We have the great privilege to interview the COO and Co-Founder of Orange Photography, Gene Hwang. Gene is one of three founders of this full-service agency that offers services to both organizations and individuals. Though based in San Francisco, they offer their services nationally and internationally.
With many years of experience in the photography industry under his belt, Gene has a wealth of knowledge to give over. We lucked out and got to ask him a few questions.
So without further ado, here’s Gene.
What is your background?
Born in Indiana but moved to Alabama when I was young and grew up and graduated from college there. Wanted to be a photojournalist at first, but then realized you have to start in small towns and work your way up and I was itching to move to a city so I ditched and switched to whatever would get me outta school without too much extra time so that meant a degree in Marketing.
When and how did you start shooting photos?
My dad used to always take photos of our life, trips and vacations and would do slide shows for the family so I wanted to take photos too and bought an Olympus OM 2S Program with money I saved from my paper route. I still have that camera now and shoot film with it and of course now do photography full time.
What kind of photography do you most identify with?
I really like documentary and photojournalistic photography the best. I like real life and not having control of a situation and dealing with whatever is at hand. The challenge of finding the light in unfamiliar situations keeps things fresh!
When and how did Orange Photography begin?
In 2001 and even late 2000 Jack and Andy, our original business partner, had been bantering back and forth about maybe starting up a photography business based on digital photography. I kept listening and shooting holes in the ideas until it all made sense. At that point I still had a dot.com job, but things were imploding then all around the tech scene here in San Francisco so when I finally did get laid off, we all started up Orange.
What services did you offer in the beginning?
We knew we could start an event and wedding photography business without as much overhead, and going digital meant less lab fees and disposal of toxic chemicals, etc. so we just did photo booths/stations and event and wedding photography to begin with. Some portraiture too was mixed in from the beginning.
Was there an ‘aha’ moment when you knew you needed to offer more services? What happened?
Well, mostly it was from client demand. We also had been doing photo stations which are basically like a photo booth, but more loose. As photo booths gained popularity, we dove in too. Since we are actual photographers, we also knew how to customize looks for clients with whatever they want vs a plug and play type of booth. Video also evolved out of client demands so we started to add that in the last few years as well. It was more a gradual thing overall than an ‘aha instant’ per se…
How do you choose your photography team?
As a small business, everyone you bring on to your team has a big impact. We have used word of mouth referrals as well as posting to sites like Craigslist and Indeed and also posting the positions
to schools in the area and of course on our own website as well.
Can you explain Orange Photography’s style in 100 words?
Hm, I’d say we have a contemporary style that’s vibrant and colorful overall. However, depending on what we’re shooting that can change but our event photography – that’s how I’d describe it. In general I think that’s the look that people like and hire us for, but we’ve done some fun stuff that has a different look based on what our clients require.
What events do your photographers get really excited to go to?
Usually it might be a subject matter they are interested in or a venue or location they like. We did the Super Bowl when it was here a couple years ago and that was fun to actually be at the Super Bowl although most of us aren’t huge NFL fans necessarily and/or our teams weren’t playing. But I love learning new things and you never know when that might be. Celebrity and high profile events are fun for many people too, but it’s also a privilege to be a part of smaller private events we’re hired to shoot.
What photograph left a lasting impression on you and why? Can you share the image with us?
Sure thing – it’s in the public domain now so I can actually share it as it’s a pretty common and popular one – Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. I think I saw it in a textbook and the emotional impact was evident even as a kid. I loved how it conveyed so much emotion. I later discovered her Japanese internment photos and really liked how well she showed the dignity of the Japanese Americans. I’m half Japanese since my mom’s Japanese although I was born here in America so it hit home.
Where does Orange Photography influences come from as far as a creative vision go?
We take inspiration from all sorts of places. Sometimes it’s looking at other people’s work, sometimes it’s current trends and it can even be within our own team when working on creative new shoot styles, etc. Also you often see certain things popping up a lot in media whether that’s TV or movies or music videos. A lot of times you may see some of the most creative things happening in commercials too since they are shorter production time lines for them and they always want to stand out. We might take inspiration or do a twist on those for our own photography or photo booth offerings.
Can you describe the typical workflow after a shoot?
Well it depends on the shoot. For most of the events we cover, we often need to turn things around pretty quick and since it’s more a documentary style, we typically will import into Lightroom where we may apply some metadata and a basic adjustment preset to the entire set of images. Then we’d go in to cull and edit the images all in LR, rating images with stars and adjusting levels, color balance, etc. Oftentimes we may create a preset based on the lighting and style of the shoot to apply to images and tweak slightly per image when necessary. Since we shoot so many events we have our workflow down pretty well. We have metrics we go for on how long things should take but for events with a longer turnaround we may send it out to our retouchers or for events that require immediate turnaround we may bring editors on site who can make selects and adjust images as we shoot. This is pretty common for larger engagements for sure.
What role does the photographer have in society?
This is a great question. In today’s society there’s so much media out there and photos are a huge part of that. I think the photographer’s role is really to bring things to light that may not be seen. This could mean a variety of things, but bringing stories to light that are out there probably comes from my interest in photojournalism and how important I feel that is. There are so many things happening everywhere and it’s hard to cut through all the noise and distractions. When you see images that capture your attention they make you stop and think. I feel like that’s so important whether that’s something in the art realm or something that looks to broaden your education about the world and what’s happening in it…
What’s the best piece of advice someone gave to you that helped you become a better photographer?
I actually had this taped to my monitor and looked up to find it but it seems to have fallen off or something. I can’t quite recall the words, but it was something along the lines of “photograph what the eyes can’t see” which to mean meant to look for meaning in an image vs just what it is that’s in the image. I feel like a lot of the more interesting photos make you think and that’s what I got out of that quote 🙂
For aspiring photographers, what recommendation would you give them?
Keep shooting! Shoot what you love and do it for yourself and see where it takes you. You may have to shoot this or that for work, but always maintain your passions.