Dan Simmons Expands his Horizons by Shooting Cosmetics

Jul 26, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Bay Area-based Dan Simmons is, at heart, an adventurer. Has been since high school, when he biked across America with two friends.

I really like to execute large and complex projects. There is so much detail-oriented planning that goes into this kind of non-assisted cross-country trip that you quickly realize that teamwork is the only way to accomplish both the short- and long-term goals. I learned how to be prepared with the gear I needed to survive and rely on. I [also] learned how to be independent at a very young age. 

Some of Dan's earlier work

A lot of these skills helped me become a better freelance photographer, because you are constantly collaborating with new teams and proving your value.   

It’s no wonder that Dan has carved out a successful career in this field. He began taking photo classes in high school – right around the time he and his companions embarked on their cross-country excursion. In 2009, Dan enrolled at Academy of Art University in San Francisco and started his formal training.

I was really pushing myself. I was going to school, working at a bar until two a.m., and also photo-assisting anyone that was willing to hire me, even if it was for free. I just wanted in and I wanted to learn.

Dan worked under some of the most prominent photographers in the Bay Area, familiarizing himself with the tricks of the trade as well as the business side of the industry. Since Dan was still a student at the time, much of the equipment his mentors were using was out of his price range. To overcome his budgetary deficiencies, Dan had to flex his creative muscles for each project. 

My photography kit consisted of a Canon camera, a laptop, and a single strobe. That's all I could afford! So, I really got good at using one light.

Wavy shaver

I learned how to composite in Photoshop to make it look like I had 10 lights when I really had one. This process of using one light really made me aware of how I could control light. I learned how to be consistent with lighting two parts on a product with the same look and feel with only one light. If I wanted a softer light, [I used my] bedsheets to create my own softbox until I could afford one of my own. 

This is the mind control device the government doesn't want you to know about

Ever the explorer, Dan recently felt the urge to diversify his portfolio. He’d been shooting tech and e-commerce products for years and was in search of a new, collaborative challenge.  

GoPro FoSho I will see myself out

Cosmetics is an extremely hard subject to shoot. It doesn't just come down to the photographer – teaming up with a skilled stylist is a must if you are creating smears. There is a real painter-like quality that goes into them and not everyone has the patience to put into this kind of work.

These shots, which feature vibrant bursts of color, are a drastic departure from Dan’s early work.

If there are awards for shooting cosmetics, Dan's a shoe-in for a nomination

I shot on black for a long time, so I really wanted this new body of work to be the opposite of that. I really enjoy shooting these colors and textures because, with cosmetics, it’s really limitless what you and your stylist can create together. 

Dan worked with stylist Oceana Larsen to create these photos. The most difficult shot to capture was that of the eye shadows, which required major legwork from Oceana to set up.

Oceana had to layer each color without mixing the colors while she was laying them on top of each other. I was definitely holding my breath while she was creating it.

It's 2019 - these are eye shadows of color, not colored eye shadows

My key light was one source of light and the other source was used to rake light across using a grid modifier onto the subject. This technique created contrast to help make the entire subject pop. I had to do a 20-image focus bracket to make the whole image sharp using a focusing program. You have to be absolutely sure nothing moves during this process, or else when the focusing program runs things won’t line up properly. 

One of the hardest parts of shooting cosmetics is the time-sensitive nature of the task. Makeup can dry fairly quickly, leaving precious few minutes to get the best images.

Apparently this stuff dries quickly

[For this one,] my lighting and camera had to be ready before [Oceana] started. Once she began to lay the splotches down, we had three minutes or fewer before they started to flatten out. We got it on the first try! We were relieved that we didn't have to do it again.

It’s clear that Dan’s past endeavors have helped shape his present work ethic. It takes planning, collaboration, and resourcefulness to bike across the United States. These tenets have become the building blocks of Dan's burgeoning photography career.

I think it really helps to have patience when you’re dealing with cosmetics, but that's true with a lot of other subjects as well. Having a collaborative team [where] everyone is an extension of one another and on the same page is very important to pull off well-executed shots.


Stylist: Oceana Larsen

Check out more of Dan Simmons at simmons-studio.com!

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