Almost five years of active duty in the US Army with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq – no, that is not a typical start to a career in photography. It was during his time overseas that Phil purchased his first DSLR camera. And now a decade later, he has settled in Portland, Oregon with his fiancé, Sara, and is thriving as a wedding and portrait photographer. When he doesn’t have a camera in his hands, he is either playing the guitar or dunking a basket ball.Phil’s photographic style is unique and instantly recognisable. In this interview, Phil let us in on his process of shooting, editing and how his style of photography has not only remained consistent, but developed in some aspects over time.
1. In the early days of your photography career, what steps did you take to develop your photographic style?
I think in the early days it was more about focusing on the basics, getting images in focus, trying to understand what a good composition was, simply shooting a lot and getting reps under my belt.
It was way less about trying to figure out my style and more figuring out what made a good image. That being said, once the basics became more of a muscle memory rhythm the new focus was figuring out what kind of photos I like taking and how to make them more interesting to me.
It always starts with taste so I’d go out and try to make photos like other people who’s work I saw online, trying to see if I was capable of even shooting in a similar tone or style. From doing that in the earlier years I wasn’t able to replicate anyone’s style or work, because that’s near impossible, but I kept chipping away at what it was that is the ever evolving style of how I shoot. It’s always developing, changing and expanding.
2. In the decade that you have been shooting, what aspect of your photography has remained consistent and what has evolved?
I think the tone and mood in which I direct my couples/subjects has stayed the same. I never take myself too seriously nor to I try and become someone I’m not when I’m shooting. I’m a goof and sarcastic as hell and I think that helps when directing my subjects/couples. It allows for a more authentic style I think and keeps you true to yourself. The part thats evolved I’d say is the thoughtfulness and purposefulness and intention when shooting. Asking myself what do I want the photos to feel like, what does that feeling look like, what would someone be doing in an image that feels like I want it to feel.
3. What advice do you have for photographers struggling with honing in their personal photographic style, particularly due to being exposed to other photographers’ images and trends?
I think when starting out people like too many things/styles/images/etc… Knowing what you like the most is super important to honing in your style. Make mood boards of only 5-15 images. Notice the common threads in those photos. Always update it with more recent photos you like the most. Then when you go out and shoot revisit that board to remind yourself of the vibe you want to create.
4. You made such a fun posing guide video with Sara for your YouTube channel. When on a shoot, do you always have these poses in mind to bring variety into the images? Can you shortly describe your process?
Aw thanks! We have more videos coming out this year and we’re super stoked! Totally, I always have about 30 go-to poses in the back of my head along with ways to tweak them if it doesn’t look natural with my couples. It generally starts with me allowing my couples to be themselves without my cue-ing any poses per say, but the poses come into play when I see what they’re giving me, notice how they might fit better/tangle better together and adjusting from there. That being said, everyone is so different! Some people do best with heaps of direction and posing while others are wild and it’s better to let them be their weird selves 🙂
5. How would you describe your approach to photographing a couple outside in nature compared to an in-home session?
Zero difference really other than when we’re out in nature there’s a ton of walking around and talking, more movement and running, dancing and such. In-home sessions are generally more chill, relaxed and slower paced.
6. The intimate connection between couples is evident throughout your portfolio. How do you go about creating a comfortable environment for couples that are a bit more reserved and uncomfortable with pda?
Aw thank ya! That’s sweet of you to say 🙂 I’m never asking people to make out or do pda-y stuff in front of me. I think the best thing you can do to make a comfortable feel is to be confident as shit in your own skin as a person. The second your couple smells that you’re not crazy confident in what you’re doing, their guard goes up. I make fun of myself all the time, I throw away the business-y, professional-y side of myself and just talk to my couples like we’re all just hanging out. Whatever is on my mind, whatever reddit deep dive I’m currently on, movies, music, drugs, whatever it is, we’ll chat about that. Let your couples talk as well and don’t just be a chatterbox (thats like an aunt thing to say, chatterbox?) Give your couples attention and build on their interests in conversation, it’s not always about you.
7. Consistency in editing is important, but not necessarily easy to achieve when shooting in different locations and light situations. How do you manage to keep your work so cohesive?
I made my own Lightroom Presets after a few years of trying to figure out what was most important to me. I wanted go-to options for all lighting environments and skin tones so I didn’t have to spend a crap ton of time starting from scratch on every photo.
I use my presets (www.PhilChesterPresets.com ) and my fiancé Sara’s (www.ladybyrnepresets.com).
8. Is there anything else you would like to add about the journey of developing and refining your photographic style?
I think its super important to find inspiration, and this already sounds like generic advice as I type this, but I think it’s super true when trying to stand out from the masses, finding inspiration outside of your genre. As a wedding/couples photographer I try and look at different sources of inspo, from movies (obsessed with anything made by A24) music (anything that makes me feel nostalgic) editorial magazines (boys by girls, teeth magazine, etc…).