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BEST OF 2013, Jayms Ramirez
San Francisco, CA
Projects: image shot for an upcoming promo mailer from a series of new compositing work showing outdoor, adventurous pursuits in the context of sport and travel; and image from a Land Rover campaign for Undercurrent in New York, with model in a yoga pose on the glass roof, to convey the active, progressive, healthy vibe coupled with the Land Rover Evoque.

© Jayms Ramirez

© Jayms Ramirez


Jayms Ramirez is an action ninja and a master of the decisive moment in his action lifestyle niche — from a self-assigned promo image, where he digitally composited an active subject with some heavy weather, to a recent Land Rover campaign, where he posed a model outside the box to showcase the vehicle’s highlights.

“I really love shooting outdoor, adventurous pursuits in the context of sport and travel,” says Ramirez. “That environment has been exciting for me to immerse in, and to convey the drama I always equate to that space — the drama of the human spirit in trying or unfamiliar situations.”

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Jayms Ramirez: I’ve been shooting full-time now for about three years.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

JR: I’ve been a member for about two years, and have secured a lot of great assignments through ASMP.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

JR: I shoot what I love, which is adventure, travel and active lifestyle. I’ve been really delving into more water work and environmental portraits of adventurers/travelers in their element.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

JR: Hmmm, I consider my vision and imagination as my most valuable tool. Every assignment and shoot I do can demand a different piece of gear, from one of my SLR bodies, to a Fuji x100, to a wireless Speedlight, to a strobe and generator, to a tasty reflector, and so on. The environment dictates a lot of my gear usage out there.

ASMP: What is unique about your approach, or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

JR: My work has always been a product of my experiences and lifestyle; so I have always been shooting people and situations from within the environment, not just being outside looking in. Early on, I shot a lot of documentary type work, and I think that is still prevalent in my current adventure/travel work. I love shooting the before and after of a scene, capturing the back story and emotion just as much as the decisive moment.

ASMP: The image of the runner in the snowy Sierra Nevadas really emits the beauty and energy of the scene. But it’s actually a composited image; the runner was never in this landscape. Which image came first and what inspired you to photograph the elements individually and then combine them, rather than creating a single image in-camera?

JR: I was putting together some promos of new work, and I wanted a sexy outdoor/adventure image. I was up in Yosemite doing some work in the Winter, and the snow was falling over this eerie/dramatic snow-covered area of the forest. I wished I had a runner there with me right then! I could see the runner in that challenging environment in my head. I shot a series of the road and trees as backgrounds, and a few days later shot the runner in the Marin Headlands, with exactly the angle and mood I had in mind originally. I was happy with the results and it became a promo that I sent out.

ASMP: How long have you been making these types of composite images and what is your primary intent in creating this type of imagery?

JR: 90 percent of my work is done in-camera. That’s where most of my joy comes from, shooting out in the field; putting the elements and talent together to capture that exhilarating feeling of active adventure or travel. I shot a few composites for a client’s needs, about a year ago, and have been fine-tuning my composite style ever since. So, when it can enhance the deliverable for a client, its always up for discussion. It’s challenging and exciting to create conceptual images with optimum elements involved. Having said that, I surely love shooting in-camera by default.

ASMP: What kinds of planning or procedures do you employ with these composite images to make sure details such as lighting, contrast and perspectives match up between images?

JR: I conceptualize the scene and talent in my head and jot down ideas, or shoot cool backgrounds while I’m out on other assignments or traveling. Every background I shoot, I have in my mind what the balancing image might be, and how it might fit into the scene. I log down the lens, exposure, shutter, time of day with specific light conditions, so that I can match another shoot to fit the background. Angles and perspectives are very important when compositing.

ASMP: What types of software or digital manipulations do you use in creating composite images? How much postproduction time is spent to address the details and ensure that images appear seamless?

JR: I like to utilize Photoshop and Capture One for all of my post work. I am not heavy on a lot of postproduction; I use a pretty defined formula for editing all of my work. I arrived at a look and style that conveys adventure and spontaneous drama to mirror that type of environment I’ve always been attracted to while on my own adventures. The composite work all falls into my same workflow. I like to do my own post, and I am always refining elements of this to better fit my vision. I go as far as I can with my composites; I’ll do 90 percent and then let a pro retoucher do the final touches. I work with a talented retoucher located outside Los Angeles, whose studio is called Digital 805.

ASMP: Is this type of post-production work an enjoyable part of the photographic process for you, or are you approaching this as a new challenge, or a learning experience?

JR: These days everything is a new challenge, as technology and software and cameras change so rapidly. I do enjoy the post work within the boundaries I like. I am always aware of going too far or being too post heavy. I’ve always subscribed to a more realistic, raw image than something that starts to move into the photo-illustration realm.

ASMP: Before you became a photographer, you led adventure trips in various parts of the world. Have you been able to use this background to your advantage as a photographer?

JR: Most definitely! As I mentioned, my work has always come from my life experience. I guided camping-adventure trips through Mexico, Central, South America, Asia and Alaska for a good decade, with many jaunts around the world during my breaks. I was privy to amazing people and locations during this time, and always had my pack of gear with me shooting and honing my style. This began in the days of film too, so I was constantly returning to San Francisco or New York to develop film and jump in the darkroom to print some stuff. I soon realized that I needed time off the road to promote and cultivate the business side of being a photographer. It’s always a fine line for me to walk, in being off the road to do all the practical promos and business-end work versus being where I am inspired, on the long dirt roads and villages, shooting intrepid athletes and adventurers in beautiful environments around the world.

ASMP: When and why did you decide to transition from leading adventure trips to making photographs professionally? How long did this transition take?

JR: Both of my worlds have been hand-in-hand for so long; I was traveling for a living and shooting images that illustrated the dramatic, sometimes harsh beauty of travel and adventure. I always wanted my family and friends to see some of the areas I was moving through. I sold stock, printed and had small shows of documentary work in between my work trips. I always felt I was rushing though and not giving enough time to really hone my work to where I wanted it to be. The transition took a long while, because there was always another trip to South America or Guatemala that I was offered to guide. I fell into a great gig for the Travel Channel, hosting a show about travel and sustainable practices, where we traveled all over the world filming. After our show ran its course on television, I made a decision to jump into my photo work full-time. As much fun as it was to be in front of the camera, my heart wanted to be behind the camera, and I transitioned to get off the road for the most part, and really give my energy to shooting full-time and translating my style of shooting to editorial and commercial assignments, for companies that I agreed with completely, in terms of their product, service and position on sustainability.

ASMP: How did you get your photography career started? How did you first get clients?

JR: I never attended photo school or art school, but I always had a passion for the image and design. I am self-taught and spent years after college shooting, learning, developing my style and technical skills. I always shot self-assignments everywhere I traveled, and I tried to print and show as much as possible.

For a long time, I felt that my work wasn’t ready to promote, and I kept working to refine it. At one point, you just have to take the leap and stand behind your work — put it out there. I did this, and I started selling stock and getting small assignments while I was on the road. I sent portfolios out to magazines, NGOs and adventure companies, which was fruitful and I secured some cool little assignments.

It wasn’t until after I shot some stills for my Travel Channel show that I clamped down and began an organized marketing effort to promote my work. I now do mail and e-mail campaigns with a focused list of buyers and editors. I am also represented by Wonderful Machine, which has been an amazing resource for securing new work.

ASMP: What is one thing that surprised you about photography once you started exploring it as a career?

JR: I think it’s how quickly fads come and go. A style gets noticed by someone, and all of a sudden everyone seems to jump on board to make that the standard, and then I see a ton of photographers emulating that style. It gets so gentrified to me, and I hope I stay true to my style of work through the ebbs and flows.

ASMP: How much freedom did Land Rover give you in creating images for their advertising campaign? Were there specific details to the art direction that had to be met or branding parameters to incorporate?

JR: Oh, that was such a fun shoot! I could only wish that every shoot was like that. I had all the freedom to shoot what I wanted. I worked with a couple of great guys at the agency Undercurrent in New York, and they said, “We want to shoot something for the new Land Rover Evoque in an authentic way.” I wrote up a proposal for an on-the-road day, with a few friends meandering through the mountains south of San Francisco. I brought in friends from San Diego and Marin as talent, and we basically hit the road and shot our adventures in the Land Rover! It was a blast and I think we really conveyed the mood we were going for that day. The only hard part was getting all the permits and insurance to shoot in the city itself, where we started the day. I learned my lesson on that shoot, in that I will never take for granted the work of a professional producer!

ASMP: How involved were you in the decisions behind the styling and choice of talent for the shoot?

JR: As I mentioned above, I had all the creative control I wanted. I kept saying “Hey let’s do this, or let’s shoot the Land Rover this way.” It was so pleasant to always get a nod from the agency, without a bunch of back-and-forth to the client. I loved shooting without all the parameters you get a lot from a large client like that, and it truly translated to the authentic vibe we produced. I chose the talent and was very happy with each of them for this shoot.

ASMP: This shoot was done as a road trip among a bunch of friends. What was the size of the crew you worked and traveled with for this assignment? Were representatives from the client or the ad agency also present on the shoot, or did you communicate with them remotely?

JR: It was a light, stealthy shoot for sure. Only me and a talent crew of three. Two executives from the agency were with us and they followed us in another vehicle. I loved it! I’ve been on some productions where everything moved like a snail because there were so many people involved, from stylists to agency reps to the client to the make up artist and so on. We were able to capture great emotion and nuances that can get lost in the large production machine; I love to keep it light and fast, and under budget!

ASMP: Your photographs have a very lively, fun-loving, free-spirited feel to them. Can we assume this is indicative of your personality? What message do you aim to convey to your viewers through your photographs?

JR: That’s nice to hear! Yes, I get excited and feel that good karma when I am shooting in a great location and with fun talent. I hope that spirit of adventure and those short moments of bliss come through in my images. I want to convey that elevated sense of adventure, camaraderie and fun that we all want to experience in exotic or sublime environments around the world.

ASMP: How long have you lived in San Francisco? Do you find the Bay Area to be a lucrative place for a commercial photographer to be based?

JR: I’ve been in San Francisco full-time for five years now. It was my first permanent address since I was in college, and that was a good many years ago! I love this city and the diverse group of people. I have always returned here after being on the road or living abroad. There is a great photo community here with many resources and events, which allow you to network and meet others in the industry. I have friends in New York and Los Angeles, where those photo communities are pretty vibrant and in the center of the advertising world, but I must say San Francisco is a great home base for my type of work.

ASMP: Your work takes you all over the world. Is there a location that comes to mind that was especially spectacular to photograph?

JR: I’ve been fortunate to travel and work in some amazing places around the world. So many places flooded my mind right now with that question. I’ve shot land-mine clearance in Cambodia, some NGO work in Peru and Belize, but one shoot that I’ll always hold dear was for Weldon-Owen Publishing, where I traveled to Sitka, Alaska to shoot a tribe of Tlingit Indians living on a remote fish camp.

We traveled by plane, boat and seaplane to reach this small fish camp outside of Sitka, in one of the most pristine areas of nature I have ever seen. I stayed there in a tent for a week and shot the daily life of the tribe, hunting, catching salmon, making portraits of elders and documenting the handing down of tradition to the restless youth of the tribe. We had solar panels to charge gear, rain tarps to keep us dry at night, buckets for cold water showers, armed escorts to keep us safe from Grizzly bears — and I loved every second of it!

ASMP: You mention being attracted to the “drama” that unfolds when we are placed in trying or unfamiliar settings. How do you best position yourself so that you are there to capture those dramatic, spontaneous moments? Is there any specific camera angle or point of view that’s your favorite?

JR: I’ve always loved seeing interesting perspectives in an situation, from an 80-foot cliff dive to a barman pouring a whiskey. I’ll get low, get up high, get in between — anything to quench my thirst for the non-cliché. These days the gear is making it so possible for angles and point of views that were so difficult to capture in the past. I guess a favorite of mine is shooting from behind the talent or person, to see their point of view, and to try to give the viewer a perspective of someone else’s experience.

ASMP: What cameras and related gear do you use for your surfing and underwater photography?

JR: I use a Nikon D3 and D4, a couple of GoPro cameras, Aquatech underwater housings and, surprisingly, an Ewa-marine SLR housing, which is basically a high end Ziploc bag; but I have used it for a lot of water work in Hawaii and Mexico. The price is right at a few hundred dollars, compared to a few thousand dollars for a hard housing.

ASMP: How did you protect gear from water or other elements in outdoor environments? Do you have any tips for safeguarding (or saving) gear from catastrophe when shooting in harsh conditions?

JR: I use humidity packs in the jungle and tropics. I’m the king of Ziploc bags for all my lenses, accessories and drives, and waterproof gear packs/cases for sure. I use large Ziploc bags to cover my lenses and camera body; I tear a hole in the bottom of bag so the lens can stick out at the end and I’ve always had good luck with that simple set up in stormy conditions. There are specific weather accessories out there, but again I like to keep it lean and fast — and inexpensive!

ASMP: You have worked for jeans and eyewear companies, among others. Do you have any tips for making the product stand out when worn by a model or otherwise appearing in an image, while also bringing content and feeling to the image?

JR: I love seeing people doing normal things like getting on a bike or motorcycle, or scratching their hip, or holding one foot back stretching. Things we all do, which are natural. We’ve all seen the cliché poses to show off jeans, eyewear or similar products. I like to capture talent doing the normal thing, and see what the product looks like in that instance. I’ll ask talent to move that hip up, or extend the neck to create a better line, or anything to accentuate and bring symmetry.

ASMP: Your images seem to have a generally muted palette, highlighted in spots with splashes of color and light. Please talk about your use of this color palette and its significance in your images.

JR: Yes, I’ve always been drawn to a more muted color palette versus too much saturation. I like the drama and regal mood. It conveys adventure, elements and honor to me. I like to play with my natural light, blowing out the backgrounds to pop the subject foreground. I also like to bring some more vibrancy in places, to draw the eye to more muted areas and vice versa. When I use strobes, I also like to add this to enhance other parts of the image, and not be the image. Less has always been more for me.

ASMP: You’ve traveled to more than 60 countries so far. Is there some place you haven’t been that you dream of photographing?

JR: Antarctica! I’ve always been drawn to stark, remote environments. The harshness coupled with the beauty of Antarctica is so attractive to me. I’d love to shoot a campaign of real people doing real work there — scientific or sustainable angled.

ASMP: On your Web site, visitors can create a PDF selecting as many images of yours as they want. Are you able to track the images that people download?

JR: Good question — I’m not sure if I can track what PDFs have been downloaded. It’s a great feature on my Web site, where clients can pull PDFs from the site in any order they like, and they are sized right for easy viewing and emailing, but I’ll have to look into tracking PDF creation.

ASMP: What kind of marketing or networking do you do for your photography? Do you pursue different marketing channels for advertising, commercial portraiture and personal projects?

JR: I keep things pretty tied together, but surely have different lists for sending advertising, adventure/lifestyle and environmental portrait promos. I use my blog and social media outlets to put out different types of new work. I’ve been deliberating about getting another Web site just for my documentary work, as its just too different from my commercial/editorial focused work.

ASMP: Is there any aspect of marketing yourself that you find difficult but necessary? If so please talk about how you motivate yourself to do this work.

JR: I hate cold-calling photo editors or going to network at industry functions. I know it’s important and is valuable, but its just not enjoyable to me, and I like my work to speak for itself. That said, I tell myself it has to be seen in order for it to speak for itself.

ASMP: You have accounts at Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as a blog, all of which are accessible on your Web site. How important is social media in expanding your outreach as a photographer? What do you think of Instagram?

JR: Yes, these are all fantastic platforms for outreach. I started a bit late with Twitter and so on, but quickly saw the upside of efficiently publishing one’s new work or endeavors to an ever growing and specific audience. These days, I think one has to think of social media as part of your overall marketing campaign.

I love Instagram. I have always been an iPhone guy since day one, and I snap photos with it all the time. It’s fun, refreshing and spontaneous to throw your images on Instagram. I’m not into all the rules some diehards have about only iPhone images or only Instagram editing, and such. I’m not much into rules in general, especially for something fun and creative like Instagram…

PicTapGo is my favorite iPhone app for editing my photos, and I’m a bit addicted!

ASMP: When you photograph on assignment, do you also make pictures that appeal to you personally but might be outside the shoot parameters? If so, do you ever include those images in the edit you present to clients? If so, about how often does this occur? What kind of response do you get to these images?

JR: I always shoot what I feel. Of course, I’ll get the parameter shot, the safe shot in the client brief. I will shoot out of the parameters for every shoot I’m on, because I think it looks cool, or I’ll want to use it as a promo, but with more of my style attached etc. I’ve added more risky images to deliverables many times. Sometimes clients get a bit caught up in the safety, or are trying to be like another campaign they saw or so on. I’ll say, “Look at this,” and many times they jump on board. I like pushing into more unknown territory with images and moods.

ASMP: You made a book of images called We Cover Our Faces to be Seen, about the Zapatistas in Mexico. How did that project come about? Tell us about your experience photographing this community.

JR: I’ve always been very interested in indigenous communities around the world, and especially in Mexico. I was guiding in Chiapas right when the Zapatista uprising began, and I was enthralled by the history and organizing of the Indians in the area. How they lived in the jungles near Ocosingo in Chiapas and how Marcos organized them to be taken seriously. I spent many years shooting where I could, and I always stayed abreast of their activity.

I had just finished some six months of guiding work in Costa Rica, and just flew to San Francisco for a respite. A friend had told about a huge symposium of Zapatistas that was going to take place just outside of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, so I packed my cameras and jumped back on a flight to Mexico. I didn’t have any press credentials, so I created a couple of press passes, (thanks Steve Jobs!); I think I said I was a photographer for One World Press or something like that. I spent two days in the foggy mountain village where thousands of Zapatistas were there to discuss their new strategies. It was quite tense too, as it was rumored the Mexican Army was going to raid the symposium so there were a lot of militia Zapatistas guarding the perimeter of the village. It was an amazing experience, and I’ll never forget being amid all those intense eyes and covered faces. I sold a few images to smaller publications, but was a little disappointed I couldn’t get an entire essay published.

ASMP: What projects, personal or professional, are you currently planning? Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

JR: I just finished a personal project in Hawaii a few weeks ago, some new water work and surf stuff. I have an ongoing project I’m shooting about travel guides and their lifestyle. I know the lifestyle quite well, and I’m putting together environmental portraits of various guides who work around the world, each living their own quirky lifestyle. I’m also in talks with a sizable shoe company to shoot a campaign in Baja in the fall, so I’d be so stoked to be down in Mexico getting some cool rural images of shoes!

In five years, I hope to be shooting for more and more great outdoor lifestyle clients in all corners of the globe!