@ Originator : David Heisler
The first door past the Originator lobby is home to photographer David Heisler. Friendly and knowledgeable, after our interview he spent fifteen minutes outside his office door talking to me about photography, finding your path, and working in the industry. And if there’s one thing he knows about, it’s the industry: Heisler got a job working for celebrity photographer Greg Gorman right after he graduated college in 2004, and formed his own independent photography company in 2007. He’s done fashion campaigns, movie posters, editorial photos...his resume goes on and on.
How did you get your start?
Ever since I was a kid I was a skater punk dude. I was a hardcore rollerblader. In high school I got really into it. I started doing video at that point. I was filming all of my friends and all of our little tricks that we were doing, and doing little skate videos and I thought it was the coolest thing. But then I like have to find a way to showcase each of my friends. Instead of doing their own little video they'd be like "Oh let's do a poster" and so I started taking these pictures and I was instantly captivated by how strong one cool picture could look. I got started doing portraits and got into more editorial content where I was doing stories and bios on people and shooting those hero shots for them. I never thought in my life that I would be able to turn it into a job.
What was your experience with working for Greg Gorman?
The whole experience was kind of surreal, to be honest. I was in college at Southwest Texas in Digital and Photographic Imaging and I was the kid that was doing Photoshop 8 when Photoshop 6 was in the classroom. It was like the first year (the college) came out with this degree. I was like "Dude I got this". I was pretty much teaching my classes. So I was all cocky like "I know what I'm doing, this is easy".
I get this job with Greg and the first day I go out there I pretty much get my ass handed to me. He's like "I need you to set up the super boom with a big HMI" and I'm like "I don't even know what any of that is, oh my god". I went home crying so many times that first year, and I hated the guy for it because I just felt like he was being an asshole. At the same time, I look back at it and it was the best way to learn because it put me in situations where I had no idea what I was doing. I had to learn quickly and be on my toes, but it was an amazing experience.
How do you find the inspiration to make every photoshoot unique?
I did work in LA for ten years and having worked there I have seen the highest level of things and how different it really is than what we think in Austin. When you shoot Vogue, it's highly styled and it's all about the minute details, that stuff really matters. And so for me, having had that, I pull my inspiration from New York fashion week, things that I've seen, edgier trends. So having worked there and shot that I understand what that looks like so I can think outside that box in Austin and be creative and be different from what other people are doing.
Nowadays, everyone has access to high quality cameras and a variety of places to post their pictures. What is your opinion on the “age of Instagram”?
As a platform, photography is still going to be a master craft thing for a long time. Nowadays everyone has iPhones or DSLRs, they have everything but it doesn't make them a good photographer. And connecting with your subject, whatever it is, that's a huge part of it. No one has that, you have to develop that as a skill. And when you see those pictures using the technical aspect and the human connection, there's a big difference between that picture and this.
Is human connection with the subject what sets Instagram photographers apart from professional ones?
It depends. Sometimes when you're on Instagram you can build a story through video with Instagram stories and you can find a connection through that. At the same time, still shots are like frozen moments in time. When you're working with people and products, that one emotion is the selling point for everything you're doing, so yeah, you have to be able to connect with people.
In terms of getting your start as an independent photographer, what did you wish you knew back then that you know now?
I would've looked on the business side of things more. I've always done things myself. I haven't relied on interns or other people because photography's a tough thing. I could hire an assistant and they could help me carry gear or do stuff like that, but at the end of the day I have to take the pictures. No one is going to do that but me. I've done that with my business too. It's hard to let go of that.
It would've been smart if back in the day I had gotten an agent or somebody that could have taken a lot of that stress off my plate. I didn't have to spend so much time myself trying to take time out of my schedule so I could go get jobs versus just having someone get me jobs and just going to shoot. So I think that time management is everything because you only have so much time. I feel like if I would've found a way to better manage my time, I would have been further in the game than I am now.
Clearly it all worked out regardless.
Yeah, I make a great living and I have fun and I can't complain about that. I don't look at myself like "I need to be a Greg Gorman". I don't need to be a famous photographer. I've worked with awesome clients, I've done some crazy cool things, I could die tomorrow a happy man. I've got a great family, a good life, and I can't complain.