In our article on shooting group portraits, Chris Patey says he learned much of what he knows about making group portraits by assisting Los Angeles photographers such as Joe Pugliese and Art Streiber, who have photographed ensembles for entertainment, editorial and commercial clients. Patey says he uses a lighting technique he learned from Streiber to create even light on each subject in a group portrait. Patey is one of dozens of former assistants that Streiber has mentored. In his studio, he’s tried to recreate a guild where “apprentice, journeyman, master” learn from each other: Streiber teaches the assistants, the assistants teach interns.
“I never really understood the overly protective, paranoid nature of most photographers: ‘Sign this NDA [non-disclosure agreement] about how I’m lighting this.’ I took the opposite approach,” Streiber says. When he lectures at PhotoPlus Expo or for photography trade groups, he describes all the details of select editorial assignments. “This is how we lit it, this is how we dealt with this problem,” he says. “I want to show as many aspects of the shoot as I can to give the attendees the idea of what goes into it.” He also discusses his marketing and shares business advice. (Check out his Instagram captions to learn more about his problem-solving.)
People ask him if he worries that other photographers will steal his ideas. He explains that exchanging information has benefited him in a number of ways.
When he shows new assistants his method of lighting a shot, he expects them to “share it, and gain knowledge and eventually say, ‘Why don’t we try this?’” He encourages them to offer their own ideas for solving technical problems. “There’s always something new to learn, and my photo assistants are working for the top photographers around the world in situations I’ve never been in,” he notes. “You’re foolish not to listen to the input of experienced crew.”
Assistants he’s worked with in the past have gone on to become successful photographers, digital techs and photo editors. Streiber says his network of past apprentices is “awesome.”
In his teaching, he says, he wants to share “standards of professionalism.” Photographers “get a bad rap,” he says. One day, his daughter came home from school and asked him if he’s a paparazzo. “I’m trying to maintain and raise the standard of what professional photography is,” he says.
When Patey was preparing to go out on his own, Streiber critiqued his images and offered suggestions. He does this with all of his assistants, he says, but being a photographer demands more than just picking up some tips. By sharing advice with an assistant, he says, “You’ve made the path a little bit easier, but he or she has to figure it out. There’s so much more to it than just a few lighting tips or a list of magazine editors.”
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