When you first start out, you might not realize it, but every person you come into contact with – they are a potential client, they are potentially a person that you can build a relationship with, they are someone who you might start a company with. This piece of knowledge can take you far, and it did for 24 year old commercial photographer and creative director, Eric Phan.
Eric got his start in photography documenting musicians, and eventually moved on to working on commercial projects for athletes, fashion brands, and more. In this interview, Matt Moloney sits down to chat with Eric Phan about his photography career from his start to where he’s at now. Continue below to learn more about Eric Phan.
Matt: So whenever I sit down and think about questions for interviewing creatives, I’m always drawn to the subject’s background – where your from, what you did for fun growing up, etc… Tell me about where it all started for you.
Eric: Yeah, so I grew up in Upstate New York, in Rochester and I guess for me as a kid, I enjoyed playing video games like Call of Duty and I think that’s kind of what sparked my creativity. After playing video games for a little while, I got into make Call of Duty edits and montages and things like that. I would edit in Sony Vegas and just compile quick-scope clips, nukes, things like that just for fun.
After I did some of the video game edits for fun, I didn’t really touch a camera or video ediitng for a few years. I think I got back into it in high-school; I started playing soccer and I had a friend that was really good, he was an All-American and he would make youtube videos and went viral a bunch, even got put in an Adidas commercial, so that was really cool to me and I started putting together a bunch of soccer videos. I made a bunch of unboxing videos and stuff like that with my brother and one of my friends, and then after that I never really thought about doing photo/video as a career until about half way through college.
M: Once you got to college and became interested in photo/video again, were you consciously trying to do sports videos or work with athletes?
E: It kind of just happened honestly. So, I used Photo Editing Services the camera in college at first to do social media stuff, but I wasn’t that good at it, but I was really passionate about social media and just putting stuff out there. I actually went to college as pre-Law / History major at St. John Fisher College and funny enough – the Buffalo Bills’ training camp is located there and I actually met most of those guys before I had ever went to a training camp to shoot.
I ended up switching to Media & Communications right before my senior year but my first real photography gig was in my sophomore year, and it was actually for Migos – after that concert I was hooked. I knew who the opener was going to be and I told him, ‘let me shoot for you, I know I’m new but I’ll get you whatever photos you need’ – I just needed to get in because I knew I’d figure out a way to shoot with Migos after.
I was super fortunate, I was put on very early, I met everybody and got close to them, and then second time they came back in town, I shot for them again, and they put me on to a bunch of other people.
M: This was still in New York right? Was it a local venue?
E: Yeah, it was a local venue that I knew about – the perfect spot and it just worked out really well.
M: That’s so crazy that you say that because so many people always ask how to get involved with more concert photography and how to shoot more musicians and things like that and this is always a main point – knowing the venues and the openers.
E: 100%, man – the local venues are always the best way to get started. They’re much smaller than big city venues, so you really have an opportunity to get closer to the artists and maybe even get backstage with the artists. At local venues it’s always about getting in the room and what you can say – everybody’s trying to do the same thing, it’s competitive so it’s really just how you stand out and differentiate yourself.
E: So the story of how I got in to shoot for Migos the first time is actually pretty funny. I knew the venue guy and so that’s how I got into the venue, but Migos’ private security wasn’t allowing any outside photography – you know how that goes. This is where the networking / finesse comes into play and all about how you differentiate yourself. I told Migos’ security guy, ‘listen man, you have a really dope job, people don’t understand that you’re traveling all over with them, you’re doing all of this cool shit too – let me document and capture you, too.’ He was really intrigued and gave me the go ahead. He basically said that if I took pictures of him on the job then I could get on stage, go on the pit, whatever I want pretty much.
So the main security guard, Jamar, shoutout Jamar – he’s the reason I really got in the first time, and he’s even who invited me to shoot with them again when they came back a year later.
I realized that he’s there for a similar reason as I am – he could be doing security anywhere else, but he chose to work with musicians and be seen and be respected for what he does just like I was.
Honestly this is what really changed my viewpoint and perspective on networking because he’s one of the most amazing people I have ever met – he’s put me on to every big gig I’ve ever had up until like 2 years ago; he really put me on everything. I really didn’t even understand how much he was helping me until afterwards.
Bring it back full circle, the morning after that first concert I shot for Migos, I get a phone call from Jamar saying to check Offset’s Instagram. Offset posted my photo the very next morning. To me, this was insane, this was like the second concert I had ever shot and everybody’s already posting my stuff. I had a bunch other people post my stuff before, but Offset posting it was just really crazy to me, that was my first real big put on.