So what do we have here? A super young, super talented photographer named Dixie Dixon. She’s been putting in some great work, kicking ass and taking names. Somewhere along the line, Magpul chose her to shoot their annual calendar. A world traveler who is seeking the ultimate spur of the moment thrill ride in photography, Dixie really delivered the goods on this one for the manufacturer of high grade weapons accessories (and iPhone cases) with a decidedly elevated style that sets this shoot apart from your typical girly calendar. Somehow, some way, she avoided cheesiness, which is usually near impossible when you’ve got beautiful women posing with guns. Check out the interview below!
Hi Dixie! Tell me your story from the beginning. When did you start taking pictures and at what point did you realize this was something you could do professionally?
Hi ya Stephen, beautiful photographs have always captivated me beyond measure. Since a young age I remember getting lost in books and magazines. But not in their words, only in their images… and in these images I literally saw a world of dreams! The text was always an afterthought to me because, as cliché as it sounds, “a picture truly is worth a thousand words.” You can convey an entire story in a single still image. I became deeply engaged in photography, specifically fashion/commercial photography. The summer after my sophomore year of college I was studying abroad in London with a world-renowned fashion photographer. There I learned how to “see” the world in a different way and I became enthralled at the idea of creating beauty within the lens. This idea of having the opportunity to bring your own visions to life in a single or series of pictures has captured my imagination and turned it into a full-time passion of making images with soul!
Where did you go to school? Were you always planning to study photography?
Most definitely–I went to TCU and studied Business Entrepreneurship even though I knew I ultimately wanted to be a photographer. I thought this would help me figure out a way to make a business out of my passion.
You have traveled all over the world, when did you know that you wanted to explore our planet like that?
I guess you could say that I always thought that as a photographer, it’s our job to explore and see the world at a different level. Filling your mind with inspiration and travel is one of the best ways to do that! You really figure out who you are as a person when you travel; it’s an adventure being submerged into other cultures and environments. The light is completely unique in each destination and I love finding and capturing that. So anytime I have the opportunity to travel for a shoot, I am there!
How did that experience of seeing many different places shape your worldview?
I think it taught me how to operate in the present moment… I am completely in my element when I am shooting or traveling. It’s a rush of energy that I can’t quite describe, but every photographer or person who pursues their passion has experienced it. I am happiest when I’m exploring the world and photographing people within it–and the truth is, the more I can be present, the more I enjoy those fleeting moments. It just makes me crave more; there is so much history I have yet to see and photograph.
Did that change your approach to photography in any way?
For sure, I think it made me think about production in a whole different way. It makes you realize the more pre-production you put into a shoot, the better the images will turn out. When I first worked with a huge crew, I was shooting in Miami for a TV show and I was able to see how so many elements have to come together to make a large production happen. It opened my eyes on how to plan effectively–to know to arrive at the very least a couple days before the shoot to scout the location, to get location releases weeks beforehand, book talent, hair, makeup, wardrobe, etc. That way you don’t have to worry about any of those things when you’re shooting, and you’re able to get in your zone and be present with your subject.
As we can see in your Magpul calendar, there is a side to your photography that is a little dangerous or even bad ass. Is that something you enjoy playing with?
Haha, thanks! Photography for me has always been a little “dangerous” and I enjoy that aspect of it. And by “dangerous”, I mean that I am a bit of an introvert by nature so photography has been a way for me to live on the edge through my images. I love making my subjects into icons and super heroes or heroines. We all have the capacity to be super heroes of our lives, so it’s fun bringing that to life in an image. And with the Magpul shoot, we had the opportunity to do just that.
How do you approach shoots like this–do you have a clear idea of your vision or do you improvise more?
With this shoot, we had to shoot 13 different locations in 3 twelve-hour days with 6 different models. So the entire production had to be extremely well thought out with lots of tech and location scouting involved. We put together a dream team of creative people to pull it off. The art director and producer on this were top-notch and we met a lot before the actual shoot to bounce off ideas. Magpul pretty much gave us creative freedom under a “high fashion” guideline. They didn’t want your typical girly calendar–they wanted something unique and they wanted every shot to be a completely different theme/location. It was pretty challenging to nail down all the locations because we had to choose spots that were relatively close to one another in order to get all the shots in while hauling a huge crew and massive gear. It took about 2 hours to set up the lighting and gear as well as get each model ready in hair, makeup and wardrobe. The setup is always the longest; by the time everything is ready to go, it usually only takes me about 15-20 minutes to get the shot. It’s a bit of a rush and I love that! So to answer your question, there was not a ton of improvising going on in these shoots. I like to have everything dialed so I can focus on my connection with the model. The only improvising comes when working with the talent, trying to get the right mood out of them for the image.
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What is different about a calendar shoot as opposed to the other kinds of work you do?
Advertising work like this is much more thought out–shot by shot–while portrait, swim and editorial work is a little more lax. When I shoot portraits or swimwear, I may not have an exact shot list in mind, just a basic concept or theme to create, though I have found that having guidelines can actually be liberating for creativity. Sometimes when you can do anything, it’s hard to decide which direction to go. I am a bit of a creative control freak so even if we don’t have a set shot list, I still create my own.
Is there a specific environment or vibe you try to establish on set?
Ohhhhh yeah! This is a huge one for me… I am all about good energy on set. And as cliché as it sounds, it makes all the difference in the world. If everyone is enthusiastic and on the same page creatively, that energy is contagious and we’ll turn out some awesome images. You can instantly see how a subject is feeling by the look in their eyes, so I work extremely hard to control the mood on my set with music, food and open-minded conversation. That way the subject feels at ease to express themselves without being judged… In some sense, they are giving you a glimpse into their soul and their personal space, so you have to be mindful and respectful of that.
You’re pretty young in a very competitive field. Are there any challenges that come with that?
Ha, that’s a good question! I’ve never looked at it as being a hurdle so I haven’t honestly noticed any. I think when you’re confident in your craft and professional in the way you work, people respond to that.
You can purchase the Magpul calendar here.