If you've ever wanted to know about the people behind the pictures, this is the series for you. We'll be talking to some of our independent photographers from all corners of the globe as well as the people behind some of the best stock photo and illustration collections in the world.
First up is Ty Milford, a commercial and editorial lifestyle photographer from Portland, Oregon. You'll see his images featured throughout the interview below, but we've also hand-selected some our favorite images from his stock portfolio to give you an overview of the breadth and depth of his work. See more images from Ty Milford.
How did you get started in Photography?
I feel like I sort of snuck in the back door at a party. I was never the yearbook or school newspaper guy or really even owned a camera as a kid. And I never knew anyone who was a professional photographer, so I don’t think that I really knew that it was a career option. However, at some point in college, I fell in love with going on adventures in the outdoors. Largely through spending a summer working and living in Yosemite Valley, I became more acquainted with the amazing work of Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell—who were both adventurers and photographers—and that resonated with me. Having appreciated their work so much, at some point I committed myself to carrying a proper camera with me on all of my climbing trips while working as a mountain guide for over 10 years. It was an amazing time in my life and I had the opportunity to work and travel to Alaska, the Himalayas and Antarctica as well as spend months at a time in the Sierra Nevada, which is, not surprisingly, my favorite range. It became apparent that I was interested enough in making imagery that I needed to shift and make a conscious effort to do that full time. In the process, I shifted my focus from outdoor adventurer to commercial lifestyle photographer.
What was your first job?
The first time I got paid from publishing an image was in the Patagonia catalog. It was a shot I had take on one of my first trips to Antarctica and it was a good client to start with for sure!
Who or What inspires your work?
The shooters and publications are too numerous to name, but it is the photographers and clients who respect capturing the real-feeling-moments of our beautiful lives. I was not one of those photographers who just knew what he wanted to shoot; I went through a lengthy process of finding what inspired me. I spent a number of years tearing images out of magazines and pulling inspiration from all over the web. Overall, there was a clear overarching theme of emotion, motion, vibrance, light, color and this feeling of “I want to be there with those people”. It pushed me toward capturing all of these things in my own work. That challenge inspires me to this day and I hope continues to for many years to come.
Where is your favorite place to shoot?
That would be like asking me to pick my favorite child. I love variety and the opportunity to see something from a fresh perspective. Amazing destinations are always great: I love shooting in the mountains in the fall while the trees are changing and I’ll never be disappointed about digging my toes into the white sands of the Florida Keys when the rest of the country is buried in snow. However, because my work is so much about everyday moments, sometimes my favorite places to shoot are at the kitchen table, the playground, the bathtub, or rolling around with the dog in the backyard. We don’t need to go far to capture amazing moments. In general, it's just great to have the ability to shoot wherever the creative takes me.
What equipment do you use?
I primarily shoot in 35mm. Because I shoot fast and make a lot of frames in a day to capture those ‘in between moments’, it is generally the right tool for the job. When we need larger files, we move up to medium format, but I don’t like the slower work flow or being tethered, unless in a studio. With 35mm, I am always free to move around; we transmit all of the files to iPads for the creative team to view in real time. The ability to capture huge files in 35mm just keeps growing as the technology improves.
Do you work alone or with a team?
I generally always have a team, save for smaller editorial shoots. The size of my productions grows and shrinks with the creative that we are going after. I don’t have an ideal size—it is just the right team for the job—but I would say most of the time we are about 15 people plus clients and talent. Having a great team to surround myself with is not only one of the most fun parts of my job, but also a big contributor to the success of our projects.
Where do you find your models?
90% of the time we cast talent from agencies, but the other 10% are pulled from anywhere, which is usually when we need something very specific, such as a skateboarder who can do big tricks.
Can you describe how you achieve such a natural and authentic feeling to your images?
I think my work has the look that it does for a variety of reasons. Two of the big ones are the connections that I make with the subjects in front of my camera and the number of frames I shoot. I have found that capturing people as themselves vs. them as the model or them as the actor, requires putting them at ease and doing all that I can to try to minimize the awareness that we are on a photo shoot. I have to be me as Ty and not me as photographer controlling the situation (the latter has to be as invisible as possible to the subject). Then I just have to shoot as many frames as necessary to find those moments where they are at ease, laughing, moving, and being themselves.
What is the most interesting job you have ever done?
I can’t pinpoint just one. To me the most interesting and satisfying type of job is where creative team really values my input and it's a collaborative effort to make great work. I wish this happened a bit more often actually; generally there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
What is the craziest thing you have done to get an image?
I don’t know if it qualifies as crazy, but because my work is often about motion and emotion, I am usually shooting subjects doing things where both are naturally going to be spiking. I have gone down waterslides backwards shooting up at subjects coming at me and ridden roller coasters backwards shooting at subjects screaming their lungs out. In both cases, as I shared above, we shoot wirelessly to iPads so that the creative team—sitting safely and comfortably back on the ground—can see everything that I'm capturing in real-time. And then there was that one day I hung out of a helicopter shooting a Porsche racing team prepping for the 24 Hours of Daytona – that was a fantastic day!
What do you like to do when you are not working?
Most predominantly, I spend time with my family: my wife and two kids. We live in Oregon and lead a pretty outdoorsy lifestyle: we camp, hike, ride bikes and go to the beach. I'm hoping we’ll be able to get the kids into snow sports soon, as I really miss that. In addition to always shooting—making images is my passion and so I do it more often when I am not being paid than when I am—I also love cars and architecture (design in general), so that is something that I am always exploring.
Do you have a website or blog that you would like us to share?
My web site portfolio has links to my blog, video work, client list, etc. I'm also on Instagram, where I share new work from time to time, but more often things that I come across that inspire me every day, like family, friends, architecture, cars, etc.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
I really believe that as photographers we need to have a vision, a purpose, for doing what we do. This is what we bring to the world and it requires a lifetime to hone. I shoot tons of personal work because I believe that this helps me develop my vision and thus steer my career.