Can you make a living as a fashion photographer, without living in New York or Los Angeles? Meet Erik Tranberg. Born and raised in New York, he moved to New Mexico 20 years ago. And although he frequently travels to both New York in LA, he still primarily lives and works in the place he calls “magical”.
Q: How did you get interested in photography and how did you get your first paid assignment?
I would probably attribute part of my interest to my dad, who loved photographs of beautiful women. I was always drawn to photography, even when I didn’t know much about it. I really only started with a camera when I injured my knee after years of playing soccer and needed another outlet. So I bought a camera, and that’s when my passion for it really started to find a voice.
I got my first paid assignment by word of mouth. Someone I shot with passed along my info. to a friend of hers who was looking for a photographer.
It’s amazing the opportunities that can come your way through word of mouth, especially in the social media age.
Q: What equipment do you work with? Favorite accessory?
I keep things simple. I bought a Nikon D40 three years ago when I started and still shoot with it. I tried out the Nikon D600 while I was working in NY last week and really fell in love. My favorite accessory is the sun. I enjoy the puzzle it presents every time I shoot with natural light.
Q: If you could only have one lens for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s easy. 50mm 1.4. I could shoot the rest of my life with that lens, with no regrets.
Q: What tips do you have for young photographers who have a hard time breaking into the industry?
The best advice I can give is to shoot, shoot and shoot. Find your style. Don’t be a slave to what others say you “have” to do, and put in the work.
Q: Have you gotten any jobs as a direct result of being visible on Facebook? What other sites have been helpful for your success?
Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have all been useful.
Companies have contacted me directly through Instagram, and the networking opportunities on Facebook have been key.
Most of all, I’ve cultivated a community of supportive friends in the industry, across the world; and that wouldn’t have been possible without social media.
Q: Do you work with a large team?
I keep it as small as possible, oftentimes with just myself and the model. I’m lucky to have a team I work with in various places, who I trust and like.
Q: Describe a typical shoot. What’s your process? Do you plan a lot in advance, or improvise on location?
Anytime I do a lot of planning in advance it goes down the drain quickly. A typical shoot for me is like jazz. I know the melody but improvise when I start. My process is organic and intuitive. I feed upon the energy of the model, creating a connection. What’s the sun doing … what’s happening with the location… the model? All of these factors go into the stew. The best shoots for me are when we’re all in the moment, creating something soulful.
Q: If you could go back in time and tell yourself something that would have made the start of your career as a photographer easier, what would it be?
Take control of the shoot. Don’t let others derail your vision.
Q: Are there any challenges working in Albuquerque, rather than New York or LA? What about New Mexico resonates most with you?
Being in NY or LA would have made it easier because there is more work there, but New Mexico is a magical place. There are so many breathtaking natural spots I can shoot at.
Q: Which photo are you currently most proud of?
I’m most proud of a photo I took of Tori Mann, a model from New Mexico, last year. We were in the river and I wanted her to wet her head in the water. She leaned her head back and I saw it — natural beauty and emotion. I rushed to take the photo. Luckily, I was fast enough. At that moment, I knew what direction I wanted to take. That photo was when I realized who I wanted to be as a photographer.