Braden Summers, Blurring Lines Between Lens + Eye

Braden Summers Photography, “Leah Kelley”

In a visually saturated era, the claustrophobia of photography summons viewers every so often to look beyond the photo and see the photography within. So easily convinced, beauty is often handed to us in the form of multi-interpretive visual perfection –  something along the lines of flawless skin, technologically engineered lighting and shadows, physically proportional, and most likely brutally unreal but appetizing. One photographer has rooted his innate ability to capture the urgency of beauty with little hampering on the border between eye and lens.

Drawn to the subject of human disposition in its most raw state, Connecticut-bred Braden Summers has clutched, withstood, and reveled in the art of people and environment in their natural settings as characters in his camera. In other words, a Braden Summers piece is classically produced, with an emphasis on his talent for real lighting and color choreography, uncut. Although photoshop and pre-production efforts are an integral part of his work, Summers aim is to “retain a sense of realness”.

His inspirations surpass his youth, but a seasoned career in lifestyle and travel portraiture sheds no light on a young beginning. Having worked with Propel Zero, The Tony Awards, MoMA at the onset of his photography launch, Summers is no stranger to the intelligent eye and creative mind when it comes to visual storytelling, particularly as he ventures into non-profit and global social awareness projects.

“…it takes something truly beautiful, profoundly unique or vastly different from what I am used to seeing to inspire me.  When I set out to create an image, it’s because I am very passionate about the subject matter.  I invest a lot of time producing my work.”

Expanding every stretch of elasticity between subject, setting, and honesty, Summers captures the visual surround sound of intimacy and realism in the he, she and it of subjects through his collection of human experiences via lens. From his non-profit work in Haiti and Africa on the horizon, to his in-house and backyard shots of you in your kitchen, them in their bed, us on the street, Summers  depicts the simple beauty in mankind with a touch of light and love for life.

In a fly by night exchange while visiting San Francisco before departing New York for Paris (as the globetrotter shoots on), we were lucky to tap his brain on work, challenges, and driving forces in being an internationally acclaimed photographer.

—— Interview with photographer, Braden Summers by Angela Gleason ——-

AG: You’ve rocked the gamut of photography between social and cultural imagery/storytelling (standing ovation). At what point did your interest in human subjects begin to take form? Was this the direction you always anticipated pursing?

BS: Hey Angela. First of all, thank you for considering my work blog worthy!  I have always been interested in people.  I look to them for stories, I see models and folks with a unique beauty and imagine the characters they could play in my work.  I’m a big people watcher, so photographing them really has been the direction I have been pursuing all along.

AG: From the beginning, your work has always hit a 360 on richness from subject to setting and the minute details interwoven. Have you found your style of photography to change with the growth of a visual-only market, in terms of communication through imagery?

Braden Summers Photography, “Anelisa”

BS: I think the largest change that I have noticed in recent years is less about a change in my style and more about a change in medium. Photographers are facing lots of pressure from the industry to know how to shoot both still and moving imagery to get the big jobs.  In some ways it’s an obvious transition in terms of being able to tell stories visually, but some of the technical aspects are quite different.

AG: With a portfolio of very human experiences, is it possible to go 30 minutes without seeing that next perfect shot? Let me re-phrase that, are you a total walking lens or is it hard to catch your eye when you are out and about?

BS: To be honest, I truly am not a human walking lens.  I think that a lot of people expect that from me because I am a photographer, but it takes something truly beautiful, profoundly unique or vastly different from what I am used to seeing to inspire me.  When I set out to create an image, it’s because I am very passionate about the subject matter.  I invest a lot of time producing my work. With that said, I am constantly in search of my next subject or location; you could say my eyes are always open even when my lens is not.

AG: You’ve worked on some pretty large-scale projects, what would you say has been the most fulfilling material for you thus far?

BS: Working on huge campaigns for Propel Zero, The Tony Awards, MoMA, etc. have been more than thrilling to work on and certainly got my heart pumping when I received the acceptance call, but the most fulfilling work that I have been a part of was shooting imagery for a well-respected non profit in Haiti called Roots of Development.  They have been able to use the imagery that I shot to give the general public a realistic view of the incredible projects they are working on to better the lives of certain Haitian communities.  To know that I am helping to raise money for organizations with such big hearts is beyond fulfilling.  It’s funny because just today I was booked on a job doing similar work in Africa; I’ll be going to Liberia with two collaborating non-profits, Face Africa and The Voss Foundation, to photograph the community and the projects they are working on to help get more Liberians clean water.

AG: What is the biggest misconception about photography today when you separate professional imagery from a glossy p-shopped cover piece to a pile of urban digital snapshots?

BS: I think the general public is often too quick to judge an image on whether it was photoshopped or not – they think if it had to be retouched, the photo wasn’t good enough or the subjects weren’t pretty enough.  This is not always the case. I think Photoshop is a powerful tool that can aide in a photographer’s storytelling and is part of the art of photography.

Yes, magazine covers are often unrealistically idealized versions of the original “superstar” and I would prefer them to look a bit more natural.  With that said, these subjects are often famous because they are a muse to an artist; a fashion image on the cover of a magazine should be appreciated as a piece of art rather than criticized for not being an urban snapshot.  There are plenty of other tabloid magazines that show celebrities in their natural habitat for the public to get a realistic view of what they actually look like.

Braden Summers Photography, “Paul”

AG: Which brings me to technology. What are your “must haves” on a photo shoot and how has current media technology enabled/hindered your work as a creative? Your work is consistent with power-lighting and sophisticated shadows. How much of a final piece is developed through production and rendering after the shot?

BS: 90% of my work is actually shot with natural light.  My must have on any shoot is my 6’ x 6’ white/silver reflector so I can play around with the available light.  Lighting and shadow is very difficult to create in post-production, if the light and shadow doesn’t look great while I’m shooting I can’t salvage the image with retouching.  I use post-production to enhance the beauty that I have shot in camera, I think working with that mentality helps my imagery to maintain a sense of realness without looking like an entirely computer generated image.

AG: What are you working on now, and are there other areas of photography you plan to explore?

BS: Like I mentioned before, I am getting into film and loving it.  I have also been working on a portrait series for the last year that I am very proud of.  The series draws serious inspiration from paintings; it helps me focus more intently on color palette and simple narrative.

I’m not sure what other areas I want to explore.  I think I travel so much because I am always looking for new inspiration.  Speaking of, I am moving from NYC to Paris on Sunday for a while to do just that – be inspired.

AG: Greatest challenge with your line of work? And with the expanding culture of photography as we move into an even more visually-driven communication era, what is the biggest competition for a photographer today?

BS: My greatest challenge in this business ironically is expanding my circle of friends.  I focus so much on creating that it is easy to forget most of my previous jobs have come from people I know.  I could spend years building up my portfolio and marketing to strangers and barely get hired for a job; but when I am out there at gallery openings and networking events with a beer in hand I am far more likely to meet someone who might hire me or refer me to someone else who will book me for a job.

AG: Inspiration and creative forces throughout your career and as you continue?

BS: Museums and galleries.  The more art I view the more I get that overwhelming feeling that I all I need to do is create.

>> more Braden Summers photography

Braden Summers Photography

Braden Summers Photography


About Angela Gleason

visual designer | writer | pianist in the basement | painter in the night | fashion critic | lush | Italian savant check me out: