Joe Felzman interview in Workbook this month


It’s hard to remember that before the social apps and camera phones of today, there existed painstaking craftsmanship in taking photos of everyday objects. Luckily there are still photographers out there who make sure we never forget.  Joe Felzman has made a career photographing the objects we use and in a single photo, turning them into the objects we desire.  On the heels of his latest work with Avia and Adidas, we chatted with Joe about his career and what it takes to make the inanimate come to life.

Product photography seems a very specialized niche. How did you get into it?

Interesting question. I liked fashion photography in the late 70s, but I lived in Portland, which is not considered a big fashion town. A large department store, Meier and Frank (now Macy’s), asked if  I would shoot the jewelry account they had: a massive amount of rings, necklaces, and watches for P.O.P. and newspaper advertising every week. Seems nobody wanted this account, as the shoots were tedious and difficult to light and had tight deadlines. I took it on and never looked back. More design and ad agencies caught this wave, and product photography became my niche style. 

Without giving away any of your trade secrets, what are some key elements to the perfect product still life? 

I’ve been fortunate with a lot of sport-related industries coming here to Portland. Adidas and Nike are two world brands that bring to our area other companies that have sports-minded products. This [in turn] brings more work for product photographers from other areas. Great product photography starts with interestingly designed products, items that are cool by virtue of their design. 

In this latest campaign with Avia water shoe and the Adidas ClimaCool, you’re telling a distinct story with the added elements to each image. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of how you ended up with these final image narratives? 

With the Avia water shoe I had to tell a story about a new niche product that is on a comeback from an older brand. We shot for this brand back in the early 90s. This was an easy story to tell from creative director Mike Oslund; he wanted images that showed quick water wicking and the ability to work in a swimming pool environment both in one photo. It was important to be visual and bright. 

With the photography for Adidas ClimaCool Rush Cooling Station, I worked with master designer Scott Tomlinson from the Adidas Innovation Team (AIT). He had a number of shots he had to achieve for the world introduction of this product. Scott and I walked through his list and came up with these shots that showed the station in various angles, for pure design and function ability, with the shoes interacting with the cooling ports. Form and function: great Adidas innovation. 

Do you have a favorite product you love to photograph? A least favorite? 

Electronics and liquor are great items to photograph, nicely designed products and glass. Works with my style of light and are interesting to look at. When everything works together, they tell stories. Least favorite…I take on all products, and enjoy a challenge, but creamed soups are a bit lackluster. 

With so much product imagery bombarding people on a daily basis, how do you make sure your photos stand out? 

Great lighting. Now in the days of “it’s good enough, we’ll fix it in post production,” the images are often simple on white with a small drop shadow, but they have no soul or feeling of quality. That’s what I try to achieve for my clients, a feeling and look of quality that’s second to none. 

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