Interview by: Orchee Sorker | November 23, 2022 | Photos by: Jacob Webster
Jacob Webster chats with Hazze Media on how he became one of Hollywood's favorite photographer and creative director. He has worked with celebrities like Lori Harvey, Kim Kardashian, Drake, Doja Cat, etc. He shares his journey to becoming a full-time photographer, his go-to equipment, getting hired to work with Doja Cat, and photographing Paris Fashion Week. Additionally, he closes off with goals for his brand and advice for aspiring creatives.
How did you get started in the industry? How did you find your niche in the industry? How did you transition to becoming a full-time photographer?
I have been a fashion photographer for nine years now. I started in 2013. I focus on beauty, portraits, lifestyle, editorial, etc. I try to stay on the editorial side of fashion, but I also do lifestyle. I just don't prefer to do it. I was actually a lifeguard for seven years before I started doing photography full time. I was also a full-time student at Towson University. I was studying business at Towson for four years. My sophomore year, my schedule was demanding and I was making like $250 a week doing lifeguarding. I could do a photoshoot and make double that in 30 minutes, you know? I was like, “You know what? I think I can just go ahead and do this on my own without having work on the side.” My sophomore year of college I started doing photography full time. That's when I started doing my business full time.I was able to control my schedule and just focus.
How did you start breaking ground and branding yourself? How did you set yourself apart from other photographers? How did you create your brand/identity/online presence?
I always show up as myself…my authentic self. People really like that and admire that. It's kind of different in the industry…especially in Los Angeles specifically where everyone's superficial. I allow my clients and my talent to be themselves. I don't pressure them to do anything. They're able to share and control their own narratives. I think I started breaking ground by being really consistent and wanting to learn. I don't feel I'm ever satisfied with just one project. Once I'm done with the project, I wanna keep rolling on to the next one. I want to make sure that I'm creating to my best ability. Even today, I feel I don't create the images that are like my goals yet. As I continue doing bigger projects with bigger budgets and a bigger team, I can start getting closer to getting that image that I desire.
So, I found my niche one by one.
What kinds of equipment/tools do you usually have on set?
Literally, everything like down to backdrops is in my car. I keep three lights, a backdrop stand, reflectors, diffusers, softbox, and umbrella. That's what got me hired for a lot of stuff. Last Halloween, Doja Cat was looking for a photographer and someone wasn't unavailable When I showed up, I literally came with like an entire studio setup and everything. They weren't expecting that. They were probably just thinking I was just gonna bring like a flash or something. That's what I do for any client I have. I bring everything so I'm prepared. I'm just going above and beyond to make sure my client is satisfied or just impressed. I did that, they were like, ”Oh my gosh, we have to keep you on our team.” Ever since then, I've been with her. Anytime I get a new client, I still bring all my stuff, and it catches them off guard every time. If they want me doing lifestyle, I wanna do the best lifestyle pictures I can do. If anyone had me mopping the floor, I'm mopping the floor just to show up and just to take the opportunity and get myself in the door and I'm listening to make the best out of it. That's how I kind of did that. Right now equipment wise, I have the Canon 5D Mark IV. I'm not sure if I wanna switch over to Sony soon. I usually shoot on my 24-70 mm or 70-200 which I use for portraits.
What was the inspiration behind Doja Cat's imagery of her wardrobe looks in Paris?
So with her, I have no creative say…that's more so Brett Alan Nelson is her creative director. I just show up and shoot. That’s why I like doing myself on the side of my creative project cause I can be creative. Recently I did the photoshoot, it was a firefighter type of concept. When I went to set the other day, someone was like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea if you are that good” I just never really had the opportunity to really create the way that I want to. Doing stuff on the side helps me show people what I'm capable of. Doja and Brett are really creative. They have no limits with their creativity.
What was your experience like in Paris Fashion Week as a photographer?
Paris was literally life changing. It was everything I've ever imagined. I was living on cloud nine the entire time. I was just so blessed to be there and so honored. I was so grateful for the opportunity just to be in Paris and just seeing all different designers and creative directors of the brand. I saw a few photographers that were walking the show as well. There's literally no limit to your creativity. There's no limit to where you can and where you can go. Paris really inspired me to go all out with everything.
From your previous work so far, which one is your favorite?
Anything in 2020 before I moved to LA. I was really creative and created with no budgets. My work went the most viral, and I was building community the most. I just felt the most creative, authentic self when I was creating in 2020 because COVID and nothing was really going on. I would pop up the studio in my garage and get a model. We would social distance and makeup would be in the garage and I'd be upstairs. When they were done, I’d come shoot.
What's next for the brand JPW Photo?
The next steps for my brand would definitely be speaking engagements. I want to start doing podcasts, YouTube videos, and sharing experiences, and sharing wisdom. I pray to God everyday for more wisdom and creativity. Being more intentional and being more present.
The imposter syndrome and constantly comparing yourself with others is a big aspect creatives deal with. How do you overcome that feeling and keep going?
I used to have a really big issue with imposter syndrome and dealing with that. I think I just grew out of it recently because the more I would become more spiritually grounded, I started realizing that. I fully and 100% believe that anything that's for me is going to be for me. Anything that's not, is not for me. If something falls through, that was not meant to be. If anything comes to fruition, I'm just so grateful. Living in a constant state of gratitude and being intentional about who I'm surrounding myself with and what opportunities I show up for helps me with imposter syndrome. I always tell myself anytime I get an opportunity and I don't think I'm qualified for this. I always say, “God would never, would've put an opportunity on my plate if I couldn't handle it.” That's exactly why I just feel like you have to just fight any outside voices and you can't compare yourself to anyone's journey. I used to do that too. That's just helped me really just focus on staying in my own lane, and having my own vision and focusing on just being myself.
What is your advice in building relationships/networking?
Social media is your number one resource, so I always say that you are a walking billboard for yourself. Anything that you share is gonna be an advertisement for yourself. In person, I would just say to always work the room. When I came to LA one time in 2019, um, I was there to go to a Greek party when I was still in college. I happened to bring my camera with me. Someone asked me to do Diddys 50th birthday party. I told myself, “You cannot leave this room without making a connection…whether it was getting somebody's number/contact. If you don't, there's no point in being here.” If we hit off, we hit it off. If we don't, you leave it. I think that's the best way to network. In Paris, I will go up to people, and I'll be like, “I wanna give you flowers. Love to work with you someday.”
Are there resources you think I or any aspiring photographers should check out?
YouTube University, that's where I learned everything. I'm fully self-taught. I've never taken a class. I think that's where I'm really behind on my photography and imposter syndrome comes in. Sometimes, I'll go on sets. People have been there for 15 years in the game and like they know so much and I really don't know anything technical about photography. Recently, I've just started accepting the fact that wasn't my path. I can't be ashamed of that. I literally just ask and I pull 'em aside. I say to them, I say, “Hey, I'm literally fully self-taught and I don't know what this is. Can you, can you gimme some advice or can you just help me navigate this new space for me? Or can you help me out?” They'll be like, “Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for asking.” That's all you gotta do is just ask. You can put your pride aside and just ask for that help.
One advice you wish someone had told you when starting out? Any advice to young POC creatives starting out in the industry?
Literally there are no rules to this and you create your own rules. Time literally stops for no one. You have to keep going and keep being consistent and just keep pushing out content and pushing out stuff for yourself.
That’s all the questions I had! Thank you for sharing your story and advice with me! It was so nice to meet you!