Meet Legend of Light : Clay Cook
Tell us a little about yourself… Who you are, where you’re from, what you shoot/specialize in.
I've lived in a van. I've climbed mountains. I've leaped from planes. And, for many years, I could barely pay the phone bill. I have lived life in the front seat of a roller coaster. My experiences and work ethic have paved a path for success in just a few years as an editorial and portrait photographer. From an arduous life as a touring musician to documentary work throughout Tanzania, Ethiopia, India, Iraq and Bangladesh, I have learned the importance of going the extra mile and taking critical risks.
How did you get started in photography?
You have to go back to my teenage years when I first got into video, music and art. I believe my passion for everything “creative” stemmed from my mother who studied to be an interior designer and the business side of me came right from my Father who owns and operates a successful flooring distribution company. Eventually, I really started to get into the creative side of music. The rush and the adrenaline that music like Metallica and Nirvana gave me was unmatched, it was something movies could not do. It formed into a deep passion of mine and spent the following 10 years pursuing a career in music. During that time on the road, I ran into many photographers, some better than others, but I had a grand respect for the art of photography. By 2007, Some of my passion for music had swayed into the world of Adobe Photoshop and graphic design. I designed flyers, album artwork, websites and even edited others bands images. By the time our band had split in 2010, I decided I wanted to take on graphic design full time and started inquiring about DSLR cameras to shoot my own stock photography. December of 2010, I received my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D5000 as a Christmas gift. Never did I imagine it would completely change my life.
What/who are some of your main influences?
I am inspired by everything. I am always looking for new ways to push myself and my art. I draw inspiration from life, I believe the experiences you go through in life shape and craft your creative eye. One photographer will photograph the same person very differently to how another photographer will and that fascinates me, I love the idea of creating a story through an image and as a photographer, you get to be the author of that story. As far as particular photographers, I’ve always been drawn by Annie Leibovitz, Norman Jean Roy, Miller Mobley, Kristian Schuller and Patrick Demarchelier’s images among others. In the end, I believe the connection you have with your subject is what makes or breaks the photograph and they are masters of that connection.
When did you start shooting with Profoto?
I started working with artificial light before I even really knew how to work with natural sunlight. At the time I was exploring artificial light with speed lights and constant Par can lights and whatever I could get my hands on. That eventually led to the need for more powerful studio lighting, upon which I invested into my first Profoto D1 500 Kit, which I still use today. When I first got into artificial light, I would use every strobe I could get my hands on and completely over do it. It wasn't until later in my career where I learned to ease back and hone in my style, using shadows to create drama. Profoto helped with that evolution.
What Profoto gear are you currently using?
I currently use the following Profoto equipment:
Profoto D1 500
Profoto Deep White Umbrella (Extra Large, 65”)
Profoto Shallow White Umbrella (Medium 41”)
Profoto Rfi 1X4' Softbox
Profoto Ocf Octa Softbox 2’
Profoto Rfi 2X3' Softbox
Profoto Rfi 1.3X1.3’ Softbox
Profoto Zoom Reflector
Profoto Ocf Grid Kit
Profoto White Softlight Reflector w/ grid
Do you have a favorite lighting setup?
I love a simple “run-and-gun” light setup; a Profoto B2 Location Kit attached to a Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter which is coupled to a Benro ProAngel Monopod for complete mobility. The Profoto B2 head is modified with a 41” Profoto Shallow White Umbrella with Medium Diffusion. It allows us to move from location to location with maximum efficiency.
What is one thing you’re able to do with Profoto lights that you weren’t able to do before?
Profoto has opened a lot of doors that were once closed. With the Profoto B2 Location Kit, the portability and quick-to-setup system saves time and gives us the ability to move sets with zero hassle.
What is the most important piece of advice you’ve received pertaining to photography?
As an artist you need to ask yourself–what does the image mean to the viewer and how will they relate to it? I had spent half my career focused on the lighting, catchlights and grading, but in a selfish manner I totally ignored the most important virtue of a photograph–the subject at hand. It is the one thing I wish I knew; it’s not about the gear or the camera, it’s about your creativity, vision and ability to connect with people. You own the image, but take into consideration who is watching first.
What is your biggest challenge being an Advertising and Editorial photographer? How do you overcome it?
Business was embedded in me at an early age. So, a lot of the variables where entrepreneurs struggle, simply come natural to me. Nevertheless, I’ve always been terrible at numbers. Math confuses me and more so bores me. I’m also a risk taker. So, a big challenge I’ve had to overcome was how to budget a photography business, craft proper bids and handle finances. Although, I have a lot of mentors who I can rely on in the industry, it’s always been a struggle to make sure I have the right amount of money in and out of the bank account along with a growth of savings.
What is your dream assignment?
I have a lot to be thankful for and I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, including a few of my dream assignments, such as photographing Jennifer Lawrence or photographing a television show campaign; Swamp People.
Fortunately, I live out dream shoots nearly every day. I get to go places and see things that a lot of artists would die for. I have a lot of friends and an established network of stylists, models and creative talent. I just need the budget, and for me that is a dream come true. The budget to fly my team wherever I want and shoot whatever I want.
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