By the time we take notice of someone at the mountain peak, we often assume it was an easy road to the top. But we know it's pretty rare to see an overnight success. The truth of the matter is that the difference between success and failure is hustle. It's persistence. It's the ability to get knocked down and keep getting up... until, eventually, you're one of the last folks standing. It's about believing in yourself and your passions and making other people believe in them too.
That's been the case for 31-year-old photographer Jeff Schear. He grew up in Montgomery, graduated from Sycamore High School, and left for Athens, OH to earn a degree in Communication/Commercial Photography from Ohio University. During the past nine years, living & working as a professional photographer in Chicago, he's shot the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, and the list goes on. Suffice to say, he's made a name for himself.
And that's why we want to spotlight this Cincinnati native. So without further adieu, we're gonna pass the mic to Jeff.
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Cincinnati Refined: What first inspired your interest in photography?
Jeff Schear: The glossy, fast & simple answer is that I took a photography class my junior year of high school. After I turned in the first assignment, my teacher recognized my talent and fast-tracked me to shoot what inspired me. Subsequently, the feedback on my work over the next few years encouraged me to pursue photography because I was very good at it.
The deeper, more meaningful answer would be that I’m an introspective/philosophical person. Photography was therapeutic and interesting for me. It helped me understand and see a world I didn't really fully understand as a teenager. I'd take a camera and walk through a graveyard, a forest, or an old factory. I'd look at the shapes, the textures, the light, and I’d explore how I could convey what I felt on an emotional level thru a visual medium. People found the end result intriguing and beautiful. It's good to feel like you're doing something meaningful.
CR: How would you describe your photographic style?
JS: When shooting people, I think my style is [fairly] candid, as opposed to overly posed and stuffy. I like people comfortable in their environment. That yields itself to capturing more natural images. I like to play with edgy lighting for more dramatic personalties and softer lighting for corporate/lifestyle subjects. With food and drink photography, my style is bright, clean, and very commercial.
CR: What’s your camera of choice? And what’s the one lens you can’t live without?
JS: My primary camera is a Canon 5Ds, which is 50.6 megapixels and great for well-lit scenarios, yielding incredible detail. My second camera is a Canon 5D mk iii, which is great for lower-light situations. I always have at least two cameras at all times. You have to be prepared for the absolute worst-case scenario (a.k.a. if a camera breaks in the middle of a shoot, you need backups).
The lens I cannot live without is a Canon 24-70mm F 2.8L II USM. Throw in my Canon EF 70-200mm F 2.8L II USM, and I can shoot pretty much any possible scenario with those two lenses.
CR: What’s your coolest photo-taking experience to date?
JS: Hands down, unquestionably, the coolest photo-taking experience was when I shot the cover for American Airline's international magazine NEXOS. The subject was entertainer/musician/businessman Pitbull. We shot it at sunset on top of the tallest building in Chicago (The Willis Tower, formerly The Sears Tower). It was right before a concert he had in Chicago, and his flight had run hours late. We were starved for time and under pressure. I literally had 10-15 minutes to shoot the cover and a series of photos for the inside spread. The lighting setup was very complex because I was taking a picture of him in a glass observation box that showed reflections. But... I got the pictures and everything turned out extremely well. Pitbull was an amazing guy, incredibly friendly, and I even got to go to his concert and snap pictures from the front row. There's no room for error in most, if not all, of these situations. But I don't get nervous anymore, I get excited.
CR: What’s at the top of your photography bucket list?
JS: I want to someday take pictures of my wife/child/children. All of those people don't exist yet, but I'm working on it.
CR: What’s one of your hobbies outside of photography?
JS: Lately, I’ve been getting extremely serious about fitness. I love yoga and have even begun to love running, if you can believe it.
CR: Any advice for aspiring photographers?
JS: Get a camera that has manual settings, and then take an insane amount of pictures to build your body of work (thousands and thousands). Don't just shoot what you like and what seems cool — shoot things that may be less glamorous but more in demand. Assemble a portfolio/website. Go out of your comfort zone and approach people with your work. Get rejected, then rejected some more. Work hard and be reliable. Your name/brand is everything in a word-of-mouth industry like photography.
CR: What’s your five-year goal?
JS: To establish a larger Fortune 500 client base.
CR: Motto to live by...
JS: Your ego is not your amigo.
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Digging Jeff's vibe and work? Yeah you are. Scroll back to the top to see some of his best pics, and/or head to his website.