We've been following SmugMug Films' ongoing behind-the-lens series and have found the clips to be an interesting look at people who follow their passions in photography. The latest installment features Joel Grimes. He's been a commercial advertising photographer for more than 30 years and is most known for his composite portraits. Grimes considers himself more than a photographer - an artist and illusionist, creating images that are larger than life. 

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We recently spoke with Grimes to learn more about his work and process. Here's what he said. 

How did you get started in photography? 

My first introduction to photography was as a freshman in high school. But it really wasn’t until my freshman year in college that it started to take root as a passion and as a way of expressing myself as an artist.  

What are you trying to express through your images? 

Well, I am to the core an artist that happens to use a camera and retouching tools like Photoshop. In the end, what tools I use are not as important as fulfilling my vision as an artist. I love people and I am drawn to making them look larger than life and making them look like a supermodel or superhero.  

Kerron Clement - Olympic Gold Medalist by Joel Grimes

You say your work has a 'touch of reality and a touch of fantasy', why did you start to use composites and the HDR look in your images?

Back in the mid 80's I started taking battery powered strobes with modifiers out into the field and shooting portraits. Back then this was considered really stepping outside of the box. My approach was primarily thinking in two layers or levels. The subject, which was lit by the strobe, and the background exposure, which was controlled by the shutter speed. If you look at those images, they almost look like a composite. I did this approach for 25 plus years. With the advancement of digital and Photoshop, it was a natural progression for me to move into compositing my images and shooting the two parts separately. 

Talk about your process in creating an image - on location and then in post processing. How do you 'build' an image?

I wish I could tell you that I am so brilliant that I have it all mapped out ahead of time. But the truth is I am a bit of wing-it kind of person. I generally let the creative process just come together as I am working. However, I have a very specific look that I am repeating over and over again. With time, the refining of the look comes and people start to take notice.

Jill by Joel Grimes

Any tips for readers who want to create composite images or improve their photography?

The single greatest thing you could do is to build a body of work that brands you as an artist. But most of us are not willing to take the risk in sticking with a look long enough to let that brand take root. We bounce around from idea to idea, from technique to technique. If you are aggressive, it takes around 3-5 years to really brand yourself in the marketplace. And a brand has around a 7-10 year life. So what does that say? That to be competitive in the marketplace and have a 30-40 year career, you need to be constantly working your butt off. There is no room for slackers at the top. I have a quote that I say all the time, 'Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week'.  

Check out the latest video above and subscribe to the SmugMug Films YouTube channel and get first access to each new episode. SmugMug plans to release a new clip once a month.