Photographer Spotlight: Don Giannatti

Posted by: on Jul 14, 2012

Photographer Spotlight: Don Giannatti
Don Giannatti
Don Giannatti has been a photographer and a designer for nearly 40 years. “I love everything about it,” he says. “It’s why I get up in the morning and stay up late at night.” To Don, making photographs is one of the most exciting and fun things to do. But his passion extends beyond photography, too. He’s also a fan of jazz, drums, travel and writing. Oh, and ice-cold Coronas. He’s a published author, a brilliant marketer, and a master in lighting essentials. In this month’s Photographer Spotlight, Don offers insightful advice on the business and pleasure of photography.
Photo by Don Giannatti
My first camera was… A Kodak Brownie. Immediately followed by my dad’s old Voigtlander. I got started in photography… When I discovered that I loved the still image. After a while, it was not so much ‘wanting’ to be a photographer. I discovered I had to be a photographer. Making images is as much a part of who I am as being a parent. I wanted to become a photographer because… Well, you gotta admit it was a fantastic way to meet girls. And that worked great…but I wanted to make better and better images. At some point, early in, it was more important to make good images than it was to meet girls. When I began studying the truly great photographers, I wanted to be as much a part of that group as possible.
Photo by Don Giannatti
I would describe my style or shooting philosophy as… When I mostly photographed fashion and beauty, I would define my style as a “remembered moment.” You know when you are sitting at a light and in the corner of your eye you see a beautiful woman simply being herself…the light turns green and you have to go? That moment… that fleeting moment of real-world fashion and beauty is what I always thought of in my shoots. These days I am always looking for the ‘space between;’ the space between objects, subjects, and the emotion that it can reveal. Why does lighting play such an important role in photography? Light IS photography. Light reveals texture and shape and design and dimension. Light is emotion and comfort, fear and drama. Light fascinates and transforms and sculpts the subject. Light demands our attention. Controlling the light means controlling the presentation, and since I am a “subject-centric light” photographer, understanding how light works on different subjects is the most important thing a photographer can learn.
Photo by Don Giannatti
The 3 most important things to keep in mind when setting up lighting for a shoot are…
  1. The properties of the subject: Surface efficiency, texture, shape and dimension.
  2. What the photographer wants to say about the subject – i.e.; what is to be revealed, hidden, exploited, presented and produced in order to make the image the photographer sees in their heads while answering this question.
  3. Total working knowledge of the properties of light: Size of Source, Distance of Source, Color, Angle (Vertical/Horizontal) and how they work together to present the subject to the camera.
Before I got started in the industry, I wish somebody had told me… That it was OK to fail. I was so focused on being perfect all the time that I wouldn’t take chances. These days, I try all kinds of things. Some work, some don’t. I do wish I had a little more willingness to take risks photographically back when I started out.
Photo by Don Giannatti
My favorite piece of gear is… Well, that is very interesting. I don’t think of my gear that way. I like having the right tools for the job, so my gear love is kinda fickle. I love the gear I’m with. Individual items that I really like are my Deardorff 8×10, my old F3, my first Canon L lens, and my absolute best bud forever in the gear, the Minolta IV Flashmeter that has accompanied me on every shoot (but one… long story) for 26 years. What is your current set-up? It is in flux at the moment. I am moving from zooms to primes and adding some motion gear. At the end of the year it will either be a Canon 5DMKII, 24, 28, 35, 50, 85, 100, 135, 200 or a Nikon D800 with roughly the same lenses. Lighting is Profoto/Dynalite mixed, and I also have a cadre of old speedlights that are fun to work with on personal shoots.
Photo by Don Giannatti
Why do you like to shoot tethered? I want to see the image, as it really is when I am shooting. LCD screens are cool, but they are pretty small. Also, the color of the image and exposure histogram gives me so much more real information than that little screen can deliver. Shooting tethered means I have the ability to collaborate with my team, or just my subject, and we can see every detail of the image. How do you use your iPad in your photography workflow? I was using it for sharing with clients as the shoot was happening, as well as using it for storage for some shoots on location. These days I use it for even more for keeping exposure and set information, designing, idea generation, mood boards, Keynotes, writing and more. The iPad is the single most important productivity tool I have seen in years.
Photo by Don Giannatti
If a fellow photographer were to ask you how to improve their work, what are the top pieces of advice you would most likely give them? Be brave. Fail with happiness. Make their own images on their own terms and NEVER be afraid to make something that doesn’t fit in. Never listen to the advice of naysayers, but keep their council in mind. We are the sum of our own fears and accomplishments, our own failures and our wins. People will try to hang their failures and fears around you. Never let them. Experiment with imagery, and find the ways to make your own images. The idea that everything has been done is pretty strong, but the knowledge that it hasn’t been done YOUR way should keep you moving forward. Do you have any recommendations on ways a photographer can grow their business? Shoot really good photographs and show them to as many people as you can, as often as you can. Too many photographers want photographic success without photographic effort. If you have been working in one area for 10 years and are seeing your business slide, maybe you need to expand your focus. Embrace the internet and find more people who need your work. Be relentless, driven and fanatical. Every day. And remember that any time you are not working toward building more business, your competition is. Your world is best measured in three categories: shooting, planning a shoot, and marketing what you shot. (One last thing… you know those people who are always talking about work/life balance? Listen to that drivel if you want, but NO one I have ever met that was very successful had much of that when starting out. It takes 100% commitment, and anyone telling you different is either lying or trying to sell you something.)
Photo by Don Giannatti
How can a photographer expand or add variety to their portfolio? Well, for me it is travel. Go places. Instead of that f-1.2 50MM, get a 1.4 and spend the savings on a plane ticket to somewhere you want to see. Make images with abandon, and stop filtering the vision. Think beyond the portfolio and make images for purely the joy of it. Shoot, shoot, shoot – and then, after a few months, gather those images together and see what is happening. Ask yourself which images you made were the most fun, and meant the most to you. You may find a whole new direction emerging from your work. Finally, we have to know: how did you get the nickname WizWow and why do you think it’s stuck over the years? I was partner and creative director of an ad agency from 1995 to 2002, and had titled myself as “Creative Director and the Wizard of WOW.” It was taken from reading a Tom Peters book on how important the “Wow Factor” is in products and services. I used it as my online name for so long that it is just a part of me now. I may use it as I expand my empire… Wizwow’s Book Store, Wizwow’s World of Sewing Machine Parts, Wizwow’s New Mexico Style Fried Chicken. It simply boggles the mind.