If I were a little tipsy (which I might just be) and had to describe Steve Cowell to someone: I’d say, “his heart's as big as his beard”. And that is saying somethin’ for a guy who has a beard sponsor. No, seriously, he has a beard sponsor.
I’ll save you one of those heart-felt, loooooong instagram posts singing his praises (you know what I’m talking about, we’ve all written them or have been tempted to) and say he’s one of the most genuine and dedicated individuals I’ve met in this industry. And I should know, I’ve interviewed him like 6 times for this feature (which is like 50 years in normal small talk years). Let’s just say we can all take a few pages out his book. I sure did.
I’ll SET THE SCENE:
I walk into this little farm to table, craft beer, hand pressed, cold brew coffee, grass fed burger, Mac & cheese joint in Costa Mesa (man these #Yuccie’s love their refurbished wood) and there’s Steve, who may or may not have been teaching his daughter August how to take a selfie.
Instantly I know this is going to be a good one.
You ready Steve?
Let's do this.
If your buddies were a little tipsy, how would they describe you?
'Oh he's a good guy...like he has a rad beard and stuff and is really tall.’
What was 10 year old Steve like, besides a Momma's Boy?
Wait a minute…. Momma’s boy? Did you speak with my mom?
Sorry Steve, I keep my sources confidential. But I’m sure if I spoke with Donna I would have gotten a lot more than Momma’s Boy :)
Oh boy. Definitely active, definitely competitive, and at least 3 sets of stitches on my head that entire year.
And how do you take your coffee?
Black and bold
Hmmmmm, you know what they say...
Cat Person or Dog Person?
Definitely dog. We have a big great dane mix named Jethro. He is our gentle giant.
Kinda like his dad?
Hah, maybe. Accept when I’m playing ping pong. I am a traditional hammer grip because that is what I deliver...the hammer.
Speaking of Table Tennis, what is it like to be a founding member of a Secret Table Tennis Society?
I think the appropriate response to this is..."What are you talking about?"
There it is, the shroud of secrecy. The members of the Back Bay Barn Preservation of Table Tennis Society would be proud of you.
Is there any one instagrammer you absolutely love seeing in your feed?
I am pretty confident I love every photo from @ThisWildIdea
That’s a solid pick. Theron Humphrey if you’re out there, I would loooove an interview.
RIGHT!?! That would be incredible.
Favorite movie line?
"Utah, get me two!" - Point Break
Oh you’re goooood. Spoken like a true California boy.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
How exactly would you define your fashion style?
I honestly can't really tell you if I have a style, but if I had to describe what I normally wear: "Surpster" (surfer + hipster) even though I am neither.
Wow! Tommy Bahama loves you right now.
And that beard….. what an accomplishment. When did you start growing it, 1997?
HA! More like October of 2013
What’s the upkeep like? Do you have a go to beard cream?
Currently I am using all products from Zeus Beards (oil, shampoo, conditioner) and their stuff is awesome! (www.zeusbeard.com).
You’re like a walking ad campaign.
Well, It’s funny you should mention that, because they did feature me on their beard blog: http://www.zeusbeardblog.com/steve-cowell/
Ok, ok, our readers don’t love shameless plugs, but you’re basically like what Beyonce is to Pepsi for Zeus Beard.
Let’s just say the notoriety hasn’t gone to my head.
SO TELL ME ABOUT THIS PHOTO:
It has gotten a ton of attention over the past year. Hasn’t it?
Well for me it has.
Steve, pat yourself on the back brother, I think any photographer would love the publicity this one has gotten.
As an artist, what does it feel to see one of your pieces get so much attention?
It's humbling and also validating of my goal in getting into this business from the start...I set out to capture those authentic, timeless moments that truly represent the clients and the beauty of marriage. The pic of Jett and Ryan's always going to be one of my favorites, not because it's the most artistic or mind-blowing...but because of the emotion it conveys.
So, was the shot something you planned? And if so, where did you get the idea?
The talented Jesi Haack came up with the idea of the confetti, I just made sure me and my assistant were ready for it.
Oh jeez. Of course it was Jesi’s idea. She literally poops creativity.
This may sound ridiculous, but how did you set this shot up? (I'm assuming there's no second takes)
This shot was all about focus. Confetti is tough because with autofocus, your camera wants to automatically go towards the closest subject to the camera, so there has to be an intentional effort to ensure that the bride and groom are in focus the entire time. The other challenge (I suppose) is making sure that you also properly frame the picture to get the surrounding environment as well. My assistant and I just started in the middle of the aisle and walked backward while shooting, one of us with a more wide angle lens and the other shooting a little tighter.
AND TELL ME ABOUT THIS PHOTO:
It’s really what inspired me to keep taking photos. I did a photojournalism project on my grandparents in college (she was suffering from advanced Alzheimer's and he had congenital heart failure and severe hand arthritis). They are still my favorite pictures I have ever taken because of the raw emotion and how clearly it showed the love my grandpa had for her.
That’s incredible man
What was the hardest part about starting out as a professional photographer?
Figuring out and defining your style without attempting to copy those photographers whose style you love.
And knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself then?
Don't be afraid...believe in what you were created to create.
In your work-life now, are you at all insecure about anything?
Try and find me one creative out there that doesn't experience some sort of insecurity about their work-life and I will give you $1 million. Of course...Every time I turn over completed photos to a client I'm worried they won't like them as much as I do. Or every time I send a proposal I battle feelings of wondering if the client won't think I'm worth what I charge...the list goes on. But I also find that these insecurities are what drive me to be better and in no way overshadow my confidence in my ability to do my job well.
And what’s the feeling you want people to have when seeing your photographs?
Timeless nostalgia, a feeling for who the subject of the photograph is, and the occasional "wow" response is always welcomed.
So you and Amber have been together 15 years! Where did you take her on your first date?
Classy meal at Taco Bell (I paid) and a movie (Gone in 60 Seconds).
That is one lucky girl. Please tell me you still have that hat.
What's her favorite guilty pleasure?
She may kill me for this one, but I regularly see recordings of 'Real Housewives' on the DVR...then they magically disappear when I get back from work.
What do you do that just drives her up the wall?
Steal the covers at night, snore, eat her leftovers...probably a ton more but these are the ones I do most often.
Come on Steeeve. I’m sure you’re a saint :)
2015 has been a big year for the Cowells.
Yes it has.
You’re a new dad. Has the process of having a new baby changed how you view and approach your work?
Absolutely! Suddenly my job is much more important to me. Not in the sense of wanting fame or notoriety...but the fact that what I do represents the ability for me to take care of my growing family. If anything, my baby girl (and another one on the way) fills me with more passion to push myself to create better images and continue to work to take my brand to new levels. I still wake up having to pinch myself that I get to take photos for a living.
She’s beautiful by the way.
Thank you. We are so blessed.
[To you the reader] Steve and Amber’s adoption of August is such an incredible story. One we we can all learn from. There’s no way I could do it justice, so I’m just going to point you to Steve’s blog: http://www.cowelladoption.com/
Words of caution: bring a tissue, because there will be tears of joy.
Alright Steve: This is the popcorn game, so who should we interview next?
STEVE: I’m going to cheat a little, if you don’t mind.
It’s your world Steve.
Ask Billy about his stint as a bass player in a heavy metal band. He may or may not have toured with Katy Perry as well.
Ask Braedon, "how many cameras do you actually own?"
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST
Tell me a little bit about each of your top three events/shoots you chose below:
First & foremost, there was the Mid-century modern, sparkly love-fest, dance party... When the majority of the guests and vendors end up in the pool at the end of the night...you know it's a good one. It had an epic team of vendors and clients that completely trusted all of us to do our best work.
Second, was the Modern, Chic San Francisco Wedding... I loved this one not only because it was up in San Fran, but because the couple had a truly unique and fun style. They are both artists and had been together 11 years leading up to their wedding.
Third, was the Lady of the River styled shoot... that the incredibly talented Rachael Lunghi from Lace & Likes / Siren Floral and the rad girls of Witty Rentals styled. And man was it incredible! It definitely pushed me out of my "wedding box" creatively and totally forced me to embrace a moody and more ethereal look for my photos.
MY TAKE AWAY
I’ve always found a calming presence with people who have thrown themselves into what they love and Steve is no different. Whether it is photography, his family, faith or table tennis he’s doing what he is meant to do. No wonder couples trust him to document one of the most important days of their lives. I sure would.
Annd even though he says there is no relation to one of my favorite actors (Ehrlich Bachman, star of HBO’s hit series, Silicon Valley), I’m still a huge fan.