Photos to Inspire
Photos to Inspire: Tim Mantoani
By Lynne Eodice
Jan 10, 2011, 14:37

Owner of Tim Mantoani Photography in San Diego California since 1995, Tim Mantoani works with a wide range of clients in both the editorial and advertising fields. He is known primarily for his dramatic portraits of sports personalities from around the world, several of which can be seen in his book Mindgames: Explorations Into the Mental Area of Sport.

After graduating from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, he worked closely with renowned photographic educator Dean Collins, taking a full-time position as Collins' studio manger. Wisely following in his late mentor's footsteps, Mantoani is a master of innovative lighting solutions and has published videos for photographic education.

Mantoani's work has appeared in several publications including Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, TIME, and Newsweek, to name a just a few.

© Tim Mantoani

Double Exposure:
Could you tell me a little about yourself and how you got started in photography?

Tim Mantoani: I grew up in San Carlos, CA and originally got into photography shooting for the high school yearbook. I was sort of interested in photography as a career, but it seemed like going off to be a rock star. I originally attended UC Santa Cruz to pursue an engineering degree, did a year of calculus and all that kind of stuff, and pretty much thought to myself, 'This sucks. If work is anything like that, it's not what I want to fill my day with.' So to fulfill my arts requirement, I applied to an introductory photography class which was really my first time working in a dark room. I took a hard look at where I was heading, and decided to look at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara (I had an uncle that was a graduate). I went down there and looked at the school, and thought, 'Wow, I can live in Santa Barbara and learn how to be a photographer--sign me up!" There's not too much about that equation that isn't appealing when you're 19 years old. So I transferred the next year to Brooks and went through the program there.

DE: What was your first experience with photography that you remember?

TM: My freshman year in high school I went on a trip with a bunch of students to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, and I remember one of the chaperones had an Olympus camera with a 70-210mm zoom lens. They were standing out in front of the Liberty Bell and asked me to take a picture of them. I was really far back and when I zoomed in on them I thought, 'Wow, this is really cool.' And I was pretty much hooked after that. A friend of mine who lived across the street, his grandfather was an amateur photographer, and I bought a used Olympus OM-1 and Vivitar 70-200mm zoom lens from him and pretty much started there. Our next-door neighbor also owned the local camera store, so I would charge in there a lot to look at stuff and buy used gear, to initially break into it.

© Tim Mantoani

DE: Could you tell me a little about your studio?

TM: I share my studio with another photographer, Marshall Williams, who was also a Brooks graduate. We both had interned for Dean Collins. The studio is 2300 sq. ft., based in San Diego, and pretty efficient in terms of space--real estate in Southern California is very expensive, so I need to make sure that we maximize our per sq. ft. usage. We have a small make-up room, storage room, darkroom (which we barely ever get to use these days), a small kitchen (we do some food shoots from time to time, Marshall has several food clients). We share the shooting space, but both of us being based in San Diego, we do a lot of location work as well. There's actually a set being built in there today for a catalog project I'm doing next week. So it's big enough to do that, and also manageable enough that we don't see money flying out the door if it's not being used.

Since we're based in San Diego, we do a wide range of subject matter. A lot of times we get hired editorially because of our geographic location, so someone might call and say they have a person that works for them in San Diego and they need a portrait of them. I do a lot of portrait work, but I'm also working on a huge catalog project that's going to consume the majority of my month, so it's a real mixed bag when it comes to the kind of work we get. That's what I like about working in a market like San Diego: there's a wide range of things that come your way so it doesn't get too redundant.

DE: Do you find time for personal work? Other interests or hobbies?

TM: I always try to find time for personal work between keeping the business afloat and my 6 year-old son. I'm trying to dedicate as much time to my family as well, so it gets difficult, but I try to at least have one or two personal projects going at any given time.

I find that the personal work I've done in the last few years really has led to more advertising work that's come out of that. I would say it's similar to the work I like to show in my portfolio and put out there for everyone. I think when you go out and you shoot subject matter that is close to your heart, it really shows in the pictures, and I think that stuff definitely bubbles to the top as far as front page portfolio type of work. When I do workshops or lectures, I always tell students or people that are attending that I think it's really important to do that kind of work because ultimately that's what is going to separate you from everybody else, because it really does show in the pictures that it means something to you, and I think the viewer definitely feels that.

© Tim Mantoani

DE: Do you have a favorite subject or style you like to shoot in? In studio, on location?

TM: All things being equal, I think I'd rather shoot editorial portraits on location--real people. I think finding subject matter, whether it's an athlete or a person that I find on the street in a foreign city, and doing a portrait of them with some sort of surrounding which helps complete the story of who they are and where they're at, is probably what I enjoy the most, and probably speaks the loudest of the work that I've shot.

DE: Is there a camera or lens you most enjoy using, or use most often? What are some of your thoughts on digital?

TM: Everything's gravitated mainly towards 35 digitals--I use the Mark II Ds quite a lot. I used to shoot a ton of 4x5 portraits and a lot of Hasselblad 40mm portraits, which I still do some of that for personal work. My most recent project is being shot on 20x24 Polaroid.

I love shooting digital and obviously there's a lot of creative freedom that comes to not just the process of shooting, but the post-process as well. But it's a double-edged sword--it solves a lot of problems and creates a lot of problems. As a commercial photographer, I become the lab, so when I used to make money shooting film, I dropped the film off at night, someone else processed it and I picked it up in the morning. And that was actually a profit center for me. You can charge for shooting digital, but with the changes in stock photography and online access to so many pictures, and prices from a dollar on up, it doesn't seem like anyone is willing to pay any more for photography because it's so readily available, as almost a sort of commodity. So the digital camera has allowed us to do a lot more creatively and quicker, but I think it's really forced us to take a hit as craftsmen. I really felt when I was shooting 4x5 or 120 that there was a mystique and magic to the process, that when a client came to the studio they would like at me like,  "This guy is using stuff I don't know how to use." I felt more like a blacksmith that hammered stuff out vs. someone that sticks a piece of metal into a machine that spits out a part on the other end.

© Tim Mantoani

DE: Who are some photographers/artists/people you admire or who inspired/influenced you? Could tell us a little about working with Dean Collins?

TM: Right now the personal project I'm working on is photographing well-known photographers holding their most iconic image. So I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of people that inspire me, people like Neal Leifer, Walter Iooss, Bill Eppridge, and Jim Marshall. There's so many. I'm a sponge when it comes to photography and art. I subscribe to lots of different magazines and I'm constantly looking at illustration and design. I feel like I take that inspiration, whether it's a moving picture or a tv commercial or a painting, and kind of soak it in. I think it subconsciously comes out when you're shooting.

I interned with Dean when I was a student at Brooks, and then when I graduated was hired on to be his studio manager and first assistant. I worked with him for a few years in that capacity and then became an associate photographer until I started my own studio. But up until the time he passed away, we very close friends and he was in our studio weekly either working here on projects that he needed studio space for or just stopping by to talk. He was always about trying to figure out the puzzle and then once he solved it, it was all about, "Okay, what's next." I think that's why he was a great photographer to learn from, because he liked to figure out a variety of ways of doing things and solving problems. The foundation I learned from him about lighting theory was invaluable and I use it every day I shoot.

© Tim Mantoani

DE: What are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming projects?

TM: Yes, I'm currently working on a personal project called Behind Photographs. I'm shooting 20x24 Polaroids of photographers holding their most iconic pictures. I've been working at the 20x24 studio in New York and San Francisco and I just recently acquired a 20x24 Wisner view camera with a  Polaroid system, so I can go on the road. I've photographed about 15 people to date and have about 30 more committed to shoot for this project. It'll be a slow, expensive process, but I really feel like it's something that's important to me personally, so I'm going to keep chasing it. I've talked to a couple different people about publishing a book and a gallery exhibit, and I'm also meeting with a director to talk about a potential documentary.

On the commercial front, I just finished shooting a cookbook in Oregon at a bed & breakfast that I had first stayed in on a travel assignment, and now I've got a studio catalog project coming up for Sally Foster. I also just photographed several NBA and NFL rookies for Upper Deck trading cards along with a cover for Sports Illustrated of Tony Gwynn for the Hall of Fame issue.

I also just finished teaching a workshop at Brooks Institute last month--I teach there from time to time. Anytime I'm in Santa Barbara, I like to stop in and see what's going on. I definitely enjoy sharing with other photographers. If I can help somebody to learn from the mistakes that I've made and share information to make the business more solid and stronger, then I'm all for it. I think more so now than ever, photographers need to band together to keep the lines of communications open and ensure that things are always getting better.

© Tim Mantoani

DE: Words of advice for our readers, or anything else you would like to mention?

TM: I think the big thing is to just sing from the heart. Everybody has a unique voice, and you need to find what that is. It's a hard business. It's like a Nascar race, everybody's going around 200 mph and if you take your foot off the throttle, everybody's going past you. You just need to work at it every day and chisel away at it. And for people that are just trying to get into photography, it can be very overwhelming--I know I felt that way when I first went to Brooks. 'How am I going to cut it? Why does this industry need ME?' But the bottom line is that if you work hard and work smart, there's room for everybody to create the images that they feel are special and find a market to sell those to.

Visit Tim Mantoani's Studio Website.