A SHIFT IN FOCUS
In school, Pickens shot whatever came in
front of him, focusing his camera especially
on two of his favorite hobbies at the time:
skateboarding and skiing. But that focus
changed when he began assisting one of his
photo instructors, Walter Urie, a successful
commercial photographer based in southern
California. “[He was] shooting for and working
with clients that had way more budgets than
any skateboarding client at the time,” Pickens
says. “My long-term interest began to shift more
toward that type of commercial photography.”
A couple years later, Pickens moved with
his now-wife to the Bay Area, where he spent
some time riding road bikes, among other
things. “I was just enjoying the move to San
Francisco, and being young without many
responsibilities,” he admits. “Becoming a bike
nut for two years was something that I really
enjoyed and I have really fond memories of
those days.” But, well rested, he returned to
photography when he turned 27.
He found work assisting for photographers,
such as Howard Cao, by cold-emailing their
studios. “I let everyone in the city know that
I was available to assist or able to help out
with anything,” Pickens says, “even to sweep
the floors.” Cao taught him how to promote
himself, namely how to create mailers and set
up meetings with potential clients.
He knew that in order to break out on
his own, he’d need a knockout portfolio, so
when Pickens wasn’t assisting, he picked
up whatever miscellaneous jobs came his
way, like portrait assignments for small local
publications and test shoots with models. By
early 2010, he felt comfortable sharing his
accumulated work. “I had just enough decent
imagery to feel kind of…almost sort of like...a
proper portfolio,” he says with a laugh.
The most prestigious clients were on the
East Coast, Pickens figured, so if he wanted
to “make it,” he
had to meet with
them directly. “I
thought to myself,
I’m done assisting.
This is what I’m
going to do: I’m
going to go to
New York,” he says.
Pickens updated his website, his logo and
made promo cards that featured his eye-catching portrait of the industrial designer
Adam Savage (opposite page), originally
shot for San Francisco’s Make magazine.
Photo editors were greeted with the image of
Savage (who’s also the host of the Discovery
Channel television series MythBusters) sitting
on a chair wearing a replica Apollo spacesuit.
Pickens followed the promos with emails,
asking to meet face to face.
Many of the editors took the bait. Pickens
booked a flight to New York and a number
of one-on-one sit-downs. He suspects it’s
because the image on its own is compelling
enough, though his moxie probably did the
trick too. He left with a number of promising
contacts and returned to the Bay Area.
There, he was conveniently situated to take
portraits of rising technology executives in
Silicon Valley, as quite a few of the editors he
met in New York—from Fortune, Inc. and Fast
Company—promptly hired him to do.
CREATIVITY BY HAND
Tech executives are deceptively tough subjects;
they’re not used to being in front of a camera,
and what’s more, translating their metaphysical
work into a two-dimensional composition
is not simple. But Pickens was up for the
challenge, turning to his sketchbooks of ideas
he constantly updates for creative reference.
PREVIOUS SPREAD: Alonzo
King LINES Ballet dancer,
shot for self promotion.
LEFT: Olympic Track and
Field star Erica McLain,
shot for self promotion in
PYSK: CODY PICKENS
LEFT: Kristen Bell for Variety, shot at Universal
Studios in L.A. ABOVE: Giants player Hunter
Pence for San Francisco magazine.