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Matt Hawthorne is a Dallas based photographer specializing in action sports, fashion, lifestyle, and portraiture. Classically trained in fine art photography using large format cameras and film, he is always pushing his skills in the world of advertising. Shooting action sports, fashion, and large advertising jobs with full studio lighting in and out of studio with a full digital workflow, has lead him to regular work with clients such as Neiman Marcus, JC Penney, & Life Time Fitness.


When and how did you become interested in Photography?

I was a Radio TV Film major in school, and also a sponsored skateboarder. My sponsors were always asking for images of myself, skating, for promotional purposes; so I asked my dad to show me how to use his old Olympus manual 35mm camera. I would set up the composition on a tripod and have a buddy snap the shot when I was in the air. Eventually, this led to adding a fill flash to illuminate shadows on my face. The next thing I knew, I had four canon flashes on radio slaves and was changing my major to photography.

What gear do you mainly shoot with?

I mainly shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II; but if a job requires larger files, I use the Hasselblad H3. I also have my photo assistants shoot behind the scenes video with another 5d Mark II. Lighting is primarily Profoto gear.

What is your #1 source of inspiration?

Innovation and style; whether that comes from a photograph in a magazine, a trick from a skateboarder on a video, an amazing painting by a new artist, architecture, design, or a fresh take on fashion. I try to get inspired by the things I shoot, rather than by the way someone else shot them.

Many times photographers find themselves with a full schedule of paying gigs, ending up with little time for doing the work they truly love. Do you struggle with finding time for your personal work?

I have been fortunate enough to make a career out of my favorite hobby. My schedule does get crazy, but luckily most the jobs I’m shooting are exactly the type of photography I want to be doing anyway. The jobs I shoot, do provide me with many portfolio images, as every job is shot in a way to do so. With that said, there are always shoots I want to organize for myself and the time just has to be made for them to happen.

What is your all time favorite genre to shoot (portraiture, conceptual, documentary, commercial, etc..)?

I enjoy commercial work the best because I love collaborating with stylist, hair and make up artists and producers; to take the quality of the image a step further than I could achieve myself. Sports photography is probably my favorite, with fashion, trailing close behind. I have a basic love for shooting people.

What is the one thing you feel makes your style or your work unique?

I have a close connection and interest to the skateboarding, urban sports, and street-fashion culture, which helps me understand what is popular and current, in those industries. Clients trust my opinion and direction due to my ability to relate in that way.

if you could photograph anyone, (past/present/future), who would it be and why?

That’s a tough question, but it would have to be either the Beastie Boys, artist Barry McGee, or Sade!

what’s your dream photo field trip?

Shooting fashion in Rome, I visited there a couple years ago, and the textures and architecture are amazing.

what’s your post production process?

I do handle all retouching myself. I feel like there are three steps to an image and all are very important. The conception of an idea, creating the image in camera with lighting and production, and enhancing / retouching in post. The final step in post is crucial, because that is where I can spend time to finesse and complete the exact, final image, I had envisioned in pre production. Every image is different; but most of the time it is just a matter of fine-tuning, enhancing, color treating and cleaning things up. When it gets tricky is when we have to change sky or backgrounds, move models completely from another frame or compositing.

if you had unlimited resources to purchase any type of camera, what would it be and why?

Unlimited Polaroid film for my Polaroid SLR 680, no doubt!

who are your favorite photographers and why?

Well, this list is constantly changing; but Richard Avedon caught my eye first, with his talent in shooting portraits but his fashion and commercial work are amazing as well. My favorite shooters tend to not be commercial shooters, instead I find myself following more fine art shooters, such as: Todd Hido, Sze Tsung Leong, Cedric Delsaux, Julius Shulman, Raymond Meeks, Edward Burtynsky and Chuck Close. Some commercial shooters that inspire me are Carlos Serrao, Steven Lippman, Troyt Coburn, Gray Scott and Tim Tadder. All of these are incredible shooters!

what has been the shining moment of your career thus far? (or, describe your “big break”)

One shoot that has gotten me a lot of attention was for a Dallas shopping center called Mockingbird Station. I’ve done a couple fashion campaigns for them in which they have run several billboards, ads everywhere, and a huge parking garage size billboard, on the freeway. I drive past it on my route to the studio and am amazed at it everyday. It’s pretty cool to see your photograph 6 stories tall, on the freeway!

do you have any tips/tricks or advice for amateur photo nerds who are looking to shoot full time or students who are just starting out?

Assist photographers who shoot what you are interested in and PAY ATTENTION! Don’t get lazy because that’s when you will fall behind. Keep shooting, constantly! Then, once your book is ready, have postcards made and mail them to everyone you know!

what’s the soundtrack to your life and/or your favorite music to listen to while editing?

I always say that my ipod / boombox is the second most important thing to my camera, at a shoot. Music gets everyone in the right mood or to a comfortable place where they can open up and relax in front of the camera. When it’s quiet, everyone feels the tension. On set, I’m a hip hop kinda guy, or at least something with a good beat like RATATAT or M.I.A. that keeps good energy during a shot. While editing, I listen to something more chill, like Local Natives or Milosh.

what’s your favorite hang (when shooting or not)?

My wife and I just bought and fully remodeled a home, so at the moment my favorite hang is at the house, everything there is exactly right! Plus, my wife is about to give birth to our first baby so it’s great spending time with her!

best chow (meal/snack) to get you ready for a shoot? or best way to celebrate a brilliant capture?

Hmm, I don’t eat much during a shoot, I think my adrenaline just keeps me going. But Sunkist is always on set.

will you share with us one of your favorite shots? why is this your fave?

This was shot for Life Time Fitness, from a triathlon triptych. I’m not sure it’s my favorite, I love so many, but this is one I’m really proud of. I tested, freezing action lighting, prior to the shoot, then shot on location with no compositing, had a set with lights in the water and tow-able generators, all within a half day’s production. This shot was incredibly involved and difficult to accomplish, but we nailed it exactly as I’d envisioned! Lots of planning, brainstorming, and testing went into this shot, for sure!

your favorite photo by another photographer?

Are you kidding, that’s a hard one! Well, I’ll have to default to an Avedon photo, from his American West series because these images are what inspired me to push from action skateboarding to studio portraiture, which then led to the commercial look I have now. The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth was a couple miles from my college, so having these images on display for me to see in person, whenever I wanted, was a huge inspiration. And I love the story behind the “Bee Man”.

has your passion for photography changed at all since turning “pro”?

I wouldn’t say my passion has changed, but expectations for myself change constantly. Also, I always heard from commercial shooters that being a professional photographer is 10% creating imagery and 90% business and production. I can say that’s pretty accurate, but having a good rep and producer can help to make that not so extreme.

do you have a favorite / lucky item of clothing, outfit or uniform that you like to wear when shooting an important assignment or project?

I wouldn’t call it my good luck charm at all, but my ipod / boombox is probably the closest thing to one, I don’t leave the studio without it!

are you a photography nerd or a camera gangsta?

Hmm, I’ll pick Gangsta and leave the “Photography Nerd” title to my digital tech David who keeps me up and running! The Gangsta title also fits cause of the Hip Hop constantly blasting on set!

what’s your sign? (we’re conducting a poll)

I don’t even know, that might say something… August.

who would you like to see interviewed by photopolus next?

Carlos Serrao


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