DPP Home Profiles Dan Couto - Let's Party

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dan Couto - Let's Party

This is what happens when you combine an eye for comic-book looks with boundless energy and intensity

Says Couto, “When assistants come in these days, it's like, ‘Don't you know anything about light?' ‘We'll fix it in post.' No, no, no! It's called a craft. It's photography. Not some hack level of lighting.”

Couto says too much time behind a computer can even be detrimental to a budding photographer's creative ability. He owes much of his creativity to experimenting with a camera.

“You're wasting a lot of time that you could be spending creating, flourishing,” he says. “All of a sudden, you've got a style that has evolved from that just because you gave yourself that time instead of being lazy. Play, play, play. There are no rules. There never have been, there never will be.”

While he obviously has enough fun, it's clear that Couto is serious about his work and delivering the most polished, professional images he can. He learned about lighting from great photographers who he says taught him very well. In fact, Couto is proud of his ability to photograph almost any subject in any number of styles. And when times are tough, he wishes he'd get calls for that, too.

“Those are the only jobs that come to me because of the style that I've been shooting in,” he says of his sci-fi work. “And sometimes it's to your detriment if you're kind of broke and people are going, ‘Well, Dan, I'd never ask you to shoot a can of beans' and you're like, ‘Well, why not, man? I'm starving! I just lifted the sofa cushions after you left to get some lunch money.' It's difficult to sometimes make them understand that you can shoot things that are, to them, ordinary.”

Couto's results don't often look ordinary, but in many ways his working philosophy is. After 15 years in the business, he still prepares so much pre-shoot that when he gets on set, he can think quickly and create more freely.

“You have that environment of controlled chaos,” Couto explains. “Even then you're ready to move lights specific to the model's face and just change things as the mood and aesthetic dictate. That's how you get a great shot, that flexibility, but at the same time, the knowledge of the tools to let that go.”

He refuses to rely on them as a crutch, but Couto happily utilizes his computer skills to make his comic-book images look like what he sees in his mind's eye. Stretching legs or thinning waists, Couto doesn't apologize for his style of idealized human forms or for creating 3D digital environments for those models to inhabit—even if clients don't always get it. He treats all his tools equally as legitimate means to an end.

“Things will sometimes branch off,” Couto says of deviating from a postproduction plan. “They'll push you hard that that's the way they want to be. Definitely you should be open to that; that's nothing to be scared of. A lot of people are just freaked out by the tech, but the tech is just another way to translate what's going on in your mind, your eyes, your brain. You want to keep people's eyes glued and interested in what you're presenting to them.”

Couto has worked digitally as long as the tools have been available, but he only recently gave up film completely. It didn't take long to realize that he'd never go back.

“It's gotten easier and easier and easier,” he says of working with the technology. “When the [Canon EOS] 1Ds came out, that was it. The file is big enough, finally. More than big enough. It's a really good camera; the lenses are amazing. Bang, that was it. I shoot ad jobs on that thing now. I've never had a problem with a Canon. Shove the card in, shoot some stuff, get out of town. No problem.”

Though his unique style and skill set certainly don't hurt when Couto is behind the camera, he says his business' biggest asset is his ability to say what his clients want to hear.


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