Many photographers shoot people, but Portland photographer, Dylan Howell, aims for the heart. I first met Dylan last year at Mystic Seminars, and I have to admit I was a bit star-struck at first. Dylan, to me, is an inspiration. When I first took a look at his website, around two years ago, I was moved by the images he portrayed. I identified with his adventurous side and how he constantly pushes himself out of his comfort zone. So, meeting Dylan in 3D was a real treat.
Within just a few seconds of speaking, I found out how cool and down to earth Dylan really was. It’s no wonder why his clients rave about him, and why he’s asked to present on stage to other photographers. Dylan has a plethora of knowledge in the photography space, and anyone who has seen him stage can attest to that. So it’s a real honor to have had the chance to interview him.
So without further ado, here’s Dylan.
How were the first few times you worked as a photographer?
I was so introverted that it was painful. I mostly hid behind a 70-200mm lens the first 6 months or year. The hardest part about photography for me was definitely being too nervous to properly guide my clients.
How long did it take you to feel truly comfortable shooting weddings?
Weddings were easier than portrait shoots for me. I could do my own thing and document the day without worrying about interacting with clients the whole time. That being said, I never feel comfortable on a wedding day. There are too many variables. Every wedding is a beautiful mix of stresses.
How many weddings do you shoot per year?
I’m usually right between 35-40 weddings. That number has been growing as I start to do more mid-week elopements and small weddings.
On average, how many photos do you take in a normal day?
For the typical 8 hour wedding day I’m usually right at 4000 frames. I try to shoot through moments instead of playing Henri Cartier-Bresson. The penalty for missing an important moment that won’t happen again on a wedding day is too high.
How many would you expect to give to a couple?
I seem to always be right around 1000 images from a typical wedding day, though I’ve had some approaching 2k for multi-day events and huge weddings. I used to deliver less, but I’ve realized the importance to many of the photographs that is much larger than their aesthetic perfection. The people in those images really matter to the couple, their friends, and the families.
Some photographers shoot people, you “aim for the heart” – can you explain that?
It stems from my goal of the people in my photographs seeing the love. Feeling those feelings when they view the images. I could care less about the couple’s style, but I do want them to be in love and I want to capture that as best I can. It also means looking for the little things they might do for each other that would be easy to miss.
Can you walk us through a normal day’s shooting?
I need a lot of coffee. I put on music that makes me feel. I try to be as calm and stress free in general, but on shoot/wedding days it is even more important. I jam the music on the way to the shoot, sometimes I get there a bit early to scout locations. Otherwise, I just browse it on Instagram.
The shooting is just a mix of looking for good light & backdrops and then getting the clients comfortable and interacting with each other. The rest is the easy part, capture it.
What do you do with your spare time?
I really value my spare time, probably a bit too much. It very often overrides my responsibilities. I ride/race my bicycle, ride motorcycles, play nerdy car racing games, and lately have been getting back into racing cars. Also, Netflix. I’m on a personal mission to watch the entire catalog, Haha.
What’s the best and worst thing about being a wedding photographer?
Traveling. Time away from friends/home. I love seeing new places, being immersed in new cultures, seeing friends around the world, and having new venues every weekend. That said, I hate being away from my cats, my friends, and any chance at a routine.
What do you find the most difficult thing about shooting weddings?
The ever-changing schedule, light, moods, etc. on a wedding day. You have to be ready to get the shot at all times. My brain is so fried after a wedding day from the constant effort to stay ahead of the situation. For no real reason, finding a proper spot for family formals seems to always be a challenge.
One of the biggest parts of wedding photography has to do with the business behind it. How did you go about learning that part, realizing that you need to constantly bring in money, set budgets, etc.?
I went to business school for way too long. I never graduated, but I did grow up in an entrepreneurial family and started my first business when I was 19 or so. For me it was all about trying to maximize the reinvestment early on. Luckily I wasn’t using photography to support myself at first, so I could use my profits to buy fancy gear and try different marketing strategies.
Where do your influences come from as far as a creative vision go?
I don’t consider myself terribly creative, but I think I’ve honed my aesthetic taste through years of ingesting movies, music, and art. Photography is still one of my favorite art forms to view. I’m still captivated by it.
So walk us through a typical client meeting. What do you feel is important for you to get answered to deliver the best services?
They’ve gotten much shorter and much simpler over the years. I used to get nervous hours before the meeting and then I’d be so awkward in conversation, trying too hard to impress the couple or sell myself. Maybe it is from having a stronger portfolio, or just confidence, but now I just want to see if the couple and I get along. I want to make sure they’re “real” people with “real” feelings. I don’t want to be stuck at a wedding in a remote place documenting something that they don’t have their hearts in. I don’t want to have to force faked emotion in order to get the images they’re expecting.
Can you describe your workflow after a shoot?
I use PhotoMechanic to ingest my cards onto a few huge hard drive arrays. After culling (generally 25% makes the cut), I import into Lightroom using a customized VSCO preset. I export jpegs and then run them through Alien Skin Exposure. After that I use JPEGmini Pro and upload to Shootproof for client delivery.
What are you doing to specifically market the creative services you offer?
I’m sort of on cruise control at the moment. Between solid SEO, social media, and referrals I’ve been too busy for the past year or so. I haven’t had time to blog or make any marketing changes.
What has been the most successful advertising for you?
I get over half of my weddings from organic Google searches, so SEO + website. I like how easy it is to set it and forget it, more or less.
What’s it like to be asked to speak at a conference?
It’s a huge honor. And then for me, a person with an absolutely paralyzing fear of public speaking, a lot of stress. You have to come up with something that is hopefully relevant to most of the people in the room, isn’t something they’ve heard before, is smart and well-researched, and keeps them interested for an hour. I’m generally afraid of getting in front of crowds for months before each event, but each one gets easier. After doing six conference speeches this year, I might continue. To be honest, I was going to stop speaking for 2017 but I’ve already said yes to a few great conferences.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring photographers what would it be?
The biggest thing I see when I mentor photographers is a lack of confidence to be themselves. Don’t waste your time chasing another photographers style. Don’t doubt your own greatness. Enrich your life outside of photography and do what makes you feel good.