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Lessons from an Ad Photographer

Published on:
September 11, 2017
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3 min.
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Our artist interview this month is with Dallas-based advertising photographer Matt Hawthorne. I was introduced to Matt Hawthorne by a mutual friend who seems to always know supremely talented and effortlessly hip people. One look at Matt’s website and you realize you have probably been introduced to him in the pages of The New York Times, The Economist, any number of fitness magazines, and probably a billboard adjacent to the highway nearest you. He is a master of his craft and we are thrilled to say that now you can see his work in the galleries below and in many of our articles’ hero images. —Kelsey 

What do you do and how can I find it?

My name is Matt Hawthorne and I’m an advertising photographer based in Dallas, Texas. I usually introduce myself to people by describing my job as a photographer as someone who doesn’t shoot families or weddings. I shoot ads in magazines, for websites, or on billboards. I specialize in sports and fitness photography and shoot for clients like Gatorade, Adidas, New Balance, Target C9, Gold’s Gym, Nike, 24 Hour Fitness, and more. You can find my work easily at matthawthorne.com.

How did you get started?

I was a Radio, TV, and Film major in school and also a sponsored skateboarder. My sponsors were always asking me for images of myself skating for promotional purposes. Eventually, I asked my dad to show me how to use his old Olympus manual 35mm film camera.

I would set up the composition on a tripod and have a buddy snap the shot when I was in the air. Eventually, this led to adding a fill flash to illuminate shadows on my face. The next thing I knew, I had four or five Canon flashes on radio slaves and was changing my major to photography.

After finishing school, I started photo assisting Dallas-based fashion shooters and really connected with the studio lighting scenarios. Since I was already shooting with multiple lights for my skateboard photography, that type of lighting made sense to me; working with those guys really helped me push myself with mixing in studio techniques with action photography. In the end, skateboarding is what got me into shooting action photography.

What is the coolest story you have about doing what you do?

One of the biggest adventures and memorable photo shoots was an Adidas campaign I shot in China over two weeks in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Experiencing the culture, food, and people there while also directing and shooting a large production campaign was an incredible experience to say the least.

Our sets had close to fifty people including the client, agency creatives, photo crew, and talent teams all while capturing stills only. My digital tech and I went, just the two of us, and had a blast eating all the great food and hanging out with some amazing people. The images turned out great and were used across Asia online, in stores, and for outdoor marketing.

Who is your biggest inspiration for your art?

Photographer Carlos Serrao. The guy is a creative genius, such a gifted dude!

If you could tell someone advice for doing what you do, what would you say?

Shoot a lot! You have to push yourself with techniques and scenarios. Learn your equipment and the fundamentals of photography.

Stay motivated! I think one thing that has helped my career is that I am a very motivated and self-driven person. Your business is not going to grow unless you make the moves to build it. Consider yourself a “brand,” not just a person with a camera. Work hard to get your name out there and make connections that will get you that next job.

Market yourself! No one knows you exist unless you create promos and market yourself. Invest in your business; it’s the best thing to spend your money on! Make promo cards and mail them out several times a year to as many people as you can. Invest in source book ads. If a rep is something that you feel can benefit you, then take that step—getting into advertising agencies to talk to creatives is extremely difficult, but photography agents can help with that!

Cover image is Matt Hawthorne.

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