Crafting a Career in Commercial Photography with Neil Kremer
It was 2012 and both of us owned businesses that were hit hard by the Not So Great Recession of 2008. Cory was a partner in a post-production video company and I was a partner in a company that designed, developed and manufactured technical apparel. Oddly enough, we both decided that it was time to call it quits after a few years of hanging on.
Cory and I ran in similar social circles. That means we drank beer together at the beach with the same people. Having an interest in photography for as long as I can remember, within the same week, independently, we both purchased our first DSLR cameras. I had to read the manual to understand what M, S, A and P stood for. So, it was starting from scratch and for the most part, so was Cory.
After learning to use the camera, I started shooting what I knew: landscapes, cityscapes and creating long exposures with Los Angeles traffic. That led to a large following on Flickr and subsequently, requests to supply conventional photography magazines with cover photos. Cory was figuring out how to use strobes and finding models that allowed him to develop an understanding of lighting. We both posted a few images on social media and that’s when we realized that we had a shared interest in photography and retouching.
After working on a few projects that allowed us to understand lighting, we got a call to shoot a magazine cover for an in-flight magazine. We were hired to recreate the Eagles’ “Hotel California” album cover. While standing on a crane, 40 feet over Sunset Boulevard, shooting the sun setting behind the Beverly Hills Hotel, we looked at each other and said, this wouldn’t be a bad way to make a living. The next day, we formed Kremer Johnson.
When we first formed the company, we had very little understanding of the commercial industry. We started scouring the internet to understand who was getting hired and for what. We spent countless hours looking at other photographers’ work and trying to emulate the ones we respected. After creating something we were proud of, I reached out to a well known photographer named Sandro for advice and a quick critique. He was kind enough to reply and his advice has stayed with me. Sandro suggested that we stop what we were doing and: “Find one thing you love to shoot. Create a style that is all your own and use it to tell stories that resonate with people. Once you feel like you’ve accomplished that, you’ll be wrong, but you’ll have developed a process. A process that you will spend the rest of your life honing.”
At the time, I didn’t fully understand what “process” meant in Sandro’s statement. We still didn’t know what we wanted to shoot. We still didn’t have a style, a look, or an understanding of who to show our work to.
We continued to copy the styles of Commercial photographers such as Dan Winters, Mark Seliger, Art Streiber, Randal Ford and so many others. While doing so, we slowly found ourselves mixing the styles until one day, someone said, “Hey, I saw one of your photos on Instagram and knew it was you immediately.” Apparently, while copying others, we developed our own look. We gravitated to narrative-driven images that are often humorous and we developed a constant lighting style and a retouching look that we’re rather proud of. It was at that moment that I understood what Sandro meant by “process.”