A Photographer's Portrait : Interview with Thomas Ingersoll

25 May, 2018

Written by: Christopher Coe

We are happy to present Thomas Ingersoll, a visual storyteller and educator based in Phoenix. When he is not exceeding his client’s expectations with masterfully lit and crafted images, Thomas spends his time investing in the photographic community around him. We had the opportunity to chat with Thomas about his journey in photography.  

 

You picked up a camera around the age of 21 - what made you reach for it? Tell us a little bit about when you first got started with photography.

I spent most my life racing motocross, I had a bike since I was about 6 years old. It was all I lived and breathed. I was so enthralled with the sport it was a bit obnoxious. I was entering my 2nd year of college and had zero direction in terms of a career path. In fact - my grades in school started to suffer because it seemed fruitless only to get a job to make money. I wanted to be a professional athlete, but that was not in the cards for me.

I worked as a butchers assistant at grocery store and would rush to get my work done so at the end of the night I could flip through all the motocross magazines. I would spend each shift doing this (If my manager Steve is reading this, sorry Steve). I became so obsessed with the photography of the sport in magazines, I decided to borrow my dad’s 35mm Minolta film camera to photograph my friends. I would take the 20 year old camera and some inexpensive drugstore film to the racetrack and fire off some shots when I wasn’t practicing. As you can imagine, I wasted a lot of film since I had zero understanding of camera settings. Tired of wasting money I decided to take a few film photography classes in college and went from there.

Was there a turning point when you realized photography was the career path you were heading towards? If so, what was it?

There was never really a moment where I could equate my decision to pursue photography into a grandiose moment. It just seemed to organically transform my life. Like with motocross, I became obsessed. It was as if I could never learn enough, and that drive is what I fixated on. I never preoccupied my time questioning if I could make a career out of photography. I did have a moment of contemplation in 2012, though, on the night of my final for one of my college photography classes. My portfolio had just been torn apart by my professor who was very old school, and I was feeling very discouraged.

At the same time, it just so happened that the founders of Fstoppers were in Phoenix (which was a dream to me since no one comes to Phoenix). I knew I had to go.

I met up with them and a few other photographers. I told them I just came from my final and my professor made me question if I should pursue photography. Lee, Patrick, and Blair (Bunting) asked to see my portfolio, and as they perused through it they told me not to give up. This really stuck with me. As a young impressionable kid, this instilled the confidence that I could make photography into a career. I started writing for Fstoppers a year later.

Thank you Lee, Patrick, and Blair.

How has your approach to portraiture changed over the years? Have you always been a storyteller?

I definitely have not always been a storyteller. Initially, I was always fixated on technical things like lighting and composition. I allowed my shoots to be constructed by wanting to make “cool images.” As I started to grow, my images did not have the same impact as the industry greats that I admired: Jeremy Cowart, Joey L, Art Streiber, to name a few.

I started to dissect and analyze why, and that was it. I was missing the “why.”

Why am I shooting, why am I interested in the subject? I began to put why at the forefront of my shoots and let that be the driving force to creating images. Stories connect and inspire us. Music, movies, art, images… they all derive from telling stories and are accented with technical skills.

Fast forward and I now try to make sure the story is most prevalent in my images - while also making sure quality and integrity are helping grab the viewer's attention.

I want my audience to connect to my images, and connect more with humanity.

 

Do you see yourself lighting differently than you used to?

Very much so, only because how I used to analyze light came from a very naive understanding of it. I knew what key and fill were pretty early on, but I didn’t understand light quality, shape, direction, color, and balance. I used to set up lights not considering how important those properties were. I didn’t ask myself the important questions such as, “does this light make sense, or does it distract from the image?”

I now find myself asking, “is this the right light for the job?” I break down the shoot and make sure the light compliments the story and mood of the project. I always start with one light and build from there, making sure light quality, shape, direction, color, and balance match with each light, and with the background. Once I know the objective the finished product is trying to convey, I can explore my creativity with light.

In a word, what are your thoughts on the new A1?

Not exactly one word, but the new A1 has made speedlites function, look, and feel very dated.

You’re an artist and an educator. What advice or mantra do you have for young photographers in today’s market?

Be kind, build community, be genuine, be yourself, tell stories, learn business and networking, and learn the industry.

First of all be kind to people. This industry is very difficult and breaks people all the time - be the person that people can rely on. Help others. We’re all in this together. At the end of the day creatives should have each other’s back, this is the foundation of community.

I have seen art directors hire crews to copy ideas and save money, I have seen friends put money over people, I have seen people do major undercutting for prices to get work, at the end of the day all of these devalue our community. Being a friend in the industry means you give what you take. If you take advice from someone, make sure you give back to the community too.

I am fortunate to have a strong community here in Phoenix (thank you Matt, Brandon, Chris, Stephen to name a few). We all have each others back for crew, pricing, and more.

Be genuine, and build trust with people. Respectfully, say how you feel and make your intentions clear. I surround myself with people who have genuine intentions.

Be YOU! Your perspective is unique. Cultivate ideas that come from your life experiences and thoughts. Producing work like others is the fastest way to blend into the crowd. By being yourself you can tell genuine stories. People love to be captivated by great storytelling. This is crucial because it gives your audience a chance to connect emotions to an idea.

The biggest downfall I see creatives make is not learning basic business principles. I allowed this to hinder my own growth for a long time. Learning things like who is your target audience, and how do you market to them can help you scale. The biggest turning point for me is when I asked myself this one question, “would I fire myself?” A long time ago, the answer was yes.

Create a routine, set objectives to meet, and break down your finances. Stop buying new cameras and lenses if you haven't spent money on marketing, networking, and diversifying your gear. You need to constantly evaluate if you are meeting your own expectations, capitalize on what's working, and mitigate what's not working.

Network! In my experience, this industry is very much a game of who you know. Build trust with your audience. Build and nurture relationships. People love to hire who they know and who they feel comfortable with. Learn the industry. Learn proper pricing and invoicing. Learn how to work with a team, I would be nothing without my business partners, digitech, assistant, producers etc..

Keep the integrity of this industry if you want to run a lucrative business. I would also add learn how to connect with people, connect with your subject, connect with your audience, and connect those who would hire you.

You’ve got a platform here. What projects are you working on that you’re excited to share with the world? And who is one of your dream clients?

In July I will be joining RGG EDU and many talented photographers in Puerto Rico to help create a joint body of work that tells a story of those still affected by hurricane Maria.

Dream clients of mine would be any companies that promote healthy and happy living, raise awareness, or promote new ways of looking at the world.

 

Thanks Thomas! To see more of Thomas' work, you can visit his website or follow him on Instagram

Written by: Christopher Coe