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The Portrait That Sparked Martin Schoeller’s Career & Advice To New Photographers

By Kishore Sawh on March 16th 2015


If history and the writings of Marlowe engrained anything into our heads, it’s that a single face can launch a thousand ships, and it seems likewise, today, a single poignant portrait can launch a thousand more. This is provided, of course, that you have all the other ducks in a row, meaning that it wasn’t a fluke, and your ability is actually there. This was the case for Martin Schoeller, one of the most prolific and high profile photographers of our day.

Schoeller had assisted Annie Leibovitz for some time, and even with that sort of tutelage and cache found himself without a gig when he ventured out on his own. It’s a stark reminder that though many of us see the successful as having a path charted with what seems like a straight rocket trajectory, the path is often trodden as much backwards as it is forwards. In a recent interview for Feature Shoot, Schoeller opens up about his journey from past to present, and gives the type of insight into the world of professional photography that only someone at his level can give.


From his professional education with Leibovitz to his stark calendar days thereafter, Schoeller speaks about what it took to materialize the success which followed that. Through some introspection, and in some ways, the benefit of hindsight, he noticed the aspects of his work that were either lacking, or confusing and gives his advice on how do better.

It was emotion, he felt, that was lacking from his earlier works, and it wasn’t until he shot a photo of Vanessa Redgrave that captured a rather quirky smile, did it dawn on him, and clearly everyone else, because that one image opened the floodgates to the torrent of work that has succeeded.

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Furthermore, Martin gives specific hard earned advice on how to interact with clients to get the best looks, how to be noticed, and how to be memorable once you have been noticed. Some of it will surely be brushed off by many, because he doesn’t offer quick magic bullets, such as his suggestion to find a good apprenticeship for at least 3 years so you can see the full scope of what professional photography is about, and understand that there is more to it than just taking a pretty picture. He also suggests that your work should be focused and not scattered, and that the focus will make you more memorable.

[REWIND: How An Icon Gets The Shot & The Most From His Subjects So They Ask For More | Martin Schoeller]

If you really want to push your work, and you’re actually aiming to be a high profile photographer and photograph high profile clients, I feel listening extremely carefully to what Martin says would be in your best interest. It’s 6 minutes of your time well spent.

Source: Feature Shoot

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Francisco Hernandez

    Seriously do love his lighting. Had to comment twice. Lol.

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  2. Francisco Hernandez

    Love his photos and style.

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  3. Peter Hagström

    Such an awesome collection of photos.

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  4. Graham Curran

    Surely that’s Vanessa Redgrave?

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  5. Tanya Goodall Smith

    Great advice about choosing a niche. I think 9/10ths of the formula for success as a “high profile” photographer is having the connections to get high profile people in front of your camera.

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    • Graham Curran

      Getting into the “club” is an enormous benefit to one’s career.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      This business is abou relationships and not gear!

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    • Rafael Steffen

      He is trully a great photographer. I want to buy his book to learn more about great portrait. I started to study Steve McCurry work and it was a great inspiration to me.

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  6. Stephen Jennings

    A 3 year apprenticeship? I find, often, that many extremely high-profile photographers really are not that exceptional. Schoeller takes great portraits .. but I don’t really see it as exceptional, other than his client list? My opinion of course.

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