Location: Los Angeles, CA
Mathieu Young was born and raised in Northern California. He graduated from UCLA in 2003. After spending 4 years assisting top commercial photographers, he set out on his own to pursue what he sees as an intersection between photojournalism and commercial photography. He was awarded 1st Place in the 2006 International Photography awards, Best Photos from Los Angeles Weekly in 2009 and is a member of the International Cinematographer’s Guild. His clients include A&E, CNN, The CW, Dreamworks, Fortune, Fox, Los Angeles Magazine, Paramount, Rolling Stone, Time, Turner, The Wall Street Journal and Warner Brothers Pictures.
I didn’t exactly go to photography school. I studied directing in the Theater, Film and Television department at UCLA. I also took as many photography, art and design classes as I could.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned either from a teacher or mentor?
I was on set assisting a great photographer from New York City who was in L.A. shooting a musician for their label. I knew he had been an assistant to some high-profile photographers when he was starting out, and I asked him how he made the transition to photographer. His response was, “I was willing to starve.” If you believe in yourself and in what you have to say with your work, and you’re willing to starve, chances are, you’ll make it through the transition and be better off for it.
What was your first photography job?
Painting the floors. Just after graduating from college, I worked as an assistant at Miauhaus, a large photo studio in Los Angeles. I helped in the grip room with all the equipment, and every night I put a fresh coat of white paint on the cycloramas. It was an inauspicious start, but I used that opportunity to ask a lot of questions and to meet a lot of photographers and assistants, and within a year was able to assist on set full time.
What advice would you give to a photographer who is still in school?
Get ready to assist. I personally think it’s the best way to really learn the practical realities of making a living as a photographer. There’s value in assisting one great photographer and getting a chance to see their marketing/accounting/archiving/publicity efforts, and there’s value in assisting a lot of different photographers on set and getting a chance to see a variety of styles, lighting techniques and personalities in action. For me, assisting was an invaluable opportunity to learn the business.
What inspires you about photography?
I was recently marveling at all the cool places I’ve been to, and continue to get sent to, specifically because I take pictures. The camera is a great way to open doors to experiences that I would never be offered, experiences I would never even think to ask for access to. It’s a chance to exercise my curiosity about people, places and the world.
What makes you go out and shoot?
I pick up the camera and walk out the door because it’s a way for me to feel connected to something bigger than myself. It’s a connection to the craft, to the community, and it provides me with a chance to meet new people, see new places and hear new stories.
What do you like best about the whole process?
There are exciting elements throughout, from brainstorming the idea for a photo or a story, to the research, to the execution, the communication with all the players, to putting it together and trying to get it seen; there are great things in each step along the way. But my favorite part is definitely releasing the shutter. There’s an adrenaline rush, a passion that storms up whenever I’m deep i
n a shoot that always makes me feel so blessed to get to do this for a living.
What kind of camera equipment do you use?
Primarily, I shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a Canon EOS 5D with Canon L-series lenses. On larger commercial shoots, I use a Hasselblad with Phase One backs. I print my books with the Epson Stylus Pro 3880. My favorite piece of lighting equipment are my Profoto 7Bs.
What do you think it takes to be successful in today’s challenging and competitive marketplace?
I think that those of us just getting going in the industry are actually really lucky. We’re easily adaptable to the quick pace of changes in the market. We’re not set in our old ways because we don’t really have old ways. But you need to have something you really want to say; success isn’t going to happen until you do. For me, it has always come down to being proactive. I like doing self-generated projects. Until very recently, my entire website was made up of just personal projects, and it was those projects that helped me start getting commercial work, and that commercial work in turn has freed me up to pursue more personal projects. You can never count on getting work if you’re sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for someone to hear about your work or to stumble across your website. Pursuing a career in photography has been a single-minded focus of mine for almost 10 years, and it feels like it’s just now all coming together. It takes a lot of hard work, but for me, it has been worth it.
To see more of Mathieu Young’s work, go to www.mathieuyoung.com.