L ou Mora is an LA advertising and editorial photographer who specializes in portraits and lifestyle photography for a client list that includes Ford, Bank of America, Asics, Nike, Intel, Shure, Hill Holiday, Rue, Heeb, Huck, and Universal Music Group among others. I was referred to Lou by a colleague I met while working on Future Snowboarding Magazine. I worked for the parent company in corporate communications and had the privilege of being asked to help launch the action sports group.
This was my first immersion in the snow/skate market and it was an amazingly humbling experience. They were the nicest group of people I’d ever worked with—there was no discernible competition and in its place was a sincere appreciation for and willingness to just see the best in each other and a sense that every day was a great day because they were doing what they loved. And somehow this translated into an authentic respect for other people. I hadn’t encountered this before and it caught me by surprise. In looking back, I think it has much to offer the world.
When I first saw Lou Mora’s work, I was reminded of this through an authenticity and relatability and the aesthetic expression of this. There’s a genuine appreciation for his subjects made evident by the open and warm expressions he elicits from them and the care with which he frames and lights them. They seem at ease and happy and engaged with the moment in which he’s caught or staged them and genuinely enjoying what they are doing, a blissful being in the moment that is easily missed.
Lou is also a very smart marketer and seems to have mastered the art of using the various social media tools including Pinterest, a well-crafted blog, Tumblr and Twitter to build a complete picture of oneself as an artist. He graciously shared some of his strategy and successes including how he uses Twitter to reach out to and build relationships with art buyers. Be sure to check out his blog which features links to all his accounts.
It was a pleasure to get to know Lou and his work and to be reminded once again of the simple power that presence and authenticity to one’s self and therefore to others can have. Thank you to Lou for his time with the interview and for sharing his work with POP.
To read the full interview, please click here:
POP: When did you first become interested in photography?
Two years into college I had become very good friends with a girl from Sweden. During the summer break we were talking and she invited me to her home in Stockholm. I ended up selling everything I owned, bought a camera, and moved there. As life would have it, there was an old darkroom in her basement. I ended up reading and teaching myself how to process film and print pictures. This is totally cliché but once I saw the first image come to life in the chemicals, I was hooked. I knew at that moment that photography would be a major part of my life. I ended up cutting my trip short and moved back to Florida where I started studying photography.
POP: What did you first start shooting?
I had been skateboarding most of my life and when I started going to school for photography it was very natural to start shooting my friends skate. I slowly started to get some photos published and wanted to immerse myself in the culture so I moved to San Diego. It was a slow start in SD but I probably shot skate photography for about 2 years.
One day I was shooting a skater in a bowl and instantly realized that I was bored with what I had been shooting. That’s when I started to assist.
I assisted many photographers from all over the world for just under five years. About three – four years into my assisting career I knew that if I was going to make the transition from assistant to shooter, I needed to start pushing to make it happen. I then put together a book and started to market myself. I had made some great connections while I was assisting and those people were willing to give me a shot. As I gained the trust of those people the projects and budgets grew, the work got better, and more projects started to filter in.
POP: How did you build your business in LA?
I’ve only been in LA for about a year and a half. I moved up here to try to grow my network and push my career further. In 2010 I started a pretty aggressive mailing campaign to about 500 people (nationwide) who work in advertising agencies. The postcard promos were sent out roughly every 45 days throughout the entire year (8 promos in all). That combined with meetings and email blasts seemed to really get my name out there. Right now I’m in the process of another round of promos. I’m actually headed in for a press check later this week. This round will target not only agencies but also editorial and record labels. In addition to my print marketing I also rely heavily on my blog, tumblr, and twitter to put fresh work in front of the people I want to see it.
POP: Have you built connections with art buyers on tumblr and twitter?
I’ve definitely built relationships with art buyers via Twitter. It’s an amazing tool to use. I’ve gone in for meetings and hit it off with an AB and then started “following” them. Then they follow me and you get to know them on a more personal level. Before you know it they’re inviting you to join their kickball league (that actually happened). I also once went to a lecture where an AB from an agency who does amazing work was speaking. I never got the opportunity to speak with her personally at the event but I reached out to her via Twitter and it turned out she knew who I was. One of my promos had made it across her desk. It just goes to show you that all your marketing efforts work together.
POP: Do you skate/surf?
I don’t skate very much anymore. The last time I skated a bowl I broke my elbow. As an assistant with a broken elbow, you’re pretty much useless and broke. Surfing is amazing. I get in the water whenever I can which isn’t as often as I would like, but when I do, there’s no better place to be.
POP: How would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as Southern California lifestyle. Granted I wasn’t born here (in California) but I’ve spent most of my life near the water. The surf/skate culture is just a part of who I am and I think that comes across in my imagery.
I’m really attracted to people who have great style. Here in LA so many people have an amazing personal style. It’s real. It’s an expression of who they are and that’s what gets me excited. You can go for a walk anywhere in LA and each area whether it’s Japan Town, Sunset Junction, or Venice has it’s own little style. It’s really inspiring.
POP: The relatability in your work seems to be more and more sought after. Is this what you are hired to bring to ad jobs for your pharma, financial and other ad clients?
It’s definitely one of the main reasons I get hired. Clients see the work on my website and blog and love the fact that not only can I shoot professional talent but also real people. In either case I want the viewer to relate and feel like they could be the person in the image.
POP: The people in your lifestyle and portrait images seem genuinely happy, you often catch them smiling or with a hint of a smile. What do you bring to your shoots to create this mood? And how do you bring this to your advertising work?
I think a lot of it has to do with my crew. We all love what we do and we’re all very happy to be doing it. Shoot days can be long and the talent gets to know each person on set at one point or another. By the end of the day we’re all friends trying to get a job done and having a great time doing it. I’m a big fan of having music on set as well.
I recently did a shoot for Rue Magazine with a great behind-the-scenes video by Shark Pig. The shoot was styled by Steph Ashmore and shot on location at the Chateau Marmont. Song: Out the Window Dreaming, courtesy of Ash Reiter.
POP: Your work embodies both the laidback spirit of the SoCal surf lifestyle with a technical approach that takes composition and lighting very seriously.
I think about those two things constantly. When I’m shooting I’m always moving and finding the best angles. I remember back in school we had an assignment called “working the subject”. We were to go out, shoot an object and see how many different ways we could shoot it. I chose to shoot a payphone. It was a great exercise and and I carry that lesson with me to every shoot. I actually think this is why I started shooting through windows a lot. For me it’s not only shooting from up high or low. It’s getting further away, shooting wide open, or through things and creating nice bokeh. More than likely someone has already shot what you’re doing, your job is to make it different….and better.
I love working with natural light and tweaking it to make it do what I need it to. I was fortunate enough to work along side an amazing photographer when I was assisting and he taught me a lot about seeing light. Now I’m a bit obsessed with it and I’m constantly working on seeing the light in new ways.
POP: Since you are quiet, how do connect with models and people in shoots?
I think it’s really important to get to know who it is that you’re shooting. Normally if the talent is in with hair or mu I’ll go in and introduce myself and just talk. It doesn’t have to do anything with photos. I’m just looking to get to know the person, see their natural expressions, maybe find a common interest and work off that. We’re all people and I’m not interested in having egos on set. From there I’ll go into what I’m looking for and try to create a little story or scenario for the talent to get into.
POP: Where do you look for inspiration? How do you stay connected to it?
I find inspiration everywhere. In movies, magazines, friends, travel, people on the street, music videos, etc. A friend of mine just recently introduced me to Kinfolk magazine. That magazine seriously blew me away. I walked away feeling so inspired I started taking notes for a test I want to produce. I just never know what is going to strike me but I’m always open to it.
POP: Do you shoot a lot of personal work? And does it bring something new to your commercial work?
I’ve started shooting film again for myself and that has become personal work. At the end of last year I bought a Contax G2 and I normally have that with me. It’s just photography at it’s core. Me and my camera walking around shooting. No setup, no lighting, no crew… I love it.
I also have a series called Artist Portraits that I’ve been working on. It’s artists that I find to be inspiring. I normally shoot them in their studio or home and spend a couple of hours getting to know them and how they work. It’s been a fun project so far.
POP: Have you started shooting motion?
I have started shooting motion and I have a few things in the works. I’m surprised by how different it is but excited about the creative possibilities.
POP: Particularly memorable or interesting job/shoot?
This is such a politically correct answer but it’s totally true—all my jobs so far have been a blast. Traveling to new places, meeting new people, collaborating with other creatives. It’s so much fun.
POP: Dream job?
Send me somewhere sunny and warm and have me shoot the culture and lifestyle of the locals. And if there’s waves there, all the better.
POP: Little known fact?
I’m obsessed with Burt’s bees lip balm. You won’t find me without it.
POP: Love your Top 10s. On the list for San Francisco?
I’d need to spend more time there but Bloody Mary’s on the outside patio of Zeitgeist would definitely be on the list.