Behind the Lens - Ajani Truth Photography

An integral part of any photo-shoot is the photographer, without the "shooter" there's essentially no shoot. Therefore, I'd be remiss to not include interviews with photographers on BeautySchooled!

I was pleased when Ajani Truth Photography agreed to be our first featured photographer and give us some insight on what it takes to produce a good shoot and why "that" photographer may not want to work with you.

BeautySchooled! How long have you been a photographer?

Ajani Truth: Honestly, I've had a camera for about almost 2 years now just shooting birds, flowers and buildings the first few months. Then took the last year and a half shooting people, specifically fashion. In 2009, I set some goals on what I wanted to shoot and who I wanted to work with locally and met most of those goals and then some. It definitely took a lot of shoots and working with people strategically to get to other people. Some of the most important things that I've done for myself thus far is to hold my integrity and cultivate strong relationships.

BeautySchooled! Did you do any formal training prior to launching your career as a photographer?

Ajani Truth: I have no formal training in photography. Just kept my mind focused on reading and trying new things and picking up new ideas through mistakes. I do have previous experience with Photoshop which helped me early to give the images a decent pop in post-production. I swear, doing test work with people who are like minded just took the pressure off the "business" side so I could relax and just be creative while making some errors and not feeling the pressure of money. Working with dynamic people became my education.

BeautySchooled! We hear all sorts of terms for photographers, fashion photographer, life style photographer, beauty; event… the list goes on and on. What type of photographer are you and can you help clarify for our readers what the differences are?

Ajani Truth: Personally, I classify myself most of the times as a beauty/fashion photographer and sometimes I say a commercial photographer which can encompass the 1st two plus more. Beauty photography focuses on selling cosmetics, skin care, perfume, etc. Fashion photography you are trying to sell clothes, bags, shoes, etc. I shoot an event or two for fun but not an event photographer at all. I believe in staying in my lane as much as possible because I want to be somewhat of an expert. People know me for my beauty work. It just sticks out whether clean or dramatic. Good beauty images just seem to captivate people. Also, I work with music artists to shoot their promo shots/album covers and I do occasional creative portraits. I've been trying to use Twitter/FB to bridge the fashion/beauty world with my music world and let people know that I do both.

BeautySchooled! I recently spent time with a friend in Miami who’s a makeup artist, she was there working on a shoot for a major cosmetics brand, the photographer on the shoot requested her on the project. I thought that was a HUGE deal! To me it says that she did something very right the last time she was on set with this particular photographer. Tell us what makes you want to work with a particular hairstylist, makeup artist, fashion stylist or manicurist on a shoot?

Ajani Truth: First and foremost, I think about the style of the artist. Does that person fit the shoot at question? All jobs are not equal and at the end of the day it is a job. People have certain strengths and as a photographer, you are sometimes assuming the role of the project manager. I've worked with MUAs with strong clean makeup but couldn't do more than that. And some that can only do creative work. That's fine but as a manager I need to find the right fit for the job in both skill AND personality. You don't want to bring in a creative team member who pisses people off. Sometimes I know the client and what they can tolerate. Then I look at speed and efficiency. Some team members are nice and do great work but maybe this shoot can't take an hour or two on basic makeup especially if you have 10 looks for the day. When all things are equal, the tie breaker for me is someone who can make me laugh. I look serious when shooting but people that know me understand that I'm super silly at times.

BeautySchooled! In my interviews with various industry vets I’ve been hearing what seems to be the same song, that reality television has gotten the new crop of personal appearance professionals confused and that the new breed wants to be celebrities themselves and show up on set behaving as if they are the talent. What are your pet peeves on set? What type of behaviors will make you determine that you would never want to work with someone again?

Ajani Truth: One of my major pet peeves is coming onto the set with a bad attitude. I'm big on energy because that negative energy travels. I can't allow that energy to ruin a shot for a client so leave it at home. Another is not being productive. I love to have fun but cut the excess talking, joking, etc if you can't produce the work in a timely manner. Another major issue is when creative team members talk about or down to another member. It brings down morale and is just not good for a healthy work environment. I've had a MUA critique a new hairstylist's work and try to change it. Feedback to make the shoot better is fine but let's it be sincere and helpful. This will definitely make me not work with someone again.

BeautySchooled! In this industry we all know that we’re only as good as our portfolios, a frequent complaint I hear from new hairstylist, makeup artists and so forth is the inability to find a great photographer that is willing to work with them. They want to see their portfolio but if you’re new you don’t have one… do you see the catch 22? Lol What advice or suggestions do you have for them?

It is a catch 22. The first thing I would do is search hard for a good up and coming photographer and offer to assist on a shoot. It maybe free or TFP work but it will get you some images. Be sincere, honest and professional in your approach. Professional emails that seem to be targeted to me personally may not automatically persuade me to work with you but an impersonal, poorly written email will automatically persuade me to NOT with you. Now here is the part where I will be a little biased. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands and create your own shoot by paying to get it done. Four stellar images will get you a lot further than 20 poor images. I just had a MUA friend shoot with a great photographer that she paid for and now her work is ACCURATELY represented like others on her skill level. If you can't afford to pay at the moment, then keep searching for photographers and reaching out. Someone will need you at some point. Build and cultivate relationships. I've worked with people that had no ports because they were cool.

BeautySchooled! Let’s switch gears and talk about rates for a moment. I’m a firm believer that you get what you pay for. I personally have come across quite a few new artists (music) who are surprised to learn what the day rate of a makeup artist or manicurist is on set. Have you experienced this at all? What would you say to the artist who’s looking for a bargain when shopping for a photographer?

Ajani Truth: It's funny, you mentioned artists especially male artists. Before I worked with some of the best makeup artists, I felt like most women can do basic makeup. Definitely not true. You see these videos and artists have women in the videos with bad makeup, hair and wardrobe and it reflects on them. A lot of times artists want different locations, cars, special buildings, and other things in shots but they have no budget. Who is going to pay for it? Not me! My goal is to make indie artists look polished like major label artists. Sometimes this requires extra money. Model portfolios may include many shots, but artist promo shots have to pop from the moment you see them. Labels, radio people, and others in the music industry will base your music off of that image. My advice to artists is to price photographers and save up. Some artist music isn't that good so at least they can get a sharp image and fool the music executives. {{{laughs}}}

BeautySchooled! I can’t end without asking you this because I know there are makeup artists out there that will want to know…TFP – Testing for prints. Do you still do this?

Ajani Truth: From time to time, I will do TFP work with exceptional MUAs, hairstylists and wardrobe stylists. At that point, I will bring in a model from a pool of models that I've accumulated. I also test with a number of agencies in both the DC/Baltimore, Richmond and NYC areas. I'm still new to game, so testing is a must. Sometimes it's just fun similar to the how musicians do jam sessions and record it. As long as the vibe is cool and the model, creative team and photographer are all on the same or similar skill level then it makes sense. A lot of my strongest images in my port are from test shoots. As your skills and style are more in demand, TFP/testing will just lessen naturally.

BeautySchooled! Are there any last words that you want to leave with our readers?

Ajani Truth: Define your own level of success. A lot of times, when you get advice it is derived from what that person knows of you and the situation and usually never the reality. Find your own TRUTH.

Thank you Ajani for such an informative and inspiring interview. Be sure to visit Ajani’s website and follow his twitter.


Jackie Armstrong said...

really enjoyed this interview. you all picked a great photographer, and most importantly, a great person to be your first photog interview.

Shauné Hayes said...

Very insightful interview....lots of great advice! I enjoyed it a lot!

Monae said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions that many hair and makeup artists have. Ajani is an awesome photographer.

Anonymous said...

That was a really good interview. With the questions and answers being so in depth it allowed me to learn a lot about the industry through the eyes of a photog. Great work!- Daki

Ajani Truth said...


kyndra said...

Can't wait to have the amazing Ajani Truth shoot me and some of my work. Great article. I learned something today.

Desiree said...

I'm always inspired when reading these interviews and seeing how hard work in the creative industries pays off. To Ajani, keep setting major goals and surpassing them... I can't wait to see your work in the big time beauty/fashion mags.

Joycelyne said...

This was a great article, Ajani... love it..

Opé - Style Artist said...

Pretty thorough, nice interview of a cool guy...;-)

Michelle Duma said...

Awesome interview! very informative, great to see it from the photographers perspective.

Anonymous said...

As a new makeup artist I really enjoyed the article with Ajani Truth Photography. It's good to know what's on a photographers mind especially when you're new cause you really need the feedback to grow.

Lisa Carter-McPhee for Flawless By Lisa Makeup Artistry said...

This was a great article. It gave the truth about working with photographers and what to expect.

DemiV said...

Great interview. I am so proud of you.

DemiV said...

I am so proud of you. Great interview

Vernita Dawkins said...

Very down to earth interview with Ajani. His work is at the top and he is a great person and professional to learn from and work with.

kim reyes said...

I really enjoyed the article which is full of information. Ajani has a skilled eye as well as an incredibly warm and thoughtful personality and I respect his views very much.

Kim Reyes, makeup artist