Tips + Techniques

Profits from Passion Projects: Photographer Richard Tuschman Explains [Free Webinar]

July 7, 2021

By Brienne Walsh

© Richard Tuschman

Pink Bedroom (Family). From the series "Hopper Meditations" © Richard Tuschman

Richard Tuschman has a long and storied career as a working artist whose images have appeared everywhere from HBO to all 2,992 guest rooms at the Park MGM in Las Vegas. Although he has more than enough client work to keep himself busy, Tuschman, who is based in New York City, says that when he neglects his personal work, his career suffers. The reason? When he stops following his passions, he stops growing creatively. Not only does that make him depressed, but it also means that his vision is less appealing to clients.  

In the recent RF+ WPPI webinar, “Personal Photo Projects: A Path from Passion to Profits” with Tuschman that was held in conjunction with Rangefinder’s Reset series, he shared myriad ways in which focusing on passion projects—including his series “Hopper Meditations,” which recreate the paintings of Edward Hopper using miniature sets and models—have led to paid work, including selling prints to clients and receiving commissions from branding agencies.  

Below, we highlight some of the lessons learned from Tuschman’s webinar

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Immerse Yourself in the Subject of a Passion Project  

© Richard Tuschman
Woman with Book and Letter. From the series “Hopper Meditations” © Richard Tuschman

Tuschman began working on “Hopper Meditations” in 2011. In total, the project took almost two years to complete. He chose the subject because he had always been drawn to Edward Hopper’s paintings—especially the mood of the interiors, which Tuschman knew he could recreate easily in miniature dioramas.

[Read: How I Light—Richard Tuschman Explains the Complexity Behind His Painterly, Fine-Art Looks]   

To prepare to shoot the project, Tuschman immersed himself in Hopper’s world. He collected images of Hopper’s paintings, as well as images of vintage hair styles and female models. “I put them on my computer and on my phone so that I could really saturate my brain with the subject matter.”

On Finding and Photographing Models for Passion Projects

The first Hopper painting that Tuschman recreated was Hotel by a Railroad (1952), which shows a middle-aged man smoking a cigarette by a window while a woman reads in a chair next to him. Tuschman chose the image because, in his early 50s himself, he could relate to the male subject of the painting. In fact, Tuschman served at the male model in all of the resulting images in the series.  

[Read: Conceptual Portrait Photographer Richard Tuschman Reveals Magic Behind New Series]

Tuschman’s first recreations of Hopper paintings involved a lot of work in terms of adding texture and changing colors. As he got more used to the process—which involved creating a miniature set, photographing it using light sourced from a speed light or strobe, and then collaging an image of human models into the scene using Photoshop—he made fewer changes in post-production. He has to slightly blur the human figures, otherwise they look too sharp in comparison to the architectural models in the composite imagery.   

Tuschman used two female models for the Hopper series. He often searches for models on Model Mayhem. When he hires them, he pays them up front and has them sign a contract that does not include a share of royalties. He generally photographed the models in front of a gray background using a single speed light located around 10 feet directly in front of them.  

Tuschman captured hundreds of images of the first models for this series in various poses inspired by Hopper paintings, which he then archived to use as he created the miniature dioramas of the settings. It took him two days to capture the models and two years to finish the photographic series.

Profits from Passion Projects

The Hopper series immediately led to other commissioned work. First, the images were licensed for the covers of numerous novels. A collector saw one of these books, and commissioned Tuschman to make a huge print of the image used on the cover. 

[Read: How to Turn Personal Photo Projects into Paid Work]

The photographic director at Departures magazine saw the Hopper series online, and commissioned Tuschman to create a fashion spread using a dollhouse. “It was maybe the most fun commercial assignment I’ve ever had,” he noted.  

© Richard Tuschman
An image from “Welcome to Her Dollhouse,” a series, commissioned by Departures Magazine. © Richard Tuschman

Tuschman also showed the photographic series in a gallery exhibition, although he would only recommend taking a similar path if showing in a gallery setting is your passion. “The artist is expected to cover the cost of framing and printing, and often the artist has to split the cost of transportation,” he explained. “Unless you sell a lot of prints, it’s very expensive.”  

[Read: What Makes Fine-Art Photography Stand Out?]

A print of the Hopper series in a private collection did lead, however, to one of Tuschman’s largest commissions to date. A branding agent saw one of the prints from the series and hired Tuschman to create a series of photo montages for the recently rebranded Park MGM hotel in Las Vegas. The montages pay homage to the style of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884) by Georges Seurat, and they feature Tuschman’s daughter as well as many of the artist’s friends.

How to Get Your Passion Project Seen by the Photo Industry 

If you are in a position where you want to get your personal work out to a wider audience, Tuschman recommended reaching out to photographic organizations in your area (like the Women’s Photo Alliance,  Lenscratch and LensCulture) and entering your work into a photo competition or a portfolio review (such as FotoFest, PhotoNOLA and PhotoLucida, where he made three strong gallery contacts when showing his work at a competition).   

If you’d like to submit an idea for a project to a group of people you want to photograph, Tuschman recommends creating a mood board and some sample images that you can show to get people enthusiastic about your work.   

While no one wants to turn down paid work, he learned from experience not to neglect his personal work. “It’s really hard,” he said about making time for it all. “But ultimately, it’s worth it.”   

See Our List of Webinar Sessions and Watch Now.

Check out the other free webinars in our Reset series that focus on creative portrait photography:

Creative Portrait Photography: Jason Vinson on Making the Ordinary Look Epic

How Susan Stripling Creates Portraits that Pop

John Gress on Transitioning from Window Light to Flash

Caroline Tran’s Posing Pick-Up Points for Family Portraits