Featured Photographer: David Mecey

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In an industry that glorifies models, designers and actors it is the curse of being a photographer that, despite constant expenditure of  time and talent over decades, the people they photograph get the most name recognition.   And yet this issue’s Industry Insider is far from new and undiscovered in this industry.  David Mecey’s credentials include more than 20 years as a key contributing photographer for Playboy.  Hollywood celebs such as Ray Liota, Michael Keaton, Sharon Stone and Rachel Hunter have stood before his lens.  And now, he has joined the ranks of educators who share their knowledge with peers and future generations of photographers.

Hi David!  You have a long, impressive list of credentials that includes over 20 years working with Playboy.  How has your photography changed since your break away in 2002?

Since leaving PB I feel I’ve been allowed to utilize more artistic license in my imagery.  By that, the look that was for so many years required to create the Playboy style is no longer held over me.  Though those years were very special and I hold them in high esteem, it was a time that required a certain style and look that only Playboy demanded.

Now that I’m no longer there, I can do more of what excites me personally as a photographer with my work.  This of course as it pertains to photographing women.  I’ve had the incredible occasion over the years to photograph a number of male celebrities/models which brings its own set of circumstances that are somewhat opposite from working with women.  But the elements that I learned over the years shooting for Playboy still come into play with all my current work.  It was an incredible training ground for a photographer to learn to shoot on the go/location and without the safety net of re-shoots being available.  Anxiety sometimes by the bushel full, yet teaching a photographer how to make it happen, no matter what, every time you were given an assignment.

You have discovered something like 20 Playmates of the Month for Playboy, and one Playmate of the Year (Karen McDougal).  To a model, what does it really mean to be “discovered?”  And how realistic is it for models to pin their ambitions upon the hopes of being discovered?

Yeah, I was kind of a Playmate finding machine during my tenure there (as I’m smiling). Seriously, finding so many Playmates was what I was told was part of my job description, so I took that very seriously. It was always a fantastic moment too when I did ‘find’ that special young lady who had the ‘it’ quality to become the feature for the magazine.

They were always, as you might guess, super excited with the opportunity once it became a reality to them.  But once they became a Playmate it was up to them on where they took it from there.  To most, that was good enough.  To a few others, more ambition was there and they used that as a kind of stepping stone into trying more modeling styles afterward.  Which many have gone on to do quite well, some even moving into television, film and acting.

To this day I am contacted by aspiring models wishing to ‘be discovered’, and due to the internet they come  from around the world.  So I am still always aware of who is out there, though now it’s more for my fashion clients rather than for PB.  Which means the more ‘open guidelines’ of what was required for Playboy are now a bit more restrained. Playboy never had height requirements while most of my fashion clients do.  Even when dealing with swimwear and lingerie, some clients prefer a taller, more slender look versus the more busty, hour-glass figure of PB.

It has been said that the least thing a professional photographer does on a daily basis is: photography.  Many overlook the importance of the sales and marketing side of the business.  Do you have any advice or wisdom you can share with aspiring professionals who are struggling with the business end of photography?

Now this is a loaded question! (Now laughing). In my opinion there is no larger obstacle for a photographer than the marketing of his product in today’s terms.  With the economic climate that surrounds us after the downturn in ’08 still hovering everywhere, aided by the fact that there are now photographers numbering in the bazillions, the market has become a tiny, tiny place to sell one’s self.  I am literally in the throes of that very thing as I write this. We are constantly trying new methods to reach out and meet new clients.  But remember, you’re one in so many, all doing the very same thing.  It’s a matter of trying to leverage what is your key selling point while finding clients that might be interested.  It’s research and development just like any corporation might do, and now, almost on a daily basis. You must find the clients that you feel are your niche potential, then make sure that you have the goods to step up should one ever hire you!  To me, that is also one of the keys.

Due to there being so many people out there these days claiming pro status as photographers, unless you can actually work with a client in a truly professional manner from A to Z, you’re probably not going to be asked back again.  So yes, it’s not photography on a daily basis, but boy, when the time comes that it is photography, you had better be well prepared with all the elements to create incredible images.  And in my view, without the aid of Photoshop doing that for you.

Many photographers have a muse or preferred model who they go back to work with time and time again.  Have you formed any special working relationships over the years?

Oh my, well, there have been quite a few special models throughout my career sure. They come and go, but I try not to attach myself with only one as it sometimes limits what I’m doing, or how I can grow myself.  Becoming too comfortable within this business to me is very dangerous.  That goes not only with shooting with the same person, but relying on lighting that you’ve been doing the same way for years.  If you do not reach out and stretch you tend to go stale, to stop growing.  To stay current is to be recognized as someone who has their finger on the pulse and to a client that is so very important.  I have always tried to reach and experiment throughout my career.  And to try to keep up with what is required or what is considered ‘hot’.  To do that, one must not stay too long in one place or work with only one person too much.  BTW, it’s a bit of a teaching aid to a photographer to always look for and work with new talent.  Keeps you on your toes.

What one, best piece of advice could you share for new models, just starting out in the industry?

To me, be very, very careful with whom you work.  That goes for safety and quality of what you get back in your photographs.  Sadly there are a lot of ‘hounds’ out there that are doing so much damage to our industry.  Some of them with big names, so I am a big proponent of models being super careful and doing their ‘due diligence’ on a photographer before working with them ( even if they’re known to be ‘famous’).  No one wants to be put into a compromising position, even if it means possibly moving up the ladder.  To me, there are so many reputable shooters out there that can help a model do just that without all the crap.  Next, be selective as to what you wish to achieve with your photographs.  See what the photographer can offer you for your portfolio.  This is very important as you want a portfolio of a mixture of looks, so try to work with enough photographers that will give you variety.

This can mean everything from shooting fashion to lifestyle to even shooting nudes. And speaking of nudes, again, if it’s an idea that appeals to you as a model there’s nothing wrong with doing nudity as long as it’s kept professional, and the resulting images are what you think are amazing and show you off in a wonderful way.  Again, it comes down to whom you’re doing that with, their skill level and professionalism that results in what you get.


After establishing themselves, many experienced photographers venture into the workshop and lecture circuits.  Please tell us a little about your own photography workshops and experiences working with attendees.  And where we can find more information?

The workshop business has certainly begun to grow over the past few years for sure.  I’ve been doing workshops since working at Playboy, so I do have a fairly long legacy doing them.  Because of that, I’ve continued to grow the methods by which I teach and present my programs.  To me, teaching a workshop is just that, teaching.  I’m seeing so many workshop people talking about what they’re doing in their workshops but the only work I see coming from those workshops is from the people putting them on!  I barely have time to shoot anything during my workshops.  My  programs are designed to teach the student, not make it a place for me to add to my portfolio.

Yes, I do shoot a few shots when showing how to light something or directing a model.  But it’s just that, a few shots, then I take questions and push for the students to light and shoot while under my guidance.  We’ve gone to a program of offering my workshops over two consecutive weekends in order to accomplish two very important things.  Offer the students a much closer one -to-one arrangement with me and my other program presenters. Then as important, make it affordable enough while offering them the opportunity to work with very good models in incredible locations, along with professional hair and makeup people, wardrobe stylists and Photoshop instructors of the highest level.

I have a curriculum from which we teach  –  It’s not simply having girls available for people to work with at their whim.  We show studio and outdoor lighting along with a variety of lighting devices and modifiers.  We do present the business side of photography, discussed in a forum by my good friend and former managing editor of Playboy’s photo dept in Chicago, Jim Larson.  Jim worked with the biggest names in photography while at Playboy, including Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, Bert Stern, Ellen von Unwerth, George Hurrell and Sante D’Orazio to name a few.  So he brings such depth to the discussions about business, fashion photography and more to our program.

In addition to all of that, we offer Photoshop classes from two very skilled Photoshop pros: Jimmy Beech who writes tutorials on the program and Tom Ordway, a graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography, both of whom are incredible.

You can find all you need to know about David Mecey’s Ultimate Photo Workshop™ on my website, www.davidmecey.com.

You have self-published your own work, including a collection of art nudes entitled Passion.  Is self-publishing purely a labor of love?  Or are there other benefits and business motives behind self-publishing?

Yes, back when I left Playboy I needed something to help me diffuse the feelings I had after my departure.   After working there for some 23 years, leaving them was a big deal.  So I created my own project  – a book,  –  which is titled Passion.  It’s a collection of what I would like to think are art nudes.  All were shot on location with minimal equipment and crew.  All in B&W, and shot with that ancient relic, film.

To be honest it was at the time simply a labor of love but I am now thinking it might be something to share with the world.  So I’m considering adding to it and creating an even larger volume that includes not only black and white but color as well.  Not sure how that will pan out but it’s certainly one of the items I’m considering for my future in this business.

Speaking of future, I am still a working photographer. I  intend to continue as such for as long as I am able.  “Retire” is a word not in my vocabulary.  So I am in the midst of another reinvention of David Mecey.  This entails not only books but also doing some ‘how to’ videos, public speaking, and seminars to go along with my workshops.  And an idea that I feel is truly an amazing one that deals with only models.  Something I hope to announce in early 2014.

My life has always been photography since leaving college and it’s been an amazing run. So for me, everything that I do, I do to somehow help say ‘thank you’ to that industry. My workshops, my books, videos, talks, all of those things are I hope saying it for me.

Sometimes, we say it best by letting someone else say it for us.  Do you have a favorite quote you can share with our readers?

To become famous, one must first be seen and more important, recognized for something profound. Always work toward that goal, no matter whether or not you become famous, for it will make you a much better person as well as hopefully, a great ‘whatever you wish to be’.

Sorry, that’s from me. The only other quotes that I love are about racing (my second passion in life).  Okay, so here’s one from racing and not mine

“To finish first, one must first finish.”

Think about it.