When we first asked Luke to come on board as our photographer, Luke admitted he has never shot live models for fashion before but enthusiastically said, “Hey, it seems fun!” For us, it wasn’t a big concern if someone had experience shooting models or even in fashion. The most important traits are having the photographer see color, lighting, shapes in a way most people don’t. That’s what defines a truly great artist. These are the types of skills that take years of development and are required of a creative photographer. Anyone can pick up a camera and shoot, but it takes a great artist to create a great image.
Luke’s professional career as a lighter is to make the final shots and images beautiful. Luke started his career at Blue Sky Studios and worked on Robots, Ice Age 2, and during the pre-production of Horton Hears a Who. He now works at Pixar Animation Studios where he just finished Brave as a Master Lighter. Luke has been working at Pixar since 2005 and worked on Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2.
With a person that has this much experience on lighting, we knew we had nothing to worry about. Just take a look at some of the images we have available.
B+L: Tell the readers a little about yourself. How did you get into photography and lighting?
Luke: I’ve loved art and photography most of my life. My main inspiration from a really young age was my Grandfather who was an artist. He would sit and draw with me and would make hand drawn birthday cards for me every year, which were usually Disney characters. He loved Disney, so I’m sure he’s looking down with his ever present grin and getting a kick out of me working at Pixar.
I started to focus more on lighting and photography when I was going to college at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Florida, where I grew up. I was in the Computer Animation department and was minoring in photography. Pretty early on I realized I loved the lighting and color design aspect of animation more than the actual animation part of it, so I decided to push more in that direction.
B+L: Can you explain for the readers a little bit about what you do in your day job? For example, what do you do to light up the shots to make the movie look so beautiful? What techniques do you use in post production on photographic images?
Luke: I’m a Lighting Technical Director at Pixar. We’re responsible for the final look of the Pixar movies, which includes the virtual lighting, shadowing, and color aspects of the images. Basically it’s a mix of photography and illustration in which we use virtual approximations of real lights with the flexibility to “paint” however we’d like.
For my photography I use Aperture and Photoshop heavily. I love the nonlinear flexibility of programs like Aperture and Lightroom. They really have changed for the better photo editing and management. Mostly I end up creating adjustments per shot or set of shots. I like to start with what a place or moment felt like or how I remember it and pick colors and adjustments from there.
B+L: Do you find that your work at Pixar transfers over to photography?
Luke: Yes, both are basically trying to create images. It’s really fun to see techniques from each discipline informing ideas back and forth. Art in general is like that I guess.
B+L: Is it more challenging to shoot live photography or to figure out lighting in the computer?
Luke: Each has its own challenges. In computer graphics (CG) there is often a more calculated approach because it’s creating something from nothing and often working with lots of different people over a longer period of time. Because of this there is often a lack of spontaneity and gut feeling that you get from just shooting photos on the fly or being able to instantly adjust or react to something. On the flip side you really have fewer limits in CG. I can throw in more lights or change the color of something whenever I want, while when shooting photos it is often more about working with what you’ve got physically around you.
B+L: What is the most important attribute that an artist/photographer should have?
Luke: I’m a big fan of honing in your observation and emotional skills first and foremost. It’s way more important than technical skill, although that’s important too. Seeing beauty and meaning and feeling something is so much more valuable then the perfect or most technically accurate shot. You can be the most technical artist in the world, but what does it matter if you aren’t at the end of the day connecting on more visceral or emotional level with the viewer.
B+L: What kind of camera do you use? Are there any essential items you need when shooting?
Luke: I have a Canon 7D right now and I like to shoot with my Sigma 30mm and 18-50mm. Really I just like to use that and find nice natural light with a subject. It’s half that and half in post processing.
B+L: You’ve shot two of our lookbooks. What did you think of them? A lot of times when we go out and shoot, things are pretty improvised. We plan on a location but we feed off of each others’ ideas to create the best shot possible. Do you prefer improvisation? Or planned and staged shots?
Luke: I had a blast with you guys! It was really my first time ever doing this kind of work and it was really fun. I had no idea what we’d get, but just exploring and spontaneously finding something cool or beautiful was fun. I do like more improvised things in general, but staged can be fun too. Honestly, I just like trying things and seeing what happens. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t, but you won’t know unless you try. Either way I get to hang out with fun and creative people and shoot pictures. What’s not to like?
B+L: Are there any tips or advice you can give someone starting off in photography?
Luke: Have fun and experiment. Getting good lenses is the most important thing on the technical end. You don’t need the best things ever made, though. I’m happy most of the time with my Sigmas even though L lenses would be awesome.
Start collecting images that you like and try to analyze what you like about them. Figure out what you’re attracted to and then break down the images in the subject matter, colors, lighting, composition, etc. Lastly, I’d definitely start learning and using Aperture or Lightroom (I wish I could take things I like about both of those programs and put them into one!) and, of course, Photoshop.
B+L: I see a lot of talent in your work and I’m sure others would love to see it too. Do you have any plans of making a personal website for your work?
Luke: At this time, probably not for a while. Maybe in the future when I have more time. I’m just swamped everyday with work and various projects I find myself in somehow… like this one! Plus, I just had my first child and they just seem to take up tons of time. I couldn’t be happier though, he’s the coolest.