Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera

Posted by: on Mar 7, 2014

Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera

Francis Zera is an award-winning Seattle-based commercial and architectural photographer/videographer. He’s been through business school, journalism school, art school, graduate school, and even a firefighting academy. He travels light, loves flying in small planes and helicopters, has a valid passport, doesn’t mind airport food, and plays well with art directors and producers. He also teaches part-time at the Art Institute of Seattle, currently focusing on the business of photography.

My first camera was…
A Kodak Instamatic that my dad gave me when I was about 12 years old. I still have it.

Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera (photo by: Francis Zera)
photo by Francis Zera

I got started in architectural photography…
Through a business networking connection. My bookkeeper introduced me to one of his other clients, who happened to be an interior designer. I fell in love with the technical aspects of lighting and photographing the built environment, and things just took off from there.

I wanted to become a photographer because…
Making photographs never really felt like work, even when the work was tough.

My first paying photography job was…
Doing double-duty and taking photographs to go with my feature stories when I was a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s. “Big-paying” is relative, but my first memorable big-paying photography job was the aforementioned architectural photography gig.

Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera (photo by: Francis Zera)
photo by Francis Zera

I would describe my style or shooting philosophy as…
One that combines a bit of an artistic approach with the technical requirements of photographing architecture.

Some of my industry role models include…
Julius Schulman, for obvious reasons, along with photographers like Iwan Baan, who photographs buildings in a way that brings them to life instead of treating them solely as objects. I also admire what the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) is doing at the national level concerning educating commercial photographers about the importance of developing solid business skills, and I’m pretty much a groupie for architect Santiago Calatrava.

Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera (photo by: Francis Zera)
photo by Francis Zera

I knew there was no turning back when…
I realized I was getting more satisfaction from working as a photographer than for anything I’d done previously.

If I could choose one dream gig, it would be…
An around-the-world tour to document the best contemporary architecture on each continent, including Antarctica.

Before I got started in the industry, I wish somebody had told me…
To spend my early money on good lenses and good lighting equipment first and camera bodies second, as cameras are frequently replaced; good lenses and proper lighting kits will last for decades.

Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera (photo by: Francis Zera)
photo by Francis Zera

One thing no one could have ever prepared me for is…
How volatile this business can be at times.

What is your favorite piece of gear?
Can I pick two? One is my Canon 24mm TS-E Mk. II, and the other is my 8’ Gitzo tripod/Manfrotto geared head. Is that three?

Photographer Spotlight: Francis Zera (photo by: Francis Zera)
photo by Francis Zera

Do you shoot tethered?
I shoot tethered as the needs of the project dictate. When I’m shooting on my own, I sometimes don’t bother, as I’ve gotten really good at reading focus and the histogram info off the back of the camera. If I’m working in a team environment with an art director or client, though, tethering makes things easier for everyone to collaborate.

What is your current set-up?
I’m assuming you’re still talking about tethering for this question. My tethering setup depends on the camera we’re using. When I’m using a Hasselblad or PhaseOne system, I tether via a  FireWire cable to my laptop using either Phocus or CaptureOne. With my Canons, though, even though tethering via a USB cable to a laptop running Lightroom is pretty simple, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with using the CamRanger wirelessly with my iPad Air.

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