Dani Diamond, a fashion, landscape and portrait photographer in New York City, has created “The Project,” a personal photography project designed to hone his own portraiture skills and allow him to connect with fellow photographers of all skill levels around the world. When I first saw Dani’s video about The Project, I was really moved by his seemingly genuine interest in serving and getting to know other artists, without any expectation of gain for himself.
Dani agreed to answer some questions I had about The Project and, after finishing up his interview, I also gained some great insight into the incredible man behind it all. I hope he’ll make it out to Eastern Washington or Northern Idaho some day so we can hang out! Let’s see, what might lure him this way? Glacier National Park? Incredible sunsets, fresh air and wide open spaces? Read on to find out more about Dani and, with any luck he’ll come to your area and take a head shot for you.
Tell me a little about your background in photography. How long have you been a photographer? Did you study it formally? Who have been your mentors?
Photography was something I was always interested in. However, I took it up formally almost 3 years ago. When I was in business school, a friend of mine walked around with a DSLR. I asked him to borrow it and after a few days, I bought my own Nikon D90. I’ve been shooting ever since. I like to think I got the best education the internet can provide but I never went to school to study photography.
So many photographers are competitive and egotistical. Your project seems to be such a humble outreach to any and all photographers (no matter their skill level). What motivated you to take on this project?
Honestly, photographing other photographers is a truly humbling experience. Shooting fellow photographers is the optimal challenge. As a photographer myself, I know that I am most comfortable behind the lens. Put me in front of the camera and I turn into the shy, awkward kid I was when I was in middle school. Many of my friends feel the same. I knew that if I could get photographers to be comfortable and themselves in front of the camera, I will have mastered the art of the head shots.
Also, I’m lucky enough to have made so many connections and friends through social media who live all around the world. There is something to be said about spending time over a cup of coffee with a person. I never had the chance to meet my friends personally and put Facebook profile pictures to faces. My wife and I love to travel and we’ve made our way to quite a few places. I thought it would be really great to meet these friends and challenge myself with taking their head shots.
The combination of these two, revelations, I guess you could call them helped me formulate the idea of The Project.
How many states and countries have you visited so far for The Project? Where will you go next?
So far, I have taken head shots of photographers in 5 states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California and Ohio. I’m going to Jacksonville, Florida in a week, I have a trip planned for San Antonio, Texas in November and I’m heading to Mexico in December. I’m really excited to head down south!
You mention in the video that you gain something from your interactions with each photographer. Can you share some specific examples?
Each photographer has a different story, which I can learn from. Conversations range from personal stories where the photographer had to overcome serious trials and tribulations or on a lighter note, we talk shop about photography. For example, just last week I met a photographer who showed me how he was using a piece of tinted glass from a welders helmet as a 10 stop ND filter. Until now I’ve spent over $500 just on my ND filters and this guy shows up using a $5 piece of glass from Home Depot and he’s getting the same results. I’ve learned many new editing techniques. One of the photographers I met assisted me on a fashion shoot and took care of all the lighting. The list goes on…
Photographers generally don’t like to have their picture taken. Have you had difficulties getting them to come out of their shell while you create the portraits? How do you overcome those obstacles?
Yes! Almost every photographer feels “weird” in front of the camera. And I totally get it, I hate being in front of the camera myself. I usually start off by just walking and talking with the photographer for about 20 minutes or so, and once I feel we’re both more comfortable and relaxed with each other, I pull out my camera and take a few shots. I try not being too intrusive with the camera and focusing more on the conversation versus the headshot. The truth is, I avoid mentioning the headshot at all, I don’t want them to feel like it’s a photo shoot. The moment I capture a good shot I’ll show it to them casually and compliment them. There have even been instances where I’ll hand them my camera and ask them to take my headshot which always loosens them up.
You mention your wife travels with you. Does she play an important roll in The Project?
We love to travel! In the past year we have really travelled a lot. The truth of the matter is that my wife plans all the trips. She is really organized and is crazy about jamming every second of the trips with another activity—it’s great because we get to really experience that state or country we’re visiting. But when it comes to taking pictures of photographers for The Project, she isn’t really involved. When it comes to post-processing, I don’t edit a picture without asking for her opinion. Generally, I select the 10-15 best pictures of each photographer and she helps me narrow it down to the 2 best ones. So many times I have overlooked different photos until a friend tells me that a certain picture is great. It’s really important to have someone else look through your pictures.
Great tip! Who was your favorite photographer to photograph so far and why?
It’s hard to say, I think I want to skip this question. :)
Anything else you want to share with fellow photographers?
I think it’s really important to make sure the people around you support you and take pride in what you do. I know that if it weren’t for the support that I get from my family and friends I would not have achieved what I have so far. When you are down, they are the ones who will help you pick yourself up and cheer you from the sidelines.
Incredible advice, in my opinion. Connect with Dani on Facebook for updates on The Project.
CREDITS: All photographs by Dani Diamond are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.