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Jay Watson has been living and working in California’s Bay Area since the turn of the century; his work as a photographer is a love letter to his adopted state. He balances commercial clients in Silicon Valley with editorial magazine work, and shoots plenty of “car porn” for the likes of Porsche and Audi sportscar experience. We called him up to talk about his work, his website and “California culture.”
PDN: How’d you get your start in photography?
Jay Watson: I studied photography in college at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I started assisting while there, learning about fine art while also assisting in the craft of commercial art. As I moved more in that direction, I started getting clients and just built momentum from there. Then, I moved out to California in 1999.
PDN: You’ve lived in the bay area for almost 17 years, and on your website, you say that much of your personal work is “inspired by California culture.” What exactly is California culture?
JW: To me, California culture is anything from the car culture—lowriders, hot rod and motorcycles are big here—to surfing, BMX and skateboarding. Some of these subcultures and sports were born here, so California is this creative birthplace whose culture affects the rest of the country, if not the world.
PDN: What California projects are you working on now?
JW: A few years ago, a client hired me to shoot a car race. It’s a “gentleman’s race”—F3 racing—and coverage of this sport has grown a lot over the past three years. I’ve gotten incredible access at a couple of tracks where these races have happened, which has given me a lot of cool images that other motorsports photographers don’t necessarily get. One summer, I had to shoot about ten days over five weekends at the same track. You have to push yourself in these situations: How am I going to make this work look different? I try to apply this mentality to other jobs.
PDN: Do you remember the first website you used to host your work?
JW: My first two websites were that classic example, where I had a great friend create a good website for me. But I couldn’t change or switch any of the images on my own, so for years, my website sat stagnant. I initially switched to PhotoShelter for client delivery, using it to create custom proof galleries and delivery of final images. Then, I started using it for everything. It’s awesome, with clean, intuitive navigation. The portfolio views on PhotoShelter look fantastic. PhotoShelter has the best balance of everything.
PDN: How else does your website figure into your business?
Besides proofing and delivery, I have galleries on the back-end of my site of certain categories that I don’t necessarily market to. For instance, if people call up and ask if I shoot products, I can say that I have a gallery on the back-end of my website that’s all products. I can just switch that out and update that link. I get a couple of apparel jobs in this way, too. I want to have some of those examples ready, but I also don’t want to water down my website trying to show everything: cars, editorial, lifestyle, apparel, fashion and product. I picked a couple things that I’m trying to show, my specialties—the galleries that I’m trying to update all the time. PhotoShelter is great for that. They’re searchable, but they’re not published on the main website. With PhotoShelter, you can choose if an image is going to be searchable on Google or not.
PDN: What’s the most fun part of your job?
JW: Shooting race tracks is really fun: Shooting out of the back of a moving vehicle while you’re shooting another car is an adventure, it’s thrilling. Getting to shoot surfers in Mavericks [California] is also great—fun days where you come back thinking, “wow, this is my job!” I’m pretty lucky, as this is something I never imagined getting to work on.