Please tell us about yourself as a person and as a photographer. Where did you grow up and what sparked your desire to photograph? Were you active with the photography department in high school? Where are you living now?
My earliest years were spent growing up in Anchorage, Alaska where my family often enjoyed outdoor activities. Later in childhood, in the Los Angeles area, in addition to camping trips to various national & state parks I’d explore the world through my families old editions and subscriptions to Life and National Geographic magazine. I used to look at these magazines a lot, fascinated by the subject material. At the time I never thought, “Photography I should do that!”, but it filled a fascination with the natural world and over time my interest level in photography grew. My family never had a lot of money and no one was a photographer so I never took a photography class in high school or college. It was only after I graduated from college that I was able to explore photography. By the time I moved to the San Francisco bay area I knew photography would be more than a hobby. I still live in San Francisco, California and I’m as passionate as ever about photography it’s no longer an activity or hobby, it’s life.
Can you describe the defining moment or image that made you want to become a photographer?
Just after I graduated college I made a trip to Yosemite with a girlfriend. At the time I didn’t even own a camera, but she had one. We went for a day hike to Mirror Lake and I shot a roll of film on the hike with her camera. The scenery was amazing and at a lookout overlooking Mirror Lake and Mount Watson I was forever struck with the photography bug. I took a photo of the view and it was not only one of the most beautiful views I had seen, but it was one of the first photos I had ever taken that accurately reproduced the scene as I saw it. After that my hunger for photography grew and developed to what it is today.
What was the first camera you ever owned and how did you come across it? Was it a hand-me-down, purchased at a garage sale, found on the side of the road?
The first camera I owned was given to me as a gift, a Kodak 110 camera. Back then I asked for a camera as a gift and hoped for an SLR. I still laugh at how disappointed I was that I didn’t get an SLR.
—- in case you’re curious—-
The first camera I purchased was an Minolta Vectis APS camera, a point and shoot. I quickly became dissatisfied with it as I yearned for more creative control and higher quality photos. After that I purchased a Canon A2E SLR and learned a lot about photography shooting slide film. Some of the earliest consumer dSLRs were just hitting the market at the time, but I opted to hone my skills with film and to wait for digital sensor resolution to catch up to Film. I eventually broke down and bought my first dSLR 6 years later after my film camera started to have problems needing repair. Ever since I’ve been shooting digital.
What was your first paid photography job? Did you enjoy it? Were you scared? Did you make any mistakes?
The first photography assignment I received was to take a portrait of a rapper for a national magazine before one of his shows here in San Francisco. I did enjoy the job. I had never done an environmental portrait and I ended up having less than 10 minutes to get my photos. The club was dimly lit making the shoot quite a challenge. There was no time for mistakes. I consulted with my peers for tips before the shoot and I lined up someone as a stand in at the club to get my exposure settings correct before my subject arrived. I wanted to be sure that I could execute, getting my photos in as little time as possible. In the end it all worked out, but not with out experiencing quite a few butterflies.
How did you decide to make photography more than a hobby? If photography is your full time job, how did you make that decision? What was your backup plan if the photography career didn’t take off? Any regrets? If you are not a full time photographer, what is stopping you? What is your full time job? Any plans to become a full time photographer in the future?
I had been a member of a camera club here in San Francisco and I crossed paths with a member on a daily basis at my neighborhood dog park. I got to know her quite well over the years and she was often talking about how when she retired that she would travel and enjoy pursuing her hobby of photography more seriously. We became friends and often shared photo tips and ideas. At the time she retired her husband became terminally ill and was defying the odds living longer than his doctors had predicted. Her retirement plans of enjoying travel and photography were put in limbo as she took care of her husband who became incapacitated. To make things worse with in months she herself was diagnosed with cancer and died with in 3 months. Somber I know… it was a wake up call to not put off what pursuing what I’m most passionate about in life… photography. After that I completely rearranged the priorities in my life and set a course to make photography my profession. Photography is not an easy thing to pursue as a full time venture so every day is a struggle, but as a reminder I keep my friends funeral pamphlet on my desk.
What was the last straw, the final decision maker to make you go digital? What do you miss about film?
To be frank I miss very little about film. The only saving grace to film was that you’d get an image looking a certain way consistently based on the type of film used. Even still post-processing was necessary for scans, whether you’re placing photos online or prepping them to be digitally printed. Tack sharp images upon scanning would become soft and you’d have to color correct the scans. Digital afforded a variety of benefits including the instant nature of getting my photos versus waiting a week for them to be developed, they were crystal clear with no grain and I didn’t have to get dirty looks from my wife at the airport security gate as I made security personnel hand check rolls of film versus x-raying them. The determining factor to go digital was after waiting 5 years and not wanting to lose out on accumulating knowledge about a modern post-processing workflow. I had been aiming to hold out for a reasonably priced camera with a full size sensor but broke down when the magnification factor of cameras got to 0.3x. A full size sensor or near full size sensor was very important to me as I enjoy shooting with ultra-wide lenses.
What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for a client? What is the hardest part of the job when shooting for yourself?
The hardest part of shooting for a client is understanding that you’re preferences aren’t your clients. You need to put the clients needs and requests first, while holding in reserve what you think might be a good alternative. The hardest part of shooting for myself is securing the time to do so.
Do you try to help others learn about photography? If so, please explain how.
I make a concerted effort to help others learn about photography. I enjoy writing about photography tips, tricks and trends on my blog and in magazines. I also enjoy helping people on my photo tours and workshops get more out of their photography. http://www.jmg-galleries.com/blog/workshops
What and/or who inspires you in life and photography and why?
I find the work of other photographers of all skill level inspires me. Of course famous names like Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe, Edward & Brett Weston, John Sexton and others are forever an influence. The experience of being in and exploring our natural world s what inspires me most. Seeing different perspectives whether through others or my own exploration is constantly uplifting and drives me to pursue more in my photography.
Do you consider yourself an artist first before thinking about the job ahead of you?
I try not to think in terms such as this. I enjoy photography because it allows me to express my unique perspective of any subject. If a project or job stands before me whether my own or for a client I approach it as only I see it. If someone considers that art then I consider myself lucky, but I aim to let my creativity shine through first and foremost. The classification of whether that is art or not falls out as a secondary event based on the perceptions of others. I can only produce work that I find creatively satisfying and try not to divert my attention to classifying it.
What is the best advice you would give a photographer just starting out?
Be persistent and work hard. Nothing in this world comes easy and everything you do get… you earn.
The key to creativity is…
to experiment and follow your gut instinct.
What is your favorite camera that you have used or owned? What camera and lens combination do you use most of the time when photographing for a client? What about when photographing for yourself?
My favorite camera as of late is my latest a Canon 1Ds Mark III only because I have it. I’m happy using any camera as long as it takes pictures. I try not to get hung up on gear after all it’s not the camera, but what you’re able to get out of it. Some of my portfolio photos were taken with my first SLR and artists these days go so far as to highlight cell phone photos in their portfolio. It’s about vision and execution not gear. Lens choices vary as they are are dependent on subject and assignment.
What is your favorite time of day to shoot outdoors?
I’m a sucker for golden-hour light. Whether its sunrise or sunset I’m always looking for the best light possible. I’ll take either time depending on the weather conditions.
How do you deal with rejection of your work, losing a job, not making a sale or a negative comment?
In any creative art form you have to develop thick skin. I’ve been sharing my photography with other people long enough that I can gauge the type of responses I’ll generally receive. These days if I produce a photo, series of photos or photo essay I know exactly what I’m out to capture and display. People can take it or leave it. The key is to be confident with your work, but not arrogant all while being open to input. I’m happy to hear different opinions and interpretations regarding my photography, but I’m at a point that what I produce conveys exactly what I want. Some will see what I want them to and some may not. That’s part of the subjective nature of art.
Losing a job is tough but again being confident and persistent will pay off. I try to live and learn. Some days this is easier to do than others, but what isn’t.
The capture format I prefer is RAW as it provides so many benefits. JPEG is great for certain types of uses and I like having that output option from my camera. A DNG option would be a timesaver, but it’s not a requirement. As memory cards become larger in size it’d be great to have a RAW + DNG option versus a RAW + JPG option.
How do you protect your camera when not in use? When traveling? When on the way to a job? What if it rains?
I keep my camera in a camera bag most of the times. When traveling I keep my camera bodies with me at all time either on my person or in carry on luggage. If I’m out in the field I keep my camera in hand at all times. If it’s raining I’ll duck it in my jacket or use a rain shield.
Do you clean the CCD yourself or send it away somewhere? If you send it away, where to and how much does it cost?
I clean my sensor on my own, but for a thorough cleaning I’ll send my body to Canon as needed. The cost varies depending if other work is being done to the camera.
I recently started a project called 5511 where a client pays $5 for a 5 minute photo shoot when 1 artificial light is used and they receive 1 digital photo. Is this something you would be interested in trying? For me it is something fun and challenging. What are you thoughts on that?
This sounds like a fun project. I’m always game to try new things creatively. I myself have plenty of projects that I’m pursuing so I’m not sure I have time to pick up another, but regarding the concept I’m open to it. It sounds like a great challenge.
What music sparks your creativity? Do you listen to that when shooting a job? Do you listen to music at all? Do you listen to what the client likes?
Music has always been part of my life. I used to actively collect music, but have since slowed down on that hobby. I listen to music almost every day and find it relaxing. I’ve never actively thought about it, but I never listen to music when I’m out taking photos. If I’m in the field listening to my surroundings is extremely important both from a subject selection and safety standpoint. Photographing wildlife for instance requires ones undivided attention and use of all your senses. Landscape as well requires an acute sense of hearing to find subjects and track changing conditions… for example distant lightening. When with a client my undivided attention is given to them. I’m not opposed to music playing if working with a model or a client if it helps further the end goal of capturing the requested photo.
What is your favorite band? Movie? Book? Museum? Website? Who is your favorite photographer? Artist?
- Band: The Smiths
- Book: No particular favorite of the many I’ve read
- Museum: California Academy of Science / Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Website: As of late my off the wall humor and interest in photography has me enjoying the often inappropriate thisisphotobomb.com, but I enjoy several other more serious sites including those of many photographers listed in my blogroll.
- Artist: It’s tough to choose one… Art Wolfe continues to amaze me with his artistic eye and varied subject material.
What is your favorite photograph you’ve ever taken?
I can’t say I have any one particular favorite. In fact I have several personal favorites that have never seen the light of day for others to see. Perhaps my personal favorite is my very mediocre and first photo of Mirror Lake that first made me realize photography was a passion.
What is your favorite photograph from another photographer?
There are far too many photos out there to select just one favorite.
Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you push the shutter button?
“Get the shot!”
If you could take your art in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead? What new thing would you try?
I’m on a journey to find out. I produce art for me and in that regard I am moving in a direction without fear of failure or rejection. If I’m satisfied with what I’m producing then nothing else matters.
Do you find yourself always looking at the World wondering how it would look as a photograph?
I always look at my surroundings as though I’d see it through various lenses on my camera. It’s a constant mental exercise to find photo opportunities with in my surroundings.
Anything you would like to add for our readers?
What’s your source of inspiration? Help me compile a 1000 points of inspiration: http://www.jmg-galleries.com/blog/2009/07/02/1000-points-of-inspiration/
Thank you for reading the interview. This interview was presented to the photographer with questions asked by me and submissions from other photographers. The photographer is asked to answer only what he/she is comfortable with. If you would like to contribute to future interviews, please submit your your questions to me on Twitter, Facebook or on the Interview intro blog post, What would you ask a photographer?. Thank you for reading and enjoy the interview.