Long Beach, CA
Our next interview is with fashion photographer, Nando Esparza. Based in Los Angeles, California, spending time between LA and New York for work.
Nando talks to us about how his background in illustration and graphic design, along with his love of sports, inspires him to always improve his photography. With a desire to be the absolute best at what he does, Nando discusses why investing in himself both professionally and personally is key to his career.
Nando been published in several US magazines including Polanski Magazine, Modelina, Chaos and Fashion Gone Rogue as well as international magazines such as Britain’s Disorder Magazine, Australia’s Culture Magazine and Spain’s Polanski Magazine. Recent fashion campaigns include working for designers Christine Alcalay, Best V, Moduvated and Basia.
Interview by Sachin Khona // October 2015
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
HI Nando! We appreciate you connecting with us and for being a part of our arc interview series. you’re our first fashion photographer and we’re excited to have you here.
Where is home for you and where do you work?
Home for me is Long Beach, California … I mainly work in LA with a couple of trips to New York a year. Paris, London, Miami get at me (laughs).
Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move to where you currently live?
Actually it was a conscious decision to move here. 2.5 years ago I was living in New York and to be brutally honest I was miserable. I had moved there 3 years prior because as a fashion photographer you’re told that’s where everything happens. It’s the center of the fashion world and by all means it definitely is. As much as I loved the work, models, the pace of New York, the day-to-day, overall vibe just wasn’t me. I tried to morph and make it work but in the end I felt like I was compromising my happiness for pages of work. It felt as though I was on this extended/never-ending business trip. I was told by many industry people and loved ones that it was the wrong move etc. But I had to be true to myself and stop living by others ideas.
One of the mantra’s I live my life by is “Only do things in your life that you want to do” and I simply wasn’t doing that. I had to call BULLSHIT on myself.
That’s when I focused on moving out west and finding what makes me happy. Knowing if I’m happy then the rest will follow and it has.
so the location you live in is really important to you. has this influenced your work in any way?
Being able to sit in the sand and look out into the ocean/open sky is huge for me. I can let my mind wander, think about creative ideas or just about life in general. I love being able to step outside my place and smell the ocean air. I’m inspired because I know I’m where I want to be and that’s everything for me.
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
Well my background is illustration and graphic design. Back in my college days it was something I did but was never really passionate about. I would give minimal effort to get B’s or C’s. But was never really interested in it. Like it was cool learning new mediums but I was never like “fuck I really want to make a painting about trees or what have you” (laughs).
Given my lack of interest I was always in search of what I wanted to do. So fast forward a few years removed from school and at my then career job my friend randomly asked me illustrate one of his tattoos. Not having the right references I went and bought a point & shoot camera to create the reference I wanted to design/sketch up. Mind you this is before google was the image search machine that it is today (throws hands in the air in disgust) (laughs).
But from the moment I started messing around with the camera and getting that instant feedback I was hooked. My mind started to race with ideas. Since that moment it’s been 100 mph. It’s a crazy obsession now.
Do you have a designated workspace or office?
I’ve split my apartment into a live workspace. This covers testing, portraits, any sort of experimentation. Leaving studio rentals for bigger jobs etc.
Do you have a picture to share of that?
What has been the most defining moment in your career? OR
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life that you were felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that bought you to where you are now?
Honestly I feel the move to LA is that for me. Everything since that point has come together.
WHAT inspires and motivates you?
A lot of my inspiration comes from movies and documentaries but also people. I love learning the processes of elite athletes and other creatives in different fields. I guess people as a whole. I feel you can learn a lot from specialists all the way to what you would call an average joe. Learning their ideas and methodologies, figuring out how you can implement that into your process, or maybe you can’t implement it but their process sparks an idea in your head that progresses you. People are fucking fascinating man (smiles).
From a motivational standpoint I want to be the best. Period. With that there’s a lot of demands and sacrifices you have to go through to get there. I feel as a person you owe it to yourself to invest in yourself. I’m constantly learning, working on ways to improve. I want to be the best person I can possibly be and that’s in all areas of life. I’m constantly looking at myself objectively to see where I need to get better and what’s the best methods to get better. Perfection….that’s the motivation.
What creative training do you do outside of your work?
I would say my degrees in Illustration and Graphic Design but also my background in sports. As much as I hated school, the idea of using a T-square again drives me up the wall (laughs). It did provide a creative underlying foundation of rules/guidelines that have carried over today. Everything I do I put in a sports filter and my love/obsession of sports. You were taught that technique trumps talent but if you have talent and have the technique you can be unstoppable.
Once it became apparent to me that photography was that obsession, I took a sports approach, like how athletes would watch and review games / films of themselves and what they’re doing wrong. Always asking yourself how opponents will dissect your game and what are ways they will attack you.
I begun looking at my work as though I’m an opponent, where are areas of weakness, where are areas of strength.
The desire always to be as well-rounded as possible. Just like a mixed martial artist’s approach to fights. In the past having one strong fighting discipline succeeded but in today’s game you have to be versed in very aspect of fighting to even be competitive let alone be at the top of your division. I feel the same rings true for photography. Times are changing and soon there won’t be specialists or specialists in one particular style..So I’m grinding, training daily to eliminate the holes in my game.
do you ever feel stuck creatively? what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
Whenever I’m stuck or just feel creatively exhausted I step away COMPLETELY from what I was working on or even thinking.. Just focusing on clearing my mental palette. I’ll switch to other things that I’m into. Whether it’s throwing on some of my favorite movies, listening to podcasts, watching UFC fights or I’ll watch real football games (That’s the NFL (laughs) since I know you’re big into soccer). I know that the creativity is there and that the answer is in my head but sometimes you need to get out of your own way and let the pieces come together.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
I work really linearly so that takes out any exploration out of the equation. There’s a beginning, middle and end. The beginning, where you establish the look and feel of the shoot. Middle is the execution, and the end being post production. I’m always looking to hit specific marks. Once those things are met I don’t waver off from it. So I feel like there’s always a logical stopping point.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share?
-The work in your book is the work you’re going to get.
-Know when to say no
-Be Persistent, Be Consistent
Fantastic. Is there one Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
It’s a quote I use to remind myself to stick to my vision.
People will say, “There are a million ways to shoot a scene”, but I don’t think so. I think there are two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.– David Fincher
Do you have a photograph burned in your memory that you never took but wish you had?
AAHHH yes there is! and I’m working on that right now actually to get it done. So apologize for not giving anymore details than that (laughs).
be sure to share that with us when it’s complete Nando!
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
It’s a question I always ask myself while I’m shooting.
“Are you creating or are you relying on what’s worked in the past?”
This always keeps me going in the right direction.
Can you describe your style via a series of 10 photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and describe why each one was included.
The above image was shot for Christine Alcalay’s 2015 Fall Winter Campaign. I feel that this image from the series really demonstrates my aesthetic as a fashion photographer. The balance of shapes (triangles), negative space, minimalism are always things I try to incorporate into my images. While also wanting to present an attitude alongside the feeling of isolation. The series as a whole was a great success, merging seamlessly the clients vision with that of my own.
I’m always looking to have a “effortlessly cool” vibe to my photos. The presence/attitude/approach always being that “I’m cool because I’m here”. Not in a cool kids club vibe though.
I moved to LA and one thing I’ve wanted to tackle was swim. I’ve always looked at Russell James, James Macari career’s and thought “man..that looks awesome”. Not that it’s swim and girls because in this industry it’s a given (shrugs) but more so it’s the exotic locations they travel to. I would love to one day shoot for SI Swim, Victoria’s Secret to have those opportunities. This was my first dabble into swim and making my way towards that goal. I wanted the style to be a fashion take on swim. Not just bright colors or something overly sexual. Everything having the appropriate amount of appeal. I love the light quality, the textures and colour usage in this image.
In this image above I wanted a commercial fashion body campaign feel. More coverage in the lighting, clean/simple.
This image was shot for Christine Alcalay’s 2015 Spring Summer Campaign. I was able to show a different side of my work. Giving an airy/fun vibe to this series using bright colors, happier emotions (laughs) since in fashion they always look mad.
Being in LA I wanted to expand my book and incorporate fitness/active wear. Like in swim I wanted to keep a fashion undertone to the photos. The goal being a fitness look as if H&M had done activewear.
I wanted a very soft feel to the light while maintaining a strong raw presence. The rest of the series displays the attitude and movement I wanted for the shoot.
This image I broke a lot of new ground. It was a completely different experience for me. To achieve the aesthetic I wanted, I had to almost reverse my normal approach. Instead of looking at the model to create shapes and how she filled the frame. I first had to look to create shapes with the background element with model shaping becoming secondary. I wanted everything to be subtle with gradations and colour usage. This photo is me also experimenting with on camera flash. The light is very different from what I’m used to and the feedback on the back of the camera is very different from what you see in the viewfinder. So that took some getting used to knowing how the camera angle/camera height will affect how the light is thrown out of the flash. I also wanted to steer clear of any “party vibe” photos that the on camera flash naturally tends to lean towards. I wanted the flash to have a softness on the model but also appearing bright and at the same time providing coverage over the whole image.
This was one of my first shoots in LA. I had bought a Leica M6 and well a variety of other film cameras (laughs) It’s a bad collection habit. I wanted this to be an all film shoot, no digital, no instant feedback and also developing it myself. I wanted to see how that process worked and what I could pull from it and incorporate into my regular work. This was something I enjoyed greatly and really want to do more of.
Lastly is a dude (laughs) I don’t shoot dudes or well hadn’t at that point. I wanted to tackle this and figure out what would be my voice. I had only shot a male model once before and he was mainly a prop to the female lead. I remember at the time it feeling funky. With a female model there is a natural fluidity and series of emotions I’m after but that just didn’t translate the way I wanted with a dude. It took me just focusing and figuring out what I wanted from the shoot, just like anything else (big surprise right?) (laughs). The style of the image I wanted to shoot using strobes but making it look as though it was natural light. I also wanted to have the compositions also read as though I wasn’t restricted to a certain direction of light etc.
What are the 3 most important things in your personal life?
Honestly my life revolves around my family/my core friends and photography.
It’s that cut and dry.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
Not currently but I’m looking to get into cinematography/film industry , as well as getting my hands in a few different creative pots (video, podcasting etc).
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule?
Here’s a general guideline of how my day goes on a non shoot day, each thing having flexibility on how much time I spend on it:
7am – work out
9am – breakfast/smoothie
10am – begin answering emails, scheduling(anything non creative)
Noon – lunch
1-2pm – I start researching area’s I’m wanting to improve, specific techniques or just ways to improve learning
3-4pm – I try to take a bike ride around to enjoy living by the beach and keep the mind set of taking things as they come
5-6pm – dinner
630-7pm – start any post production work that needs to happen
1130-2am – bed
What within your work do you not like to do and why?
I enjoy the process actually. The one area that can be least enjoyable is the Retouching element (Skin retouching specifically). But retouching as a whole I’m currently looking to outsource because at this point in time its begun to affect how much work I can take on at once. I’m trying to be as efficient as possible.
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
School without a doubt (laughs). It was painful and I hated every aspect of it but it did show me not to take my work personal. It gave me tough skin to critiques and criticism.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
5/10 years from now, I would hope to be working with big publications and clients on a consistent basis. Also I would like to be working mainly as a Director/Director of Photography in the film industry.
Can you share an image that you’re particularly proud of and tell us why?
This is one of my favorite images I’ve taken. For starters it’s easy to look at and be like cool I get it….naked girl.. cool (eye roll laughs).. blah blah… In my work I’m always looking at lens compression, camera height and camera angle but also what those factors should be with a particular type of lighting. I also love the tonal range of this image. I like that the whites are a little blown on her left breast and the blacks are on the verge of slightly being crushed on her right hip.
If there was an image that encompasses all the things I value it’s this one. It’s precise but it’s tastefully raw and in your face.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
Are there any mantras that you live by?
-Only do things in your life that you want to do
-Always be Evolving
-It’s ok to be different
Always ask Why ( why are these rules set in place, why does this work this way, why do I like this or that, why why) … know the why.
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
I actually want to be a director so this kind of falls in line. I don’t feel restricted or tied to a camera. For the sake of the question and since movies/films use a camera, if i had to choose something else, I would fall back on my background and paint/illustration/design.
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
Probably just robbing and looting (laughs) .. nah I would want to do anything that I hadn’t done up to that point.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
That everyone have the same starting point. It bothers me how people can be so far behind the eight ball by simply being born in a bad situation. I want everyone’s quality of life to be something they aren’t worried about or fighting to the death for. You’re on this planet a short time, life should be enjoyable.
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
No I’ve never had doubt in my talent. I feel I’m capable of accomplishing anything I want to do. But don’t get me wrong, directly after shoots I hate everything I’ve done and feel like I’m a piece of shit and all my work is a fucking joke (shaking head laughing). But I know I’ve put my time in and work in, that it’s just me being emotional and needing time to step away from what I just created. (hands up shrugs)
A question that I haven’t asked but should have or something you’d like to share with others?
If there’s something I’d like to share or any message to the readers I would say …
Live the life you want to live. Find out what that is and run completely towards it.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
Your favourite podcast?
The Joe Rogan Experience, Tim Ferris & Rhonda Patrick (my found fitness)
FILM / DOCUMENTARY THAT IS A MUST WATCH
MUSIC // SHARE A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK // A BOOK YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING
The Art of Learning, currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Vagabonding
WEBSITES YOU REGULARLY FOLLOW?
ESPN, MMA underground, Canon Rumors, News Shooter, Fashion Copious
LAST PLACE YOU TRAVELLED?
FAVOURITE PHOTOGRAPHER OR PHOTO PROJECT OUTSIDE OF YOUR GENRE?
Roger Deakins. He’s a cinematographer but he’s someone I constantly draw inspiration from.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE POEM OR QUOTE?
“People will say, “there’s a million ways to shoot a scene”, but I don’t think so. I think there’re two, maybe. and the other one is wrong. – David Fincher”
Water (I’m boring).
FAVOURITE (PHOTOGRAPHY RELATED) TED TALK:
I haven’t watched any on photography actually.
LAST GALLERY / EXHIBIT YOU VISITED:
Helmut Newton when it was here in LA
YOUR FAVOURITE PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK:
Juergen Teller – Marc Jacob book
CAN YOU SHARE A SHORT ASSIGNMENT / PROJECT THAT HAS BENEFITED YOU IN THE PAST OR CAN YOU CREATE ON THAT YOU FEEL CAN HELP THOSE READING THIS INTERVIEW?
An interview from one of my main inspirations Roger Deakins (cinematographer) was asked what was the most (or one of the most) important things to image making. He answered Camera height..I smiled when I heard that answer (as well as feeling those butterflies in your stomach) because it was one of those small confirmations that you know you’re on the right track and not crazy (laughs).
I feel its one of the most overlooked things when talking about creating images. Your perspective is one of the most important things for you as an image maker. A lot of factors can contribute to your perspective like lens usage (from distortion of a wide-angle lens to the compression of a telephoto), camera angle, depth/detail within a photo. But establishing a strong usage of camera height will only compound the effectiveness of all those other elements.
I would ask you that next time you go out with your camera pretend your camera is on a X and Y axis and begin moving the camera up and down vertically and horizontally. Seeing how it affects the mood. What does it do to the body? How is the spacing effected? How does it change the importance of the subject.
LINKS TO YOUR PERSONAL WORK // PROJECTS:
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME Nando!
You can see more of Nando’s work here // Web
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Glad to see your work recognized, Nando. Been a while so let’s catch up cause I’m in LA now too.
So much respect for your work and your attitude behind it.
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