In November, Shelby, N.C., photographer Randy McNeilly celebrates 40 years in photography, a true milestone in the industry. Over the years, he has seen many changes when it comes to the art of capturing and conveying a story with images. Through all the changes, McNeilly, who won three regional Sunset Print Awards in the PPA Southeast District this year, believes the biggest change was the switch from darkroom to digital.
McNeilly was prepared for this inevitable transition, as he was already doing his own work in a color lab. McNeilly says “digital didn’t increase my workload,” because he had always been so hands-on every step of the way, from capture to completion.
He takes pride in focusing on portrait and in-studio work, because he feels there is an emerging trend of more photographers going outside the studio, vying for the unique exterior setting. McNeilly estimates that “about 90 percent of my work is still in the studio, and I feel that there is less competition” because many other photographers concentrate on exterior settings, while he works with the clients who still cherish the look and feel of a cozy, studio photo shoot.
Two of his winning Sunset Print Awards, “Classic” and “Military Intelligence” show McNeilly’s portrait prowess. His third, “Heavy Metal,” is a study in machinery details.
McNeilly was profoundly influenced by late portrait photographer and educator Dean Collins. Early in his career, McNeilly was purely a commercial photographer, but shifting to studio photography about 10 years into his craft once he discovered the work and teaching of Collins.
“I really believe that he grasped the concept of photography,” he says of Collins. McNeilly also names Florida photographer, Thomas Kelly, as someone who has helped shape his passion for the world of portrait photography.
Getting into the mind of a client and learning which story is begging to be told is important to McNeilly. Before each photo shoot, he spends time with his client and learns about their lives. It is during this consultation where the ideas and narration begins, ending with the client being presented with a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, a story told through a photo rather than words.
The image “Military Intelligence” commemorates the retirement of a communications director for Air Force One. Knowing that this gentleman was an intellectual, he used the bookcase as the perfect backdrop, paying close attention to such finite details. “I thought it would be a nice touch to have him reading The Art of War, by Sun Tzu during the session,” McNeilly says of the open book in the image.
For printing, McNeilly chose LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper 300g for color prints “Classic” and “Military Intelligence,” but decided upon LexJet Sunset Fibre Elite 285g for his black-and-white winner, “Heavy Metal.”