Cameron Karsten is a photographer who seamlessly melds authentic moments with artistic brilliance. In this interview, we delve into Cameron's unique approach, where the art of preserving authenticity harmonizes with visual aesthetics. From creating profound relationships with subjects to harnessing light and shadow, Cameron shares insights into his creative journey, highlighting the essence of genuine storytelling.
Based on your work, I can see you like to seamlessly incorporate candid and authentic shots with the products you’re shooting. How do you strike a balance between creating visually stunning images and preserving the authenticity of the subject or moment?
When going into a scene, a situation, a job or project, I do my best to really first observe and listen to the environment, surroundings, people and talent. I learn as much as I can from where I am and who I am working with and start by creating a relationship. This creates trust, something beyond just work. It's a commonality, which then allows things to unfold naturally, authentically.
As a photographer, you have a unique ability to capture the small details that make a scene come alive. Can you walk us through your thought process when scouting a location or setting up a shot, particularly in terms of how you select and emphasize those captivating details?
I love to create depth, and almost 100% of the time shoot wide open. This allows me to isolate the scene and tell the story with varying layers of foreground, middle and background. Revealing the story in front of me is what I strive to do, almost like a fly on the wall, or an out-of-body experience - something to ponder, observe and listen to.
The interplay of light and shadow is a prominent feature in your work. Could you share some insights into how you approach lighting in your photography to enhance the overall impact of the image and evoke specific emotions?
I went to school for photography and spent the hours inside a studio playing with continuous and strobe lighting. Once I felt confident, I took these outside the four walls and intermingled it all with natural light. That's the ultimate trick utilizing the natural light, then adding light subtly enough to not make it look so. As I've developed in my career, I've come to appreciate the harder shadows, similarly portraying a scene as an act revealing and or hiding.
How do you think your unique process and style separate you from other photographers?
I'm a firm believer in paving your own path. I look at others' work and appreciate it, but keep using my intuition and inspiration to make it my own. It might not necessarily be new, but it is wholeheartedly from my source of creativity and desires. And understanding that I'll never stop developing my work and career helps push me farther down this path when it gets difficult or stagnant.
You have had the opportunity to work with renowned brands such as Camelbak, The Discovery Channel, and Patagonia. How have these collaborations allowed you to merge your creative vision with the brand's identity? Can you share an example of a project where you felt particularly fulfilled in bringing your artistic vision to life while representing the brand effectively?
Every client is different. They want something from you that you provide, and knowing this, that they didn't come out of nowhere, builds a sense of confidence in my own brand and what I can bring to the table. When on these projects out in the field, it starts with a relationship and ends with a relationship... all the while we are creating together or "working". In the end it does not feel like work. It feels like each member of the team being themselves – the popular adage You Do You.
Establishing a connection with your subjects is a vital aspect of your photography process. Can you describe how you connect with people during a shoot to bring out their authentic selves and create powerful, emotionally resonant images? Additionally, how do you handle challenging situations when trying to establish that connection?
It’s all about creating a relationship by asking questions and listening and then finding the commonality. I think humor and humility bring a lot to the table too. However, sometimes it feels like hitting your head against a wall and on those rare occasions, you just have to keep being YOU and have a clear knowledge of “how to read the room”.
Can you tell us about one of your favorite memories from working on a campaign shoot?
One of my favorite memories was with one of my first clients on the first big campaign. We flew to Norway, Guatemala, Florida Keys and the Pacific Northwest. I remember thinking,“Holy shit! This is amazing that I am doing what I absolutely love to do, and someone is paying me to do this!” And then my next thoughts were similar to, “Don’t fuck this up, Cameron!”
I see you like to do a lot of traveling, taking lots of photos along the way. How does exploring different locations and cultures influence your creative process? Could you describe a specific instance where a travel experience significantly impacted your photography and led to a unique discovery or insight?
I started out by wanting to be a writer and write about my travels through various cultures around the world – a young Paul Theroux in the making. I spent six years backpacking around the world on the frugalist of budgets, writing stories as I went. I carried a film camera with me and would ship rolls of film home. Around this time a small consumer digital camera came on the market and having that in my pocket on my travels with the ability to share the image on the back of the camera with the subject changed my life. I loved seeing how their faces lit up, the joy and the unending smiles. I instantly wanted to tell their stories with pictures instead of just words.
When photographing in diverse locations, how do you balance capturing the essence of a place while incorporating your personal creative touch? Are there specific techniques or approaches you employ to ensure your images convey both the authenticity of the location and your unique artistic perspective?
When walking into a new place, there is an instinct in me to just observe with all my senses and take it all in. It’s a meditative experience, letting the eyes dash about the scene without any judgement. When I come into a place with the idea of taking photos, I allow this to happen and then at some point start to move around the scene, learning more whether it’s a structural scene and its’ angles, or a person filled with personality, or a natural landscape with sun, clouds, flora and fauna. I then find the right moment to press the shutter.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
I have a doozy of a project in Italy, that keeps shifting due to the availability of the boats we’ll be utilizing. I just purchased my tickets for me and my camera op, but just had to cancel them since it all appears to be a moving target. There are less than two weeks until production begins, and still no one knows where we need to be and what we will be on...
We extend our gratitude to Cameron for offering us a glimpse into their world of photography. His insights and artistic journey have been an inspiring revelation, and we look forward to witnessing more of his captivating work in the future.