Archive for the Photographer of the Month Category

Photographer of the Month – Kelly Pape

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , on November 17, 2011 by sabrina

© Kelly Pape

Darwin: Kelly, you seem to photograph almost everything. It’s often said that to be good you need to specialize, but your work shows that you can be really good and still shoot a variety of subjects. What are the benefits to creativity in being a generalist photographer?

Kelly: I love photography and the best way to learn it is to throw yourself into a variety of different situations and figure out how best to shoot it. For me it is about making exciting photographs regardless of the subject matter.  Every shoot requires the understanding of the location, assessing the light, finding good vantage points and being able to make quick decisions on camera settings.

The more I work in photography, the more completed images I see in my mind before taking the camera out of the bag. There has to be something special like a ray of light or contrasting tree line in which to start shooting. From there, in the field I determine whether it would work best as a black and white, HDR, adding a special effect or by taking several shots and stitching them together to create a pano. Each decision dictates how you shoot the image.

Darwin: You seem to have an ability to use the Orton Effect with a sensitive eye so that the technique enhances the photo without drawing your eye to the effect. Any hints on how you manage to control or blend the effect into your photos so well?

Kelly: Visually I enjoy the Orton Effect and read with interest when you recently featured Michael Orton on your blog. There is something about the dreamy, almost painterly feel that really appeals to me. Years ago I attended a Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant workshop where this technique was first shown to me.  Andre’s method was taking a shot in focus and overexposed by 2 stops and the second one slightly out of focus and overexposed by one stop and sandwiching them together. Today there are many plug-ins that can give you that desired result.

Darwin: Recently you have delved into the world of commercial photography by doing some commercial shoots and also by making prints for décor. Do you enjoy doing photography commercially or have you found it stifles your creativity and personal vision?

Kelly: One of the areas that I have been shooting lately is real estate photography which requires capturing the architecture as accurately as possible while maintaining good composition. It is mostly documentary shooting and doesn’t require a lot of creativity. Another project right now is supplying several images for a Showhome as part of a fund raising event. That is more challenging as you have specific spaces that need to be filled by sometimes a list from the client of miscellaneous shots from your website. Trying to put together a theme, enlarge the photos to fit different frame sizes and do it all within a deadline can be stifling. Whatever the job is, I always look at it as a way to challenge myself and improve.

Darwin: You are an active member of a camera club; for you what are the benefits to being part of a camera club. Any drawbacks?

Kelly: About 26 years ago, I was one of the few members in our camera club and we shot slides exclusively. Work commitments forced me to quit for a number of years and now I am back as an active member for the past 7 years and taken on various director roles. The benefits of being part of a club are every week you pick up something new as well as get exposed to a variety of ideas and styles. Clubs can also bring in great speakers like Darwin and Sam 🙂  Last year our club grew to 100 members and each member brings their own world of creativity.

Darwin: Many women that are nature photographers find it scary to shoot alone (few are worried about nature per sae but more about the ‘bad’ nature of other humans). Do you find that as a woman, you seek safety in numbers for photography or do you go out and photograph on your own?

Kelly: I have no problem going out on my own and dusting up the gravel roads. When I have a couple of hours to spare, you will find me off exploring new territories. Having said that, I am very aware of my surroundings and try not to get myself into difficult situations. A lot of times you find yourself outside, alone in the dark, which requires you to be hyper sensitive to what is nearby.

Having other people around definitely allows me to be more at ease and enjoy the camaraderie of others. There is something to be said for having a planned outing which forces me to get out the door in the freezing cold where I might otherwise not bother and miss the best light. The flip side is you are then dependent on other people’s schedules and preferences for shoot locations. Either way… just get out and shoot!!

You can find Kelly on the web at: www.kellypapephotography.com.

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

© Kelly Pape

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Photographer of the Month – Michael Orton

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , on October 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Michael Orton

Darwin: Michael, the ‘Orton Effect’ or ‘Orton Imagery’ is now in the lexicon of photography as a creative artistic technique (whether done the old fashioned way with film or now using digital tools). I hear that soon there will be an Orton Filter in Photoshop Elements. How does it feel to have a process you refined become so popularized?

Michael: To be honest, up until a couple years ago I had no idea how widespread the use of this technique had become. The opportunity to replicate the original approach digitally, rather than with a camera and zoom lens, increased its popularity . It certainly lifts my day when I hear from someone who is using this , and who also seems to “get it”, and by get it I mean the idea behind its conception (Imitating pen and ink / watercolour technique).  As for Adobe , they contacted us and said they would like to use my name and  the effect in this falls  Photoshop Elements Version 10 . This exposure should bring our new website to an expanded audience. The website slideshow “Earth Symphony” (viewable 1080p full-screen) Is loaded with “Orton Effect” images from the beginning years to the present.

Darwin: Your new artistic direction involves motion blur with your camera. When I first heard about this I thought to myself that you would just be repeating the motion blur effects that Freeman Patterson and Andre Gallant have made popular. But I was wrong! I am impressed by how you made a technique that is relatively simple and available to anyone into your own vision. To me that is like taking a C chord on the guitar and somehow making it your own. The lesson here is to take any technique and use it to express your inner vision. How did you motion studies evolve into their current form?

Michael: I have been using camera motion , along with many other photographers , since the late 80’s, so this is not new to me. There are several examples of these, used in different ways in the book “Photographing Creative Landscapes”. This last year while away I  began to “play” again, and take this basic concept of moving the camera to a place I had not been. I had used some compound movements in the past but now I really began to explore and combine them. Things started to happen . It was  as exciting to me as seeing that first “Orton Effect” years and years ago. Every day I seemed to discover another path , to the point where I was moving the camera in two or more directions and changing focal length or focus at the same time. I started to recognize potential in subject matter that a week before I would have walked right past. I had not been this pumped in years. When I saw these images on a monitor the colours and blending where simply amazing to me. I was hooked.  Technology is great , but creativity does come first . The slideshow “Freedom” on our website is completely camera motion.

Darwin: This new motion work you are doing is so distinctive that I think we may have an ‘Orton Motion Effect’ Again I want to congratulate you on turning whatever technique you try into you own unique form of expression. What is it about your personality that so clearly brings out your voice (it isn’t those special BC mushrooms is it?).

Michael: Oddly enough I have actually asked myself this question these last few years. How did I get here?  In my case I would say  a real sense of curiosity and an inquisitive  problem solving  mindset. I am constantly questioning not only what I am seeing but what my choices are in response .  This I call my inner or creative conversation and this was the basis of the ideas put forth in “Creative Landscapes”. In my world the tools of photography are far outweighed by the multitude of choices we have in using them . At this point what pushes me on is the need to create something that surprises me, to find what I haven’t seen or done in the past. Where it goes from here , we will see. I am just grateful to pick up a camera and make it happen. ( I do spend a lot of time in the rain-soaked woods , hmmm ! )

Darwin: You have been a successful stock photography and now you are entering the fine art print market. How different are the two disciplines and which do you prefer?

Michael: Stock has been a very good ride for Mary and I . It certainly changed our lives in the monetary sense. I tried to be as creative as possible  and still produce marketable “concepts” which was no easy task. There is no doubt that this does change the way one creates imagery. With the recent swing in the stock world I have been given the freedom to return to my days of “play”, and just make images for  myself. ( Is there a better reason? ) .  Where the fine art work goes from here is something I cannot predict as the world economy is so precarious . So far we have had very encouraging responses to the new work, many saying they have not seen  comparable imagery before and that these images are more visually exciting than the “effect” from years ago.. The prints done on canvas and watercolour paper in large sizes have some amazingly intricate colour blending . I cannot believe some of the hues made possible simply by blending existing colours. We will see what happens.

Michael:  By the, funny that you should mention the C chord. Not being able to obtain / license the music / soundtracks I would have liked for the slideshows (Vangelis and Kitaro didn’t answer the phone!)  I set about creating them myself last year. I used acoustic , and electric guitars, a synthesizer, and a multitrack recording studio to lay the tracks and then mixed down from these. Since the 80’s I have loved working with what I refer to as the “third image” , the one created as two slides blend in the dissolve, and when you add music to this it becomes magic for me. If I can share only one experience I would chose these slideshows. If you can find some time to watch them in a darkened quiet room , this is as close as I can come to recreating what photography feels like to me. ~ Michael

To see more of Michael”s new work and slideshows visit his website:  www.michaelortonphotography.com

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

© Michael Orton

Photographer of the Month – Xavier Nuez

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , on September 19, 2011 by sabrina

© Xavier Nuez

This month I’m excited to share the work of artist and photographer Xavier Nuez. Born in Montreal and now living in Chicago, Xavier’s work has been featured in both galleries and museums and is included in numerous corporate, public and private collections.

Darwin:  I notice that many of what I consider the best photographers are also musicians or musically inclined and that these photographers have some of the most evocative visual compositions. What is it about music and photography that gel so well?

Xavier: I’ve never considered the relationship between my music and my photography, so this is a new puzzle. There is something very meditative about the two, both in the production of the art and also in the appreciation afterward. When I’m shooting or playing music I can focus so intensely that nothing else exists, while I find it hard to concentrate most any other time!

They both seem to be art forms that require both left and right brain. In both cases you are channeling emotion through a mechanical instrument, an instrument that requires years and years of practice to master. And I must say here that I’m hardly a master with my guitar. I play just well enough to enjoy myself. There has always been a different level of passion and dedication to perfection with my photography.

It requires patience to master any instrument, and while I think most people understand that to be true with a musical instrument – that it takes years and years to develop the muscle memory and dexterity – I think most people underestimate the commitment required to master the technical skills required in photography, which includes not just the camera but the lighting equipment.  So I guess another relationship is patience.

Lastly, creativity and expression are muscles that need to be exercised for you to be a good artist. Musical and visual art are just different muscles, and I do believe there are intangible benefits to my images, having more than one creative outlet.

Darwin: Besides being a fine photographer and musician, you do things like glaze and paint china and then make stunning detailed macro images of your work. I love the fact that you create art and then make additional art by photographing your first creation. What other art forms do you practice?

Xavier: Funny you should ask! For 15 years I was an avid sketch artist (mainly pencil) and occasional painter, but this passion has waned. Coincidently last week I bought a sketch pad because I miss drawing.

And for some years in my teens and twenty’s I loved writing short stories. I still enjoy writing but I haven’t written fiction in years.

I’ve always loved improv comedy and for a couple of years I studied with a group in Toronto. I wish this had been a bigger part of my life because it’s clear to me that through improv you smash down so many barriers to self expression.

Darwin: Your alleyway work is mind-blowing! What is the worst thing that has happened to you while making your forays in the dark and dangerous heart of the city? And what is the best thing that has happened to you while making alleyway photos?

Xavier: Well thank you very much! When I look at this series, it’s a little hard to believe how often I’ve put my life on the line. But the older I get the more cautious I become.

I just got back from Saint Louis where I just added a new image to the series. I spent hours during the day roaming through rundown areas, looking for something to shoot later at night. I had a long list of prospects, but I kept wondering if I should hire a cop for some of these – something I’ve never done. In the end I didn’t, but I did bring several friends with me, unlike just one the way I usually do.

I’ve had many heart-pumping moments, and I’ve come close to becoming a casualty too many times, but the worst and best story has to come from Compton, CA. First, its Compton – made famous by the dueling gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. While in the middle of a shoot, a gang – 12 guys in black hoodies – chase me and my 2 friends back to my van. We have time to throw the gear in and lock the doors but then the gang surrounds the van and tells us to get out. It’s surprising how organized they were – they were literally standing all around the van. I get the impression that if I try to leave, bullets will fly. Also, and this shows you how truly insane I can be, I’m holding out for the slim chance of actually going back to re-do the shot I was working on!!

It’s a Latino gang and I speak Spanish so I lower the window a crack and try to explain what I’m doing, emphasizing that I meant no disrespect. We have a tense conversation for several minutes, until the gang leader (the only one without a hoodie) asks me if I’m Luis, the friend of a friend. I say, “Yes! Of course I am!” He then starts waving to the gang saying, “I know this guy! He’s cool he’s cool!”

In an instant I go from being a target to being part of the family – it was just a mind-blowing turn of events. I step out of the van and half the gang hugs me. They tell me I can go back to taking pictures, and that I’m safe within certain streets – I’m beyond thrilled that I can return to my photograph. Several of the gang members including Jorge, the leader, decide to hang out with us and I set up again for the earlier photo.

Ten minutes later a cop car appears around the corner skidding to a halt. Two cops jump out with laser guided hand guns and because I’ve jumped in front of the camera to protect the shot, I find myself staring at a vibrating red dot on my chest.

A minute later, we’re all standing with our hands on the hood of the cop car. I’m waiting for the cops to relax before starting to explain what I’m doing, but Jorge jumps in and says “Do you officers know lieutenant Menendez? He’s a friend of mine.” The cops turn white and wide-eyed. They stare at each other and quickly return to their car, saying “We’re sorry we thought something was going on here. Have a nice day.” They get in the car and drive away and we never see them again. This gang has been paying off the lieutenant and you don’t mess with his revenue stream.

Jorge then comes up to me and says, “You’re not Luis, are you.” I say, no, I’m not, and we both laugh. I ended up getting 2 of my best shots that night.

Darwin: You make fine art images and you do assignment work, which do your prefer or do you like both for different reasons?

Xavier: Assignment work was 90% of my income for 20 years. I haven’t done a commercial gig in a long time – I’m not opposed to it but my art keeps me very busy. I’m thrilled that I can thrive by creating the images I’m truly passionate about. It’s no longer something I have to squeeze in at the end of the day.

I enjoyed being a commercial photographer – being paid to create photographs was a dream come true. Shooting architectural interiors for magazines and interior designers was the bulk of my work, with fashion, industrial and product filling in the rest.

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

Photographer of the Month – Michael Levin

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Michael Levin

Darwin: Congratulations on a fine looking website. I love the elegant, classic and simple design which really accents you spacious and experiential photography. Did you design your website, or did you use a customized template or hire a designer?

Michael: Thank you, I worked closely with a designer and programmer on the site. I had a number of ideas that I wanted incorporated into the site and it was suggested to me that I start from ground up. It’s still a work in progress with some  interesting interactive elements being added soon, including a zoom feature to see the detail.  I think the majority of people that view my work see it on the web and I wanted the viewer to have a more personal experience. I’ve included outtakes and videos of some of my better known images and I think this helps better connect with my audience . What I’m most proud of is the newest video “Ki” that Brad Kremer shot while we were in Japan earlier this year. I think he did a fantastic job  and we’re working together on other projects now.

Darwin: You are also a talented musician. I know several other photographers who are musicians and each one of them has a simplicity and ethereal feel to their work. What is it about  being trained at music that leads photographers to be more personally expressionistic and less documentary?

Michael: “Talented” is a little to generous! I was always interested in rhythm guitar and that’s what initially attracted me to the flamenco guitar. It was the subtleties and dynamic qualities of the music that helped inform me on how to approach photography. When I first picked up the camera in 2003 I realized that capturing simple and sparse imagery would not be as easy as it looked, it would require a commitment  to evoke that same feeling that I enjoyed with music. Just as in music you practice all the time to pull off the one great performance and photography would be the same. Using long exposures also helps transform a scene from the literal into something more and this opens the image up for a more personal expression.

Darwin: Many fine art photographers seem to gravitate to shooting themes or projects yet you cover a variety of topics yet still keep the ‘look’ or ‘style’ of your work consistent. It seems that you work is more about what you feel and less about the subject. Is this ability to capture your emotions the key to developing personal style?

Michael: That’s completely what photography is about for me: being in a given space and capturing the emotion of the scene. Of course I don’t think this way when I’m out shooting, I’m just enjoying the places I visit. I think my images may have a similar look because of the effects of long exposures and I gravitate towards “clean spaces”. It seems my eye just extracts these elements from the scene and as I continue to practice I’m able to find it in more diverse locations.

Darwin: Water, sky and earth feature prominently in your work. Often these elements are simple graphical elements that are reduced to mere line and form. How do you reduce the busy, chaotic real world into such pure forms of expression?

Michael: Photography is a great way to see a country and I prefer the smaller villages and quiet moments, it’s here where I think my best images come from. Setting up a large format camera requires that you slow down and really consider the scene and I tend to have the most clarity at this point.  Having grown up on the Prairies I have an affinity for open spaces and that idea of space has always played a role in my images.  The challenge is making a singular object balance with the sky and water and it happens much less than I’d like.

Darwin: Of course because photographers are so tool-centric, we all want to know what your ‘brushes’ of choice are; what camera and medium do you use to create your work?

Michael: My camera gear has really been all over the place these last couple of years. I started out with medium format and then moved to 4×5 and 8×10. I scan everything on a Imacon 848 scanner and have the 8×10 negs drummed scanned. At the beginning of 2011 I finally went digital with the Hasselblad H4D. I do all my printing in my studio on the Epson 11880 and primarily use Epson/Hahnemuhle papers.

To see more of Michael Levin’s work, please visit his website. In October, Michael is teaching a “Art of Black and White Landscape” Master Series Workshop in Victoria, BC. There are still a few spots left!

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

© Michael Levin

Photographer of the Month – Eric Kruszewski

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Eric Kruszewski

This month I’d like to introduce you to Eric Kruszewski, an up and coming photographer from the Pacific Northwest. His work was most recently recognized by PX3 (Prix de la Photographie Paris) where he was awarded a Gold Medal for “Cowboys’ Rodeo” and a Silver Medal for “Haitian Despair”.

Darwin: Eric, from your bio it appears that you just started photographing in 2008, yet your portfolio has a richness to it that suggests someone with much more experience. Why do you think you have made such progress in developing your craft and your art when others stuggle for much longer before seeing the returns you enjoy?

Eric: While living overseas in Former Soviet Union countries and traveling to other distant places, I wanted to capture what I was so fortunate to witness and share it with family and friends in my homeland.  So in late 2008, I decided that I wanted to learn how to capture profound imagery; to do so, I participated in a hands-on photography expedition through India with three amazing professional photographers.  After soaking up information and practicing photography for the 18-day journey, I became hooked with the camera.

After returning from India, photography became an integral part of my life.  Everyday I devoted as much time as I could to some aspect of the craft – shooting, editing, reading, attending exhibitions, surrounding myself with other photographers and people who respect what I did, studying others’ work, etc.  I literally left my camera hanging on the doorknob so I could grab it as I left home.  I certainly do not know what the “normal” or “average” timeframe is for developing, and no longer struggling in the field.  Seeing progress in photography, just like with anything, comes down to working hard, having a vision, having the passion for it, embracing the received “no” and striving for the desired “yes.”  As an artist, I will always challenge myself; that, combined with dedication and hard work, motivates me to develop and hone my vision as a photographer.

Darwin: How has your “New Talent “win in the prestigious TPOTY contest affected your audience and opportunities for new ventures in photography?

Eric: The Travel Photographer of the Year “New Talent” Award was an amazing surprise for me – not only winning the award, but also communicating with the contest’s creators / organizers, fellow winning photographers and experienced judges.  Fortunately, I was able to attend the ceremony and exhibition opening in London, where so many lovers of travel and photography came together.  The contest truly was about the imagery, the story behind the pictures and the artist behind the camera.  The organizers went to great lengths in creating a top-notch website, a wonderful exhibition experience with such a high profile and reputable gallery and showcasing the images for industry personnel, the public and the press to enjoy.

Since the Travel Photographer of the Year contest was open to all international photographers, it brought together imagery and followers from all over the world.  Therefore, after winning the “New Talent” Award, there was definitely more interest in my photography and how I have developed.

Darwin: How did you manage to get access to the street people depicted in your Blocks Apart, Worlds Apart portfolio?

Eric: A photographer or passerby could come across the imagery and street people seen in my Blocks Apart, Worlds Apart story by walking down the streets and alleyways of Downtown Eastside.  One of the amazing things about “Ground Zero” in Vancouver, BC is that drug use, drug deals, prostitution and sex are practiced so openly and commonly on the streets, and they are all concentrated within several square city blocks.  Access, and getting close to the people, was accomplished by asking their permission to observe them, learn what they do and respect their practices.  I let them do their thing and they let me do mine.  Of course, there are plenty of bystanders in the streets that warn a wandering photojournalist of potential trouble while in their territory.  Fortunately I did not encounter anything serious while developing the story.

Darwin: You seem to travel extensively, how do you finance your travel photography?

Eric: I am an engineer by degree and a photographer by heart.  Since graduating from university about 10 years ago, I have been working as a mechanical engineer for an international engineering-construction company.  It was this engineering work that took me overseas to the Former Soviet Union, allowed me to travel internationally at a relatively young age and eventually drove me to begin photographing the cultures and societies in which I was immersed.

Currently, I still perform the 40-hour-a-week engineering job and spend all my free time and vacation time photographing and developing stories that motivate me.  Most times it feels as if I have two full-time jobs, and all of my family and friends support my endeavors as I continue to strive in pursuit of making the transition to full-time professional photographer.

Darwin: You are in the ‘thick of things’ with your images, making it feel as if we, the viewer, are right there on the street with the subjects you photograph. How do you achieve this narrative point-of-view?

Eric: Being around people, capturing their stories and sharing those stories captivate and motivate me as a photographer and storyteller.  In order to do this effectively, I feel that being close and intimate with the subjects is necessary; it allows me to communicate openly with them, build a rapport, truly learn the subjects and then relay their story and voice in imagery.  However, it takes trust on the subjects’ part to allow a camera into their lives and it takes trust on my part that I will be received openly, thus being able to tell the story correctly and accurately.

For most of my work, I use a lens with a short focal length.  It forces me to approach people, to concentrate on and work with main subjects that are practically within arms reach and to not worry about what is happening a mile away; I can always move and get closer.  This “in the thick of things” approach allows the viewer to feel as if they are a part of the scene and immersed in the same story that I had the privilege of witnessing.

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

© Eric Kruszewski

Photographer of the Month – Örvar Þorgeirsson

Posted in Inspirations, Photographer of the Month, Techniques with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

Darwin: You have an eye for images that are contextual (tell a story) but are full of mood and drama and a sense of the pulsating of life. In short you are a cross between a documentary journalist and an expressionary artist. The combination is rare. What advice do you have for photographers interested in developing their own signature style?

Örvar: I believe you will get your best results photographing things that interest you in an environment that you enjoy. I started out trying to photograph various things like street photography, events and even still life but I quickly found out that landscape photography was where I enjoyed myself the most and got the best results. Looking back I think it was inevitable that I would end up in this part of the photography spectrum as the outdoors and wilderness have always fascinated me and the photography is really an extension of that. I study the work of other photographers a lot for inspiration. There are a lot of good photographers out there and getting input from the ones you like and applying it to your field of photography for the environment where you shoot will help develop your own signature style.

Darwin: You live in Iceland, which over the last decade has become the place to go for evocative landscapes. What is it about your country that appeals to so many photographers?

Örvar: I think the variety of different landscapes in a relatively small area is what makes Iceland interesting as a photographer’s destination. Volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, deserts, deep green valleys and rugged coastlines can be found at many places elsewhere in the world but all these features in an area the size of a small US state is what makes Iceland appealing. For most people being located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, near the Arctic Circle is not an ideal place to be but for landscape photographers this has two major advantages.

The biggest one is probably that the turbulent weather combined with often hours of continuous low angled sun (specially around summer and winter solstice when the sun travels horizontally just under or above the horizon) creates some really colorful and interesting light on top of the scenery found here. The other one is that the open landscape of this windy island, lacking much forest, makes interesting features easily visible from a distance. These two advantages combined, will enable traveling photographers to spend more of their hard earned free time shooting and less time on hanging around waiting for the right light and finding locations. Our recent total economic meltdown also means that Iceland went from a very expensive travel destination to being affordable.

Darwin: I am sure everyone wants to know a few technical tips and making great Aurora. What camera settings, lens choice, etc. are good starting points for beginners shooting the Aurora?

Örvar: The basic technical principle behind Aurora photography is to capture as much light as your gear can without degrading your image quality too much. This means high ISO settings, larger aperture lenses and fairly long exposures. In a typical shot, I use ISO 800 at f/2.8 for 20-30 seconds. This works well for low intensity and static displays of Aurora, which are the most common ones. When things start to heat up and the Aurora really lights up and starts dancing around the sky, I shorten my exposure time as much I can, going 3 to 5 seconds to avoid blurring the Aurora by its movement during the exposure. This means that I have to increase my ISO up to 3200 on my Canon 5D MKII.

If one plans a trip to shoot Aurora then the best time is to do so during half moon. The full moon will render daytime-like light for the long exposures and the new moon makes the foreground too dark. Very wide-angled lenses with large apertures work best for Aurora shooting. I have tried many of them including Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L, Canon 14mm f/2.8L and adapted Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lenses. Although the Nikon is much better than the Canon lenses, they all suffer from bad to really bad corner sharpness at f2.8. Recently I a friend recommended I try a little known 14mm lens from Samyang. To my surprise in Aurora photography, it outperformed all the above-mentioned lenses by far. And the best part yet–at 350USD it cost only a fraction of what the Canons and Nikons do. The lens is fully manual including aperture but it does not really matter anyway for nighttime shooting. And no, I am not sponsored by Samyang.

Darwin: How many years have you been shooting? It seems like you have accomplished a large number of top tier images in a relatively short time. What’s your secret?

Örvar: I have been into photography for 5 years now. Before that, during my mountaineering years, I loved documenting my adventures through a camera but I really did not know what I was doing back then. During these years I read through hundreds of magazines and books often beautifully illustrated by mountain scenery. Unaware of it but soaking up in all those images and beautiful scenery probably helped my development as a photographer. I am also one of those that really dives into things once I get interested in them. I have put a lot of time and effort into photography during these 5 years. But also having relatively easy access to varied landscapes here in Iceland helped build my portfolio quickly.

Darwin: One part of your signature style is the dramatic use of near/far perspective. It is difficult for many photographers to make a cohesive composition with a wide-angle lens because there is so much of the environment taken in. How do you make such clean cohesive compositions with a wide-angle lens?

Örvar: This is a difficult question. As you say the wide angle grabs a lot of the environment and much of that will often be in your foreground. One therefore needs to find places with a simple foreground that does not clutter the image. Some locations work better for wide angles than others. Seascapes and water surfaces, frozen lakes, deserts, snowfields and rivers are where you most often find those uncluttered foregrounds. Most of my portfolio is from Iceland, which suits wide angles very well. I quickly run into trouble shooting wide when traveling abroad in areas with forests and heavy vegetation. So I guess it might be more the environment where I shoot mostly rather than a special skill that I have.

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

© Örvar Þorgeirsson

Photographer of the Month – Denis Smith

Posted in Art of Photography, Inspirations, Photographer of the Month, Techniques with tags , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by sabrina

© Denis Smith

Darwin: Denis, your Ball of Light movie is incredibly inspiring. Many people feel anxious and trapped by the the pressures of society. And for many of us photography and especially nature photography is one of the ways we connect with our spiritual sides. But you chose light-painting and night photography – why? What is it about this particular genre of photography that appeals to you most?

Denis: When I first picked up a camera a couple of years ago I found myself on an incredibly steep learning curve having no formal training at all. I discovered light painting early on and found it stretched me, forcing me to think way outside the square. This was a time in my life when the time alone, exploring at night gave me space to work on myself. The amount of time I spend waiting for the light, the moon, or for the shutter to close is spent relaxing and learning more about myself. I certainly have become a more spiritual person. In the dark, looking up, you learn very quickly how massive everything is, and how small we are.

Light painting is a form of photography that has massive creative scope. But I think the real appeal to light painting was the ability to stretch myself constantly, and it is a pretty niche space too.

Darwin: Your movie documents well how the ball of light came to be and how it is an outgrowth of your inner world. Do you think that symbolically the subjects we photograph, and the types of compositions we make are really just external expressions of our needs, wants and turmoils in life? If so what does the ball of light symbolize for you?

Denis: The Ball of Light has become an extension of my emotions. In so many ways it represents the freedom I now have in my life. The amazing array of locations I visit to shoot the Ball of Light have opened my eyes to the wonderful world we live in. My photography grew from a basic desire to be alone to work on myself as a human. I felt like I just wanted to walk, explore and experience the freedom that offers. The freedom was addictive, I quickly was looking for more extreme and distant places to be. Bringing the Ball of Light into the mix took it to another level. The images I enjoy the most are the open spaces where the Ball of Light seems free to just be!

My wife often remarks how the Ball of Light reflects how I am at the time. If I am in a relaxed mood and feeling chilled, the outcome reflects this. If I am a bit wound up, or feeling a bit crazy we end up with some weird locations surrounded by chaos!

Darwin: What about the practical aspects of the commerce of art? You now sell limited edition prints of your work. Is this endeavour enjoyable to you, or does it drag you away from the creative aspects of your work?

Denis: Selling limited edition prints just seemed a natural progression for me. There was no structured plan to make the Ball of Light a commercial project. I was asked to do a couple of local markets so I prepared some small prints, A3, for this. The reaction form the public was really amazing. I became addicted to watching peoples faces as they realised what they were looking at was real, and not some photoshopped mish mash. Explaining the process of creating the Ball of Light became an automatic part of interaction with people. The quicker people understood the process of creating the Ball of Light they could immediately enjoy the piece.

I made the conscious decision to try and make the Ball of Light available as easily as possible, and priced everything accordingly. So doing the large format prints was easy. I thoroughly enjoy seeing my work large. I now realize that I have not really seen an image until it is printed in large format. On the computer you simply do not see the colours or richness. I sit and stare at them myself, for ages! I now take large format prints to shows with me, and they create a real stir. I just did a 3 day show here in Adelaide and the thrill I get watching people enjoy the work is only amplified having the large prints there.

Managing this side of the business certainly does not detract from the creative side. But I now think a bit more about the shot with printing and size in mind. This has benefited the work considerably though. I think more about composition. I have “learned” more about photography since selling work and am just really excited about people sharing the work. Experiencing and feeling it.

Darwin: You and your work have become ‘famous’. Does this fame and attention risk putting you in the same position that you were in before or does the ‘success’ open more doors for you to do more of what you love?

Denis: Famous? That sounds really strange, but sits pretty easily with me. What I am realising is that in the Ball of Light film we have created a short film that has inspired people to look at themselves and what they are doing. I hope it has inspired others to realise that internal happiness is so much more important than external things. I get constant feedback that my photography has inspired others to stretch themselves creatively and try something outside their comfort zone. If these two things results in some type of “fame” then so be it.

I will never return to the place I was in. One of the biggest changes I have made in my life is living within my means financially. We live a humble, and much happier, life now. What this means is that if my photography really takes off I will simply be able to do more of what I have grown to love. Travel, learn, experiment and share. Any “success” my photography has will not be wasted on the frivolous and excessive things I did on the past.

I still dream of packing a bag and heading to locations outside of Australia.

Darwin: Because your work is fairly well-defined by a unique technique, does it worry you that others will simply learn your technique and replicate your ideas and soon flood the world with clones of the ‘ball of light’?

Denis: Since the Ball of Light project really took off, and especially since the release of the film there has been a massive influx of “orbs” on Flickr. I am also inundated with questions of  “the how do you do it” type. In the beginning I was quite protective of the process. I am still a little cagey about the “rig” I use as this is the result of long nights at the end of a soldering iron. But I have really embraced the influx of people having a crack at it. I think it is wonderful that others are making the effort to stretch themselves with the camera. It is interesting though how many people have come back to me after realising how difficult it is to create the “bigger picture” with all of the elements in one shot. A tight orb combined with a killer location and good exposure control takes a bit of practice.

I often think to myself, if I have encouraged one teenager to get of the couch, turn off the playstation and get outside into the air and run around exploring like a fool there is nothing more exciting than that. There are some pretty amazing results coming from some corners of the globe. One of the nice things about the Light Painting community is there is plenty of sharing and recognition. I had a young guy and his mate come and see me at the show I did this weekend. They were so excited showing me an Orb they had created. These guys would have been about 18, and they had their girlfriends out with them, and in the photos. It felt amazing that I might have encouraged them to do this.

From a commercial point of view I do keep an eye on people using the term Ball of Light, but this doesnt come up very often. I also think to myself, Peter Lik makes millions of dollars a year taking photos of trees and water. What make his images special? He just makes water and trees look incredible. I have many projects, and ideas on the boil but The Ball of Light will always be a project close to my heart. And I really want to take it further with more amazing locations.

You can find Denis on the web here and see more of his images on Flickr.

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

© Denis Smith

Photographer of the Month – John Marriott

Posted in Inspirations, Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2011 by Darwin

The photographer of the month for April is John Marriott. John is one of the Canada’s top wildlife and nature photographers. I admire John not only for his fine photography but also for his ethics and action in living softly on the planet. John cares deeply  about the subjects he photographs and their welfare always comes first. Nature photographers need to act to preserve what they love to photograph. John is a shining example of nature photographer whose actions speak louder than words. Below is my interview with John.

Darwin: John, you are one of the few photographers out there who has not only self-published your own coffee table books but has been wildly successful at the endeavor. I know you give an inspiring, real-life look at how you did this in one of your popular seminars called How to Self-Publish (and actually make money doing it). For those that have not heard your talk, what are the key points in being successful at publishing your own books?

John: Darwin, in a nutshell, photographers that are interested in self-publishing and want to be successful at it have to first find a product niche, whether it be books or cards, posters or calendars. In other words, if they take a look in the marketplace and figure out that no one’s doing an owl calendar, then they’ve found a potential niche.

They then have to determine if there’s actually a market for that product niche.  Will anyone buy the owl calendar?  Who should they be targeting, what types of stores, which customers?

And finally, they have to crunch the numbers to see if they can actually make money at it.  Just because there’s a niche and a market doesn’t mean that you’ll make money with a product.  You have to sit down and do your spreadsheets (or write it all out on a cocktail napkin) to figure out your start-up costs, your profit potential, your projected sales, and your cash flow scenarios.  It sounds daunting, but it’s well worth it.

I’ve sold over 20,000 coffee table books and 130,000 greeting cards to date, so if you put in the time and effort and research your idea properly, you can really make self-publishing a huge part of your photography business.

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: I am impressed by your ethics in photography. Many wildlife photographers just want the trophy shot and honestly care very little how that impacts the animal. I know you’ll give up the shot if it means any harm, stress or disturbance to your subject. Given that, how do you still come home with the amazing images but without negatively impacting your subject?

John: I don’t think many wildlife photographers realize that being ethical and showing respect for your wildlife subjects can actually lead to better and more interesting photographs.  For instance, if you’re always pressuring an animal and following it about, the animal is not very likely to act naturally and show you much in the way of interesting behaviour.  By contrast, if you show some patience and wait for opportunities to develop, then you’re often rewarded with an animal that will act much more naturally and offer you the chance to capture a wider range of behaviours with your camera.

I think it’s important to know how to recognize when you’re stressing an animal and to react accordingly by moving back or leaving the scene.  Like you said, Darwin, I do believe that the welfare of the animal is more important than just ‘getting the shot’.  I think passing up certain opportunities not only teaches patience, but I believe it also opens up other chances, allowing me to pick and choose the encounters that are going to result in the best pictures.

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: You have come out strongly against baiting wildlife to get photos, using wildlife models (e.g. trained bears, cougars, wolves) and even using flash for wildlife photography. Why should other photographers consider not doing these things?

John: I think wildlife photographers need to look at this from two angles.  One, how is game farm photography the same as wildlife photography?  I would argue that it’s actually much closer to commercial model photography.  There is no thrill or chance involved in taking photos of an animal that is forced to live in a cage and that has to respond to a trainer’s demands.  These animals are not living free, wild lives, and I just think there is a real disconnect from the natural world with photographers that do these game farm shoots.  You’re picking the day, the scene, the lighting, even the model.  It’s not wildlife photography at all, it’s just animal model photography, and it takes very little skill to be good at it.

Secondly, photographers that go to game farms often argue that it’s an economical way to get images to fill out their portfolios and that it allows them to get shots of animals that are very tough to find in the wild.  But that’s showing a disrespect for the craft of wildlife photography as an art and a profession.  People like myself work long and hard to get images of wild wolf, lynx, cougar, grizzly bear, and even wolverine, and it’s actually helped my business, not hindered it.  That’s because there is a growing discontent in the marketplace for images of captive animals.  Many magazines and companies now won’t even consider using photos that weren’t taken in the wild, which is a refreshing change from five or ten years ago.

As for baiting and the use of flash, I feel that the challenge of getting an image without trying to control the animal’s behaviour or the lighting is worth the extra time and effort I may have to put in to get a good shot.  Again, it comes down to having an animal act naturally and showing some respect for your subject.

If you’re using a flash, you are almost always disturbing the animal to some degree.  Imagine having someone follow you around all day with a camera and flash.  Of course you’re going to start noticing the flash going off, and of course it’s going to alter how you behave, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Baiting is even more egregious.  You’re basically saying, “My need to get this shot is more important than the well-being of my subject.”  You’ve helped to condition an animal to an unnatural food source without thinking of the consequences. The next person to throw bait out for that wolf or bear may want to shoot it with a gun.  And the owl you just fed so you could get shots of it swooping down to pick up the lab mouse has just been conditioned to look to humans for food.  Worse yet, it might now survive the winter when it wasn’t supposed to, leaving its weaker genes in the population and throwing off the process of natural selection.

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: What separates a good wildlife photographer from a great one? Why is it your images stand out above the mass of other wildlife images created? I mean, isn’t having a 500mm lens and getting close to a grizzly enough?

John: Ha-ha, I wish!  I always have to remind myself that two of my best-selling wildlife images of all-time were not taken with a big lens and that it pays to set it aside sometimes and look at the bigger picture (pun intended).  Getting close enough to photograph a grizzly’s nose hairs is not all it’s cracked up to be!

I think the great wildlife photographers wear their ethics on their sleeve and they put in the dirty work that’s necessary to get those amazing images that truly tell a story.  There are no shortcuts to great images. It takes time, patience, and vision.  I’m still working on all three, particularly the vision part of things — it’s tough to maintain what direction you want your shots to take, what story you want to tell, when you’re busy firing 2,000 images a day of bears chomping down on salmon or of caribou migrating across the tundra.  I’m often muttering to myself, “Look for the spectacular” or “Wait for the spectacular.”

My goal right now is to train myself to take fewer pictures each day, yet have more stunners.

I’m not sure if my images do stand out above the mass of other wildlife images out there, but if they do, then I think it’s because of the amount of time I spend in the field.  I do have some vision and some patience, but more than anything, I love being out there looking for the next great shot.  I typically put in over 180 days a year in the field, though in 2010 I was up at about 220!

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: Describe a perfect day in the field for you.

John: Any day in the field is a perfect day for me.  I get an incredible rush out of just leaving my house each morning or waking up in my car in a strange place, unsure of what I might find and excited for what the day will bring.

Even just pondering this question got me wound up thinking about all the amazing days ahead of me chasing swift foxes, polar bears, orcas, and so much more!

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

To learn more about John’s photography visit his website, workshop and tour page and his blog.

Photographer of the Month – Veronica and Alan Barrett

Posted in Art of Photography, Articles about Photography, Artistic Development, Inspirations, Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2011 by Darwin

Anyone who follows this blog knows that Veronica and Alan Barrett came on two back-to-back winter tours with me. I was impressed not only by their wonderful attitudes and great company but also by their fine eye and the resulting images each of them made. They continually inspired me with the images they pulled from every location no matter what the light or conditions. What better photographers to feature this month than this wonderfully intrepid couple  who were always joy to hang out with.

Veronica’s Website

Veronica’s February Tour Results

Veronica’s March Tour Results

Alan’s Website

Alan’s February Tour Results

Alan’s March Tour Results

Interview with Veronica and Alan Barrett

Darwin: First of all congratulations on stunning portfolios and images on both of your websites. It was a real joy exploring your fine images. I noticed that both of you have some very specific themed galleries like Veronica’s Shells and Windows and Alan’s Slate and Shaky Trees portfolios. Are these portfolios accidental or purposeful in execution? By accidental, I mean have you over the years shot shells, slate, windows, and blurred trees and then grouped these images together? Or was the work more purposeful and you shot with the portfolio in mind keeping the look and feel of the images consistant within each category?

Alan: Both the slate and “shaky trees” were specific projects, undertaken with the hope of self-producing a book. The slate images were all made at an abandoned quarry in Wales which we stumbled upon when walking the Pembrokeshire coastline. The first images I made there were medium format capture – and a real struggle, as there was no firm footing for the tripod. When I saw the results though, I realised that the location had huge promise and I have been back there twice, photographing over six days, using a small digital camera with a flip out back. The “shaky trees” collection was inspired by an American photographer, William Neill – a couple of years ago I saw, and was captivated by, some of his images of movement in trees that he had included in one of his books. Never having had any problem taking an out-of-focus shot, I set out to photograph the woodlands of Surrey, the county in which we live, over the four seasons. In an eighteen month period I took close on 20,000 images – most, of course, were rubbish and went straight into the digital bin, but out of the morass I selected 160 shots that pleased me and which have formed the book. All that walking didn’t do me any harm either!

Veronica: The Windows portfolio grew when I decided to make it the theme for my application for an Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society. I enjoy photographing architecture and windows are particularly interesting because I’m a bit of a nosey parker and am always wondering what’s going on inside places I can’t get into! They can be very decorative, either structurally or because of personal touches, and I often see them as ‘frames’ for pictures in their own right. The Shells portfolio was accidental. I was washing my shell collection one summer and realised that the collection itself had some beautiful specimens in it that might be worth photographing and experimenting with in Photoshop during the winter. Then one of our daughters decided she would like some of them for her newly-decorated stairway, so I developed some of them into a set for her. I quite like photographing themes, though, and also have an on-going collection of fire hydrants and drains. I know they sound like odd themes, but I started both collections while in Chile because so many pipes and outlets, and fire hydrants, had been decorated. It’s a means of keeping my eyes open to photo opportunities!

Darwin: Based on your images, you seem to have travelled widely. Where are your favorite locations and why?

Alan: Since my retirement from business we have indeed been fortunate to travel widely. Without a doubt my favourite photographic region is the US, and within that country, the red rock areas of Utah and Arizona, and narrowing it down even further, the Paria Plateau. America has a diverse range of landscapes that as an overseas visitor we can never hope to do justice to photographically, but nevertheless it is almost impossible to make a trip to that country without coming back with some very rewarding images. The Coyote Buttes and White Pocket areas on the Paria Plateau boast some quite remarkable sandstone cliffs, the colours and patterns of which are almost unbelievable to someone who has not seen them for themselves.

Veronica: I love San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and London, especially the last two which always give me a buzz. I enjoy photographing the modern architecture, especially reflections of old buildings in the glass of the new ones, in the case of San Francisco and NY in particular. London is so much fun to photograph on a Saturday, along the South Bank where there’s so much going on, and then walking along its length to the Tate Modern, and on to Tower Bridge and More Place where so many beautiful shiny office buildings are going up. I don’t get my best images from these places but just enjoy my surroundings. I also really enjoyed the two trips to India that I made, first with a friend to Rajasthan, then with Alan to Kerala. I would really like to go there again as the people are just so lovely.

Darwin: Both of you seem to be able to handle any subject matter from the grand landscape to intimate details to wildlife and more. Do you think photographers are better off shooting only one genre and mastering that specialty? Or do photographers grow more as artists being generalist shooters?

Alan: I suspect that most photographers start off with one main interest and then develop. In my case, I started photographing the “big” landscape – but as I developed my ability to “see” the image, I became aware of the smaller, intimate landscape. It was a small step to take that attribute to photographing details in cities or other manmade scenes. I think that dedicated photographers love the challenge of making an image in any situation, whether or not it is in circumstances alien to their normal environment – rising to that challenge undoubtedly enhances ones seeing ability which can only improve work in one’s core interest.

Veronica: I don’t see myself as a landscape photographer, really. I take them because I take photos wherever I am. Many people think that anybody can go out and shoot a landscape but, actually, it takes as much skill and patience as shooting nature. Light plays an enormous part in a stunning landscape, which involves being in the right place at the right time, or an awful lot of luck, and exposures and filters also have to be chosen and set correctly. I don’t have the patience for it at all, although I am trying to acquire some! I do, however, enjoy shooting the more intimate landscape where I can see the picture more easily than in big vistas. I also like to pick on subjects where I can make a close-up picture, either with a telephoto lens or my G11 set to macro mode.

My nature images are as opportunistic as my landscapes – if the creatures are there, then I’ll take the picture, but you won’t find me waiting for hours to get the right shot! We’ve been lucky enough to go on safari in Tanzania twice, which was really good fun and I got some animal images from those, and also to the Pantanal, in Brazil, where the caymans are fairly tame, so easy to shoot. I had to be quick for the bird shots, but was ready and set up for them – and was lucky! I think that if you like making pictures, then you will do so wherever you happen to be…keeping to one genre would restrict my creativity.

Darwin: You both have a fine eye for abstraction. Did this ability take long to develop or was it an innate skill? Who were your influences in the visual world?

Alan: In my case it was most definitely not an innate skill. Like most beginners, I suspect, I had great difficulty “seeing” the image – if I was with someone and they set up their camera then I could immediately see what to photograph, but left on my own I could not pick out the image from the general clutter of the landscape. As part of my self-teaching I started studying photographs – I have probably the largest collection of landscape books in private ownership, over 300 – and I gradually came to recognise that the intimate landscape could be just as captivating as the big picture. The slate portfolio was my first attempt at abstract work and its success led me to persevere until it is now almost second nature to notice the smaller scene.

Veronica: It might be innate for me – I’m not sure. I used to do a lot of dressmaking in another life and particularly enjoyed drawing and cutting patterns and choosing fabric – so already had an eye for shape, colour and texture. Well before I took up photography Alan was already in full-swing and his photographic friends, all cracking photographers, often came over so that they could ‘critique’ each others’ images. I often sat in and listened, and I think perhaps my eye for a composition developed from that, as did my understanding of light and colour. I love colour, texture, lines and shapes, the more graphic the better, and that is what I look for when I am out with my camera. I get a really good feeling from a simple, uncluttered picture that has a flow about it.

Darwin: Photographers are often most excited by whatever they are currently working on. What new projects or locations or types of images have got you all fired up lately?

Alan: You’re right, you always think that your latest work is your best, so it will be no surprise to you to learn that I am currently excited by the Canadian Rockies. As you know, our trip with you in February came out of the planning I was doing for an autumn trip later this year. Despite the challenging weather in February (and despite our frostbite problems), I was captivated by the magnificent mountain scenery and cannot wait for September to come around. The Canadian Rockies do not seem to feature much in UK photographic circles, partly I suppose because if we are going to cross the Atlantic then America offers more diverse opportunities, but that is short-sighted in my view. I definitely can feel another book coming on!

Veronica: I agree with Alan – I currently think that the Canadian Rockies have pulled some of my best images out of me. But then I thought that about Boston and the leaf close-ups which I shot in other places in New England! We are shortly going off to shoot some derelict buildings somewhere not far from Berlin, and I’m looking forward to that. I want to take the opportunity to experiment with some HDR as I really enjoyed Bruce’s images of dereliction which he showed us during your last photo tour. I think that if it’s done gently and not ‘over-egged’ with the saturation slider, as so many images are, it is a very effective treatment.

 

©Alan Barrett

©Alan Barrett

©Alan Barrett

©Alan Barrett

©Alan Barrett

©Veronica Barrett

©Veronica Barrett

©Veronica Barrett

©Veronica Barrett

©Veronica Barrett

 

 

 

 

 

Darwin: Based on your images, you seem to have travelled widely. Where are your favorite locations and why?
Alan: Since my retirement from business we have indeed been fortunate to travel widely.  Without a doubt my favourite photographic region is the US, and within that country, the red rock areas of Utah and Arizona, and narrowing it down even further, the Paria Plateau.  America has a diverse range of landscapes that as an overseas visitor we can never hope to do justice to photographically, but nevertheless it is almost impossible to make a trip to that country without coming back with some very rewarding images.  The Coyote Buttes and White Pocket areas on the Paria Plateau boast some quite remarkable sandstone cliffs, the colours and patterns of which are almost unbelievable to someone who has not seen them for themselves.
Veronica:  I love San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and London, especially the last two which always give me a buzz.  I enjoy photographing the modern architecture, especially reflections of old buildings in the glass of the new ones, in the case of San Francisco and NY in particular.  London is so much fun to photograph on a Saturday, along the South Bank where there’s so much going on, and then walking along its length to the Tate Modern, and on to Tower Bridge and More Place where so many beautiful shiny office buildings are going up.  I don’t get my best images from these places but just enjoy my surroundings.  I also really enjoyed the two trips to India that I made, first with a friend to Rajasthan, then with Alan to Kerala.  I would really like to go there again as the people are just so lovely.

Photographer of the Month – Harold Davis

Posted in Art of Photography, Artistic Development, Books about Photography, eBooks, Photographer of the Month, Techniques with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2011 by sabrina

© Harold Davis

Darwin: You have left a record of your work as digital photographer on the net showing your progression and evolution from your first posts on your blog in 2005.  Many photographers want to leave an impression that they only ever created amazing stuff. Showing some early misses takes courage in my opinion and shows someone secure in who they are. But do you ever feel ‘exposed’ at times when people see your earlier work, work that may not meet your standards of today?

Harold: I have made a conscious decision to leave my original photos and stories up on the Internet from the time I began as a digital photographer in 2005 (by the way, this was a return to photography for me). As your question suggests, this was not entirely an easy decision because some of my early digital work is definitely not up to my current standards. Here’s my thinking about why I have left this work up.

First, in my role as an educator—both as a writer and workshop leader—it is important to me to give aspiring photographers a sense of hope. It serves a great educational role to let people know that some of my earliest digital work wasn’t as good as it might have been, and that I’ve managed to get a great deal better. If I can improve, so then can they.

Actually, when I look back at the early work in my blog I see a lot to like. Even with the pieces that don’t stand the  test of time so well, I can see what I was trying to achieve, and I understand why I was trying to achieve it. Generally, I fall in and out of love with my own work. You can’t make a photo unless you are infatuated  with your pre-visualization of it, otherwise why bother? But looking at the image later, I’ll find myself not so happy with it. A while later again, I reach a synthesis—and can begin to evaluate my work more objectively.

The truth is that no one is good all the time, this goes for the great masters of photography as well as anyone else. No matter how good a photographer is, if you look at some of their early or minor work, it may not be as great as some more mature work, so I am in good company.

The minute I start believing that everything I do is great is the minute I’ll lose it as an artist—because that is an expectation that is impossible, makes one not want to experiment, and is grandiose. If I see a large body of consistent work from a photographer without any examples that are wild and wacky and don’t quite work, then I think that this is someone who is talented but who hasn’t experimented or played enough. Some of my best and most innovative work comes from failed experiments.

I’m not concerned with always doing great work every time, as much as learning how to get better.

I think of my blog stories—and I have written several a week every week since 2005—as my artistic journal, or Daybook in the sense that Edward Weston kept a Daybook but updated for the electronic era. Not everything in a journal is going to be great art, but it will show my progress and thinking.

I believe that digital photography is an entirely new art form, perhaps as different from film photography as film photography was from realistic painting. We are only at the very beginning of this new medium, and only beginning to grapple with the questions, techniques, methodologies, philosophic issues, and image-making possibilities that this new medium brings to the table. The images in my blog, along with the broader spectrum of images in my Flickr photostream, are a record of my coming to terms with these issues—and even if my attitude has changed, and my technical astuteness has improved since my first attempts to grapple with them, I don’t want to delete the account of my journey to where I am now.

At the end of the day, my work, like all visual art, must speak for itself. If someone “gets” what my work is about, then I don’t think the fact that I’ve included shots of my family, out-takes from assignments, and early experiments on my blog will detract from it. My model of professionalism is to include some of my personal story, and not to pretend that the two are entirely separate.

Darwin: You have developed a technique you call ‘HDR by Hand’ where you process a single RAW file with various settings and combine the resulting images into a single finished image. The results are unique and impressive. Can you give us a quick overview of your workflow for HDR by Hand? Do you have a book or eBook people can go to to learn more details?

Harold: Another great question, but there is some confusion in the way it is put. Let me try to clarify things. I use the term multi-RAW processing to describe processing a single RAW file multiple times with various different exposure settings to effectively expand the dynamic, or exposure, range of the final processed image. Some people consider this technique a form of HDR—or High Dynamic Range—photography, because it certainly produces an expanded dynamic range compared to the JPEG that your camera makes. However, I believe that true HDR begins when you combine multiple captures of the same subject that have been bracketed for exposure.

With automated HDR software such as Photomatix, Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro, or the new Nik HDR tool, these bracketed exposures are blended together, and a tone curve is applied. In contrast, what I do is to manually inspect the captures made at different exposures, and then choose the parts of each one that I want, and combine the “good bits” in Photoshop. For example, I might want the dark part of an image from the capture shot at 1/10 of a second (to lighten dark areas) and the light part of an image from the capture shot at 1/200 of a second (to darken the light areas), assuming all other settings were the same.

With both techniques—multi-RAW and hand-HDR—I put together the different versions as layers in Photoshop using layer masks, the Gradient Tool, and the Brush Tool to combine the different capture and/or RAW conversions. Sometimes I’ll use different blending modes to emphasize the impact of a particular exposure shift.

As with all HDR shots, it does tend to work better if your camera and subject don’t move between the different captures.

As a practical matter, many of my final images are created using a combination of the multi-RAW and hand-HDR techniques. I might make two or three different interpretations of a single RAW file, then blend these versions with interpretations from one or more other RAW files.

For me, learning that I could multi-RAW process a file, and then extending these techniques to bracketed HDR files, was a huge revelation. If you look on my blog, you’ll find that I began experimenting with multi-RAW in mid 2006. By August 2007, I’d come “to the conclusion that combining images and image variants is something that humans do better than software (at least for the time being),” and around the same time I began experimenting with hand-HDR to move beyond natural-looking landscapes with an extended tonal range to special hand-HDR effects such as creating a transparent, high-key effect.

My discovery of multi-RAW and hand-HDR caused a real shift in the way I think about shooting, because very often each shot becomes a piece of the final image rather than the image itself. It’s also powerful to realize that you can change other things besides exposure—such as White Balance and Saturation—when you process separate versions. I don’t think I could go back to single-shot photography, and I really don’t want to rely on software to make the decisions for me about how to process and blend the pixels.

My two Photoshop books, The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Processing and The Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations (both from Focal Press) detail both multi-RAW and hand-HDR techniques. Since this process is so integral to my photography, you’ll find it explained at some level in almost all my recent books. The forthcoming Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley) explains how to apply multi-RAW and hand-HDR to change the apparent lighting in a photo, and my Creative Landscapes (also from Wiley, due out in June 2011) will explain these techniques in the context of landscape photography.

Darwin: You are an author of numerous books on photography. What was your first book and how did you manage to get the book contract?  Your books have great reviews on Amazon. What does it take to make a book that resonates with photographers?

Harold: When people I don’t know ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I am a professional photographer and a writer. I have written books on many diverse topics other than photography, and had a good reputation as a writer long before I took up digital photography in 2005. The first photography book I wrote came about because of my reputation as a writer about technology, not as a photographer. In fact, I had to overcome a certain suspicion in the publishing industry about whether I could really be a good professional photographer in addition to my skills as a technologist.

A good book agent is an invaluable ally in the publishing industry, and Matt Wagner has played that role for me. We’ve worked together for many years. Another secret weapon is my wife, Phyllis Davis. She is an excellent professional book designer, and we work together on most projects, so we deliver finished InDesign files to the publisher rather than going through a normal edit and design workflow and production process.

I listen with a great deal of respect to my readers, and have an affirmative commitment to responding to every email that is about photography. I greatly appreciate questions from readers because they are a signal to me that I may not have been clear enough about something, or that there is additional subject matter that should be included in one of my books.

Ultimately, my photography books are valuable to an audience if readers can learn from them and apply what they learn to their own work. I am dedicated to the idea that my books primarily play an educational role. I also believe that one largely learns about photography and image making by looking at images and analyzing how and why they were made. So this is the thought process that I try to encourage in my books, and I try to provide imagery that is inspirational so that people actually want to take the steps that are involved in making comparable photos.

Darwin: Given the rise of eBooks on the internet, do you think that traditional photo books will slowly disappear? Given that photographers can make 100% profit on eBooks why should a photographer deal with a publisher to create a hard copy book and get maybe only 10% royalties?

Harold: I think eBooks are a great development. I’ve been experimenting with reading books on the Kindle and the iPad, and will be releasing some electronic publications in 2011 and beyond. However, I do not believe that printed and published photography books will disappear, nor do I think the economics and business issues are as cut-and-dried as the 100% profit versus 10% royalties in your question would seem to make it. Let me elaborate.

It doesn’t make much sense to me to read a color photography book on black-and-white Kindle reader. There are also formatting issues, mostly having to do with eBook photo and caption placement. This kind of thing will get ironed out eventually, particularly if readers start insisting on decent design in their e-Books. But personally, I still prefer a printed book, particularly if images are involved. Image placement is exactly the way the author intended, I can take it anywhere, and I don’t have to worry about connectivity. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean one should do it, and I don’t think it really makes sense to view photos on small screens. The iPad is the first device that really comes close for me, but there really aren’t authoring tools available that let me translate my vision easily to this medium. The bottom line: books that are like manuals and just there to provide information will gravitate to electronic form. There has to be an added value to be worth making a physical book, but for the foreseeable future I expect there to be a viable place for visually-oriented books that are about more than which menu item one should click.

The profit from an eBook is not 100% if you sell it through Amazon, iTunes, or an eBook publisher. For that matter, there is cost involved in setting up one’s own shopping cart and distribution mechanism. On the other side, the royalty on a printed book can be substantially greater than 10%.

But the point remains valid that electronic publishing can disintermediate the entire chain of book agents, publishers, printers, book distribution companies, and brick-and-mortar bookstores—with a greater percentage of the proceeds going to the individuals who created the product. However, my books are distributed in a way that eBooks are not—for example, to Barnes & Nobles—and translated into languages all over the world. In other words, there’s a much bigger pie to split.

There’s nothing like the aesthetic pleasure of holding a book one has created—and there is considerable professional validation in publication through traditional trade houses.

Darwin: You seem to be able to photograph any subject and do it extremely creatively. You have your own vision and style which comes through in your photos. Any tips on ‘developing a personal style’ that you learned over the years?

Harold: Inspiration is not a “tame lion.” There’s no single magic bullet that will change someone into being a creative photographer. In fact, working too hard at being creative can be a good way to thwart one’s own creative drives. After all, photography is wonderfully fun—and it is important not to lose your sense of fun about it.

It’s good to sneak up on the creative process—I often find that my best work is not in the direction that I expected when I started a project, and part of being creative is learning to be open to serendipity and unexpected directions.

Experiment! Experiment! It is a big mistake to take oneself too seriously. Not everything you do has to be worthy of museum placement.

Specialization is overrated. Having a good eye, some interesting things to say, and understanding the craft of photography are the most important aspects of any kind of photography. These kinds of traits carry across subject matter. After all, no one would complain that Edward Weston was spreading himself too thin because he photographed still life subjects as well as nudes.

I appreciate assignments and projects that stretch my limits. A number of times I’ve accepted assignments, and there was a fear factor, meaning I wondered for a while whether I could really complete the creative work because it was something I hadn’t done before. A little fear is good, and helps stimulate my creative juices. Each of these projects turned out to point me in a new direction, and helped me add to my skill set. So if you don’t have the outside stimulus that comes from commissioned work, then I suggest that you self-assign. These self assignments should stretch your boundaries and make you work in areas and directions that are new to you.

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis

© Harold Davis