What is your title, and can you explain what your daily responsibilities are?
I don’t really have a title as such, and the “hat” I am wearing varies depending on the project I’m working on. But if you were to break it down based on how I spend my days the three terms that fit the best would be Photographer, Writer, and Educator. All of these disciplines are related to the field of photography and imaging in one form or another.
My photography work is mostly in the fine art sphere. By that I mean that rather being a commercial or assignment photographer, I photograph primarily for myself and then sell prints of my photographs and license my images. If the project is right, however, I also take on creative assignments for certain types of images or photo illustrations. My photographic work encompasses both “straight” images as well as multiple image composites.
As a writer I’ve been fortunate to be involved in several book projects and have co-authored a number of titles on Photoshop, digital imaging and working in the digital darkroom including “Photoshop Masking & Compositing” (along with Katrin Eismann and James Porto), and “The Creative Digital Darkroom (also with Katrin Eismann), and “Real World Digital Photography” (with Katrin Eismann and Tim Grey). I got my start in writing Photoshop books back in the late 1990s with the “Photoshop Artistry” series by Barry Haynes. I also write a regular article on Lightroom Tips & Tricks for Photoshop User Magazine and contribute feature articles to that publication from time to time. I’m a regular contributor to the Datacolor Spyder Blog and also write for a number of other publications.
My third “hat” is that of educator. I’ve been helping photographers master digital photography and digital darkroom techniques since 1997 and I really enjoy that kind of interaction with other creative professionals. I teach an online class on Digital Capture & Workflow for the School of Visual Arts in New York every Fall for their Masters in Digital Photography program. I also teach workshops at a variety of venues including the Maine Media Workshops and the Focus on Nature Iceland Workshops, as well as offering personalized online consulting, training and mentoring programs to people in many locations. I have a network of clients in the northern California area (Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area) that I work with on a regular basis for in-person training. My latest online educational projects are courses at lynda.com. I have a course on Creative Video Compositing with Photoshop available there, with several more titles currently in the works.
What inspired you most to become a Photographer/photo artist? Why did you pursue this as a career?
It seems that I’ve always been oriented towards the visual arts in one form or another. My father initially sparked my interest in cameras from his own fascination with them. He had a second job as a movie projectionist and had several still and movie cameras around when I was a boy. I grew up making stop-motion animated films using a hand-crank 16mm camera from the mid 1920s. Most of our family home movies were made with this camera and I still have it. Although I don’t make films with it anymore, the personal connection to our family’s past makes it one of my prized possessions.
When I graduated from high school I received a 35mm SLR as a present and that really kick started the interest in photography. I’ve been doing it ever since using a variety of different cameras and formats. Along the way I began to do my own darkroom work and that aspect of the creative process really appealed to me. I transitioned to digital in the mid 1990s well before digital cameras were a viable option in terms of quality or file size. In those days I scanned my film negatives and worked on them in early versions of Photoshop (before it had layers!). These days, although most of my images are made with digital cameras, I also still shoot medium format film in a wooden pinhole camera (for those who are unfamiliar with that concept, it’s a camera with no lens, just a tiny pinhole to let light onto the film). You can see some of my pinhole work here.
I followed this career path simply because I love doing it (and that goes for all three “branches”…image making, writing and teaching). For me photography was always more than just a hobby; it was something very personal, something I needed to do, how I interpreted both the world around me and the inner world of thoughts, memories and emotions. Writing is also something that I’ve always loved so it made sense to try and integrate these very important parts of my creative life into my professional one. I enjoy helping other people with their own creative endeavors, and teaching just seemed to flow naturally from the other two.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to pursuing a career in the creative fields?
Rather than obstacles, I prefer to think of them as challenges. And there are many, including the very competitive nature of the field, expensive equipment that needs to be upgraded every few years, software tools that are evolving faster than ever, and an entire paradigm shift in how photographers (and to an extent, other creatives) pursue and receive professional assignments.
One of the more concerning things that has been happening over the past several years is that the perceived value of creative work, and the compensation offered for it, seems to be in a constant state of erosion. So many people want to pay little or nothing for having original, creative work done for their projects. You see so many offers of “Well, we don’t have the budget to pay for images, but it’ll be good exposure for you”. Some types of professional exposure can certainly be worthwhile, but they don’t directly contribute to your rent or mortgage payment, and if that’s a continual thing you’re running up against, it’s a problem.
Yes and No are significant words. Learning when to use each of them is important to your professional life. Saying “Yes” to a certain assignment or project can bring in revenue (always important!), but it can also benefit you in other ways, such as being a catalyst for learning new skills, providing an entry into a new market, or starting a relationship with a new client or colleague that can be mutually advantageous in the future.
But learning when to say “No” is equally important. Some projects will just suck up too much of your time for the compensation that is offered, create too many distractions for your other work, or dilute your personal brand. Unfortunately, saying “No” can be hard, especially when you’re just starting out, and it’s not uncommon for it to take time and experience to hone this vital skill.
With all the new versions of Photoshop what changes do you personally feel are the most exciting or brilliant?
Photoshop and Lightroom are wonderful programs for photographers and creative professionals When you stop to think of all the capabilities they offer, it’s truly incredible that we have access to this on our computers. Although new features and technology get a lot of the attention whenever there’s a major new release, I think that the continued improvements and refinements to some of the existing core features is one of the things I appreciate most about Photoshop and Lightroom. The raw processing capabilities of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw are superb and they keep getting better. Every time there is a new raw Process Version introduced in those programs, I feel that my older digital camera files are being “upgraded” simply because the software can do a much better job interpreting and improving the data captured by the camera, whether that is in noise reduction, targeted adjustments to specific tonal regions, or things like the corrections you can apply using lens profiles. I also really appreciate the various places in Photoshop where the Content-Aware technology is applied, and the Adaptive Wide Angle correction and Perspective Warp are also features that can be used to great effect, whether for basic corrections or for more surreal and interpretive modifications.
What advice would give to someone who is new to Photoshop and feeling overwhelmed about learning the program?
First, if you’re a photographer, learn to evaluate a photograph before you do anything to it in Photoshop (or Lightroom, or any program). Examine it and clarify how it looks in it’s present state, and then try to identify what the issues are that you would like to change in order to get it to look the way you want. Is it too dark, too light? Are there certain areas that need specific changes? By evaluating the image and recognizing what aspects of it need to be changed, you can be much more efficient applying those improvements once you do begin to work on it in an image editing program.
Second, don’t feel that you have to “learn it all”. Photoshop is a big program with a wide variety of different capabilities; attempting to bite off more than you can chew in terms of learning it, can become counter productive. Instead, start out by focusing on a few essential core skills that you can use on most of your images and get really good at them. I’m talking about things such as basic color and tonal adjustments, making and refining selections, using them to create layer masks that you can then use to apply localized adjustments, simple retouching and basic layer management. From an initial skill base like that you can gradually expand your knowledge of Photoshop as different projects and assignments take you into different areas of the program.
What social networks do you like most? Which present good examples of Photoshop and Photography the best?
Too many social networks, too little time! Having said that, I am pretty active on Facebook as well as Google+, and moderately active on Twitter. Whenever I have a new tutorial or video to share it is posted on all three of those networks. In terms of image quality of the photos you share, I think that Google+ does a much better job at displaying photos than Facebook (not to mention having a lighter hand at image compression artifacts), and the “Circle” structure it offers for organizing the people you follow (and “broadcast” to) is a very good way for creating and managing different groups of contacts. For a social network geared more towards creative professionals, I am becoming more interested in Behance. I’m still developing my own portfolio presence on Behance, but I’ve been very impressed with the caliber of creative work in many different mediums that there is to discover.
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?
Well, I’m not one for making grand predictions, but I do think that social media will continue to play an important part in how all of us interact with the people and colleagues in our world, especially those we do not actually see and interact with in person on a day-to-day basis. As it does now, it will continue to play a vital roll in how photographers and visual artists share their work with a wider audience. What the exact form that will take, in terms of which social media platform will be most effective to that end, is something that will be interesting to watch.
What predictions do you have for the future of Photoshop and Photography?
One thing I have learned about Photoshop in the nearly 20 years that I’ve been using it (since version 2.0) is that whatever I might be able to imagine for it, the brilliant computer scientists and engineers who work on it will always surprise me! It will continue to improve and astound me in ways that I can and cannot imagine. And it will continue to be an essential creative tool in my own imaging work.
The world of photography is very exciting now due to all of the incredible technical advances we have seen in the recent past and that continue to transform this vital medium for visually portraying the world around us. Ever since it’s inception, photography has always been a blend of art and science and that has never been truer than now.
Mobile photography will continue to be a very strong force as more and more people ditch their bigger cameras for the convenience and continued quality improvements in smart phones. It will also be interesting to see how the two camera classes of mirrorless and classic D-SLRs continue to evolve. I still have not added a mirrorless system to my repertoire yet but I know many people who have nothing but great things to say about them. Certainly the more compact size and reduced weight is tempting after lugging around a large D-SLR with a big lens.
I’m also interested to see how photographers will continue to push the creative envelope with the use of remote-controlled quadcopters, such as the DJI Phantom, as an aerial camera platform, whether for still photography or video. And, speaking of video, since nearly all cameras available today offer the ability to record decent to high quality video, we will continue to see that merging more with traditional still photography.
Throughout history artists have always used the technical advances in photography to create new types of images. I look forward to seeing how the artists of today and tomorrow adapt new photographic innovations to drive their creative interpretations of the world around us.