Some projects speak louder to us as photographers than others. They may not be our first or our last, but at a certain point in our lives, they define us. For photographer John Ganun, that defining set of images is his “Scenario” series.”I started Scenario six years ago, not long after I taught myself strobe photography. I wanted to bring the experience of a professional photo shoot into a party atmosphere, and in those last six years I’ve been working very long hours to make these images happen. Right now, I’m up to about 300 shoots.”
Let’s take a step back here for a second: where did this all begin? “I was a natural light headshot photographer for about 10 years, and had developed a great client base here in Los Angeles. I photographed about 3500 subjects – mostly actors – and learned three very valuable skills: 1) I learned how to truly lead a shoot, to take responsibility for it, no matter what. 2) I learned how to photograph absolutely anyone, even if we didn’t quite “gel.” 3) Every photograph should have a clear point of view, or it’s just a pretty picture.”
John learned there should always be a reason to create a photo. “One should attempt to define the reason as much as possible before picking up the camera. Of course, some incredible photographs happen when you veer off of your planned path, but I find that this usually only happens you’re on a clear path in the first place.”
Back in the present, the images in Scenario don’t at all look the same, but the feeling of each individual photo blends with others of the series. There is life, activity, motion and excitement flying out of the screen and into your face. Capturing the real, raw emotion of a party atmosphere is difficult, perhaps impossible, to manufacture. So John doesn’t; he makes it real. “People who don’t know my work usually assume that it’s photo booths, and they’re so wrong. I conceptualize and design every set, then have my assistants help me build it, install it, light it. We pretty much bring a complete photography studio to every event. Then, when guests arrive, I photograph anyone and everyone at the party. They’ve often had a few drinks, which actually makes them workable models. On a personal level, it’s incredibly satisfying to give the average person the experience of stepping onto a pro photography set, under very flattering lighting, and directing them in an editorial way. Much to their surprise, they love the experience of making the photos as much as the photos themselves.
“Because I design my own sets, I get to make all the decisions about every single pixel in the frame. It’s quite satisfying, but also nerve-wracking, since I always have an audience when I shoot. If the party starts at 8PM, then everything has to be ready to go by 8PM or there’s egg on my face!
“I produce these shoots all over the country, and have many corporate as well as celebrity clients. I usually prefer the more private parties, since they have a more intimate feel and people are more likely to step out of their comfort zones. I especially love shooting at costume parties. Not only are guests sometimes incredibly dressed and looking like they belong on the artsy/colorful sets I create, but they are also much more likely to be more free in front of the camera. Somehow, when they are dressed up in a way that is completely ridiculous, they become more confident and centered in front of the camera. Their ego disappears because, on an intellectual level, they are not representing themselves. However, I feel like I’m actually getting more of who they really are. It really is fascinating.”
John’s Favorite Gear
John’s Advice to Emerging Photographers
“I didn’t go to school, and I started late, and I’m not the most technical of photographers. I’ve learned along the way that none of that matters. (Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of great photography schools out there, and I’m always working on improving my technique!) My point is, what matters is the idea behind the shot, and how well the shot delivers the idea. I see quite a few photographers get lost in technique and forget this simple fact.”
“My biggest piece of advice is to photographers who are working somewhat steadily, but want to progress further up the ladder. If you really want to progress, you need to do a shoot just for yourself, at least once a month. A shoot with zero input from any client, with zero chance of making you any money, and with zero expectations. This is the only way that I know how to grow, and if you truly grow as photographer, then the business will follow.”
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