Generally, he works alone unless it’s a big assignment requiring hair and makeup people, along with assistants to help set up. While it’s certainly easier to have a staff that can lighten his load, Stoecklein has found that using fewer people equals a better shooting experience (though he acknowledges some of his best photographs have come from suggestions made by longtime assistants).
“I’m trying to get to know who I’m shooting, and if others are there, they naturally want to do that, too. But any time that gets taken away from me takes away from the time I have to be intimate with my subject,” he explains. “So it’s just easier to go in with my bag of gear, without assistants, and be alone with the subject.”
Stoecklein has photographed such famous faces as Lyle Lovett, Robert Redford and George Strait. Although it makes sense that a celebrity would have an easier time in front of the camera than someone who doesn’t live in the limelight, that isn’t always the case.
“Some people who you may think would be comfortable being photographed, aren’t. They may even be more uncomfortable because they have higher expectations,” he explains. “People are just sensitive, especially famous people. My deal is to try to find that sensitivity and get them comfortable, especially if they don’t know me or my reputation.”
Stoecklein, who is a Canon Explorer of Light, shoots digital, and the LCD provides him with a great tool for loosening up people who have difficulty relaxing in front of the camera. In a particularly tough shoot with actor Michael Keaton, after taking a series of shots, Stoecklein would show him the images on the camera’s LCD, and Keaton would tell him what he liked or disliked. He used the same approach when he photographed country music singer George Strait, who also wasn’t so fond of having his picture taken.
“[Keaton’s and Strait’s] agents told me that I’d spent more time with them than any other photographer ever had. I got all of these great candid shots,” he says. “Because I could show them the pictures, it created a different rapport. That’s where digital is really nice, mainly because they can see what’s going on.”
Stoecklein began his career as a professional photographer taking lifestyle shots of skiing, fishing, hiking and biking. He landed assignments for companies like Coca-Cola, SKI Magazine, L.L. Bean, Reebok, Timberland and Scientific Anglers. It wasn’t long before he turned his lens on his neighbors living on the great ranches out West. His fascination with the ranching heritage of the American West led him to become friends with, and later photograph, the men and women still living the cowboy lifestyle.