This is the first in a series of interviews we’ll be hosting here at the FStop blog.
Steven joined up on FStop the day it went live and has been incredibly supportive since. He’s an extremely talented photographer – you can see his stuff through his website here.
Say hello to Steven Martinez:
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I’m from Santa Rosa, California but I joined the Marine Corps when I was 17 and have traveled all over the United States, some of western Mexico and been to a few places in Canada. I have sadly never left the North American continent but seeing more of our world as a whole is definitely on my bucket list.
What’s your favorite place in the world and why?
Los Angeles. I live here now and I can definitely say that this place is amazing. It may be a little spread out compared to other metropolitan areas but it has amazing art, culture, food, and people who come from all over the United States. Unless my career moves me to another large city I’m pretty sure I’ll die here.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
My love affair with photography has been a very slow burner. In college (Go Spartans) I got to play with a small point and shoot camera which allowed very simple options like expanded ISO and slow shutter speeds. That planted the seed without a doubt. Years later I moved to Los Angeles and started a career in Film/TV lighting and cut my teeth on set with big, huge, hot lights. Having seen hundreds of lighting setups and watched cinematographers tell stories through composition and lighting I really wanted to start doing the same myself. I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted for the future of my career and ultimately decided that still photography was more my thing than film.
What types of photography do you do? What’s your favorite and why?
I like anything that is honest. If someone can see a picture and it invokes an emotional or contemplative response then I think that is all that really matters in the end. I love street and portraiture but personally do not do a lot of heavy post work on my photos. I do not begrudge a photographer that does though. There is room for all of it as long as the post work isn’t changing a real life narrative to something completely different to suit some sort of agenda.
A tough one – can you share your favorite three photos (that you’ve taken) and tell us the story behind each one, and why they’re your favorite?
I took this photo at a football game. This photo started it all. It will always mean a lot to me. [Steven tells us about this later.]
Out of the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken of my daughter this one is probably my favorite. I built her a makeshift fort in her bed and managed to grab this shot. That smirk is her through and through. I never get tired of looking at this picture.
From one of the very first serious portraiture sessions I ever did with a good friend of mine. The guy is a total character so I bought him a joint, made him smoke it, and we took a bunch of pictures. This one was taken with my 50mm Takumar (adapted from M42 mount) with a single strobe camera left. I love this picture.
What kind of gear do you have?
I shoot on a Canon 5D Mark III. I have 2 zooms: 24-70 II and 70-200 II. But my favorites are my old M42 mount primes. 35mm (MIR-24M), 50mm (Takumar), 55mm (SMC Takumar), 85mm (Jupiter-9), 105mm (Takumar), and 135mm (Jupiter-11A). I also have two 640 watt strobes and a speedlite.
What’s your favorite piece of equipment and why?
My 85mm Jupiter-9 / F2. It is a USSR copy of the Zeiss Sonnar made before I was born. It feels solid like a tank, has 15 aperture blades and has some of the best bokeh I’ve gotten to play with.
What was your most memorable photography-related experience and why?
The first photo I ever took where I looked at it later and thought to myself, “holy shit”, was at a college football game. Hundreds upon hundreds of green foam fingers pointing and waving in the stands. In hindsight it really captured the moment. The other was seeing “The Soiling of Old Glory” for the first time.
“The Soiling of Old Glory” — a photo that ran across newspapers in 1976 and won the Pulitzer Prize, showing a white teenager aiming the American flag like a weapon against a civil rights attorney, during massive protests in Boston against court-ordered desegregation of the school system.
What is one tip you have for aspiring photographers?
Keep shooting. Try new things. Make yourself uncomfortable. The worst that can happen if you take a shitty picture is you’ll delete it and (hopefully) learn from it.
What’s been the most challenging part of photography, and how do you rise above those challenges?
For me it’s been just the self discovery aspect of it. What do I like shooting the most? What is my style? How do I want it to look in post? There are more ways to edit a single photo then there are stars in the sky. Sometimes the freedom of almost infinite possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. I think the only thing anyone can do is to just keep shooting.
What qualities do you think a good photographer must possess?
Know what you want. Be flexible. Don’t be an asshat to your crew and/or talent.
How about good models?
Understand your body and how it plays to whatever lens the photographer is using.
Do you have a favorite makeup artist? Feel free to give them kudos here.
Amber Griffin is a makeup artist whose work I think is absolutely fantastic.
Who are your role models in the industry and why?
P.R. Brown is a phenomenal talent, I’ve learned a lot from him on many different levels.
Gregory Crewdson’s work is absolutely captivating. There is a strangeness to a lot of his work that I really dig.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Making a living doing photography full time.
Name one song you would want to hear during a shoot.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze.
The answers to this question are being compiled into an FStop Spotify playlist – feel free to use it during your shoots!
We want to express a HUGE amount of gratitude for the time Steven took here to share his experiences and wisdom. If anyone around LA is interested in collaborating with him, here’s some of his contact information:
Model Mayhem: http://www.modelmayhem.com/3851153
Thanks again Steven.