Caleb Thal is a photographer based in Los Angeles, CA specializing in portrait and landscape imagery. Throughout his career, Caleb has shot for clients including LAFC, The New York Times, and Topo Designs.
Can you tell us a bit about your photography journey from the time you first picked up a camera to now?
I started out doing films in high school, and I picked up a camera around the time I graduated because I still wanted to tell stories visually, but I liked the simplicity of photography. I would shoot portraits of my friends, and eventually folks started asking me to shoot family portraits/weddings and such. I did for a bit, but those kind of shoots made me anxious, so I stuck to personal work. I followed a handful of photographers in the advertising world that I thought were able to shoot work that both looked amazing and still worked-well commercially, and I decided that I was going to pursue the same thing.
We recently came across your work at the SmashBox Studios assistants’ show.
Can you tell us a bit about the piece that you had in the show?
This shot was of one of my friends right after he got out of the water surfing our favorite spot. It was one of my favorite evenings because we went while the sun was setting and had the place completely to ourselves. When I photograph my friends, I try to shoot them while they
are in the process of doing something, and I look for those quiet moments. Those are the things that without my camera I love so much, and when I have the chance to capture that same moment, I get pretty stoked.
We absolutely love your LAFC project. What was the experience like creating these images? How does shooting a live sporting event compare to your normal process of portrait work?
It is totally different because I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I first went to shoot with them, but it is very rigid. I have to wear a neon green vest, and all the photographers together are ushered out at the same time. You don’t have a lot a freedom of where you can shoot. My first game, I was pretty bummed about it, but I have actually started enjoying the challenge of it. I have to look harder for the moments I want to capture and have to be ready for anything since the pace of it all is so much faster than I am used to. So, it is harder for sure, but enjoyable nonetheless.
What is your typical gear set-up?
My set-up is fairly simple; I almost always have two cameras with me whenever I go out to shoot: A Mamiya 645 for film and a Canon 5d for digital. I have gone through stages of preferring one over the other, and I almost always favor the looks of my film images, but at one point, I also realized that I was using film as a crutch because even my less strong images would look cool on film. So, at the moment, I am shooting more digital, which has helped me focus in on shooting truly strong images. But, I am sure I will flip back again at some point.
What/who are your biggest inspirations in creating images?
I know I have said this already a few times, but I am really inspired by the quiet moments in the midst of an otherwise intense moment. I think Mark Mahaney does this super well, and I am inspired by his work quite a bit. The colors are so good, and his portraits are interesting and not necessarily conventional, but they help enhance the story.
What is your favorite aspect of the photographic process?
My favorite part of the process is the way that you look at things a little differently when you are shooting. I notice light a lot more, or the way lines and space interact. It causes me to notice beautiful things when I otherwise might miss it. When I catch one of these moments, I am stoked!
How do you hope to see your work evolve over the next 5 years? Any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
In the next 5 years, I want my work to be a little more definitive, my style a little more consistent, and to keep shooting things that are interesting to me. As for projects, I have a little bit more to do with the LAFC, and a project that I have been working on with ballerinas. For the future, I don’t necessarily have anything super exciting on the books yet, but I have a few ideas floating around that will hopefully come to fruition soon!