about Howard Huang
It takes a keen eye to understand the subtle balance between photography and design, but NYC-based, Taipei-born, Hawaiian-raised Howard Huang has embraced both with a deft hand. In the last 15 years, Huang's unique mix of a sharp creative vision and veteran technical prowess has catapulted him to become one of commercial photography's fastest-rising stars, with his stylish photos gracing an impressive range of media -- from high-concept magazine covers and celebrity fashion layouts to best-selling book covers and national advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.
The best word to describe Huang's trademark style? As he puts it: "moody." Huang's photographs create a fantasyland that moves seamlessly from the visually dramatic to the subtly enhanced. His models emerge as warm and sexy, with a touch of glamour and lingering drama. If nothing else, Huang's world is a visually arresting one: one look and you're mesmerized.
"Images with a story behind them are definitely the most interesting," says Huang. "I am always thinking of a narrative behind the shoot, because I prefer creating images with a powerful emotional impact. It has to be something that makes you feel a sensation: whether it's sexy or surprising, or even a disgusting feeling. But no matter what, it has to attract the eye instantaneously."
As a Bachelors of Fine Arts graduate from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, Huang's training is firmly rooted in a traditional photography background. "I remember my first basic photography courses, and the process just amazed me. It's like magic when you first see your image appearing in the darkroom." Like every top photographer, technical skills are just the building blocks of Huang's expertise. However, unlike other photographers, Huang delved deep into every detailed aspect of the complete process himself.
"I was hungry to do it all: from developing to printing, and also alternative processes like cross processes, cyanotypes, brown types, selenium tones, and Polaroid transfers. I have always wanted my own shop to be able to produce the entire process, from start to finish," explains Huang. "Then, after I was introduced to digital imaging and Photoshop, I was hooked. In the last 20 years, technology has evolved to the point where now, we can do it all better and faster - exerting much more control over each individual aspect of the finished work."
Also unlike other photographers, Huang retouches almost all of his images himself. Trained under commercial photography pioneer Michel Tcherevkoff (a disciple of one of the industry's most respected masters, Pete Turner), Huang was schooled in digitally manipulated imagery and "composite work," or images that are combined together and digitally tweaked to form a single, striking image. "Today, all the post production work is done digitally after the shot -- including color correction, touch ups, contrast, cropping, and so forth -- whether you shoot on digital capture or conventional film," explains Huang. "In particular, all commercial photography images are nearly always digitally manipulated, in addition to composite work."
"The trick is to rework an image so that the treatment is not obvious,"Huang continues. "The point of digital manipulation and composite work is to enhance the photographer's vision, and render the photograph into a stronger image. These days, many images appear very "˜Photoshop-like": where you aren't looking at the actual photograph, but instead its cheesy special effects. It's important to realize that dramatic special effects don't necessarily offer a more stronger image."
Even in an industry flooded with talent, Huang has received nods from his esteemed peers at art institutes and photography institutions, including New York City’s International Center of Photography, where he has been invited as a guest speaker. Huang received further recognition from his fellow photographers in 2012, when he was profiled in industry magazine Digital Photo Pro for his signature energetic style; and in 2010, arthouse book publisher Taschen offered Huang his own book deal to document his lush, high-glamour style with his own provocative ode to the female form, Urban Girls.
One of Huang’s longtime clients is international celebrity, rapper, songwriter and actor Nicki Minaj, who Huang has photographed since 2010 and has since become one of his most beloved muses. Huang’s vibrant, anime-inspired style has been a seamless fit with Minaj’s exuberantly creative style; not only has Huang shot Minaj countless times editorially, but he photographed Minaj’s Pink Friday fragrance campaign, as well as her Myx beverage campaign. “We are both really serious about art, execution and craft,” Huang observes. “so it’s a good fit. Typically, we’ll both discuss the details of a shoot together, and she’ll give a lot of creative input. It’s a very collaborative process; there is definitely a trust factor involved.” He pauses. “She likes to call me her ‘Chinese brother’!” he laughs.
Huang's extensive roster of client work continues to expand, from national advertising campaigns to commercial photography work for corporations such as Nintendo, Verizon and Panasonic. His work can be seen in Times Square billboards for trendy gear such as the Southpole clothing brand, for which he’s shot music personalities such as R&B singer-songerwriter, actor and model Mario; the fashion world has also tapped Huang to shoot TV personalities such as America’s Next Top Model winner Jaslene Gonzalez for the Lot29 fashion label. Huang has also demonstrated a versatility within his own style: his dramatic, high-concept book covers have graced the work of iconic American authors such as Wes Craven and James Patterson; while his fresh, youthful approach was a natural fit for reality TV star Lauren Conrad’s best-selling novel LA Candy. Due to the ongoing prominence of his clientele, Huang’s work regularly appears in publications such as Vogue, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Interview, ID, Paper, and Vibe -- just to name a few.
It’s Huang’s professional experience not only as a photographer but also as a graphic designer that helps his clients meet the punishing deadlines of the publishing world. "My clients often tell me that they appreciate the dramatic way I execute an idea within the tight framework of the pre-press publication process," notes Huang. "I try to follow a layout very closely, while at the same time extrapolate the Art Director's idea into a vivid, pulsing image with a sense of depth."
There's no question, however, that Huang's forte is the human element. "I think the reason why I love fashion photography is precisely because fashion is not realistic,"he says. "Fashion is about creating illusion and fantasy, but it’s very much built around the human factor. That's why I think I find interaction with models the most fulfilling, because I tell them a story and they react to that. I look at models as beautiful creatures,"he adds, laughing: "They aren't really human, you know."
In the end, it's the magic of the single image that moves Huang. "Only the photographer really knows what he or she wants out of every image," he muses. "It's like you're a movie director, but for one frame only -- and there's a tale to tell behind every still frame." He pauses for a moment. "I fell in love with the whole photographic process a long time ago," he says, "and I just kept on shooting."
- as told to Janet Tzou
Recent photography book "Urban Girls" published by Taschen.
Published in Magazines:
Seventeen, Teen Vogue, XXL, King, The Source, Smooth, VIBE, URB, Urban Latino, ReMix, Industry, Mass Appeal, Todayâ€™s Black Woman, BlackMen, Hype Hair, OYE, Maxim, The Village Voice, In New York, New Yorker, Billboard, ID and more.
Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Little Brown & Co, Disney Hyperion, Random House, Taschen and more.
Celebrities / Musicians:
Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Keyshia Cole, Daniel Gibson, Chad Ochocinco, Keri Hilson, Ludacris, Akon, Nelly, Ashanti, Busta Rhymes, Wiz Khalifa, Prodigy, Pitbull, Bow Wow, Flo Rida, Jim Jones, Soulja Boy, Mya, Nick Cannon, Mario, Cassidy, Juelz Santana, Marques Houston, Tony Yayo, Young Buck, Trey Songz, Lloyd, One12, Ying Yang Twins, The Game, Lauren London, Cassidy, Jacki-O, Trina, Talisa Soto, Patricia Velasquez, DJ Kay Slay, Papoose, Rah Digga, Gang Starr, Timbaland, Magoo, Afrika Bambaataa, Ice-T, Remy Ma, Tego Calderon, Chad Hugo, FatBoy Slim, Paul Oakenfold, Peaches, Princess Super Starr, Amanda Diva, KD Aubert, Tika Sumpter, Nicole Wray, Derrick Carter, Teedra Moses, DJ Premier, DJ Enuff, Just Blaze.