Behind The Lens with Portrait Photographer Franco Vogt
Welcome to Inside+Out’s exclusive interview series, BEHIND THE LENS, where we feature Upstate NY’s top image-makers. Get ready to meet the photographers, photo agents, models, and stylists that call the Hudson Valley home.
We launch this series with advertising and editorial portrait photographer, Franco Vogt. A Woodstock NY local, Vogt has been shooting advertising and editorial portraits for over thirty years. His evocative portraits beautifully showcase the personality of his subjects. Each of his images reveals the emotional connection and the magic of those unguarded moments that a “quick flick of a finger” can capture. Inside+Out has had the pleasure of working with Franco on a number of assignments, and now we enthusiastically introduce his exquisite talent to our readers.
INSIDE+OUT: Where were you born and how did you wind up in Woodstock NY?
Franco Vogt: I was born in Naples, Italy, and my journey to Woodstock has been a long one. The short story is that my wife and I had friends up here and we were invited for a weekend stay. At the time we were living in NYC and had been thinking about getting a small weekend place for family getaways. We loved what we saw and soon we were looking at homes in the Hudson Valley.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a photographer and how did you get your start?
I came to photography the way many do, I got the bug from my father. He had camera gear and was always shooting. We would then process the film and print the images in our home darkroom. By the time I was a teenager, I had started to shoot my friends and it came very naturally to me. I mowed lawns to earn money for my own camera, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I realized I wanted photography as a career. I dropped out of that school and went to a technical vocation program to learn the mechanics of the medium. Soon after, my then-school friends pushed me to leave that program and move to NYC to apprentice there. That’s where I got my first taste of the “real” photo business. I was hooked.
Do you prefer studio or location shoots? Do you have a studio in Woodstock or do you rent?
My specialty is commercial portraiture, which means the portraits created are mostly used in some form of commerce. We do not have a formal studio, as most of my work is location-based, but we do shoot out of our home when a “studio-style” shoot is needed. I love the challenge that location shooting brings, and I really take pride in that I can do it well.
What are some of your secrets for connecting with the people you photograph? How do you get someone to relax behind the camera?
Well as uninteresting as it sounds, I do not have any secrets. My approach involves a fair amount of preplanning and discussion. I often have multiple conversations with my subjects prior to the shoot to really get into their heads, and learn what they expect from their portrait. On the set, I’m very relaxed and do not like to over-direct as I feel that can stifle spontaneity. I truthfully am a big proponent of happy mistakes and I’m open to letting them happen. Sometimes unplanned problems on a shoot yield wonderful results; these are the best. I really encourage collaboration and experimentation as much as I can.
What type of camera equipment do you use? Can you describe your creative process?
I am a Canon Camera user, but I have used a variety of cameras over the years. You’ve heard it said, but it bears repeating: the camera does not matter so much, as who is using it. My iPhone pictures can look like my Canon pictures at this point because of my personal style. My creative process does not have a singular path. I find that by talking to my clients I will start to develop a mental image of what I want to happen in our session. I will then convey the shoot to my wife, and creative director, Lucia, who helps me formulate a direction. Wait, that means I do have a secret: my better half is my secret weapon!
Indeed she is! What is the biggest misconception about your work?
Most people think my job is just taking pictures, and generally speaking, that’s what I do. That being said, the few hours on set are only a small part of it. Preplanning and post-production eat up a significant amount of time. Another misconception is that the digital camera is exponentially cheaper to use compared to film. In reality, the digital camera needs to be replaced much more often, and the need to have up-to-date software and powerful computers negates the savings of shooting film.
How is your industry changing and how are you adapting?
The industry has already changed from when I started. The stock image model for instance has completely altered the way people buy and respect photography. It’s more a ”by the pound” business than a “by the quality” one. Entry to the business has been democratized for better or for worse. The profession is the same in that you still need to be a competent photographer, a strong business person, and like all businesses, you need some integrity. But unfortunately, the market is flooded with beginner photographers who don’t have a good grasp on pricing and business practices, making it harder for career photographers to get work as they are competing with low and unsustainable rates every day. A large portion of the clientele has also adopted a cheaper-is-better mentality. We have to maintain a very high quality of work and service to keep the clients we have.
How do you grow your business and how do your clients find you?
I’ve been very fortunate to have clients that show off my work, which in turn gets me referrals. Most, if not all of my assignments, come from word-of-mouth praise. I also maintain my online web presence by updating my site often and verifying that my SEO practices are up to date.
Do you leverage social media to get work and how is that working for you?
I have a fair amount of people that follow me on social sites like Instagram and Facebook, but in general, they are not what gets me the work. Like I said before, word of mouth is what really fuels my business. Facebook does bring me work though, my happy clients are proud to show off their portraits and that places me in front of their friend’s eyes. You really can’t get better marketing than that.
What does your typical day look like?
Ask any self-employed person what their day looks like, and it’s never typical. Some things are the same as other 9 to 5 jobs—such as answering jobs requests or spending a fair amount of time on the computer—but the other tasks I have are less standard, like scouting locations or researching shoot ideas.
What is it about Woodstock and the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?
Everyone who lives in the Hudson Valley is blessed with beautiful nature, a vast art community, great food, and proximity to the city. The Hudson Valley has been very good for me professionally and personally.
How do you find your support crew: assistants, hair, makeup, and stylists? Do you have a team in place?
This is a tough one to answer because most of my projects do not require much of a crew, but having said that, we do have a strong network of talented folks we can call on for makeup or rental equipment.
What impact does your business have on your community?
My goal is to provide a professional service to people who may have never experienced working with a career photographer. I strive to give 125% no matter what the scale of the project is or the fee paid.
Do you have a personal body of work? Something you shoot that is far removed from your commercial work?
Yes and no. My personal projects usually feed my business in that they are created and executed with the sole purpose of showing possible clients what I am capable of.
Who or what inspires you professionally?
I read lots of magazines, watch movies, follow many photographers and artists on Instagram, and listen to music. All of these things spur emotions and visuals in my head that translate to my shoots.
Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to know?
As a teenager, I really wanted to be an Air Force jet pilot.
What’s next for you? A new personal project or upcoming assignment?
Well, I do have a couple of personal projects brewing, but I do not want to divulge anything before I start shooting them. I can say they will involve some of my Facebook friends.
What is your current state of mind?
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Here is all you need to hire Franco Vogt for Advertising & Portrait Assignments: