Four Decades Later: An Interview with Rick Friedman | SLR Lounge Artist Feature
Our “SLR Lounge Artist Feature” articles highlight some of the very best photographers in the world. This article features award-winning photographer Rick Friedman of Rick Friedman Photography (Boston, MA). Rick has been a photographer for going on four decades, getting his start in photojournalism in the mid 1970s. We recently met Rick while hanging out near the Tamron booth at WPPI 2019, and got to know him a bit further over a few emails and phone calls. So, what’s Rick up to in 2019? Well, read on and be inspired by a true master of photography, lighting, and story telling!
Thanks so much for taking the time for an interview, Rick. Could you start out by talking a bit about how you got into photography?
When I got out of college, I was working as a teacher and got a part time job working at a camera store in Harvard Square [mid 1970s]. Soon after, they offered me a full-time job, and I didn’t go back to teaching. A couple people that would come into that store had a big influence on me and my career. One was George Riley, who worked for UPI (United Press International). George was always willing to teach any young photographer the trade, as long as they were willing to put in the time.
The other person was Arthur Grace, who, at the time, was working for Time. But it was really George Riley who taught me how to be a photojournalist. And, more and more, I began working for UPI on a regular basis.
By a fluke, I went and took a photograph of Arthur Fiedler, long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. On a whim, I went and rang his doorbell. I asked if I could photograph him, and he said I could. It was the fist time in 50 years that he would not be conducting on July 4th. I took a roll of black and white for UPI and a roll of Ektachrome, but no one was interested in the color. Undaunted, I called Black Star, and they were interested. Now, at that time, you mailed in the film. You didn’t develop it. You overnighted it. Unfortunately, Mr. Fiedler passed away while the film was in transit. Of course, everyone called me back and wanted the film, but Black Star had it. And from there, I suddenly had a connection at Black Star.
My first real assignment for Black Star was to cover Pope John Paul II coming to the US. And that was the beginning of a twenty-eight-year relationship with Black Star. All done on a handshake. What a nice way to do work, right? Within a short time, I was also regularly doing assignments for Newsweek. And I am still an active photojournalist today, currently represented by Polaris Images.
You’ve covered several presidents and are still covering politics. How has the landscaped changed? What’s a piece of advice you’d give someone looking to cover politics as a photojournalist?
Well, from the very beginning, I loved covering early presidential campaigns. You quite simply have more access. It’s before the motorcades, the crowds, Secret Service, and all the security.
When I first started, I did a little bit with Carter and did a lot on the Reagan v. Bush campaign. My first Newsweek cover was actually when Reagan won the New Hampshire primary. I was on assignment to cover Bush. After Reagan won, I photographed Bush’s speech and then drove from Manchester to Concord, dumped my car in a snow bank and ran into the room, setting up 15 minutes before Reagan’s speech. I got a photograph of Reagan that made the cover of Newsweek.
Of course, today, you can’t do that. You can’t just walk into the room 15 minutes before a high-profile politician is about to speak. It’s unheard of. But yeah, it’s the access that you have early on that makes it fun. When they’re campaigning in a bar with twenty people, for example …
And as far as advice? Be nice. When you are covering a campaign early on, introduce yourself to everyone, especially security and police. Because when access is restricted or they’re only allowing in three photographers? They’ll remember you and let you in.
You have photographed quite a few celebrities, and also regularly photograph professors from local universities. That’s a diverse, and very interesting, clientele for head shots. How do you make that happen, i.e. get a celebrity to be comfortable with you or relate to a professor who is an expert in area with which you aren’t familiar?
When you deal with celebrities, you, of course, get a ‘Do and Do Not List’ from their people. For Anthony Hopkins, for example, the entire ‘Do Not List’ was simply that I couldn’t have anyone on set who wasn’t working. We spent an hour with him, telling jokes, etc. In preparation, I watched several of his earliest movies. And I asked him, because I was wondering about it, if he ever went, wearing a disguise, to see how people reacted to his movies when he first started out. He said he didn’t have to wear a disguise, because no one knew who he was! He couldn’t have been nicer.
Basically, my rule is to know everything I can about a subject before I photograph them. You have to be able to talk to your subjects/ask them a question about what they do. It accomplishes a couple of things. First, it breaks down any barriers. Second, it helps them relax, because it shows them that you care enough about what they do to learn something about it.
And it’s similar with professors. I photographed, as another example, a professor of physics, where I had 15 minutes to photograph her. In fact, I had been reading up on physics for three days in advance of the session: textbooks and some work on string theory, which was her area of expertise. I asked a few questions, and she asked how long I’d been studying physics. I told her three days, and our 15 minutes became an hour. And then we had lunch.
So, that’s how you get through to a subject. Realistically, anyone can buy a camera and push a button. Not everyone knows what to do with their subject to create a photograph …
You’re well-known for your lighting workshops, and your Location Lighting Workshops™ in particular. What are a few of your go-to lighting tips for lighting “on location”?
First, know your lighting equipment.
Second, do your best to plan everything out in advance, so you are ready for any possible situation.
Third, know how to control your light and plan what light modifiers you might need. For example, I will often mix speedlights and portable studio strobes. For speedlights I use Nissin Flashes. In the studio I use Dynalite, and on location I use Dynalite Baja portable strobes.
On major shoots, I will bing several sizes of soft boxes, strip lights, grid sets, gobos, and, of course, my Sekonic flash meter. If I am using speedlights, I’ll bring Rogue Flashbender XL2 and Rogue Grid sets. I also work a lot using Rosco gels and cinefoil. On some shoots the gels become a major part of the final photograph, and, other times, I might just use a 1/2 CTO (orange filter) to bring out warm highlights in the hair …
The photograph above is a good example of a quick lighting set up. The model in the photograph is my former assistant Hyunah Jang, who is now a successful photographer in the San Francisco area. And that’s the basis of what I teach in my Location Lighting Workshops™, which I lead in the US, Canada, UK, and UAE.
Likely, most photographers reading this interview are wondering how you are still rocking it some 40 years later? It’s impressive! So, can you give us your secret?
It’s fun. I love the challenge of all the different kinds of work I get to do. I could be covering the President one day, a noted scientist or professor the next, and then be off on a travel story overseas. Truly, I have the best job in the world. I get to jump in and out of people’s lives. I describe it like this: I have gotten my college education one hour at a time, from some of the greatest minds in the world.
And one last question, Rick! Who and/or what companies are you working with that make your job that much more enjoyable?
First off, I have a wonderful photography partner (pictured above). Her name is Keiko Hiromi, and we’ve been working together for 15 years now, even though she is an award-winning photographer in her own right. As far as companies and products, I only have relationships with companies whose products I actually use and have used for years. I am very proud to represent Tamron as an official Tamron Ambassador, Dynalite as a Dynalite VIP, and Nissin as a Nissin Flash Master. With Rosco, I created the Rosco Location Lighting™ Kit by Rick Friedman. I also work with the following companies that I didn’t mention in the interview already: Click Props Backdrop, ExpoImaging, Hoodman, LensBaby, Mindshift, PocketWizard, and ThinkTank Photo.
You can check out more of Rick Friedman’s work on his website. Also, be sure to connect with him over on Facebook and Instagram as well. Finally, you can learn more about his upcoming education events and lighting workshops here, including the Can Am Photo Expo (Buffalo, NY, from April 26-28, 2019), a Tamron Benefit Seminar for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (Commack, NY, May 2, 2019), and his next Location Lighting Workshop™ at Cardinal Camera in (Lansdale, PA, May 4, 2019).
Thanks for checking out our latest artist feature! Quick reminder before you go! Don’t forget to submit by the April 30 deadline to be considered for SLR Lounge’s April 2019 awards competition. Remember that anyone can sign up for an SLR Lounge account for free and submit. However, Premium Members are able to submit up to three photographs each month!