True Stories

©Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson had always wanted to be a storyteller. Growing up in Florida, he set his sights on being a writer or journalist and landed a college scholarship to pursue that goal. But when he began his class work, he hit a mental block. “I was like, I can’t do this. I was not emotionally ready,” he says. His dad had been a military man, so Anderson switched directions and joined the U.S. Air Force in fire protection, where he remained for 20 years.

But his love of storytelling never died down. Before leaving for a remote Air Force assignment in Alaska, Anderson’s wife bought him a camera. “And that literally changed my life when I started taking pictures,” he says. “Everything became hyperfocused for me when I was able to tell a story.” 

While on active duty, Anderson’s schedule was 24 hours on/24 hours off. He used his free time to delve into outdoor photography, first by chronicling one of his favorite hobbies, fishing. As his work progressed, he began making a nice income by selling prints. In the mid-1990s, he got a call from Terry McDonell, who was then editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine. Esquire was launching a new publication, Esquire Sportsman, and Anderson’s work caught McDonell’s eye.

©Andy Anderson

He saw my photographs and bought my photos to put on the cover of the magazine,” Anderson says. McDonell told Anderson he’d like to continue working with him, as he was moving to Men’s Journal. “I said, I would love to work with you, but I’m getting ready to go to Kuwait.” McDonell suggested that while on his four-month temporary assignment in Kuwait, Anderson shoot a story on the fighter pilots operating on the border of Iraq. When Anderson returned, McDonell asked him to meet up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “I showed him my photographs and he immediately signed me on,” Anderson says. He was the first staff photographer at Men’s Journal and was offered a six-figure salary right out of the gate.

“I’ve had kind of a charmed career,” says Anderson. Editorial work remains a part of his business, though he now spends much of his time doing high-end commercial work, with a small percentage of his business in stock photography. Commercial clients run the gamut, he says—pharmaceutical companies, agriculture companies, Fortune 500 companies, hotels, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Marine Corps. He does location work outdoors and portrait work on seamless backdrops.

“I try to be a photographer,” he says, “so I shoot everything, but it’s also got a style that I like to say is my own.” Authentic, honest, cinematic—those are the words he uses to describe his work. He offers advice to budding commercial and outdoor photographers.

©Andy Anderson
©Andy Anderson
The Basics

Don’t give your work away. Treat your work and yourself with respect, and try not to make photography a commodity, he advises.

Have a point of view. “What is going to separate photographers nowadays is their craftsmanship and their point of view,” he says. Your work must have some DNA of your personality on it to be interesting and set apart from others’.

Live life. “You need to have some struggles and live a life outside of photography.” Those experiences will inform your work and give it meaning. “My work has gotten better just because I have gotten older.”

Commercial Productions

Many of the commercial shoots Anderson oversees are million-dollar productions. “It’s a lot of money,” he says. “Here’s a million dollars; go make me photographs and don’t screw up, right?” Even so, budgets are smaller than they used to be while companies expect more output—a library of images to be used across multiple platforms rather than just a few shots for a single ad. If you can’t create numerous images in a day, including assets for social media, you’re going to fail, he says.

The client will come up with the concept, but it’s on the photographer to dig deeper to create a suite of images that speak to that concept. “You’re not just shooting the signature shot they want to get but all these other extraneous images that surround that activity before and after,” he says. And since budgets are tight, speed is everything. “You can’t just be slow about it.”

Having a solid team that works expeditiously and collaboratively is paramount. Anderson does business with a core group of producers, stylists, and drone operators, enough that if one person isn’t available on a specific day, he can fill in with another. “It’s nice to have multiple people in the same job so that if some people are busy, you have another place to go.” He prefers to draw from the same circle so there’s no learning curve. Some of his crew have been with him for 20 years. His secret to retaining those contractors is simple: Treat them like human beings. “Pay them on time, make them a part of the team, make them feel like they’re contributing to this.”

©Andy Anderson
©Andy Anderson
Nurture a Network of Creatives

Keep in mind that in commercial photography, your client is not the Fortune 500 company for which you’re making photographs. Your client is the group of creatives who selected you for the job. They’re the people you need to please, and they’re the people you need to nurture long-term relationships with, especially since they tend to move from job to job. “The contract with Jack Daniel’s might go away because the concept changed, but it’s the creatives who gave you that job and believed in you.” So that’s where your loyalty lies. 

©Andy Anderson
Landscape Photography Advice

Just embrace what’s there, says Anderson. So many young photographers disregard a scene if the weather is unexpectedly rainy or refuse to make photos except at sunrise and sunset. “What is going to separate the good from the bad is embracing what is there,” he says. “Be open to options. If you look at some of the old photography, like Paul Strand, that was shot in full sunlight. If you have this mountain landscape you want to photograph but it’s raining, it’s still an interesting photograph. The beauty of it comes in many forms for me.” 

Amanda Arnold is associate editor.