Last month we were lucky enough to have one of our wonderful members, Los Angeles-based photographer Elizabeth Weinberg, fielding questions from our Booooooom Slack Community as well as those left in comments from readers here on the site! Renowned for her celebrity portraits and lifestyle imagery, Elizabeth kindly shared her wealth of knowledge, experience, advice and favourite celebrity moments with us. Check out some of the highlights from Elizabeth’s AMA below, along with some images created by people from our community who asked her such great questions. To see a selection of Elizabeth’s work check out our pre-interview with her. Big thanks to everyone for participating!
Sydney Krantz: What do you do in terms of self promotion? Before you were getting enough jobs, how did you find people to contact? Cold emails, portfolio reviews etc.?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I do a mailed promo as often as I have time for, and tailor them to the clients (editorial, advertising, apparel, etc). I also try to do a quarterly email blast, but I think they end up being a little less often than that. Before I was working a lot I met people at photo openings in New York, cold emailed, and sent a lot of mail!
Sydney Krantz: Do you ever get comments on having too many categories on your website? I’m ridden with anxiety trying to organize my photos in a cohesive way, but I like the way you have it.
Elizabeth Weinberg: I’ve never had any comments about having too many categories, I actually think it’s the perfect amount. I don’t really like the “book 1, book 2” types of organizing because if you’re trying to get an ad job you have busy art buyers and art directors just trying to see the work they need to see. So they will click on ‘lifestyle’ because they’re looking for a ‘lifestyle’ photographer. I organized it with the client in mind.
David Schermann: When was the moment you realized that you’re now a professional photographer and can live off the earnings you make with photography?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I had so many part-time jobs when I first started but I finally quit around the end of 2010. I got a decent job that took me out to LA and I thought, okay it’s time to just do this. Always risky but I knew it was time!
Reifus: When I see the portraits you have made it looks like everyone is comfortable with you and the camera. What’s your process before the photo?
Elizabeth Weinberg: Thank you! I don’t have much of a process — the only thing I do is Google recent editorial images of that person to make sure I’m not doing the same thing. A lot of times I get to an a hotel or their house or someplace I’ve never been before and I get a few minutes to scout. It’s a fun challenge but I never really think about the shot beforehand.
Reifus: Do you have time for personal projects? And do you have something you’d like to try without the professional pressure?
Elizabeth Weinberg: Personal projects are the things that get you hired. It’s the work that shows up in every brief you get from a client. So I try to do at least one major one a year, stills and video. Last year I didn’t really have much time but I want to do one before the end of this year. I just directed a music video that came out of my own pocket so I guess that could be considered a personal project!
"Personal projects are the things that get you hired. It's the work that shows up in every brief you get from a client."
Jeff Hamada: Can you share a story about a celebrity who was unexpectedly fun to shoot with?
Elizabeth Weinberg: When I shot Julia Louis-Dreyfus I had a specific idea in mind, which I don’t usually. I was stoked that she was into it and she actually allotted WAY more time than I was originally given so we could nail it. She really cared about the craft of it and making sure it looked good. For someone who’s been in the business for so long it’s refreshing when people don’t just phone it in and really make the experience collaborative. A lot of times it’s 3 minutes and we’re done, but this was so much more thoughtful.
Jeff Hamada: She seems like the nicest most genuine person! Have you ever been nervous to meet someone whose work you really admire (in case they aren’t as friendly?)
Elizabeth Weinberg: I was actually really nervous with her because Seinfeld is basically my religion. But she was so rad that it melted away. I was also slightly nervous with Jeff Goldblum but then 2 seconds into meeting him I realized he is so affable and down to earth.
Damaris Riedinger: How did you transition from a photojournalistic background to commercial photography work? And therefore, does shooting for a brand feel like a compromise to the “photojournalistic artist” in you?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I started out going from documentary music photography to editorial, and from editorial slowly started delving into commercial. Shooting for a brand doesn’t have to be compromising — generally, creatives hire me because they like my approach and understand how I shoot, so a lot of times the way I work is the same. As far as art vs commerce, I have a kid and live in a city so I need to earn a living 🙂 Not every shoot is going to be full of artistic freedom and that is okay, as I get to balance that out with other projects.
1. Do you think film is dead? Has it’s decline effected your work in any substantial way?
2. Top 3 favorite cameras?
3. Your portraits are so fantastic. Do you have any tips for directing subjects. It can be challenging especially when working with every day people and not models.
4. Jeff Goldblum: tell us everything!
1. Film isn’t dead, it’s just a speciality thing like vinyl is now for music. I worry sometimes that it’s too much of an aesthetic crutch for some people that may take the place of the actual imagery, but that’s a different discussion 🙂
2. Olympus Stylus Epic, Fuji X100F, Pentacon Six TL
3. Don’t be shy. You’ll only regret what you didn’t shoot
4. HE IS THE BEST
jkcphotos: Curious to hear your thoughts on ‘influencer photographers’ (such as Brandon Woelfel, Jessica Kobeissi, etc) and how they are impacting the industry (receiving commissions based on following in addition to their photography skill)
Elizabeth Weinberg: To be honest I had never heard of them and had to Google. I think the whole “influencer” thing is a bubble that is going to burst. There’s a big learning curve when it comes to working on big ad shoots with budgets of 6 digits and managing a crew and handling diplomacy and the ins and outs of production. Overnight Instagram fame can’t teach you any of that. Some people can make the transition for sure.
jkcphotos: Love the spontaneous, naturally-lit approach of your work! How do you maintain that characteristic when you also need to fulfill client’s brief and requirement. Or, are these moment captured actually very carefully storyboarded ahead of time?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I’ve never storyboarded anything. I keep lighting natural or use HMIs/LEDs (consistent lighting) and direct the talent as I need to in order to make everything ‘feel’ spontaneous.
jkcphotos: That’s very cool to hear! How do potential clients react when they hear that? Do they feel like the need to ‘approve’ mood board or plan before letting you do your things?
Elizabeth Weinberg: Generally they give me a mood board, I write a treatment basically saying how I work, and if I (hopefully) get the job, they know that’s my approach. We have a set shot list and have a preproduction meeting where I go over how the day is going to go, but the ins and outs of each actual image aren’t really discussed unless it’s SUPER specific to the shot.
Sage: I’m curious what advice you wish you had earlier in your career, and what you felt like a turning point for you was along the way.
Elizabeth Weinberg: I’d say get your tax situation in order from the get-go. Get a system down, get Quickbooks, find a good CPA, have everything dialed in so that as your business grows you have everything ready to scale as your income does! A turning point for me I think would be the 2 consecutive years I got PDN30 and then was an ADC Young Gun. My name got into the brains of a lot of high level creatives and it was a game changer.
jkcphotos: expanding on Sage’s questions, what are your favorite apps for planning, inspirations, or keeping your book in check?
Elizabeth Weinberg: Quickbooks is my savior. I scan all receipts with the app and log them into the appropriate transactions. You don’t need to keep the paper receipts after that; the IRS will take the scans. That and Google Calendar are always open on my laptop and desktop. I am actually planning on getting an Ipad Pro so I can take notes and organize images all in one place because I have a hard time keeping physical things organized (I have a 4 year old who is enough to clean up after)!
RobertoB: I was wondering, if you could give us some insight in working with/being represented by an agency — how did the initial contact happen? Do you have any experience/warnings you would like to share?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I have had several agents. I had a great meeting with AH and they produced a shoot I did, we still liked each other at the end of it 🙂 and then I signed on! I would say that people should not look for an agent to get them work; they should look for an agent when they have too much work to handle on their own.
"People should not look for an agent to get them work; they should look for an agent when they have too much work to handle on their own."
pvalade: In an interview a long time ago, you talked about photography and memory, you said: “If you don’t have the memory, you won’t think the photo is that great” and that is something that you have to create in editorial work. Do you still feel that way? Is there an impetus to create feeling an memories to bring something to commercial imagery?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I think it can work for editorial/commercial work but it doesn’t have to. Obviously you’re on a job and not out with your friends. But I think there’s some reciprocity with it in that if the shoot is fun you’re going to get good pictures.
pvalade: In the same interview you also spoke on self-assigning, and how important it was to your process. Do you still have time to self assign projects?
Elizabeth Weinberg: This is super important and I have a lot less time to do that than I used to, but it’s always in the back of my mind.
McCray: How does your approach to portraits differ in shooting subjects you know and are close with personally vs. subjects you are less familiar with?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I don’t really change my approach. I am pretty outgoing and over the years have shed all residual shyness that would have prevented me from asking a subject to do something for a picture. I think the only difference with subjects I know is that I’m not trying to keep things super quick as I know celebrities love when things wrap sooner rather than later!
McCray: Also very curious how you personally describe/compare the storytelling element for video (as a director) vs. photography!
Elizabeth Weinberg: I have been thinking a lot about this as I’ve started directing music videos. So much of it is about the movement of the camera, how the subject moves in the frame, using slow motion, music, etc. There are just so many variables. I try to do what feels natural. A lot of the shots I have in my head for motion are almost extensions of the way I shoot pictures, like shooting through something, letting the light move, etc.
Jeff Hamada: Is it weird to work with a cinematographer when you’re used to being the one holding the camera?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I used to think so before I had any idea what the hell I was talking about. Now if you find a good one they’re like an extension of your brain. They take your ideas and add their own layer of knowledge and creativity across them. It’s so fun and collaborative.
pvalade: What is the PDF builder on your site for? I’ve never seen that!
Elizabeth Weinberg: It’s for clients to make PDFs for presentations to hopefully hire me! I would like to publicly thank Rob Haggart and Photo Folio for their ingenuity in that department!
Jeff Hamada: When you have less than 30mins to shoot some of these people, I guess overshooting is not an issue. Can you talk a little bit about shooting with such tight time restrictions? If something’s not working I guess you’re moving on pretty quick?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I love the time restrictions, actually. If I have to pare down 250 photos instead of 1000, I am happy! I move on very quickly if something isn’t working, and actually if is working I am still moving on quickly. Experience gives you the confidence to say “Ok, we got it.” How many images are going to run, 5? 1? Why take 357293857 of them? When we shot film we had 10-12 images per roll of medium format film. There’s no reason to shoot a million pictures if you know you got it!
I have had countless subjects say they’re so happy I’m fast. And they respect the fact that I know when it’s done. When you keep shooting “just in case” you run the risk of the subject starting to fade on you.
Anselot Alison: I was wondering if you mostly work with natural light or do you use extra light? For example for the portrait of Moses Sumney.
Elizabeth Weinberg: Both. I hate carrying stuff. Generally for editorial work I like to work alone. No assistant. So I keep it light. Moses was just me and him and his PR wandering around Echo Park Lake. No lights, nothing. Recently I’ve been using some very lightweight LEDs instead of strobes. They’re continuous so no flashes going off, they’re super lightweight, they’re bright-ish, and they help me supplement if I’m in a dark ugly hotel room somewhere 🙂
Jeff Hamada: How important are awards? And which ones do you think carry the most weight?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I don’t think anyone should freak out about getting awards, though they are great to aspire to. The PDN 30 was a HUGE goal for me. I was nominated a few times before I finally won. I think that’s the best award for a photographer who is trying to break into the editorial/commercial world. There’s a lot of press associated with it and I ended up doing a lot of talks at RIT, SVA, Photo Expo, etc. It helps you learn how to talk about your work, which is important, especially when you’re writing treatments for big jobs. The Young Guns is also a fantastic award to get as well because you become part of this alumni of creatives across different disciplines that have ended up doing groundbreaking work across advertising. And there are other opportunities that came from that, like I got to do a talk at the Apple Store and taught a summer photo workshop for teenagers. I think some of the other awards like American Photo are great as well, but they cost a lot and aren’t really going to propel anyone forward as much as the previous 2 I mentioned.
Jeff Hamada: Do you feel like you’ve ‘made it’? Or will you ever feel like that? Like if you try not to define success in that way, what is it for you?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I don’t think so, because I’m constantly saying to myself “why am I getting the smallest assignment in the magazine, I want to shoot the cover.” I think there is a balance to strike between thinking you’ve made it and having the confidence to want the bigger and better things. I of course want all the bigger and better things and think I have earned them, but I also have a hard time with egos — I can’t stand it. I hate pretension. So I guess I am constantly looking for the next step and grappling with the idea that I can be successful and not a jerk.
Jeff Hamada: You would think that shooting a lot of famous people you would increase your chances of encountering egos! Have you just been lucky with the subjects in that sense?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I think my approach immediately disarms people. I’m usually alone, I look young, I don’t have 80 lights set up. The whole situation is just not what they are expecting. Of course there are people who are just there to get the job done and don’t care about me or what I do, which is fine. Knowing how to read people is a skill that shouldn’t be overlooked in this business.
The major thing is to take NOTHING personally.
"Knowing how to read people is a skill that shouldn't be overlooked in this business."
Tomkibom: What’s inspiring you?
Elizabeth Weinberg: Right now, travel! I have to get out of my everyday physical space to get my brain working. Routines bum me out. It’s easy to fall into them when you have a kid. It’s also easy because the weather is the same here every day and it feels like a dystopian nightmare sometimes and I don’t know what month it is. Any extra time I have I try to leave Los Angeles and take my little camera with me and not think about anything but what I’m seeing. The ideas come from that.
Jeff Hamada: Do you feel like what you’re doing now is the thing you were born to do?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I think it’s part of the larger picture but yes for sure. I’d couple that with being a mother too.
Jeff Hamada: Who is the person who has taught you the most, and what’s one piece of advice they gave you?
Elizabeth Weinberg: I never really had any photo “mentors”… I have mostly gotten by by commiserating with my peers thanks to the internet. The best learning experiences I got about the business were when I worked at The Small Darkroom in NYC right out of college. I said this once in a previous interview but the photographer Chris Floyd once said your photo eyes have to be bigger than your photo stomach and I’ve always remembered it. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone.
Jeff Hamada: Can you talk about a time where you took a risk on a shoot?
Elizabeth Weinberg: One time about 10 years ago I was shooting Dr. Dog and we were basically trespassing in order to get what we wanted creatively. We were climbing in and around all these 150 year old trains that were parked way back behind a train station. I have no idea if we were allowed to be there but it worked out. Another time I had Mac Demarco get in his pool fully clothed in order to illustrate his move from NYC to Los Angeles. Sometimes you’re not sure if people will agree but when they do it’s so worth it
HP: How do you know when to stop editing an image?
Elizabeth Weinberg: When you know, you know. Practice is the only way to get there.
lefnn: How do you find models?! Cuz it’s my biggest problem.
Elizabeth Weinberg: The only times I have to find models are for personal projects. One thing you can do is email model agencies with a mood board / brief for your shoot and then ask if there are any new faces in town who would love to shoot for trade (you provide them with the photos after the shoot to add to their book). I have done this a LOT and people are more than helpful !
Jeff Hamada: Can you tell us some other people we should be following on Instagram — whose feeds are you loving these days?