Eye-catching portrait photographer Jeremy Cowart’s process may seem unconventional and to some a bit chaotic. As an experimental painter and fine artist, he approaches photography like he approaches painting – with no rules, just room to explore and create. Adding new elements to his process, creating a beautiful chaos of color, composition and light that makes his work a piece of art.
In the beginning of Jeremy’s career, taking pictures didn't seem to be his calling until he bought his first digital camera, which he initially intended to use to photograph random shapes and textures for his illustration and design work as a design major. From crawling his way from a ‘D’ during his first semester of photography, Jeremy utilized his time snapping photos of musician friends. Before long, people started paying him money to photograph people and places around Nashville. Next thing he knew - he was a real-deal photographer.
The big break
He quickly drew the attention of a hotshot Hollywood agent in 2005 when he out-bid them on a major project. Being recognized for his creative eye, that agent fell in love with his work and soon Jeremy was represented by them in LA. In Jeremy’s words, “Things really blew up from there. I went from photographing small gigs around Nashville to 6-figure sound stage productions photographing people of the likes of Sting.”
How Jeremy learned light
Cowart will be the first to admit he knew nothing about lighting when he first started out. “I would hire a crew, explain to them what I’m trying to achieve, what kind of mood I’m looking for, and watch as they set it up. They do this sort of thing every day - that’s what they do, and that’s how I learned lighting.”
“I have a good eye and I know how to direct. It was a matter of learning the lighting end of it. Now I’m super proficient in the studio. I do everything myself. In fact, I seldom hire assistants because I leave everything set up in my studio, and I’m always tweaking and adding and doing things with my lights. I recently hired an assistant I’ve used for years to help me on a project and at the end of the day he said ‘Boy, that was crazy. I hardly did anything… you were all over the place top-to-bottom'. And this is from somebody who works with the best of the best of them.”
Approaching lighting organically
Jeremy Cowart’s lighting is organic in the way a Calder sculpture is organic. Just as the individual pieces of Caldor's sculptures change the entirety of the sculpture as the wind blows through and around the individual components, Cowart’s lighting system is in constant flux as he uses various lights and modifiers. And because his lights are always set up, ready to be tweaked before every shoot, his studio can be rightfully described as a lighting workshop in perpetual progress.
Developing a style of one’s own
These days, Cowart specializes strictly in studio portraiture. His selling point is his signature ‘Blender’ look, which as the name sort-of implies as “a massive concoction of gear, strobes, projectors, and light modifiers, combined with color LED bulbs, and all kinds of weird stuff”.
“My Blender is a place where ‘happy lighting accidents’ happen. The way I work, I couldn’t capture the same image twice, even if I tried – it would be impossible. My clients have latched onto my look, and I’ve gained from it.”
“Hone in on a style. There are tons of good photography out there and good isn’t good enough anymore. Find a unique style, which can be a difficult process. And don’t ignore the business side. You’re the CEO. You must understand how to run a profitable business.”
Light is the essence of creativity
"A trusted friend told me, 'Don’t look any further than Profoto. Period. It was a smart move because I learned lighting with a system I could grow with.'"
“I work unconventionally – everything’s constantly moving. I shoot in full burst mode and need lights that can keep up. That’s where my 500Ws Profoto D2 monolights come in. Capable of capturing up to 20 fps, they’re beasts of a machine. They’re the go-to system I use daily.”
Jeremy also incorporates Profoto Air Remotes and numerous Profoto light shaping tools into his work. “Light is the essence of creativity, and I can’t do it without the right system. I’d be lost without my Profotos. They’re literally the essence of what I do.”
Jeremy recommends Profoto’s RFi Softbox 3x4 with a Profoto RFi Softgrid Rectangular for beginner studio shooters. “It’s an essential part of my lighting system. It’s the perfect size for soft-lit portraiture.”
Impact communities through images
I like to think of myself as a storyteller but telling stories in a way that helps the situation – not for the sake of producing dramatic images for my portfolio.
To that end, Jeremy has helped raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti, hurricane victims here in the States, and a reconciliation project revolving around the Rwanda genocide that occurred about 20 years ago. Closer to home, Jeremy was proactive in helping those affected by the wildfires that engulfed Gatlinburg, Tennessee back in 2016. “Ultimately, I just chase ideas. I go where the wind blows me. And when my efforts help others, so much the better. That’s the part I love best. It’s rewarding helping others.”
To see more of Jeremy Cowart’s work and learn more about the projects he has worked on visit his website.