Student Questions

Welcome dear visitor, come inside.  Nothing here will harm you.

This blog shares behind the scenes photos and commentary on different Horror photo shoots over the years.  This blog is so old that some of the behind the scenes photos were taken on flip phones. But it remains a valuable resource for those curious about how I create my photographs.  I keep it online now for young photography students seeking more information about my work and process.

If you are a student, then you have my permission to use my photos as part of your class presentation.

I’m also providing answers to the most frequently asked student questions.

Best of luck with your own personal Horror photography!

Enjoy kiddies!

STUDENT QUESTIONS:

When and where were you born?

I was born in Emporia, Kansas in 1973.

I grew up in Kansas City, where I still live and work today.

Did you go to college for photography?

No, I attended Kansas State University and graduated in 1995 with a BA in English Literature. I began studying photography shortly after graduation.

I started with Polaroid, and then enrolled in a basic B&W photography course at a local junior college and began shooting film. I was able to check out cameras and other equipment and use the darkroom.  I put together a portfolio and landed an internship with a studio that specialized in big budget advertising photography. This was a crash course in large scale studio photography and advanced lighting techniques. From there I started working as a photo assistant in the photography department at Hallmark Cards. In 2001 I left Hallmark and began working as a freelance photographer.

What inspired you to get into photography in the first place?

During college I made artwork – drawings, poetry, mixed media – and after graduation decided to do something with Polaroid. When I did finally pick up a camera the experience was transformative. My mind flooded with images and ideas. I knew immediately that I wanted to become a photographer and dedicated myself to the medium.

Which photographers influenced you and how?

I worked as a photo assistant for years and learned many things from different photographers. My lighting is based on the lessons I learned during my internship. At Hallmark the focus was on emotional storytelling. Those early lessons in emotional storytelling became influential in my work as a Horror photographer.

As a young photographer, I was inspired by the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin, Gregory Crewdson, and Robert ParkeHarrison.

Witkin gave me permission to go as dark as I wanted.

Crewdson taught me the power of photography as cinematic tableau.

And ParkeHarrison illuminated the importance of meaning and metaphor in image making.

When did you get into horror photography and how?

From early childhood I always loved Horror movies, monsters, and all things scary. One day I noticed that there was no such thing as Horror photography. There were Horror movies, and books, and comics, and video games – but no Horror photographs! Why not? So soon after leaving Hallmark I began to make my first Horror photographs. I was inspired by my young daughters when I noticed that they suffered from the exact same fears I had experienced as a child. I grasped that the experience was universal and thought to myself: Everybody knows about the monster hiding under your bed, but nobody has ever seen a photo of it before. That was the realization that started me on my path.

Do you shoot other types of photography other than horror?

As a freelance photographer I say yes to every gig regardless of what it is.

But online I only share my personal work as a Horror photographer. That is the only work I attach my name to. For me, it’s the only work that matters.

What is your favorite thing about photography?

World building.

What equipment do you use?

Canon DSLR cameras (different models over the years)

F2.8 24-70mm lens

500 watt mini hot lights with dimmer switches

1000 watt soft box light

Metz flashes with remote Pocket Wizards

Fog machine

How does the equipment affect the final outcome of your shots?

Unlike strobes, using small hot lights allows me to see the lighting in real time, which enables me to be more precise when sculpting light on set.

Hot lights also give the photos a warm glow and work well with fog effects.

I tend to shoot with a wide angle lens, which provides deeper focus for background details. A wide angle lens also makes small sets look larger than they really are.

I think fog effects are beautiful and reminiscent of 80s Horror movies.

I use fog machines every chance I get.

How has your style developed over your career?

I was experimental as a young photographer, but my style solidified when I started making Horror photographs. I like to try new scenes and ideas, but my lighting and overall aesthetic remains consistent from project to project.

What inspires and motivates you?

Horror movies, Tales From the Crypt artwork, the paintings of Frank Frazetta, and the films of David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick.

What is your process?

All my work is pre-planned. I start with an image in my mind that I want to create. If I’m working with a SPFX artist or crowd funding a project, I will make sketches to better convey the image. Otherwise, I write a short description of the photo like a movie treatment.

Considerable time is spent preparing the set, costumes, props, and SPFX before the shoot.

Once the stage is set, I block the scene with my performers and choose the camera position. I then light the scene, sometimes for hours. SPFX make up can also last for hours.

During actual shooting I lock the camera down on a tripod and then don’t move it for the entire shoot. This approach allows for more precise lighting. I shoot hundreds of frames of the same image in pursuit of the perfect frame. This also allows for easier compositing in Post-production if I want to combine elements from different frames. The background and lighting and focus will always be a match.

How long does it take to create one of your images?

Pre-production can last for weeks. Location scouting takes time. So does building a set. Finding or making costumes and props also takes time, and SPFX are usually an ordeal.

Lighting and shooting goes on for hours. I usually don’t stop until the performers are worn out and I’m convinced I’ve gotten everything I can from them.

Post-production lasts for days.

What is your Post production process?

I shoot a ton of footage and it takes time to scrutinize it all. Sometimes I get the perfect image in one frame, but I often use Photoshop to composite the best elements from numerous frames to create the ultimate perfect version of the scene. The process can be tedious and time consuming.

How do you build your sets? Do you tend to shoot on location or in a studio?

It’s a blessing to find a location. It costs less than building a set. I’ll often redress an existing location with my own furniture and props. Sometimes I can’t find what I see in my mind’s eye in the real world and I build a set. For many years I had access to a commercial haunted house inside a dilapidated school building owned by my cousins. During the off season the building sat empty and they would help me build sets inside the haunted school. It was a dream studio for me.

Who does the SPFX make up?

In the early years I did my own simple SPFX make up.

Later I began to collaborate with SPFX make up artist J. Anthony Kosar.

I’ve also used custom masks created by Jordu Schell and Midnight FX.

Where does your work end up? Exhibitions, promo work?

The biggest audience is online. Photographs sometimes appear in magazines, or as ad campaigns for commercial haunt attractions. I’ve had a few exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. I’ve also been a featured artist at different Horror conventions, Horror film festivals, and other fringe events. I was once even the featured artist at the Missouri State Fair.

In the end I published all of my Horror photographs as a hardbound book.

How do people react to your photos?

Many people enjoy them ecstatically. Others are visibly upset by them.

Shock, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a Horror photographer?

“The first monster that an audience has to be scared of is the filmmaker.  They have to feel in the presence of someone not confined by the normal rules of propriety and decency.” – Wes Craven

Figure out what scares you, then use that to scare an audience.

Don’t play it safe. Push yourself and push your audience.

Horror is not polite.

Take the time to get the details right.

Experiment. Practice. Repeat.


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