Rick Becker has been processing film since he was 12 years old. A product shooter for over two decades, he has created images for a prestigious clientele including Vera Wang, Waterford Crystal, Brylane Kitchen & Home, Foxwoods Casino, and Ralph Lauren.
Becker works out of his 4,000 sq. foot studio, located on the fifth floor of a five story building four blocks from Crosby Street—once called the dirtiest street in NYC—which now houses the likes of Lenny Kravitz.
During the interview, Becker notes the changing tide of time, as we walk through his studio: “I am a little bit of a rarity. Not many people own their studio nowadays. Everybody seems to be renting. But if one of my clients sends merchandise for me to shoot, I can hold it for a month without a problem. If I had a rental studio, I would have to move it out in a day or two. It just makes operations more efficient.”
Pre-Visualizing the Shot and Planning for Success
Part of Becker’s craft is seeing the shot before execution. “It’s very important for me to pre-visualize a shoot so that I know how to make it look real while I’m working. We want the sunlight pouring in through the window and hitting the product just right. I may be casting a shadow through a tree that is outside to give separation and depth.”
He is constantly training his eye to notice shadows and angles. Even when Becker is not looking through the lens, he is capturing images. He is a photographer with and without his camera.
Another facet of Becker’s pre-shoot planning is creating an effective ambiance that will not only dress the set accordingly, but also draw the reader’s eye to the product. “I am a product shooter, so my focus is on making the product the feature or the star of the scene.”
Referring to his slew of flats costumed as walls, floors, windows, color backgrounds, and fabrics, he says they are tools used to “reflect light, or give a certain type of mood.” He explains that these “moods” are key in selling the product.
“When we shoot lifestyle things, we try to create a picture that says, ‘If you buy this tray or vase, and put it on your table in your house, it will look as beautiful as it does in this shot and your house will look better with this product.’ This helps the company sell that accessory, and that is what we strive for.”
Managing the Art
In the catalog business since college, Becker has enjoyed playing different roles for different companies.
“I do home furnishings, crystals, and some location things. It’s interesting because different clients think of me in different ways. I have one lady who thinks I am a food photographer, another who considers me a jewelry shooter, which keeps me not doing the same thing everyday.”
Becker has learned to be both versatile and accommodating, open to suggestions from other art directors and stylists. “It is really a joint effort. If they don’t like something I do, they’ll tell me, and vice versa. We are all here for the same reason: to make the shot pretty.”
In his studio, assistants and freelancers both do shooting and retouching. Referring to his two assistants, Farah Shulman and Mike Stampone, he says, “These guys are like arms for me.”
Capturing upward of 15 shots a day, for a major product, he bounces back and fourth between sets. “For a major catalog project, we will have three sets going, and I will direct, adding input about lighting arrangements and themes.” However, “it is my name and these clients are hiring me, so it is not okay until I put my okay on it.”
The Times They are a Changin’
Acting as a mentor for his younger assistants, as his predecessor was for him, he asserts the importance in changing with the times.