Ten Questions with Florida Photographer Eric A. Soto

Florida photographer Eric A. Soto OMP Member #207826 relates that his artistic background has always been photography. Although he admits he could never draw or paint, with his camera he was able to create something that others could see.

Beginning in high school with black and white 35mm film, Eric is glad he is now 100% digital. He doesn’t miss film at all, and thinks digital has allowed people like himself to learn a lot and very quickly. “With digital, you know instantly if you screwed up the shot – and you get to correct then and there and try again. You learn a lot that way.”

OMP: How did you get your start in photography?

Eric: I actually did not shoot much after high school. I was focusing on college. Funny enough, I was always the guy with a camera, though more of a point-and-shoot. I even sold cameras briefly at an electronics store and got to shoot with a Nikon F4 several times. That was a $2,000 camera in 1992, so it was a big deal to get to use one. I am sure that the F4 definitely was why I became a Nikon shooter to this day. I just loved that camera and how it felt and what I could do with it.

But it was not until 2004 that I got back into photography big time because that’s when I “woke up” to the digital SLR revolution. One day, I just went out and bought a Nikon D50. The quality of good Nikon glass and especially the control over depth-of-field that you get with an SLR brought me back to shooting pictures. Since I’ve owned a D40x, D70 and now I shoot with a D80.

Of course, once I got a new camera, I immediately started to seek out photography training and groups so I could learn more and more. I’m naturally a “learner” and when I get into something, I tend to dive right in with full calculated intent. Soon thereafter, I was looking into studio lighting, more advanced techniques, etc.

Today, I shoot primarily for fun and I’ve become real good at using speedlights as opposed to high power strobes. I find that since they are so easy to carry, you can just set up a softbox anywhere and not worry about heavy power packs. Of course, they are low powered, but you can really do a lot, especilly if you pack a ton of them. I usually carry three speedlights and three softboxes with me when I shoot. I definitely also like to be the guy that knows something other people don’t and I’ve found that a lot of photographers don’t actually know how to shoot with speedlights very well.

OMP: What are your favorite styles of images to shoot, and who are your influences?

Eric: I love to shoot lifestyle, glamour and lingerie. I just love the female form and I am fascinated by the curves and poses that I can achieve with a good model. My favorite setup is actually a white seamless background with 2 strip lights – shooting straight ahead with the background blown out and the model slightly on the hot side. I also love to shoot early evening or sunset with a speedlight to balance the model with the oranges in the sky.

My most important influence is definitely Joe McNally because he does everything with speedlights. He might shoot with 20 on a given shoot… Yes, it’s totally crazy (and costly) but the images he produces are just amazing and when you think of the fact that he did it with a bunch of 2-inch lights with AA batteries, you have to be amazed.

I am also a Photoshop and Lightroom expert, so, I follow Scott Kelby a lot. He is always teaching you something no matter what he is doing.

My deep dark secret, though, is that I don’t know much about “art photography”. I guess being a techie I am much more interested in technique, equipment, etc. — as opposed to “the art” of it. I am sure to some photography art people, I am an ignoramus. That’s okay… I shoot for fun more than anything.

OMP: What is your approach to selecting models for photo projects?

Eric: To me, a model has to have really pretty eyes that she knows how to showcase when shooting.  I can fix a lot of other things in post, but the eyes are hard both technically but also for me, it’s like I’m replacing the model’s soul if I mess with the eyes too much. I am one of those people that really connects with my eyes and other people’s eyes.

Beyond the beauty, though, I really look for models that act professional (though not necessarily are at that level in experience.) I am a professional (even though I shoot for fun) and my time is valuable. I don’t have time for games nor drama – certainly not from a model! Models that reply to emails (I am big on email) and get back to you in a timely fashion will usually get the job. I also expect models to be clear about their availability and their fees. I don’t do TFP — I always pay at least a stipend because otherwise, how can I expect someone to take our time together seriously?

OMP: Tell us about your recent shoots.

Eric: My most recent shoot was a sunset yoga shoot with the FL inter-coastal as background. I scoped out a location on google maps a few days prior (using street view). Then, I went four hours before the shoot to see it in person. It was a public street in between two gigantic mansions. The end of the street hit right against the intercoastal. We could shoot using that background all day long and get great shots – and not enter anyone’s property. BUT, we got lucky that one of the houses was under renovation which meant no owners and at sunset no workers either.

So, at shoot time, I shot a few pictures in the public street to see if anyone would bother us. When 20 minutes went by and no one challenged us, we “snuck in” the back yard (hey, it was a wide open lot — with no  sign in sight.) I had the model do standing yoga poses as well as sitting poses (on their yard’s incredible lawn.) Still, we were rushed because we started late due to complications before the shoot. Also, one of my speedlights (my main one) malfunctioned on my second picture so I was down one light. I was so rushed I even forgot to setup my soft box correctly. Still, somehow, I ended up with 3 or 4 shots that were really good and worth the time to edit further in post. In the end, the shoot worked out and the I was happy with the results.

Lessons learned: Always bring backups to ALL equipment; don’t let yourself be rushed – maybe even use checklists to make sure you don’t miss technical details and so you can concentrate on the creative process; and finally, if you think you need 2 hours to prepare, then start preparing 4 hours before! Time is your friend in a location shoot — the more the better.

OMP: Can you tell us about your future projects.

Eric: I really want to do more studio work with complex sets. The idea of creating a set for a shoot is fascinating to me. I would like to expand into set lighting and more.

OMP: How did you discover OneModelPlace.com?

Eric: I found out about OMP through their networking events. It was a great way to network with others, but more importantly, to learn to deal with models of all skill levels. When I started back up with photography seven years ago, I thought models were all professional and represented by big agents that charged a lot of money. OneModelPlace.com opened up a whole new world for me. I now could network, have access and  work with potentially thousands of models of all experience levels. The models are not necessarily supermodels, yet many of them are just as beautiful and talented. OMP is an invaluable tool!

OMP: How has OMP helped you further your career?

Eric: OneModelPlace.com has allowed me to efficiently network with and connect with models of all skills and experience levels. Of course, OMP is also a showcase, like a business card. When I meet a new model, I always send them to my OMP portfolio so they can see that I am indeed someone that can produce nice images.

OMP: What equipment do you use?

Eric: I am all Nikon — all day, all night. Currently I shoot with a D80 using an Eye-Fi wireless card so I can see the pictures instantly on my iPad (which always comes on shoots.) I love speed lights and I own an SB600, SB700 and an SB800. All three always come on shoots! I also use the speed lights with soft boxes and umbrellas and I always shoot them wireless using the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System). The D80 has commander mode which means I can fire all three of my speedlights without a single wire! However, I REALLY want a D-90 or an even better model. I’m not big into video, so it’s not that feature I am looking for, but instead the ability to go to 25,000 ISO. Yet, I recently became a dad, so the budget for equipment is suddenly competing heavily with the toddler-needs budget!

OMP: What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?

Eric: First and foremost, shoot, shoot and then shoot some more. Do NOT edit yourself. Digital is amazing in that you can shoot 300 pictures then delete 299 as long as you got the one great shot. Second, read books and websites, watch videos and learn learn learn. Also, you have to know how to use your equipment. Whatever brand it is, you have to understand every nuance and every setting. Even if you don’t use them all (and you won’t) but you should know what they are and what they can do. Finally, be a pro. In this business, you’ll get to meet many many beautiful people. You must never forget that you are there as a professional (or an artist for some) and that you have to act as one — always! Above all, have fun. No one likes to work with a grouch. Smile and be positive and energetic and you’ll always have great shoots!

OMP: What advice do you have for models?

Eric: Models must be professional also. Reply to people contacting you for shoots. If you don’t have time to reply, then you should not be listed in a modeling site! Also, have a calendar and be good about keeping it updated. Always know when you are available and always communicate clearly what your rates are, what your availability is and what type of shooting you are comfortable with. Also, you will unfortunately be approached by many creeps, so always be safe. I advise models to bring chaperones to shoots, especially when working with new photographers. If a photographer objects to you bringing a companion to a shoot, then you don’t want to shoot with them, no matter how great the offer. A true pro will never object to you bringing someone to a shoot! The key is communication. Make sure that this has been discussed ahead of time so that accommodations can be made. For instance, in many shoots, I meet the model somewhere with lots of parking before taking a car or van together to the actual shoot location (which may have limited parking if any at all.) I shoot a lot “in the city,” so it’s not always practical to drive in three or four cars. So, telling me ahead of time that you are going to bring someone allows me to make sure I can provide transportation, water, etc for all people coming.

But above all, come ready to have a blast and give it your best. You are in front of the camera because you have something special the photographer wanted to capture. Give it your all and commit to the shooting experience then and there. You are special for a reason, so try to bring that out as best you can.

Check out more of Eric’s work on his OMP Portfolio.

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