Member of the Month: Paul Ernest

by Peter Kotsinadelis

wedding bride under the spot light

April 01, 2011 — Paul Ernest has always had a love of photography, both as art form and for its ability to forever capture a moment in time. He believes the passion he has is in his blood. “My family played a huge role in my development as an artist. My mother worked in graphic design, my grandfather in painting and woodcarving, and my great-grandmother as a painter and literary artist.”

Majoring in Advertising at University of North Texas with a specialty in Brand Development, Paul’s love of imagery led him to also take a minor in Photography and Cinema. “It was the creativity of photography that I really enjoyed. As I started to see my images improve, I found myself entering and winning photography competitions, including the Creative Summit in San Marcos, TX,” Paul says.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design, Paul found employment as Art Director at David Carter Design Associates. It was here that he met his future mentor, David Edmonson. “David is a wonderful commercial photographer and also a close friend. I was doing some of my most creative work at the time, but still photographing, but for myself.”

After a few years, Paul went on to work at a more advertising-driven studio for a short while, but soon decided to open his own agency. David and Paul remained friends and continued to work together on commercial shoots. After seeing Paul’s fine art photography, David encouraged Paul to try photographing other things. Or, as Paul explains, “He told me I should ‘shoot for more than just fun.’ ”

The turning point came when professional photographer Walter Van Dusen was visiting Dallas. In a private conversation, David told Walter about Paul’s images. The two met up with Paul “I kept [my images] on my iPhone, which provided an easy way to show my work,” Paul says. After seeing the images Walter then asked Paul what awards he had received. “I told him none. He was surprised and gave me a verbal kick in the pants to start entering. He said if I didn’t, I would have to answer to him. Walter became a good friend and I have to say is one person I credit with a major tipping point in my career.”

In the next few years Paul also began working alongside David and Luke Edmonson, photographing high-end weddings as a second shooter. He found the learning curve both fast and extremely demanding. “Coming from advertising, I was accustomed to the fast pace and the need to learn quickly. Learning all this, anticipating the right moment when to shoot was really demanding, but absolutely crucial.” Paul’s portfolio grew quickly with a number of beautiful images both from his wedding shooting and his personal projects. “I put together some shoots with models to emphasize the fine art side of my portraits. This really helped me showcase my creative side, something I felt was important to differentiate myself among the large number of photographers working in Dallas.”

For Paul fine art photography is a kind of therapy. “It gives me a sort of spiritual opportunity to be with my grandfather.” He credits his grandfather as the most influential person in developing his artistic side. Additionally, Paul also credits him with introducing him to artists that have helped shape his style including Norman Rockwell, Homer, Millet, Vermeer and his favorite, Andrew Wyeth. “Wyeth was often called a painter of people. His paintings have what I call a surreal ambiance in showing people in their own surroundings.” Paul points out that Wyeth is the one painter that has helped him further his style adding what he calls “a fusion of real life playing out in a created setting. I call this ‘mise-en-scène Realism.’ Mise-en-scène is a French expression meaning placing on stage, essentially telling a story but doing it by arranging people and props to emphasize the subject.”

It has been only three years since Paul changed careers and became a full-time photographer. In this short time his business has grown quickly. Paul explains one major reason as to why his business was able to grow in such a bad economy. “I learned from other professionals that it’s not just about doing your best every time you shoot. As Andy Marcus put it, ‘Focus on the relationship. Don’t rely on your work alone.’ ” Today half his business revenue is derived from wedding photography. The other half is split evenly between fine art portraiture, seniors and commercial work. His mise-en-scène realism style is seeing more and more requests from couples looking for a unique engagement session and a growing number of brides looking for a different but artful portrait.

When asked how he plans his images or looks at framing he replies, “I look for two major things when shooting: light and expression. The expressions are really the product of the relationships I’ve developed with my clients. They trust me, and I like to say consider me a family member. This trust shows through in their expressions and gives me a genuine image, not a forced look. This is what makes the image really stand out.” This year alone Paul swept the Premiere Category in the WPPI Print Competition taking 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the Grand Award.

For equipment, Paul shoots with Nikon D3s and D3 DSLRs. He uses both prime and zoom lenses, but relies primarily on two zooms for most of his work, a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED. Postprocessing is done primarily in Photoshop CS5 and then OnOne when needed. “While I use CS5, I am also seeing how Lightroom fits into my workflow. I really think it may become an ideal tool for me because of the variety of options it offers.”

Because of the opportunity he was given, Paul believes in education and mentorship. “When I use an assistant, they are there to assist and learn. I use a couple of very trusted second shooters to help focus on the groom, details and second angles. This is very important to me. Knowing the groom is in good hands allows me to focus my attention on the bride.”

Paul quickly advises all photographers to “find a mentor. Even if you have been doing this for 20 years. And whatever you do, don’t discount your work. If you believe your work needs improvement, find someone to teach you.”

Paul’s son Andrew has also started to assist him. “He has already won first place in some local competitions and has already had one of his images used in the McKinney, TX Annual Report. “As he grows up I am interested to see what direction he will take.” And, with a fatherly smile, Paul adds, “But for now I am happy to see he is just having fun being an 11-year-old photographer.”

With a style all his own and a growing photography business, Paul Ernest is certainly heading in the right direction. In addition, his 11-year old budding photographer son is proof that the talent inherited is certainly being passed down to the next generation, and his clients will be in good hands with Paul Ernest, and sons.

Peter Kotsinadelis is a writer/photographer living in Pleasanton, CA. Email:

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