Creator Spotlight with Cade Martin

Cade Martin

For this week’s creator spotlight, we are highlighting photographer Cade Martin!

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

My origin story. I definitely didn’t answer “photographer” to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” until I was already an adult. But certainly the seeds were planted earlier. My father, is Professor Emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University and taught in the painting and printmaking department (in the School of the Arts) for 32 years. I grew up in an artistic community in Richmond, VA, surrounded by painters, sculptors and printmakers, and I guess without realizing it, I received my visual education in the everyday of my childhood. I’ve appreciated the way things look and the way they are composed since I was young. My parents dragged me to movies (good movies, bad movies, all movies) from the time I was small, and I internalized a ton from the range of cinematography — before I ever knew the word cinematography. I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 20 years old, when I took that first basic photography course in college. I liked the class enough to take others, though I didn’t initially think of pursuing it as a career.

It’s likely a mix of nature and nurture. Growing up in a part of Richmond that was really rich with art and culture, and with my parents support without pressure, I saw that it was possible to a have a career in the creative fields. I felt supported and empowered to make my own choices and follow my own trajectory, though I think they’d like you to know they would have been just as supportive if I had wanted to be a dentist or psychologist.

I have worked with a lot of great and interesting people over the years. My projects range from editorial projects to corporate portraits to advertising campaigns, I have always loved the variety of what I do.

I am proud of my body of work, it is the adventure that has always driven me – the crawling around, the actual act of making an image, and the promise and intrigue of what I can photograph next.

Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?

Storytelling in everything. For me as the photographer, I don’t rely too heavily on classification as it’s not easy to cement my process. Instead, I make every effort to find the best technique and approach aesthetically for each project. And with that comes the importance of my relationships with my partners in collaboration.

I think to truly create the right image at the right time, you’ve got to be nimble, responsive and open to all possibilities. And that’s true both when I am working commercially and personally on projects, the goal of the project, subject matter and circumstance dictate so much of how a photography project progresses. But the guiding principles by which I make images are more concrete. I am always looking to reveal something with an image and I always go out of my way to make the subjects look their best, to present them in the truest, most sincere way.

Sometimes, that process is myself and a camera with a subject in a field for fifteen minutes. Sometimes, it’s creative briefs, large crews and multiple days on location somewhere.

In regards to the question about if everything I create makes money, not at all. I am a commercial photographer, but I am always self-assigning myself personal projects whenever I can. By way of background, my interest in photography is rooted in having creative adventures and in spontaneity. Stories, legends and characters all provide inspiration – one thing always leads to another, the kernel of one inspires and informs the next.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?

“Anybody can take picture.” I had a range of comments over my career and, from them, it’s clear a lot of people don’t know what a photographer really does or believe that one can make a living in a creative field, or even that an image has value.

I get the “do I photograph weddings?” question a lot or even the occasional “Can you fix my camera.” I once went out to a group dinner and a well-known architect and college professor asked me what I did for a living and I said I was a photographer. He asked condescendingly in front of everyone “could I make a living doing that.” From an architect, mind you. So, I think there’s a feeling, especially now that our phones are cameras and people build personal brands on Instagram from selfies, that photography isn’t a skilled trade, and that anyone who takes a picture is a photographer.

Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially? 

These days, with websites, social media and so on, we as regular people (or professionals) put our images out there on Instagram, Facebook, etc. Have you read Instagram and Facebook’s terms and conditions on your images that you post on their platforms?

As a professional image-maker, I’m aware that my images are out there in internet land and I realize someone might snag an image at some point. The resolution and file sizes of those images are not large, but good enough for a kid to use for a homework assignment, so the potential infractions would be insignificant.

Professionally, my bad experiences have had to do more with non-payment on projects that I have completed in good faith. I have seen copyright infringement play out with my peers and I know how violating and angering it can be, but have been fortunate myself thus far.

I like to believe the best in people but I have been burned a few times and luckily the infringements were not for large amounts financially. The majority of the people I have worked with over the years have been great and I’ve only come across a small handful of bad apples, knock on wood (I always do).

What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?

Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Be vigilant and direct. Value your creative property. Don’t be silent.

What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?

I work a lot. I create thousands of images in a day. To be fully copyrighted and protected by the law, one has to register each image with the Copyright Office. In addition to the time it takes to file, there is a filing fee of $45 per application and you can file 750 images that were published within the same calendar year on one application.

Cade Martin is an award-winning photographer specializing in people and location photography. Propelled by the belief that one must keep looking for the beauty in the unfamiliar, coupled with an insatiable thirst for adventure, photography has taken him around the globe on assignment for a wide variety of brands — from Starbucks to Target, FDA to NPR, and many more. Learn more about Cade and view his work at You can also follow him on Instagram at @Cademartinphoto.

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