Jesse David Green is a photographer based in beautiful Detroit, Michigan. He tells stories of makers, business owners, and couples in love in Detroit, Northern Michigan, and around the country. Read on below for a wonderful interview where Jesse shares more about himself and his creative process. In addition to photographing a great feature on Douglas and Co. Detroit for Issue 4, Jesse had an incredible Detroit City Guide in Issue 5 and that issue's cover. This past weekend he took over our Instagram account, showcasing the immense love he has for Detroit. We are now even more eager for a visit!
Shortly thereafter I had some older friends graduating high school, so the natural progression once I somewhat knew how to use the camera was to take their senior pictures. I wised up to the “business” end of things pretty quick, and had a portfolio and website going pretty early on. Fast forward just one year, and a family friend that was getting married and had a pretty low budget essentially said “Hey, we’re getting married and don’t have a ton of money, you seem like you know what you’re doing with a camera, want to shoot it?” And without any prior experience at weddings; no second shooting or assisting or even paying attention to a photographer at a wedding, I did it. I did that one wedding in October at age 16, did five weddings the year after that, and twenty-five weddings the year after that. By age 17, I was full-time in Wedding and Portrait photography (cost of living and risk isn’t too high when you’re still in high school and living at home), and I haven’t looked back since!
When did you first get into photography?
I first got into photography back when I was 14 or 15. It kind of came out of nowhere and surprised me. It seems like my entire life I had never found MY thing prior to that. I was slightly above average in school, I could semi-hold my own in sports, but I didn’t have anything that I was great at and that made me feel like I had found my passion or my way in life. All of the sudden, on family trips I found myself constantly with my parents' point and shoot camera in my hands. Taking macro photos of flowers, and my dogs nose, and my family and the sights that we saw and it just started making sense to me. Turns out, my Dad had been a bit of a hobby photographer in his younger years and still had all of his film gear hiding in the closet. We actually ended up selling that old film gear and bought my first DSLR at age 15 and I started going to town with my little Canon Rebel XS.
What does your creative process entail?
I wouldn’t say I have a hard and fast creative process per se. I’m more of a creature of my environment. I’m extremely inspired (or uninspired) by my surroundings and really feel like I do my best work (whether shooting or editing) when I feel like I’m surrounded by a space or people that get me excited creatively. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few really cool offices in the last couple of years (an old industrial loft building on Detroit’s riverfront for a few years, then a loft apartment/office in New Center Detroit for another year or so, and now for the last year I’ve been sharing space with some friends at Lunar North and Detroit Lives! And it’s been the absolute best fit yet). Rather than being by myself in a really cool office, now I get to sit high-atop Detroit’s Art Deco gem, the Penobscot building in a ridiculously gorgeous space with some amazing and ridiculously talented dudes. We’ve got beer and sparkling water on tap, ping pong until your arm falls off, and enough creative brains to bounce ideas off of until the sun goes down. It’s been amazing.
For weddings and portrait sessions, my creative process is on the fly. A product of the light and environment that I’m given in those situations. For editorial and commercial shoots, there’s a bit more pre-planning that goes into it sometimes. Sometimes it means storyboards and actual mapping out of what I’m looking to accomplish, sometimes its putting my head together with my wife who is so great at pulling ideas out of her hat that I would’ve never thought of, and then helping me figure out how the heck to implement them.
All that to say, with an increased workload up here, we were renting hotels and Airbnb’s like crazy, and then had a serendipitous story (which I’ll spare the details of in my already long answers) about our little cottage we ended up finding on the West Bay, and the rest is history.Now we’re in Traverse City 1-2 weeks a month, and in Detroit the rest of the time. We have two amazing communities we get to be a part of, and I have incredible projects I get to shoot in both places so it's literally the best-case scenario that we couldn’t be happier with. Traverse City has everything under the sun we could want to “escape” Detroit. Incredible nature, Lake Michigan, sand dunes, kayaking and swimming, and wineries; but then it also has a perfect downtown with world-class restaurants, coffee, and activities for the kids. We’re mildly obsessed and might shed a tear or two every time we leave to go back downstate.
How does the Midwest impact your work?
The Midwest is everything to my work. It’s home. It’s the light and sight and sounds of the forest and the lakes and rivers and people here. The thought has truly never crossed my mind to live anywhere but here. We just feel like we have everything we need right in our backyard, and four beautiful and perfectly different seasons. I’ve shot all over the place and am so inspired by travel and new experiences, but I can’t imagine coming home to anywhere else but here. Not to mention, not getting lost in the sea of photographers on the coasts has its advantages to being able to stand out and work on some really exciting projects.
Any advice for aspiring photographers?
Shoot. A ton. Like, shoot a ton and then shoot a lot more than that. I haven’t taken a photography class in my life. I got thrown into wedding photography before I had even had a chance to think twice about it. I’ve learned everything I’ve learned as I’ve gone, and I’ve shot more frames than I can begin to fathom. My work still isn’t where I want it to be, I don’t know that it ever will be; but that’s the drive that keeps you going. Surround yourself with an amazing community of photographers. They’re some of the coolest bunch out there and so gracious with their time and knowledge. A couple of photography Facebook groups I’m in have quite literally changed my life and my work and given me friends all across the country that have provided referrals, advice, and a place to commiserate about the ups and downs of the job. But then when you’re done with that stuff, just make sure you go shoot some more.
What inspires you?
First and foremost, my family. That sounds really cheesy, but any amount of “success” or recognition or anything else I’ve gotten for my work, stems from my drive to work my butt off to give them as amazing of a life as I can. I want my kids to see that you can chase after your passion and turn it into your job and that there doesn’t need to be a status quo. Spending time exploring and adventuring with them and my lovely wife in between the work is about the best it gets. Past that though, it’s people in general. I actually have an extremely hard time being inspired by imagery that doesn’t involve humans or a human touch in some way. Landscape photography doesn’t do it for me, interiors are even tough sometimes (though I work with some incredible home builders and designers and I can find some rad inspiration within their spaces). But if there’s a couple in love, or a maker, or any other awesome human in my frame, I’m usually inspired.
Where’s your favorite place to unwind?
My place to unwind is on my kayak somewhere out in Grand Traverse Bay. The water is crystal clear, you can’t hear a sound except your paddle running through the water, and if you keep your eyes peeled you just might see a bald eagle fly overhead. It’s the one time of my day or week that I’m not on my phone, hanging with the kids, or driving to another shoot; and it is the epitome of serenity.
You split your time between Detroit + Traverse City — what made you choose these cities as places to start your business? How do you split your time between the two?
The split between Detroit and Traverse City has been a really fun development in our lives in the last couple of years. My wife and I both grew up in Metro Detroit, and then about six years ago just prior to us getting married, I moved my business to Detroit to that first office on the riverfront. It was the single best move I ever made. The people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the work I’ve done have almost all come back to Detroit. The people there are my favorite people on Earth, every single corner is inspiring, and being in the thick of the crazy comeback-kid story we’re creating right now is incredible. About four years ago though, I found myself doing more and more weddings in Northern Michigan (which I was absolutely obsessed with). The magic of Northern Michigan is hard to describe, but it's a lifestyle for us Michiganders (and the surrounding states). Going “Up North” is a thing, and making that your destination wedding just keeps getting bigger and bigger by the year.