Darren Mahuron is a photographer in demand. He and his wife Lisa work in Fort Collins, Colorado creating commissions and artworks that are highly imaginative and metaphorical. Darren’s friends describe him as a passionate artist who is unpretentious, unstoppable and a natural at visualizing his imagination. I first saw his work when Gabriella Louise showed me the photograph he had done to promote her as a musician.
This piece (below) MEDEA 3 illustrates an interestingly modern interpretation of an ancient greek myth, the tragedy of Medea.
Darren lent me his ear and answered a couple of questions about what inspires him and a little about how he achieves the beautiful textures and colors within his photos. The Mahuron’s work can be seen at the online gallery, Darren Mahuron: Photographer.
Sounds like you’ve been a visual storyteller for some time now… what is it about our world that inspires you to create?
I am inspired by many things; Music, Literature, Film, People, Places, Relationships. I love to travel, I enjoy conversation, most often topics that go well below the surface. I am passionate about life and death. I rarely look at other photographers work so as to not be influenced.
Looking at your web gallery I see a lot of metaphor in your work. Can you talk about the inspiration for this kind of storytelling?
Many of my ideas come from listening to music or reading. I love pre-christian history, Greek Mythology and politics, they all play a part in my storytelling I suppose. I typically have the idea as a visual first and then begin to understand it’s meaning later or sometimes never. Some of the ideas in my work have also come from my wife Lisa or the subject or as a collaboration.
In discovering digital photography what struck you first about the medium?
I really discovered Photoshop first. It was very intuitive for me. Digital photography was a tool to get a file into Photoshop to mess around with. That’s how it started for me. I like photography more now that I understand it better, but I still consider myself more of a digital painter than a photographer.
In your photographs, the first thing I sense is your grit and texture, it seems that you use high contrast lighting to start achieving this effect. Can you talk a little bit about why you frequently choose this pallet?
I try and create a consistent world that is dirty, or gritty, a little edgy maybe as a way to communicate my ideas. Not sure why I started down this road, it just resonates with me.
One distinction in your photographs are the shadows and rich colors, it seems that you shoot above the ambient with the strobes… or do you achieve the depth in post?
I’m not completely sure what “above the ambient” means actually. I’m self taught, and I just do what I think looks right. One way I’ve learned to improve on my contrasty look is to shoot with brighter lights. This saves me time in post. It also allows me to shoot at say F22 rather than F2.8 which gives me a larger depth of field and more detail to work with later in Photoshop.
As far as advertising, I really enjoy the Exist campaign. The photographs illustrate the fears we see in our minds as we are driving around the city, and also the fears of biking around the city. To create events like those must require a bit of pre-production, are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of photographer or do you plan ahead meticulously?
I’m a pretty meticulous planner. I always have the shot in my head before going on location. I typically know how I’m going to light it as well. I sometimes will also loosely draw the image so that I know the composition will work.
I definitely try and allow for some spontaneity while on location, but that typically has more to do with allowing the model freedom inside the controlled set and lighting.
I tried to learn from your techniques in this photo of my husband Brooks could you give me a critique? He wanted all of his freckles to show and we were trying to recreate something similar in detail and texture as this cover of Wired Magazine because it is so the opposite of airbrushed perfection.
Sure. By comparing the photos the number one issue keeping you from getting the look that I think you are going for is the lighting. I think you’ve done some interesting things in post, but without strategically placed, high contrast lighting, it will end up a little flat.
If you were starting over again, what flash/strobe would you start with?
I started with Alien Bees actually because they were the least expensive lights that were still getting positive reviews. I still use them.
If there is anything you would like to say other artists please do.
People often ask me about short-cuts. I don’t really know of any. I spend 4-12 hours on each image. Also, the best way to get better is to try and shoot or photoshop ever single day. I think work ethic is more important than just about anything else art related. If you want to make a living doing photography or art, it’s simple, just work longer and harder than your competition.