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September 22, 2019Cart

Business

by Fairfield County Business Journal
by FCBJ

Through a lens sharply: Seth Block’s photographic odyssey

Seth Block. Photo by Phil Hall

Seth Block’s full-time career as a photographer is relatively recent, but it’s been a long time in the making.

“As a business, it started six or seven years ago,” he said, referring to his Fairfield-based Seth Block Photography. “But I’ve been taking pictures since I was 10 years old, so it goes back 50 years. I’ve always taken tons of pictures. When I was in the Navy, I was the unofficial ship’s photographer. I’ve also been collecting Nikon camera equipment for a long time. I took a couple of photography courses in college — and it was one of the courses where I got an A.”

Despite his love of photography, Block pointed his career path in a different direction. “I spent 24 years in the textile industry,” he continued. “I started as a clerk and worked my way up to president. I retired out of that business by choice and decided to do some consulting.”

Yet the appeal of the camera never abated, and Block began to seek out work as an event photographer. A serendipitous meeting with a cash-strapped client redirected him back into his original passion.

“There was a family having a life event. Someone recommended her to me,” he recalled. “I spoke to them. They could not afford the thousands of dollars that another photographer quoted. So, I said, ‘What’s your budget?’ And she told me what her budget was and I said, ‘That’s fine.’ They had a great party and the pictures were great.”

Thanks to word-of-mouth marketing, Block gained a reputation for being effective in both a cost and results consideration.

“People started saying, ‘This guy’s work is unbelievable and he doesn’t gouge you,’ ” he added. “I don’t have a traditional studio and associated overhead, and that’s one of the reasons why I am able to do that. I’m not trying to undercut anybody, but I am trying to do something that’s right and fair.”

Seth Block Photography spans a gamut of assignments, ranging from headshots to events, human and pet portraiture. He has also been called on to photograph valuables for estate planning, insurance purposes and photo restoration projects.

Block added that he has been hired for architectural projects. “That’s what interests me: how do you take something that looks benign and make it look interesting?” he said.

The challenge of capturing people on camera is always at hand. “I’m not really big into posed pictures,” he said. “Some people are uncomfortable being photographed, so there is a tendency to get what looks like a plastic smile — it just doesn’t look good. I do a lot of candid shots, capturing moments and people communicating with each other.”

Block also avoids calling attention to himself during his event shoots in order to, as he puts it, “blend in” with his environment. “It’s akin to listening to good music — you’re not listening to the equipment. You’re listening to the music,” he said. “You shouldn’t see the photographer.”

An avid kayaker and cyclist, Block also brings his camera when he is pursuing his outdoor sports. He has sold prints of his nature photography, with a shot taken on a Thimble Islands trip of what he described as a “bashful bunny” being among his most popular.

“About a dozen people have that because they really love that picture,” he said.

Block happily recalled his childhood when he would take pictures on film and send them off in mailers to be developed by a processing lab. He admitted being a late embracer of digital photography, holding back from buying the new technology until he felt all the kinks were ironed out. In his ideal world, Block advocated the union of today’s digital cameras with the specialized Nikon lenses from the 1980s and 1990s when many were hand-ground and polished by artisans.

“Pro digital cameras … are machines,” he said. “The complexity is enormous. The manual I have for one of my cameras is 1,100 pages long. But if you have these modern cameras with the older lenses, you’re getting the best glass with the most complex machine. This combination brings out every nuance that the glass can bring you.”

When he’s not taking photographs, Block also provides photo restoration services and one-on-one instructions for aspiring shutterbugs. But if there is one thing that intrigues Block, it is the phenomenon that anyone with a smartphone can be a photographer.

“I’ve been to events where there are no photographers. There are just people with their phones,” he lamented. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, has the world really changed that much?’ ”