherwise, it's just a matter of adding fill. The light is always really open, usually bounced into something or through diffusion. I bring everything and try to use as little as possible. But if I have to relight something totally, it's not my work anymore to a certain extent and it won't look the same.”


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