For Lindsay Adler, getting started with photography deeply involved her family, living on a farm. But instead of working the farm, she pulled out a camera early on and learned how to capture the scenery surrounding her.
“It was actually a family hobby. My grandma liked to take pictures around the farm. My mom did, my aunt did and apparently my grandma’s father had a darkroom that she remembers,” said Lindsay. “When it first started, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, mom, grandma and my aunt are all headed out taking pictures. Why don’t I grab a camera?’
From there, Lindsay got more and more interested in photography, and ended up starting her business at the age of 15. Now living in New York City, the scenery has certainly changed, but her passion to make great, emotionally-driven photographs certainly hasn’t.
When Lindsay started her business at age 15, she was surrounded by nature. At the time that drew her to capturing the great outdoors. She grew inspiration from Art Wolfe, who “created images that I didn’t even understand could be possible.”
But again, everything came back to family.
“When I was 16, my mom and I went and took photography classes from Marianne and Joe McDonald. We took a one-week class with them. They were incredibly encouraging, and they became mentors, telling me I could do it for a living.”
The pair helped Lindsay get a scholarship for an organization called NAMPA — the North American Nature Photography Association. Recognizing that what she photographs now is far from her nature and farm roots, she valued that first opportunity at a NAMPA conference.
“I’m learning from the world’s best wildlife and landscape photographers, and it was like, again, something with photography is definitely what I want to do for a living.”
Today, Lindsay’s inspiration certainly comes from a different spectrum of photographers.
“The photographers I admire today … it’s not like I don’t admire the ones from my past, but the work is so far different. Now looking at photographers … one of them is Lillian Bassman. She was kind of a contemporary of Penn and Avedon. But that was kind of the problem — their stars were shining so bright, and as a woman, it was quite a challenge.”
In addition to other photographers, Lindsay draws inspiration from her travels. She regularly travels the globe not only for photoshoots, but also to teach other photographers.
“The way I’ve crafted my career is that I get to have a beautiful combination of both shooting and teaching. I do both. Sometimes the shooting pays for me to travel, but most of the time, it’s actually the teaching. I love teaching regardless, but it’s great because it helps me meet people around the world and get to travel to places I would have never gone.
“One of the reasons I think traveling is so important to me, is if I get too comfortable in a routine, the same thing over and over again, I don’t have inspiration. I don’t feel inspired, I don’t feel challenged. And so when I travel, it can be a sculpture, painting or a musician on the street, or so many other things that give me an idea for a photoshoot.”
From the farm to the studio
So how did Lindsay make that switch, from nature photography to beauty and fashion photography?
“When I first started in photography, it was a combination of, I shot what I loved for fun, and then I shot whatever I thought paid me. And the two really didn’t intersect. What I was getting paid to shoot I didn’t necessary find creatively fulfilling. I think one of my greatest evolutions was finding a way to get paid to shoot things that I loved.
“That’s one of the things I think a lot of photographers struggle with,” says Lindsay. “They either want to be really creative or make money, and they feel like the two shall never cross. So what I have really done more seriously over the past decade was to figure out a voice and a style, and then figure out the brands and clients that would want to speak through my voice and to see through my eyes.”
But how do you find your style as a photographer?
“One of the exercises, if right now, you had to put up on your website — not to make a living, just to show who you are as an artist — only three photos. It’s all you can never show anything else or anything different, what would those three be? If you look at those three photos, try to figure out what they have in common. Is it the color palette? Is it the subject matter? There are definitely going to be. things that overlap.
“That starts to give you a feeling of how you see yourself as an artist and what you’re attracted to. So then, imagine that you can start filling that page with more work that fits, that’s cohesive. How do you add to those three and start to build a body of work around those three that you’re most proud of? I think that starts to give people an idea of style.”
Lindsay’s portraits are known for showcasing emotion through things like posing, lighting and her overall style. For her, it’s all about intention, approaching a photograph knowing what you’re trying to achieve.
“Emotion isn’t just one thing — emotion is achieved through lighting. It’s achieved through clothing because it creates a character in which the model can embody. And then of course, it’s posing and expression,” says Lindsay. “It’s all of those things. It’s the colors you choose. It’s the amount of lack of shadows. So I think first and foremost, the most important thing to achieving emotion in your photographs is to have intention of what that emotion should be.
“After I have my intention, a lot of times my subjects, they feel the emotion because they’re dressed like that character. Lighting is like that character, their makeup is like that character. When I say character, character is whatever I’m envisioning that I want that person to become or what I’m trying to bring out of that person.”
Lindsay has encompassed that emotion in her favorite pieces, including a photograph of a model named Jillian, who is wearing a gigantic red hat on a red background, in a red dress with red lips.
“This embodies me [as a photographer] for two reasons. First of all, it’s clean, bold and graphic. Those are three things I try to say about all my work. Every pixel, every element is in the right places so it’s clean and bold. There’s something that comes forward or catches your attention, which in this case, is the hat. And then it’s graphic, which for me is following the hand to the face and then the shape around the hat itself.
“The other thing in all of my images I try to achieve is I always try to portray a combination of strength and elegance in women. I don’t usually do soft and girlie … that’s not really my style. Strength and elegance can be portrayed in endlessly different ways, depending on the woman. There’s certainly elegance there and to be able to command a space with red makes you have strength, as it is a strong color.”
Women and photography
Lindsay is an advocate for women photographers, encouraging them to do their best and to exceed expectations.
“One of the most important things I can say to other women is to encourage other women. I am not quite sure why sometimes there’s a culture of women trying to bring other women down. So my role is I very much try to hire female assistants or female interns.”
“When I graduated college, I knew the way to becoming a commercial or fashion photographer was through assisting. You build your portfolio while you’re working with them and then you go off on your own. Right after college I approached three different male photographers — I actually approached more but most didn’t respond. Each of these three men gave me a reason why I couldn’t be an assistant, and all were related to the fact that I was a woman. I think it was kind of traumatizing early on to say, ‘Oh, I see why there’s not that many women to reach out and ask to assist, because they don’t get the opportunity to assist and then become those photographers.
“I think really mentoring other women and encouraging young women to pursue photography is one of the greatest things you can do.”
The current state of photography
If you’ve ever attended a major trade show, chances are you’ve seen Lindsay present on the Canon stage. Needless to say she’s a seasoned veteran on stage, teaching attendees how she shoots and how she gets inspired.
But in the current state of the industry, trade shows have suffered. Attendance is down and some camera companies are no longer in attendance. For Lindsay, trade shows are all about sharing with other photographers.
“I have a personal trade shows because, when I was 15 or 16, I lived about four hours away from New York City. So every year, we would go to the Javits Center and go to PhotoPlus,” says Lindsay. “So I remember for many years, I would sit and listen to Canon Explorers of Light. And that was kind of why I said, ‘someday I want to be one of those people. I want to teach. And I want to share.'”
“I think we’re in an interesting time where there is an insane amount of information online — like unbelievable. There’s a lot of good information, good video and photography content. But there’s two things lacking from that content. The first thing is a real face-to-face sense of community. People, more than ever, want to have other people to share their passions with, feel their pains or just get away from what everyday life is and to bond with these people.
“Of course the other side is hands-on education. People like to go to lectures and one of the reasons I go to lectures, is because it makes you listen. You’ve got all this content online, but how often do you actually sit down and listen to it? If you paid for it, you’re there, you listen to it. But far more often it’s the chance to have the hands-on education that becomes more important for these conferences. Where I think I see the conferences that thrive thriving is when people can put theory into practice.”
Make time for yourself
If there’s any one suggestion from Lindsay, it’s to spend time on personal work regularly.
“I think that many photographers don’t shoot enough. I make time every month to do personal shoots. Every single month, at least two days, I spend a full two days where all I’m doing is experimenting in the studio, trying new lighting, trying a new concept. Because if you only do your client work, you’re usually relying on solutions you already know, which doesn’t help you discover new things.
“I look at my work from 10 years ago, I look at my work five years ago and I look at my work three years ago, and I am much, much, much better than even three years ago. But I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t have those creative shoot days.”