Jim Jordan: Fashion Photography With The Leica S-System


Growing up as a skater and surfer in sunny, Southern California, Jim Jordan spent his high school days scouting models and finding the next great faces of the coming generation. With a passion for beauty and styling, Jim quickly became a highly respected hair and makeup artist, traveling the world and working with the biggest actors, actresses and supermodels of the time, such as Cindy Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Farrah Fawcett, etc. He worked with the world’s best photographers, such as Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh, Steve Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, to name a few, and after many years of behind the scenes experience as a hair and makeup artist, Jim picked up a camera and immediately developed his own unique style as a photographer. Jim now shoots celebrities such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Drew Berrymore, Charlize Theron, Marisa Miller, to name a few, and shoots for clients such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, Marie Claire, etc. Jim also directs and shoots seamless campaigns for clients such as Mercedes Benz, J Crew, American Express, Warner Brothers, and more. Jim now lives in LA and NYC and shoots in the most picture perfect places around world.

Q: Hi Jim. To start things off, when did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form, a profession?

A: When I was traveling the world as a hair and makeup artist, I would watch the photographers and realized that the dream of being a professional photographer was not as farfetched as I had originally imaged it to be.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

A: I did not necessarily have any real professional training in photography; however, through my job as a celebrity hair and makeup artist, I was able to watch and learn techniques on set from many of the best photographers in the world. My true experience comes from years of trial and error. I learn from my mistakes and use each experience to better myself as a photographer. I have always been inspired by the work of Bruce Weber and Arthur Elgort.

Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? What made you decide to go pro?

A: I have always had a passion for beauty. In 9th grade, I spent my days skating around Southern California scouting the next great faces of the coming generation. I would find models, do their hair and makeup, and then take pictures of them that I would hide away in an 11×14 black box. A couple years later I began working as a celebrity hair and make-up artist. I traveled the globe working with the biggest supermodels, actors and actresses, including Cindy Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Farrah Fawcett, to name a few, and was behind the scenes with the most highly respected photographers in the world, watching their every move and observing their techniques. One of my clients named Emily was the owner of J Crew. We got to talking one day while I was doing her hair on set and she mentioned that models were talking to her mentioning what a great photographer I was and that she wanted to see the photos in my black box. I knew I loved taking photos, but I had never shown my images to anyone and was incredibly uneasy about revealing them, and not to mention if the photographers I was working with every day found out, it would put a quick and easy end to my career as a successful hair and makeup artist due to the competition the other photographers would feel. I never liked talking about my photography or showing people because of the criticism I thought I might get. I have never wanted to be vulnerable and put myself out there to be judged. But when Emily saw the images, she absolutely loved them and asked me to start shooting for J Crew.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: I would describe my photography style as energetic, bright, warm & light.

Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?

A: Photography is so much more personal to me than just capturing an image. Whatever I take a photograph of is likely to become a part of my life. Once I photograph someone, they stay with me forever. I never forget a face.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica Camera?

A: Prior to Leica, I used other medium format cameras and I really loved the high resolution and quality but hated how slow the frames per second were. I was so excited to find Leica! The camera was so much faster than other medium formats I had been shooting with and the lenses were (and still are) the best quality on the market, providing me with crisp, high-quality images without the lag that I was used to.

Q: What camera and equipment do you use? How do you find the Leica S2?

A: I use a wide variety of cameras and equipment. Right now my favorite camera to use is the Leica S2 which I found when looking for a high quality camera with an autofocus feature. When it comes to equipment, my favorite lighting gear is made by California SunBounce, Broncolor and Profoto. I love the SunBounce reflectors, sun-scrims and their Wind-Killer for shoots where I plan to use natural light and I use my Broncolor 6’ Para Umbrella and Profoto heads and packs for shoots where I intend to use controlled lighting. I always use high speed Lexar memory cards and am always sure to keep a portable Drobo backup system filled with 3TB Seagate hard drives on set with me to ensure that all of my images are safe and backed up. I pack all of my gear into my custom Tamrac camera bags and I’m set for my shoot!

Q: Can you tell us a little background about the series of photos you sent – where were they taken? What was the objective? Who was the client?

A: These images were photographed for Dutch Elle in Malibu, California. The concept was Brigitte Bardot inspired, a 1960s love story with a modern twist.

Q: Why’d you choose the S2 for this particular project?

A: There were many qualities that really stood out to me on the Leica S2. The image quality and color accuracy is impeccable and the quality of the lenses are second to none. I also love the autofocus and how easy it is to navigate through the menu.

Q: Aside from excellent image quality and responsiveness are there any characteristics of the Leica S2 that you find especially useful in your professional work?

A: I love the robust build quality & durability of the Leica S2. The incredible optical quality of Leica S lenses resolve an amazing amount of detail and the user-friendly menu system is very easy to navigate so that I can quickly adjust my settings. The excellent ergonomics make it more comfortable and less fatiguing to use than the competitor’s medium format systems. Last but not least, I love the huge, bright viewfinder because it makes composing images easier.

Q: Which lenses do you have in your Leica S-System kit, which ones are your favorites, and can you say something about why you use these lenses more often?

A: I mainly use the 70mm f/2.5 & 120mm f/2.5 lenses.  I also use the 35mm f/2.5 lens when I need to shoot with a wide angle lens.  The 70mm is my favorite.  Like all S system lenses, it’s tack sharp and versatile.  It’s an awesome portrait lens.  I love the 120mm for beauty shots and close-ups.  It has almost no distortion and I can get very close to my subjects.  Plus the autofocus is fast and accurate.

Q: Attention to detail is a common characteristic of high-level photography and hairstyling that is evident in your images. Aside from the knowledge you gained by observing many great fashion and commercial photographers at work, how do you think your background gives you a leg up in creating images that satisfy your demanding clients?

A: With my hair and makeup background, I can help make the model look their best and deliver just what the client demands.  You have to sweat the small stuff when working at my level.  My major clients expect high attention to detail and the personal touch that I offer.  I also love to work with wardrobe stylists to achieve the client’s vision.  My perfectionism makes this possible.

Q: The images in your portfolio have that “clean” look that is a hallmark of haute couture fashion photography, but your subjects nevertheless project a human quality that is sometimes lacking in commercial images. Do you agree, is that a conscious decision on your part, and if so, how do you achieve it?

A: I always strive to create images that are clean, light and airy and I work hard to put the subject at ease while creating a fun atmosphere. The more comfortable the model is, the more they open up. The models look more natural and human because I am truly evoking the emotion being portrayed in the image. I achieve this by being honest and open with my subjects.  They usually relax quickly and soon forget that there is a camera in front of them.

Q: Have you ever thought about pursing some other genre of photography entirely such as documentary work, portraiture, or sports, for example?

A: No, I have not. I love what I do and am still exploring the fashion / lifestyle / advertising markets.

Q: Do you have an outlet for creativity outside of your commercial photography, like personal photography or another art form?

A: Being active is a great release for me. I enjoy surfing, paddle boarding, wakeboarding, snowboarding and yoga. I also like to meditate and pray.

Another creative outlet that I have had since I was young is my love for scouting out models and great talent. Even as a kid in high school I would skateboard through the streets of Los Angeles looking for beautiful people to make over and take pictures of. After many years of scouting and working with the biggest agencies in the world to place talent I find, I now manage over 30 models and actors in addition to running my photography and production businesses.

Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next 3-5 years?

A: I think my business will evolve along with technology. I foresee quality improving and I imagine shoots will be more streamlined. I see the budgets and production values growing as the economy grows. I also picture more exotic locations and more beauty in general.

Thank you for your time, Jim!

- Leica Internet Team

Connect with Jim on his website, Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about his workshops here.