MEET. Marshall Williams

© Marshall Williams

Meet San Diego-based commercial photographer and APA member, Marshall Williams. Marshall specializes in beautiful lifestyle, food, spa, and destination photography along with digital video as well.

What inspires you? 
Wow, where to begin? I do get inspired by reading biographical stories. I just finished Robert Irwin’s Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. Pretty influential.

What 3 words describe your photography style?
For my commercial work, I would say Slice Of Life.

Do you have a favorite podcast?
I do not — but I do enjoy listening to Hidden Brain on NPR.

What are you most proud of in your career up to this point?
I think it would be that I’m still in business after 30 years, it’s a crazy ride.

What do you listen to when you’re shooting? 
Good question. We always have music playing on set. It is essential to creating a collaborative environment and the conduit that connects everyone together. Plus when things go sideways — which they sometimes do, it fills in the awkward moments. I have several playlists. My personal go to though is Dave Matthews.

What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?
The places I’ve experienced and the people that I’ve met. I’m pretty sure most photographers would say the same. The camera is a front-row ticket to the world.

When you aren’t making photographs, what other pastimes do you have?
My wife and I thought it would be fun to raise our children in a big old house… so I’ve become pretty good at painting molding and restoring 100-year-old wood windows, among other things. We pretty much love anything involving food and wine… probably the happiest when grilling on the BBQ in the backyard with friends and family.

What photographers have inspired you or your work? Why?
There are so many. Gregory Heisler, Matthew Rolston, Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz, Peggy Sirota, Mark Seliger — these were the powerhouse editorial shooters of the 1990s when I was beginning my career. Their images have a strong narrative component, masterfully composed and lit, and perhaps the most important element — gesture. Other photographers whose work has been influential are Hiroshi Sugimoto, Richard Misrach, Max Yavno, Julius Schulman, and a bunch more.

What was the best piece of advice you were given starting out?
I apprenticed in Dean Collins’ studio out of Brooks. He generously allowed the interns and assistants to shoot in his space. He would walk up behind you while you were shooting, slap you on the back, and say “Talk to her!”. By that, he meant to keep a continuous chatter so your subject stays engaged. I don’t know if it was the best advice ever, but I use it today.

What are the current challenges that you face as a photographer?
The fourteen-hour shoot days feel like they’re getting longer… or I’m getting older.

What have been some of the highlights and challenges of your career so far?
By far the highlight for me would be the studio that Tim Mantoani and I built and worked out of together for 25 years and the community and friendships it fostered. Of course, his passing in 2016 was devastating.

What were you doing before you became a Photographer?
It has always been the center of my life. I did work at a Safeway through high school and college.

If you weren’t a Photographer, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t a photographer I’m sure I would be doing something that involves creativity.  I really thrive off of visualizing an end result and working through the creative process to get there.

What do you do when you get stuck?
When shooting, if I’m feeling like things aren’t working, I’ll often remove the camera from the tripod and take a 360-degree walk around the area I’m working in. Another good trick is to turn off all of the lights and start from black or with only the ambient environment and begin building it back up again, one light at a time. That was advice courtesy of Gregory Heisler.

What is your best advice for your peers?
Be generous and be professional. Word of mouth is your best friend.

What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back 10 years? 20 years?
It’s hard to understand when you’re young in your career, everything builds on everything else, it’s a long slow simmer.  Keep working hard and keep moving in a forward direction. (That was actually advice from the dad, which probably IS the best advice I ever received…)

How has your work evolved over time? Why?
It has evolved so much with the technology available now and the demands of the marketplace.  Back in the film days we were making judgment calls on lighting and image construction based on a two and one quarter inch or 4×5 inch polaroid. That seems crazy,  particularly now that we have 27-inch monitors on set. DSLRs have allowed me to shoot more loosely but more precisely,  it has definitely driven the style of my work.

What is a photographer’s role now that technology has made it so much more accessible to the masses?
I believe a photographer’s role transcends technology. It is still and has always been to cultivate a unique and passionate perspective of life. If you find inspiration in music, art, literature, food, culture, sports, nature, urban decay, whatever it is, use those influences to form your rich and unique perspective of the world. Find the beauty that lies in the most unassuming of people, places and objects. It’s that unique perspective that will become evident in the pictures you make and the value that a client receives when they hire you.

What do you see yourself doing in five years?
I don’t know but I hope it involves a great meal in a hole-in-the-wall cafe somewhere. I would love to do some more traveling and personal photography projects.

Thank you APA | SD!

Check out more work from Marshall Williams.