Charles Silverman and the Commercial Art of Storytelling

After a 13 year stint as a musician in Boston, Charles Silverman returned to his home state of Connecticut to pursue a design career. While working as a designer at some larger agencies, he noticed a pattern when working for big clients. Often, he was told, there was “no budget for photography.” Obviously, this makes designing advertisements for print and the Web difficult, at best. The answer, Silverman was told, was always the same: go to stock photography.

©Charles Silverman

With stock photography, you’re limited to what you can find—often not what you’re attempting to design. “As a designer, I started picking up the camera to make my life easier because I wasn’t able to communicate and tell the stories I wanted to tell with stock or visual assets which could be created via illustration,” Silverman recalls.

With camera in hand, Silverman began shooting conceptual photos for ads he was designing, eventually moving on to more polished images. With a wife who is a Wilhelmina model, he had inspiration and motivation. He saved her money by shooting her tests. “The second I picked up a camera and started shooting in studio with strobes, I fell in love,” he says. “It was just something clicked in me and I said, ‘This is what I want to do.'”

©Charles Silverman

Silverman and partners formed Indigo6, a full-service creative studio. Their tagline reads, in part, “helping clients tell their unique story, humanize their business, and connect with people.” The team achieves this by offering interactive, print, corporate identity, photography, and video to their customers. Silverman handles the photography work for the studio. “Our message as a studio for my business side of things is, in this social networking age, it’s all about visual assets, and those assets being portable and shareable them. To me, for brands to distinguish themselves and differentiate themselves, they really need to invest in assets,” he says.

Storytelling is a key business and creative concept for Silverman and Indigo6. Regardless of what delivery method their clients are envisioning, Silverman always asks, “What are we shooting; what story are we telling?” He refers to Web sites and brochures and any other media as empty containers. “Empty containers set in motion to facilitate marketing,” he clarifies. “The reality is what makes a difference is what you put in them. We constantly counsel clients their budgets need to be directed towards creating distinct visual assets.”

©Charles Silverman

The transition from designer to photographer was not a stretch for Silverman. He cites others in the field he admires. “There’s a lot of photographers who started as designers out there right now doing phenomenally well: Nick Onken and Jeremy Cowart. There’s so many more.”

Another major motivator for Silverman is just the feeling of shooting photographs. “I really enjoy it,” he says. “There’s just something in it. It’s a visceral reaction from creating photographs. It’s just an instant, I don’t know how to describe it, but it makes me feel good. I enjoy the whole process from beginning to end: to look at someone’s face and think about how I want to light it. What kind of story, however abstract that might be, and try to tell it. Even understand what I might be doing in post a little bit, I enjoy retouching.” With strong responses from clients, Silverman is meeting a need, particularly with his portrait work. He has also been shooting a lot of products for Teroforma, which include the always-tricky assignment of shooting glassware on seamless white backgrounds.

©Charles Silverman

Although Silverman didn’t study photography formally, he put in many hours studying other photographers. He points to online tutorials by Mark Wallace and Chase Jarvis in particular as being highly informative. He’s also a fan of photography podcasts.

Canon gear is what Silverman is shooting currently, using an EOS 5D Mark II and an EOS 7D. His main lenses include the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8, 15mm, 20mm, and a new 100mm he’s recently added to his arsenal. He fires his strobes with PocketWizard Plus II units. A CreativeLight 5 Foot Softbox RF Octa is used in the studio. His lights include a Profoto Acute2R, three heads, a ComPactPlus 600R, a Softlight Reflector with Grid, a 3×4 Softbox and a 2×3 Softbox.

“I was just blown away when I started using Profoto,” Silverman says. “Absolutely blown away by the consistency and the build quality, just overall. It’s completely dead‑on consistent from one day to the next, shot to shot to the next. It’s awesome. I can’t imagine shooting with anything else. I couldn’t imagine not bringing it on location, either. It syncs up great with my meter.”

©Charles Silverman

Silverman measures light with his Sekonic L-358. “I see a lot of people these days shooting tethered,” he says. “They see their histograms on the back of the camera and they say, ‘I can get it close, then tweak it, then dial it in.’ When you’re dealing with subjects and you have a client standing there, you really can’t spend the whole lot of time or mental energy trying to just dial something in. You just got to know you have a really solid foundation and understand exactly what’s happening. Sometimes the laptop, screens, or whatever you are shooting tethered into, are not accurate. You don’t have the opportunity to focus when there are people around and you are in a client situation. You don’t have the leisure to play around all day. I tend to use a meter for that, as well to just to dial it in and know exactly what I am getting. For models, it is really critical to be able to show clients stuff is done as quickly as possible. If you’re confident with your light readings, you can relate to the client and the subject more.”

Now that he’s shot some videos for clients, he’s interested in getting the L-758DR, a top choice for cinematographers and videographers.

©Charles Silverman

With no plans to shift to landscape photography, HDR, or anything else, it looks like Indigo6 is on track to continued satisfying of their clients. Foremost, Silverman loves portrait work, but his product photography also keeps clients from the Gold Coast of Connecticut and beyond returning. Watch his site and studio to chart the continued growth of this musician turned designer turned photographer.

Charles Silverman Photography
Charles Silverman blog
Charles Silverman on Flickr

Written by Ron Egatz

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Posted in commercial photography, fashion photography, L-358, L-758DR, portrait photography, product photography.