A Photographers Interview with Dana Hursey

Please tell us about yourself as a person and as a photographer. Where did you grow up and what sparked your desire to photograph? Were you active with the photography department in high school? Where are you living now?

I grew up in Southern California. My stepdad was an avid photographer. He did editorial automotive stuff for a while but he ALWAYS had his camera in hand. When I was 12 I was enlisted to do my schools first yearbook (on my own). My stepdad gave me one of his old cameras to do the photography. At that point it was just a fun hobby. I got my own camera in high school… a Minolta Maxxum as I recall. In high school I pretty much was the photo department. I and a friend were actually given a budget to build a darkroom in an unused storage room. We made lots mistakes but it was where I really started to learn. I currently live only about 30 miles away from where I was born and grew up. Los Angeles, basically.

Can you describe the defining moment or image that made you want to become a photographer?

I did fairly well in high school, but I did not really like school. A teacher told me, during my junior year, of a college that I could attend where all I had to do was photography. I wouldn’t have to take any “real” classes. This sounded appealing to me! Even better, it was “local”. So I made arrangements to go check this place out. The college was Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. I went with my friend that had built the darkroom with me. Driving up to the architecturally unique school was a bit breath taking, but when I stepped foot into the student gallery and saw the work that was being produced I was hooked. I HAD to go there, and I HAD to do this for a living! I later came to find out that I actually did have to do all of the “real” classes, but I didn’t care. Those were now a minor inconvenience on the path to my goal.

Dana Hursey

What was your first paid photography job? Did you enjoy it? Were you scared? Did you make any mistakes?

I think my first “paid” job was a wedding. One of eight that I have / will ever do in my lifetime. I was a wreck! The images came out okay, but I was a wreck. Kudos to all of the wedding photographers that actually pull it off! I could never do that for a living.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

Back in the days of film… remember?… I shot a product job where the client told me that they where going to strip out the products off of the background. Consequently I did not really worry about “the background”. When they got the film they were very upset as now, all of a sudden they were going to use the images with the background. I re-shot the job at no cost and they never used me again. This is where I learned to stipulate that if the client does not want to be present at the shoot, they get what is delivered.

How did you decide to make photography more than a hobby? If photography is your full time job, how did you make that decision? What was your backup plan if the photography career didn’t take off? Any regrets? If you are not a full time photographer, what is stopping you? What is your full time job? Any plans to become a full time photographer in the future?

My family had a hobby shop while I was growing up. If I had not gone into photography, it would have been the hobby shop or, believe it or not, accounting.

What was the last straw, the final decision maker to make you go digital? What do you miss about film?

All things came together for me in late 2002. The Canon EOS 1Ds had just come out and I felt that the image quality was finally good enough to make the leap. And at the same time I did not get a job because I was not digital. Professionally there is nothing I miss about film. Personally / Creatively I miss the slower pace and meticulous nature of shooting film.

What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for a client? What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for yourself?

To be quite honest, the hardest part of a client based job is getting the job. For me the rest is a breeze. The hardest part of shooting for myself is motivation and pushing the creative envelope.

Do you try to help others learn about photography? If so, please explain how.

Always. I exchange information with close colleagues. I am quick to share what I know with assistants. And I teach at Art Center and guest lecture.

What and/or who inspires you in life and photography and why?

I have always looked up to Irving Penn, Karsh, and Hurrell. And being the anal technician that I am I can’t help but have a soft spot for Ansel Adams.

Do you consider yourself an artist first before thinking about the job ahead of you?

I have no such pretense. I am a commercial photographer. I am creative, collaborative, I love what I do and I think for the most part my clients love what I do, but I would never go so far as to try to consider it “art”.

Dana Hursey

What is the best advice you would give a photographer just starting out?

Only do this as a profession if you are absolutely passionate about it. This is a tough, competitive, roller coaster industry and you’ll need your love of what you do in order to make it through the lean times. And there will be lean times.

The key to creativity is…

…a very good question.

What is your favorite camera that you have used or owned? What camera and lens combination do you use most of the time when photographing for a client? What about when photographing for yourself?

I like a lot of different cameras, each for their own reason. There is something very calming about using a view camera. It takes the shoot to a different place and pace. My old Hasselblad 503’s were my workhorses so although they are gone now I have a great fondness for them. My Hasselblad H3DII puts out amazing files. Clarity beyond belief. And I do love my Canon 85mm 1.2, I think this might be my favorite lens.

What is your favorite time of day to shoot outdoors?

10:00-ish (am) However I find temperature more important than time.

How do you deal with rejection of your work, losing a job, not making a sale or a negative comment?

Frankly I really don’t interpret these types of things as rejection. I see a lot of imagery out there, some of it award winning, and I honestly scratch my head as to how someone can think it’s good, let alone award winning. Which ultimately means there is something for everyone out there as well as someone for everything. It is a matter of finding your audience. I also never “loose” a job. There are hundreds if not a thousand jobs that I have not gotten throughout my career and most certainly hundreds if not thousands more that I will not get. However “loosing” implies it was yours to begin with. Maybe it is just semantics, but….

Do you prefer RAW or JPG and why? If RAW, would you prefer a system that uses the DNG RAW format?

RAW! The only time I shoot jpeg is for underwater stuff when I don’t have the ability to swap out cards. RAW has so much flexibility I just can’t think of any reason not to use it other than storage issues. I do indeed convert everything to DNG once we are back in the studio.

How do you protect your camera when not in use? When traveling? When on the way to a job? What if it rains?

My cameras are in roller cases at all times unless I am physically holding them or they are on a tripod or studio stand. If it rains I am usually not shooting. If I am I’m using the 1Ds MkIII which is water resistant and I shove it under my jacket between shots. (So clearly I really don’t shoot when it rains!)

Do you clean the CCD yourself or send it away somewhere? If you send it away, where to and how much does it cost?

We clean it in house. My experience is that we do a better job. Most of the time I have sent them out they come back dirtier than when I sent them.

What music sparks your creativity? Do you listen to that when shooting a job? Do you listen to music at all? Do you listen to what the client likes?

I usually like to have music on that I like or that the talent likes. Sometimes I will acquiesce to the client or my assistants if I start getting complaints.

What is your favorite photograph you’ve ever taken?

It changes all the time, and because I shoot so many different things it would also depend on the “category”

What is your favorite photograph from another photographer?

It would probably be a Penn, but alas… which one…?

Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you push the shutter button?

No, I am usually kind of in a “zone” and just concentrating on paying attention to all the things one needs to pay attention to while shooting.

If you could take your art in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead? What new thing would you try?

I am heading into larger production value shots, which have always been my great love but are tough to do for yourself ($$$). I really would like to do more story telling.


If you could only shoot one thing over and over, what would it be?

When you meet someone for the first time and they find out that you’re a photographer what kind of questions do you get from them relating to photography? What is the strangest question you’ve been asked from someone you just meet for the first time?

Do you prefer big lighting, a strobist style lighting or mostly natural light?

I love to play with light and don’t really prefer one to the other. If I HAD to chose I would say I like to be in a dark studio and create light.

What radio sync system do you prefer? (PocketWizard, Radiopopper, etc)


What was the most challenging photography job you ever had?

That is a tough question. I have done “big” jobs and “complex” jobs and a lot of “fun” jobs, but trying to identify one as “challenging” is tough. Maybe a Resort campaign I did for Four Seasons. Sometime the “muse” is just not with you and although we got a bunch of great shots for the client I felt I could have somehow done something more.

What do you do to challenge yourself?

Schedule / commit to a “test shoot”. It forces me to produce work beyond the jobs.

Any projects you are working on currently? Anything planned for the future?

Currently we are in preproduction on a Botox Therapeutic campaign.

Dana HurseyFor someone really considering a major life change is it worth it to quit an office job with a fixed salary for freelance photography? Any advice on getting started?

That is something no one can answer but the individual. It all depends on the each persons work ethic, ability, passion, tenacity, willingness to sacrifice, and personal goals. I will say if you “question” whether or not to do it then I would say you shouldn’t. If you are going to go into this field there should be no “question”. Advice?… Know three things… 1.Lighting, 2.Composition, 3.Business.

Anything you would like to add for our readers?

Sure, as a wrap up I will add what I always say… We all need to have a sense of responsibility to our industry. We need to ensure that what we do retains its sense of value. We need to produce quality work. We need to not give it away. The world is becoming ever more visual, which means what we do should be more valuable not less. Those who would work for little or no compensation or undercut to get the job do damage to us all, including themselves. If you are going to be a professional photographer, do it with integrity.

View more photographs by Dana Hursey: hursey.com

Thank you for reading the interview. This interview was presented to the photographer with questions asked by me and submissions from other photographers. The photographer is asked to answer only what he/she is comfortable with. If you would like to contribute to future interviews, please submit your your questions to me on Twitter, Facebook or on the Interview intro blog post, What would you ask a photographer?. Thank you for reading and enjoy the interview.

Some questions supplied from the following Twitter users:
@pjtaylorphoto, @ishootinraw, @donkeymaster, @GrfxGuru

Some questions supplied from the following Facebook users:
Brian Walter, Faylin Myhre, Leslie DeLorean, Patrick Connor

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