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Seth Sabal Interview | FGR Exclusive

Miranda Kerr by Seth Sabal

Seth Sabal is a New York based photographer most well known for his captivating portraits of models and landscape photographs. Working with a range of models from Victoria’s Secret girls to newer faces and iconic beauties, each photograph captures something special about its subject. Recently, Sabal talked to FGR about his upcoming projects, thoughts on the industry and what inspires his work.

My style is simple, it’s not complicated lighting, it’s about connection, I want to capture the person, show the clothing and entertain the idea that makes us all feel compelled to look again.

What was your very first job?
My first job was working at a portrait studio as a lab technician developing and printing Black and White in trays, I was 14 years old. It was a good base, and the negatives showed me everything to avoid in my own work later.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been involved in photography when it was still a craft of chemicals, developers, papers and film, retouching with lead pencils etc… I have fond and amazing memories of working 18-hour days in the dark, smelling like chemicals, and watching prints appear on silver gelatin paper in the dektol, Its irreplaceable.

Sabal’s landscape work

Do you have a dream location you’d love to capture in a landscape shoot?
I always have had a great appreciation for landscape photography, especially capturing the scene in an analog format, I think what Ansel Adams and other landscape masters created photographs that will last forever as a reference point of the beauty of the world we live in.

My ideal landscape shoot would be on the disappearing glaciers on Greenland, I think at the rate of global warming they will be gone in my lifetime.

Where are you on a typical Friday night?
Friday nights are always fun, maybe a movie or a nice dinner with my wife…I already danced my ass off for years and not really into the club scene anymore. Although, occasionally a good night out of dancing is amazing.

Tiiu Kuik by Seth Sabal

What is your favorite meal?
I am a steak and eggs kinda guy. I am Spanish – So that means I like to cook, Paella, drink sangria and listen to music.

Are there artists or photographers who inspire or influence you?
I love the work of Avedon and Penn, I remember my mother had a copy of Avedon’s book in our library of photography books as a kid, There was just something so invasive and powerful about his work, I connected to the fashion work, and was captivated by the portraits. Irving Penn’s work has majorly influenced my mind, his work was so simple and beautiful, timeless and what seemed as effortless. (although, I am sure it was not) I just love Penn’s work.

I also admire Greg Kadel’s work, I think he captures something very special in his subjects and has consistently nailed it for years. Although I know many of the working photographers in the industry, He is the only photographer I consider a friend, and he is a truly amazing artist and person.

I also am very captivated by Camilla Akrans’ work, I think she captures something so astounding on location. It’s defiantly influenced a mass of young photographers, you can see her work copied unsuccessfully in what seems like every other international publication.

I am consistently influenced by art, music and culture, I think it’s so important to embrace what some consider the garbage of the world, the kitsch or even the hokey stuff and use the references that all the artist have left us.

Doutzen Kroes by Seth Sabal

What’s your creative mood music?
Depends on how I feel, I love classic rock while shooting. Something just amazing was happening in the world in the 60s and 70s, you can feel it in the music.

Classical Music while editing (Beethoven, Chopin)

Electronic for Retouchers.

What made you want to become a photographer?
Photography picked me. I honestly was never really great at anything else outside of photography. I feel and then see with my eyes, and shooting has always been natural and easy.

I loved printing and thought that would be my calling, one day I found myself with a camera in hand and its never left my side since.

Your proudest moment as an artist?
When you get your first cover or see your editorial published in a Vogue it is amazing. However, for me the best moment was being asked to photograph for a charity that promotes education in Africa. I am so proud that my work can help people that are less fortunate, and bring light to the situation.

If you could shoot any subject, alive today or past figure, who would it be?

Do you prefer to shoot black & white or color, and why?
It’s a great question, I shoot everything in color except my landscapes, which are still traditional black and white film… somehow much of the fashion work finds its self in B&W by the end of the retouching process. I feel things much deeper it seems in B&W.

What’s the worst thing about the job? And what’s the best part about being a photographer?
The worst thing about the job is not having any free time. Although, I really enjoy what I do, my free time is generally spent on a plane or a hotel room worried about the next job or story. I won’t sugarcoat it, I worry and I dwell on what’s next, a lot.

I guess it comes from a deep desire and respect for the client or magazine. See digital technology has made photography accessible to everyone in the world. Being a photographer used to be a profession for professionals, because if you sucked, you went broke. – Its not anymore, the market is flooded with people that have no business being photographers, the rates have dropped, the profession in a sense has come under attack and has been prostituted. Steichen put it best in the early 30s with the advent of the 35mm… it applies perfectly to this moment in photography in respect to the accessibility of digital technology, and mass flood of photographers. “ 35mm has turned photographers in to bums, and bums into photographers.”

I feel incredibly fortunate to have amazing clients, enjoy a stable emotional, spiritual & financial life, support my staff and studio from photography. I don’t take it for granted, I’ve worked incredibly hard for many years, and it feels amazing to be able to do anything I want at this point. I feel really lucky.

The best part of the job is waking up every morning excited to create, excited to collaborate with amazing artists, models, editors and creative teams. Seeing all parts of the world and cultures, and seeing the work everywhere is amazing too.

Sasha Pivovorava by Seth Sabal

How would you describe your style?
My style is simple, it’s not complicated lighting, it’s about connection, I want to capture the person, show the clothing and entertain the idea that makes us all feel compelled to look again. I am very aware that images can change your whole perspective of something, they change us whether we want them to or not, this is what I want my work to do.

I am a work in progress, I am so excited about the future and I do my best to live in the moment and enjoy the ride.

Future plans or projects you’d like to share?
I have some amazing projects in process, I am doing a portrait series of 500 models in the industry, the portraits are all shot in the exact same format (8×10) and on a black background, kinda like a mug shot; except with really pretty lighting; I am into the mid 300s now and expect to finish the project in mid 2012. Its amazing because the project encompasses top supermodels to working girls to newer faces, you find uncanny similarities and uniqueness in all of them. I am so drawn to the contradictions and anomalies. It’s interesting because you see 8 or 9 models shot in this format and it doesn’t do anything, but when you see a few hundred and its emotion is revealed. I am very happy with this project.

The second project that I am working on that I am so excited about is a landscape book, it will be a very short run, exquisitely printed book with 80 of my favorite landscapes over the last 15 years. Although I am 30 years old, and only done “real” fashion photography for a 5-6 years or so, landscape goes back with me to the beginning of my photographic life. I really love shooting a landscape as I do fashion, but they are completely different creatures and emotions in the process. Landscapes are my balance in life, they are very revealing. Recently in the process of being overworked, I have found the landscapes shot from 2009 to now even more interesting and beautiful.


  1. anonymous

    September 21, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    A great interview.  Seth sounds honest, down-to-earth and insightful.  It’s also clear that he loves his job and that in and of itself is wonderful.


    September 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    I also appreciate his insightfulness.

  3. Barrett

    September 21, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    A photographer’s photographer, the language of those who know… some may call it old school, but it’s ever lasting.  He is blessed to have handled the chemicals, an immediate advantage over the young camera kids produced from this digital era.  Photography is not just about grabbing a camera and surrounding yourself with the right people and being cool… it’s a passion… something you feel… something Seth seems to feel…

  4. Timothy

    September 21, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    It’s great to read an interview with a photographer on FGR, and even greater that it’s so interesting.  I really like his dedication to the craft as well as the art of photography.

  5. CythinaJ

    September 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I have known Seth for years, he is a down to earth and really nice person.  I see him consistantly working at the big photostudios in NY on his catalog & commerical work , he is not an “ego” photographer, he is friends and kind to everyone. I know for a fact that he makes a fortune as a photographer, and yet is not a megolomanic or effected by the finicanal success. You really can tell from this interview that he loves his profession and he is a true professional.  Its really nice to see people that are in this for the craft and clients, he is really a breath of fresh air.
    I love this interview, its honest and very interesting, one of the best interviews on fashiongonerogue! 

  6. TonyS

    September 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    What a great interview! Ive actually revisited this three times.
    This is an amazing photographer, you can feel the honesty and passion that he has. Its really good to know that the fashion industry supports nice artists like this, in a day where every owns a digital camera,and plays the role of photographer, Seth’s interview reminds us why we hire professionals and more importantly, why artists are artists,it comes down to one word, “passion.” Hats of to this Seth for being “real.” He will have the fashion world eating from his hands in no time.

  7. Frankie B

    September 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    very cool! nice interview.

  8. StyleGuru

    September 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Seth’s portraits are amazing, his work is instantly recognizable.  + he sounds very articulate and nice.

  9. shifty

    September 24, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Good interview, nice to see someone open up.

  10. Anonymous

    September 25, 2011 at 8:38 am

    He’s an amazing photographer!


  11. Michel - Fashion Network

    September 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    He obviously loves and is passionate about his job, which he is stellar at! 
    In todays world of every hipster, model and hobbiest becoming a “professional” photographer because it
    seems like an easy job, its really nice to see new artists like Seth that actually have a background in photography.
    He really deserves all his success because he is really talented. 

  12. Colette

    September 27, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    J’ai personnellement connu Seth pendant des années, son travail et de la classe et une personne est justemagnifacant.
    J’aime l’entrevue.

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