Pentaxian Profile: Eric Noeske

Professional Commercial Photographer

By EarlVonTapia in Articles and Tips on Feb 2, 2022
Pentaxian Profile: Eric Noeske

Eric Noeske is a commercial photographer based in the Chicago IL region of the USA. Graduating from university in 2007 with a B.S. in Mathematics, he became interested in photography towards his senior year. Eric taught himself the basics with the help of resources on the internet and a lot of experimentation. He started photographing portraits and being a second photographer at weddings. From there, he started exploring the use of artificial light, where he was naturally drawn to the mathematics behind it. Mastering lighting and its intricacies has become his ongoing focus. Eric is now in his 4th year as a full-time commercial photographer. Though his company provides him with photo gear from other brands to use for his commercial work, he still uses Pentax (K-1, K-3) gear for his wedding and portraiture work, as well as his personal use. 

In this interview we asked Eric about working as a commercial photographer, some specific pictures he’s taken, and to provide advice for aspiring commercial photographers. We also asked him some questions about photographic gear.

Read on to find out his answers!  

How did you get into Pentax, and why do you still use Pentax to this day?

My first DSLR was the K200D, which was a fantastic, affordable camera. It had everything I needed to learn the basics and a weather-sealed body, which no one else offered in that price range. After picking up a few lenses, I could see why people loved the Pentax system. It seemed like Pentax was the only company that was making cameras and lenses that were focused on solid construction, superior image quality, and fantastic ergonomics. I still use Pentax for these reasons. They are made for photographers. Having used many cameras and brands professionally, I always love coming home to my Pentax equipment.

burner concept

What made you start doing product photography, and how did you get a job doing it professionally?

I started doing product photography because my uncle needed some product photos for his company. I had never done product photography before, so I watched some tutorials about making a light box, and seeing the results was a big confidence boost. Investing in some basic lighting gear (manual speedlights, radio triggers, and a white umbrella) allowed me to practice photographing products. It became a challenge to replicate the professional work I saw in magazines and on the web. I learned a great deal by trying to reverse engineer what I saw.

With a decent portfolio, I landed a temporary job as a production photographer shooting clothing and hard goods. That led into a full time job at the same place which added a lot more creative aspects including catalogs, in-store signage, model shoots, and general e-commerce images. With this added experience, and a stronger portfolio, I felt confident that I had the skills to interview for a more challenging position. I am currently a commercial photographer for a large international company. I shoot products for a number of purposes: internal photos for our sellers to show off products and make sales, advertising, social media, e-commerce, catalogs, and product labels.

baseballs cover

There is a photo on your portfolio site showing two baseballs (pictured directly above). Describe the process for getting that photo from planning, setup, post-processing, and length of time from conception to end.

This was a cover shot for the Baseball Hall of Fame catalog. The Hall just said they wanted to feature these two baseballs on the cover, and they left the rest up to me. The catalog designer and I threw some ideas around and sketched up the general composition of the two baseballs. The setup was pretty simple: I put some wooden crates in the background for texture, a glove to raise one of the baseballs to meet our composition goal, and added some props for interest. To ensure both baseballs would be sharp, I utilized focus stacking. This particular photo went from the drawing board to completion in a few hours.

What would be your advice to a relatively new photographer who has some basic gear, basic skills, a few hundred dollars to invest in something, and a desire to become a product photographer?

My advice to someone wanting to get more serious about product photography is to first read the book Light: Science and Magic. Understanding light is more important than the gear. Most of the time my camera settings stay at 1/125s, ISO 100 and f/16. Adjustments come from my lighting.

I would also recommend purchasing some radio triggers to get the flash off of the camera. The way to learn lighting is to understand how to work with one light first. Learn to control the light to create any effect you want. Can you make soft light? Can you make deep shadows where you want them? Can you control your reflections on a shiny surface? After you understand how to get the effects you want, then think about adding to your lighting equipment.

I think playing and experimenting with the lights to create interesting effects is probably the most important thing you can do. You won't be able to do product photography professionally until you understand lighting.

plastic bin with lid

Imagine someone took your advice listed previously. After one year of focused effort, they now have solid technique, almost all of the necessary gear to do just about anything, and a handful of solid product photos on a portfolio site. This person is now considering product photography as a career. What would be your advice to this person?

I would recommend this person look for companies that already do their own photography, to see if they need help around their busy season, especially if that company can lead to some exposure. Start part-time or as a temp and use some of your photos to build a portfolio. You want to be able to show your next potential boss examples of what you have done, what you can do, and why they want you over someone else.

Your first job will likely be boring and repetitive with almost no creative aspect. When you have spare time, try out new ideas and get creative. Present those ideas to your bosses. Show them you can do more, how they can use what you have created, and why it would be good for them. All the while, you are building your portfolio to move on to bigger and better things.

chili bowl

What do you see coming in the future that all professional photographers should be prepared for?

Video is becoming huge in the world of photography, and companies often want people that can do both. Video is being integrated in interesting ways to engage the consumer. The skills needed to compose, light, and edit videos are going to be essential in the next few years. 

Baseball Q

You posted in the Pentax Q sub-forum that you once used your Pentax Q to produce a photo for your work (pictured directly above). What is your overall impression of the Pentax Q system?

I am a big fan of the Q. It’s a blast to photograph with that thing. For that photo, I wanted to show others that even small, inexpensive gear can be used professionally. It ended up as a full page photo in the Baseball Hall of Fame catalog. You don't need a full frame camera, or even an APS-C camera, to achieve great results. Anyway, the camera looks great and is so tiny that you can take it anywhere. Overall, I wish the Q had a better sensor, longer battery life, and more lenses. I’m still waiting for a fast wide prime for the Q system to walk around with. 

What is your favorite lens?

I like the SMC Pentax-DA 15mm f/4 Limited. It’s my play lens. I love going out with just that lens on my camera. It’s so wide, you feel like you are in the photos. The flare resistance is insane, it creates perfect star patterns when stopped down, and it’s so small and light that you don't mind lugging the camera around with it attached all day. 

Post your current gear list for the following: Weddings, travel, and product photography.

Weddings: Weddings are fast and unpredictable and you have to be ready for anything. I usually bring my Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 for unpredictable times. When things are a little calmer, I love my Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4. The 15mm limited comes out to capture any large scenes, or for fun effects. Of course, you need a nice powerful flash as well.

Travel: I like my Pentax-DA 15mm limited and Pentax-DA 55-300mm. Together, they make a light weight kit that can cover sweeping landscapes or get in close on wildlife.

Product photography: My Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens is vital because it allows me to capture many different perspectives. It is also incredibly sharp, even at f/16. I also have to include my Pentax 100mm macro for small things. But as I've said, the biggest key to product photography is the lighting and lots of it.

Eric Noeske Selfie

Ricoh-Pentax has asked you to design a lens (within reasonable specs, so a 15-500mm f1.4 pancake zoom is out of the question). What would it be? 

I would love a quality Pentax zoom that could be used for walking around and weddings, like a 24-80mm f/2.8 that’s nice and sharp, with decent close focusing ability and a silent focus motor. For primes, I'd love a 24mm f/1.4 that is really well built and has a silent focus motor.

Eric Noeske’s work can be found on his personal website. You can also message him on the forums, where he posts as enoeske

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