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How Jacob Webster Became Your Favorite Celebrity's Favorite Photographer

You may not be familiar with the name Jacob Webster, but you have definitely seen his distinctive work. Webster is a self-taught photographer and creative director from Silver Spring, Maryland. He specializes in the conceptualization and fulfillment of beauty and fashion-centric photography. Starting his photography career at just thirteen years old and now shooting cultural icons like KeKe Palmer, Chloe Bailey, Megan Fox, and Lori Harvey, Webster epitomizes creativity, authenticity, and resilience. We had the opportunity to sit down with Webster and discuss his career journey, influences, and full-circle moments.

How did your hometown inspire you as a creative?

Silver Spring, Maryland, inspired me mostly because when I started photography at thirteen years old, I noticed that my hometown had a lot of talent and a lot of beautiful faces. So I always said from the jump that I wanted to create the it-girl instead of finding the it-girl. At that time, no one in Maryland was taking pictures or modeling besides the modeling troupes, which the DMV is known for. If you aren't familiar with modeling troupes, it's basically runway modeling on a whole different level because they're infused with ballroom and culture. A lot of my friends were doing that. However, no one was really doing print. So, after school, I would grab the models from the troupes and do shoots. I've always been good at networking and connecting dots since I was younger. I remember I had a friend who always had her makeup and hair done, so I would have her do the models' hair and makeup for the shoots. I had another friend who was super stylish, so I had her style the shoots. I don't even know how we had the time to do this at school! But, we would literally plan it on FaceTime the night before and say like, "Bring this tomorrow. Wear that tomorrow." So being from Maryland really just inspired me to create my own story and lean into the idea of creating the life that you want. Maryland isn't known for creativity; it's known for government work and politics. But I still was able to foster creativity in that space.

What was the beginning of your career like?

I remember there were some prominent fashion photographers and creatives that I would watch and think, "Wow, they're really making strides." I'd see them go up to New York and work on cool projects. I remember I would even reach out to some of them about working with or learning from them, and I would not get responses or hear many "no's." So I told myself I would make my own name for myself. I then spent the following years grinding and creating my own work. Like for a few years, my drive definitely came from the idea that I needed to get back at everyone who closed the door on me. But now, years later, I stay away from that. I tell myself that I no longer want to create out of spite. Nowadays, I don't think about anyone else when I create. I just think about what I'm currently working on and how I can move myself forward.

Talk about being self-taught and what that journey looked like. What was it like navigating industry politics and learning photography technicalities independently?

On the technical side, it was hard to navigate because I had no professional training. There are still a lot of things that I don't know. A lot of technical things that I've learned have been by trial and error. I've had to just play around with the camera and learn what styles work best for me. I've used YouTube to learn about different ways to edit. I'm such a hands-on person in terms of learning. But, a lot of being self-taught is mental. I have had to exercise putting my pride aside and remind myself always to be a student in the game. I remember last year when I was doing a shoot with SZA for Complex Magazine. That was the first time I worked with a digital tech. They also had a first assistant, a second assistant, and a lighting crew. Basically, it was my first time working on such a big-scale project. I remember telling the digital tech, "Hey, I haven't done this before." I wasn't scared to say that. I'm always open to speaking up and creating that space to learn. I remember she said to me, "Wow, no one has ever said that to me before, and I appreciate you communicating that. I have so much more respect for you. They chose you to shoot this for a reason. There is a reason that you are here." I always rather just put it out there and speak up. I remember someone else on set was way older than me and has worked on crazy Vogue shoots back in the day, and he taught me a ton of stuff too. So I would say that a huge part of being self-taught is mental and learning how to put your pride aside and ask for help.

What photographers or other forms of artists inspire you and your work?

Ooooh. I have a few favorites! A lot of the photographers who inspire me are from the early 2000s. So like David LaChapelle is one of my all-time favorite photographers. Also Markus Klinko, Patrick Demarchelier, Richard Avedon, Peter Lindbergh, and Mario Testino. Those big photographers inspire me, and I reference many of them in my work. I actually used to try to stay away from referencing other creatives. But I remember one time, Law Roach said to "always reference." He said that a lot of the work he does with Zendaya is referencing a fashion moment or something in the culture. So now, I try always to reference when I create.

Talk about the first shoot when you realized you were the one. When did it all click?

I did this shoot in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. It was this cool shoot with big hair. I remember thinking, then and there, "Okay, we're in the middle of the pandemic, and I'm still creating." The model was my friend, and she did her own makeup. My sister did her hair. We drove to Philly to do the shoot. It was just the three of us, and we were still creating. That spoke to our hunger. We were so hungry that even the world being shut down wouldn't stop us from creating. I kept creating during the pandemic, and the shoots started going viral. People were recreating them even. I remember being like if this is happening during the pandemic, imagine what I can do when the world opens back up.

What shoots have been your favorite so far?

As of recently, probably the KeKe Palmer shoot. I love it because I've been trying to work with her for years. I've taken her photos out and about before and been in contact, but we hadn't done something on that scale. I think it was significant when I think about God's timing because our first shoot ended up being the shoot she did with her son. It's amazing how she trusted me for that, and I think that the way it reached everyone and how grand the production was is so significant. God waited until it was the right moment for us to really work together.

Let's have some fun — who would it be if you could shoot anyone in the world, dead or alive?

Alive would be Zendaya or Rihanna. But I do want it to be a real shoot, not a paparazzi shoot. Dead would be Whitney Houston! Oh my gosh. Everyone in the industry who meets me says, "If Whitney were alive, you guys would have worked together!" I would have loved that.

How do you measure growth in photography and creative direction?

I measure growth in storytelling and scaling. Whenever I'm bored, I look at my page and see the progression in visual storytelling. Each shoot has its own story. If you look at shoots I've done, like the one with Marsai and Coco, you can really see the full stories being told. When you look at the cohesion, colors, and props, you can see such a quality in my current work that I did not have years ago. Even things like now, I have three assistants on set instead of just one. It ups the quality. It makes a huge difference.

To close us out, what advice would you give to someone young and eager to start their career in photography or creative direction?

Well, a big part of this is that everyone's story will be different, so I want to preface it with that. But, something I will say is that location does matter because of networking and connections. When I moved to LA, it was like my career was on crack. There were so many more opportunities and resources. Another piece of advice would be to be consistent. Even if you aren't living in a creative hub like LA, New York, or Atlanta, keep creating and building your creative community. Create your own motion.

Follow Jacob on Instagram @jpwphoto to keep up with his work.


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