Damon J. Taylor – The Storyteller

Say hello to Damon :

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Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I grew up bouncing around the Midwest. Mostly in amongst the cornfields and beautiful rolling greens of Illinois. I’ve travelled to many places in the US with my dad as a kid. Then spent a lot of time in California, Okinawa and Thailand for the Marines. And then filmwork has taken me to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, India, Nepal and many more places in the US.


What’s your favorite place in the world?

Easy. Anywhere in New Zealand. My first trip there, I was living on half a shoestring budget. I didn’t have a digital camera and had scraped together enough money to buy three disposable cameras for what turned out to be over a year of traveling around the country working on a film project. I returned with less money than I left with and had to wait another six months before I got the photos developed. Half of them had been damaged with some weird light leak or distortion from moisture. The couple that turned out were mostly of me and the friends I made along the way. I cherish them. The few that survived of the landscape… did it absolutely no justice. I’ll just go back and see it in person someday.


What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?

Too many, constantly flowing. The hardest part is sifting through and selecting. My most recent and recurring day dream has been to build my own stealth camper van and take a trip across the US doing collab shoots with models and artists along the way. I have a theme, but you will just have to wait for that reveal.


What prompted you to shift your career focus from cinema to photography?

My film career has been quite a journey. Starting as a professional horseman and then working my way through pretty much every department led me eventually back to school, where I discovered screenwriting. Turns out, writing is one of those feast or famine jobs. So, I started exploring my other skills for opportunities for additional income. First AD work has been my bread and butter for a while, but it takes so much time away from my writing and is still job to job. Photography is a very visual passion of mine. Once I got my hands on a nice DSLR and a couple of decent lenses, I saw the potential for an income and a bit more of an instant satisfaction that doesn’t come with writing.


Do you ever get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

I’m not sure I’d call it photographer’s block as much as motivational block. You put a camera in my hand and lock me in a room by myself and I’ll get something interesting. Inspiration is the easy part for me. When I start thinking about the process or the logistics, that is what can slow me down. The more equipment involved, the more people to organize and try to get together, and I feel the weight of the project. But I overcome that by inspiring others. I keep a group of artists around me at all times. When I see them slacking or not creating their craft, I try to pump them up and give them solid advice and get them back to work. As I’m telling them, I’m pretty much telling myself as well. The people I push, also push me back. This is part of the reason I go out of my way to help other writers and painters, even when I’m not physically near them. All of their excuses remind me of mine, and it’s always easier to help someone than push yourself. It works.


What types of photography do you do?

I’ve been trying to label my work for a while. It seems easiest to market my services as editorial or lifestyle for models, actors, agencies, or manufacturers. But what I am at heart, is a storyteller. I love works that grab you visually and lets your brain wander through a story. Or have a few elements that let you make your own connections. Or photos that only reveal part of something and let you imagine what is out of the frame. I have a real affection for surrealist artists such as Kyle Thompson , Erik Johansson, and Tommy Ingberg, but I don’t have a personal draw to do so much post compiling to my works.


What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?

Decided is an interesting way of putting it. I was born an observer. As a writer, I often tell people, I like to collect pieces of life and then give it to others in interesting bite-sized pieces. For photography, it is just as natural for me. I can change the perspective of anything and draw focus to a person or idea. I feel I was born this way. Seeing details and the big picture all at once is natural for me. It wasn’t until I had access to digital cameras, of any kind, that I felt like my obsessive compulsive need to document everything was somewhat quenched. That is when I feel like I transitioned from a guy who liked photos to someone obsessed with the power of creating photos.


What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?

While working on a film in India, I would walk the streets of Bombay and New Delhi looking for anything interesting to capture. Many times, I would be approached. Mostly by boys or young men. And they would boldly tell me in broken English, “Click my picture.” It was a direct request with a smile and a very strange interest. Most of the time, I would lift my camera and compose a simple shot. As soon as I lowered the camera, they would thank me and go back to their friends, and I’m assuming, brag a bit. They never asked to see the photos. They were not asking me to be in the photo with them. They didn’t care about getting to know me or what I was doing in their slum. They, for some reason, gave weight to the concept of being the center of a photograph. The process of “clicking” the photo. I never found out why. And when I asked, most people would tell me, “just like that,” which is the Indian slang equivalent of “just cause.” But my best understanding is that they must have felt some power in knowing their photo was worth taking.


Of the photos you’ve taken, which are favorite?

This silhouette of my good friend, Birdie, is the beginning of my first big push into photography as an art form. I had finally gathered the money to purchase my first digital camera, about four hundred bucks. A top of the line 4MP Canon. The equivalent of a high-end point and shoot at the time. I had been shooting with film, but the process was too expensive to do the experimenting I really craved to do. The instant viewing allowed me to speed up my education. Birdie had come to see where I was working. A tiny town in Ohio training horses and building full scale firing bronze civil war canons for films. We spent a few hours wandering around the farm just taking photos wherever we felt the urge. This was one of the first photos and it has been one of my favorites through the years. I just love silhouettes.

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Just after I got my first DSLR, my step sister broke up with her boyfriend. I kidnapped her with another photography friend and we roadtripped to Denver to check out art schools for her. For that week, we stopped anywhere that looked interesting. This photo of a young spirited and artistic woman just grabs my brain and tosses it into an indie-film-style story of a crazy girl searching for something.

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While doing a shoot in the streets of West Palm Beach, my model needed a touch up. I went to the car to grab some other piece of gear. While there, I looked across the car and saw how the light was playing for her. I took several candid photos. This one looks like one frame of a film. Something is happening off camera. But we can only hear it. There is mystery and intention to it. The shoot went well. Some amazing photos you can see on my site, but this one has always meant something to me. The moments we see something, we MUST capture. Those are the shots for me. Not for the client or the masses.

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I spent a good chunk of my creative education using whatever camera I could get my hands on. A majority of my early work was done with one hundred dollar Canon Elph 100s. Working with sub par equipment taught me so much about getting things right in camera. Moving over to DSLRs was a snap. Now, cell phones have so much range built in and they are always in hand. I love the freedom of some of the cell phone apps at creating interesting photos on the fly. This pic was taken with the Camera 360 app, back when it had a filter called something like 1839. It made such beautiful high contrast photos. No editing needed. I would spend hours just taking all kinds of photos just to see how the filter affected things. This image of a ferris wheel was just one of many that I feel very comfortable with. It isn’t about making something that is for sale, but this could easily be a poster for a band or could stand alone and draw you in. Again, it is storytelling. I can just make up a story from the feel of it.

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Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

I strive to craft my images to look cinematic. As if the photo were one frame of an interesting film. One piece of a story that is in motion. In regards to my services, communication and organization are key. I work hard to help the model or actor figure out what they really need, and then cater to those specific needs.


What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?

  1. You must go shoot, shoot, shoot.
  2. Watch a crap ton of YouTube vids.
  3. Work with or for other photographers in your area that have compelling work.
  4. Ask for help. And listen to advice.
  5. Do things you think will fail. Often.
  6. Give your time to your work.
  7. Find out what your strengths are and think about working with others that have different strengths. (You can shoot but can’t edit – find a retoucher and share work.)

What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?

Be excited about being there and be open to ideas. My best photos have come from shoots where the model is just as excited as I am to be making beautiful pictures. It’s hard for me to care about the photos if someone is constantly pushing back and talking down their looks or complaining about anything.


What was your most memorable photoshoot?

Tough one. I really enjoy all of the shoots. That is the easy part for me. You do all the hard work to get there and afterwards, but the shoot itself is the good stuff. One memorable shoot was very impromptu. I was teaching a friend to use his new camera. He was very interested in learning and we were just strolling around Miami. He boldly asked a few girls at the pool at a fancy hotel if they would like to be the subject of our lesson. To my surprise, they were all fashion bloggers and were very interested. So for about an hour, I coached him through some basics and we both got a nice collection of photos. We later shared the photos with the models and they were very happy. The main thing I remember about the shoot now is the casual and carefree feeling of the time there. A group of strangers got together and shared some laughs and made some very interesting photos together. Not for money or for some advertisement, but for the fun of it. Such a cool feeling to be a part of something like that.


What’s the funniest story you have from being a photographer?

I love found furniture. Something that once belonged in a house, now living in the streets. So I always have my eye out for it. My friends know this. One night about midnight, I get a text from a friend telling me there is a great couch near his place that he is sure someone is going to take soon. So I debate and eventually decide to just go get it. As I’m driving, it starts to rain. My friend has assured me that the couch was small and would fit in the back of my Rogue. Turns out he was waaay wrong. It was an amazing fancy white couch with wood trim and that rounded backing from the Victorian age. So pretty. And so much bigger than my car. The rain lets up to a mist as I try and single handedly drag the couch to my car. I put one end on my longboard, and I lifted the other end and was able to get it to the side of my car. I squat pressed it onto my roof and then quickly and jankily strapped it down with not enough straps. As I drove super slow for about two miles to my studio, I prayed that the rain would not come before I made it. Fate was on my side I guess, because after wrestling it off the roof and hefting it inside, I closed the door to the studio and then the rain picked up to a good soaking downpour. That couch went on to be in my next shoot and made quite an impact on a few of my creative decisions, thereafter. I had a very ambitious beach shoot idea to be done with that couch, but time ran out and I left the area and was forced to let the couch go. But I’ll always have the photos.


If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be?

I prefer people to places. But the places with the people are very interesting. I have not tried it, but I would like to experiment with underwater ocean photography. Unfortunately, I have ruptured my eardrums before so I cannot go too deep, but it would be amazing to do a shoot at one of those underwater sculpture parks. As for the who, obviously a Charlie Chaplin lookalike. But seriously, I don’t think there is one person or place I MUST shoot. There are many places and people. But the most important thing for me is that it is different every time.


Who was the most unforgettable model you’ve ever met?

Stephanie McDonald was the first model that I shot that felt as if everything she did in front of the lens was natural. Even things that were obviously strange. She isn’t a full-time professional model, but she has an intriguing look and her features just pop on camera. I feel as if I could just follow her through her day and snap photos. And interestingly enough, she is oblivious to her beauty. She feels ordinary, which kind of adds to the ease of working with her.


What’s your favorite aspect of photography?

Composition is my darling. Perspective, depth of field, subject relationships and lens are all aspects of how I compose a shot. And that, to me is where the storytelling happens. Finding a composition that is impactful and draws the onlookers’ eyes through the lines and over the details is just an awesome feeling. You poorly compose a shot, and your lighting, subject and colors often just lose their meaning.


Who do you want to give a shoutout to?

I’d like to give a shoutout to three of my fellow photographer friends – Aftab Asghar, Noelle McMinn and Jason Martinez. They are all at varying levels of technical proficiency and skill levels, but they share a very strong passion for photography as an art form. Thanks for continuing to push me further and further with my skills and my business. Means a lot to me.


What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?

Keep trying anything new, especially if it seems impossible. I have certain skills that I know work for me. And I can see how it is easy to settle into something like a style or a particular type of work. But in order to keep growing and building on my skills, I need to keep searching and digging for things that either haven’t been done or that could be done better. Trying something and it failing still results in learning. If I keep doing the things that work, then it isn’t growth. Im not saying you always have to give up the reliable techniques, but I feel struggling with difficult ideas is what keeps me alive.


What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?

It all boils down to respect. I will give you nonstop respect for your ideas, your time, and most importantly, for you. As a person and an artist. Flakes, bad attitudes, and bad mouthing from anyone I’m meeting for the first time is a pretty good sign it’s a part of their lives. And I don’t need that to be a part of mine.


How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?

If we are able, I try to meet up and discuss the shoot beforehand so I can get a grip on who they are and what they want from the shoot. We can talk about style and the final reasons for the shoot, but it also helps a lot if I can get into a conversation with them about things that matter in life. I love stories and hearing about passions and dreams. Usually, if we can get to some genuine connection point as humans, then talking back and forth and trust just comes naturally. If a model can trust me, then they can relax and open up a bit. I also like to do a few shots and mess with light a bit until I get the first shot close to what we are going to be shooting for throughout the shoot. Then I show the shot to the model. That look on their face when they see the photo just lights me on fire. That combination of surprise and excitement at seeing themselves as a work of art. From that point on, they trust me as a friend and as an artist, and our communication opens up even further. And finally, while I’m shooting, I either can see or get to know how the camera reads the model. Then, I mostly rely on my instinct to find perspectives and lighting that accentuate the power of the model’s form, style and eyes.


What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?

Artistically, I think a few of my projects are ambitious. So the holdup is time and resources. Logistically, I have the ability to edit my photos, but it isn’t my passion. Coming from film, where every job is very specific, I understand that there are people that love to do that one aspect of the collaborative arts. If you want to act, you become an actor. You want to specialize in cinematography? You work in the Camera department. Love designing sets? Work in the art department. In my mind, photography works the same way. I know I’m great with organizing a shoot, talented with a camera and capable of editing. But there are much more talented retouchers that can do it faster, better, and even more importantly, with passion. They WANT to spend an hour dodging every detail or smoothing blemishes. So when I consider a shoot, it almost always ties me up mentally when I begin to think about the culling, selecting and polishing of the photos. I push to get them done quickly for clients, but wow, what an effort I must put on myself to not just talk myself out of doing another shoot instead of editing an old one. Financially, finding clients is an ongoing and difficult obstacle. As I travel, I must continue to find gigs and people with the funds to pay for my services.


How do you express yourself through your photography?

Most of my photos focus on people. I am an observer. Sometimes, I feel like an alien and want to just document everything I see here on Earth and show it to… well, to everyone. Because I feel like an outsider on your planet, I am able to see humans in a different way, and I express myself through my perspective. It’s like loaning you my eyes. And since I want to put my best eye forward, I strive to find the most interesting view to share.


What is your favorite photo you’ve ever seen?

I’ve ever seen? EVER? Effed up question. I’d have to say my brain doesn’t work that way. One of the reasons I take so many photos is to remember things. I don’t have the ability to call up images in my head. Which is why I am a writer, storyteller, and photographer. I can create details, relay stories and capture moments in my writing, conversations and my photos, but I can’t just remember images. I can’t remember the details of the shot – who took it or where I saw it, but I remember a warm feeling looking at and thinking about a photo of the MGM lion in front of a 35mm film camera while they filmed the famous roar. It impacted me. It felt like a candid shot of a real and strange moment in all of our history without us ever knowing it was a moment that had occurred. I like a photo that makes us think beyond that instant.


What advice about photography do you wish you had when you were first starting out?

Start a very organized and proper workflow suited for the number of photos you are taking. And then keep up with it. And then triple back it up and make sure one of those back ups is in the cloud. Trust me. You don’t want to learn this lesson personally.


What are the top 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?

  1. Get a camera and shoot whatever interests you.
  2. Play with editing in a program like Photoshop or Lightroom.
  3. Watch YouTube videos on anything that sounds interesting, and if someone mentions something that grabs your brain, search that next.

What are the top 3 tips you have for aspiring models?

  1. Watch films and notice the details of facial expressions in the stars… then try to move those muscles in your own face.
  2. Find poses you like in magazines, practice in a mirror, and note what works for you body and style.
  3. Make friends with photographers in your area that you like their work… help them and 95% of the time, they will be willing to help you out as well.

What kind of gear do you have? 

Canon. More lenses than I need. Not enough flashes. And I wish I had the funds to test out many of the gadgets out there. I’ve never experienced Nikon. Nothing against it. Just got on the Canon bandwagon as a kid and never had a reason to leave. But I do have a favorite lens. 70-200L… damn it. So pretty. And so are the images it creates.


What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Play with using the sun as backlighting. Even without a flash, you can get some very interesting images with style this way.


What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Less is more. But having said that, I’d suggest taking a photo you like and trying to make ten different edits of that photo that look uniquely different and that YOU could like. Then narrow those ten down to three of your favorites. These will probably be the style you lean to for most of your photos.


Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?

Not yet, but very soon. Keep asking. It helps.


What is your most life-changing event?

Stumbling into a job in film after getting out of the Marines. I had no path in mind. And finding film… a community of traveling artists working collaboratively on something huge and impossible… really opened my eyes to what my life could be. Goodbye forever 9 to 5.


What’s something nobody knows about you that you’d like to share?

I’m independently wealthy and only collect money for my services to keep people honest. And I have a pretty good sense of humor which allows me to trump reality most of the time.


Who’s your biggest hero in your life?

Flawed as he might have been, my Grandpa. His confidence and heart still lives in me as a guiding force for my personal choices.


What’s one of your biggest fears?

Being killed on accident by someone else’s stupidity without even knowing it. You know, like someone texting and driving and plowing into my car and I die instantly. Bullshit. Or being sent into war and being killed by a drone that was sent the wrong coordinates. Effe you. Basically, I dont want to go out on a mystery or with everyone at my funeral saying, “Wow, he was such a talented guy. So strange that he died from e. coli poisoning cause that restaurant worker didn’t wash their hands after taking a dump.”


What will you be doing five years from now?

Rereading this answer and saying, “Huh. What a smartass.” But seriously, I’d imagine I’ll still be traveling and taking photos. Probably have two more feature films under my belt. Hopefully not scraping by as much. And might be looking at having a kid. If I can find a gal that can handle all the travel and adventure.


What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

I once took all of my money and put it into a plane ticket to fly to a foreign country to maybe get a job on a film. It worked. And that became my model for getting jobs for the next five years. Without risk, there is no reward.


What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t?

Fly around the world without worry of the cost of anything along the way. I haven’t done it, but I’m getting there. I’d have to say the main reason I haven’t done it yet is because I promised myself I would spend a specific amount of time trying to establish myself in my career.


For anyone that wants to get in touch with Damon, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile

Website: DamonJTaylorPhotography.com

Facebook: Profile

Instagram: @damonjtaylorphotography

MM: Profile

500px: Profile


Damon, thank you for sharing your story with us! 🙂

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Also, remember to download the FStop app for iPhone here!

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