Bold, authentic and colorful. Just a few words that come to mind when looking at Max Wanger's portfolio. We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Max on his journey from a corporate job to becoming such an influential photographer.
How did you get into photography?
Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved taking photos. It went from a hobby to freelance work and eventually to full time. My first job out of college though, was in a corporate environment, and I got comfortable. I stayed at that job for eight or nine years even though I didn’t love it. But a steady paycheck, a 401k -- it was hard to leave. Right before I turned 30, I had a moment where I knew I needed to do something that truly made me happy. Long story short, photography was the outlet that provided joy and I wanted to make that my focus.
Ultimately I stumbled into wedding photography. After a few years of doing that, I was fortunate that a door to commercial and editorial photography opened. And from there, I started to do more fine art and landscape work. The lesson I’ve found is to follow your bliss. It may sound a bit cheesy or easier said than done but I’m proof that it can work. I chose to focus on something I loved, worked really hard, and found a way to make a living.
Did you have clients lined up when you left the corporate world?
The wedding photography world was very different 11 or 12 years ago. And like I said, I kind of stumbled into it. I found some people that were photographing weddings in a really cool way and I thought, “Wow, I could maybe try that or put my own spin on it.” So I staged a wedding with my sister. She was the bride. Her boyfriend's best friend played the groom and we went to a park and I took pictures. Then my girlfriend, who's now my wife, reached out to a handful of wedding and design blogs asking them to check out my work. And the response was incredible. And the staged wedding ended up getting posted and within about a month, I was booked for a year with weddings.
Wow. And no one knew that that was a staged wedding?
No! But thankfully it didn’t matter. People liked the images and that gave me the confidence to have a go at it. I was literally thrown into the fire and learning on the go. Figuring out not only how to be a photographer, how to photograph weddings, but also how to run a business. It was all brand new, but really exciting. And we were at a point in our lives where we weren't tied down by anything so it made it easy to travel (which we learned was a big part of the job) and just figure things out.
Was this all in LA?
It all started in LA. And much of the work was here. But, eventually, we were travelling all over the world.
Do you think your location had any part in your success?
I think being in LA definitely helped because it’s a good, creative hub. As someone who was focusing on photographing weddings in a non-traditional manner, being here helped attract more clients who understood that aesthetic.
Would you consider yourself primarily a commercial photographer now or are you still shooting some weddings. Do you have a preference between the two?
I like to say that I’m just a photographer that happens to enjoy taking photos of a lot of things. A handful of years ago we began doing less weddings and I focused more on commercial work. The grind of doing 30 to 35 weddings a year and traveling is just a lot harder now because we have kids and our lives are so different. Also, there are just so many more people photographing weddings, at lower price points and the competition's a lot more intense. We still do a couple weddings a year depending on what might come in but I’d say that my attention is more on commercial work and landscape/fine art work for our print shop.
I'm curious to know more about your kids series, what is the backstory with those images?
I love working with kids. Since having kids, it's inspired me even more. I wanted to find a niche in the commercial world and I felt like I could try it with kids and be really specific with bringing my own perspective. In many ways I still consider myself a kid, and I feel like I often relate to them better than I do with adults! So, I enjoy that relationship.
Patience with kids is key. You have to be willing to wait for the moment. I like disappearing behind the lens and letting things play out organically. Your patience is always rewarded with moments that are authentic, pure and honest. That’s all you can ever ask for and that’s why I love it so much.
Were you traveling a lot for shoots prior to COVID?
Prior to Covid, here and there, mostly close to home though. Prior to kids, all the time :)
If you could go anywhere to shoot for a while, where would you want to go after COVID is over?
Japan. Or New Zealand. I’ve never been and have always wanted to go.
Do you have any contemporary artists, designers or photographers that have really influenced your work?
Jesse Marble. She's a good friend and has always been a big inspiration as a photographer. Also Rodney Smith and Tim Walker. Lately I've been inspired by a lot of other types of artists, specifically chefs. I don't know if you've seen Chef's Table, but that show is incredibly inspiring. Magnus Nilsson is one of the chefs I admire greatly. His process, his work ethic, his passion -- it’s amazing.
Do you dabble into any other art yourself, or do you just filter that inspiration and put it into your photo work?
I love all kinds of art and I've always been attracted to design and minimalism and negative space. I like to think that translates into my photography.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Professionally? Still taking pictures. But I always think about what's next. What’s the next challenge and how do I keep growing and learning and pushing myself. I don't ever want to settle or be too comfortable again.
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