An Interview With Jared Schoenemann
Q) You have a lot of experience with portraiture, but your outside interests (photography-wise) seem to branch out a lot more than a lot of other photographers. What was it about lizards that originally captured you interest?
A) I do shoot a lot (perhaps too much) but I try to focus on what matters. People, kids, nature and animals are my favorite subjects to work with. I just can’t focus on one. I’ve loved animals since I was a kid and would catch alligator lizards and fence lizards to keep for a few days and observe. It was a great learning experience. I believe, to generalize, dogs are playful and cats are aloof, whereas lizards are inquisitive. They study you as much as you study them. It’s pretty fascinating. Many years later a photographer I admire shot a lizard in studio and the texture and expression he captured was fantastic. It brought back memories of my lizard days, and I knew I had to get some in studio and see what I could do.
Q) When we think about animals, we often don’t ascribe the same sort of humanlike personality traits to reptiles that we do cats, dogs, etc., but you seem to have captured a lot of personality with your shots. A couple look curious and almost playful. Was this coincidence, a feeling you created, or have we just underestimated the sense of self that you seem to have captured in our scaly friends?
A) I would put reptiles squarely in the etc. category not too far off from dogs and cats. They do have varied personalities like any other animal, it’s just more subtle. I’d like to say their personality came through due to my immense skills and talent, but no. They just did their thing and I was prepared to capture it. Some loved the camera, hammed it up and enjoyed their reflection in the lens, while a few wanted nothing to do with me and would turn away (but the joke was on them, as I got great shots of their scales & tails that way). However, as with most animals, once you get down to their eye-line, their personality is much more evident. With lizards, their mouths form a natural smile which you never notice unless you get really low and close. They’re just happy animals and they make great portraits.
Q) I can’t imagine lizards responding to commands. Were they challenging to work with (movement, etc.)?
A) The lizards were a blast to work with and not nearly as difficult as I anticipated. Lizards naturally enjoy reggae and zydeco, so I had that playing on set to get them in the mood. It was really warm at the location, so they were pretty relaxed and happy, too. None freaked out or tried to bolt. One of those might not be true.
Q) When lighting something that is both small and prone to movement, what kind of challenges did you face and how did they shape your set up equipment-wise?
A) My lighting setup was determined by four things. 1) I needed the owners to be in close to their animals. 2) I wanted a hard shadow cast beside the lizard. 3) I wanted tons of details. 4) I needed an eye-light.
I’d like to say how difficult it was but it was actually simple. Big lights far back is what I like for movement and space, so that took care of #1. The table I was working on was about 3×4’ with a seamless of translum. As the lights were far back, so no matter where the animal roamed on the table, the lighting ratio was consistent and the owners were able to be right there just outside of the frame for safety.
I used only two lights. For the key light, shadow and to pop the texture of the scales I had an Einstein up top to the right with a 45’ reflector. To reveal all the details in the shadows and give an eye-light, I had another Einstein in a 7’ umbrella with diffusion for fill behind me. The room way fairly dim, so any natural light that spilled into the shot had no effect and the Einsteins froze any movement perfectly even in Color mode. It was pretty simple.
Q) What was the most exciting part about this project and what stood out to you the most as you took your images into post and really dived in?
The most exciting part was looking in the camera and realizing it was all coming together. I didn’t shoot tethered, so I didn’t really know what I got until I was back on the computer. When I pulled up the images, I was blown away by the details and fine colors of the animals. Color, texture, clarity, etc. it was all there and looked amazing. As I went through the images, I saw more and more of their personality shining through. It was fantastic. Pretty much the only work in post was cleaning up the seamless. There’s barely any work on exposure, contrast, color, curves, etc. whatsoever. It was all there. Einsteins + Zeiss always deliver.
Q) When you decided to pursue this project, what steps did you have to take? Both in terms of finding the subjects to photograph and preparing your setup
A) When I knew I wanted to shoot the lizards, my first thought I needed a lot of different lizards, so I had to go to them, rather than make them all come to me. I was put in contact with the Southwestern Herpetologists Society club through their president and pitched the idea. The idea was to remove the lizards from any sort of environment and get them in a clean, neutral studio setting, that way all we would see is texture, colors and (hopefully) personalities. He liked it and mentioned it at a meeting, and the members liked it, too. Then for their next two meetings I set up a small workstation in the corner, and the rest is history.
I couldn’t have done it without the Southwestern Herpetologists Society and their fantastic members. They are such wonderful, kind, intelligent people with a true love and understanding of reptiles. I learned a lot from them and had a fantastic time.
Q) What is your favorite image from this project and why?
A) My favorite image has to be the gecko walking toward the camera, staring straight into the lens. It makes me smile every time I see it. On set he kept moving quite quickly toward me, as if he wanted to look at his reflection, but his owner kept picking him up when he got too close and moving him back to his mark. This happened a lot. Then he would instantly rush right back, as if he was testing my focusing skills (all the images were shot manual focus on my Zeiss 35mm f2 ZF. at nearly minimum focus distance, so that was a fun challenge). In the final image he’s almost giving me a slight grin, as if he knows he’s messing with me. It was awesome. And I nailed focus.
About Jared Schoenemann
Jared is a photographer, writer and artist in South Pasadena, California. He began his career in video after studying video production in art school and cinematography in film school. He now specializes in images of people, kids and animals for commercial and editorial clients, while still creating personal work. When not shooting, he writes a children’s book series that helps kids cultivate common sense and critical thinking skills, adventurous screenplays and is a partner at Hues of Brews. He spends the rest of his time running around with his daughter, tending the plants in his jungle home, cooking and washing endless dishes.