A Photographers Interview with Trey Ratcliff

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?

I grew up in Texas. I’m 38 now and did not pick up a serious camera until 4 years ago. I have no formal training. I think what sparked my interest is NOT having any formal training and having the ability to completely reject what came out of my first camera. The photo that came out was not how I saw the world! Thanks to my background in Computer Science, I thought about processing in terms of algorithms. So I set out on a plan to make that photograph look like I saw things in the real world, and that led me down this unique path of HDR Photography.

Can you describe the defining moment or image that made you want to become a photographer?

I don’t know if there is ever ONE thing that makes someone interested in photography. It makes for a good story, but I’m not sure it’s always true. There are a lot of little things. If there was a big event that seemed to legitimize everything, I suppose it was when I had the honor of having the first HDR photo to hang in the Smithsonian. That made my mom proud!

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?

I’ll skip the Japanese toy cameras that the average joe has and jump straight to DSLRs! The first one I had was a Nikon D70. It was a great camera and now my son is using it.

What was your first paid photography job? Did you enjoy it? Were you scared? Did you make any mistakes?

I’ve never had a photography job. I think, really, the website of www.StuckInCustoms.com as a nexus for photographic activity. We license photos, sell advertising, and the like. So, in a way, simply keeping the site fresh every day with good content is like a job. It’s very enjoyable. It’s not scary. But there have been countless mistakes!

Trey Ratcliff

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?

Photography is certainly more than a hobby, but I would not call it a job. I’ve started several different companies and do a variety of things with my time. I feel very lucky that the photography bit is so profitable and growing. I do not handle the business side if it – the DragonLady (my wife) does that.

I believe we now live in a world where you can do many things with your life. Some are vocations, some are avocations, some make money, some are for fun, etc. These things flex and change many times a year. I think it’s good to have a network of activities to keep you mind and wallet engaged.

What was the last straw, the final decision maker to make you go digital? What do you miss about film?

I was never into film so there was never any straw.

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?

I do not shoot for clients. I only shoot for myself. This is good because I don’t have to worry about making anyone else happy. It also helps me to keep the art pure.

I often warn new photographers not to over-mix photography and capitalism. Both of those things are great things on their own, but mixing them together can cause unnecessary stress in your art. If you can magically make them both work together, that is great. For example, I know many wedding photographers that absolutely love it. I mean, they REALLY love it. It works for them. I know some others that just do weddings to “get by”. I don’t think it is very good for your soul to do that. No one listens to me, but I always suggest they do something else outside of photography to “get by”. This is a bigger subject, and I’ve only touched on it.

Trey Ratcliff

Do you try to help others learn about photography? If so, please explain how.

Yes. I have an HDR Tutorial (www.stuckincustoms.com/hdr-tutorial) that is free and others that cost money. I really enjoy teaching people how to do these things.

What and/or who inspires you in life and photography and why?

I’m inspired by the Impressionists. Painting tends to inspire me quite a bit. Within the photography realm, I am inspired by so many people – both pros and people that are just getting started. There is so much inspirational photography out there now that it’s frightening and awesome.

Trey RatcliffDo you consider yourself an artist first before thinking about the job ahead of you?

Always an artist first.

What is the best advice you would give a photographer just starting out?

Don’t depend on photography to make a living. If you are truly a creative person, you can learn other marketable skills to pay the bills and buy the toys. Keep photography on the side. If it makes money, it makes money. If it doesn’t, it’s still fun.

The key to creativity is…

I think a broad education in everything from literature to science to history to arts is very important. The ability to make unexpected connections between disparate disciplines expands exponentially as you add more nodes to your knowledge network. The internet is addicting, but you need to set aside time to consume the other finer intellectual things in life to keep your mind open.

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?

I love my Nikon D3x. The lens I use the most is the Nikon 14-24.

What is your favorite time of day to shoot outdoors?


How do you deal with rejection of your work, losing a job, not making a sale or a negative comment?

If someone doesn’t like something I ignore them. I just don’t have time for nonsense. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to good critical feedback, however.

Do you prefer RAW or JPG and why? If RAW, would you prefer a system that uses the DNG RAW format?

RAW. Come on… of course RAW ?. I think DNG is preferred, but it will be a while before Nikon and Canon come around to that.

Trey Ratcliff

How do you protect your camera when not in use? When traveling? When on the way to a job? What if it rains?

(no interesting answer here… I keep it in a bag)

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 it myself. It’s always a high-anxiety event, like a kidney transplant.

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?

It sounds like a good idea – not sure that is my sorta thing, however.

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?

I listen to all kinds of music. I’d say for maximum right-brain activity, I listen to a lot of ambient, new age music. Not hokey stuff like Yanni, however.

What is your favorite band? Movie? Book? Museum? Website? Who is your favorite photographer? Artist?

  • Music: Bel Canto
  • Movie: Baraka
  • Museum: Orsay
  • Website: Flickr
  • Photographer: Edward Curtis
  • Artist: Renoir

What is your favorite photograph you’ve ever taken?

I’ve got a great HDR of my kids in front of the tree last Christmas. (view the photo)

What is your favorite photograph from another photographer?

I have a ton of favorites from Edward Curtis. I’ll have to make a tribute on my site for him!

Is there something you always ask yourself or think just before you push the shutter button?

No… I’m very free-form and let it flow.

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 going forward on experiments in HDR video. Things look good so far.

Anything you would like to add for our readers?

Hmm… That’s a tough one. I don’t often give out a lot of advice, because I don’t often take it! That might be the biggest idea here, and it’s something I talk about a lot in the book. Be wary of photographers or people that try to tell you the right way to do something… or follow these steps and you can be like me… well, you don’t want to be like anyone else, and you are not. Just be bold and make mistakes and forgive yourself then make some more. That’s the way to create something truly new that will stand on its own.

Trey Ratcliff

View more photographs by Trey Ratcliff: stuckincustoms.com/, twitter.com/treyratcliff, flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms

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.

Some questions supplied from the following Twitter users:
@pjtaylorphoto, @donkeymaster, @GrfxGuru

Some questions supplied from the following Facebook users:
Brian Walter, Faylin Myhre, Leslie DeLorean, Patrick Connor

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thank you for the great Interview.

  2. Thank you for the great Interview.

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