In a "Klass" of his own

Andrew Klass is a craft photographer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a eclectic, rockstar-cool style, Taking a couple minutes from his busy schedule, he spoke with me about his history, techniques, influences, and what fulfills him as an artist.

Can you tell me about your background and history as a photographer?

It was always something I dabbled in or loved to do, but it wasn’t a focus of my work. I did study it in high school and college. I always leaned towards fine arts and handmade work. Paper, scratchboard and screen printing. I never focused that much on it. More then just for fun or a side thing. Another form of visual creation. It has been rather recent. It has been rather quick. A lot of people need photography for so many different reasons.

It helped that I studied, basically my entire life, other forms of visual communication and other forms of artistry. It all comes together…full circle where you already know how to set up a shot. You already know how to compose an image because you have already studied painting or drawing. You understand how composition works.

Is your process different between handmade work and photography?

Composition is pretty similar. Doing what is best for the image within the frame you have. The paper portraiture is extensive work at both ends.

Photography, at least digital photography, its all prep work then it takes a second and you have the image. I feel like, in my other work, it is rather extensive at both ends. Its interesting because its fun to explore the different ways of creating things visually. I enjoyed moving into photography with that.

Photography by Andrew Klass

Do you remember the first photography image you captured?

I think it actually was a latte. Which is kind of weird. No one really thinks of like “Oh, I’m getting a drink or I’m getting some food that it is going to be this beautiful thing.” Recently when it comes to dining, plating has become really big. More recently latte art has been. I remember one of the first things I ever photographed, it was a weird contrast, was this abandoned hotel that me and my friend snuck into. We photographed stuff there with old film black and white cameras. Some of the other stuff I did was at a coffee shop with latte art. Its funny, the contrast between those two things. I have been enjoying coffee and latte art for that long.

Has new innovations with technology changed your photographic process?

I think its only changed when it comes to the post production process. One of the things I loved with my handmade stuff was the old school, old fashioned, you working with this material. You forging this thing. I really like the old ways of doing stuff.

When I first studied photography it was all film. I did all the development in the light room and I loved that process. I really try to keep that as old school and bare bones as possible. I don’t want technology in the way. I want this to be still the image and the viewer. I don’t want to much process between those two things.

What do you find more rewarding? The actual process of creating your photo-shoots or the completion?

I love both for different reasons. I would honestly have to say, the most rewarding thing is the reaction of the client or the viewer for the finished product. Like saying “Here! Look at this! What is your opinion?” If they look at it objectively…like yesterday I was doing a shoot for a coffee roasting company in the city. As we are going I was showing stuff off the camera, like here is what we just took. Seeing their reaction “Oh man, that was so cool! Oh I love how you did that!” That is so rewarding. Its not just someone appreciating my art, its someone appreciating what I am doing with their product. How I’m displaying their product to the world. Having them be so excited, as excited as I am about it. It’s so amazing to me.

What kind of equipment do you bring on a shoot?

It depends. Recently I ask “Do I need to bring lights? Do you want to do more visual stuff? What is in the existing environment?” Most of the time it is no lights. Unless it is a studio thing. I like to do a lot of stuff outside the studio more like “in the element” kind of thing. So its mostly natural lighting. I have a backpack that has a tripod on the side, it has 6 different lenses in it. Extra batteries chargers, SD cards…what ever I have that I need with me. I want to make sure I am as prepared as I possibly can be to make sure as I get as much usable work as I can do that day.

What is your favorite photo shoot you have done so far?

I know it is the freshest one, but the one I did yesterday. With a company called HalfWit Coffee Roasters. We just had our first day of shooting yesterday. It was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had. I just worked with two people and their company. We took pictures in their roasting facility. They let me use my creativity. Came up with a core idea and played off of that. All day shooting different ideas all over the city. It was really awesome to have these people trust my intuition, trust my skills, and worked together and brainstormed all day. “Oh what about this, what about that” on the fly. Honestly it was one of the funnest shoots I’ve had in a really long time.

Photography by Andrew Klass

Beverage and food photography has a certain window, a time frame to shoot the best shots. Does that create a certain challenge on your shoots?

It totally does. The main challenges I have, especially when it comes to specialty coffee, between the time the person makes it and the time you take the picture, you have a short window. For it to be as pristine as it should be. The foam develops, it changes. What looked the way it should changes in just a couple of minutes. I have to set up my shots before the product is even there. It’s a real interesting challenge. I found it fun and invigorating.

What direction do you think your life would have headed if you didn’t find art?

Oh man. That’s a great question. I feel like I don’t have a super profound answer. I was never one of those people headed down a dark path. I wasn’t like, you know…addicted to something and art saved my life. I feel like art did save my life, but, I had an amazing family, amazing friends, I was raised super well. It just so happens I was the weird one in my family. I was always weird growing up. I’m into weird stuff, I’m a goofball. I always say the the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate times. I just found art in high school and always appreciated art and I liked to draw when I was a kid. I really found it in high school I had this amazing teacher, he really lit this fire in me for art. I felt like that was huge for me. I really found my purpose and calling with that. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that I have no idea what I would be doing. I feel like I would have just got some sort of random degree and worked some random job in an office or something. I have no idea what I would be without art, as strange as that may sound.

Where do you see your career going in the future?

Man. I don’t know. Since my career is so young compared to others, my whole goal is to be able to sustain myself with pure creative jobs. Using the thing that fulfills me. The thing that I see as my purpose. Just doing that for a living is a dream come true. I don’t need to live some big luxurious lifestyle. I want to just sustain myself. Just do this stuff all day. Yeah, it is work, it is exhausting. There is nothing more fulfilling to me than an amazing long day of shooting. When your handing over the final products to a client and them being thrilled with it. That is what fulfills me as a person, as an artist.

Photography by Andrew Klass

If you were to give someone who was interested in doing product photography or craft beverage photography what would you say?

Honestly my first piece of advice would be, just go shoot stuff. The way I started off doing things was going to cafes ordering a drink, sitting at my table, staging a little thing and shooting it. Just go where ever there’s food. Go to restaurants, take pictures of it. There’s not a whole scene, don’t bring a whole setup, don’t make it a crazy thing. Just bring your camera, in a bag or whatever. Order whatever your having. Set up a nice little table. Take a picture of it. The best thing you can do is have the people who do this for a living make the stuff. Plate the stuff. Pour these drinks. Then you just take this image. Just producing work is the important thing. The more work you produce, the better you get. The more people see it. Just get out there and create stuff. That is the number one way.

For more on Andrew Klass:

Originally published on