My camera is my main creative tool and the pictures I make are meant to be enjoyed as art. But I’ve found if I just say “I’m a photographer”, people might assume I shoot weddings, portraits, events, sports, etc. (which I don’t). So although all my work is based on photography, I usually use the title Visual Artist.
I’ve worked professionally in the creative industries since 1987. Besides photography, over the years I’ve done graphic design, digital prepress, printing, web development, multimedia and even some video and computer animation. I’ve been self-employed since 1998 so, ultimately, my ‘official’ title has variously been President, CEO, Director, Owner etc. Today as a ‘solopreneur’ I wear a variety of hats.
Since 2003 the focus of my work has been fine art photography. My wife and I travel a lot and I make most of my photographs while I’m out exploring. I don’t like to make photographs in the studio—I love the process of discovering images in the real world.
My photographs are mainly sold as fine art prints, plus some licensing here and there. For a lot of my abstract photographs, I print the images on canvas and then paint over them with acrylics, turning them into mixed media works.
My daily responsibilities? I guess in order of priority they might be:
1. Making my art – taking pictures, editing them on the computer, making fine art prints.
2. Selling my art – usually the hardest and least pleasant part of my job!
3. Collaborating with designers and art consultants on commercial projects – I love this.
4. Writing and teaching about art and photography – love this, too.
5. Ongoing marketing and promotion (web site, blog, social media etc.) – essential to budget time for this.
6. Other business administration (finances, contracts and licenses, record-keeping, copyright submissions, etc.) – Yuck.
As a self-employed artist, the most challenging part of my job is maintaining focus on priorities and budgeting my time accordingly.
What inspired you most to become a Photographer & Designer? Why did you pursue this as a career?
Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved art and photography.
In my teens and 20s I worked as a graphic designer, mainly because I believed the popular myth that it’s impossible to make a good living as a fine artist. I always knew I was born to create… and I thought producing commercial work for clients was a good outlet for that.
As I got older and my career evolved, I became more interested in fine art. As a medium, digital photography was a perfect fit for me because of my background in digital imaging. I’ve also found my experience in graphic design to be a great asset to my photographic work.
I’ve pursued fine art photography as a career simply because I am driven to make pictures and want to spend as much time as possible doing that. I find beauty all around me and want to share it with everyone. Visual art can have great emotion and impact. Art can help people feel good… and feeling good is vitally important in life!
Most often, I try to make pictures that are engaging, yet calming and soothing, because I want to create little oases of peace and tranquility in the world. It’s amazing how hanging a picture on a wall can completely transform the mood of a room!
By extension, this aspect of creating mood within environments has also led me naturally to an interest in interior design, especially hospitality.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to pursuing a career in the creative fields?
For most creative people, the biggest obstacle to a successful career in the creative fields is developing business acumen. A close second to that is maintaining enough self-discipline to do what’s necessary to succeed.
The creative industries—and photography in particular—are intensely competitive. Unfortunately, there are also some huge egos involved and it’s sometimes hard to know what’s really important. This creates an environment where it can be difficult to maintain focus and develop a unique vision while also finding ways to make a living.
Understanding buyers and clients and providing real value for them is crucial. To earn money for creative work, your distinct value must be clear to the prospective customer. It’s never enough to just make something, hang it out there and expect people to beat a path to your door.
This is true even for creatives working as a staff member of a company. If you’re employed to do creative work, you’ll always be more successful if you understand the unique business principles that create success for each client.
This is the difference between doing creative work as a profession or as a hobby. (And if you’re just doing creative work for fun, who cares about the business side?)
As with any field, developing a successful career in the creative industries means continually making the time—and finding the best resources—to build your business skills along with your creative abilities.
With all the new versions of Photoshop and Lightroom what changes do you personally feel are the most exciting or brilliant?
When I was writing my Lightroom books, I was most excited and impressed with the changes that came with Lightroom 4.
For my work, the top priority and most important goal has always been image quality. The advances Adobe has made in raw processing are fantastic and truly enabling.
It’s geeky, I know, but one of the most important changes to me was the introduction of Process Version 2012!
On the more creative side, I use some amount of Lightroom’s local adjustments (brushes and graduated filters) for almost every image. It’s an often overlooked fact (and again on the geeky side) that the ability to perform localized, creative enhancements using the raw image data is extremely powerful stuff. Same goes for Lens Corrections, especially fixing distortion. Essential.
Lightroom Mobile is very cool and I’m just starting to get the hang of it. Integrating this kind of monumental change into my workflow is tricky. With nearly 100k images in my catalog and thousands more being created every month, workflow is a huge issue for me. Any way I can simplify and eliminate steps is always a good thing.
Lightroom’s book module has been wonderful. And printing from Lightroom is absolutely brilliant.
I’ve used Photoshop since 1994, but these days I barely use a fraction of what Photoshop is capable of. Photoshop has become the ultimate toolbox for every kind of digital artist, from web to video to 3D to medical and scientific visualization. I honestly don’t need all that stuff. My approach to making images is very minimalist; I don’t often go for flashy effects. So it’s very rare that my images ever leave Lightroom to go into Photoshop (or any other software for that matter). When I do use Photoshop, it’s mainly for occasional compositing work and maybe some retouching that Lightroom can’t effectively handle.
I’ve become a big fan of Adobe’s move to Creative Cloud. Now that the dust has settled after the initial uproar, I think folks are realizing that, with the subscription model, lots more software is available that previously was unaffordable, especially for self-employed folks. I understand most photographers (myself included) view our software needs as relatively limited; we don’t want to pay for access to programs we’ll never use. Adobe’s launch of the Creative Cloud Photography plan addresses this extremely well and it shows Adobe’s dedication to the photography community. That plan is brilliant at meeting the needs of photographers and Adobe’s business objectives at the same time.
What Photographers & Photoshop artists do you follow, and why do they stand out from others in your opinion?
John Paul Caponigro has been a leader in the converging digital and fine art worlds for a long time. The amount of free educational material he offers to photographers and artists is staggering. His creative style and mindful approach to his work is very inspiring.
Bryan Peterson’s photographic design has also been an inspiration for me for years. It’s been fun seeing his work continue to evolve, because when I first saw his photography ten years ago it was already very sophisticated. Greats like Bryan find ways to keep pushing the boundaries.
David duChemin’s significant contributions to the photography world are comparatively recent, but he came onto the scene in a big way. And he did it by giving lots and giving freely. The way David generously shares his experience and expertise is something we teachers can all learn from.
Tony Sweet has been an inspiration to me for a long time. His photography is fantastic and he’s always coming up with new approaches and styles for his work. He’s also a very gifted and generous teacher and workshop leader. Honestly, I don’t know where he gets the energy but there’s nobody else leading the quantity and quality of workshops like Tony.
I’ve also learned a lot from landscape photography masters William Neill and G. Brad Lewis (aka Volcanoman).
As a group, I’ve been excited to see the development of the new Sony Artisans of Imaging program. I’m a big fan of mirrorless camera systems and love that Sony has been able to attract top pros like Bob Krist (whose travel photography I greatly admire). Of course, Sony doesn’t only make mirrorless cameras; their Alpha DSLRs are really competing head-to-head with some of the best systems from Canon and Nikon.
Photoshop, specifically? No list of influences would be complete without a tip of the hat to illustrator Bert Monroy.
Side note: if you want to see some really kick-ass Photoshop illustration, Smashing Magazine put together a nice roundup here: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/11/26/100-photoshop-illustrations-by-artists-around-the-world/
It’s worth pointing out that the great artists I’ve chosen here all find ways to continue honing their craft and pushing the boundaries. They also use new technology to its greatest effect without being overly dependent on it. In the end, developing your unique vision is far and away the most important thing.
What social networks do you like most? Which present good examples of Photography the best?
In many ways, Facebook is horrible, but in terms of sheer audience size it’s still relevant for creatives. I always recommend that photographers and artists who post work on Facebook link to images on your own site instead of uploading anything directly to Facebook.
500px is a great sharing site. It presents photographs beautifully. SmugMug was one of the first and is still one of the best. I choose to ignore Instagram altogether.
What is your prediction of the evolution of social networks? How do you think these networks will showcase artists and Photographers better in the future?
‘Social’ increasingly means ‘mobile’. I predict many more photographers will be uploading photos directly from their cameras (and/or phones) to social sharing sites. This might mean more photos are not being edited, or are being edited quickly and on-the-fly, either in-camera or on the smartphone (a la Instagram). Or, social photography sites could start to take on more of the editing stage of the workflow, as well.
I think what could be really unfortunate in all of this is the overwhelming adoption of ‘push button editing’, where people click a button to let the software ‘polish’ the picture automagically. My concern is that people will be thinking less and less about the creative aspects of photography. Instead, it could go the way of ‘see it, snap it, share it’ and speed will become more important than quality.
Maybe most of the people who share images this way aren’t serious or professional photographers anyway, but the trend toward instant gratification ultimately means people will be thinking less about the creative process in general.
The upside of this is that more and more ‘impressive moments’ will be shared instantly. The documentary or photojournalism aspect of photography benefits greatly from social and mobile tech. (It’s really just the ‘fine art’ aspect that might suffer.)
Overall, there’s no doubt that the more ubiquitous imaging technology becomes, the less people will value it. But, hopefully, the positive outcome of all of this might be that the content of images again becomes the most important thing.
What predictions do you have for the future of Photoshop and Lightroom?
Same as with social media, imaging software like Photoshop and Lightroom will move increasingly off the desktop and onto mobile devices. At the moment, we’re in a bit of a lull after what has been a couple decades of massive and rapid advances in imaging technology. Most of the current development has to do more with communications technology, rather than imaging itself. This might change with the arrival of seemingly elusive technologies like quantum computing and holography, but for the time being, people seem to be much more interested in what they can do with their pictures than with how they are created.