Jong Clemente is a portrait, wedding, corporate, nude and boudoir photographer. Even though photography is his part time job, he shoots often and his work can rival many photographers who do it for a living. In addition to his still work, Jong is experimenting with video – adding movement to his photography projects. I have had a pleasure of interviewing him to get an in depth look into his process and philosophy.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m Johnel Felix Clemente, going by “Jong” when doing photography. It’s nice to meet you all!
Did you go to school to study photography?
Not at all. I have not attended a single class nor a single seminar about photography. I have learned everything through books, from friends, and by just experimenting. But whenever someone asks me, I would still prefer for people who want to get into the art form to really consider proper schooling. There are too many “photographers” our there. Not enough artists.
Where are you based from and do you travel for work?
I started my photography career in the Philippines, but now I am based in Brooklyn, New York. Occasionally, I travel mostly for my weddings gigs.
How long have you been a photographer?
I think I have been doing it for 6-7 years now. Hard to tell because I’ve never done photography full-time, always as a passion.
How would you describe your style?
Well, I hope people see my style as artistic sexy. If not, if they find my shots/style as ‘decent’, I’ll be happy. My shots tend to be on the dark and dirty end.
You shoot beauty, fashion, wedding, corporate, nude and boudoir but what would you photograph if you had to choose just one?
Gun pointed to my head, I’ll pick beauty/portraits. In my head, I feel you can show all the other different styles if you shoot a person’s face properly. Plus, it’s physically the easiest. All you need is a person and a face. No walking around with 40 lbs. around your back and waist, following dozens of people around.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot with Canons, their 5D Mark II and 7D. Before then, I had the 40D for the longest time, then briefly, the 5D Mark I and a 1D Mark II. Recently, I’ve been practicing shooting with disposable cameras and looking into shooting with the Lomo LC-A.
Besides your camera, what is a must-have at each session?
A reflector! It’s the best photographic tool! You can bounce light, use it as a wind machine, and I use it as an earth mat when I sprawl on the ground on some shots. Aside from that, I try not to use a whole lot of things when shooting.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
This is definitely not my favorite lens, but if I had to do a shoot with just one, I will pick the 50L. It’s wide enough to do some full-body/group shots, and long enough to do some decent portraits.
Do you have your own studio, rent or shoot at home?
I’m lucky to have a little storage space in my building I use for photography. I don’t need a lot. I just need a wall so it works for my types of shoots.
What lighting equipment do you work with?
Right now, I have 3 Alien Bees strobes: 2 B800s and 1 B400. 90% of the time, I just need 1 of them and a beauty dish light modifier.
What is your favorite computer software/editing accessory, other than your computer?
Apart from the Canon RAW software to just render RAW files, I only use Photoshop for all my post-processing.
It looks like you are not afraid to experiment with editing, do you know what you want to achieve when you start or do you try different styles to see what looks best?
I try to use editing as little as possible when it comes to altering the subject. Maybe just minor cleaning of the blemishes and taking out of unflattering skin folds. Recently, I’ve been enjoying adding more texture though. I feel I need to change the tone of the photo since I only shoot in my tiny room most of the time. As for knowing what I want to achieve in the end, yes, I do know what I want to achieve, but the how usually depends on how the shot will come out. Sometimes, I just think, ‘I want this shot to be dark and gritty’, but I won’t know if I’m making it black and white or adding some scratchy texture to it.
How important is Photoshop for your work?
It’s important, but not that important. As much as I edit mine, I still believe that it’s the original shot that makes the image. It is a tool that can help achieve the look you are going for, but in the end, it’s just a tool. Not using it will not help you achieve your potential as an artist, but using it too much will make you dependent on other variables and not the most important one — actual photographing.
What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc.?
I mostly use just four: Heal, Dodge, Burn and Sharpen. I think that’s all one needs to unleash the potential of a photo.
Do you use Mac or PC?
Mac! I was on PC for the longest time, but when I switched, I kicked myself for not switching sooner.
Can you describe your photographic workflow for wedding, beauty and boudoir post-processing?
In all my shoots, I have a very simple and streamlined workflow. I shoot in RAW then with Canon software I fix the white balance and a bit of the exposure, before exporting to Photoshop for cleaning of the blemishes and minor sharpening if needed. (I shoot at wide-open almost all the time so sharpening in post has been a necessity.) If I need the tone to be changed, make it more vintage, darker, etc., then I will maybe add a layer or two for that. If not, after I convert from RAW and do minor fixes, I render it to TIFF for print or JPEG for web. Voila!
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
Right now, I have a full-frame and a 1.6x crop camera and I’ve played with an old 1D Mark II before and I am hoping maybe if I win a lottery then I can get the Canon 1D-X. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. A more reachable goal is maybe getting a 135L because I’ve been hearing great things about it and maybe get a Lomo LC-A or a bunch of disposable cameras so I can go back to film.
What equipment do you use for your videos?
For my videos, I just use the 7D. I am really just starting with my videos and it takes a lot of time to edit, so I can’t practice that much.
What is the philosophy behind your videos?
My philosophy with my video is to not think of it as a video! I really want to think that I am just moving my photos quicker than normal. Thinking that I am a videographer will insult all the fine people who really do videos as their art form.
Where do you get your ideas and what inspires you to create such an outstanding work?
Well, I don’t know about the outstanding part, but I’ve never had a problem getting inspiration even when I started. I am blessed to have some very talented friends from the Philippines that do different types of photography: Aaron Ebio of Ebsfoto, Paul Ticzon of The Attic Studios, Mark Terrence Sy, premier concert photographer of the Philippines, Paolo Sy, my “photo buddy” and Rage Tianero. We push each other having different sets of expertise; we don’t have to compete with each other directly.
What has been your most memorable assignment and why?
All my assignments are memorable and I mean that. I take every single shoot very personally because people either trust me with their memorable day, paying a decent amount of money to capture important moments (weddings), their credibility (when I shoot corporate), or they trust me with their bodies (when I shoot eroticas and boudoir) and since I know there are hundreds of other guys that can do a better job than I can ever do, I just make sure that they know that I will give it everything I’ve got at that moment in time. I know I will always get better, but at the time they shoot with me, they’ve got my very best.
Having said that, I recently shot the good Reverend Al Sharpton, and that was mind-blowing. It wasn’t memorable because of the shoot per se, but I was doing some behind-the-scenes when he was being interviewed and the things he said about politics (and I don’t follow politics at all) and generally about life and being a “good” person, really moved me. I also remember shooting Neil Gaiman who wrote my favorite graphic novel series, Sandman, and a bunch of my favorite novels, Neverwhere, Stardust and Coraline, and it was the first time I was ever starstruck.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you?
Back in the Philippines, I’ll have a friend or two “assist” me (mostly just hangout), but here in New York, my margins are so slim that I just do everything by myself.
If you could do a shoot with anyone, who would it be and why?
I would love to do a cool portrait shoot with the Dalai Lama. He’s the closest thing we have to an enlightened person and having the opportunity to capture him in something maybe a little fun yet dramatic, it will be a life-changing experience. Just being around him up-close will be a soul-calibrating moment for me.
How do you find your models?
For models, mostly Facebook referrals from other models I’ve shot. After I do a shoot with a model, I make it a point to edit a shot or two right away and tag them on Facebook so their friends can see, and it just blossoms from there. For weddings, mostly just word of mouth and a few inquiries from my website. The corporate and other magazine stuff are from networking with graduate school classmates and they send out my portfolio if ever they hear something and they just get in touch with me. Though I am very active in social networks, I don’t do a lot of formal marketing. I hope that the work just speaks for itself.
How often do you use Makeup Artists?
Again, back in the Philippines, in every shoot I had, I will have a friend from Makeup Forever to do makeup. Since I’ve moved to New York, I try to make my shoots as fast as possible so I try to have my models come made up already so we just start shooting and be done in an hour.
How many images do you average per shoot and how many do you usually end up using?
For portfolios, my target number is always 12-16 images for myself and my subject after the shoot. That’s an average of 3-4 images per layout, where I try to do 4 layouts/looks per shoot. I keep the shoot under 1 hour.
Total images shot, I want it to be around 150. I try to get everything I need in a layout in 50 shots or less so as not to develop bad habits when one just “keeps shooting”.
Weddings will be a different story. I shoot from preparations to reception so in a whole day, that will total to a little of 1,000. Then I will have the couple/client cut it down to 100-150, and I will pick my favorite 60-80 and make an art book for them.
How do you make your models feel relaxed during a shoot?
I’ve always just been an amiable kind of person. I crack jokes all the time and I don’t take shooting that seriously. This all stems though from being prepared for the shoot way before time. I send out samples and inspiration shots as well as email ahead my thoughts to the subject so they know what to expect once we start. I also shoot really quickly so we can be in a groove and it keeps everything loose.
Have you ever had anything go wrong at a shoot and if so, how did you handle it?
Oh, something always goes wrong in a shoot. I just apologize really quickly and I make sure that I have backups for everything. I once accidentally formatted a memory card while shooting and lost most of the shots during the shoot. I was able to recover 80% of the shots, but that taught me to have extra cards, always be wary with the data and take care of every step.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about your photo work?
I always thought that the technical aspect of photography, unlike painting and sculpting where you really need to use the dexterity of your hands, is relatively very easy — you basically just push a button. I personally think the most challenging is really connecting with the subject, be it a model’s portfolio, or making sure the family of the bride is comfortable with you during that big day of their family.
What do you think of the photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
Because of the ease in accessibility of really professional-grade tools, plus a booming after-market and DIY industry, I think photography is growing, and will only grow bigger. This will make the art form muddled with a lot of, for the lack of a better term, crap, but that will only make the people who really have talent and the love, shine brighter!
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Richard Kern. I have been following his series with Vice, just traveling the world, shooting regular (naked) women. His style is effortless, but not too careless and haphazard like other photographers that shoot women on a bare white wall.
Who are some of the people in the industry that inspire you?
There are a lot of people that inspire me in the industry, but not in the technical aspect. I try not to emulate anyone’s style so I keep experimenting on my own (even if my shots look like someone else’s). I admire Chase Jarvis, Scott Kelby, Scott Bourne, Alex Koloskov and all the other photographers that were able to use their social networks to expand their reach exponentially.
How do you market your business, and what works best?
I really don’t. I am still learning the ways of social media marketing, but I really do prefer to just make the work speak for itself. I tag the people I shoot on Facebook and Tweet about them and I get some response from there, but word-of-mouth is still my most effective way of getting paying clients.
How important is your website for your business?
It’s one of the most important things. One won’t be able to meet every single potential client face-to-face and being able to have a website to showcase the work that you can do is essential. I also use it to review all the work I’ve done and try to improve on them as I update the site itself.
What would you do if photography didn’t exist?
As much as I would like to, photography has always been just a side business for me. I will always keep pushing to work in the world of corporate marketing, hoping to make it as a world-class brand manager.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue wedding, fashion or beauty photography?
Aside from working on the technical side of things: making sure you know how to get what you want to shoot, taking care of your gear and the like, work on your inter-personal skills. Knowing how to talk to clients or a group of people to make them motivated or relaxed to be shot well is the key in getting any good image.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
Early on in my career, I wasted a lot of money experimenting with gear, buying third-party lenses; not because they are good, but because they were cheap. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve tested a lot of stuff, borrowed a lot more, before purchasing gears for myself. Also, I might’ve concentrated on weddings a bit more because that genre is not only fun, but also lucrative. Now that I am too used to being in my studio/closet, I can’t force myself to shoot outside that much anymore.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
I did not know that it was going to be this expensive and addicting! Collecting gear itself has become an obsession of mine, which is not good because I am not even earning stable income! Now, all my lenses, bodies, even stands and other accessories are all my babies.
If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of a shoot would you do?
I would love to have a set that can do both underwater and aerial suspension with rain/water at the same time…. with 20 models in sheer clothing. I don’t know what it will turn out, but it sounds fun.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera, where would you go and what would you shoot?
Sine my regular shoots approximate Victoria’s Secret shoot already, I’ll do something different. I’d love to do professional sports like the NBA or the NFL. Maybe in-game and post-game portraits.
What superpower would you like to have?
Teleportation! I would love to be wherever I want to be in an instant. That can work well with sports too!
What are you still learning?
I am always trying to learn more and more styles and techniques in photography, but on the more technical side, I am trying to learn a bit of shooting videos.
Do you attend any workshops, if so what was your last one?
Nope. I have not attended a single photography workshop ever. I’ll attend some hobbyists’ gathering to just hangout with like-minded people, but I’m not too keen on workshops for myself. I don’t know why.
What do you love most about being a photographer?
I love being able to meet people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. Then, you get to capture a moment in their life for eternity! That’s pretty darn cool.
Is there anything you don’t like as a photographer?
Whenever I’m at a gathering and my friends or family mention I am a photographer, I automatically become the person taking photos for everyone — point-and-shoots and camera phones, mostly. I also don’t like the fact the gear is just so darn expensive!
What is your greatest fear related to your work?
Not getting “the” shot. I mean, shooting digital now, you can just rock the shutter until you get one, but that “money” shot, that earth-shattering, soul-calibrating shot that is needed especially during an important event in your client’s life, like a wedding or an engagement shoot. If I don’t get that, I feel I let them down.
Oh, and also, having my equipment stolen. I’d die!
Something that is overrated?
As much as I talk about having and wanting gear, pricey stuff, the L lenses and the 1D bodies, one doesn’t really need those to get the shot. Conversely, shooting in film is also over-rated. In the end, a shot is a shot is a shot. The concept and execution is key. The tools on how you got them will be secondary.
What do you do on a typical Friday night?
Friday is actually my night in with my fiancé. We order in good food and just take a breather from the long week. We might watch something I’ve downloaded, a nice new series, or maybe a movie on Netflix. I prefer it this way to. I like going out, but I like spending quality time at home better.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
I actually foresee myself shooting a lot less, but hopefully getting paid a bit more. Right now, I am a shoot addict. I average 2-3 shoots a week and edit them the same day. Maybe in 5 years, when I am hopefully higher in rank in my company and well on my way into having a family, I can shoot a few times a month, but it’ll be for a nice magazine gig or a really nice wedding.
What is your favorite photo you have shot recently?
This portrait of Alice is my recent favorite because this is the first time I really wanted to buckle down on a portrait technique that I am happy with. I’ve always been shooting portraits, but it was always something that I wanted to naturally happen. I’ve been tinkering with something I can do consistently, and I think this most recent one is a big step closer to that.