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Cover Artist Andy Batt
Portland, OR
Professional photographer Andy Batt is known for his dramatic sports photos and his portraits of interesting people. His work for editorial, advertising, interactive and corporate clients is high energy, capturing the speed, beauty and grace of his subjects.

© Andy Batt

© Andy Batt

An ASMP member since 2003 and a former co-president of ASMP Oregon, Batt’s photography has been featured by the Annenberg Space for Photography, PhotoEidolo Magazine, Foto & Video Magazine in Russia, Avante Garde Living Magazine in Hyderabaad, India, and most recently MRM Magazine in Hong Kong. In September 2012 Batt was a featured panelist in the ASMP symposium “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists.” He has also participated on panels for APA San Francisco, Canon Cameras and taught in the Digital Masters of Photography program at New York’s School of Visual Arts and the Newspace for Photography workshop program.

Batt recently began adding motion work to his portfolio as director of photography on the short films Overdrawn and Stella’s Flight and on two promotional short films for the Oregon Manifest project.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Andy Batt: I’ve been in the photography industry since college; I began assisting in 1991. I tell people I’ve never had a real job. I opened my studio business in 1997, working mainly in still life back then.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

AB: I joined in 2003.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

AB: I specialize in ‘people in action’ — sometimes that means Derrick Rose, ballet dancers or sketch comedy artists.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable professional tool?

AB: Does it sound cliché to say “my eye”? I love all the toys, and can spend a day geeking out about my new lighter meter, or the new LED lights I just rented. But if we’re going to the root of things — why people hire me? It’s my ability to interpret an idea, light a scene and work with the talent.

ASMP: What piece (or pieces) of gear could you not do without?

AB: Every time Canon announces a new camera, I confidently predict that I won’t buy it. And yet, somehow I ended up with a 1Dx (that I’m very pleased with). I’m also a big fan of the C300 — it’s like Canon listened to all of us using 5D Mark II’s for making films. If we’re being gearheads here, I love my Kobold 800 HMIs — such nicely made lights that let me do so much with them. And I just used the Kino Flo LED Celebs — those are amazing!

ASMP: Your photography output covers a very wide range of markets and media, from sports to business to lifestyle as well as both stills and motion imaging. Theoretically speaking, do you have a favorite subject and/or medium to work with or is this totally project dependent?

AB: I like to tell stories. I know we all do that too, but it’s what makes me most content. When I get to tell a real story about someone with a portrait, or shoot a narrative film with a script — that makes me really happy. My own personal artistic demon (or maybe angel) that sits on my shoulder gets really unhappy when I have to do work with no story. I am always interested (envious?) of directors and DPs that are hired for their vision, but are allowed to apply it to a wide variety of stories. I think sometimes we still photographers get very boxed into “what we do”.

ASMP: Did you have significant photographic mentors or work first as an assistant? When and under what conditions did you start your own business?

AB: I worked as an assistant for about 5 years, with photographers that I respected and with whom I got along well. I opened my studio when I got burned out assisting — I learned a ton about business, lighting, direction and so on, from the people I had assisted. I like to think of it as an unofficial masters in photography, because I learned just as much as a freelance assistant as I did studying at RIT.

ASMP: You seem to be very inspired by movies and filmmaking, what elements or aspects of this medium captivate you the most? What movie(s) are you most inspired by? How do you translate that inspiration in your own work?

AB: I love the way cinematographers think — there is a time dimension, and a sense of light and story there. On the technical side, for me the lighting is the thing. After watching a film with beautiful light that I will swear is all natural and finding out it was all lit — that is truly inspiring. The film that turned me on my head as a kid (way prior to figuring out photography was a passion) was Brazil. That film had it all: amazing props, avant-garde story line, crazy sets and it was directed by one of my favorites, Terry Gilliam! I love the aesthetic and integrity of DIY films like Evil Dead by Sam Raimi and El Mariachi by Robert Rodriguez. Kubrick’s films are all beautiful and cinematic — I’m always striving for that kind of beauty and scope. It’s harder with a simple portrait, but in the back of my head, I’m thinking about it.

ASMP: You photograph a lot of athletes and sports subjects. Which sport is your favorite? Which sport do you find most challenging to photograph and why?

AB: I don’t have a favorite sport — it’s weird that I do so much sports work, but I’m not a sports junkie. I love to sit courtside at the Blazers though — basketball from ten feet is killer. All of my sports images are setups — I’m not doing sideline photography. (That’s hard work. I have good friends that do it, and I’m always amazed with their ability to discover new shots at an event they’ve shot hundreds of times.) Tennis is tough to shoot — the moment of peak action is pretty contorted. The ‘before’ moment is much more photogenic. Tennis is hard to capture in a still image — freezing a single moment doesn’t convey the athleticism of the sport.

ASMP: Do you have a favorite among the athletes you’ve worked with? If so, what was it about them that clicked with you the most?

AB: I’ve enjoyed working with most of them. Derrick Rose was great — he’s a machine! He was willing to put the work in, and looked good doing it. Luci Romberg is amazing — she’s one of the few female parkour artists in the US, and is fearless and elegant. I photographed Laurin Weisenthal swimming in San Francisco Bay for Outside magazine — she was so at peace floating in that choppy cold water. Kevin Garnett was intense, but fun. Hanging out with Dwight Howard was ridiculous fun — he stole a golf cart while we were on a break and took off down the parking lot.

ASMP: In your opinion, what is the key to maintaining inspiration? How do you keep your eye fresh?

AB: If I knew that… I’d have a best selling book and a talk show. I guess I try to follow John Cleese’s advice in his speech on Creativity. He talks about making time to be inspired and to play with an open state of mind. That way, when you need to buckle down and get to work, you have that as your support. I also take improv classes. They have nothing to do with photography, are way outside of my comfort zone, and are incredibly scary and rewarding.

ASMP: Tell us about one of the biggest challenges you faced while on the job. How did you resolve the issue and what did you learn?

AB: I wish I had a story that was exciting — about that time my car caught fire and I had to jump out over a bridge and photographed myself falling and catching a baby and…

In reality, the biggest challenge continues to be business-related. How do we keep fighting the good fight to make a fair living from being a photographer? How do we keep going when our intellectual property is being devalued on our side, but increasing in value on the other? How do we act flexibly without just giving in? I’m not sure what the answer is, other than the classics: Be aware of the market; say “yes, and…”; don’t be afraid to say no; be willing to let a bad job walk away.

ASMP: You work with your wife, Therese Gietler, as a business partner and shoot producer. How long have you been working together and how did this working relationship initiate/develop?

AB: Therese has been in the business as long as I have — she was an assistant for a few years, and then begin doing custom color printing (pre digital). Once the writing was on the wall for digital supplanting film, she retired from that business and took up the reigns of managing our studio. We’ve worked together for many years now, and about eight years ago she took on the role of producer. She’s expanded into motion production as well, right along with our studio. Therese is a hell of an executive producer, and a great line producer as well.

ASMP: How is the workflow organized in your partnership? Do you each take on certain designated tasks, or are you more flexible in your roles?

AB: When we first started in business, one of our business mentors told us to buy Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth. We learned a lot from that book, including the idea that defining roles was key to success, even if it was just the two of us filling them. Over the years, the roles have shifted, but we still maintain definite boundaries. Therese handles studio managing, and deployment of our marketing plan. We both have equal roles in the creation of the marketing plan. I’m responsible for technical and creative development of the photography we offer, and for the IT needs of our business. We’ve also worked with a few consultants over the years — notably Maria Piscopo. She is on our speed dial — her experience and perspective are invaluable to us.

ASMP: Are there other members of your team or dedicated collaborators (i.e.: assistants, digital techs, lighting crew, workflow specialists, etc) who you find are indispensable or of primary importance to your work?

AB: We have a great team — people who we depend on to make any project happen. I’m not one of those photographers who prefers to do it all themselves, and work out of a single camera bag. I’m more of a four-person-crew-with-grip-truck type of shooter. On a good-sized still production I’ll have Chris Calvert as my digital tech, Josh Elliot as my camera assistant, and Cameron Brown and Laura Jennings as my grips. I have a great second string of assistants as well — they are all top notch. If we are rolling motion work, Galvin Collins is indispensable as my AC and B-Cam, and we have a group of sound recordists we work with on a regular basis. On small jobs, I’ll do the look and feel and file delivery, but on larger jobs, or ones that require retouching, I’ll bring in Craig Ferroggiaro from Willamette Valley Color to handle everything from replacing heads to outputting CMYK files. We can add to that the great group of hair, makeup and wardrobe stylists we work with. I like to do my own lighting and shaping, but if the job needs it, I’ll bring in a local gaffer to build my lighting.

ASMP: When working on large projects, how do you organize and delegate to your team? What is the largest number of people you’ve directed and/or collaborated with on a shoot?

AB: Part of this is working with the same people over and over. We have a good protocol in place that is quickly taught to new assistants. We are more informal than a movie production, but everyone understands their responsibilities, and how the protocol works. I teach my workflow and methodology to my crew, but give them space to execute it. I’ve tried to get better over the years about delegating and teaching — it’s not easy to give up the control. This is also why I try to travel with my crew to jobs — I have some good local assistants in New York and Los Angeles, but when flying to a new city it’s tough to have all new people to work with.

The largest crew was for a shoot in Rio de Janeiro. We had about 20 people on the crew, including drivers, grips, camera assistants, stylists, digital tech and so on. Oh, and the armed bodyguards. It was a bit overwhelming, especially with the language gap — my Portuguese isn’t very good. By the end of the shoot, we all had our rhythm down though — the local crew was great.

ASMP: When did you begin incorporating multimedia and video in your work? What did you find most challenging when you first began experimenting with motion?

AB: The most challenging thing for me was finding a camera system that didn’t look like video and wasn’t a 35mm film camera. I’m like a lot of others in that I thought the 5D Mark II was a magic camera. I’d considered video cameras for years but hated the workflow, and how many hoops you had to jump through to get around the video look. Before the Mark II I’d shot with a variety of Panasonics, and had been frustrated by them. I wanted the same amount of control over exposure and white balance, with a file-based workflow, as my digital still cameras offered. Once I started working with my Mark II the challenges were all about learning this new language of camera moves, continuity, the line of action, b-roll and so on. I’m still learning this stuff — it’s challenging but fun and amazingly rewarding once the final piece is done. I knew that I was committed to working in this new format with no commercial viability for at least a couple of years. Now I’ve got a broadcast commercial as a Director under my belt, and three different paying projects that are based around interviews and testimonial story telling.

ASMP: Much of your motion work seems to be done by animating still images using a timelapse technique. Can you provide further details about this style and the process(es) behind it?

AB: It’s really just a byproduct of my tendency to shoot long image sequences — whether it’s sports, action or portraits. While flipping rapidly through the images in Lightroom, I always loved that look and the reactions of clients and crew watching them. So I decided to incorporate that — and I’ve got a bag of tricks for doing it. My natural inclination is the opposite of my good friends at Uncage the Soul Productions — those guys are willing to sit outside for 24 hours nursemaiding a laptop and a moco rig. They get amazing results! I prefer to treat my still camera as a motion camera, and shoot it like one, either with the motordrive on high, or with an intervalometer ticking away. After the shoot, the images end up in Lightroom for processing, and then get exported out in a Premiere-friendly format. I do all my animation in Premiere — it’s not a natural animation tool, but I’ve gotten used to its quirks and can make it do some cool tricks.

ASMP: Are there specific technical or conceptual resources (rather than purely aesthetic ones) that you consult on a regular basis for reference, inspiration and/or as a teaching tool in furthering your exploration of motion imaging? If so, please name them.

AB: The extra content on some DVDs are amazing — I wish all of the behind-the-scenes work was done to show off how they made the movie, and not just the stars goofing around. I love Robert Rodriguez’s Ten-Minute Film School — his willingness to share his hard earned lessons is great. I’ve had a subscription to American Cinematographer for years — it’s the one magazine that consistently delivers the technical goods on lighting for me. I’ve gotten a number of ‘intro to cinematography’ books — there was a huge boom of them on the heels of the Canon 5D Mark II — but my favorite is Blain Brown’s Cinematography: Theory and Practice; it’s well written, encyclopedic, and a great reference book. Benjamin Bergery’s book Reflections Twenty-One Cinematographers At Work is also exceptional — the book details out 21 different lighting scenarios with specific instructions and diagrams. I keep up with a few different cine blogs and magazines, including AbleCine’s, Vincent LaForet’s blog, Film and Digital Times and Shane Hurlbut’s Hurlblog.

ASMP: What role you feel motion work (as distinct from still imaging) will play in your future? Please share your thoughts on the future of visual media in its widest sense as well as the relationships between various components.

AB: I enjoy the motion work immensely. Our goal is to do about 50 percent still work, 25 percent motion work and 25 percent hybrid work. I think that as the Web continues to mature, and the devices we use to interact with it mature as well, there will be new markets for the work that we offer. I’m happy to work within the traditional venues of broadcast, indy films, corporate/industrial films and so on, but I think there are new opportunities to embrace. The challenge is that the ‘signal to noise’ ratio is as bad in the motion world as it is in the still world. I just did a quick search for “go pro” and “gopro” on YouTube — I got roughly 2,201,000 results. If you are GoPro the company, then you are probably giddy with excitement. For professionals, it means more noise in the channel.

ASMP: Do you regularly market your services (or your recent accomplishments) to clients/business contacts or keep in touch via social media? If so, does your contact method or message details differ based on the type of relationship, industry demographics or other factors?

AB: We use social media just like any other avenue of communications — underneath the shiny, techno-flavored exterior of whatever the app/tech du jour is, if you don’t find a good solid marketing plan, you have nothing. Our most successful recent promo is a direct mail piece. I think it’s far too easy to get lost in the hype machine of social media.

We build a new print portfolio every year. We refresh our Web site with new content one or two times a year, and refresh the portfolios sites (like FindAPhotographer, BeHance and so on) much more frequently. We appear in At-Edge five times a year.

ASMP: What do you do to keep your business solvent in today’s economy? How do you differentiate yourself and your services in such a competitive marketplace?

AB: Our internal approach to business hasn’t really changed: We work very hard to create transparent bids and estimates; we go over those with our clients in detail; we use standard contract paperwork on our side, and read (and alter) any contracts that our clients give to us. What has changed is our approach to fees and intellectual property. We have maintained our © and our right to license our work as intellectual property, but have changed how we sell and structure that to our clients. We do a lot more “license packs” these days, because we understand that today’s client has a very different expectation about how they will use their marketing materials. We know they have to be very quick and responsive, and that they repurpose materials into different channels constantly. So we try to free their hands by making our licensing broad enough to accommodate that, while still earning us a fair licensing rate. We still get a decent amount of re-licensing these days as well. Moving into motion has also been an eye-opening experience — there is no concept of the DP or Director owning the intellectual property, unless they also own the production company. Even then, on most productions it’s understood that the default is for the client, or possibly the agency, to own the raw footage, and that everyone is work-for-hire. We’re still finding our way through that — we’re not interested in storming into the room telling everyone they’re doing it wrong.

ASMP: Do you find it advantageous to be based in Portland, Oregon, instead of bigger cities such as New York or Los Angeles? Please explain why you’ve chosen this particular location as your base.

AB: We chose Portland years ago because we wanted a city that was livable. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. We can own a home, have a big studio and work for national clients. There are times it would be nice to have faster access to the editorial and agency markets in New York, but the trade off is that we live in the city that the New York Times can’t stop writing about. We do a lot of marketing and education with our clients about doing local production — Portland is a very flexible and affordable city in which to work. Our motion industry infrastructure is growing, with productions like Leverage and Grimm filming here, and our photo industry is healthy — our local ASMP events have remarkable attendance for the population we have.

ASMP: You were recently a panelist during the ASMP symposium “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists.” Can you give us a brief summary of what you presented?

AB: I was on the panel with my business partner and producer Therese. We work together to build andyBATTstudio, and grow it into new areas. Our goal going into the symposium was to present our business ideas honestly and to simply represent who we are: a modest regional studio that works for local, national and regional clients. It’s my hope that Therese and I gave a voice to many of ASMP’s members.

The symposium was a great opportunity to compare our experiences in adding video with what other people have done to evolve their business models to meet the demands of the market today.

We talked about how video work has opened up many new opportunities for us, but has also led to many new challenges, both creatively and for our business model. It’s definitely not as simple as “just shoot some video.” When we began to market our video work, we had to decide exactly ‘what’ we were adding and how to describe it. We actively decided that I wanted to bring my unique creative vision to the table, whether it was as the director or the DP, and to go after projects that fit that niche.

ASMP: What are your plans for the future? Where do you hope to be professionally five years from now?

AB: Directing films, pursuing several long-term portrait projects and taking a lot more vacations.