Bryan Derballa is a professional photographer based in Brooklyn, NY whose work is known for its groovy aesthetic. Bryan has taken portraits of some of the most notable faces in pop culture, and he has worked with clients such as Nike, Timex, and Levi's.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What has your journey been like from the first time you picked up a camera to working for clients such as Levi’s and J. Crew?
I grew up in North Carolina. I was a total skate rat and spent endless afternoons popping off curb cuts and jumping off loading docks behind southern grocery chains. It was a blissful existence for the most part, but I knew more was out there. After graduating high school, I moved to Berkeley to for college (but really to skate in the Bay Area). Those years were a dream, and I cherish that time. But, professional skateboarding wasn’t really panning out, and I knew there was more. I was just starting to take photos for a blog I made with some friends and was getting really into it. I took all that dedication I put into skateboarding and transferred it into photography. Shortly thereafter, I moved to NYC and shot photos everyday until that passion turned into a career. I started out doing photojournalism and lifestyle work, but that’s transitioned more into portraits and commercial work these days. I still love shooting most everything though. I just like being behind a camera and thinking creatively.
How have your travels and your experiences living in North Carolina, California, and New York impacted your aesthetic and the way you create images?
My personal project Before We Land comes out from a nostalgia, being in the woods and going to swimming holes with friends when I was high school. That feeling has definitely informed the aesthetic, and I really like that work, so I make an effort to let that seep into my assigned work as well. New York as certainly had an impact, but mostly it’s limitations. People don’t realize it, but there’s not a lot of open space. I love using long lenses, but you can only get back so far from your subject before you hit a building or have tons of taxicabs or pedestrians passing through your shot. Those same building begin to block your light long before golden hour begins. Also, if you’re shooting in NYC apartments, it's generally pretty small. So spatially, I’ve had to figure out an aesthetic based on the limitations of this city. LA is a whole different story, and all those photographers out there have it pretty good when it comes to light and space.
What’s the craziest/most surreal experience you’ve had while shooting?
There are so many, but I can only remember the most recent ones. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was shooting for an outdoor company, and we took a helicopter to the top of a glacier in Canada. I’d never been in a helicopter before, and all of a sudden, we’re on this mountain top and can’t see any signs of humanity in any direction. No trails or tracks or towers, and the glacier was barren. Just snow. It was incredible.
What is your favorite gear to work with?
I keep up with gear as much as the next guy, but I don’t fetishize it. After 10 years of shooting Canon, I switched to Nikon. I use those Sigma Art Lenses and some inexpensive portable strobes. My favorite piece of equipment is a bluetooth speaker. Music makes all the difference on set.
What is the best advice that you’ve received throughout your career? What advice would you give to up and coming photographers?
There’s so much I’ve learned or gleaned from others and still do. I couldn’t even begin to parse it out into any one thing. But, my advice to other photographers is to be bold and take risks. You could learn all the technique in the world and take very well-made pictures. But, if there’s no fresh vision behind it, it’s not going to make much of an impression.
What photo are you most proud of? What was the experience like taking it?
Again, I don’t have much long-term memory when it comes to my work. Like a lot of photographers, I’m most proud and excited by the most recent shoots, even if they’re not the greatest photos in my archive. Shooting Bruce Springsteen a couple of months back was a huge highlight. He’s always been at the very top of my wish list of people to shoot, and I was honored that I got the opportunity. He was so cool and gracious. As much as I wish I could have sat around shooting the shit and picking his brain, I kept it professional and setup four shots that we took in the span of 11 minutes. I was happy with how they came out, especially given the narrow window of time. I definitely had to calm my nerves and bottle up my excitement while shooting. I think it was worth it because now I can fan out on those pictures for years to come.
How has photography changed the way you interact with and view the world around you?
Photography has opened me up immensely. I started in photojournalism and learned about the news, world events, and social issues through looking at and studying photos. Photography also helped teach me empathy. I spent years and years closed off in my little skateboarding subculture and didn’t spend much time with people who lived very different lives than me. But, through photography, I ended up in their homes taking pictures of their kids. That’s something that’s stayed with me.
What is your dream project to work on? Where do you hope to see your career take you in the next 10 years?
I always say, the best thing about working as a photographer is that everyday is different. You meet different people in different places and hopefully take different photos. The unexpectedness and spontaneity are my favorite parts. So, I can’t say I really have a dream project or an idea of what I want to be doing in ten years. I just hope it’s as interesting and varied as it is right now, and hopefully a bit bigger in scale.