Spotlight: Culver Photography

In the Paragon Men Spotlight for March, we are pleased to present the evocative images of San Francisco-based photographer Paul Culver. In the last twelve years, Culver Photography has earned a reputation for capturing the beauty of young Latin men at the peak of their sensuality.

Do you shoot in your studio or do you also travel for shoots?

I don't have a studio, as I prefer the use of natural light and diverse locations for my shots. I do travel often to do shoots and have shot in a number of countries.

What sorts of images do you create? Do you have a favorite category?

I shoot primarily Latin men. I gradually moved to this category as most of my friends are Latino and I realized that there were not many photographers who specialized in producing images of Latin men. I prefer the "boy next door" look. That encompasses a wide variety of guys from the slim but toned to the more muscle oriented guys you see on Paragon. I think you can find beauty in a number of packages.

What are your thoughts on shooting in studio vs. shooting outside a studio setting?

I definitely prefer shooting outside. It seems to fit my shooting style much better. I am able to adjust and change and try everything that comes to mind during a shoot without the start and stop of adjusting lights etc. It is harder on the models though. Cold weather and being half naked in public isn't easy for them.

How did your career start and develop? How/where were you trained?

I've always loved photography but I do not have a degree in the subject. I attended the US Naval Academy where I got an education that included the typical engineering and management courses of that institution. I took advantage when deployed overseas to pick up a good camera and had plenty of time on the ship to read and learn the basic technical aspects of photography. I have taken a basic black and white course and studio lighting course too. But the most important part, the composition of the photos has been self taught and learning by doing. That aspect of photography took longer to learn and is something I am constantly trying to improve. I just find out what works and what others have made work and incorporate it into my shoots.

Do you have any basic advice for aspiring photographers?

Digital photography has made learning much easier and less expensive. Once you've invested in the camera your costs are minimal and you get instantaneous feedback. So the best advice is to get out there and shoot, look at the results on the back of the camera and make your adjustments. Get over your shyness both with models and other photographers. If you ask, you might find other photographers would welcome an unpaid assistant during a shoot. You can learn a lot watching others work.

Don't get all wrapped up in thinking you need the newest and best camera. You just need one that allows you to make manual adjustments. No one asked Picasso what kind of paintbrush he used or Hemingway what brand of typewriter he used. Some people think good photography is all about the camera. It's not.

Where has your work been published? Where can our readers find more of your work?

My website has a selection of my images. I've also been fortunate to work with Adelante magazine, which is based in Los Angeles. I have had 15 or more covers with them over the past few years. Also the Latin Men 2011 calendar from 10% Productions is my work. You can pick up a copy of that from my website. My photos are also frequently found on flyers for Latin clubs.

Your models are usually partially clothed or in artistic nude compositions. What are your thoughts on photographing explicit frontal nude images of men?

I don't really do too many nudes as I think there is something to be said for leaving some things to the imagination. I love artistic nudity but I prefer the work that I do. It took me awhile to come around to photographing people. Mostly I had to get over my shyness and learn to approach people. Photographing men just came from my natural attraction to them.

What are your thoughts on color vs. black & white physique photography?

I like high contrast black and white studio photography but my signature is color. It is one of the first things people notice about my photos. I am strongly drawn to a variety of colors and textures for backgrounds for models. Neither style is better than the other. It really a matter of personal preference and many people appreciate both.

How do you use lighting in your work?

Once you've chosen a model and a location, lighting is the most important part of the photo. It often is the deciding factor in choosing a location. Good lighting will emphasize all that time in the gym that your model has spent developing his body.

Do you use any image enhancement or retouching software?

I do basic cropping and contrast adjustments with software. If a model needs some skin smoothing I will do that in Photoshop but most of my images are minimally adjusted.

Which photographers or artists have most inspired you? Whose work has most impressed you recently? Which new photographers are you watching?

Adam Bouska, Kurt Brown and Dallas J. Logan consistently come up with jaw-dropping images that have inspired me. There is a photographer on Model Mayhem called Kraizie Kat who is definitely worth watching. Two photographers that I know who just keep stepping up the level of their work are Steve Marquez and Joey Aguilar.

What sort of work and/or services do you provide?

I primarily do photo sessions for individuals and couples. I especially like working with people who don't think they can look good in photos

What do you look for in a model? Have any particular models been muses for your work?

Face is number one and body number two. They don't need to be super self-confident but they need to relax enough to attempt a shoot together. Digital helps because you can show them immediately how things are going and you can remind them bad photos are easily deleted. No one can stay nervous for an entire shoot so things get easier as you go along. One thing that makes it hard for me to work with an individual is if he is really stuck up, sometimes for no apparent reason.

Which male body type do you prefer: bodybuilder, fitness model, slender beauty, all of the above, or other? Please discuss creating artistic images with different types of physiques.

I like models who are fit and toned and have spent some time in the gym. A huge build is not necessary although I have done some fitness or body builder builds and I have done some slender guys too. Usually if they are very slender we use some article of clothing to emphasize the parts that are assets for them. Guys who have worked on their bodies usually have an easier time moving and posing. But there are exceptions.

Shaved or hairy? What's your ideal?

Most of the guys I shoot want to shave and I am fine with that. But if I get asked what he should do, I tell them hair is fine. It looks masculine and there are a significant group of guys who prefer hairy men. I do usually limit it though. Hairy legs are fine but if someone is very hairy I recommend trimming chest and stomach hair so it is shorter. Shaving the stomach to leave a treasure trail is also nice. One or two days growth of facial hair is sexy but hair on your back has to go.

You have shot some models multiple times. Do you consider any of your models your muses?

There are guys I really enjoy working with and ask to shoot multiple times. It works well for both of us because we are very comfortable with each other and that makes the shoot fun and allows us to experiment too.

What is the best way for models or fans to reach you?

There is a contact page on my website. Those emails come directly to me and even when I am traveling I can usually answer in a day or two.

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