The day after David Heisler graduated college, he accepted a position working as a digital assistant and retoucher for Hollywood photographer, Greg Gorman.
“Every day it was like ‘are you serious? We’re going to do what?’ It was like total bragging rights for all of your friends and it took a lot because you go to college and everyone is like I’m going to get my nine to five job and make $100,000 a year and I was like screw that, I’m going to take off and go to California,” Heisler said. “I left all of my friends behind and they all got married and had kids, and I was off traveling the world and shooting pictures.”
Heisler worked with famous people, making movie posters and setting up shoots every single day. Heisler’s first assignment was a photo shoot with actor Pierce Brosnan. Heisler compared working closely with Gorman to winning the Willy Wonka golden ticket experience, though he mentioned the work is not always glamorous.
Heisler eventually grew disillusioned by the industry in California, and after researching cities that would appreciate the artistry he had to offer, Austin ended up atop the list. He decided the markets in cities like Los Angeles and New York were too saturated with photographers of the same skill set, so instead he decided to help startup companies on the brink of achieving greatness.
Now the owner of his own studio, David Heisler Photography on East Eighth Street since June 2012, Heisler specializes in photographing celebrities, fashion designers and musicians, and does headshots and portraitures.
“I knew coming to Texas was a good idea because they don’t have the flavor and the style of what I offer, which is great because then I can create that here,” Heisler said. “Especially by working with the celebrities that I have, no one has really done that here. It’s not that it makes me look cooler, but people will take my word a little more seriously knowing that I’ve worked with people like that.”
Heisler distinguished himself from his competition through his sense of artistry and understanding of light which allows him to capture the subtleties and quirks in his clients’ personalities. Heisler calls his photoshoots a very personal interaction and attributes his business success to how he uses his outgoing personality to create a welcoming environment.
“You know most people don’t like getting their picture taken, and if you’re not a crazy personality or if you’re not really good with people, then you’re not going to get good pictures,” Heisler said. “I make myself completely vulnerable to them so that they can be very vulnerable to me.”
When Heisler uses his hyper personality as an advantage, he said he can break down every barrier a customer has and is able to get the pictures he needs to get.
Although Heisler said he has and always will shoot alone, he accepts help from his longtime makeup artist, Christie Griffin, who uprooted from California without even visiting Texas when Heisler called asking for her help.
“He’ll go out and have a lunch or a dinner with someone who is a future client, and he really does his research,” Green said. “It’s not just digital photography like snap, snap, snap. He has the shot, and he’s ready to move on. It’s like he makes relations with all of these people that he works with.”
In the past, Heisler has been able to make celebrities feel comfortable using the same approach. He said he always does his homework ahead of time to make the most of his limited time with celebrities.
“I’ll rent their movies. I’ll find out their mannerisms,” Heisler said. “I would do anything I would normally do if I was sitting down and having a coffee meeting to talk about a photoshoot ahead of time with some other client. I’m studying their face. I’m figuring out what they’re comfortable with.”
Ricky Hodge, the owner of Ricky Hodge Salon, has collaborated with Heisler on several advertisement campaigns over the past few months, but what attracts him the most to the photographer is his ability to add life to a photoshoot. Hodge said he yells and screams with the best intentions to create the most unique and comfortable environment.
“If you look at my ad that we did, we took a guy and made him into a girl. It’s a very androgynous look,” Hodge said. “You rarely see it done even on a national level, and we brought that to life in his studio.”
Even though he’s spent most of his photography career shooting celebrities, Hodge said Heisler is the most laid-back guy he knows and has always cared more about the people he shoots than the money he makes.
“I was never afraid to challenge myself with photography,” Heisler said. “I had a lot of friends who told me that I would never make any money doing it and that it was kind of gay to be an artist and that it wasn’t a cool thing to do. I don’t do any of this to be cool. I don’t need to be a cool guy. I’m kind of a nerdy dork who just likes to have fun and tries to inspire and motivate people about life.”