We had the good fortune of connecting with Vincent Knakal and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Vincent, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
The idea of being a profession photographer seems pretty glamorous to most people. You show up with your crew, a camera and some lights and get paid good money to take photos of beautiful women, food, high-end vehicles or whatever it might be, in some exotic locations. The reality is that it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears (and money) to get to that point in your career and there is ton of legwork involved in getting the best shots possible once you are there. A lot of thought and work needs to be put in, even before the shoot begins. Time goes into meeting with clients and careful estimation of these projects. Of course, first of all, you need to “land” the job. Typically you may need to hire crew, cast talent, acquire props and wardrobe, rent equipment and scout locations. You are not only budgeting costs, but time as well. How much is it going to cost and how much time is going to be needed for preproduction, travel, production and post? On some of the more technical shoots you will need to allocate time for pre-lighting and testing. In scouting, you not only need to find the right location, but you need to figure out timing at this location. A lot of times you will not have the luxury of being able to shoot at the best time of day or in the best possible spot, so scouting the location ahead of time is key. Knowing where the sun is or what the best background at a particular spot at that time of day can make or break a shoot. Liability insurance and a location permit will be necessary in a lot of cases. A location scout may need to be considered in this task. Preproduction can also often involve casting talent. Finding the right talent in critical. Once they are selected then you will need to consider makeup/hair, wardrobe, and styling. Your crew can help you. Okay, so now you have your crew, talent, location (permits) and you are ready to shoot. Well, not really. You need to put together production schedule and shot list. If you are traveling you may need to book air travel, rental car(s) and hotel accommodations. You will also need to prep and pack all the equipment needed for the project. On bigger jobs a producer can handle this for you. Traveling can sometimes be the most time consuming part of the production. You can spend hours or even days just getting to the location. It is not uncommon to spend most of your pre-production time in travel. Once all your “homework” is done, now it’s time for the shoot. The pressure is not over yet, but this where all the hard work of preproduction will pay off. The years of experience in directing talent, lighting and composition will come into play. Often working directly with an art director or the client, carefully paying attention to timing and details to get you through the shoot. After the shoot, you will need to review all the images created, narrow down the selections to the best. Depending on the project you may have hundreds or even thousands of images to sort through. Galleries or digital proofs may need to be sent to the art director or client for review. Once the final selections are made, the images will need to be color edited and/or retouched before they are delivered. As you can see, there is a lot involved in being a professional photographer. A lot of which is not very glamorous at all.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I would have to say the thing that I am most proud of as a professional photographer is my diversity. I feel so fortunate that I have a creative job that allows me to do something different every day. It is not uncommon for me to be shooting a fashion shoot one day and food shoot the next. Or out in the desert shooting a high end vehicle and photographing a professional athlete the next. It is hard to predict what I might be shooting next, so I have to be prepared for whatever kind of project comes my way. All of these different specialties require a very different skill set and often times much different camera/lighting equipment. My diversity originally came out of necessity. The market in San Diego can be challenging at times. There is so much good talent here and even though there are budgets and demands for high quality photography, specializing can limit your client base at times. In the beginning I worked commercially in the action sports industry and had some clients in the luxury lifestyle market as well. I needed to venture into other markets to keep my schedule booked year round. After all, my goal was to do this full time. It was not easy to teach myself all the different technics of each of these different photographic disciplines. A lot of my experience came from trial and error. Doing a lot of “test” shoots and personal portfolio projects. I learned early on never show people photographs of things that you are not personally interested in shooting. Over the years, I learned how to shoot different kinds of subjects in all kinds of environments. I figured out the equipment I would need to accomplish just about anything I needed to shoot. As I got better with each and every discipline, I discovered how much I appreciated and was stimulated by all the challenges that each brought. It’s these challenges that drive and continue to inspire me. I often find myself applying something I learned about shooting an interior to a car shoot. Or something learned from a portrait shoot to a product shoot. This experience helps when I am shooting a person with a car or food in an environment. As I push myself on each and every project I learn something new every time. I am never afraid to try something new.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would start with a bike ride from my home in Oceanside on the San Luis Rey river trail to the Oceanside Harbor and by the strand to the pier. Along the way we could take a lunch break at LTH (Local Tap house) for some awesome food and craft beer. Later I’d take them to Wrench and Rodent for some of the best sushi around, expertly crafted by Chef Davin Waite. Another day, I’d take them for a stroll through the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas and if luck was on our side, and Filano’s in Leucadia was actually open, we could grab a couple of the best Margaritas in town. If not, a couple of The Brigantine’s famous fish tacos in Del Mar would hit the spot. Catching up on the deck while overlooking the Del Fair Race Track. I’d take them down to La Jolla shores and rent a couple stand up paddle boards or kayaks and do leisurely paddle down to The Cove. After-which, grab a bite at The Marine Room or Nine-Ten. A day at the beach in Cardiff would be in order, where we could grab some Cardiff Crack at Seaside Market for a BBQ. We’d do a day down at Balboa Park rent some bikes, check out the Museums and gardens and grab some grub at Coasterra on Harbor Island to watch the sunset. In any of our down time we could just hang out in our backyard by the fire pit and listen to some music or take the dogs out for a walk around the park by our house. If we had more time and wanted to get out, depending on the time of year, I take them out to Octillo Wells or Palomar Mountain with the camper and the dogs.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would like to dedicate my shoutout to John Schulz. John is a professional photographer in San Diego (studioschulz.com). Before I met John I was working at a professional photo lab tech and Fine Art photographer in San Diego working on travel photography and processing all my Fine Art prints for gallery shows. John hired me as his studio manager/first assistant. I worked for John for several years and was given a crash course in the professional photography business, the technical aspects of studio lighting and photography production. Learning about estimating projects, casting, scouting and a countless amount of other odds and ends and tricks of the trade. Even though our “style” of and the subjects of photography are very different he played a significant role in who I am as a photographer today.