Carlos Serrao

14 July of 2009 by

Hello, Carlos, could you tell us a bit about how you got your start as a photographer? Why did you choose this occupation and what inspired you?

SERRAO: I’ve always been into visuals. I used to make super-8 movies, animation and such as a little kid starting in 5th grade. As I got older, I would shoot skateboard videos of the pools and halfpipes in south florida, editing them with two vcr’s and applying music a such. I think I transitioned to photography when it became too expensive to make anything of good quality on your own. I’m really a DYI guy. I’m envious of people starting out now a days, with advances in video and digital cameras, it’s affordable. But then again, these are only tools.

Where are you based now, and what are your current projects?

SERRAO: I’m based out of both New York and Los Angeles, with representation in the US and in Europe. Commercially current projects are various campaigns for World Cup 2010, adverts for Guinness and Nike Red, and various editorial fashion. Personal projects at the moment revolve around the RED camera, making short 1 to 3 min films.

There’s a big global economical crisis, how is this affecting the photography world?

SERRAO: The start of 2009 was the worst I’ve seen in 10 years of business. In Dec of 2008, I already had 5 or 6 overlapping holds thru Jan and Feb, but once Jan hit, 90% of the holds went away. It’s not that they went with another photographer, companies just were not doing the shoots. Or, they went a cheaper overall route by going with Illustration for the campaign. The jobs that did come thru, budgets were slashed in half. I noticed most of the jobs this year the direction was natural light, thereby saving costs on lighting gear etc. However, 2nd quarter of the year has picked up 100%, we are constantly booked’s as if the companies realized after their initial scare, that they still need to advertise and do shoots.

A few Good things came out of a slower first quarter, had time to experiment with new formats and techniques, work on small personal film projects, flex our natural lighting muscles buy not being able to depend on strobes as much, etc etc. Fortunately for us, the economy made everything a level playing field, so studios and equipment houses and modeling agencies where also cutting deals and giving discount prices just to stay busy. I was lucky enough to have my biggest year so far in 2008, so 2009 hasn’t hurt, it just means we have to spread it out and be a little more resourceful.

Happy to say that now it’s back for my crew full force, it’s like all these clients realized “wait a minute, we still have to advertise!” so we have been non-stop for the past few months.

What kind of photography do you prefer to do? Landscapes? People? Why?

SERRAO: I like it all. The best thing about this job is everyday is different. It would be a shame to limit to one type of photography, or a the very least boring!

What are your thoughts about photo retouching and color correction?

SERRAO: They are all means to an end. The final color and tone to the photograph is just as important as the subject within.

As far as retouching, It depends on the project. If it is a journalistic story, then no retouching. But sometimes some projects call for it, mostly advertising, etc. Because of the logistics of the shoot…i.e. shooting a pro footballer, who can only be shot on a specific day for an hour, in a studio that’s close to their training facility. The final shot needs to look like they are posed on a football pitch, so a composite of plates and subject needs to be retouched together. It’s just another puzzle to solve

Personally, I find it amusing when some “fine art” or certain fashion photographers put down digital or say “they would never retouch anything”, what would you call color correcting then? Before switching to digital as the tool, I used to do all my own b&w and color printing myself, and I would tweak color and burn and dodge to enhance the image. Same thing, different tools.

How important is it to have a professional camera in order to be a successful photographer?

SERRAO: Not important at all. I didn’t have a good med format camera of my own until about a year of working consistent jobs. I always rented.

What is the best city to live in, for a photographer?

SERRAO: It’s getting easier to live almost anywhere, but as far as commercially, it’s still London, New York, Los Angeles, for the advertising work, though I’d love to live elsewhere.

What are your other interests? Do you consider yourself an artist?

SERRAO: Films, science, history, snowboarding, the usual stuff. I would never call myself an artist, I think that is a title that is bestowed upon someone. Like calling oneself a genius…it just doesn’t fly.

Do you work on projects, where the budget is nice, but the client is terribly restrictive or confining?

SERRAO: I’ve passed on projects that paid well, but I knew the shoot was going to be a nightmare, not because or the shot being difficult, but the clients. Also, if it’s between a big paycheck and something that I might learn from or be beneficial to the book but doesn’t pay well, I’ll take the latter.

What would you recommend to people who are just starting out as a photographer?

SERRAO: Persistence, and really research and study what’s current and out there.

Do you work alone? Have a studio? What are the plans for the future?

SERRAO: I’ve gather a great team over the years. Digital Tech, Set and Prop person, some great assistants, a really tight crew. It’s nice because it;s like traveling with friends. I don’t have a studio, I just rent them when I need them. Future plans involve more films.

What is the best and your favorite project that you have ever worked on? And what is the worst?

SERRAO: I’d say the long ones that were technical challenging, like the first Olympic shoot I did, which was two months long, all over europe and the US, that’s when I feel the team really clicked.

Worst was right before that, I had a art director that had a great concept, but hadn’t cleared it with their client, so when the shoot started it was a mess with no direction, and not what I was hired to do.

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