On a Sunday afternoon, The Bees got a chance to sit down and interview one of Houston’s Top Professional Photographers: The one and only Todd Spoth.
It was one of those signature February afternoons in Houston where mother nature was confused as to whether she wanted to be warm, cool, rainy, or sunny, and two of the Hive’s young street photographers and I were waiting in line at one of Houston’s best brunch locations near the Montrose area: the artsy and eclectic Cafe Brasil. The man whom we came to speak with, Todd Spoth, was outside wrapping up a phone call, as 9th Sage, Nick a.k.a. Uninnocentbystander and myself ordered salted caramel latte’s and various items off the brunch menu and chose a spot out on the front patio. We arrived with the intention of interviewing one of, if not arguably THE best photographers in Houston, TX. I met him briefly at our #BeeCreativeHTX Insta-meet and since we only got to speak casually for a short while, I wasn’t sure how the interview would go, and how he would answer my questions. Todd turned out to be such a cool, down-to-earth guy, even though I pronounced his last name wrong for at least an hour. (It’s SpOth, with a long-“O”) One of the first things I learned about him was something I didn’t necessarily expect.
Starting off with small talk and a few jokes, we broke the ice and started learning about Todd as a person. Growing up in a family with an Asian-American background, Todd told us that he became interested in graphic design, web design, and computer graphics at an early age. It was at that time when he first entered high school as a young teen and the era of information a.k.a. the moment when computers became accessible and necessary for everyone, began. This love for design fostered his love for art and photography later in life. Fast forward from early high school to his senior year, and Todd joined a band and started doing shows and pursuing music as a creative outlet. This is when he told us that he started doing photography because of his band. He wanted to record the memories! He didn’t “legitimately” pick up a camera until around 2004-2005. Todd is still making music on the side of his photography career. You can check out some of his production here.
“…It’s cliché, I really didn’t care about photography, I just cared about capturing the moments. | I took my first, and only photography class in high school, and it was the only class I ever failed” – Todd Spoth
Todd told us how he continued his pursuit of music, going on tour to California a week after graduating from high school and only continued photography as something he did on the side of his first love: music. A fellow alumni of the University of Houston (class of 2006) Todd initially planned to go to law school, although he admits his heart wasn’t in it. Leading up to his graduation, Todd told us about one thing that resonated with him: his step-dad told him at the time that he should just “do something you love.” Other than music, he loved taking pictures, and an old acquaintance that was a photojournalism major suggested that Todd give photography a serious shot. It’s 2004, and it’s too late to change his degree plan and take photography classes at the University with him set to graduate in 2006. Todd sort of paved his own way with newspaper internships and many hours of working on his passion for him to become what he is today. We literally had brunch and talked for hours so I won’t be able to fit everything discussed in here! To accompany some of the questions in this interview, I asked Todd to shoot me over some of his favorite photos and why he chose them. Just prepare to read and see awesomeness!
Last year I properly started my journey with Fuji and their mirrorless offerings. This was taken with the Fuji x100s and was the single portrait that caused me to fall head over heels for Fuji and their line of products. I am thankful to get the opportunity to work with some big names in the entertainment industry and because of that I residually get requests from younger, up-and-coming artists requesting to work with me. This young dude’s name was Jack and he was an absolute blast to shoot. Pasadena’s immediate connotation to most Houstonians is probably not the best, but the area is rich in culture and color and I am instantly drawn to areas which bright poppy colors. He just gave me this great look and I happened to catch it. This portrait was recently selected in the American Photography 31 worldwide photo contest. – Todd Spoth
Q.) Every photographer sort of has their own style or niche. How did you find yours?
Well, initially, I chose to pursue newspaper photojournalism because all of my favorite conceptual photographers who were then doing a lot of high-end editorial and commercial work started at a newspaper so I thought it was a good idea at the time. I was fortunate to be able to intern at several well-respected publications and will always appreciate those days as my training ground. Those early internships allowed me the freedom to shoot a variety of amazing assignments and the ability to really find myself as a photographer. I photographed the Colorado Rockies run to the 2007 World Series, rafted the third most-deadly white water stretch in the world (and almost died) and Obama’s 2008 run to the White House. If it wasn’t for those early days as a photojournalist and my several years assisting a handful of amazing photographers I wouldn’t know anything. I learned how to adapt to every type of situation, how real photographers worked and more importantly, what rules to break. After several years in the newspaper world, I realized it wasn’t for me and the day I realized that I didn’t have to impress anyone and should just be myself was the day I started to really mold my own visual style.
This was taken during the 2012 FPSF music festival here in Houston and it was definitely one of my favorite festival moments from the past few years. On stage is The Flaming Lips and Phantogram (both acts I love on their own) performing Pink Floyd’s famed ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ album all the way through. The Flaming Lips and their front-man Wayne Coyne, are known for their insanely visual and interactive live shows so this set featured confetti, smoke, lots of psychedelic visuals, their signature blow-up hamster ball and to top it all off, a horde of enthusiastic background dancers including the always-lovely Erykah Badu wrapped in what appears to be a tin-foil poncho. This moment will always make me smile. – Todd Spoth
Q.) Is there anything that you dislike about being a Professional Photographer? What does Todd Spoth hate?
Don’t get me wrong, I love that I’m able to make a healthy living as a creative and most of the time when I’m out shooting and being creative there is nothing better. I am my own boss, can make my own schedule and call the shots, however there is a constant 24/7 stress that comes with being a small business owner in today’s age. One of the biggest constant struggles is understanding how to properly license your work and educate your clients about usage and licensing. I’ve had several relationships tested because the client does not understand usage. With larger clients/corporations and bigger jobs, everything is handled with contracts and is spelled out to a T, however the smaller clients might not understand all the in’s and out’s of my business and it’s a task to educate them on what they can and cannot do with the images. I might let an artist use an image I’ve taken for their own personal use, however a lot of times I have to backtrack and let them know that image can’t be used by a third-party for commercial use, etc. It’s definitely one of the least fun parts of the job. Honestly, one of the things that really upsets me is when I take the time to craft an image, edit it, send it to an artist and they still don’t credit or tag me on social media. Giving the photographer the proper credit/tag, especially when you’re not paying for the image, is just common courtesy, yet it happens all the time. This is why I take care of the artists that I work with that ALWAYS take the time to take care of me.
Another quiet travel shot from Kyoto in southern Japan from a trip in 2012. I am part Japanese so naturally I connected with Japan and had an incredible experience visiting the island. This is a frame from a seemingly endless bamboo forest I discovered during a walk. The lines and color are the epitome of the style I aim for in my work. – Todd Spoth
Q.) With recent developments in Technology and Social Media, what has changed about Photography in your opinion?
We are definitely in an interesting time with respects to technology and social media. I feel like in some circles I’m the super cool young gun that is hip to all of the changing trends, and when I venture out into other circles, such as the Insta-meet crews, et al, I feel like an out-of-touch old man. I see these guys on Instagram with 300K+ followers and am completely blown away. How is it possible? I have a meager following and try to post as often as I can with the right hashtags, but sometimes it’s a chore to keep up with. I’m on Tumblr and ever since my Instagram evolved into a more curated gallery of actual work, I’ve started experimenting with Snapchat as an outlet for my quick, off-the-cuff, daily updates. It’s important to embrace these avenues and all of the big agency execs have echoed those sentiments.
Back in 2012 I had the pleasure of photographing President Obama during a quick Houston visit. It wasn’t as glamorous as it seems, but it was definitely an unforgettable experience. I had to show up several hours before Air Force One landed; all my gear was carefully inspected by the Secret Service and I was setup on an outdoor platform to shoot the landing and arrival. In the moments before the plane landed it was storming so hard. I was struggling to keep my gear and myself dry including some very expensive telephoto lenses. The call was made RIGHT before the plane landed to move the few photographers cleared to shoot, inside the hangar. After checking and prepping and being soaked and the anticipation of the shot, I was forced inside and had to quickly scramble to reposition and setup another shot in the minutes before the arrival. Thankfully I was able to position myself to make this frame. Silhouettes are often seen as cliché in the photojournalism world, but I like this one, as it’s instantly recognizable. After Obama and his staff left the airport, the press pool, has to stay locked down in the airport until Obama returns to fly off. It’s often several hours of just sitting around a small airport lounge until we finally are able to shoot the departure. Definitely an experience I’ll never forget. – Todd Spoth
Q.) Is there anything philanthropic that you’re doing now to give-back to the community using your art, or just in general?
I volunteer my time on the board for the Houston chapter of the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers). It’s a lot of working professional photographers, mostly editorial and commercial freelancers. One of our main focuses is educating up and coming photographers on the business of photography, and how to navigate such things as copyright, licensing and marketing. I have also worked with organizations like Do1Thing, The Boys and Girls Club, Canon and the NFL on various projects within my community of Houston.
This is a piece from a photo essay I put together from my work during SXSW 2014 in Austin. SXSW is one of the craziest festivals (if you can call it that) ever and it’s often a marathon of work that lasts at least a week and takes at least a week to recover from. Last year I went mostly Fuji and used my previously mentioned x100s and my Fuji Instax Polaroid camera as my primary tools. I love the ability to choose specialty film packs for the Instax. Most of the time I’m using the pack that makes the border of the images a different color each time. It’s hard to predict the color so it leaves a hint of spontaneity in the process. This is Nick Cannon with a beanie that says “No Ratchets” leaning out of his car somewhere in Austin. I saw him pull up and approached him for a quick photo. It’s not the best photo by any means but it will be something to laugh about in 10 years when the word “ratchets” sounds really hilarious and outdated. The entire series features these little triangles as graphic elements to tie the series together in a fun way and unique way. – Todd
Check out Todd’s Portfolio at http://toddspoth.com
Check out Todd’s Blog is at http://toddspothblog.com
Follow Todd on Instagram at http://instagram.com/toddspoth
Follow Todd on Twitter at http://twitter.com/toddspoth