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Creating the perfect portrait with trust and cool light

6 years ago

Todd Spoth is a photographer and multimedia producer based out of Houston, Texas, USA. He specializes in editorial, corporate, and advertising photography with an emphasis on creative portraiture.

His work in the music and entertainment industry has garnered countless awards internationally from organizations like PDN and Billboard. He is a Gold Remi award-winning documentary film producer and has taught photography classes for Canon and the NFL.

Todd currently serves on the board of directors for the American Society of Media Photographers and is represented by Wonderful Machine. In his spare time he browses Discogs for rare shoegaze vinyl with his cat, Jodeci and writes very slow music in his home studio.

He is a member of PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing and archiving tools for photographers.


Please tell us a little about you and your photography

I am a photographer, musician, creative person. I do a good mix of editorial work, personal work and corporate and advertising commissions. I'm an independent, former latchkey kid. I moved to Paris, France, from Houston, Texas in the middle of my 5th-grade year. I’m part Japanese. Japan is a really cool place. My first job was at K-Mart. I’ve worked at at least 6 restaurants, 3 auto-dealerships, 3 retail chains and two newspapers. I’m really into colored lights... so much so that neighbors complain about them. I really miss MTV’s Rock and Jock and In Living Color. My heroes were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Ghostbusters. I played baseball and hockey as a kid. I’m really good at Dr. Mario. I prefer staying home with my boo and watching Family Feud. I idolize Janet Jackson and as far as pictures go, I’m into graphic smoothness, bold color and overall realness. Duolingo says I’m 21% fluent in French and I’m way too into my Dyson vacuum. 


Why photography? What does the medium mean to you?

I was always drawn to unique illustration and graphic design. Throughout middle school and high school, I was interested in web design & graphic design pretty exclusively. I initially wanted to go to school for it, but I switched it up. I had always had a camera but never took it seriously until college. Since I’m a control freak and fairly technically oriented, the camera was the perfect tool for me to express everything I wanted to with a pencil or brush. I can't draw, so photography is the medium I prefer and use the most. As a medium, it's interesting because it's one of the only mediums that nearly everyone participates in. Not everyone sculpts, but everyone clicks the shutter every now and again. I’m proud of making a living making pictures, being creative and following the passion that fueled learning and respecting the medium. 


Talk us through a recent shoot. What is your process for each project, are you methodical and measured or do you go in all guns blazing?

I’m definitely the type that likes to do their research in pre-production and go into a shoot with a solid plan of attack with clear goals and the right gear/crew to cover any contingencies. Although I never had any formal training, I have had the great fortune to be able to learn the right way to do things from a handful of incredible people / photographers (Dan Winters, Mark Seliger, Joe McNally, Walter Iooss, et al) and also the wrong way to do things from others I won’t name. I notice a lot of younger shooters worrying too much about settings and gear and hashtags and not spending enough time on the real skill of this job, which is the little things that can make or break a great shoot. 


What do you think are the ingredients for a great portrait?

A relationship between the photographer and the subject. Whether I'm on a proper commissioned portrait or hustling backstage for personal work, I might get 5 minutes with a subject or 5 seconds. In that time a relationship must be established and the nature of that relationship will ultimately have a drastic effect on output, especially if you are a bit more hands-off like me in regards to direction. Some photographers won't shoot a photo unless they have had access and control over everything in the scene and posing and that’s their style and it's wonderful, but that's not me. I like to let the subject tell me something about themselves through the pictures we create and hopefully, there is enough time, enough of that relationship there, to make it a true collaboration. Regardless there’s a give and take and without the right ingredients, you’re really swimming upstream. Also cool light is always a plus. 


Tell us about your work with the American Society of Media Photographers

Being a freelance anything is tough. Being a freelance photographer is even tougher in my opinion. It’s also very isolating in that if you are a one-person crew, you lack a lot of the little things that a proper office environment provides. Being a part of something like ASMP gives you a chance to be around like-minded folks and that’s vital. I am 100% self-taught, my parents aren’t photographers, none of my really close friends are photographers, so without the networking and opportunities that ASMP and other professional organizations, workshops, etc provide, we would all be missing that camaraderie of the workplace.

For a while, not dissimilar to my plight as a "Xennial", I feel stuck between two worlds. Depending on where I’m sitting I’m either the youngin’ who gets all the memes or the established professional that has been working for a decade. Right now my role with ASMP is helping bring quality programming to our market, educating fellow working photographers on how to operate in this challenging field and bridging that gap to appeal to younger photographers in my city that we can help and provide guidance to.


What inspires you and your work?

I’m inspired by a lot of things. Anything 80s or 90s. I"m inspired by writing, recording, performing and listening to music. I was a musician first so for better or worse what I’m playing or listening to has a big impact on my work. I’ve had the pleasure of being able to travel all over the world both personally and professionally and whether it’s apparent or not, I’m inspired by the places I’ve seen, experienced, lived and photographed.

Do you have a photographic philosophy?

Don’t forget the details.

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