Cody McGibbon talks gear, Instagram, and how to take the perfect portrait

Meet Cody McGibbon, a 26-year-old fashion photographer based in Los Angeles.

In 2015, Cody got started with photography, working as a server at a restaurant to support himself while working on his craft. After just two short years, he now shoots full-time. His portrait work has earned him a six-figure Instagram following, affording him the opportunity to work with dozens of notable brands, including the iconic Playboy; and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Cody agreed to share his thoughts about his craft:

Kevin: You’re known for your portrait work on Instagram. How did you get into that style of photography?

Cody: Honestly, portraits are what inspire me the most. All kinds and all different aesthetics. Portraits are just such a perfect way to convey a mood, idea, feeling, or culture even.

K: What/who are your inspirations for your work?

C: My heaviest influences come from contemporary photographers Cameron Hammond, Brydie Mack, Jason Lee Parry and Henrik Purienne. I tend to look at their work because they have an aesthetic that inspires me so very much and they’re also very easily accessible due to Instagram. As for others who inspire me I love most editorials from vintage fashion magazines. Any decade from the ‘50s to the ’90s. The photographers were incredible and had such original ideas. Much more so than today.

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K: What’s your workhorse camera and lens, the gear that you use for most of your portraits. What’s your preferred focal length and why?

C: I’ve been using a Canon 6D since I started in 2015. I used to be a prime guy, but I moved to zooms once I started really getting into fashion. My go-to lenses would be the 24-70 f/2.8 II or the 24-105 f/4 II. Both are incredibly sharp and do everything you need. A runner-up would be the 70-200. I tend to find myself shooting in the 50-70mm range most often. No clue why really.

K: Let’s talk about social media, specifically Instagram. Do you have any particular approach to posting and how others come across your work? Can you talk about any opportunities that have presented themselves now that you have a substantial following?

C: I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. I generally post images I know my immediate audience will really love even though I want to start shooting and posting things I’m less comfortable about. Images/stories I know most of my current followers won’t “like” but will define me as a true professional. As for opportunities, I have gained many awesome clients via Instagram and a lot of awesome people have reached out to me complimenting me on my work, with Playboy being one of my most recent clients acquired via Instagram.

K: What’s your ultimate goal with photography?

C: I want my work to be that of legend. As in, a student is encouraged to study my work if they want to really understand photography, fashion editorials, etc. I personally don’t care if my face is famous, just so long as my work is. I would love to be sought-after in the fashion world and become one of the leading and most influential fashion photographers of our time.

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K: Every artist struggles with self-doubt. How do you deal with those periods where you’re just not satisfied with the work you’re producing? What do you do to push through the rut?

C: This is a constant issue with me. The two statements I make to myself are simple: You only have one shot at this beautiful life so create what YOU love, not cater to the interests of others. The other is that if I love the particular shot or story, then who cares if anyone else does. We’re not living for other’s happiness, we’re living for our own. Do what you love.

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K: If you could go back and give advice to your younger self just getting started with photography, what would it be?

C: Don’t shoot weddings. Study fashion. Don’t shoot for likes.

K: What percentage of your shoots are more styled productions (involving makeup artists’s, stylists, etc.) versus you going out and shooting with just the model? Which of the two do you prefer?

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C: So it used to be that I would just go out with the model and guerrilla shoot at a location. Self-selecting styles and all of that. In the last year I’ve stepped away from that. Only shooting if I have a team and full idea laid out. Don’t get me wrong, I still go guerrilla style it one-on-one with certain models who I know will kill it without a team, but that’s rare for me now. Not only is it easier to have an incredible shoot when you have a full team, but the saying “two heads are better than one” is very true. Having those creatives around you throwing ideas -- good or bad -- really help you to actually think about alternate ideas to a certain composition.

K: What are some key things you look for in an ideal setting for a portrait?

C: Time of day is number one. Lighting on location is number two. Having two or more sources of light when using a naturally lit space are KEY to getting a beautiful photograph. Color tones come third. A well-choreographed image will have color/tones that correlate with the image/story. It’s subconscious to most viewers, but will make an image way more engaging.

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K: What advice do you have for photographers looking to earn an income through their work? What breakthroughs have you experienced that have allowed you to make money with the skills that you have?

C: Oh man, that is a tough one. Don’t go in expecting to make money shooting fashion/lifestyle or whatever off of the bat. It’s one of those “know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little.” Say your main focus is fashion, well make sure you can shoot weddings, headshots, babies, events, etc. to be able to make a living throughout the start of your career. I have to add, though, if shooting all of those other things doesn’t make you happy then HUSTLE your ass off with fashion and have a side gig.

K: If you had to think of one technique that you incorporated into your editing/retouching that has improved your images the most, what would it be?

C: Dodge/Burn. Hands down.

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Kevin Kleitches