Welch’s career in commercial photography is a direct result of his decision to not be patient and pursue his first lovefilm. “I went to art school and studied photography and filmmaking; I got bit by the film bug (in Boston) and moved to L.A. to make independent films and crew in the lighting department on movie sets. I was about 21 or so,” he remembers. “But making your way up the totem pole in the film world without connections can be pretty tough. It takes loads of time and patience I did not have. So I took the commercial photography route instead, which instantly allowed me to be up and running my own business as a professional photographer.” His impatience paid off, and today his clients include global business giants such as: Adobe, Hilton, Corona, Levi’s, Microsoft, Yahoo!, United Way, and Intel, among others.
Odd Man “In”
Like most photographers starting out, Welch pounded the pavement to drum up business. “I already had the fine art photography training, so I thought, me, a camera, and a tripod, and I’m good to go. I hit the streets with a book, made phone calls, asked for recommendations, etc. It was all pre-email era,” he states. “My work stood out, but in a good way where I could get my foot in the door and then gain some word of mouth. I have relied on my work’s ‘unique’ aspect since day one.”
Welch partially credits his film-world background for his unusual style, which allows everyone involved in a shoot to fully participate. “It’s about lighting spaces and then letting subjects create their moment, their action, their beat, their story within the visual essay. I think a lot of times still photographers try to pin everything down so precisely that they end up losing their freedom and missing the ‘big picture.’
“I’m all about lighting a set so that the model, the band, or whomever I’m photographing can relax and have the freedom to let their personality show. I think that’s a unique thing I doto see the big picture and let the personalities I’m photographing have a forum to be natural.” That doesn’t mean the models on Welch’s sets are ‘in charge.’ “I direct the hell out of them,” admits Welch. “Although at the same time, I’m creating a comfortable set vibe where those serendipitous moments flow.”
According to Welch, communication is a key element in his studio. “There are a hundred things that happen during a shoot and the small problems are just as big as the big problems,” he says. “The most challenging thing is getting everyone on the same page, but it’s also the most rewarding. If you do a great job on your pre-production, the shoot goes a lot smoother. I’m a big fan of corralling everyone’s input before we shoot, which includes everything from why we’re casting certain types of models, to what coverage we need, to what we’re looking for in a location, to what we’re actually saying. For instance, if we’re shooting in L.A. we certainly can make it look like Ohio, but what is our motivation in doing that? It all comes down to the ‘why’ so that we are making the best visuals to tell the story.”
Welch also thinks of his work as problem solving. “It’s messy work that we do; it’s pleasing a lot of people (art buyers, art directors, creative directors, account execs and the clientand the client’s bosses.) I am there to work with the ad agency to meet the needs of the client. Whether it is a small job or a large one, I make sure all their wishes are met. Everybody wants to feel like they’re bringing something to the party,” he says. “So when we’re on set making pictures I peel back all the layers and say, ‘Okay, What is the true visual narrative here? And how do we best photograph it?’ It all comes down to communication and vision.”
Best Digital Available
In the beginning of his commercial career, Welch shot film with a Hasselblad, which is evident by all the square images on his web site. “Before that I shot 4"x5" film.” Today, the consideration for ad images is not whether it’s horizontal or vertical. “We usually shoot both ways because most ads are now multipurposed differently for the media of print and the web. But I’ve always had a square portfolio, so I am still a fan of being able to crop to square for my book.
“I blow through a lot of captures in order to allow people to let their hair down. I always joke that we are not here to take just ‘one’ picture. A successful shoot involves allowing the models to let go of their inhibitionsthen capturing that apex moment.”
Welch works with the best digital equipment available in today’s market. “We like the Hasselblad H Series cameras and the Leaf backs. For more loose lifestyle-type images when we need to be mobile, I like the newest Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III. I’m also notorious for having more than one camera up and shooting at a time (manned with a second camera operator.)” Welch says he rents a lot of equipment, especially when he’s working out of town on location. “I usually fly somewhere to shoot and it’s become more and more of a pain to check extra bags at the airlines. As long as I’m working in a big enough city, I’ll arrange for the gear to be there with my local assistant. It’s easier.”
Welch’s studio operates on a seamless digital workflow which allows him to deliver the final images to his clients via his FTP server site. “These days,” he laughs, “turnaround times are so tight there isn’t even the luxury of using Fed-Ex because we need those vital extra late night hours! Our server allows us to work late and still have the HiRes files to the client first thing in the morning (no matter what time zone they are in.)
“Our procedure is to do the photo shoot and make the selects with the client. Then we do all of our own Photoshop work here in-studio (on Macs.)” Not only does Welch handle the post-production phase, his studio also offers pre-press services, “We provide ‘bulletproof’ CMYK files for jobs that are heading to press with corresponding closed-loop calibrated proofs. We are fastidious with our files and pride ourselves on great ‘digital hygiene.’ I am a perfectionist with my post-production work.”
Keeping in Touch
“San Francisco has been great as far as having really talented designers and creative directors who work at boutique firms and agencies. They provide what appear at the onset to be smaller projects but always wind up being extremely creative and really fun. The images always end up in my book.”
When asked what he does to market his work, Welch laughingly replies, “Is there anything I don’t do?” Clearly, he’s a man who wants to make his mark. “I buy a lot of stamps from the post office and I do nonstop mailings, so people can see what I’m currently up to. It’s great to be bookmarked, but when I have a new batch of workand I’m always doing personal art projectsI want people to be able to view the fresh stuff. It’s my responsibility to get my work out there, as a result, my website (SAW-ART.com) is continuously being updated.” concludes Welch. “I’m definitely assertive when it comes to self-promotion. I want people to see my work and call me when they have a project. It doesn’t matter if a project is large or small, I put my heart and soul into it. I love to shoot.”