PYSK: CODY PICKENS
“I write down
things that I see
in everyday life
that I find quirky
or interesting,” he
says, “and I’ll keep
that tucked away.”
He came to each shoot prepared, having
conducted research on his subjects and,
based on what he learned, trying to predict
how they would react in front of the camera.
Meanwhile, sketchbook scribbles like
“balloons at ceiling, night shot with Instamatic
camera looking up,” or “political figure/
red suit/gold necklace/poofy swoopy hair/
background matches suit (red),” all inspired
by real or imagined scenes, pushed his work
past the predictable portrait.
His ability to think on his feet gained him
trust, and editors stayed loyal to him even
when they switched publications. When
Kristine LaManna left Popular Science for
ESPN The Magazine in 2010, she continued
to hire Pickens even though at the time he
hadn’t shot athletes before. Today, they are
one of his specialties. He continues to shoot
for ESPN, and other major sports outlets—Golf
Digest, Men’s Health, Outside Magazine and
“This is how the industry works,” Pickens
observes. “You get hired by someone at
one magazine, and maybe it’s not the most
interesting work, but if you make the best of
it, you can start a good relationship.”
In 2012, he signed with Redeye
Represents, an agency based in Los Angeles,
and he’s been able to tack on Apple, JetBlue
Airways, Visa, Intel, AARP, World Wildlife Fund
and Google to his client list.
One thing that sets Pickens apart from
his peers is his crisp, technically masterful
lighting. Just as he always jots down ideas, he
constantly takes snapshots of lighting he likes.
“You can make up something really great
from something totally mundane,” he says,
like the way late afternoon light looks when it
hits a building window.
Continually experimenting with light in
his studio, he’s built a stockpile of effects that
he can tap into at shoots, and he knows his
gear well enough that he can recreate within
minutes, for instance, the appearance of a
strip of sunlight. “It’s really important to know
what your kit will do in any given situation
so that you can create something on the fly,”
says Pickens, whose kit includes strobes,
a Hasselblad camera system and Profoto
This photographer is busier than ever now,
and his subjects remain as diverse as they were
when he first started; Golden State Warriors
player Andre Iguodala for San Francisco,
augmented-reality engineer and scientist
Meron Gribetz for WIRED Germany and Team
USA Olympic athlete Lindsey Vonn for Red Bull
are among some of his most recent shoots.
His other secret, essentially, is that he
just doesn’t stop shooting. “Right now, I’m
exploring the genres that are cousins to my
normal day-to-day work shooting celebrities
and athletes,” Pickens says. “I’m looking at
what connects them to the world, whether
that be shoes, apparel, gadgets or industrial
situations.” The aim, as always, is to be able to
build on his repertoire of work and expand it
Brienne Walsh is a writer and critic. She’s
contributed regularly to Rangefinder and PDN
for several years, and she has a blog called A
Brie Grows in Brooklyn.
5TIPS FOR FINDING THE RIGHT LIGHT
1Observe the natural light in your daily life. Make notes and snap
phone photos for future reference. It’s
always helpful to know how light moves,
reflects, warms, cools and enhances.
2 Research all the great painters from the Dutch Golden Age.
These are the masters, and it’s good to
understand how they used light on the
subject and scene of a painting.
3 Conduct test shoots. Rent different modifiers and schedule shoots
back-to-back to test different situations,
making notes and diagrams of the light
placement as you go. Try committing to
four shoots a month for three months
straight, each having a different theme
and lighting style.
4 Push your lighting techniques with purposefully tricky setups.
Shoot a group of 30 or more people.
Shoot a white pencil on a white seamless
backdrop. Make the light loud or quiet,
cool or warm, reflected or direct, soft
or sharp. And remember to keep good
notes on what works and why you like it.
5 Be overly prepared for the actual assignment. Scout or have
someone send photos of the space
you’ll be shooting in. Bring at least
two or three ready-to-go sets for your
subject, and allow for several hours
of setup. Have a simple grab-and-go lighting setup on the side when
shooting people with limited time. You
never know when you’ll get an extra few
minutes here or there.
TOP: Some of Pickens’
notes and sketches.
self promo. TOP RIGHT: Ted
Danson for Variety, shot
at Universal Studios.