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John Cornicello Interviewed : On Making It Big In The Photo Industry

We are extremely delighted to host an interview with lighting master and creative professional photographer John Cornicello.

John Cornicello has been involved in the photography industry since 1979. He started out as a photo assistant in New York and later moved to Seattle Seattle and has been a home studio based portrait and headshot photographer ever since.

John CornicelloThroughout his journey, he had a chance to cross paths with some of the great photographers of the 70s and 80s. With over 40 years of experience in the photo industry, we are sure there is a lot you can learn from John through this interview.

John Cornicello has been very passionate about teaching photographic concepts from basic camera functions to lighting theory and practice.

Read along to know more about his photography journey and honest conversations with none other than Portrait photography master John Cornicello.

1. You have been working on interesting projects like “The chair Project” and “Covid mask project”. We would love to know more about it.

John CornicelloThe chair project started about 6 or 7 years ago. Pretty simple. I bought an old chair at a rummage sale and did a self-portrait in it.

When I posted the selfie people started asking to be photographed in the chair. A few hundred people ended up in the series which expanded when I got an egg chair about 4 years ago. I have suspended that project since Covid.

However, I did start a new project photographing people with their masks. This came out of the isolation of Covid and the need or desire to have safe interpersonal interactions. I have photographed around 80 people for this series.

2. You have already published your first ebook. How has been your experience writing the book?  

The writing and assembling of the book have been great. I have some background in typesetting and design that made that all easier for me. The struggle has been in promoting the book. Photowoah has been instrumental in helping get the electronic version out into the world.

3. How did your interest in photography begin? 

I have had a camera in hand since being a young child. My dad had a Kodak Duaflex that I often used. Then I had some Polaroid cameras like the Big Swinger. I sometimes used an 8mm movie camera, too. I would build model cars and take really bad photos of them.

In high school, a friend worked in the camera department of a large store and suggested I get a real camera. Then I joined the school camera club and learned about darkroom work developing film and printing. That got me to be more serious about photography and started my journey.

4. You also worked as an instructor and a lighting technician at CreativeLive, can you tell us a bit about your experience?  

John CornicelloCreativeLive came about at just the right time for me. I had been working at Adobe for many years running their online community forums. I wasn’t doing a lot of photography at the time, though the introduction of digital was drawing me back in.

I heard about these online photo classes and that they were accepting people to come to the studio to be an audience.

I jumped at that opportunity and was at CL any chance I could (weekends and using vacation time). 

I suggested that I could help them as a photo assistant and it grew from there. At CL I got to meet so many great instructors and got to be friends with many. Many of them became subjects in my Chair photo series. 

The first class I taught on my own was how to photograph fireworks. And soon after that, I did a class on working in a home studio. All the while I kept helping out the other instructors, too.

5. What kind of work are you shooting currently?

With Covid, I have turned to doing more still life photos and composting things in Photoshop. I have also started a series of photo conversations. I have shut down my photo business and am semi-retired. I am teaching for Photo Center NW in Seattle. Time will tell what happens after the pandemic. I plan to keep taking photos as long as I can.

6. What are some of the tips and tricks of portrait photography that you’ve learned over the years? 

Simplicity. Use one light if you can. If you want two lights, still try to do it with one. Portraiture is more about relationships than equipment. Learn your “soft skills.” Plan things and make for the best shooting situation you can. People skills will beat technical skills in portraiture.

7. You have captured some stunning fine art nude shots. What was it that attracted you to this type of photography?  

John Cornicello

I am not sure where that started. I do know the first nude session I did was with a friend of a friend in college. I think I still have one print from that session.

It wasn’t until many years later that I started working with the figure again. Right out of school my emphasis was on still life and product photography.

Somewhere along with the line people started finding their way into my photos. And then I took a couple of workshops that included some nude/figure assignments. Then it came back to the people skills mentioned above.

After one workshop the instructor came to me and told me that the models had all commented to each other how they enjoyed working with me over the other photographers. It comes down to respect and fun. Don’t be “that guy.” Be professional and courteous. But also make for a fun environment.

8. What is your essential camera equipment? 

That is an interesting question. I have a couple of “desert island” options.

Of course, there is the camera. I have been a Canon user since 1974. And you need a lens. 85mm, 100mm, or 70-200 and I am good.

I want light. Right now that is an Interfit Badger Unleashed. And a modifier. That would be a 60-inch Photek Softlighter or a 2×3 softbox. That is enough to do many of my photos.

9.  You had a chance to cross paths with some of the great photographers of the 70s and 80s. Can you name a few photographers that inspired you?

Yes. Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, and Jay Maisel immediately come to mind.

10. What changes have you seen in your industry over the past several years? 

John CornicelloI don’t know. The more things change, the more they remain the same. 

But on the lighting side of things LED technology is getting better. Mixing stills and video is driving that. But I still prefer studio flash for its versatility.

11. Teaching photographic concepts is your passion, what do you love the most about this process?

Seeing the students’ expression when something they have struggled with becomes clear. 

You can check out John Cornicello’s ebook “Anatomy of a Studio Portrait” here.

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