Elizabeth Weinberg lives and works in Los Angeles. With an educational background in photojournalism, she specializes in still and motion storytelling for commercial and editorial clients. She strives to create work that is timeless and evocative.
Her skills in imaging post-production set her apart. She believes that the use of tone, grain, and saturation is just as important to a still or moving piece as its content. She loves to be hands-on in applying her signature color style to best suit a story's particular mood.
Elizabeth has been recognized with awards and features from PDN's 30 Photographers to Watch, the Art Directors Club's Young Guns, and Communication Arts.
I've watched Elizabeth Weinberg's career for going on a decade, now, been captivated by her growth as a photographer. From early days on Flickr to the upper ranks of the professionals, her work has always stood out, and it was a gas getting to talk to her.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Ooh, that’s a good question.
You wrote all these in advance, right?
Really? Wow that’s…
Ha! No, the answer is no. But I think that that’s normal. And healthy, to an extent. I think one should appreciate accomplishments, but I’m always looking to do more things; bigger and better things. So I would say no, especially with my current situation, trying to find a new agency, more directing work, that sort of thing. No, with an asterisk, saying But I am happy with how far I’ve gotten.
Yeah, it’s been quite the long time.
In what way?
Yes. I mean, there’s always room to grow, but if I look at the things I shot back then, I’m horrified. “Oh my god, this is terrible.” But that’s what you’re supposed to do. I don’t think you should look back and go, “oh, that’s way better than what I shoot now!” Obviously.
Well, in that case, then you should probably just…find something else to do. But I’m making the work I’m most proud of now, in the last couple years or so.
I try to do at least a couple big personal shoots a year. They’re kind of tests. A lot of them have a commercial basis though. There’s always something that’s in the back of my mind for, “oh, I could use this for something in my book, something to get new clients.” I’m not doing crazy fine art work, if that’s what you mean? There are some passion projects I have, I have a couple things, treatments I want to do. For either motion or still stuff. But at the same time, at the back of my mind I’m thinking, “well this has a commercial leaning to it.” So I’m always kind of thinking in that way, what I could shoot that is for me, that I would like, that ends up being viable for people to look at and see what I’ve shot where they could hire me to do something similar. Which works a lot of the time, actually. When I do a personal shoot, it’s very…
Yeah. That’s your job to remember when I did air quotes and when I didn’t do air quotes.
So I don’t think it’s very healthy to shoot 100% commercial work, I think you need to do work that is for fun, or you become grumpy.
Yes. And it’s hard now because I don’t have as much time. I don’t just have days free where I can do a test shoot, I have to plan everything so far in advance to figure out: who’s gonna watch the kid,? What day is that going to be? Just scheduling that is way more of a headache, production-wise, in my world, than it was beforehand. I did have a lot more free for all shoots back two years ago and before. So now I have to consciously think, “okay, I’m going to spend all this money on a babysitter for a whole day,” – he’s going to school soon, but until he does that, until he’s in preschool…
Oh god, can you imagine? Until that, day-to-day childcare thing is complete, it’s very difficult, logistically, to do it. So I have to think a lot harder about what I’m going to spend my time working on, and how worth it is it to me to do it.
I mean, work-wise, I’ll shoot whatever, but personal work I have to really plan it out. I don’t just have a day off…the day off is I get to hang out with him, which is great, I’m lucky.
I mean, I’m lucky in that sometimes he’ll go to daycare, he’s been, I’ve been able to hang out with him more than a lot of people get to hang out with their kids day to day. But it makes work an interesting challenge.
Noooooo…I guess not. It’s just one of those things that you just, kind of are thrown into it and you’re just like, “yeah we’ll figure it out when it comes up.” I took him with me to shoots for a while, and he’s portable, but now not so much.
Yeah, he used to just sit, honestly. I would be shooting a celebrity, and he’d be sitting in his car seat just sitting there smiling at everyone. But now he’s a child. He’s not a baby anymore. He would have been, if I had brought him here, gone.
Yes. Consciously, I don’t think we thought about it. We did, so Dan works at home, we were aware that we have that convenience, where if I had to run out and go do something, he would be there.
Wow, yeah. Is that true? Oh yeah, I guess you’re right.
Hahahahha, I love blurbs, blurbs are good.
Well I directed a music video two months ago, which was super fun, and I’d like to do more of that because it’s totally freeing. And you don’t have to do anything but tell people what you want. Which is like, a dream.
Oh yeah. A couple of years ago, I didn’t understand why a photographer would not just be a cinematographer. But now I completely understand, because I don’t want to have to learn all these new camera systems, I just want to tell someone exactly what I want to see happen, and the director of photography does it for me. You have a lot more control, I think. I’m actually shooting something in a week that’s going to be my first version of motion in the commercial sense. It’s going to be small ads online. In that way…the music video was all art, it was just, the band wasn’t even in it, I wrote a treatment, and I had a production company, and they set me up with editor, producer, DP, so I had no art directors on set or anything making sure everything was what they wanted. It was a great first experience, and I’m probably now spoiled because now I’m…I was just in full, complete, creative control. But the thing I’m doing next week will be fun in that it’s…the way that you can actually make money would be doing what I’m doing next week. Doing short motion clips for advertising, stuff like that. Yeah, that’s what I would do more of, it was really fun. Actually, even more music videos, I made zero dollars on it, but it was the first time I had written something, popped into my head, wrote it, shot it, we edited it, I sat there in the editing bay and we had the colorist, and we had the final product, and it was exactly what my mind had envisioned. It was amazing. I’ve done that with photography, but it was totally different experience to see it live.
Yeah, moving. And what was cool, and a great compliment, was people were saying, “I see your photography in this, I see your style.” So that’s what I want to do more of.
Yeah. A friend of mine saw a picture I took last summer and she said, “I knew you had shot this before I looked at your name.” And that’s the goal, that’s like the dream, you know? If someone says that, that’s it, that’s amazing. And it was a celebrity…getting a picture of a celebrity to look not like every other picture of that celebrity is hard. And sometimes I’m successful, and sometimes I’m not so much, depending on the situation. In this particular case, it worked out.
Oh yeah, that was like 11 years ago.
It’s funny, the first famous people I took pictures of were musicians, but I was comfortable. I didn’t consider them celebrities because I had been in that world, I worked in the music industry in college. I just considered them…the whole thing about being in the music industry is you don’t, you act too cool for school, but you don’t care that some super famous person is hanging out with you. So that was kind of how I would approach shoots with people, very casual about it. And that’s kind of how I act with super famous movie stars, because really, I barely even really know who anyone is because I don’t, I can’t go to the movies anymore, I don’t know what’s playing, I don’t know what’s happening. I barely…I know the basic framework of celebrities.
Yeah. But I don’t really know. And I think that’s refreshing to them. They don’t want some starstruck person…I was doing a shoot with a very famous musician, and the writer showed up and breathlessly…
Yeah, of the piece – breathlessly complimenting her and going crazy, and I could just see the agitation on the musician’s face, and I was like, “oh I gotta get outta here.” It was just, you know, a cardinal rule, do not do that…be professional. So the first early experiences with “celebrities” were musicians. And I think that did help. That era…like when I was touring with Le Tigre, that sort of thing. From there, I was doing more editorial portraits of bands, but a lot of those bands were not famous. But I had the confidence to go up to people at Bonnaroo and say, “hey can I take your picture?” I did that to Chan Marshall, I was like…I wasn’t like, some annoying…or maybe I was, who knows. Ha! But it was just such a perfect moment, and I knew I had to just do it. Because she was holding this pink cup, and there were these pink trash cans behind her, and it just looked insane, and she was super nice. People are generally receptive if you aren’t a dick, and just go up to them and say hey. Showing them your all access badge is also helpful.
I didn’t really do a lot of celebrity stuff until maybe a year or so ago. After living here, it just kind of became what the subjects were.
Yeah, for editorial, that’s just who was here. Doing that stuff is…
Yeah! So doing that stuff has been cool. And from then on, you’ve built. So you have momentum.
Oh totally. It was just, the clients too, I was shooting a lot for the New York Times, so that started being what I would do for them.
A lot, yeah. They’ve got really good photo editors, and they’re getting a lot of really cool, young photo editors that are making it less…I don’t know. It’s more interesting photography for the newspaper, because usually the magazine has the…
Yeah, but the newspaper is starting to catch up to that, I think? Which is great.
Yeah! It was cool. I went to school for that, but I never really…
No, I didn’t want to be a newspaper photographer. But the Art & Leisure section is a cool section, and I just never considered it to be something that I would do. But then when I finally did it, it was like, “oh, things have kind of come full circle.” Doing what I’m technically went to college for.
Oh yeah, totally.
I consider everything documentary. Even, “lifestyle” photography, which is the corniest way to say it. It’s documenting. Documenting people running down the beach, documenting people in front of a bonfire; it’s still you trying to shoot stuff in not a boring way, in a storytelling way.
Conceptual in what way?
Yeah, for fun I started studio work in my garage. Formal portraits, which I don’t do very often, so I wanted to exercise that part of my brain a little bit.
Yeah! So that was fun, and I don’t really do anything in the studio with lights, but I was just playing with it because I had some downtime. What pays the bill is kind of more lifestyle-y, you know? Portraits of people. I mean, the portraits can be conceptual, it really does…it’s kind of weird, I guess I have two branches of my main work, is like the lifestyle, advertising, documentary, and the other one is portraits. The portraits…I think there’s more room to get weird with it if you want, whereas the others are like, “we need people running through the woods, happy…”
And that’s a lot looser, and you’re like shooting shooting shooting, super-fast. But with a portrait, it can slow down a little bit and really…although sometimes you literally only have one minute. You can control it a lot more. I don’t know if that’s an answer.
Hahahahha. It depends on the shoot. Sometimes the process is horrible, depending on the situation. It’s generally a situation where there’s, you know, not enough time, and the location is not ideal, and that sort of thing. But my favorite part of the whole thing is editing and fine-tuning the end result.
That’s my favorite part, and a lot of people don’t like that. I do enjoy…a day of shooting is clearly what you strive to do. And you can have an amazing shoot day, but still I get to go home and mess with…
Futz, yeah futz with it, and that’s fun. It can be a really good shoot day, and a really fun edit. It can be a really bad shoot day, but also get good results.
Yeah, I think a lot of it comes from that joy you get when you get film back. And seeing it…it’s that sort of excitement, except on the computer and getting it and being able to tweak it and make it look how you remember it or how you want it to look. That satisfaction is what is addicting. Because then you nail it and it’s like, OHMIGOD THIS LOOKS – you hit the sweet spot with the colors, and you shut it down and save it, and that’s it.
It’s, yeah, it’s funny, I don’t think it’s actually film? I think it’s just a different, an aesthetic.
It’s just an aesthetic that is mine, I guess? I do remember around 2008–2009 really kind of messing with different things…
Clearly. I remember when it all kind of got a little wonky, and my colors were a little…looking back, way dreamier and not realistic at all, and now I’ve kind of gotten a little grainier, and de-saturated. I remember it changing, and then what I do now, I’ll go and open a RAW file up and redo it, and it’s like a whole new shoot. That’s the best part about being able to do that, is you can open up files from 2009, even though I shot them on my 5D version 1, it’s got like no megapixels, the sensor is bad so everything is blown out, but changing the look of a picture in a split second, just messing with a couple things. I think people under estimate how important that part of the process is, because it will change. I was doing a talk about this sort of thing up at Fieldtrip, and I had two photos side-by-side in my presentation. One of them was very warm – they were both taken at Joshua Tree – one of them is really cool. I said, “what do you feel for this one versus this one?” Because it’s a totally different reaction people get, so the person controlling the color has a lot more control than they probably think about how a picture is perceived.
It was great, I really enjoyed it.
Yeah, it was a weekend…I did two classes on that, and then I did a class on how I started. And I brought promos from through the years, stuff like that. It was very Wedding Photographer-heavy there, so there weren’t a lot people who did what I do now. But a lot of them want to go into that world.
I have, I have. I’ve done workshops and stuff in New York. Done talks at the Apple store. I like public speaking, I’m not shy about it, I enjoy it. And at the end when people come up with their own questions, I like the Q&A’s. A big part of the talk I did of me explaining how I got to where I am was Q&A, cause people have questions and it’s easier to do that in person than to answer a bunch of emails.
Yeah, I’d think so. I might be doing another talk in Costa Mesa, at a workshop there.
I think I got helped a lot by…in the mid to late 2000’s, there were just a lot of really good blogs that explained that side of the business. I learned a lot of it because I worked at a photo lab, where I saw the workings of it in New York, in the height of pre-economic collapse era, when everyone was shooting tons of film, and agents worked, how people did their books. People wouldn’t go out into the rain, they’d send messengers to get film because they didn’t want to go in the rain. I saw that business side of things, and I just read up a lot about it, and knew that I couldn’t get any work from sitting around. Nowadays, I feel like you don’t have to do as much, because kids who graduate college are already working full time as editorial photographers, just from their presence on Instagram and Tumblr and stuff. Which was not the case, obviously, when I was coming up. It was hard. Nobody knew who I was. I had a blog, I was an early blogger.
I got my first blog in 1999.
Yeah, it was called “Scribble.nu”, and then I joined Blogger in 2000.
I don’t think I really knew as much about the business side as it may seem. It’s all a learning experience. I look back at some of the promos I sent out and I think to myself, “what was I thinking? This is hideous, this sucks, it’s printed poorly.” You learn as you go through it. Finances, my taxes were a horrifying mess until like 4 years ago. You learn as you go, you get better software and receipts, receipt-keeping scanners.
Just kind of tolerate, that’s why I’m trying to get the agent to do all the money stuff, because I can’t really be bothered. I hate the negotiating, the back and forth, the dance that’s finding…no one will tell you what the budget is, so you kind of have to guess. And you give them your best guess, and they just don’t respond to you. And they don’t respond to you because you’ve given them a number that is ten times what they’re wanting to pay you, and then they say that the direction of the photo shoot has changed, but in reality they have no budget for you. And you want to be fair, you don’t want to under sell yourself, and you don’t want to seem like you’re too expensive, because you also want to do the job. It’s so insane.
And horrendous, yeah. That’s what an agent’s job is. My job is to get there, take really good pictures, and that’s it.
I think we had some philosophical differences on how to promote ourselves. I don’t think they were hungry enough. I am not a patient person, I like to get out there and get it.
I suppose I would! Constantly hungry, because I love burritos.
Oh yeah, totally more so than talent. Or lucky, more lucky than talented is another thing. Talent is kind of at the bottom of the list…
Talent is not, unfortunately, a high priority, but what are you going to do.
I just kind of figured it would all work itself out! I sent a big batch of promos out to everyone saying that I had moved here, and there weren’t a lot of photographers out here, I think, that have…there are fewer editorial photographers out here than New York, so I kind of was able to bring my clients…I became the person that they would call in LA to do stuff. I just kind of figured it would work itself out, I don’t know. Hahahaha. I was just like, “I gotta get out of New York.” And there was no other place for me to go, it’s either here or…
Right. And I was out here every month working, and everyone thought I lived here already because I was always at events. People were like “do you?…” and I would be like, “no, I’m in New York.” And I was always like, “I’m Never Going To Move To LA. Ever.” And then…
Then a light bulb went off in my head and I thought, wait a second: I can’t come up with one reason why we shouldn’t go to LA. And so we did!
Like know what they’re working on?
It’s kind of a slippery slope…I think it’s better to just be a little bit ignorant. I do find out, if I lose a job to someone, who it was, that sort of thing. But I think it’s better to do your own thing, because you can fall into a downward spiral of self-loathing and being upset. So honestly, I feel bad that I don’t really look at my Instagram feed, I’ll post something, but I won’t look at the feed, because I don’t have time, I have other things to do. It can just bum you out more than be productive. I follow people on Tumblr, I didn’t ever really used to follow anyone, because I would use the RSS feed, but Google Reader sucks now, so I’ve started following people on Tumblr. I scroll through that, but it’s stressful! You get to the bottom, and you know you’ve missed something, and I just can’t…there’s a certain balance. It’s good to know what’s happening, but I think it’s also good to just do your own thing and not worry about it.
I look at a good amount. I don’t feel like I look at nearly as much as a lot of people do, because I kind of don’t care that much I guess? It’s cool to see what friends are up to and shooting. Most of my friends out here in LA are photographers, which is totally different than what it was in New York. I didn’t have that many friends who were photographers.
Oh, it’s good. It’s good because people out here aren’t, well, most of them aren’t, crazy…people are supportive of each other as artists. People aren’t as crazy competitive. There’s a way more supportive art community here than I think is in New York. I think in New York is just a little too stiff.
I don’t think I aspired to really be anyone, but I did look up to certain photographers that were able to balance commercial work and their own cool stuff and family, having a kid, that sort of thing. But I don’t think you can really model your career on anyone else, or you’d just go crazy. I would always be thinking, “how old was this person when they did this because I’m this age and I need to really step it up” and I think that’s insane, that’s completely bonkers, and not healthy. But there are people like Cass Bird who made a big career doing commercial stuff, but will still go to Tennessee for a bunch of days and shoot a book and then have kids, that sort of thing. You know, do all the stuff and balance it. That’s kind of the ideal. I’m getting there!
Like Cass Bird, Jason Nocito, the people…they’re all like a decade older than me? They were all coming up as I was working at the lab in New York, when I was 22, they were all starting out. Thinking back now, they were late bloomers, if you think about it. And now, you have people like Olivia Bee, and you have all these Instagram people…
I have so many friends that have dropped out of school to do it full time, and that was completely unheard of, no one did that.
It was not possible, you assisted for X amount of years, well, I didn’t assist, but many people assisted, and that was just the progression. It wasn’t just quit your day job, or quit your job at the coffee shop and go be a photographer, it was not possible. They should all feel very lucky!! It was the people who were shooting…who else…Chris Buck! Those people were really killing it when I was coming up. But now, to me, even though they’re not much older than the 20-something Instagramers, it feels a completely different generation of photographer.
Jason and Cass, they’re in their forties…it is a different generation, but it feels like a completely different universe. Because they were all shooting film. These kids have never been in a darkroom. I’m kind of in-between. I was right at the beginning of digital, so I know the world of film, and I know the Instagram world, because I’m a computer nerd.
I’m in the weird middle point.
Yeah, I mean, school did not influence my photography very much except for literally two classes I took. It was mostly about the friends I made who I’m still friends with, who live in New York. It was just a fun four years, it wasn’t career building in any way.
There’s one class I took called Advanced Photojournalism. And that was when we had to go do photo stories and talk to strangers and shoot people that we had never met, and that’s how I learned how to do what I do, essentially, going to some person and not being shy and photographing them. Shooting photo stories, learning how to do storytelling…but that was one class out of four years.
I was playing a lot of frisbee? Ultimate frisbee, drinking, being freezing a lot, and hanging out. Literally hanging out, just taking a nap in the quad, that’s all I did! I don’t think college…it’s definitely not necessary, but it’s the only thing you would do. No one would move to New York to be a photographer at 18 unless they were extremely rich and could do it. And people did, and I’m sure, but that’s not what the normal path was in the year 2000, that’s insane. But now people drop out of school-
Yeah, if they go to school at all, yeah.
And I still have a lot of the student loans to pay off…
Oh yeah, I scrape off the interest every month.
Because it’s not so much money that it bothers me?
Yeah, totally. And it just comes out of my account and I don’t think about it. Someday I’ll pay it off, but it’s not a big deal.
It’s not crippling debt, it’s just kind of there.
It’s like money comes out of my account every month for some bill or another, and I’m like whatever. My sister is going to college.
She’s a senior…she’s going to NYU in the fall. She wants to be a journalist.
So there you go.
I guess you have to go to school.
But that’s what she wants to do, but maybe she’ll get over it.
Oh yeah yeah.
Yeah, I feel like the worst is over for me, so I’ve gone over the hump. I feel like I’m at the point where people may know who I am when I email them, maybe?
You never know. But you do have to stay…that’s where the promotion thing comes in, you have to stay in people’s radar. That has to happen a lot more often now because there’s so many photographers, you have to be on it and out there and send promos and emails. You have to be more vigilant about staying on top of it, but I feel like I’ve already climbed up to the point…I’ve already scraped and crawled to the…
Hahahhaha. I’m already…the worst is behind me.
I think that’s, maybe that’s not the right…I mean, after I had the kid, it was kind of like falling down again and having to scrape back up because I was off the radar for only 3 or 4 months.
I didn’t work for around 3 months. But I was ready to go back-
Yeah, lazy, newborns, no big deal!
Yeah, but my husband had six weeks of paternity leave.
Which was really good.
No one talks about it, but it’s like a fucking nightmare that first month or so, it’s like hell on earth. But now it’s fine. But yeah, I kind of took time off, but it was really hard to come back. I had to really really push it.
No, I was very motivated, it was just getting people to…
People knew, they hadn’t forgotten, but they knew…people are very hesitant to hire people who they know have had a baby. People are hesitant to hire pregnant people.
It’s a huge sexist thing, and I found out I lost a job because I was pregnant, which is super-illegal.
No, it was just they don’t want to deal. I shot up until I was 37 weeks, 37 out of 40. I was already nine months pregnant when I stopped.
So I stopped at the very end, I did two huge jobs for Google.
At 32 and 36 weeks. And then I did one the day I turned 37 weeks and then I was like, “I’m done.”
Glendale. They’re good. But yeah, people don’t…you don’t have an official maternity leave, so no one knows how long you’re taking off. And word spreads that you’ve had a kid, and then people are just like “she’s not working…” So I had to really send emails out, did a big email blast, and then things started trickling back. It’s taken a year, and I’ve been told it can take almost two years, but it took about a year, and now it’s been a year and a half, to “come back.” So now I think I’m back.
Like if you’re a…
Just the way…like if you have strong personality, or you’re very opinionated, people can take that as you being bitchy even though you’re just doing your job. Not many, but enough where, or even on Tumblr, where if I answer a question in a way that isn’t all flowers and rainbows and puppies? Someone will say “you don’t sound very nice.” Would anyone say that to a guy, that you don’t sound very nice? That’s insane.
Yeah, I’ve read that, yeah she’s completely right. Yeah, if you complain, you’re whiny. If you are negative in any way, you’re a bitch. But Terry Richardson can molest people, and it’s totally fine, no one cares! It’s fucked up.
Try to be as chill as humanly possible. That’s just how, that’s just the only way.
I don’t really know how to change it, without, cause you can’t really do that without…unfortunately what has to happen, and did happen, was when Daniel Shea posted a big thing about sexism in editorial, it took a guy saying it to make anyone care. So I think speaking out about it is okay, but it’s sad that it’s true that it has to be backed up by a male in the industry, but that’s just how it is. I don’t know how to change it without…there’s no way to change it, we’re screwed. The best we can do is speak out about it, and make sure people are aware that it exists.