What if someone told you that the key to the longevity of a photography career wasn’t about the art of photography? In this Bokeh podcast episode, Luke Edmonson shares how he found his own path in photography, his perspective on working with family members, and the big idea that has enabled a legacy of successful family of photographers.
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Tell us a little about yourself (1:36)
Where does the wonderful connection with your photographer father come from? (3:10)
Tell us about your family (7:56)
How has having kids affected your photography career? (10:10)
A practical approach to relationships and marriage (12:36)
How do you create a career with longevity? (15:45)
How do you balance the business of running a photography company, while maintaining a creative outlet? (20:20)
How can photographers find you online? (28:44)
Nathan Holritz: All right. We’re live. Here we’re and I actually get to sit with my friend Luke Edmonson who, I’m trying to think how long we’ve actually known each other now.
Luke Edmonson: Six weeks I think.
Nathan Holritz: Is it six, not seven?
Luke Edmonson: Not seven, but we’re going to get there.
Nathan Holritz: Okay.
Luke Edmonson: Because I’m an optimist.
Nathan Holritz: There are a few people in the industry where if I have the opportunity to get to see them I feel like I’m seeing family that I just spoke to the other day. That’s the kind of relationship, I mean at least from my perspective, that I have with my friend Luke. We’ve done business together. We’ve done life together. We’ve gone really deep in conversation multiple occasions and encourage each other, and hurt together, and so I feel like you’re family.
Luke Edmonson: Absolutely. I feel the same way.
Nathan Holritz: I have such respect for not only what you’re doing in the industry but just for who you are as an individual. There’s a certain level of transparency that you have every time we dive into conversation that I look forward to, so I thank you for that. Tell us a little bit about yourself. You’ve been in the industry for a long time and I mentioned before we got started that we’re going to kind of dive into this topic of longevity. It’s kind of unusual these days in the photography industry but tell us a little bit about your background.
Luke Edmonson: Sure. Absolutely. My unique situation is I come from three generations of photographers. My grandfather was involved in photographic sales and photographic supplies. My father launched into full-time photography in 1974, which is before some of the people listening to this may have even been born. I was born in ’75 and suddenly I’ve grown up just surrounded by this world of creativity and photography, and I started professionally at the age of 21. I’m 41 now so that’s 20 years for myself, so this was this long period of our family’s life where photography in some form has been kind of woven through the fabric of what makes us, how we relate to the world, how we see the world, and of course how we like to think.
One of the most beautiful things for me is the fact that my father and I now have gotten to do business together for a little over a decade at this point and that’s really a privilege. I would say this, when I first started working with my dad I said I could work with my father but not for my father, and today it I could absolutely gladly work for him. That’s been more about the grace that he’s given me just to mature and of course for me to establish my own sense of identity within what it is that we do.
Nathan Holritz: What I think is so beautiful when I see the two of you together, and we’re actually here at a photography conference so I get to see you guys together. You’re hearing background noise. We’re actually in a convention center, but when I get to see the two of you together there’s always this, you speak about grace, but you show a certain level of grace to him in such a consistent fashion. You’ve been around him for a while. You’ve been doing this for a while.
Luke Edmonson: I’m old. Great.
Luke Edmonson: You know, I didn’t always want to be a photographer. In fact without, I think intentional thinking on my parent’s part, what happened is my sister drew a picture and everybody goes, “Oh, you’re the artist in the family.” I probably kicked a ball and they said, “Oh, you’re the athlete.” Or somebody else played a musical note and you’re the musician. They gave each child their sense of fiefdom and tried to encourage them and so forth. I never associated myself with the arts, so to speak, so when I grew up in the family business it was just something that we did, a little bit on the lines of The Karate Kid, which is an old movie that some people may have seen, it’s a classic, but you’re working in the studio and you’re doing stuff and for me it was a chore, a total chore.
But at the same time I was learning and I didn’t realize what it was that I was learning at the time. When the time came in my life that I realized that I would not be well rounded as a person if I did not explore this thing called art, and that was when I got to college, and never having expressed interest in that realm beforehand, my father gave me the best gift he could ever give me, which he said, “Absolutely.” I said to him at the time, I said, “I don’t even have any idea where this is going to go. I just know that if I don’t do this that there’s going to be a part of me that’s going to always be missing.” He said, “Go for it.”
So I did and that’s kind of when he first extended that sense of grace towards me and that opportunity just to go into something without knowing what the final outcome result was going to be. Later on when I came back to work with him and so forth, when you think about, let’s say a musician, somebody who plays on the highest levels. Somebody who’s new to perhaps picking up the guitar or whatever says, “Oh, I so love guitar. I just want to wear my guitar everywhere because it’s my identity. I want to let the world know that I’m a aspiring musician,” and you really just want to jam, right? You want to jam with anyone anytime you can.
My dad was the guy who practices his guitar all the time but probably doesn’t really want to jam with some guy that’s just still learning how to play the scales, if that makes sense. There was a certain amount of grace that he gave me in that to be able to get up to speed with him, and I had to do that on my own. That work had to be done on my own to the point that I could finally run alongside him in a photographic sense and be able to stand on my own, to be able to think in an interesting way about how is it we’re going to visually problem solve a particular situation or particular look? How am I going to have a unique vantage point and idea and so forth?
There was a lot of grace that he gave me all along that growing process so it’s very natural and very easy, to answer your question, for me to extend that back to him at this point. It’s just something that it’s a choice that we make every day. It’s like every other relationship, a business partner, perhaps you work with a family member or whatever, it’s just this choice that you make about the time that we have is so precious together so why in the heck do I want to spend it arguing over something that’s just a minor detail?
Nathan Holritz: Right. That’s really beautiful. I know we all have different experiences with our fathers or mothers, different types of relationships. My dad and I weren’t always close. We’ve had the wonderful opportunity to kind of build on our relationship in the last, even the last few years, connecting over riding motorcycles. We were just talking about riding motorcycles little bit ago but I just have so much respect for, you talked about the word grace, but even just the word respect to itself, the level of respect that you guys show each other not just professionally but as individuals. It’s so consistent. It’s something that I always notice even in just the simplest interactions.
Luke Edmonson: You think about that word respect, you know, on some level people say well, you just need to respect me. Well, I have to accept you where you are, absolutely, and I have to accept you for who you are, but respect is both given and it’s earned. My dad’s earned my respect. It’s easy to give it, if that makes sense.
Nathan Holritz: Absolutely it makes sense. Take us back just a little bit to, well first of all you’re based right now in Texas. Whereabouts in Texas?
Luke Edmonson: We’re in Dallas, Texas.
Luke Edmonson: Sure. Well, I have a beautiful wife. I’m completely undeserving of her, of her love. I do have to remind her on occasion that she chose me. She could’ve chosen anyone and she chose me, including the sets of problems that I have. We have an absolutely delightful three-year-old daughter who is one of just the joys of my heart. Her name is Holland and I adore her and four months ago we had a son come into our lives, Rhett, who I mean I just love getting to know. At this point our interactions are belly laughs and watching him roll over and that kind of stuff.
We had a moment when he was born where we had a bit of excitement, let’s say, and we started our journey off with him for nine days in the NICU. It wasn’t a premature type thing. It’s just kind of part of how the birth process went and it taught me a lot. I used to say give me 10 fingers, 10 toes, healthy baby, I’m happy. It was very cavalier and I don’t hold that against myself. I think that’s just a normal type thing.
When you’re faced with the reality of leaving a hospital with your child still there it’s just a different reality, right? It’s given me a lot of empathy for people that perhaps have a child with a disability or anything else that could have happened with birth and it just makes you say to yourself as a parent, and you know this with your own kids, you’re going to love your children regardless of any particular situation. That’s been part of the process that we’ve been going through and I think ultimately, we’re seven years into our marriage, it’s helped bring us closer and to work better together as a couple, and again, that goes back to the grace and the choices and all that kind of stuff as well.
Nathan Holritz: How does having kids now, and I was so excited when I found out that your daughter was going to be born, that I was going to get to observe you as a father. We’ve known each other for a little while prior to you having kids and we talked about fatherhood and that whole experience, and I was excited to see what that would look like for you, especially knowing of course your relationship with your dad. How has that influenced your photography career?
Luke Edmonson: You know, I’m going to bring it back to something here so we’re members of an organization as well over in England and they had an opportunity to go for, it’s called Your Fellowship and it’s, let’s say, a terminal degree in photography and so forth. To set the stage, what you do is to create a portfolio of 20 images in a particular field. My particular field was weddings, and with that you have to include a statement. It causes you to pause and reflect on how things are.
When I started shooting weddings I was single and I was the same age or younger than many of the bridesmaids, and you could flirt and do all this kinds of stuff, and it was all about energy …
Nathan Holritz: Energy, that’s what you call it?
Luke Edmonson: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. That energy led to me meeting my wife. I met her on the dance floor of a wedding that I was shooting so that worked out.
Nathan Holritz: That’s awesome.
Luke Edmonson: But when I was thinking about it I started off the premise to say something like this. I said, “You know, I don’t think it’s a requirement for you to be married in order to be a wedding photographer and I really don’t think it’s a requirement for you to have children to be a wedding photographer.” But both of those events, and how could they not, have shaped the prism that I now view wedding photography through. I can see it now through the eyes of a husband and what the wedding day in retrospect will mean.
Nathan Holritz: Interesting.
Luke Edmonson: I can also now see it through the prism of what it means to be a father and what that will mean to those children, and here it is, you’re having the opportunity to capture on a wedding day this idea of shooting someone through the eyes of a loved one, right? The way that my daughter will look upon her dad is going to be different than the way my son will look upon his dad. My son’s going to get to see, hopefully, how I model loving a woman. My daughter, I hope, also sees the same thing, right, and sees the value that I place in my wife and I hope that that means that I have done something to shape the type of man that she desires to have in her life so she doesn’t ever settle for second best, right?
That she find someone that values her for who she is, at the same time accepting her for who she is, and you know, when you get to this idea of marriage and all that kinda stuff at the end of the day we’re just choosing the set of problems that we want to deal with for the rest of our life, right?
Nathan Holritz: That’s a good way to put it.
Luke Edmonson: There is no perfect person out there, right?
Nathan Holritz: Right.
Luke Edmonson: Right, so because of that it’s like can I live with this particular set of problems, and if I do then I chose that and now let’s go.
Nathan Holritz: That’s a very almost cynical yet quite beautiful and, again, gracious way to approach a relationship like that. And I think too something that you mentioned earlier when you talk about your relationship with your dad, you talked about about identity, being uncomfortable in who you’re as an individual and not looking for your identity in someone else enables you to show that type of grace and love, and really any type of relationship that you’re in, the other person.
Luke Edmonson: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean that becomes the fundamental thing. You know, we can get into marriage or relationships or whatever you want, but I mean at a certain point when you first fall in love with someone, I mean you’re just excited thinking about them, right, and they’re perfect. They have absolutely no flaws, right? You’re just daydreaming about them and it feels good just to daydream.
Nathan Holritz: It does, yeah.
Luke Edmonson: And then you spend more time around them and you start realizing they’re a real person. You’re not matching this mental 5 x 7 of the person that I love, you know? Most people kind of when they hit that friction point, you know we call them pinch points of whatever, that’s when they kind of go oh, okay, well now I’m going to start separating for you or whatever and stuff like that, but at the end of the day it comes down to I have to be filling my own tank. I can’t be looking to them to fill my tank, my emotional tank or whatever. If I do that and they do their part of taking care of themself, then naturally we’re going to have something to give to each other, right, but if I’m only looking at it for them to pour into my life it’s unsustainable.
Nathan Holritz: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Luke Edmonson: There you go.
Nathan Holritz: Like you said we can go on about that because that just brings so much to mind about personal experience even recently, but I think it’s such a beautiful point. I’m almost 40 myself and I’m just now realizing the significance of that very fact, that to look to other people to feel that so-called emotional tank is futile in the end and it leaves you wanting, always wanting more versus when you do focus on the other person and what you can do to porn to them. As long as you’re mutually working at that then you can have a really, really beautiful relationship, so great, great advice on relationships.
I want to dive into photography, and actually it’s kind of a great segue into photography because perspective, your perspective on life, which is a very rich one, I have again so much respect for it, I think has a significant effect on your longevity in the industry. I think a lot of photographers dive into, I know I did, dove into photography just at the initial excitement of even just having a cool camera. There’s not a very deep motivation that is driving this attempt to get into a career which can be quite challenging, especially when it comes to maintaining a business over the long run. What is it that you think, having been in the industry for 20 years yourself, and then certainly having the perspective of being able to watch your dad in the industry for so long, what would you say is it that enables you to stay, not only to be in the industry for this period of time, but to continue to challenge yourself?
You guys are always going to print competitions and not only-
Luke Edmonson: We’re growing.
Nathan Holritz: On both sides of it, judging and then also submitting your work in these competitions, so you’re pushing yourself. Is that the key element? Is there some other key element that drives this longevity?
Luke Edmonson: The answer to longevity is this, care about the people that you’re serving. We consider ourselves ambassadors of lugs, of love, excuse me, cleverly disguised as photographers, right? Photography gives us permission to go places we have no business being and do things we couldn’t do otherwise.
Nathan Holritz: Oh, absolutely.
Luke Edmonson: We’re invited into people’s lives, some of their most intimate moments. We’re able to capture them in a sense that they never even own the prints, the images, whatever it is that you do. They’re just the custodians of them for future generations, right? We think of our audience as people that we’re shooting for, but really they’re not, right? They’re going to just enjoy them for a period of time and then they’ll be passed on.
When you go into this process of figuring out how you work with clients and people and so forth, and have long-term relationship and achieve success or do any of this kind of different stuff, it’s on some level you have to place a higher importance on them than you do on yourself. Photography is so easy to be an ego driven thing, right?
Nathan Holritz: Absolutely. That’s the phrase that was running through my mind as you were explaining this. Yeah.
Luke Edmonson: Yeah. I mean, so where does it start? You take a picture and some family member says you’ve got a great eye. You’re like,”Yeah. I kind of do. It’s my right eye. It’s good, right?” Then you start doing other stuff and you start trying to see if your friends feel that way, and then you start doing other stuff and you try and get, it’s this external validation of who you’re and it feeds your ego.
Then if there’s ever a point where somebody doesn’t give that to you then you’re like well, forget them. Like they don’t get me. I need to find my perfect client, right? I need to only work with people that think like me or that like me, right? Well, that will only get you so far and it is in some way unfulfilling. You know, from a wedding perspective you might say is there something good about trying to target a certain type of client? Well, sure there is. At the same time I don’t care who you are. If you’re going to pay me a ridiculous amount of money I can find a way to get along with you for eight hours. Right?
Nathan Holritz: Sure.
Luke Edmonson: Right. And then after that we finish the job and we move on, right? But that’s providing the food for my family and the different things like that, so on some level it’s really not about me. We have times where I have people absolutely hire me [00:18:30] to say, “Luke, I want you to do your thing. It’s all about you, whatever it is that you want.” Does that feel good? Of course it does. Are those days more fun? Absolutely. There are other days that I might show up and for whatever reason I’m just a guy. I’m just there to do a job. They’re there to have their party or they’re there to have their fun, or they’re there to throw their big event because of their stature and stuff like that and it’s all about them. I’m just supposed to come in as a servant.
That’s fine. I can humble myself, because it’s not about me, and go in there and serve them, and the fact that we’re serving them allows us to then develop a relationship with them, and that relationship hopefully gives us an opportunity to have influence on their lives. Sometimes it’s about putting down the camera and just talking to that person. That’s one of the things that I think happens quite often is for these people, perhaps it is that nobody ever really cares about them. What they care about is their image, right, who they think that person is.
You’ll see it sometimes where people are quick to express I just shot so-and-so’s wedding, or I just did a portrait of so-and-so. It’s all about this and on some level it’s also about marketing them. One of the things that I believe has helped us have favor with people that perhaps have discretionary income, or resources, or notoriety, celebrity, or whatever, is the fact that at the end of the day I’m not out to make their event my marketing vehicle, right?
Nathan Holritz: Wow. That’s powerful.
Luke Edmonson: That authenticity, let’s say, and just saying I’m here to serve, whatever it is, here is the range of options and the ways that I can serve you. What looks best to you? There’s an element of refreshing, I guess or an approach to that, and a believability, and that’s what allows them to invite us into their lives.
Nathan Holritz: If I’m going to play devil’s advocate the photographer is going to come back and say, “But Luke, I love this idea of serving and helping others, of capturing this day for them and for generations to come, but I’m an artist. How do I maintain some type of ‘artistic integrity’ in this effort to set myself aside and serve others?”
Luke Edmonson: Sure. Absolutely. Separate the artist from the business person. The artist can go do whatever it is that they want, right? That’s why we do our print competitions. That’s why we have a side of us that does fine art and the different things, the stories that we want to tell, because quite honestly the stories that we want to tell may not have an audience other than ourselves, right? And that’s okay. Hopefully they resonate beyond just myself but that’s for me to fuel myself. That’s where I need to practice on my own.
Some people say like, “I won’t pick up my camera unless I’m getting paid.” That sounds really good, right? I don’t know any professional that doesn’t practice when they’re not getting paid. I mean you should be practicing, right? Or excuse me, I should’ve said practice and getting paid. There is an element of the artist mindset which really needs that external validation, really needs everybody to like them. Lots of the most famous artists were not well-liked during their lifetime and they died penniless, right? Vermeer is a guy that we’ve studied and so forth and I think that it was on his death certificate that they said essentially he had no clothes to be buried in because nothing that he owned was of quality enough, right? He was so broke at that period of his life and then later on his paintings go on to sell for hundreds of millions of dollars in his death, right?
It’s not uncommon that as artist your particular genius will be recognized in your lifetime.
Luke Edmonson: Absolutely, and even within this. I’ve give you an example. I did a photo of my wife and my daughter because I want to use the fullness of my hand. You talk about what if it’s not appreciated? My wife would say to me,”Can we just say it take a normal photo, right? Why do we have to go to these lengths? Why am I dressing up? Why am I bathing her and we’re building this set, and you’re lighting it and it’s taking 30 minutes for us to do this thing for you to get one picture, right?” And you go, “Because I want you to experience the fullness of my hand.” But what happens if this fullness of my hand isn’t even appreciated by my own family? Should I not do it? No. I should.
We think about our clients and stuff like that, we think everything that we do they just need to love. Well sure, it’d be nice if they did but I also need to have stuff that they’ll buy. If they want the picture where they’re just smiling, looking at the camera, and I want this back lit shot that’s all artistic and they don’t get it, that’s not a rejection of me. That’s just their visual IQ or it’s just them saying this is what I like. Okay, great. Let’s do it. Let’s sell it and be done.
Nathan Holritz: What type of projects do you, I means aside from photographing your own family now, what kind of projects fuel you? Where do you find that creative outlet?
Luke Edmonson: The projects that fuel us are, again, it kind of comes down to this storytelling messaging. You know, there are some things that we’ve been doing with like Edward Hopper, which is a little bit more on the idea of American realism, and in some ways exploring the disconnection between two people.
Nathan Holritz: Okay.
Luke Edmonson: That’s always an interesting thing to me because as you know, or anybody that’s in a relationship knows, you can literally sleep next to someone and yet be disconnected, right?
Nathan Holritz: Absolutely.
Luke Edmonson: You go, “We’re separated by inches but we’re in our own separate worlds,” right? That’s an interesting thing to go through an exploration of. You also have-
Nathan Holritz: Are you trying to figure out ways to capture that artistically then?
Luke Edmonson: Yeah. Yeah. How do you visualize that?
Nathan Holritz: Okay.
Luke Edmonson: And then what is it that you’re trying to say, you know? Often times what we like to do is give just enough information that there is a story there but the final interpretation is very much what the viewer is bringing to look at it, if that makes sense.
Nathan Holritz: Absolutely.
Luke Edmonson: Because all of us do that, right? I mean there’s, it you know, as they say three people present in every photo. There’s the subjects, there’s the viewer, and of course there’s the photographer, you know? How is it that people are going to look upon this and what is it that they’re going to see, what is the story that they take from it versus the story that I’m trying to tell?
Nathan Holritz: In order to maintain a healthy business and to keep the focus in that business on the client and serving the client while also somehow trying to find an artistic outlet for yourself, what would you say the balance is in your, I mean when you’re looking at let’s say a month’s time frame, how much time are you spending on the business side of things? How much time you’re allocating to personal projects?
Luke Edmonson: Absolutely. I think that the answer is that there’s a time to sow and a time to harvest. When it’s time to harvest you harvest, you’re out there. If that means that you can’t do anything personal for two, three, four months, you do it and you make that money. It’s within that at what point do you feel yourself perhaps getting burned out or perhaps needing a recharge or whatever? I don’t care whether it’s an hour, it’s a day, whatever it is, you build in these little pockets of time and then you also look at your schedule to see when well I have an opportunity so I have something to work towards, right?
Concepting begins well before you ever pick up a camera, right? It has to start with an idea and most people say this, “Well if I just had the resources. If I just have the equipment. If I just had this then I’d be able to do something for myself or something that I’ll enjoy.” You go, “Okay great. Well here’s all the resources and here’s all the equipment.” And they go, “Well actually my problem is I don’t have enough time.” You go, “Oh, I totally understand. How about I just give you all the time in the world? You can do it, whatever it is you want, you can have all the resources.”
Well what’s the crux of the matter? The real thing is that they don’t have any ideas, right? The reason they don’t have any ideas is because creativity is a muscle. It’s something that you have to practice. It’s not just something that you go okay, now I want to be creative and I want to pull that out, right? My suggestion is if you’re struggling with creativity, the way that you start to get around that is something that’s often times the things that we most don’t want to do, which is you have to become still. At some point you have to become introspective before you can become expressive, right? Most people want to go straight to just I want to express, but they don’t have a voice. They don’t have anything that they want to say.
It’s coming within yourself, being quiet, being still. I heard this once about trying to solve a puzzle. If you want to solve a puzzle it’s sometimes easier to do when you’re lying on your back because your brain spatially thinks differently than it does when you’re sitting up, right? It forces your brain to start seeing the world a bit different. You know, there’s a show-
Nathan Holritz: It’s all about perspective, right?
Luke Edmonson: It is. It is about perspective. There’s a show called Sherlock and many people may have seen it or whatever, but there’s always those scenes where they do this thing where they show Sherlock’s brain. He’s sitting there and suddenly the world splits out and all the symbols come apart type things, and they separate. They’re no longer a whole but he starts seeing the connections in a different way and the answer becomes obvious, right? It’s that type of ability to be able to sit back, reflect, allow things to come through and process, your subconscious comes to the forefront, and there’s a term we call percolate, it’s that grace to be able to think about things. It’s then all of a sudden there’s something, this aha moment, and now suddenly you see the textures. You see the weight of the objects that perhaps are going to be the elements within the scene. You see the story, the crux. What is the real story it is that you want to tell, and now how do I go about communicating that very efficiently and decisively, right?
Once you have that now you know all the things that you need to go out to do to actually do the how and the what, so I guess the sum of the answer is this, once you know the why you have your answers. But until you have that you’re spinning your wheels.
Nathan Holritz: I can’t thank you enough for making time to sit and chat.
Luke Edmonson: It’s my privilege.
Nathan Holritz: We’ve dove into life. We dove into business and I think that kind of mirrors the conversations that we normally have so I really appreciate you making time for this. How can photographers find not only what you guys are doing business-wise in the industry, but I also see some of your personal work as well?
Luke Edmonson: Absolutely, so pretty much on any social media it’s just my first and last name, so it’s @LukeEdmonson, L-U-K-E E-D-M-O-N-S-O-N. You can go see our wedding work at EdmonsonWeddings.com, that’s with an S at the end, and for our fine art you can go see it at Art1095, that’s A-R-T1095. The reason why we have Art1095 is essentially I’m trying to give my dad the gift of three years, and so that’s 365 days times three get us to that 1095, and that’s too kind of explore. He’s earned it at this point, kind of creating whatever it is that he desires to do, and just have these stories that we want to tell.
Nathan Holritz: Some of that artwork that I’ve seen come out of this, I guess you could call it a project-
Luke Edmonson: It is a project. It’s an ongoing project.
Nathan Holritz: … an ongoing project, has been absolutely mind blowing. It takes part to a whole different level that I’m not used to seeing in our industry, so you guys definitely make time to check that out. Again, thanks so much Luke Ford making time to sit down for a conversation today.
Luke Edmonson: Privilege is all mine. Thank you.