When then-engineer Larry Brownstein went on a six-month trip to Asia in the early 1980s with Harry Peronius, a photographer friend, he had no idea he would be taking the first steps toward a new career that would serve him well to this very day.
“At the beginning of the trip, I bought a camera in Hong Kong,” Brownstein said. “By the end of the trip I was a pretty good photographer. I learned by watching my friend as he worked. We also developed film along the way and he gave me feedback on my photos.”
Brownstein took his friend’s constructive feedback and continued to hone his craft.
“When I returned home, I continued working as an engineer,” he said. “When I had the opportunities, I went to national parks to do photography. Before long, my nature and landscape photos were getting published. This inspired me to keep going and developing as a photographer.”
As a result of his developing talent as a photographer, Brownstein found himself regularly contributing photos to various magazines such as National Geographic Traveler, Discover, Photo District News, and Rangefinder magazine, where he became a contributing editor.
After proving himself as a talented photographer in the field of photojournalism, Brownstein decided to put his skills to use as a wedding photographer.
After serving as an apprentice to a Los Angeles-based wedding photography studio, Brownstein started working weddings on his own. It was here where his understanding of studio lighting combined with his ability to see what others miss resulted in a unique style of wedding photography that helped him branch out to more untraditional subjects.
“I would say that one the best images I took in the last month was at The Broad [Art] Museum,” Brownstein said. “I was looking at some colorful abstract paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and noticed someone wearing a colorful beanie hat and a black and white print jacket and realized that posing him in front of the painting would make a great photo.”
Brownstein’s other noteworthy untraditional images include photos at RuPaul’s DragCon as well as photos right here in our own backyard at this year’s Culver City Car Show.
According to Brownstein, a good photograph is one that has something to say beyond the obvious image it conveys.
“A good photograph should have a good idea behind it,” he said. “What is it saying? What does it mean? A good photograph should have some interesting subject matter whether that be people or places. Good lighting is important. Lastly, good technique is the final piece of the puzzle.”
One way that Brownstein gets such interesting and unique photographs is by getting inside the heads of his subjects, which is not too difficult considering that he has a master’s degree in psychology.
“Of course, you have to be sensitive to people and get a feeling for how they are feeling about being in front of the camera,” Brownstein said. “When doing portraits, a good rapport is important to get people relaxed and comfortable. When doing photojournalistic work you have to be able to read people and get a feeling if you are pushing the comfort zone too much.”
Although Brownstein does all of his unique photography himself, he does get help from his family.
“My wife, Marge, is very supportive,” he said. “She is often giving out postcards on my behalf and talking me up to people who she thinks needs good headshots, portraits, or family portraits. Occasionally, she even assists with the lighting on a bigger job when I need more than two hands! When my daughter, Sophia, was younger she often modeled for me and I took many photos of her. One photo of my daughter with her grandparents has been licensed over a hundred times and has been a cover photograph of a book and has even been used on a cereal box.”
In terms of future projects, Brownstein has his eyes set east toward Las Vegas. Serving as a companion of sorts to his Hollywood Boulevard series, Brownstein will make several trips to Sin City over the next few years to put his own mark on the city that has captivated so many people.
“Las Vegas is of course incredibly visually interesting, making it a great subject for photography,” Brownstein said. “But beyond that, it’s a unique place with extremes of wealth, extremes of architectural styles, it’s like a city on steroids and everywhere you look there is something unexpected and interesting.”
Despite how easy taking photos has become thanks to blogs, YouTube, online seminars, and classes, anyone looking to become the next Larry Brownstein needs to have both dedication and commitment, the two things that technology cannot teach you.
“I love photography,” Brownstein said. “I get to go to interesting places and events and meet interesting people while being creative with the camera. However, there is more competition than ever in photography. So you have to really love it and commit to it.”
Larry Brownstein’s numerous credits include images in prestigious magazines such as National Geographic Traveler, Discover, Photo District News and Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel; high-profile corporate clients such as Aveda Cosmetics; as well as calendars, greeting cards, corporate and travel brochures, etc. He was one of the principal photographers of the books America the Beautiful, California and Only in Los Angeles. He is featured in the book Best of Nature. Brownstein has also published two monographs: Los Angeles, Where Anything is Possible and The Midnight Mission.
He was Contributing Editor to Rangefinder magazine and frequently contributes to PC Photo, AfterCapture, and other magazines. Brownstein is represented by several international stock photography agencies including Getty Images, Alamy, and Ambient Images. Brownstein’s exposé Hollywood: A Live Show Daily was shown at The Annenberg Space for Photography. He exhibited in the critically acclaimed Group LA 2008 and has shown at several galleries, including a solo exhibit at the G2 Gallery that was highly praised in a review in Art Scene Magazine. He has won a Nikon Photo Contest prize as well as other contests.