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Behind The Lens With Photog, Perry Hagopian (He’s No Debbie Downer)

Dec 13, 2010 By Amy

What do celebrities, Rihanna, Tina Fey, and Taylor Swift have in common? Not a whole lot, except they’ve all been in front of the lens for photographer, Perry Hagopian. Hagopian shares everything with us, from his fresh faced start in photography to shooting secrets, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to dive into his mind.

What prompted your move from Las Vegas to New York to pursue photography?
I was just looking for some action at first. I was 19 years old and it was the late 80’s…New York City was a very exciting place to be, even if it meant I had to live in a 4 by 7 ft room at the “Y”. I fell in love with photography, at first partly because it seemed so instantaneous; you could create a moment or a feeling, then go into a darkroom and watch it magically appear. I was heavily drawn to the fashion stories of the time; they were full of strong beautiful women in very glamorous settings, kind of like a “Bond” movie from the 70’s. This was still before “grunge” had hit and glamour was king! So I sought out an internship with a struggling photographer in Chelsea, learned a lot about technique, but more importantly how to be a good photo assistant…From there I went on to work with top photographers Rico Puhlmann, Gus Van Sant & Mark Abrahams.

How does your concept for a photo shoot come to fruition?
If I am shooting a fashion story that’s the very first thing I think about, the fashion! I immediately collaborate with the stylist or editor, to talk about the clothes, what’s going to be the fashion narrative, and what’s the story about, fashion wise. Then it’s about the light & location, mood & feel, and how do I want to light this and where can we shoot it! I also try to collaborate with the model agents from the beginning, letting them know what’s the story about, the concept or feel, so they can suggest the right models, or at least help me get the models I really, really want!

Outside of a studio, what are a few of your coveted locations for shooting?
Working with celebrities has taught me to work just about anywhere, from walk-in-closets to hotel rooms with no daylight and bad furniture. A lot of the times the key is to just make it feel grander, bigger and more glamorous than it actually is. Give it some depth. I do this mostly with lighting, plus I usually take off the curtains.

Everyone in your photos looks so comfortable, what’s your secret for getting your subjects to relax in front of the lens?
Well, I think it’s incredibly important for the feel of my pictures that everyone looks or feels relaxed. So first off I really try to keep my energy on the set calm. I feel the subject & photographer feed off each other’s energy, so I try to make sure they feel secure, confident, and reassured that I am doing everything in my power to make them look super beautiful! Even though internally I am not always so calm, I am thinking of a million different things- trying to anticipate or negotiate anything from “bad hair” to “moving daylight” to “time”- which really comes into play with celebrities. Usually, being prepared, being clear and staying calm has saved me countless times.

What captivates you to switch from color to black and white images? Is this done in post-production, or is this planned before shooting?
I come from an era of film, when you actually had to put black & white film in the camera if you wanted to shoot B&W. So, yes I do think about it beforehand. I “light” or use light in a different way when I know I am going to convert the image to B&W. Most of the time I have a good idea of what I want in color and what I don’t; but sometimes while on a shoot, I’ll notice a certain texture of the clothes or an interesting light hitting the model and it will scream at you to shoot in B&W. I try to stay open to any and all inspirations.

Lastly, what advice do you have for aspiring fashion industry hopefuls?
Stay enthusiastic about what you are doing. Everyone can feel it, when someone acts as if they don’t want to be there. Never ask how many shots are left! Intern if you can, assist for sure, be on time, but most of all- be positive!!! Nobody likes a Debbie Downer!

There are no Debbie Downers here….A HUGE “Thank You” to Perry Hagopian for sharing his insider secrets and stories. For more about Perry Hagopian, visit his official website.

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