Playing Detective: An Interview with Derek Woods, the Man Behind the Controversial True Detective Photo (NSFW)


Derek Woods is a Los Angeles-based photographer who previously got involved in a controversy surrounding a photo that was used in the opening credits of the HBO TV series "True Detective." Coincidentally, Woods happens to be a member of the Lomo community, and it became vital to interview him regarding the issue. The interview was successful and was published in May last year. His current project, 365 of Lomography, will chronicle his day-to-day exploits with Lomography cameras. To jog your memory, and to re-acquaint you with Woods, we are republishing our interview with the controversial photographer. Please take note that some of the photos are NSFW.

Hi Derek, please tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m 30 years old. Aquarius. I enjoy chocolate and long walks...haha. Well, most of that is true. I live in Los Angeles and pretty much have lived in CA (California) for most of my life. I shoot photography and run the LA arm of a tech company called Rocket Science Consulting.

How did you first get into photography? What path led to you working as a professional photographer?

I got into photography first when I was a teenager. I always intrigued by artists but really couldn’t draw or paint and I liked the tech and science behind photography. The more I took pictures I was drawn to shoot women, which brought me to polaroid and learning to develop my own pictures in a darkroom; mainly because I didn’t want to bring film of naked women into my local photo lab. I shot for about four or five years and then I quit photography when I went to college to learn filmmaking. I felt like I needed to set aside still images so I could learn more about moving images. Through undergrad and then grad school for filmmaking I kept my photography literally packed away in a box. Then I was working at Fox as an editor and got into Tumblr and started getting more and more inspired by the photography I was seeing. My iPhone started me toying with the idea of shooting again. Then one day I realized that I somewhat loss my passion for filmmaking to the business of filmmaking, and wanted art to inspire me. I decided to start photography up again and keep it just as my artistic outlet. I got an LC-A and a Sprocket Rocket and loved both of them; so I started shooting again. Because I keep photography as my passion, I don’t know if I am a “professional photographer” in the traditional sense, that it’s my career; however, photography brought inspiration back into my life and that has been amazing.

Kindly tell us about the ‘True Detective’ controversy. Please tell us about the photo. How did your photo land in the opening credits, and how has it been since the issue surfaced?

It’s such a funny story; well to me anyway. Well, it all started in 2011 when I met model Machete Bang Bang. We did a small shoot mainly with my LC-A, Sprocket Rocket, and Polaroid. It was my second shoot back into photography. People responded well to the images and it opened a lot of doors for me to work with other models. Then, out of nowhere, in 2013 I got an e-mail from a rights clearinghouse asking to use my image in a “detective show for HBO.” They couldn’t really elaborate much, but they ultimately purchased the image to use it in the opening credits. I was pretty blown away that HBO took the time to track me down through Tumblr. Then things went quiet for a while until True Detectives started to show promos and I figured out that it was probably going to be the show that had my image in it. The show aired and was AMAZING, and I was so honored to see the shot in the opening sequence. A couple of weeks later Reddit had a post analyzing the photo, wondering who the girl is. and if it applies to the show; because there are parts from the show in the opening. I replied on my Tumblr who the model was, and that made its way to Reddit in another post trying to identify the model again. I pretty much was shocked it got this much attention and thought that would be the end of it. However, then comes SXSW. Marlow Stern (an Entertainment editor) decided he thought the image was the lovely Sasha Grey, and it sounds like he asked her off-hand, handing her his phone to confirm. She thought it looked like her and told him it was her. He went on to write a story insulting HBO for not doing their due diligence, implying they see Sasha Grey as not worth clearing, cause she’s in porn. The next day a bunch of Internet news sites picked up the story and the internet collectively decided HBO was negligent and it HAD to be Sasha Grey. The model and I let a couple of the news sites know they were incorrect and they reached out to us to clarify, and the next day they all pretty much retracted it. The irony of it all was that they criticized HBO for not doing their due diligence when all these news sites didn’t do their own. HBO had tracked me down through Tumblr, reached out to me, and paid me to make sure my image got its proper credit. The sites that wanted to cast a stone at HBO just decided to run with a story and even sited the Reddit posts that ultimately credit me and the model, which means they couldn’t even do the due diligence of reading a full Reddit article. All in all, it was a very flattering and an honor to be part of such a show; even a second part.

Your website says, “All shot on film, with some digital tests here and there.” Why film, despite the advancement and rise of digital technology?

Film was where I got started in photography, and I still love the “magic of it.” You do your part with the camera, the lights, the model, the styling, etc., and then you let the film do its magic. I love that microchemical collaboration of it all. There’s something that film brings to every image, digital just isn’t the same. Film is an interpretation of reality, digital is just a depiction of it; of course with digital, you can add in that magic with filters, but that’s more work to me and not the magic. Of course, I toy constantly with the idea of doing more digital work simply because I could shoot more without the limitations of film and the cost. But all in all the reason is digital doesn’t have the magic, that silver halide crystals contribution.

What photography gear (analogue and digital) do you use? Which ones are your favorites and why?

Currently, I have it narrowed down to my Leica M6, Polaroid SLR 680, and Canon EOS3; sadly I lost my LC-A. Recently I’ve been doing some experimenting with a Sony A7. My favorite is my Polaroid SLR 680 followed closely by my Leica M6. My LC-A was my favorite everyday carry camera for capturing things on the fly. It’s the perfect camera for that.

I understand you are a member of our community. What is your favorite Lomo camera?

I LOVE the LC-A with the Aperture control. It’s the camera I recommend to people 100% of the time when they say they want to shoot film. It’s the camera that got me back into film after 10 years of not shooting. Then the other camera that really brought me back was the Sprocket Rocket. I absolutely LOVE those cameras. The Sprocket Rocket is truly a one-of-a-kind camera!

Please share with us some of your lomographs and tell us the story behind the photos.

This is one of the first shots I took with my Sprocket Rocket. A friend of mine was in town doing some shoots and I came along just to help out. I snapped this shot behind the scenes.
This is probably the 3rd or 4th shot I ever took with my LC-A looking at Downtown LA form Elysian Park. It almost looks like a drawing.
One of my favorite things about the Sprocket Rocket is its panoramic frame leaves you a lot of room to fill; but allows you to get pretty close. This shot is from a camping trip with a large group of my friends. I don’t think this moment would have been captured the same without the wide view of the Sprocket Rocket.
This shot is the image of Machete Bang Bang. that was used in the True Detectives opening sequence. This was from my second shoot back getting into photography. As a photographer I always go back and forth between the magic of a candid, simple shot, and the beauty of a properly lit staged shot. This shot reminds me that sometimes all you need is a small plastic camera and a flash.
The lovely Sarah Sandin. I love the way the Sprocket Rocket looks with Ilford 3200 black and white film.
I really like how the Sprocket Rocket works perfectly both in candid everyday shots and photo shoots all the same. ROAR! Mallory and Julie.
A little latex with Cam Damage. Like I mentioned above I love how close you can get to your subject with the sprocket rocket and still have so much horizontal room. this shot is kind of a perfect example of that.
Miss Brooke Lynn. I really love that with the plastic lens you can really see the lens flair and the light bounce through the plastic. For a few pieces of plastic and a pinhole I love the images the Sprocket Rocket can make.
One thing I experimented with a lot was the LC-A with the Instax Mini back. This image is of Echo Nittolitto using the Instax back. I love the shots it makes! Super moody.

Please share your favorite photo/s, not necessarily taken with a Lomo camera, and tell us about the images.

Oh man. This is such a tough one to ask. It’s like asking to pick your favorite kid, of course everyone has one but it’s still hard! hahah.

This is the lovely Miss Crash shot on a roof top in downtown LA. I shot this with my Leica M6. I really like this one because I love the mix of fashion and the hint of erotic. This was a planned out shoot with some minimal lighting equipment. The styling is done by my girlfriend Julie Sharpe who I collaborate on all my shoots. We started working together about 2.5 years ago and it’s really made my work so much better. She also appears in a lot of my photographer because I shoot her a lot. Case in point…
As I mentioned above, one of the things I go back and forth on is candid photography vs set up and staged photography. My heart really is in the candid realm. I grew up studying the books by Sante D’Orazio. I love that he shot celebrities like they were just his friend. It felt so informal that it made photography attainable. Thats what I really love about photography. But then you look at the work of Ellen Von Unwerth and you really see the amazing work that can be done with a staged setting. So I decided in 2014 to forces more on both. I challenged my self to shoot my Leica M6 every single day and then post a Leica image every day. I call the project 365 Days of Leica. Its forced me to look at the casual candid moments in my life through more of a photographic lens. This shot of Julie perfectly captures that in my mind; it implies a lot but lets the viewer decided what really happened in this shot.
I LOVE Polaroid. Something about the medium has always drawn me. The low-fi feel and intimate nature of it really brings a lot to the table for me. This shot was taken in Downtown LA with a Polaroid Land Camera 250. Julie styled Britt Warner with some simple pieces to really focus on the line in her body, but give a hint of erotic fashion to it.
The incredible Hattie Watson; anytime you can work with this lady, it's a MUST. This is from a shoot that was all Twin Peaks inspired. I wanted these shots to almost feel like a crime scene photo as though Laura Palmer was found dead in a fashion shoot.
I love this shot. There is so much going on in this frame. These are the type of shots that I really like when it’s a fully staged scene. Julie and I did this shoot with the idea of creating "Jane Austin erotica," haha. I think it almost became more of a modern Mad Hatter tea party. Kat Kalashnikov and Rant.

No talk about analogue photography would be complete without at least one Holga shot. I shot this one on a Holga with built-in color flash. I loosely packed the roll to get the exposure through the roll to add the texture.

Another one of Miss Crash. Shot on polaroid SLR 680.
A more of a candid shot of the lovely Verronica Divine. She’s another amazing one that you just point a camera at and she transforms.

Lastly I have to talk about my first real camera that I still shoot with: my Canon EOS-3. I’ve been shooting with this camera for literally 15 years. I love the “thrift 50” 50mm 1.8 lens. I love its selective focus and its soft focus. It’s kind of the prefect lens to really get you that film feel. Very much like the LC-A, it’s an amazing combo to get into the film world. This is a shot of Britny from a couple years ago.

What subjects do you prefer shooting and why?

Well I suspect by now it’s pretty clear, I love photographing women. I shoot a lot of things in my everyday life, but the consistent go-to is always women. They amaze me, fascinate me, and simply make me want to take their picture. As I work more with Julie styling my shoots, I really love the intersection of fashion and nudity. The two intrinsically go together because both are based off the art of the body. It’s amazing to have a constant collaborator.

How would you describe your photographic style?

Oh, hmmm. I’m not really sure. I think ultimately my style is based around analogue photography of the intimate side of life.

What inspires you to shoot?

I spoke mostly about this in the subject I prefer shooting.

Who are your favorite photographers?

I always have a hard time with this one cause it changes a lot. All the classics of course Helmet Newton, Sante D’Orazio Ellen Von Unwerth, and there are a lot of indie photographers that do incredible work. Corwin Prescott, Katie West, Chip Wills are just a few off the top of my head. I really get inspired by the work I see around me.

You are now a fairly successful photographer. Do you have a dream project?

Hmm, I wonder if I am a successful photographer...but dream project. I think that I would say a dream project for me would be to create a series of photography focused on traveling and photographing women throughout the world. There are many photographers that have done traveling projects, but I would love to build a trailer or bus, or something, that Julie and I could travel in and photograph tons of different women all in or around the trailer/bus. It really speaks to the mix of candid photography and staged fashion having set elements but coming into someone’s world to shoot them.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

This is one of those that I feel like I always answer differently, but hopefully they are all helpful. The biggest thing, and the thing everyone says, ALWAYS SHOOT! The more you shoot and really look at your photos the better you will get. You need to look at your work and really take note of what you don’t like and what you do like. There’s so much amazing photography on the internet that if you look at your shot, and something didn’t come out how you wanted, go look for an image that successfully did what you were trying. Study it and you will almost certainly figure out what you did wrong. Another thing, I will always remember what a photo teacher told me, “amateurs post all their images, pros know what shots to not post.” I say post only your best work because, in the world of the Internet, it all lives forever, and your work is what will get you, models, to work with. Don’t post images just to post, be selective. Lastly, it all takes a lot of hard work, shoot a lot, network a lot, post, good stuff, a lot, be nice, don’t be a creep and remember to always overly prep for a shoot.

Any last words?

Thank you so much letting me rant on about my work. I have to say, honestly, it’s an honor to answer questions for Lomography. Truthfully Lomography brought film photography back into my life and put me where I am today. I love what you guys do, and think you really play a crucial role in film photography today. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be even a tiny part of what you guys do.

You can follow Derek's work through the following:

Twitter: @dtwoods
INSTAGRAM: @derekwoodsphotography

2014-05-03 #people #lifestyle #derek-woods #section-people #category-lifestyle

Mentioned Product

Lomography Sprocket Rocket

Lomography Sprocket Rocket

A camera dedicated to those preciously analogue sprocket holes, the Sprocket Rocket features a super-wide lens that flawlessly exposes the whole width of the 35mm film. Flaunt those sprocket holes in every shot! Enjoy a super panoramic view of the world with our series of Sprocket Rocket cameras and accessories.


  1. mkcho73
    mkcho73 ·

    Speaking of due should probably get the name of the show right. :)

  2. monodistortion
    monodistortion ·

    I think the Polaroid camera you're talking about is called the SLR 680.

  3. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    His lomohome?

  4. pan_dre
    pan_dre ·

    @sirio174 it's @derekwoods

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