Member of the Month February 2018

Scott McDermott

by P. Berberian January 31, 2018

Scott McDermott

Born in the U.S., New York and Los Angeles-based photographer Scott McDermott grew up in Switzerland, backpacked through the American West and trekked Nepal’s Himalayas before committing to a college life spent mostly in a darkroom in upstate New York. After graduating and spending several years as an assistant to a wide variety of New York City-based photographers, he began shooting on his own, focusing on athletics and extreme sports. His work eventually shifted toward the athletes themselves and portraiture, which led to photographing many of the best creative minds in Hollywood, the music industry and the worlds of business and government.

Along with his advertising and editorial work, McDermott has created several personal projects, including a series for “Mandela Day,” which documents the hands and faces of many of the people who support Nelson Mandela’s message. McDermott also recently shot a series of portraits accompanying the film Pop Culture. In the last few years, McDermott has also made the shift to the moving image as a director on a variety of projects from commercial spots to short films.

Peter Berberian: What made you first decide you were going to be a photographer?

Scott McDermott: I took a year off between high school and college and did a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) semester course in the Rockies and then went on a solo trek in the Himalayas in the spring of that year. I took a lot of pictures and realized that I could actually be a photographer for a living, which never really occurred to me before. After that, I went to college with a laser focus on becoming a photographer. At first, I wanted to go into outdoor adventure photography but, after moving to NYC, that changed to fitness and sports. Then, then over time, it became celebrity athletes and eventually celebrities of all kinds.

PB: Is there a photograph you loved as a kid or an event that pushed you into being a photographer?

SM: Not one specific photograph, but any and all adventure photography of the early ‘90s was a big inspiration. The work of Galen Rowell, for example, and anything you might see in the Patagonia catalog or an ad for The North Face was what I wanted to shoot. My parents always had a lot of art and photography books in the house which I’m sure made me visually aware of good photography from an early age. But I also remember being in middle school and looking at the Sports Illustrated magazines they had in the school library (which they got six weeks late because we were in Switzerland and it was the ‘80s!) I used to just marvel at how cool the action shots were in every issue. It’s probably the first time I noticed “good” photography as a concept. It wasn’t just guys playing baseball. It was a great picture of an incredible moment of guys playing baseball.

PB: What do you primarily photograph?

SM: People for advertising and editorial clients primarily in the entertainment, sports, pharma and tech industries.

PB: Do you do anything before a shoot to prepare yourself?

SM: It’s all about the concept and the ultimate goal of the image, and then being ready to make that happen on the shoot day. Pre-production can be everything from finding inspiration pictures, scouting the locations and meeting with the creative team to putting together a detailed equipment list. Research plays a very important role, finding out who the subject really is and coming up with shot ideas they will like. Each shoot is different, but maybe the one constant is the exercise of putting the equipment list together. I find it really makes me plan out what we’re going to do and what we need to be ready for.

PB: What is your favorite set up to shoot with?

SM: My current main camera is the Nikon D850, which is the camera I have always been waiting for (although, I probably say that about all new cameras). It offers a file size rivaling medium-format cameras with the speed and ergonomics of a DSLR and has a totally silent mode when you need it. No more blimp! For portraits, it’s hard to go wrong with the 85mm F1.4 lens.

PB: Who are your greatest influences in the art world?

SM: Hard to say who has influenced my work directly, but the following visual artists work I certainly appreciate very much: Andrew GoldsworthyAndy WarholBanksyEgon SchieleMark RothkoPicassoRembrandtRichard Serra and  Van Gogh.

PB: What is your favorite photography quote?

SM: “There are 4 stages to a photographers career, from the perspective of the photo editor or art buyer:

  1. Who is Scott McDermott?
  2. Get me Scott McDermott.
  3. Get me someone like Scott McDermott.
  4. Who is Scott McDermott?

Hopefully you are lucky enough to go around the cycle more than once.”

No idea where I first heard that.

PB: Who are your three favorite photographers?

SM: Albert WatsonNadav KanderPlaton, AvedonGrobHuetBuckBitsnichCorbijnRankinIooss… there are too many to pick just three.

PB: If you were to do anything else for a living, what would it be?

SM: Maybe architecture. I can relate to the mix of the art and science of it, and I certainly appreciate great design in anything. But especially buildings.

PB: What is your favorite photo that you have taken?

SM: It’s very hard to choose, but if pressed… maybe this image of Clint Eastwood from my “Mandela Day” series. This is the first frame of the shoot before he was really aware we had started. I think it sums up how he feels about getting his picture taken. Later on, he loosened up and was smiley and warm, but this is the Clint we all know and love.

PB: What is your favorite personal picture you have taken?

SM: Possibly this one of my wife about a week before my son was born.


Check more of Scott’s work at scottmcdermott.com

And his PhotoServe portfolio.