April 2, 2021

Alexis Cuarezma: Finding Your Vision

Alexis Cuarezma: Finding Your Vision

💯💯💯 “Leonardo da Vinci says that “color is the children of light”, which I found beautiful. You could assign any emotion that you wanted to color. There are no rules to say that red is powerful, or blue is this or that. It's whatever rules you want to make, and from there, you have your roadmap.” Alexis Cuarezma

Is craftsmanship in photography dying?  Where are the artists that seek to break formula instead of replicate it?  Photographer/Director, Alexis Cuarezma sits down with us to talk about the importance of finding your vision to create work that is original and sincere to the artist in all of us.  In this episode, Alexis breaks down his process and deconstructs 3 select photo series, including imagery from his upcoming photo book "Destined For Greatness", an insight into the creative photography of world-class principal ballet dancers.

Website:      www.alexiscuarezma.com
Twitter:         @alexiscuarezma
Instagram:  @alexiscuarezma
Youtube:      Alexis Cuarezma


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Michael Der  0:02  
Okay, folks, welcome to another episode of Artrepreneurs. My featured guest is an extraordinary portrait photographer and director based out of San Francisco, California. You've seen his amazing work through publications like Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Nike, HBO and many more. And today, he's going to walk us through his creative process and help us fine-tune our vision so that we too, can create a visual impact. You can see what he's up to on Instagram at Alexis Cuarezma. And while you're listening to this episode, be sure to visit his website, Alexis Cuarezma.com. And follow along with us as we're actually going to be deconstructing a few images that are on his main page. his YouTube channel is also an outstanding resource for photographers looking to level up their portrait game. And later this year, he's going to be releasing his first photo book featuring world-class principal ballet dancers. It's called destined for greatness. And I will be linking everything that I can in the show notes, folks, for now is just my honor to introduce a photographer that truly lives up to the billing of an artist, Mr. Alexis Cuarezma. But thank you so much for being here. And welcome to the show.

Alexis Cuarezma  1:29  
Thank you for having me, man. pleasures, all mine.

Michael Der  1:31  
Well, I'm thrilled that you're here. And I'm excited to get into some of the insight into how you deliver images that you do. But for now, before we get into the weeds on your craft, let's talk about how you fell into athletic portraiture just for a second here, because you could have leaned into a documentary or lifestyle or wedding I've done a fantastic job at that. What called you to this style of storytelling. And how many different iterations of photography did you actually attempt until you discovered that? Maybe this was going to be the path that you wanted to go through?

Alexis Cuarezma  2:00  
Yeah, actually, that all those things that you said, I'm actually not a sports fan at all? Oh, really? I think. Yeah, the main reason I think I kind of fell into sports was number one, it's probably my older brother inspired me, I have a brother that's two years older than I am. And growing up, he always excelled in sports. He was just the best kind of little bracket I had. He was like, made a path for me and was really talented in any sport he played, which is the opposite. I mean, I played too, but I sucked that I have a younger brother and sister and they played sports too. Like I started shooting my little brother when you play Little League, that'd be and so when I started to also shot weddings, engagement sessions, whatever I could from shooting everything I just realized that I liked the stuff does produce more than to kind of be journalism, I'd rather create an image or create something for my imagination that I have then necessarily to capture something. I mean, they're there. They both have their merits, right. But I always like to say I could live the rest of the day without taking the photograph. But I can't live the rest of my life without making one.

Michael Der  3:00  
I love that. That's beautiful. That's a beautiful sentiment there. Did you go to school for photography? Or was it mostly for other types of artistic programs? And then you found photography a little bit later?

Alexis Cuarezma  3:09  
To a certain extent, in a way? Yeah, I did go to school to study originally, I've always loved art and drawing. And I had no idea what I wanted to major in college, but I knew I liked computers and always loved art. So I kind of married the two and decided to be a graphic design major. I've always had an interest in photography since high school. And I just never took a course because every friend that I asked, oh has a photography course they would say oh dude is great, but it's a lot of work. Yeah, unfortunately, I listened to them. And I never took that photo course until college cuz the the majors in her lap, a lot of graphic design and photography, at least in the university I went to. So I ended up taking just like a one photo course in college. And then I just like, fell in love with it and just dove in headfirst. After that.

Michael Der  3:50  
I wanted to ask you a little bit about the word vision. I think it's thrown around a lot and maybe not shown enough respect to I know this word is meaningful to you. Can you share me why you think more attention should be given to having a vision and how doing so has impacted your art.

Alexis Cuarezma  4:07  
Ultimately, people hire you for your perspective and your point of view and left technically your vision, you know what I mean? So it's very important to have a point of view in and again, this all falls into commercial or advertising, then then journalism you shouldn't necessarily have a built-in point of view if you're doing journalism, my opinion. That's a good distinction. Right? So just to anyone listening, if you're if you're a journalist, you also have a point of view, but it shouldn't be as blatant as it is of will stuff that I'm doing that I'm doing coloring, changing lighting, putting lights or changing the mood at the end of the day. I think that's what what people want and why they hire you and why you like people. I mean, think about like, Quentin Tarantino, right, he has his point of view, you see a Christopher Nolan movie or Wes Anderson Movie Night, you know, it's them. It's their point of view, and you kind of know what you're in for. And once you have that, they'll want that. So that's why I think it's important to have a vision or a point of view.

Michael Der  4:57  
Well, it brings me up to a point that you were talking But we're just kind of this notion of like identifiable style. And Alexis, you're a photographer that I believe has developed a very identifiable style, whether I can articulate it or not. I at the very least know that when I'm looking at an image without even knowing the credit, it's a photo that you took. And I hope that coming off as respectful because it's meant to be well, thank you. My question, I suppose is, do you think photographers should be focusing in on achieving an identifiable style? Is that really important? Or should they let that simply unfold organically?

Alexis Cuarezma  5:31  
That's a really good question. There's no easy answer to that one. I think for me, when someone says that, like what you just said to me that you could identify an image without seeing the credit on it. For me, what that translates to is I unapologetically put my flaws directly into my work if you stutter, if you have an accent, or if you add like I am with photography into the photography that rewards me. And that's why I like those avenues to express myself my lack of attention or being able to focus, it doesn't shine, when I write probably the short emails that I sent, you probably are full of typos, you know what I mean? That are really embarrassing words, right? So and that aspect, like, right, it just looks purely bad. But like when I am doing a photo shoot, and I have a personal home for a few minutes, but I want to do like six different looks. Because I just need that to like, fulfill myself creatively. I'm putting like my flaws directly into my work. And that's part of my style. other photographers have a vision and they know what they want, and they want certainty. They're thrilled and happy just doing one style, one look, or a particular thing over and over. And they're very successful. And that works for them. Right? That wouldn't work for me. Like I have to do something differently, or something new creatively. I like I embrace uncertainty. A lot of people with style, they think that it's just like, Look, a filter or something. But I think it has everything to do like with the subject matter. You pick like who you decide to photograph or not photograph and everything like that falls into place.

Michael Der  6:51  
How would you describe your style? Do you have a way of telling people this is kind of my style? Or do you just show him?

Alexis Cuarezma  6:57  
I show him but I would just say if I had to do that, if I'm given the choice, I like for lightning for emotion, and we left for emotion, you could light any way you want. There's no necessarily reason why you need to have a light. Like if you look at some of our work that I have is she's backlit by two different lights that are warm and cool. Like, right, like there's no reason for there to be haze. And a sunset behind her indoors. You know what I mean? It doesn't make sense, right? If but I would say Generally, if I'm given the choice, that's what I do, if I can, but one of the biggest things that I've learned is to know that if you have a client, if you have someone paying you, that's not necessarily my place, to, quote-unquote, be an artist. Yeah, what I mean, if they need me to do a portrait of somebody, and you need to see that person, I kind of got to hold back on doing all stuff. But with that being said, what I always try to do is do what they asked me for. And then if time allows, or if the budget allows, I'll do my own thing.

Michael Der  7:52  
That's hard to balance, isn't it? Do you get enough time? Do you think to do your own thing at the very end? Or do you try to budget it in so that you can nail the shots that are on the shot list so that you can afford yourself a little bit more time for the thing that you want to do?

Alexis Cuarezma  8:06  
Yeah, if you can't, I mean, one of the biggest things that I realized for learning the cycle Nice shot for orthosteric. With with Brad Smith, that you had on your episodes is one of the things I didn't notice, whenever they would send me an assignment, it will always be here's our wish list. And I always like thought about that. I'm like, Why is that a wish list? Why are they not saying this is what we need is what we want, quickly learn, you realize, because they actually could not show up. Or if they do show up, right, which has been the case this is like, they could say you have 20 minutes. And then they could just leave after two minutes, right or minute. Or literally, you could have the studio set up. And they could show up somewhere else and be like, Well, here you got you got two minutes now, right, right and the here and you got to do whatever you can. So what I do in that case is just preparation as much as I can and be fluid too, because you don't want to be so tied down to a plan or in love with it that it could become a shackle. So you also got to be fluid with it, you got to be prepared, you know, have a game plan going forward. But I mean, it's happened to me all the time, like I had a shoot with Draymond Green and they had a whole lot instead of that I wanted to plan everything and had to pre-light that because I knew I would only have like 10 minutes with them. And then the second I arrive, you know, the cinematographer on that shoot goes, because they were doing video too. And he was like, You can't set up here because the wide-angle shot is gonna have an entire view of everything. So that pretty much killed anything that I could have done to shoot pre-light and have lights up. So that limited me to having to have a setup to where he's done to an interview. I had to have it ready by the time he walks over there. Does that make sense? So yeah, you had a preparing them be ready for the situations and then make yourself an asset to him there because think about it, the director and the cinematographer have a job to do I don't want to be you know, extra, like pain in the ass. You know what I mean? I want to be thankful assets.

Michael Der  9:49  
So you get invited back. And I would imagine that the cinematography, the directing, that takes precedent over stills, right.

Alexis Cuarezma  9:54  
Video always takes precedent over

Alexis Cuarezma  9:58  
all that so you're kind of at their mercy Whatever you can give me in terms of time I'll do and yeah, I

Alexis Cuarezma  10:02  
mean, I've been on shoots for online affiliate clients for pretty big clients where you and I get hired, and I've gotten to go out of town, when I show up on set and a director goes, I didn't even know you were coming. That just goes to show where the photography lies and everything, you know what I mean. And on that point, like, you can't have an ego, you just feel like you do the best that you can. But to further ask that question that you asked. It also depends on the situation. Like if I really liked the idea and have the opportunity to photograph somebody amazing. And I know that I might only have 10 minutes, I might go out of my own pocket and in start renting extra lights or hire an extra assistance to get it done.

Michael Der  10:36  
I like that perspective, because you're not going to get Dream on green back into the studio. Sometimes you do have to go out of pocket and make the the images that you really want to make in conjunction with what the client wants as well. And one of the favorite stories that I remember hearing from you, I think it was your first si cover where you shot two simultaneous looks with the pocket wizards and strobe it so that one would be on a clean gray. And then the other one would be basically on a like a darker moodier, blue, that was really innovative. Can you walk me through that process? And how terrified were you that it may not work out?

Alexis Cuarezma  11:11  
Yeah, that was? Yeah, that was the first assignment I have for for Sports Illustrated that Brad gave me. I remember getting that call. It was a real great call. And he started it off by saying, you know what, Alexis, I love working with you, at the end of the workshop. I love the work that you did for me in New York Times. And more importantly, you know, I love you. And I want you to be our guy. And we need portraits in the Bay Area for Sports Illustrated. And he kind of gave me the rundown of the assignment. And it was like, I know, you know how to light really well, you know how to get a gray seamless, you know, and just light them real nice. And then we're gonna cut them out. And he gave me the assignment that simultaneously like drove a dagger to my heart, because he knew exactly visually what he needed. And then he ended it with, you know, keep it simple, have fun, and don't fuck it up. And I was like, Oh, shit, whoa, I'm like, that's, like, that's great advice. It's really great advice. And I didn't listen to it. Because I remember just feeling cornered a little bit because I know exactly what he's looking for. Because I've seen plenty assignments like that for si. And when I spoke to the editor that that was assigned to me that the list that they wanted was really, really long of the different options. And I was supposed to have 60 minutes, or an hour with the talent. At that point, I already had done enough assignments for other magazines to know that if they say you have 16 minutes with someone, it could very well be well, 15 minutes or 20 minutes. So I just remember thinking to myself, like okay, I mean, this is a great opportunity. If I do just what I'm told, I'm like, I know, Brad will be happy. I know that or it'll be happy. I was like, I know that talent will be happy because they'll get their exposure. But I was thinking like, Well, what about me, I didn't get into this just to do what I'm told or just to do my job, not not in a bad way. But if I was just gonna do something and just be happy with or you're required to do ABC. Yeah. And I just turned in ABC. That to me is like just I would just get a day job of doing you know what I mean? Everybody would be thrilled like, right? If I posted that on social media on Facebook, oh my god, you show for a second rats, but I'm like, I wouldn't be proud of that work. So I just remember, like, trying to figure out what to do. And I'm like, I don't want to waste my own time doing my own thing. Because then if he walks away, and I don't get what they need, right, and there's only my Look, I clearly didn't listen to them. And you know, I'm gonna blow This opportunity. So I just figured out a way that like, okay, what's a waiver, like, if I only get 10 minutes with them, that I could do what they needed the look they wanted and also do mine. And I just started doing my own homework on top of research in the talent and and what I remember was that I looking behind the scene videos was that I know, sports photographers, use the pocket wizards with the speed cycler to be able to shoot at like 12 frames a second, you know, multiple pro pro photo pro packs, so they could get the motor drive, you know, shooting that how was strobes and they're making every light look consistent, right? Because they're doing that for a sports thing. And I remember thinking like that doesn't necessarily need to be the same setup every shot. Because if there's 100% of my strobes, every time the different setup of lights pops, it could technically be a completely different look. Right? So I kind of just drew the diagram and figured out a way how to do it and and test it out and I was able to execute it on the first shoot and I'll tell you it wasn't fun. It wasn't easy. I did a lot of work. I certainly messed up I blew the breaker in the building he did okay. Yeah, and then thankfully like the PR guy was there was super cool and you weren't was and I usually like to shoot ISO 100 like f 16 which is fine, but when you're doing that from two setups, and you're shooting back to back, right like it starts to draw a lot of power and undo it so after a blue breaker I think I cut down all the other paths to like, I think my stop or two stops. So that just kind of covered me and I kept going but that was a moment where I was just really proud of it then just blatantly not listen to Brad. But I just did all the I did all that extra work like I didn't get paid extra to do research. I get an extra two Bring out those lights or anything like that, I just did that, that situation to kind of prove myself, like this is what you need. I know you want a specific look, but like this would be my vision if I was able to shoot it. And that's how it looks. And after that, like I pretty much was given creative freedom afterwards, which which I'm really thankful for.

Michael Der  15:15  
Why do you think people struggle with finding their vision,

Alexis Cuarezma  15:19  
it's really hard to be number one, a good teacher. And it's equally hard to be a good student. To give you an idea, like a perfect example was, as I remember listening to one of my colleagues teaching lighting, and he was saying, Oh, well, lighting is very simple. What you want to do is, you look at the six in the scene that's in front of you, and you look where the lights coming from. And you put a strobe there and you mimic what's happening on there. Right? Well, that's one particular way to light your lightning for motivation, and you're looking for your motivation from the 16 light sources. But that's the way you have to teach, right? If you go up and I teach, and I say, well, there's no right answer, because technically, there's no right answer where you were being creative. You're kind of giving people No, no direction to go to, you know what I mean? And I think this was one of the most intriguing things about any creative field. But also the most difficult thing, too, is that there are no right answers. Yeah. And you have to do the most difficult thing that you could ever has to do, which is trust yourself. The only time that there's kind of direction or an answer to is, is, again, if there's a if there's a function to something like, right, if there's if you're doing a password photo, that's a function, you have to be able to see a person, right, if it's an ad for headphones, or whatever, there's a function, you have to see a product and you have to show what it could do. And generally, the more thing, something has to have a function in my opinion, the more limits your creativity, and the less it has to be functional, the more abstract and more creative it could be. So you're always I think, finding those arts and commerce and personal work. And I think it always comes back to looking inward of who you are, where you came from, what moves you in the game, and also realizing what inspires you. Like, I think a lot of people that most generic answer that I think is a bunch of nonsense. So people say, Oh, well, everything inspires me, and blah, blah, blah, this and that. I think there's someone that's not self aware, I think what truly inspires somebody is what resonates with them. And you know, what you could relate to, and what you have a report with, that's gonna inspire you the most like, right, if I, for example, for anyone listening, if I say something extreme, like, I met a single mother, who was left by her boyfriend, I didn't even know her. And she sacrificed her life to raise her single child, but the child in little passes away. Right? That sounds horrific, right. But like somebody, another woman, and her mother that went through that, whatever story that is, if you go in detail, there'll be able to relate to that and be inspired by it a lot more, if you go into that story a lot more. And I think that's what it is, in general, have an awareness of why you're inspired by something, and traced back to who you are in your past.

Michael Der  17:46  
It kind of leads me to the question of what's the difference between having a vision and having an idea? I think you answered that in a lot of ways. It's like that's where that true inspiration comes from. That's vision, an idea might just be a concept for a shoot. But can you elaborate on that at all, if you see any difference between ideas versus vision,

Alexis Cuarezma  18:06  
I mean, anyone can come up with an idea. And it would be your job as a as a visual person, creative photographer, Director cinematographer to be able to articulate that idea in any way that you want. And I would say the difference is that idea is kind of more like a concept. And then the vision is how that idea is executed. I'm working on on my own lighting course. And one of the exercises that I'm working on doing is telling people is like, okay, now visualize the person, right? visualize a person being extremely depressed, and sad. And they've been this way for about a month. All right, now I need you to write down and describe how that person is right? How's that person standing? How are they dress? What's the weather? Like? What colors Did you see? Did you see any colors? Right? The idea is a person depressed for a month, the vision is how you execute it, every person, you would hope has their own interpretation of that. That's different, right? That person is lonely, right? How do you? How do you interpret that visually? Like, right, the what colors? You see if there's any colors? You see? Is it raining? What was the weather like, right? Somebody might interpret solitude or whatever to like a, like a warm, sunny day, right? And that's their perspective on it. It's whatever you interpret it to be. So I would say, between an idea and a vision,

Michael Der  19:21  
that's really cool. I mean, the second you started actually describing and asking those questions, it painting literally just started to unfold in my head. So that that is a really cool and a clear distinction there. I think that's really outstanding. I want to move on to your process on a few different images if we can. Yeah. And for those of you listening, go to Alexis quaresma.com to follow along. Also a quick side note, folks, at the end of the episode, Alexa and I are going to promote a drawing for a $500 credit to Bay photo lab. So stay tuned for that. Alexis, how about we start with the Jordan Brand shoot for a second? Yes, because as someone who loves basketball this series feels like a love letter to the game to me. It's beautiful. It's just Serial, and dynamic. I love everything about this. Was this a personal shoot that you eventually licensed to the Jordan grant? Or was this commissioned from the jump? 

Alexis Cuarezma  20:09  
No, this

Alexis Cuarezma  20:09  
is 100%. personal work test.

Michael Der  20:13  
It was okay. Yeah.

Alexis Cuarezma  20:14  
So on this one, thank you for actually saying that because the athlete that I worked with on this, he's 100% in love with the game of basketball, and extremely talented. And he reached out to me on Instagram, actually, he just told me like, he's like, six, seven, I think it has like a 42 inch vertical. And I'm like, I don't know, many people like that, like, Let's meet for lunch. We met for lunch. And I just saw like, he was just great to just amazing personality. And I showed him my work, we hit it off. And I'm like, let me let me put a team together a stylist and the makeup artists and let's let's make a shoot happen. And I just took full advantage of having somebody that athletic and gifted to, to make images like that.

Michael Der  20:57  
So what goes through your head? When you're conceptualizing this? What inspires you first? Is it the lighting? Is it the body language? Is it location? Is it something more abstract, like a feeling or an energy that you want to convey? What goes through your head there?

Alexis Cuarezma  21:13  
Oh, man, this was a good question. I'm trying to remember what I thought in the in the shoot, I just remember being disappointed in the shoot, to be honest with you seriously. Yeah, I remember looking I was so caught up in the windows are, are blown out. And I know when I talked to the gaffer, when I was putting that order together, I told him what I needed. And he was like, oh, man, you should take four pro photo 10 Apex and use the twin heads on that. And I'm like, you think so I'm I don't think I don't think I need that much power. And I was like, you know, I think I just need one. He's like, you should take two and I was like, I just take it, I'll just take a pair, you know, for your side. And when I shot I look at that. And I'm like, man, I shouldn't number one, if I listen to those windows would be one-stop, darker. But then again, also, what I should have done too, is because the sun was in that direction, if I would have just been more fluid, instead of being so stuck on having him go left to right, by just flipped at 180. And he would have been going the other way right to left, those windows would have been a lot darker and out of the frame. And it would have just my opinion made the images a lot better. I don't know for that shoe. But now lately I do my braces tend to be more abstract. Like I work with the ballet dancer on image that I posted a long time ago. And column inspiration was like, what would it look like for the sunset to meet the evening. So I lit it really with the warm colors. And then she was lit with really like dark colors represent night. And I find that generally, if your inspiration could be more abstract like that, the more more creativity you have, if it's spec work, twist and stand that you want to show potential clients like Jordan or Nike or whomever Be aware that you got to show the logos you got to show a clothing looking good. It's got to fit the talent really well. And you got to do stuff. So that's something to keep in mind. And then after that, just take advantage of the talent that you have. Hopefully they're talented and they could do stuff like like he can't, you know, like the jump 42 inches in the air and dunk insanely like that.

Michael Der  22:59  
How much time goes into your pre-production? Like, are you doing a lot of storyboarding, mood boarding sketches, scouting the location walk me through that process?

Alexis Cuarezma  23:08  
Yeah, it all changes depends on I have a client of the creative team, it's always good to do a pitch deck to make sure everybody's on the same page. And communicating your vision is like the best. And when I'm working with a talented stylist, and the talented makeup artists and the talented team, I would tend to do more broader brushstrokes, I'll give them an idea and let them fill in the details. Because I'm hiring them for their vision and what they bring to the table. And generally, you're hopefully working with somebody that will make your idea better. Like the stylists, I have to have a shoe coming up with I'm flying her from LA because I love working with her because she's that much of an asset. And I worked with her on a personal shoot that I did a few years ago with Miss Nicaragua. And I told her the content that I was thinking, and thankfully, I didn't tell her the idea that I had on because she told me her idea. And I'm like, that's a lot better than what I thought, you know, let's forget my let's just go with your idea. And and generally you're hopefully you're working with talent like that, you know, stuff like that. So yeah, I always try to do that as much as I can. But I get also be fluid and mobile too. Because it's like, if every shoot that I did, like if I have a vision, and I'm able to execute it exactly how I envisioned it. I know when and when mediocre work, because I generally know in the shoot whenever I do a shoot and I have an image I work with something happens on the day of the shoot, and we stray from a plan and then I end up with something I love that's much better than I originally with that thing. And in order to do that I just have to be really in tune to the day into the talent and what's in front of you and not be so like tied down to your plan.

Michael Der  24:35  
Can you go back I want to touch on this again. What does a pitch deck like? How describe that?

Alexis Cuarezma  24:40  
Yeah, so a pitch deck or it's also called a treatment. It's just a PDF file where I'll list the talent there. So the whole team could see it and I'll say their name or hi and then from there, you you start putting the mood board together of makeup, hair, makeup ideas, different outfits that you want different locations that you want. And then Different kind of visual ideas that you have. 

Michael Der  25:02  
How do you build your lighting setup?  in general? It doesn't have to be specific to this shoot, exactly. But are you normally starting, let's say, with a key light? Or do you start with a background? Is Is there a system there? Or do you just determine that on location?

Alexis Cuarezma  25:17  
Yeah, I determine that on the location. Because if I know, either if I have complete control of how the room is going to be lit, versus not like if I know I have to shoot outside, and I know I'm going to have to be fighting the daylight, like instead of fighting the daylight, I'll work with it. So that will definitely change. My approach also depends on the budget to like, if I know I'm going to be fighting daylight, and I have a huge budget, right, then I know to plan to bring, you know, gigantic four bytes, four bytes, and build a frame and block out the sun regardless what we have, you know what I mean. And generally, the budgets aren't usually huge all the time. So if I'm outside, and I know I have to be in a specific spot and can't move, like when I shot the US men's national team, like they didn't tell me where I was going to be. And I had to be in between, like the men's locker room and the bathroom outside. And until there was gonna be power, right. So like, I have to have a scrim and a lot of lights and get it done. If I'm outside, and I know, there's like no budget for assistant, and I'm gonna have to be fighting the sun, and like x, y, and z, then I know that I have to be mobile, and I'm going to be at the mercy of the sun. If it's cloudy that day, it makes it a lot easier. But if I'm at the mercy of the sun, then I'm gonna go Okay, where's my background at? Could I have been backlit by the sun? Or could I bring a small scrim and go from go from there? If I'm indoors, which indoors is such a luxury, I generally light from from the ground up. So I'll make my frame completely black, like ISO 100 generally like to be at F 16. And then I max out the shutter speed. And then I just started striking one light and then seeing and then building up from there.

Michael Der  26:51  
So you're, you're starting off with pitch black. I mean, there's no ambient. Yeah. And then you're lighting everything with strobes, right? Yeah. And so when did you determine that that style was best for you?

Alexis Cuarezma  27:02  
When you work with athletes, like I do, and you realize, if you only have like, a few minutes with someone, I don't want to get a great portrait. And then the eyes are out of focus and doesn't work as I was trying to shoot out at one, two, because when I first started shooting, I was all-natural light. And I would shoot everything wide open, I had that Canon 200 millimeter 1.8 lens. So it's all about shooting natural light and shooting wide open. But I just quickly realized, it's like you have to shoot like 200 shots. And I mean, it's a bit easier now with the eye autofocus, but, but even then, like, I just wouldn't want to risk it because it could be soft, or it could be hunting. And I don't know, for me, the less you have to worry about when you're doing a portrait with somebody, the better. And if you're shooting really shallow and wide open, you have to worry about the focus, right, and I just kind of want to be relaxed and be 100% of my attention on the talent on the person I'm photographing and getting a good expression from them. And so you must not really worry too much about having fast lenses at this point now, right? Like cuz you're never opening up past, you know, f eight or F 11. Yeah, for the most part, because that's why I love zooms because they're, you know, at F 16. All lenses are equal pretty much, right? Yeah, unless you're paying a ton of money for I mean, I still, I mean, I hope people can't see it. But I do shoot from time to time wide open with vintage lenses because they have beautiful flares and characteristics. So I am from time to time shooting wide open. It's rare that I do it. But if I do this for a specific reason, and I'll either have a focus puller or a camera or really fancy autofocus, but but even then I just don't like doing that because I don't like the option to having to blame the gear. One thing I do love about older cameras like my Leica M three or the Hasselblad is that it's fully manual, and the only person you could blame with the images and come out as yourself.

Michael Der  28:46  
Which leads me to my next question, because looking at these images here, and a lot of your images in general, you really do a great job balancing, I would say warmth, and cool. Right. And so I'm curious about your setup here. For the shots, particularly the dunking shots. Did you gel the strobe behind the back board with like a blue gel or did you just kind of lower the camera white balance and use that as daylight strobes?

Alexis Cuarezma  29:14  
Yeah, so I rarely use blue gels. I put the white balance at anywhere from 35 to 2500 Kelvin. And that makes any day light strobe or any day light source blue and then I overcorrect other ones to make it extra warm with CTO and CTS gels

Michael Der  29:30  
understood. How long did this shoot take you to wrap? How many hours were you there for how many shots Do you think you took?

Alexis Cuarezma  29:37  
I'm not good look on that we shot an entire day. I think we were there for five hours or so five, six hours. I was just myself, the talent, the stylists and the hair and makeup artist.

Michael Der  29:49  
And I would imagine that you're trying to be somewhat cognizant of how many reps the athlete has in him. I mean, he's he looks like an incredible athlete. So I'm sure doing a bunch of dunks is not an issue for him, but you probably thinking, Okay, I can't run this guy through 200 ducks. No, definitely.

Alexis Cuarezma  30:03  
I mean, I do that with everyone that I work with, I usually do a run-through of how, what I have planned the framing and just showing it to them and I don't machine gun shoot, even when I'm shooting with continuous light, I just time it because I just find that works better for me. Generally. For me, I just find that when I talk to the athletes, I talked to him like a coach because they all need direction. So I'm like, Alright, cool. You could do that. Can you give me five reps? Alright, cool. We'll do five reps. And if I get it on to, I'll show it to them in the screen. It'll be alright, cool. Is that staggered enough for you? Okay, cool. That works. And we'll be done. But yeah, that's, that's always the biggest incentive for me. I try to be considered other time just or how to, in general like is one of my biggest nightmares. Like, I don't want to be with an athlete like that, or working so much in the game injured on one of my shoots. So absolutely. 

Michael Der  30:45  
How close did the final images get to what was in your mind's eye before you started? You kind of touched on this briefly about how you know sometimes you don't want it to be exactly how you thought of it. But how close was it to what you visualized

Alexis Cuarezma  30:57  
on this one. It was a pretty much there is like I said I wasn't happy with the windows how they came out. And that's I mean, that's about it. But I was color-wise i was i mean i was i was content with the shoot. You know what I mean? I try not to put anything I shoot or anything I do and say oh my god, it's so amazing. See, like the first time I ever shot boxing, the shot on reward. I remember saying like, Oh my god, I don't know if I could ever do that good. Again, those images. I like I did a hell of a good job. Like, I mean, looking back at it, that's the most amateurish and most arrogant thing to ever say because it's like, what exactly are you saying we use when you know when you said it's just like, Oh, my work so good. I can it can never be touched. Because usually, I plan my shoot for failure. And I try to do more ideas than I could ever do. And that always leaves me with more options to do something the next time.

Michael Der  31:39  
Right. Well, I love it. So I'll give you the credit there. It's a fantastic, fantastic series. Let's move on to another shoot. And this is absolutely another breathtaking series here with an hope I don't butcher the name Christine Shevchenko. Shevchenko, okay. Yes. Who is a principal ballet dancer. So let's talk about how this project came about. And what inspired you to make this series in the way that you did?

Alexis Cuarezma  32:01  
Yeah, so the I've always been interested in photographing ballerinas and I didn't really have a chance to do the first dancer, I ended a photograph it was a contemporary dancer in New York. And I kind of just did work with her without any like angle or anything like that. And I worked with a few other dancers and the way that I got in touch with Christine who's arguably one of the best ballerinas in the US, her fiance reached out to me, because he saw one of my behind the scenes videos that I did for si. So I got in touch with her and I FaceTime with her every time I do a personal issue with somebody, I try to either meet with them in person, or have a conversation with them. So I ended up facetiming with her when she was in Hong Kong. And thankfully, my sleep schedule is always all over the place. So it was like two or 3am here when she was up like in Hong Kong, and we FaceTime for like, I think, three hours or so. And she put me up on game on add new lesson or ballet on the core of ballet soloists, you know, Principal, and everything told me her whole story. And I literally she came to the United States from the Ukraine from the age of six with her mom only, and she really wanted to be a ballerina. So she, you know, everything she sacrificed, you know, I just realized that becoming a principal ballerina is pretty much it's like a 1% chance of making it there. And just in talking to her, that's where I got the idea of that project or what like she's just so determined. Like when her it was just her mom, and go into practice and everything she sacrificed and that's really destined for greatness came, the shoewear came together in LA and I worked with Sean and all the photographs that I did initially with Christine were all an afterthought, like I put no thought or any planning into shoots. I mean, I knew I was gonna photograph her. So I brought the lights and the gels on when I needed to. But I was directing one of my first short films with her. And 100% of my attention was dedicated to working with Shawn firgrove it is working on that script. And literally, the photographs were just not even like I just put like, no attention to it. Everything was just done on intuition. And so conscious. I didn't know we're planning anything. There's a fine line between just like not caring or doing anything, but also working with the flow and being present to do the good work. With that being said, though, I did have the luxury of working 12 hours that day. Okay, so we had time on our side. And also, I had the privilege to have somebody who's really talented, that was equally dedicated as I was to making good images, right, which is those are all rare combinations to have that also with the luxury of time, all rare and that's all kind of came together to that level those images. Yeah, but none of those photographs were planned. I don't know if I would say spontaneously because it was a planned photo shoot. But you know, it wasn't like we're gonna do this pose and then this pose and then this you know what I mean, right? We're kind of working back and forth and doing that.

Michael Der  34:39  
Well that's fascinating that this was an afterthought. It's most people would kill to have images like this be their primary focus. I'm interested in how color became such an integral part of your visual identity. A lot of photographers will throw gels around because it's trendy but I get the feeling that it means something to you that you put a lot into a lot of Thought into color theory in the meaning the impact about how you want somebody to feel when you see the image. What is it about color? That means so much to you?

Alexis Cuarezma  35:09  
Yeah, there's a cinematographer that's really named materialise, Toronto. And he talks very beautifully about color. And he says, Leonardo da Vinci says that color is the children of light. And which, which I found beautiful. Just only my perspective on that is that you could assign any emotion and film that you wanted to color. It doesn't necessarily there's no rules to say that red is powerful, or blue is this and that or anything like that. It's whatever rules you want it to make it. And from there, you have your roadmap, and you can decide to do whatever you want and express it whatever you want. So that to me is color for me, like I have a good relationship with a color blue, because I'm from Nicaraguan, that's like the patriotic color blues in the flag. I don't necessarily have the best association with color red, because that's a red and black were like the like the Socialist Party that overthrew the government why I had to be an immigrant. So and that's kind of like that foundation of the use of colors. You know what I mean? For warm colors, I love warm colors, they bring kind of a you know, secure feeling to me. And and that's essentially what I what I put in the images, right, I'm expressing I make my own rules and express them visually with the colors when whenever I can, when I see fit.

Michael Der  36:17  
I want to talk to you about the directing aspect of of a shoot like this because you have to articulate what you're looking for. With a an athlete like this. And even world-class athletes need a little bit of direction. Did you do a lot of research in terms of maneuvers or body language or poses? Did you have to figure out how to talk to a world-class ballet dancer?

Alexis Cuarezma  36:39  
No. So I so from that aspect, that's when it helps to actually have a really talented person. Like, I guess she's one of the best identities in the world. So I relied on her for that. Okay, right. I talked to her for about two to three hours to come up with the idea. And we came up with the script together. And then it was just me interpreting it, interpreting her experience in from my perspective and point of view. Because if you look at her profile feed way night and day from how I percent, right, like she's really happy, she works insanely hard, but she loves what she does. Yeah. And I just came over from a perspective of like, everything I spoke to her, I'm like, you have to sacrifice everything you're by yourself a lot of the time. And my perspective, my interpretation found in the short film is I lit it all blew up, put her in black to solitude, and I just made it look a lot more. My perspective was dramatic and everything that she has to put your body through. But as far as the dancing goes, I put that out to her house like okay, this is the framing we're doing. Is there a movie you could do? This is the movie we'll do. We'll go from here to here. You know, what can you do? I relied on her. Yeah, we're doing

Michael Der  37:41  
right. What I think is really cool, too about personal projects. And this is being another outstanding personal project is that normally on a commission shoot, the clients not gonna waste a whole lot of time on the silhouettes and the silhouettes and this particular series are some of my favorite that I've probably ever seen. But on a personal shoot you can do that you have that creativity to go beyond because you don't have to highlight a brand name or you don't have to highlight necessarily the athletes face on every single photo that must feel pretty good to you to open up the blank canvas here.

Alexis Cuarezma  38:11  
Yeah, that's why I don't work with a stylist or hair makeup artist in his shoes. because number one they don't need that hair makeup artist because they can do it themselves. But the second you work with a stylist to like your I don't want to say you're limiting yourself creatively. But then the second you work if a stylist like polls a $5,000 dress for you like right, they want to see a dress or to be too happy with me if it's just a silhouette, like a texture. So that's just something to keep in mind

Michael Der  38:34  
is is it hard to balance personal work with your paid commissioned assignments? Like how do you make sure that you're giving enough attention to your personal projects during times when you were actually are busy and on assignments for your clients?

Alexis Cuarezma  38:47  
Um, I would say it's easy now coming off a COVID cuz there was no work so I always kept the wheels turning and doing my own personal work, but I just always try to make time for for what's important to me. What fulfills me like, right one of the best realizations it has when I photograph Floyd Mayweather, you know, I've always photographed athletes and they look amazing, but like I was told myself a lie in the story that like, Oh, well, they're like seven feet tall, and they're superhuman. And this and that. And that's why you know, they look like they knew and then when I photographed Floyd, he's like, my height not shorter. If you want to talk about reaching your genetic potential. I remember seeing how lean and muscular he was. And I was just like, Damn, and I'm like, he's my height. And like the hell's my excuse, you know what I mean? And after photo after that, I met him like I lost 30 pounds. And you know, not by just being him but like, it just made me realize I'm just be asking myself, I should really take my nutrition more serious learn nutrition and learn working out better. If it's important for you like, right doesn't matter how much if you have that, that many clouds that you're that busy, you're in a good boat, because for your personal shoe, you can just invest a lot of money and you know what I mean? I always like to say from any shoot or anything that I do, I have to get one of a few things like if it's a personal shoot, I either have to get asked me fulfillment, you know what I mean? Not to be able to do what I want. If there's a class shoot, usually the money will take care of it. And if you're really lucky, you could go on where you get both right, you get good money and you get fulfillment, which is rare. But like usually you get one one of the two from from anything that you're doing to progress yourself forward.

Michael Der  40:13  
It's a good segue into boxing because you do some outstanding work with boxers. And I want to talk to you about the series with 10. Use boxing gym. And I pulled this one because it's such a powerful color scheme to me. And I don't think I've heard you talk about this series that you've shot before. So I thought it was a good one to pull. It's red on red for everybody that's looking at home. I guess my first question is, when you're creating a concept like this in your head, how do you know it's going to work out? In reality? Do you do a test shoot on this? Is this entirely theory based?

Alexis Cuarezma  40:43  
Yeah, no I. So basically, what I do is I lay out the color palette or color scheme that I have with the gels. And I know, okay, I want this to be the dominant color, which is red. So the whole concept for that was portraits of power. And I just wanted to have other accents on it, which was blue on the rim light. And so I'll lay out the gels and put mainly blue there, and then put a little splash and yellow on it. And then like I did a test the day before, which is my friend that is house to make sure I could execute it technically. And then, and then it was just, I would just executed on the day of the shoot. Yeah.

Michael Der  41:15  
Right. What kind of modifiers are using this on on the shoot

Alexis Cuarezma  41:18  
a beauty dish, I'm using two umbrella for the background, a beauty dish to apply them, and then a snoot and an optical zoom spot for the face splash gel, the little splash a yellow is an optical zoom spot is what a little sliver and then the Magnum reflector on the blue backlight. Well, it's almost like 12345. That's about six lights, I believe.

Michael Der  41:40  
Okay, I was trying to figure out how you created this kind of negative fill on the cheekbones. I wasn't sure if you're using like the black side with the flat. Or if that was being contoured by the overhead beauty dish with a grid or something

Alexis Cuarezma  41:51  
like this, this new overhead was pretty narrow, and then is applied by a smart meter. This I think is like an 18 inch. Yeah, why me The dish is not that big. And I generally have the lights like literally touching them. Because we're like a lot of light fall off. So the closer the light is, they'll fall off. So it is to get your wages down, right and you'll get good results.

Michael Der  42:13  
Do you have to be pretty careful when you're applying with a fill like that.

Alexis Cuarezma  42:17  
Yeah, I generally I have my lighting, I usually want to apply or no lighting from above, my lighting ratio is like one to one. So they could work independent of each other. But it looks a lot better when they're both going off. Look, if one light wouldn't go off, it would still work. But you have to be conscious of where they're looking at. Generally, if they're looking down, it'll look a lot better. versus if they're looking straight ahead on or even up. It just depends what you're trying to make, you know?

Michael Der  42:42  
Yeah. Do you care a lot about lighting ratios? Do you worry too much about that, like, are you for sure doing that every time where you're measuring, this is reading at five, six, then this is gonna be f8.

Alexis Cuarezma  42:51  
It depends on what I'm doing. Like if the client needs consistent results. Or if you're doing like catalog work that's really important. For example, like I'm working, I'm shooting a film on the second book that I'm working on. And I'm being more disciplined on that book as I'm doing stuff with intent. So I'm doing a close up shot of all the dances I'm working with. And I'm doing the same setup, you know, same look, I'm making sure that I have straight eye contact and making sure those are really tight portrait. And I want that to be consistent. From dancer to dancer data photo, I'm hoping to photograph 68 dancers and on that aspect, like I am bringing in my light meter, I needed to be consistent because they're going to be in separate days, they're going to be in separate locations. But I want it to be all uniform and look together instead of kind of being like all over the place. So in that situation, yes, in something like this, like with those boxers is going to be like, I don't wanna say a one off, but like I'm doing that shooter for them. And then I don't have to recreate that that same exact look like 10 more times. Than then yeah, I don't use a light meter.

Michael Der  43:48  
In that case. Would you say? Would it be fair to say that you like using hard lighting a little bit more than soft lighting? Ah, yeah,

Alexis Cuarezma  43:55  
I love hard lighting. I think soft lighting is for just my opinion. It has its uses. But it could be really boring. visually. For me, it's just not interesting. It's kind of just like, bam, like just there. It shows all information. And the way I approach lighting, if you look at it is how much visual information are you going to give the person you know, and how much visual information is the person need to recognize was there when you're doing like darker moody lighting or specific hard lighting, you could abstract it a lot more hide more of the information and give less detail. And when the soft lighting they kind of just like goes everywhere. It's nice and pretty and like everybody and you can easily tell what it is. So with that being said, it just depends on what your lighting again, if I was doing a portrait of my mom, like right, I would want soft lighting I would want to see her remember how she is versus how would light you know an athlete or somebody else for say, another cinematographer that listen to a lot as Roger Deakins, he says for everything the opposite of what I do, he just likes to keep everything natural, no filters. And he even says that, you know, the color could make an image real pretty on the surface, but it could have no meaning on it which is 100% true. But also I love listening to another photographer, cinematographer then yet in this community Kaminsky, he's the opposite of Roger Deakins, he'll stack four filters in front of the job done too. And I'm more in that boat. But I like listening to the opposite too, because it's always worth. It always keeps you in check. It always makes you thoughtful about what you're doing.

Michael Der  45:15  
How much do you look at other people's work? Do you mean like, I was just kind of doing this with you? But do you do that game where you look at somebody's work that you admire, and you try to guess where the lights are, and figure out how they set that shoot up.

Alexis Cuarezma  45:27  
I used to not recently now in the past few years, I generally I just have so many ideas and projects now that I'm just pretty much in my own head and working on my own projects. Like if I would have won the lottery, and I didn't have a client hire me the rest of my life, I would still have enough projects to do till I died. Yeah, because there's so much stuff I want to do in my own head. And that's just articulating my own idea and ideas that I have going. So I stopped doing that. It's just so funny. Like, I'm part of a photography group for dancers, and the person that runs it was just like, oh, guys, name your top five, you know, World Dance photographers, you would love to see and love, you know, and who would like to see speak, I remember thinking, I was like, dude, I don't really care, like to see their work. And I'm like, thinking Should I, I looked at like two of them. And then I just immediately stopped because their vision is just I'm focused in my lane and what I like and what I'm doing, and I don't really have much of a concern what other people are doing.

Michael Der  46:20  
Do you think that's something that photographers young photographers, or just green photographers focus on a little bit too much that we're, we're focused in on what other people are doing that are maybe ahead of us, we want to get to that level. And in that sense, it's not focusing on creativity, it's really focusing on emulation.

Alexis Cuarezma  46:36  
Yeah, you know, that's, that's a great point you bring up because I always like to say that if, if anyone takes one of my workshops, and their images end up looking anything like mine, I failed miserably, right. or whenever I see somebody say, Oh, I took so and so's a, you know, tutorial. And all they did is replicate a technique that they saw you didn't learn anything, you just saw a technique that you learned, that's not really learning that's executing. Yeah, it's a formula pretty much. It's just like, you know, you want to learn or you want to, like just doing that. So if you're a young photographer, and I think, Well, number one, you should have a visual literacy, like, you know what I mean? So you should be looking at other work, and not just photography, I would just say, look at art, look at movies, look at everything right and get an informed visual palette, see what works fine inspiration that way, I think it's only bad if you're all you're doing is looking at other people's work, comparing yourself and then not being happy and then replicating other people's work. Because then you're just a counterfeit. I mean, that's something even I don't like doing. You know what I mean? Like, one of my favorite shoots is done with Christine, as because like I said, I put no thought into those images, they were an afterthought. Everything was done an intuition and is great and it was sincere can now when I did the shoot again with Joseph, and then with Sasha, the other two dancers a photograph. Now I'm like, Oh, damn cool. Last thing I want to do is be an invitation to myself, right. And I don't want to be comparing myself to that shoot. So I had to work twice as hard to try to be present and focus and not worry about that shoot, or try to recreate it, you know what I mean? And that's me talking about myself being lazy, doing the work I did, that I did before in a 12 hour day, some photographers, like just love doing that, right? replicating someone else's organ or doing it and like, didn't even come up with the idea. And I think, again, that's the that's where, like, the battle comes between being a good teacher and commerce like, right, that's you have that photo of Christine, where it is warm and cool. And it's like a silhouette of her in the mirror. That was the sphere for me, right? And the way the photo industry works, or any industry, I should say, is that now people, they want to know the formula for that, right? And they just want to do it and they want to recreate it so they can photograph Little Joe with their football on that same look, some people you know, they want to make a buck, you know, go ahead and make a buck out of that. But like, to me that just doesn't interest me. And if that works for you, it's like more power to you. Like I didn't become a creative to just like, follow directions do the same thing over and over

Michael Der  48:58  
Exactly. How would you describe your editing process, I mean, you don't have to go into the weeds on this a little bit. But just touch based off of how much time you spend on editing. And if you're thinking about that, ahead of time, during your pre-production and your shoot,

Alexis Cuarezma  49:12  
I try to get as much as I can in-camera. With that being said, that doesn't mean I'm opposed to doing any post-production. And it would just be my process generally is the first step I do is I clean the image, actually the very first process, I just clean the sensor before every shoot because I'm shooting stopped down so I make sure that it's not dirty, that's true. And then and then once I shoot and I suppose then I check the image for any dusts and then I will clean it up. And then the second pattern of cleaning would be if I have to remove any light stands or anything from the frame that I don't want there that I didn't remove in person, which hopefully is next to nothing, unless you can't help it and then after that I do coloring layer on there. So I'll do curves color balance, and that's usually a and then after that I do frequency separation sometimes to do like without the skin and then that I used to do a lot of dodging and burning carbon out with their cars, but I just do that I do. I just found myself I do less and less retouching now.

Michael Der  50:06  
Yeah, yeah, you try. You spend more your time on the planning and in the shooting? Yeah, yeah. We have a question from a follower of yours that maybe you can address here. It says, Can you tell me what lens filter would be best for fashion photography? I'm literally building a home studio next week. And I really want to find something that gives juice to my photos.

Alexis Cuarezma  50:24  
Yeah. So that, yeah, this question, I will make a whole video about it. Because it's, um, I think that's the wrong question to ask is like, a filter is not going to do that for you. Right? If there's anything that you could go out and buy, that you think would give your images an advantage, it won't, because if it did, everybody would be doing that. And then nobody has that advantage, the best option I could tell for that person, or best thing I could tell that person to do. And I know, this is advice that if I would get it, and I was young, it would probably, like pressed me off, and I wouldn't like it. But generally, the best thing you could do is more important on the relationships that you have in the people that you know, who you can get in front of your camera versus what camera you have. Look at the work I'm doing like, literally I'm photographing sometimes the dancers what a camera that that's, that's seven years old, like am three, and the hustle badass like 40 years old, you know, I know what still stands on his own, because I don't want to get into a controversial thing saying that gear doesn't matter. And again, I think that's the wrong answer. That's the wrong question to, it's whether having the latest and greatest gear is important or not, in my opinion, it's not, you know what I mean, you could do amazing stuff with old gear, as long as it doesn't become. As long as it's still reliable enough, it's so old, where it's like breaking down and the stops being reliable, then that's when you should replace it. But you don't need the most expensive thing you don't need the latest gear, that's not going to make your image better won't help you stand out if the relationships you build. If you're trying to do fashion photography, the relationships you have with stylist with clothing brands, that's gonna make you stand out. And then the talent that you could pull, like the models that you could get your relationship with ad agencies that's going to make you stand out, because that's the biggest Achilles heels that I see whenever I see student work when I go visit universities. Yeah, and they'll have amazing work, they spent all this time learning the technical aspect doing the retouching shoot, and then like on the face, one from the school that provides them Wow. And they did a fashion shoot with their random friend, right. And that image fails right there because you didn't have the right person in front of your camera. And you were focused on all kinds of other stuff. My friend, Jeff Lewis was a team photographer for the LA Rams set a completely different analogy, but I think it works perfectly for this. He said, If you go to a steak house, and that Steak House presents your plate with barbecue sauce, that Steak House failed you miserably right. In other words, saying that the steak should be so good that it should have a barbecue. Right? how that applies to this question. Is that a lot of photographers, right? When you're worrying about Oh, what filter should I get? What camera? should I get? What lens you're focusing on? The ingredients are barbecue sauce, right? You're completely ignoring? Well, that steak is and all that stuff on there. I know vegans are gonna hate me, but I can't come up with a better one for that. But I hope that you know, that clarifies it. And it does that like, right, don't focus on the barbecue sauce for fashion, like, like, you get the clothes, it's gonna be king, your model is gonna be king. And then after that comes the lighting and post-production and everything, not a filter, that's not going to make your images look great. Like, look at my words like, right, you wouldn't be what it is, if I wasn't working with the best ballerinas in the in the US. You know what I mean? And that's, that's the king, the basketball shot started with Tyler, they wouldn't work if I didn't have Tyler, you know? So the relationships you have with people, how you treat them, following up following through having the tenacity to stay with something, it's more important than what gear you have?

Michael Der  53:35  
Yeah, no, that's a fantastic answer there. What kind of projects do you wish you saw more of from amateur photographers?

Alexis Cuarezma  53:43  
Oh, that's a really good question. And they're really thought about that. Let's see. Um, I would just say, you know, putting more attention on stuff is really important to you versus what you think people want to see. I love that, if that makes sense. So, do whatever you want to do you know what I mean? And also, don't let the arbiter of success be someone hire your opinion for that money, because that will they get your work. Let me go back to my personal work I'm doing I'm publishing like the book and everything and with ballet dancers. For me, the arbiter of success is not landing a big publishing deal or a big client, I don't care about that. Like Darbar success is me being able to work with that dancer, and create the best work that I could get and expressing it and I'll put in it the way I want it, you know, without any compromise on what I do in that, and it's not reliant on getting a deal with Nike or Under Armour or a big publisher or a dance conference or whatever. And and so that's my arbiter of success. Once you decide that you're free or successful test your question is like the one thing that I have seen, you know, people do work like that. But then they're looking for kind of like, okay, I did this now. Okay, now someone needs to hire me. That shouldn't have to be a requirement for the work to be successful. Just in my opinion, you know,

Michael Der  54:58  
I love it. I'm so glad. you said that it really is refreshing to hear because we do get caught up in what determines success is you know whether the client pays me for it or i make x amount of money this is a great introspection into just be creative for creative sake i think that's a really important lesson i want to talk to you about specializing versus being a generalist photographers like myself struggle with this all the time i ask every guest that i bring on the same type of question but where do you stand on on niche branding versus being a photographer for all things

Alexis Cuarezma  55:31  
i think

Alexis Cuarezma  55:34  
the niche is always better because people want to pay more for a specialist versus someone that could do everything i was talking to a few years ago to dan winters about this and you know his take on that is that a lot of it is how how you present it right if you present it in an organized way versus kind of being sporadic and just like showing a little bit of everything which makes you look like you're not specialized in anything and that's that's also very true you know what i mean but if you look at dan winters like he's a photographer he is a director and he's also an illustrator to yellows on this website but they're just very well organized and they're all really really solid so again like you know what you're getting you know what i mean so think about anyone that has a big following or anything or like any of the bigger youtuber if you're a tech reviewer you know mkbhd right you want to see like food reviews and his and we have guests on his show for video games is that youtube channel just on video games you know what i mean and it's a specialist or it could be a subject matter you know what i mean like like i know i get tied in a lot with athletes but like i like working with people who have overcome adversity to or have gone against all odds and are underdogs that's generally what i love to to photograph in the themes that i like to go over so that's what i go with and i don't fancy myself i thought of myself as a wedding photographer and event photographer i do you know stylize photoshoots we've got a handful of questions left this has been fantastic so far i just wanted to ask you what's a popular piece of advice that you disagree with um yeah i hear this all the time a popular thing that i've heard people say on stage that i just cannot like like disagree with more when people say dude just good work and everything else will take care of itself i think that's the absolute worst advice you could give anybody and the most nonsense i mean at least from my experience like if you do amazing work and you do good work and nobody knows about you like you're just as useless as someone who doesn't do anything so that's right i think that is the worst advice i mean that and i've heard other advice where people like when photographers oh i do no advertising i do no marketing is all word of mouth and they're full of nonsense that's other bad advice i have you need to market you need to advertise in one way you know doing a test you this marketing this advertising to a certain extent you have been doing this podcast for me like like i can't say i'm doing the marketing like this podcast for me is literally marketing myself you know talking about my experience and everything so anyone that says that they're just lying and trying to make themselves look better like in my opinion why that advice is so bad or why i don't agree with it is because in my opinion you need to put the same amount of effort if not more in marketing your work than you do creating a lot of photographers or people just in general fail is that they'll put all this effort and time into the photoshoot into retouching into everything and nothing into marketing like if you put the quality of work that's matter i'm not saying you should do bad work because you know amazing marketing can't fix a bad product but like generally if you would spend i would say probably a quarter of the time shooting in three quarters at a time marketing that work you'd probably be more successful than the other way around or what people do just shoot all the time and then and then do nothing like you have to kind of analyze the stuff you have to see what what's going and have kind of a game plan you know realize what works and what doesn't and be unable to pivot and then it's a it's a it's a business so you need to have people the right people see your work in that the right people don't see your work they can hire you or pay you then then you're not going to get work

Michael Der  59:08  
it's another great point and for the people that are perfectionist that think well i can't promote it because it's not quite good enough yet they're just making excuses aren't they

Alexis Cuarezma  59:19  
well i think that that and i hear that a lot from people i think that they think that they're gonna have a silver bullet and like oh once it's perfect i'm gonna send it to one i'm really hired where you need to realize that that that perfect bullet that you're taking will make it perfect you're gonna have to send it to a person at least 10 to 20 times so you start noticing you and if you take that long to do it like you're never going to get part of that is just like you know perfectionist and stagnation of progress he tried to do that like a short film i sent you like it means not perfect like i could have gone back and done a bunch of things which i actually did i didn't redo it you know like once i did it but that's why it's good to give yourself deadlines you know what i mean it suffocates all this bs right And it will make you put it out and then make it good I will write is a game programmer that I had the privilege to photograph for masterclass. And during his class, he was saying, a study that it was looked at on the art teacher in the class, he, he split the class into half. And he told the class to create, I believe it was pot. And the way he split up the class was he taught one class, that they will get graded based upon how just sheer volume of the amount of positive made, it didn't matter the quality, it didn't matter how good they were just the sheer volume on how many they made. And then the other half of the class, he told him, they would be their grade would be based made upon the quality of the pot, not how many they made. But if it was just like, you know, like how good it was, it would be based the students on the class where they were based, basically just on sheer volume, their craftsmanship and their pots was a lot better, because they had done so much and had so much practice, then the other half of the class that was trying to perfect and just do you know, it was being worried about basing the quality. Like I said, you can't put your work up on a pedestal and say I was gonna be perfect and doing all that. Like, the way I approach stuff is I'll do a shoot like the basketball one all done. Okay, who cares? Let's do it again. This year, Christine? Do all capitalism is okay, who cares? I got to do it again. Right. It's a marathon. Yeah, it's a long-term thing you got to do and it's not like there's no silver bullet that I access or one perfect thing you're gonna have is never going to be perfect. So it's going to always people find something wrong with the Godfather. Find your favorite movie people find something. Exactly.

Michael Der  1:01:35  
You know, how important has risk-taking been for you and your development?

Alexis Cuarezma  1:01:42  
Yeah, really important. I would just say cuz I'm just trying. Well, that should have been what a fire. That was a giant risk. My whole thing is I got a butcher's initial tutorial. I think he created it. Because there's an actor with a similar name, and I don't want to mix up your names.

Michael Der  1:01:59  
Well, okay. So beneath co del, del Toro is the actor. Okay, that's the wrong one. So

Alexis Cuarezma  1:02:03  
Guillermo del Toro, El Toro is the director. Yes, visual, it's really I was here with the director. And he has a quote that I love the saying success is falling on your own terms. I'm okay. If I fail. on my own terms. Like when I did the shoe, what si and I took that risk, right. But that didn't work. And that blew up in my face, and it just wouldn't have worked out. Well, at least I failed on my own terms. And that's ultimate success. Right? Yeah. Success, you know, on someone you know else's term or not doing what you want is ultimate failure, you know, what I mean? are so separate fulfillments ultimate failure, take control risk, you know, what I mean? As long as you know, and, and that being said, I'm privileged to a certain extent that in I'm 37, I'm single, I don't have any kids. So I don't have the worry of about, like, you know, a wife, kids, you know, and all that stuff. So by that virtue alone, I could take more risk than clinical rest and other people, but you should take them. And I believe that quote, is that, you know, the Guillermo said, it is, I love it, like really failing on your own terms as ultimate success, you know, because you didn't leave anything unturned.

Michael Der  1:03:05  
Speaking of what was your greatest failure if you had one? And what was the lesson that you learned from it?

Alexis Cuarezma  1:03:11  
I mean, I fail all the time. So I always want to be, you know, the most important thing I could tell people is just the work that you do. Doesn't matter how good it is, it's only a small fraction of what you get hired, I would say it's more important of what's more important is how it sounds a little bit like Bs, but I would just say the way you treat people, and the way you make people feel is more important than your work, being able to control your emotions, on the business side of things will help you out the most, because it's like I've handled situations, not necessarily the best or taking things personal, when when I get like a bad contract, or a bad agreement, and I should bite my tongue, and I don't write, I learned to separate. Kinda like I was talking earlier, when it comes to my work. And I'm really emotional. It's, it's good, because you're putting an emotion out. So we're gonna make the word dynamic. When it comes to businesses, the opposite, if you put your emotion into business, it's not going to be good. So you need to learn to separate that. And I think that's been the biggest failure that I had in certain situations where I take stuff personal, and maybe I say something I don't or I just don't play politically correctly the right way. And it like, you could just not get hired by that again, like, right, I didn't get hired on the shoot. Because I didn't just play into the what the producer wanted to, you know what I mean? They were just like, oh, you're gonna get to photograph you know, so and so and so on and so on issue and they listened like three a listers. Now, just in my mind, I was just like, Alright, cool. That just means I have to do this and that. So I was like, Okay, cool. Great. I called DOJ. And I've done this before, and like, I didn't realize after the fact, they were trying to get like a reaction that I made it to say, oh, wow, that's awesome. Thank you for the opportunity. And I didn't even go that route. I was just because I was just so focused on like thinking, Oh, dang, I gotta do this and that you know what I mean? And I just didn't get hired again. And it wasn't because of the work or anything, but it was just purely on that on that, you know, that's politics and something personal on that level. And again, maybe I don't know, that was part of my ego, trying to be like, Oh, don't worry, I've been here done this before. Had I said like, oh, wow, I get to that. So awesome. Thank you for the opportunity. I know for 100% fact that when I got hired again, and I did the Nesbit ticklers situation, so I would just say that constantly happens to me all the time, I just got to fake humility and gratitude are just things that I wish I had more in abundance that I was trying to have. 

Michael Der  1:05:28  
What is the best part about what you do? And what is the worst part about what you do? 

Alexis Cuarezma  1:05:35  
easily the best part is, the for me in particular is the people I get to meet, I get to meet extraordinary people and be around them a lot, like like dancers, or even on reward or even like, you know, just flow for me, I'm very observant. And I could learn a lot from someone just by watching them, and then pick up a lot of things that they do in it, that's really helpful and good when you're hanging around really good people, you know, not so much if you're not hanging around people. But when you're around like also people like I, you know, I've been fortunate enough to be, that could definitely help you out, say the worst thing I get to do. It's all the contracts and agreements, and the business side of it that is just like that could just really drain you. And I've gotten contracts that are properly written in English that are more offensive than any NWA album that you could lose Well, in my opinion, they literally are just like horrible agreements and vulgar agreements ever in writing. And like, that's all I'm giving it to you with a suit and tie and a smile on their face and telling you they love you. Right? And it's just like that song. You know what I mean? Then you got to be prepared to take that and hold your ground and you got to do it professionally. You know, hold your cool. So I would just say that's the worst part of what I do.

Michael Der  1:06:44  
And lastly, I want to give you the opportunity to shout out anyone that has helped you get to this point. I know you probably feel like you have a long way to go still. But we are only as good as the people that have helped us become the best versions of ourselves. Is there anybody that you would like to thank?

Alexis Cuarezma  1:06:59  
Yeah, absolutely. Man, two people always come to my mind. The reason anyone I would say knows my name is number one photographer named Al bello. He's a Getty, like the northern regional photographer for Getty. He's based in New York. And when I first started out, it was like, like a long time ago, I had read on my website. And I remember seeing his images in Sports Illustrated, and this loving the lighting and everything. And I just shot him an email. And I was like, Hey, I just redid my website. You know, if time permits, I'd love to know, you know what you think of my work. He responded with the phone call a few days later, and we spoke on the phone for like 45 minutes. And he told me like, Hey, this is what you want to reach out to here. So you want to reach out to Si, and I stood in touch with him. And he told me about the pianos workshop. And I applied to it, and I got in it because of Al Bello. And I'm in the pianos workshop, I met Brad Smith. And then Brad Smith was one of the few times where I had a portfolio review. And we would look at that and he's like, we're gonna work together, he actually meant that I stood in touch with them and worked with them in the New York Times. And he gave me my first opportunity to work for the New York Times and for Sports Illustrated, gave me all this cover. So without both of them like my career would not be absolutely Where is that today?

Michael Der  1:08:11  
Love it. And so before we wrap this up, we have a fabulous giveaway to talk about thanks to Alexis and the amazing folks at bay photo labs, one of our listeners is going to walk away with a $500 credit to your choice of print material at bay photo.com to help your business. Anyone interested in upping their marketing game. This is an incredible opportunity to produce photo books, magazines, promo cards, everything from photography and print quality experts and folks in a competitive industry leave-behinds play an important role in standing out to prospective clients so we're very lucky that Alexis and Bay photo are offering this promo all you have to do is go to entrepreneurs pod comm sign up for our email list and then leave a five-star review to be entered into the drawing. It's as simple as that. I'll be announcing the winner on April 16 2021 on Instagram so that's two weeks to sign up for the email list and leave a five-star review for the show. huge thank you to the wonderful team at bay photo labs for this offer and to you Alexis I'm so thankful that you even set this up and are helping to give back to the Artrepreneurs community. This really goes a long way for marketing doesn't it?

Alexis Cuarezma  1:09:10  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean 500 bucks lab credit you could get a press-printed album which is how I present my work. This is a lay flat portfolio book 11 by 14 and it's also enough to do leave behind magazines and and also any leave behind like flyers so you want so i'd love the magazines particularly because it's a great way if you send to an ad agency or a commercial client, cuz the magazines are pretty nice and pretty expensive. So I would say those are worth it when you can get an advertising client or if you are if you have a dream editorial time go for it but you know, editorial clients, you kind of just do more for creativity that they're getting paid nowadays.

Michael Der  1:09:49  
And lastly, a quick reminder to everybody where they can find you and your work website is Alexis car asthma calm Instagram is at Alexis Cuarezma asthma. Folks, if you enjoyed this episode and learned a few things, shout out Out Alexa on Instagram and let him know that his words have inspired you to action. That would be a huge favor to me, Alexis, you have a really great YouTube channel as well. So I want to thank you for the content that you produce there. And also give you the floor just to talk about your photo book launching this year called destined for greatness. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and when you expect it to publish?

Alexis Cuarezma  1:10:19  
Yeah, thank you, man. This is work I am extremely proud about that I did again with three principal dancers. I'm self-publishing it. So I'm taking full control of everything. I wanted to design it myself, I did all the copy myself. And it's just work that I felt I needed to get out there. I'm really proud of it. And ob I'll start taking pre orders on what it's looking like in the end of April. And doing that and it should be shipping out around mid June, six weeks after the pre orders are done. it caters to three people. If you like ballet, you'd like to see ballet images. There's plenty of that because I you know, had the privilege of photographing some of the best ballet dancers in the world. And three of them Sasha de solo, Yosef Walsh and Christine Shevchenko. Also, just photographers in general, if you like seeing imagery with different kind of lighting to getting the ideas that also applies to you. And then also any film photographers, Derek ascensia, eight by 10, film some of the images and also 35 millimeter. So if you're interested in seeing on how I've pushed t Max 3200 to get extra grain, you can see there's holes there, and eight by 10 film, as all intertwine there. But also, the thing that makes me really proud about this book is The copywriting for it. So I'm getting real, real deep and philosophical about it about my approach to that work. And just in general and creativity. It's not a how to book, by all means I'm not explaining the lighting. But if you like the, you want to get an insight to my thought process on how I come up with some of the concept photoshoots. And the backstory about those dancers is certainly a body of work that I'm extremely proud about.

Michael Der  1:11:51  
How long did it take you to produce this

Michael Der  1:11:53  
body of work? Then since 2018, I started and then the last shoot was done in 2020. Okay, so

Michael Der  1:11:59  
a couple years at the very least, of putting a lot of hard work into. Yeah, that's it's a labor of love. I looked at the images of just the book itself. It looks amazing. Alexis a really, really does. Almost everything in the show notes for everyone just to be safe. Alexis, I can't thank you enough, man. I know your time is valuable. I respect the hell out of you what you're doing here talking about your process. And giving back to the artistic community, I think is so awesome. So I sincerely appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your love of photography with everybody in the world. And so the floor is yours. I know you've done a lot of talking already. But are there any last words that you'd like to leave the audience any call to action for those listening?

Alexis Cuarezma  1:12:37  
Wow, okay, that's a good one. I wasn't expecting this. Let's see the call to action. do work. They're sincere to you. And don't listen to people. You know what I mean? Like, I didn't start taking a photographer to a college because it wasn't everybody telling me how much work it would be if you have something that's really important to you. Keep it close to your chest and do the work and make it happen. Like don't go out and try to get validation from other people. Because they might try to turn your idea away down or trying to talk you out of it. Well, the whole time. It could be something amazing. So just if you have something you want to do it, don't let anything get in your way.

Michael Der  1:13:11  
Awesome. Appreciate it. Thank you, brother. Thanks for being here.

Alexis Cuarezma  1:13:14  
Yeah, thank you for having me.

Michael Der  1:13:16  
Well, there you have it. Folks. This is going to wrap up our episode four today entrepreneurs season one continues next week with new content launching every Friday. Thank you once again to the fabulous Alexis Cuarezma for jumping on the pod and to everyone else for tuning in. My name is Michael Der Have a great rest of your day. And I'll catch you guys next week.

Michael Der  1:13:37  
Hey everybody, this is Michael Der thank you so much for making it all the way to the end of the episode. I hope you'll follow tag and engage with us on our Instagram account at entrepreneurs pod. We've also launched our website entrepreneurs pod calm. It is the central hub where you can sign up for our newsletter, read our blog posts, send us voicemails, and even access discounts from our amazing affiliates. It's also the perfect spot to shout out entrepreneurs with what would be an immensely appreciated five star rating and review. And if you're feeling extra generous, you can even make a small donation that's really going to help accelerate the growth of this podcast. But no matter what you do, folks, I just want to say thank you so much for supporting this program. There are a lot of great photography podcasts out there and I am just grateful to have gained your trust even for a moment. Take care of you and see you next week.



Photographer / Director

Alexis Cuarezma is a Nicaraguan born portrait photographer/director based in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in both on-location and in-studio portraiture. A passion for bold visuals has colored his whole life, and his childhood interest was nurtured at CSUEB, where he studied art, graphic design and photography.

His cultural heritage has proven a prominent influence; as a volatile Nicaragua forced Alexis’ family to emigrate to the U.S. when he was six years old, his vision has been informed by themes of sacrifice—of life, love, and self for the greater good. Muses include French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and Nicaraguan poets Rigoberto Lopez-Perez and Ruben Dario, as well as his namesake, Alexis Arguello, a professional boxer, three-time world champion, politician— and source of inspiration for Alexis’ involvement in boxing photography.

He's an Alumnus of the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop (Barnstorm XXIV), has been commissioned for assignments by NIKE, Sports Illustrated, the LA Times, the New York Times, HBO and a number of international publications. His touch has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated 6 times, boxing’s “Bible,” the esteemed Ring Magazine, and that of Undisputed Fight Magazine; covers of UK boxing mags SEEN, Fighting Fit, Boxing News, TV Guide, People Magazine round out Alexis’ resume. His vibrant aesthetic is often sought out for editorial, commercial, and private commissions.