This month, we are proud to feature the work of our client, New York City based portrait photographer, Joshua Cutillo. Joshua finds inspiration from movie posters and oil paintings. Continue reading to learn more about his work and see examples of his cinematic imagery.
Describe your approach to photography— What makes your work unique?
I would say I approach photography knowing that no photoshoot has the same approach. Every project is different with its own unique set of challenges. The lesson I learned early on was to be prepared for anything and everything – roll with the punches and make the best out of it. I would describe my work as cinematic with a pinch of dramatic lighting bringing it all together nicely. The idea of telling a whole story in one frame is what attracted me to photography. I fall in love with every client because, when I tell their story I don’t want it to be boring. I want to tell their story with the same enthusiasm and excitement as a kid telling their favorite scary story to their friends in front of a campfire. What makes a good image? I think what makes a great image (cliche but true) is when the viewer looks at it and they feel some sort of connection to the image. It can be any kind of connection: love, hate, or nostalgia. I feel any emotion is good you just have to make that connection with the person that’s viewing the image.
What inspires you? Who are your influences?
I am inspired by other photographers and artists. I love looking at images and imagining how the photographer/artist put them together. It’s amazing to look at other people’s work and see the passion and love they put into it. I always was attracted to art in itself I remember as a kid when I would watch movies I always paused my favorite parts and tried to recreate them with my action figures (I loved the production aspect). I would steal my mom’s magazines so I could stare at the images all day. It’s crazy how in love I was with all of it. My influences? Oh man, that list is like my iTunes playlist. If I had to make a list it would be Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger, Art Streiber, Erwin Olaf, to name a few.
What was your first camera?
As a kid, it was a Minox spy camera my dad gave me with 1 roll of film ( I shot a lot of top-secret projects lol). As an adult, it was the Canon eos 40d.
Can you tell us about your journey to medium format?
I think a photographer’s tools are only as good as the person using them. I would say that as I grew as an artist I explored more image-making equipment in the search of a system that had a more film-like quality, it was a look I liked and wanted. I tried a few other systems in my journey I liked the Hasselblad and how it performed but I wasn’t in love. I finally had a friend that lent me the Phase One 645df+ with the P40+ back and I was SOLD with the images it produced compared to the equipment I was currently using. I loved the sharpness and tonal range and look. It’s hard to describe but I just like the crispness and colors the Phase One system produced.
Describe your experience with DT and why you chose to shoot with Phase One gear.
My experience with DT was awesome. I linked up with Jeff Lin via phone call and described what I was looking for and he helped me make the decision. I settled on the 645df+ and P30+ back as my first system and I loved it. After a few years of beating that system up, I wanted to upgrade because the XF system came out. I once again called Jeff and he set me up with the IQ350 with the Phase One XF body and it is my pride and joy. Love it! Why do I shoot phase one? The answer is simple. I don’t believe any other system can give me the results I’m looking for. Not to mention these suckers are reliable! I have honestly put them through the roughest conditions and they constantly shine for me. Lastly, the support is amazing.
How did you make the transition to professional photography, and how did making a living from photography impact your style of shooting?
I started out shooting weddings as a part-time gig while I was learning what type of photographer I wanted to be. I once was told by a photo agent “don’t be good at many different things, just be amazing at one”. So I took that advice and focused all my attention on shooting portraits. I spent a few years learning how to light and edit and finally made my move to being a full-time portrait photographer. I decided it was “sink or swim,” and I jumped in head first hoping for the best. I spent my first couple of years shooting corporate headshots and family portraits to build up my portfolio. I wanted to make the transition to advertising/commercial photography. So I kept watching trends and kept experimenting until I found my own style. I’ve been doing what I love ever since. It’s always a learning experience because if you love this business you never stop learning.
I would say the only impact on my shooting style is everything has to be planned and executed to perfection because the only image any of us will be remembered by is our worst image. So there is zero room for error.
Tell us about one of the photos you’ve provided. You can describe the technical choices you made or the journey you took leading up to the photo or a combination of both.
This portrait of Tony hawk. I’ll keep it short and sweet. We were supposed to have an hour for the image and it was cut to 5 min. We went from a five-light set up down to a single light with a large octa/ grid. It was supposed to be a disaster at that point and a reschedule but we pulled it off and the client loved the image. Sometimes you plan to be grand but simplicity can come in like a knight in shining armor.
What was your most difficult project?
I was commissioned to shoot for a comic book company at the comic con at the Javits center this was one of my first “big” jobs. We arrived a few hours early to check lighting conditions and shoot locations. I was carrying the light stand bags/ sandbags and there was a water bottle someone left on the stairs. Needless to say, I didn’t see the water bottle stepped on it, and went down the stairs (cement stairs mind you ) with about 150 lbs of gear on me. I was bruised and beaten in a heap of pain. I didn’t want the shoot to be ruined on my account so I worked the next 15 hours dying in pain and trying to hide it from everyone because I was scared it would ruin everything and let down my client. I pulled off the shoot perfectly! Went to the hospital the next morning to find I had a dislocated ankle, 2 fractured ribs, and a bruised lung. That was the longest day of my life. The funny thing is not one person (except my assistant) knew it happened the whole time.
If you had to do a project using the bare minimum of equipment, what would you bring?
Simple, my Camera, lens, and a 5-way reflector – can’t go wrong!
What’s the most interesting/surprising/invaluable thing you keep in your equipment bag?
Besides my camera and lens it would have to be my LEE Filters 2 slotted hood with my ND kit. I use it on all of my shoots. That and my mini speaker! How can you have a chill shoot without some tunes?
What is one thing you wish you knew when starting out?
Honestly? Network and build relationships with the right people in the industry. It’s been one of my hardest struggles. Being a photographer isn’t just taking photos. You really have to be the jack of all trades. I’m learning though…
Do you have a “passion project” that you enjoy working on in your free time?
My “Faces of The World” project. It’s a work in progress. One day I will show the world all the beautiful faces out there that we don’t always get to see or we do see but just don’t notice because no one takes the time to appreciate how beautiful humans are.
What’s your favorite activity or hobby outside of photography that you’ve experienced recently?
I love music. I play guitar, drums, bass, and a few more. I spend all my free time jamming! Who doesn’t love music!?
Want to see more of Joshua Cutillo’s work?
All images featured in this article are courtesy of Joshua Cutillo.