5 Career-Defining Photos: Clay Austin

In every photographer's career, there are defining moments. The moments that inspire an evolution in their art. The moments that open new opportunities for their business. The moments that remind them of where they have been and where they are going.

In this blog series, Richard asks film photographers to share the stories behind five frames throughout their career that most embody these moments. Today, photographer Clay Austin recounts the journey from his humble hybrid beginnings to his status as an award-winning film photographer.

Engagement Session at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Caroline, 2015

This photo was the start of a love affair with all-things medium format! Literally every shot from the two rolls I exposed during this engagement session forever changed the trajectory of not only my career, but my approach to photography as a whole. Even though I took photography classes in high school and majored in it in college, I was always shooting on either 35mm or digital cameras. Seeing the world through the lens of a medium format camera is like entering a parallel universe where everything is, for lack of a better word, prettier. I was totally hooked! Ever since getting those first initial scans back from Richard Photo Lab, it has been the most rewarding and exciting journey to tweak and refine my workflow, chasing those perfect tones! 

Loom Workshop in Bloomville, New York, 2016

This image came out of another major turning point in my career: when I attended Ginny Au’s Loom Workshop. Until this point, I was still shooting mostly digital and slowly trickling more and more film into every shoot. This was the first time where I decided to completely rid myself of the digital crutch and only use my Contax 645. The result was the most freeing and liberating experience I have ever had creatively! It not only taught me to have complete trust in my equipment and ability, but more importantly, it taught me to be more mindful and intentional with each image. It can be relatively easy to fill up at 64GB memory card and know that when you weed out the duds there are sure to be a few gems, but the real trick is to make all 16 on a roll count.

Wedding in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, 2016

This was my first experience shooting a wedding overseas and is what solidified my craving for chasing the sun all over the world! This particular wedding took place right outside of Nice, France in the amazing town of Villefranche-sur-Mer. I think I sent more film to Richard after this weekend then I ever had before because I was in a constant state of awe everywhere I went! Having this first destination wedding in my portfolio gave me a whole new level of confidence in not only being able to break into the destination market, but more importantly, the ability to succeed in a totally foreign surrounding. Coming from a place like Charleston, South Carolina, where the wedding market is so massive and the season can be so long, it's easy to stay within your comfort zone and know that if you do a good job and deliver a good product your business will be fine. Shooting this wedding really taught me that I can completely throw myself into the unknown and come out successful.

Pre-Wedding Bride in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, 2017

This image still makes the hairs on my arm stand up! It was one of those moments where the gravity of the situation was so powerful and so raw that I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of privilege that I was there to capture it. This particular moment also taught me the importance of choosing your tools wisely. I think if it were any other combination of film and camera, this would not have nearly the same impact as it does. The insane tonal range you can get from Delta 3200 made it possible to get those nice rich blacks while at the same time be subtle enough to highlight the line a tear made as it rolled down her cheek. Loading up the right film and waiting patiently can yield such amazing results! 

Emily Kotarski Campaign in Charleston, South Carolina, 2017

I knew it was a tremendous honor when I got asked by the insanely talented Emily Kotarski to shoot her first full dress line, but what I didn't know was just how far that shoot was going to propel my career! Not only did the whole shoot get picked up by a massive blog, but this image also won Belle Lumiere’s ‘Color Image of The Year’. To me, that was by far the most incredible honor, since it is a competition curated and judged solely by the amazing people that make up this incredibly tight-knit film community. I have kept a close eye on that competition ever since I first added film into my workflow and always used it as a benchmark of what I wanted to create and where I wanted to go with my career. The nomination alone was a dream come true!