BUSINESS - INTERVIEW
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
BUSINESS - INTERVIEW
by Melisa Kaya
Being a photographer is not just pressing the shutter button and adding a photo to your portfolio. Anybody who has a camera could do that. Perhaps the most important feature that separates the person who presses the shutter and the photographer is the ability to create photographs which have a story to tell. Markku Lahdesmaki, who managed to turn the dilemmas he had lived into an advantage, likes to tell stories in his photographs. Markku Lahdesmaki founded Lightroom Inc. in 1992 and since then he has been providing his clients with services in all sorts of subjects, from concept to production. He has become the first non-UK photographer to ever receive a Gold Award from the Association of Photographer's in the UK (AOP). I talked with advertising photographer Markku Lahdesmaki, Owner of Lightroom Inc., about his career and the details of advertising photography.
Markku, before talking about photography, I would like to learn more about you. When did you get your first camera? Do you remember the first photo that you shot with it?
I was born in Finland, where at eight years old my uncle gave me a modest camera with black-and-white film as a birthday gift. My first exercise with the camera was taking snapshots of my sister and other family members.
Could you tell us about yourself? Who is Markku Lahdesmaki?
Within the images, I create you can often spot a lot of myself in the scene. I am always trying to create unique images that will tell a story, often with a bit of humor. Most of my ideas are based on values I want to share; the joy of life, peace of mind, sense of humor and an appreciation for our existence, basic good things that too often are taken for granted. I have been married for over 30 years with my wife Anne who is an art director/graphic designer and also my creative partner, she was one of the first ones to book me for an advertising job. We have two boys, who both are artists, Tomi is a graphic designer and Julian is a songwriter. In addition, we have a daughter-in-law who is a graphic designer, too and we have a two-year-old grand-daughter Mia, emerging artist.
London Eye - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
How did you decide to pursue a career in photography and establish your own studio? What inspired you?
As a teenager, I got inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up. I got my second camera, a Hasselblad at the age of 16 when my father asked me which one I wanted as a salary for my work in his printing company; a Hasselblad camera or a motorbike? I thought that with a camera I could make enough money to buy myself a motorbike, so the choice was easy and quite practical. Music and creating images also competed in my life as equal interest. Photography gained the upper hand as I discovered that music inspired me more to create images rather than vice versa. The interaction between music and photos has always been there and is still a driving force. While shooting I always carefully curate the music filling the set, it helps create moods and emotions which then shine through in my images.
Could you tell us about Markku Lahdesmaki Photography and your team?
My work takes me all over the world. I have a few key assistants who often travel with me, and I have always found incredibly talented and inspiring individuals who are local to wherever the shoot is. On commercial shoots, the producers are very important, they are the ones that put everything together. It is important that the producer knows how I work and what my needs are, and I make myself aware of theirs in return. I have a couple of producers I’ve been working with for a long time. I am really lucky that I am able to work with the best professionals around the world.
Havana Taxi Co - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
How would you define your photographic approach?
I love my profession. I appreciate working at a leisurely pace, maintaining my calm in all situations. I prepare for shoots very carefully, usually working on comps I put together from my library images or actually going on the locations before the shoot, if possible. This way I am trying to stay ahead of any possible problems before the shoot.
What kind of services do you offer to your clients?
In addition to my photography, I often do my own photoshop/retouching. I jumped in and learned photoshop at the very beginning, when it came about, so I have been able to educate myself continuously all these years. I am also slowly broadening my knowledge about shooting motion. I have done a few short films of which my personal project "Avanto - Hole in the Ice" is probably the most known.
Persil - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
You have worked on campaigns for many globally recognized brands such as Toyota, Microsoft, and Nike. What are some key points that you pay attention to for a project of that scale?
Already before the job has been awarded we have been working on a treatment, which is telling the agency and client how I would execute the project. This makes me thinking about the project thoroughly and it is a good plan of action. I take every shoot as important as any. The time before the shoot is nerve-wracking, that’s why I often work on comps before the shoot if possible. But when the shoot starts the stress clicks off, adrenaline in and I think: ok, this is working out, this is going to be great!
How would you describe the effect of the quality of the photo on the customers' decisions?
I believe that quality matters, that is my cornerstone when working. Unfortunately, more and more today, quality is missing. Cameras are becoming increasingly advanced yet screens and prints are getting smaller. People are looking at pictures from their smartphones where you are not able to notice quality. In the long run though, I think customers will turn back and will want and need quality over quantity. If you have a quality idea or product paired with a quality campaign, then you are showing the viewer or consumer great passion and belief in what you are trying to convey, teach, or sell.
Shooting portraits has an important place in your career. What do you enjoy most about portrait photography?
I enjoy meeting people, and getting to know them and hearing about their lives. In portraits the face often becomes scenery. You may see wrinkles that tell stories of adventures, or you see eyes that have looked upon great triumph or tragedy. When you shoot a wide shot of a busy city, for instance, you can pick people out and imagine their stories or their direction. It is the same with a face; you can find little spots here and there and in your sense of wonder you begin to fill in the gaps of the subject's story. Sometimes I even create the story for them myself, dress them up and create location fit for each individual.
San Diego Zoo - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
What kind of other photography fields do you like to work on?
When I started in Finland I worked on graduation, wedding, and even baby photos. After too many crying babies in the studio, I moved to advertising where I could be working on food, fashion, sport, real estate, cars and whatever advertising assignments were offered to me. Later when I was in the US it was time to concentrate on only a few special fields. I work a lot on cars, portraits and conceptual images, which can vary from chocolate to healthcare.
What are the advantages of an award-winning photographer? Could you tell us about the awards that you won?
Through my career I have won support and admiration of my peers within the advertising community, I think largely because of my work ethic and my desire to push myself and also push photographic possibilities. Since I worked in London for a few years and established my studio there I consider the Association of Photographer's in the UK (AOP) one of the most significant competitions for me. I was the first non-UK photographer to ever receive a Gold Award from AOP. After some time in the UK, I returned to Finland and worked in advertising for 6 years and became the most awarded photographer in Finland and I think I still hold that place. I am proud when I was given the Platinum Award for my influence in Finnish advertising by Grafia, the Association of Visual Communication Designers in Finland. I have also a long list of Awards from US, European and Asian associations and I find them all an important chance to get my name out there so that newer generations can look toward my work for inspirations of their own.
Is it possible for abroad clients to work with you for their projects in their own countries?
Happens sometimes. Photography is great in that you can work on images in one location, for a company in another location, and then have it distributed globally. The medium travels and translates easily so quickly. I once worked on British Gordon's Gin and funny enough I was booked for it by a French advertising agency. It was shot in Paris and the image showed a model-made boar and an English double decker. It's worldwide.
Circus - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
Which factors determine the project budget?
Usually, the agency gives us the budget they and their client have. My agent puts the estimate together. My portion is to tell them how I would execute the shoot so they can work on the numbers. But I know the talents and location fees are the most costly in a photoshoot. That’s why often we will go abroad like South-Africa, Canada or Chile (fortunately for me). The budgets are a collaborative effort but for me, the work is more important than the numbers.
What are your expectations from your clients for a successful collaboration?
They need to trust me but at the same time challenge me and I will do the same toward them.
Toyota Snickers - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
Why should companies work with professional photographers? What does pro photo works contribute to their products and campaigns?
It is like racing cars. Which one do you think is going to win? The one who has experience and a great team of mechanics behind them, or the one who is still building their engine at the start expecting to be handed a prize. When you have the experience you know how to foresee situations, you know how to avoid bad decisions, and you know the techniques. Don't get me wrong, being in the learning stages is fun and exciting and very important, but great things don't often come overnight. Experience is invaluable and it is the foundation upon which beautiful things can be built and storeys can always be added.
Smartphones and affordably priced DSLR cams made everyone more enthusiastic about photography. How did this affect the professional photography industry?
I have heard about situations where a photographer has been hired because of their instagram feed shot with an iPhone and then when in the studio shooting for a campaign they needed to call in another pro-photographer to help with lighting etc. This is another instance where experience is everything. There is a huge difference between a photographer and a professional photographer, and even though those lines are becoming blurred in this era, the lines are still there. Kind of like with cooking; a flash in the pan is exciting, but the pilot light underneath is controlled and more reliable.
What advice would you give to photographers who want to pursue a career in photography? How could they choose the right specialty?
Competition today is very tough, there are more photographers than ever before creating amazing images. You have to be ready to work hard. You need to establish and define your style, your brand. You have to be ready to market yourself through social media etc. Ready to spend money for your own advertising. Working on personal projects constantly to show that you can stand out from your competition.
What is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken?
Holes in the Sky - Photo by Markku Lahdesmaki
I think one of my favorite images is a campaign photograph I took for Nike called Holes in the Sky. The concept was deceptively simple and clever. It allowed me to simultaneously create a global marketing tool and a piece of art.
What do you think about social media? How can our readers follow Markku Lahdesmaki Photography?
Sometimes I am spreading my personal work through Instagram. I like to share what I see as a preview of my work. On Instagram, you can’t see details so I hope that those who appreciate photography move from my Instagram to my website, where they can discover the nuances of the frame and really appreciate the narrative.
What is next for you?
I am always working on personal projects. Living in California there are so many interesting characters, locations, and happenings to choose from. I and my creative partner/wife Anne just found the sport of polo, not to take part in, but to photograph. We live in the Coachella Valley where there are many large polo fields and an active community. This spring we are looking forward to releasing a new series about the players, the horses, and the culture surrounding it. And from there I can't wait to find the next subject that sparks my excitement and paves a new path for me to travel down.
When the eldest Van Ottenblach daughter, home for summer holiday from her studies in Zurich, pulled him into the shot, NOBO experienced a series of unexplained shorts - pangs - in his motherboard, and a phantom tightness as though he required oil near his left shoulder hinge where a heart might be.
Anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked?
I would like to tell you about another one of the many projects I have been working on for a few years. Through my personal photography, I have explored the human experience through many lenses, and against numerous backdrops. In our garage, we have a life-sized, human-like robot constructed by an English artist for a past shoot. We call it NOBO. We were not quite sure what to do with it. One day it occurred to me that, in photographs, NOBO could be a great representation of the struggles and triumphs that we all face throughout our daily lives. NOBO does laundry, NOBO travels, NOBO falls in love, and it faces adversity just like anyone or anything else. In the photos, NOBO is always placed into a vintage photograph which I find at thrift shops and he brings a completely new light to this old scene. This is a project that is very dear to me because it ignites imagination, and pulls at the heartstrings. I always try to create unique images that will tell a story, entertain the viewer with a bit of peculiar humor and create a touching little world. And NOBO certainly continues that narrative in my work. http://noborobot.com, Instagram https://www.instagram.com/noborobot/
Thank you Markku for your time.