Mobley: Eventually, but during the first four months of being in New York, I didn't get one job. It was scary. I'm this young kid doing well in Alabama, and I move up to New York, and all of a sudden, I'm this small fish in a very big pond. I pushed really hard. I photographed a lot of friends and people that I would meet randomly on the street or subway; I was always shooting new portraits. I was very persistent in trying to get clientele. My dad is an entrepreneur with a couple of businesses, and I feel like I've gotten that side from him, including how to manage and operate a business and how to market yourself. A big part of photography is being talented and taking good pictures, but photography, at the end of the day, if you want to make a living at it, is a business. I heard this quote, "Hard work will always overcome natural talent." You have to be persistent at marketing yourself. There are many photographers who are super-talented who don't seem to get work. I started researching magazines that photographed celebrities, and one of those magazines was The Hollywood Reporter out in L.A. I was eventually able to get a meeting with photo director Jennifer Laski. I'm a big believer in meeting people in person and shaking their hand. She needed to put a face to my work. We had a great meeting. Two months later, I got my first job from her, to photograph Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of the Morning Joe TV show in New York. She loved what I did, and the next shoot she gave me was Heidi Klum. It has just snowballed from there. You work hard and keep your head down and people will give you a big break. Jennifer Laski gave me mine.
DPP: Was your dramatic and perhaps very telling portrait of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman shot for The Hollywood Reporter?
Mobley: Yes, it was. It was a shoot with him and Christopher Walken. They were doing press for the movie A Late Quartet. Hoffman was very polite and gracious. He introduced himself to everyone in the room. At the same time, you could tell that something wasn't right. I don't know what it was, but you could sense a kind of sadness in him. It was a very quick photo shoot, maybe 10 minutes, as celebrity shoots normally are.
DPP: How do you tap into something in a person to create a unique portrait in such a short amount of time?
Mobley: A lot of that's preparation—phone calls, emails, talking with a set designer, talking with the photo editor, talking with my assistants, talking with the studio and getting equipment together. By preparing to the "T" and sketching out every single setup and then testing everything, I can be there with that person in front of my camera and not have to worry about all the other details. I draw out what I want to do as a guideline. We can always veer off from that. Celebrities like to do things quickly. They usually like me because I'm always prepared. The different setups we do are like different stations. We do some frames on one set, then move right to another. Everything is pre-lit. I like to make celebrities feel comfortable. I talk with them about great restaurants, normal stuff like that, not their careers. There are publicists, stylists, wardrobe, makeup, hair people behind me. That's the reality of it. It comes down to having a good team and being super-prepared. I love the production of photography itself, especially the big productions. There's something about having a big team together on a project that gets me excited. I love that energy.
See more of Miller Mobley's photography on his website at millermobley.com.
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