One Hour Photo - Art Wolfe
Today we have the great Art Wolfe here. And we've got a number of his photos that we're going to be looking at and I'm sure we're gonna have a great conversation, and then on top of that we're gonna be looking at some of your photos, both Art and I, and will be commenting and making suggestions about how you can improve or what we like, or what we don't like about your photos. All right, for this week our first question is I use a Canon 6D but my lens is Sigma, what are the pros and cons to using a different brand? So Sigma as of late has been making some very high-end, optically, very, very good lenses and so from an optical standpoint it may not be a problem at all, in fact it may actually be better than what's available with your Canon, Nikon, or whatever other system that you have. Typically when Canon, or Nikon, or any other manufacturer make a camera, and make a lens, they're designed to work together and you have warranties that make sure that they're gonna work. When you buy an...
other brand they're often reverse engineering how the focusing and aperture connect up with the camera and it's possible, and Sigma in the past was a little bit guilty of having lenses that were not compatible even though they were supposed to be and they would have to be fixed by Sigma, you would have to send it in, and they would fix it for free, but it was kind of an inconvenience because you go out, you buy a new camera and your old Sigma lens didn't work on it. They seem to have addressed that for the most part for the last several years and a number of their art lenses, or their sport lenses as of the last three or four years are going to beat the optical quality of many of the Canons and Nikons out there. They may or may not be as fast to focusing and so most photographers who are pretty serious are gonna buy the name brand lens of their camera manufacturer, but there's a number of us, myself included that do own some of those Sigmas because they are becoming quite good. There's also Tamron and Tokina and they can make some very good alternate choices that are sometimes a little bit less money and virtually the same in quality. Do you have a good tip for culling down photos from a travel trip? This comes from Heather Cubrow. The way that I work when I'm traveling is that when I' traveling I wanna get the best photos possible and I don't wanna spend a lot of time working on my computer when I'm on location, but I do want to try to note down anything that was really important that happened that I knew one shot was a better shot or not. And so I try to get through every day's photo just in a real quick scan and mark off some images that I know are garbage and mark off a few that are really good, and sometimes I'll just give myself ten minutes before bed to look through all the photos, mark down five or six that I know are pretty good, give 'em two stars, give everything else one stars. When I come back home, days, weeks, later, when I'm comfortable and I'm sitting in my office and then I have a chance to look at the images on the big screen then I'll do a more thorough culling of them, but I think doing two culls, one right away, and then one later on with a little bit of time to separate you from the emotions of shooting something because right then you might be thinking it's the greatest thing in the world, and two weeks later you might be thinking it's not quite ready for primetime yet. Next question, what is your opinion on Magic Lantern? This is Robert Stanton. All right, I'll be honest with you, I don't know a lot about Magic Lantern. I don't use it myself but it is, for those of you who don't know anything about it, this is a software hack to get into, mostly your Canon, a lot of your Canon 5D Mark IIs and 5D Mark IIIs, Magic Lantern made their own software, or firmware, that you load onto the camera, that improves the camera's performance when shooting video and gives you new options that the original manufacturer, Canon in this case, did not give you, if you are very serious about shooting video I would look very closely at it. I've heard good things about it. It's interesting that variable to actually get more out of the Canon camera than Canon is offering you and they might be pushing some things and so it potentially could cause some problems, but I have not heard of it, and so if you shoot a lot of video it might be a good option to look into a little more closely. What are the pro and cons of an ultra-wide lens versus a wide-angle lens stitched versus normal lens stitched? Okay, this is from David Hodgins and it sounds like he's doing panorama stitching, and when you use an ultra-wide lens like a or 16 mm lens it's, I don't like to use the word distortion, it's a little bit misleading, but there is a stretching effect when you use a wide-angle lens, and when you try to take two wide-angle lenses and stretch them together it's not the best way to do this. It's gonna be better if you can use the longest lens possible and so most panorama stitching is gonna be really easily done and easily stitched together when you're shooting around 50 to 100 millimeters, and so that makes sense if you can do it. There are some environments that you just have to use a 24 mm lens and so it's preferred to get back a little bit, use a little bit narrower angle of view and then stitch those together because of that stretching effect on a wide-angle lens. Could you please give us your advised setting shooting flat monochromatic drawings. Okay they're using a Nikon D800. So if you're gonna photograph a painting or any sort of flat artwork there's two things to think about. One is exposure and two is focusing. Now first off you should probably be on a tripod. You should have your drawing, or painting, or whatever it is either hanging on the wall or on an easel. You could put it on the ground and shoot straight down but it's a little bit easier if you don't have to put the camera right on top of it. There could be some problems in that case. And so I would lean it up against a wall and use a tripod. You would focus on it and it should be perpendicular to the sensor plane or the film plane in your camera. So make sure that your camera or the painting is not tilted, that you're shooting it straight on. At that point, you don't need any depth of field, so you can use a middle aperture setting. It depends a little bit on what lens you have, but for a lot of people that's gonna be around f8 or so, you don't need f22 because you don't need the depth of field and your lenses are not as sharp, wide-open at 2A or 1:4 or whatever they happen to be. So aperture at f8, the exposure can be whatever it needs to be for the given light, and so lighting is gonna be the next key and you probably don't wanna shoot this under any sort of bright or harsh light. And so window light on a cloudy day would be a great way to shoot this, you want to try to illuminate it evenly. The professionals, if you have that option, you'd be in a studio with two or four lights on each side evenly illuminating it. But if you don't have that option I would go next to a large window that's letting in a lot of even light to it and try not to cast any shadows on it. And so that's how I would do it. I have a Nikon D750 and need to upgrade my Apple MacBook Pro. Which is the best Apple computer, laptop or desktop, for photography? So if you travel around a lot it's obviously very nice to have a laptop so that you can take it with you. They have little card slots, at least most of 'em do these days so that you can download straight into your computer and it's very, very convenient. But when you're looking at images you usually want to see them on the biggest screen possible and so most serious photographers are gonna have a desktop computer. Now you could always take a laptop and hook in a monitor, and you could just have a monitor at home, plug in your laptop to it and your images will look great and you'll be able to judge sharpness and composition a little bit more easily on the largest monitor. To be honest with you pretty much all the Apple products are gonna be fine for working with photos. I do like ones that have a lot of connections as far as USB, Thunderbolt, any of the other connections. It's nice having that card slot. I know Apple introduced a new model and I forget the names because they're going crazy with the names, but they took out the card slot and a lot of the USB slots and a lot of photographers have not jumped on that bandwagon yet because you have to buy these dongles so that you can plug everything in, and so convenience is a big part of the issue, at least for me, but I think quality-wise, screen-wise they're making some very good products. I was wondering if you know of store that actually rents out cameras? I have a D500 on my mind but since I'm not used to shooting manual I'm a little scared to purchase and regret it. So that's understandable when you make a big purchase you wanna be happy with the camera. I talk a lot about purchasing cameras and it's not about finding the best camera it's about finding the camera that's right for you, and rentals is a great way to do this. And there's a number of places. And you can of course do a Google search, you'll probably end up at a place called Lensrentals or BorrowLenses and despite the names they rent cameras as well and so they can actually ship 'em out, mail em to your house you can keep 'em for a few days, or a week, or as long as you want, and it does cost a chunk of change. Now I'm not a big fan of renting if you know what you want and you just want to buy something because you could buy something brand new and use it for two weeks, turn around and sell it and it would be less expensive than renting it for those two weeks, if you have the money to spend on that particular product. But for testing out two cameras or lenses side-by-side it's a great way to do it, and it's kinda nice because in the world of photography there's some really expensive cool gear that you can use, and rather than going out and dropping 10 grand on a 500 mm lens to shoot eagles that one weekend that eagles are in your neck in the woods, you rent the 500, you go out, it's like driving a Lamborghini for a weekend and then you return it. And so I think it's a great experience and a great way for people to try out new gear, and so a little Google research, read some reviews, and you will find a good place. There are a number of stores. Here in Seattle we have Glazer's Camera that has gear right there for the professional and amateur. They can just walk in, rent it for the weekend and they're out. So it depends a little bit on where you live, but pretty much no matter where you are, you can get it sent to you. I can afford a full frame camera, but is it okay if I get a crop sensor camera and the right lenses and get in the path of learning? Do you strongly suggest to make the sacrifice and get the full frame one from the beginning? Cesar Quintero. Okay so this is the question that I get over and over and over again, as soon as people get into photography and they start learning what is what, the immediate question is should I go straight to full frame or should I take the small step getting there and I guess it depends a little bit on how sure you are about where you are going and what you are doing. For a student who is getting into photography and you didn't really know where they were gonna go, I would say definitely get the crop frame. The cameras are less money, the lenses are less money, everything's smaller, lighter, easier to work with. For somebody who's said they've been working with it for a while and they know they want to get into a particular area, let's say portrait photography and they knew that they wanted to go professional. They're gonna sell their work and all the other professionals are using full frame camera, well then yeah you better get full frame right away because that's where you're gonna end up. And so I'm a big fan of taking steps as far as you need to go, cos there's no sense buying a full frame camera if you're not really sure that that's where you're gonna go. It's a very tough question and there's actually another question that relates to this. I'm looking at the D500 and D750, they are now the same price, so the question is now, is full frame or DX? I know in your classes you compare them, but help me decide. So the D500 and D750, D500 is a crop frame camera, D750 is a full frame camera, and they may be the same price but they are very different cameras. The D500 is a sports, action, and wildlife camera. The D750 is kind of a mid-range full frame camera that is a very, very versatile camera. It's good for landscape photography, portrait photography, and so if you really are doing a lot of telephoto, fast-action work, the D500 is gonna be the choice there because the focusing on that is tremendous. For more general purpose, then the D750 is probably gonna be the better choice; they're both highly-rated very good cameras but as I said before, the choice between crop and full frame, it's a hard choice for a lot of people. Most of the people that I encounter who are into photography have crop frame cameras. But when you look at the professionals, they pretty much are all using using full frame sensors and it's partly because it's a little bit like an arms race, when everybody else is shooting a full frame camera, and you're trying to sell and compete against them you need to have equivalent gear in that case. If you're doing photography just for yourself, it's probably more important that you have a camera and a system of equipment that fits your needs, that you can afford, that's something that you're willing to carry around and use on a regular basis, and something that you really enjoy using. I believe the best camera is the camera that you are most happy using. All right, it is now time to welcome our guest on the show, Art Wolfe, he is a well-known photographer, internationally-known, for landscape, wildlife, culture, fine art, much more. He's won more awards, published more books than we have time for. Art come on out, thank you very much.
It's great to have you here.
It's great to be here.
This is great to have you here. Now you you have a class, now people might be watching this in the future, so there's probably a class already on the books that is already done, and what's this newest class that you have going on here?
Well, you know I'm not a gear-head.
But I'm actually giving a talk on how I'm using technology to improve my work. So it's everything from drones to the latest digital cameras and focuses, and every everything kind of geeky.
And what's the name of this class?
We have no name for it, but it is rolled into two other lectures and one of which is called Photography as Art, which I've been giving around the country in major cities and now secondary cities, and it's equating the abstract expressionists, mining their works for inspiration and moving your own work forward. And then there's a other class which is basically looking at how the world has changed, how small the world is, and how I traveled to all these different destinations working on multiple books to advertise the cost of production and make a living from it.
Nice, now here at CreativeLive I've got to meet a lot of photographers that come in, and a lot of photographers I gotta admit, have come into their own in the last 10 years and you've been going at this a little bit longer than 10 years. Some people don't know it, in one of your classes I know you do a great visual storytelling from when you were a child and how you got into it, so I don't want to tread on that exact same ground here, but there's a great story that goes into how you got into it, but for those who haven't seen it, take us back to when you first started to pay the bills in photography, what were you doing and how were you making money?
So I was in college, and actually, going way back I was painting pictures for my junior high teachers and they would bring me little black and white photos of the farmhouses that they grew up in the Midwest before they immigrated to the coast, and I would take those little black and white photographs and render 'em into a watercolor painting. I'd mat 'em, I'd frame 'em. This is at the age around and I would sell it to the teachers and of course they would buy it for like 30 dollars, and so, beyond the money it was such a great confidence-boosting thing that you could actually make money from something you were creating.
It was and my father was independent businessman, small potatoes but I grew up in that family where I saw that he ran his own business and so it was a natural evolution for me to get out of college, and I spent one year, one critical year for me as a substitute art teacher which meant that I never taught art. You know, it was chemistry, it was physics, it was orchestra and everything that I was not qualified to teach, but it oddly enough gave me the confidence to actually get in front of a group of people and actually carry on a conversation, because prior to that I was really like the average person in the sense that the biggest fear for most people is actually speaking in front of an audience. So I got through that psychological barrier being that one year art teacher.
Yeah, I mean building your skills there. But when you first started shoot photos and make money from it, what were you doing?
Well, and in fact I go over it a little bit in my first lecture, my father gave me one of his old Speed Graphics that he used off an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific and I used to take those big box cameras, the ones that you have to look at an image upside-down, pull back cloth over, use a little loop to focus, I mean it was the Ansel Adams model, and I was up on the North Cascades, or Mount Rainier, taking black and white photos and it coincided with the first year that NorthFace climbing shops opened in Seattle, and they wanted that work and so I got those photos on their walls, which then gave me the thought to go to REI, and Eddie Bauer, and half a dozen other climbing-related shops and get work up there, and I started selling photos off the walls.
And so I remember going to the old REI, with the crickety floors, you've got the two sections, and there was this ramp here, and I always remember there's these beautiful photos of owls and wild animals, and here's Art with this tripod that was really weird because I wasn't into photography, but the legs were really big.
You know the first trip I went to Africa was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, this was November 1980, and I can remember the secondary part of that trip was to go out in the Serengeti and I have some of the photos from back then, and the tripods were like 40 pounds, they were all metal, and big, and cumbersome, and, my God we live in a great time now with lighter-weight everything.
So you've been in the business for a long time and I've seen that it's hard enough for many people just to pick up photography and get good at it. It's another level to develop a successful business and it's another level on top of that to keep one going for multiple decades. You've seen a lot of changes and revolutions in photography and society. What are some of the biggest revolutions and how have you rolled with the punches, what sort of changes have you made with the changing society and dynamics?
Yeah I think for a lot of my colleagues they would look back at the year 2008. I think not so much a change in technology but that change in economy. It was a year that was famous for the fact that Time Magazine bought five of their covers for a dollar apiece using micro stock, and it almost devastated the entire photo industry, because historically in the last 30 years we would find an agency that would represent our work, they would do the sales, we didn't have to get involved in the business end of it as long as we supplied the photos. But in 2008, of course the world economy crashed but at the same time micro stock became much more known about and the value of individual photos just plummeted, and it followed, by one calendar year, the music industry. And so suddenly the value of a photo that we could sell, some people sold a single image for 50,000 or 100,000, now it was getting down to the point where it was pennies. And so I basically had to reinvent myself and to fall back on my teaching certificate and start teaching more and broadly, and taking people out on safari. But at the same time I didn't completely let go of my love of books, and so I just had to create a different model of working on multiple books at one time so I could afford to do books, because honestly in today's world a book publisher can never cover the costs of one trip on an international level, let alone all the ones that would be necessary if you did a really broad-reaching book. And so that's what I've been doing, is balancing teaching one-day seminars around the country, taking people on safari, doing books, a little bit of the TV, and selling raspberries on Sunday afternoons.
(laughing) So for the aspiring landscape photographer, just taking beautiful landscapes and submitting them to a stock agency is probably not gonna to get them too far?
It isn't and so many people populate in my classes that are successful women and men in business but they always say the same thing, and I'm sure you get this, is I just want to justify the buying of my lens. I say back to them, why do you need to make money from your work? If you've got money, if you've got a successful life, use photography for heart and soul, for passion and happiness, because the minute you try to make money from it, it becomes more serious and a lot of stress, and so I think people, I mean I'm not just saying it because I want a bigger audience, I'm saying it because I think that creative people that are driven by passion live longer, happier lives. It's unequivocal.
I'm very much in the same mindset. I think photography is a great activity, it's a great mindset, it's a great way to get you outside, it keeps you thinking about things differently and so I got one question that I ask everybody in my interviews, and that is what percent of your working time is spent actually photographing?
You know I wouldn't know. I really don't know.
I mean can estimate it? 50%, 5%, 25%, of working time you gotta think about all the time that you're working in the office.
You're gonna depress me. You know I would say five to 10%. You know if it's an international trip, I just came back from four weeks in Iceland, Finland, Norway, Germany and the amount of time during those trips that I was actually taking pictures, realistically 5%.
Okay you're right in the ballpark with everyone else and I guess the point that I'm trying to make is if you want to be a photographer take Saturday, go out and shoot, and you're gonna be shooting more than the professionals.
Probably, but do you know what's really interesting about that? As, when I'm traveling, international travel is not a picnic.
It's getting worse.
You're crammed into an airplane and there's all these hula hoops you have to jump through going through airports. The minute I start working is like plugging in electrical current, it gives me energy, I'm virtually working but that kind of work feeds the soul and the heart. And I don't wanna sound like an Evangelist but it's true. If you look at any of the painters that I studied and I have brought into my lectures, all of 'em, unless they were like Jackson Pollock that ended his life pretty quick, most of those painters really lived long lives. In the Impressionist period, Monet, Claude Monet lived into his nineties when the average person lived to 48, so what does that say about longevity and all those Impressionist painters lived well into their eighties and early nineties, and so I think the creative process, and we're talking about photography but it could be writing, it could be cooking, it could be dancing, it could be any of those things.
Whatever gets you going. Whatever gets you out of bed and really feeds the soul pursue at all costs.
So you do a bunch of different things, you do public talks, you lead your own classes, you have workshops, what type of morning do you wake up the most excited for as far as what's gonna happen that day, you're like, oh great this is something I'm doing, is it like a studio shot you're set up or you're on location?
You know I've done a sub-group of photos that you're aware of called the Human Canvas. And I loved doing those shoots simply because it's all in the studio, it was very different than the rest of my life but what that speaks to is the fact that I'm creating something purely out of my imagination. In fact, you become vulnerable from that point of view, because you know you could photograph a beautiful sunset over Puget Sound, or Mount Rainier, or the Grand Canyon or whatever it is, and people can say, well I don't quite like it, but you don't take it personally because that's the sunset. But if they didn't like the Human Canvas, they're making a statement about what's in your coconut.
'Cause you created everything.
Yeah, exactly so I was reluctant and a little apprehensive for introducing the work but it has gotten an audience and people do like it because I'm taking the human form and I'm putting people into clay and baking 'em, or hand-painting all sorts of elaborate designs over it and the collective then is showing people, other humans in a very different light, and invariably and always people are like, really you didn't create that through a computer? No all the imperfections of my brushstroke which is getting even lazier is there and people love that organic, real part of photography. They wanna know you didn't create that on a computer but it was really the old fashioned way of painting.
It means something, and it's kind of like in movies where when you hear they actually built a whole city for this versus oh it's all CGI, even though it may look the same on the screen, emotionally when you watch it you take it in differently.
That's exactly the point.
So let's see where was I gonna go with this.
I don't know. Welcome to my age.
I had somebody on Facebook wanted me to ask a question and I've kind of noticed a trend in photographers, when they start, people just kinda want to take pictures of their vacations and their babies, and then they kinda wanna take pictures of things that they see and they get better and better at that but there's a limit of how good of things they can see, so they start creating their own things. And so, I have found that there's these two separate categories of photographers and you are one of the best at working in both worlds. And one is having a really good eye for seeing something, because by the way, just in case people at home didn't know, this is my former boss here, I used to work with Art when you were doing the TV show Travels to the Edge and so I've seen Art working in the streets and in the studios and everywhere else, and you've got a fantastic eye.
Thank you, thank you. I know there were times where we were in the van, you would stop the van and you'd get out with your camera and I'm like what is this because I don't see it, I don't see it, every once in awhile. And you would pick up great things and so you have a great eye for picking those up but you're also really good at creating something that it's just like, I would have never thought of that in a million years. And there are people who work in the studios that are really good at creating things, but if you take them up to Mount Rainier they will just be completely lost, figuratively. How do you see those two different worlds, do they bridge? Tell me about that.
Yeah, you know, there's a lot of things. Most things I can't do very well, seriously. But when it comes to compartmentalizing ideas or book projects at one time, and I'll speak to that in my class is I'm pretty good at keeping bodies of work separate. So I can look at organizing, I can be walking down a street in a back village in India for instance and see somebody that was amazing in their eyes or in the wardrobe they are wearing. And then I could be walking for the next five minutes taking pictures and see this stunning wall which would be a perfect complementary color to the person's wardrobe, and I'll go back and find that person and drag 'em and put 'em in front of that wall, because I have a really good memory for potential shots and how do we call this, when you're taking different elements and combining them into a very stylized image, it almost borders on the commercial, well in fact it does. So I like shooting candid shots, but I also love, and this comes from my background as a painter and art. I graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in Art and Art Education but the art classes were five years of graphic design, and painting, and sculpture, and all of those kind of things, so I have that all ready to pull out of my memory when I see something that I could pull this and that and create something. And I have no apologies for that, it's just a different genre.
You haven't labeled yourself as a photojournalist that's documenting life as it stands today.
In a particular location.
No in fact I really wanna play on the word that I am an artist and that I have always seen myself as an artist, I never was a documentarian to the purest sense, never was a biologist, so I don't get caught up in labels like that, I was under the guise of being an artist, you know, you can open up the field. And so yeah, I shoot a lot of candid shots, I shoot a lot of natural history. You know, early on I was a wildlife photographer, that's all people knew of my work but in my brain I was a much broader interest. And as I've aged and as a perfect parallel to a lot of the artists I studied, all of them, as they got older, became much more abstract and broader in their work, and so, I'm just following suit.
Yeah, I think that's a good message for everybody at home is you may just want to put yourself in one category but I think having a good range, it's kinda like a singer who can sing a lot of different notes. If you're a photographer that can deal with a lot of different situations, it's just gonna open you up.
Well, in fact I bring that up in my lecture where you know, the last part is called Photography is Art and I take people, you've been to Havana a couple of times in the back allies of Havana or Chinatown in Bangkok or wherever it may be, and we're navigating the dregs of society, the abandoned buildings, the abandoned cars, and we're finding amazing art within and it's a great metaphor to find birth and renewal in what people have left on the street is a great metaphor.
And it's very uplifting because I know, I've seen some photographs of yours that look like beautiful abstract paintings and you're like oh, it's a rusted out car. And it's like, if you have the mindset of hey, there's art potentially anywhere and there's something beautiful and I can take a photograph of it, you don't hear about photographers like yourself falling asleep while they're out shooting, you know? (laughing) You're engaged.
And it's really cool to offer that to people because not everybody can be flying around the world with a project like this, but they can walk down their own street and if their mind and their eye is open, they can fill their whole afternoon within a block of where they live. They just have to have that opening in their brain and we try to open that.
This was taken by Art Wolf. Do you remember taking that photo?
I do. We were eating a lot of sand that day. It was out there in the desert, north of Timbuktu of all places.
That's right. The sand was blowing so firmly, right on that first 12 inches of the ground. So yeah, we were emptying sand in Seattle from our boots three weeks later. But it was like Lawrence of Arabia with a camera and that's what I was thinking when I saw you.
So for those of you watching, the funny backstory is that I'm shooting a picture, this was a picture of me by Art Wolfe. I'm shooting a picture of Art that Art has used on his webpages and promoting his classes, and so let me just tell you a little bit of the backstory for the kinda significance for me. When I was in college, and I was getting my degree in photography, I had my wall of inspiration, you might say. I put posters up of Nikon lenses and I had this photo from National Geographic that had two photographers with these really long lenses sitting on a sand dune, with sand blowing over them and I thought I would love to be able to do that.
That would be cool.
Yeah, that would be really cool, so Art, thank you very much for providing this photo for this class. Just wanted to thank you in public in front of everyone. I want to get to your photos real quick, but there's one question I wanna just touch on because we worked on the TV show Travels To The Edge. You have a couple of new episodes with Tales By Light, is that right?
It's Tales By Light and it was filmed by an Australian-based film company and we went to New Guinea, we went to Africa, we went to Alaska, and Seattle and we had a great time.
And they're really good. I watched 'em on Netflix.
Netflix Original series, it was produced and funded by National Geographic Australia and Cannon Australia. It was a great group of people to work with as was our crew, Travels To The Edge, which by the way, you may not know, still is broadcast in 70 countries around the world and in 80% of the market that it was first introduced, well over 11 years ago.
Every once in a while I have somebody who says they saw me on the behind the scenes special.
You know, in the age of TV, you never die. (both laugh)
You always look good from back then.
I actually remember you on TV back in the nineties doing a safari special with special guests.
You know, it's really interesting that you brought that up because I was on a plane recently and I got this thing in my mind, my God, if I look back at the TV productions I've been involved in, they're just going to disappear in the ether so I had my staff round up everything that I've ever been on and we've now transferred it to digital file and I'm gonna produce a speaker's series on the life, the life that I've lived is fairly interesting. And so, yeah, I had this show called Safari where I took John Denver up to Alaska and we're sneaking up on bears. I took Robert Duvall to South Africa and we were sneaking up on rhinos. Peter Strauss with orcas in it, the litany goes on and so, that's funny, I looked right out of The Village People. Big ol' mustache, long hair, you know, the whole nine yards. I looked like The Village People. (laughing)
And so, where I wanted to go with that is that we've seen this convergence of photo and video and there's been a number of photographers that have just like picked up video and they're like okay, I'm gonna become a filmmaker, and you've used film to kinda promote what you do and talk about what you do, but I don't know that you shoot that much video. Could you talk for a moment about photo versus video for you.
Yeah, I mean, I still think there's a huge amount of work I could do on capturing a single salient emotionally impactful image. I don't feel like I can let go of that and start a whole new career shooting video, which the collective of motion, it can be very inspiring. In fact it's mesmerizing. Even just watching a dew drop fall off a leaf, I'm totally in the moment watching that. But I am still so hard-wired to shoot stills that I forget that I have really great capacity to shoot video so, in fact, in my lecture I'm gonna show where I have been using video and I'd been more active as of late shooting video that could be incorporated into any of the talks that we give as a, you know, interlude or to give one more layer in our communication. You're a great presenter and a communicator. You're very polished.
And so the combination of shooting stills, communicating to an audience, I've become a pretty good speaker and to be able to use inspiring photos but also lace it with video, is more impactful, more in-depth and that's the future.
The modern age kinda demands that extra level but I appreciate that still philosophy because that's kinda how I think as well. All right, so you brought 10 images and let's go ahead and take a look. 10 images from Art. So let's take a look at the first one now. Where was this shot at?
Oh my God I will never forget this.
Because it looks a little like Yellowstone, you got steam vents or something there.
Yeah, this was shot at 16,000 feet.
Oh my gosh.
In northern Chile, in the Atacama Desert. You took a bicycle ride down that way.
I was down through Chile in the Atacama, yes.
So it was freezing cold, it was three in the morning and so, this was with a 1DX Mark II and it's part of the lecture on technology. I mean, star shots, as you know, were just a thought five, six years ago. We didn't have the high ISOs that enabled one to shoot a really sharp shot freezing the motion of the stars and so this not only got the stars, the Milky Way rising above and beyond the geysers but the geysers themselves and so that's--
Did you add any light to the geysers?
Or is that just the natural starlight coming out--
That's the natural starlight.
Was there a moon out that night, do you recall?
I'm told to remember where there was a, no it was a totally moonless night.
Usually when you get that good of stars, usually there's no moon. It's amazing at how much it's picking up those steam vents on there.
Oh, I know.
'Cause that looks really good. All right, next up, I'm guessing Iceland?
Oh yeah, I mean, it's really interesting to me, John, that when I started going to Iceland, you've rode your bicycle around it, those kind of photos were kinda new and fresh to everybody and now people on my block go oh yeah, I went to Iceland last year, you know?
Iceland's become the hot place to go.
Well, not only that but I think a big part of it is where we took the TV show because a year or two after the TV show started being broadcast, all through Europe and Asia, there were, whether it was Mongolia or Myanmar, we didn't go to Myanmar with that show but Iceland, definitely, it underwent a huge influx of tourists and I feel a little responsible for it but then there's--
It's gonna happen.
It's gonna happen. So yeah this is where the icebergs come out of a lagoon and float around on the ocean's edge for a day or two before they float off and disappear but it was an intentionally longer exposure and so I like that depth you create through the sharp and soft focus.
Yeah I love that, the analogy I use is my classes is it's kinda like food. You've got something soft, you've got something crunchy in there and it's kinda nice to have that mixture. If that iceberg closest to the camera was not as perfectly sharp as it is, it loses everything. The color and the sharpness of that just really holds you there with that, even the clouds moving there. Beautiful image, beautiful.
All right, so you gotta tell the backstory, what's going' on here, because this is a type of shot people will look at, right, can you imagine what the photographer's thinking at that point? (laughing)
You know, I take tours up to Alaska every year, and I put 'em in front of bears that are running and chasing down salmon. There's actually salmon between me and, and you actually can see a little bit of pink under the water in the foreground and part of a tail but yeah, it creates the illusion that the bear's about to kill you, but in fact you are safe and these bears actually are so chilled out by being around people and I think the fact that for over a hundred years fly fishermen have been working these rivers in the back country of Katmai that they have reconciled what humans are, we're not going away, they're not going away and so there's this peace that occurs between these great, amazing bears and humans in close proximity. So that's what's going on there, but I remember I took a tour, I had like five women from the Midwest, they didn't know each other, they just all unlikely signed up at the same time and they'd never been around a bear and by the end of the tour they were so nonchalant and casual but they got great shots.
All right, I know some people at home probably have a few technical questions. Do you remember what sort of lens you had on?
Yeah, this particular one was a 2-400. I was using ISO of about 4,000.
Out in the daytime?
Yeah, out in the daytime, ISO 4,000 and a good depth of field and a frozen moment in time.
Thank you. All right, this was shot last year on the shores of Lake Natron on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. I love the color. I mean, it's so unlikely occurring, that pink in nature.
But that pallette of pink and blue with the blue background is perfect and you know, Planet Earth II is coming out and they have a video shot that's very similar that has a group of these but it makes a beautiful still.
And these are big birds, I mean, they would be around four feet to five feet tall and the males are substantially larger than the females as you can see in the shot, but it was just that beautiful pink and blue pastel colors that really, and just perfect light.
And I know most people who were there who would be, if they were there, they would just go down to the water and take a shot, but it looks like you got a little bit low to the water.
Yeah, I was laying on my belly in the mud and the guano to get the shot. I knew I could go back and take a shower and wash my clothes but it was well worth it to get slightly lower.
Yeah, 'cause you got their beaks above that horizon line in the background and they really stand out.
You, you are such a good studier.
And I just want people to know how much work you go through on these sorts of shots 'cause they seem real easy in some cases.
Speaking of which, this one took eight years to get because it was eight years from the time I realized I wanted to go to go The Congo before it was safe enough to go there, and once the insurgency that was existing in the eastern Congo died down and they signed some treaties, I went, and I went and drove from Rwanda into the Congo and then I had prearranged a helicopter pilot to come in from Nairobi, Kenya. He flew across Kenya, across Rwanda, landed right where he had to land, picked myself up and another friend of mine, flew us up to the crater rim, dropped us off, we over-nighted on the crater rim and photographed the world's largest crater lake and I think it epitomizes the doggedness that one has to have if you see a photo that you want, you will figure out how to get the shot, whether it's economically feasible or not, once you've got it in your brain, you do it.
Well, I have a little thing in my class where I ask how serious are you about photography? Level one is rolling down the window of a car, you know 'cause, okay, and level 10 is flying all the way around the world to get a single shot so we know that you're at a level 10. (Art laughs) All right, this looks like California, I think I know where this is at.
Yeah this is right west of Monterey on the coast, and it's part of my technology where I'm now using filters to blur the motion, ND filters and this is actually, this particular photo exemplifies the fact that historically you'd have to wait 'til late in the day to get the shot, but now we can get these in the middle of the day with a 10-stop filter.
So that's part of the technology.
And I went down to Mexico and did a story on Day of the Dead, which is in Patzcuaro, Mexico, it's in a tiny mountain town about an hour's flight southwest of Mexico City and in a lake in that district is an island where Day of the Dead which is a big celebration of past ancestors is held on November 1st, and out on the boat, towards the island, these fishermen came in, beautiful butterfly nets and I also use this as an example of how I'm doing virtually an Ansel Adams, you know, using Lightroom and playing with curves and all those kinds of things, filters to achieve something that's way more dramatic than the original color capture.
Yeah 'cause I was just gonna say this is your first black and white of this series, I was wondering how much does black and white play into what you do?
More and more and more. You know, we live at a time now, as I keep on telling people, it's a great time to be a photographer because we've got the technology, we've got the internet, we could have the world's biggest gallery on your site if you put the energy in it and you can transform a color image into a black and white and then further work on it in Lightroom or other post-production, what are we calling them?
Software. Thank you. (both laugh) I always hesitate when you do like, you do a Porky pig here. So yeah, it's part of the way forward and black and white photos can augment a color spread in a book and be really poignant so it can be a design element that we all use.
What I think is interesting is that, from one point of view, it's just a Photoshop trick, but it's a big part of our photographic history.
And so it plays well in--
Well you know, people have this belief that Ansel Adams was such a purist, by boy, if he had lived in today's world he would just go to town with digital.
All right, so I think we're back in Washington.
Yeah, is this one of mine? (laughing) I don't think that's in my lecture but I know where it is, I mean, when I teach workshops I take people out to the Washington coast and I'll be doing a workshop out in the Olympics in the end of April and so I love going out there for myself but I love to take people from all over the country and share what's so great about living here in the pacific northwest.
I've worked a few of those workshops, they are a lot of fun.
They are a lot of fun.
And that's a nice night there.
And this is a look back. I mean, in one of my lectures I talk about how the world is a dynamic place, that cultures are changing, landscapes are changing. For good or bad, it's changing. And so, I photographed this particular tribe of people in the mountains of New Guinea 25 years ago and they had a very simple decor on their bodies and I went to the village, and now when they are adorning themselves during ceremonial occasions, look what they become, they become the skeleton people.
So I had them climb those bamboo trees and shoot it in a different way than maybe I would have when I was younger.
Well I don't think you would have been able to shoot this without some sort of light 'cause you're shooting into the light but you still had good light on their faces.
And so technology's definitely helping out there.
Nice. And, before you even say anything, I looked at this and I just like, (grunts) because one of the things I love is a beautiful color gradation and that blue and orange almost feels like the blue and orange slider that you play with in Lightroom but very nice moment here.
Oh my God, you know, just moments before the mountain was completely obscured by the clouds and I've got a class up there and you know, they've never been up to the Reflection Lakes at Mount Rainier and I kept on saying if that mountain comes in you are gonna have the best sunrise ever. And it happened and it was just such a beautiful moment and you know, 10 times out of 11 you're up there and it's just kinda flat or the wind picks up but on that particular morning, and it was about two years ago, it was like, you guys, this is perfect. This is, shoot this, shoot it. And I was just yelling out all the things I was doing with the camera so that they would replicate it. But yeah, it was a great morning and again, it's my beloved Mount Rainier. You grow up in Seattle, it's our mountain, is it not?
And you have been there to shoot, I'm sure a hundred times and it's placing your bets. You go up there and it's not good and it's not good but you're waiting for that one because you know when you get that one, you forget about all those other ones.
And then we have the technology to drop in a filter and you know, even out the exposure and yeah, it's perfect.
Yeah, yeah, nice. And that is our 10 images. If you're thinking about learning more from Art he's got three classes at least as of the recording of this and that's actually the title image for your newest class, Photography As Art, so, I have gone on to the work page, student work page of the Fundamentals of Photography class and that's where I'm grabbing these pictures from and I do tend to prefer images with people's names on them so this is Frank Bergdoll. So Art, I'll mention something and then you can chime in with whatever you think. This looks like a nice beach but what do you think about the time of day?
Yeah, it's a little flat. It's a little high. This person, Frank, you gotta work a little later in the day or get a little earlier up because when the sun is pretty much directly over, it casts a fairly abrupt light, a harsh light on it and subjects like this where the continent meets the sea, I think, would be even better with a little softer light.
Yeah 'cause if you look at those shadows they are just dead black, there's nothing there and so that's that harsh light that we're talking about so I think it's a place worthy of exploring at different times.
Yeah, and I think the other thing is I have this belief that everybody's born, they go to the bathroom, they eat food, they go to the bathroom, they get a camera, and they put the horizon right down the middle and so, I think that, if we can avoid putting the horizon down the middle we can create more depth in the image. But that will come as Frank photographs more and more.
So we all start someplace 'til we move someplace else. And so, this one I felt was interesting. There's a nice pallette to the background but it's both nice but it's a little confusing because there's some lines that are, it's a mixture of there's some good elements in here with some confusing elements.
Yeah, I would simply crop this image a little bit from the top and to the right. You can go ahead and do it because, yeah, the lines are critical in the image because I love the disruption of the lines right behind what looks like a tri-colored heron. I'm not entirely sure what kind of heron that is but yeah, by just mitigating a little bit of those lines, minimizing the amount in that frame, it gives greater emphasis to the heron but it also shows the sharp lines being obscured or distorted by the movement of the bird and I like that element.
Nice, yeah, I think that's an improvement there. Wouldn't you like to have Art Wolfe just reviewing all of your images all the time? I think you have a new online service there. So one of the things I talk about, well, you talked about one of 'em, the horizon straight down the middle but the other one that just drives my opinion of hell is looking at uneven photographs in a dentist office. I see this from time to time and it drives me nuts. So first off, get that horizon level. Now, what do you think they should have done? Should they have pointed the camera more up or more down? What would you have done if you were there with your camera?
If I was there, and now I have to put my glasses on.
Uh oh, Art's taking the computer this is--
I'm going to the crop and I'm gonna open the crop.
He knows what he's doing, folks.
And I'm going to make it a vertical because I want that
Ah, look at that! diagonal line in the foreground to become more dominant, and I think by doing that, and closing this, and I think it's a sharp enough image that I'm just playing with space, and you know, almost everybody shoots big, wide horizons as horizontals but I think that diagonal of line on the shore gives me license to do that and I think that improves that image and that definitely gets the horizon out of the middle. And there's a reason that we got along so well is that we are bothered by the same things. Always correcting the horizon, but you know, as much as I'm a stickler about that I never get it right myself, so I always correct it in Lightroom just as you've done.
And so, yeah, if making that vertical doesn't make you think differently, that's great. All right, next one here. Now this is actually by somebody we both know, Emily Wilson. And I love that background. And I love a good, clean colorful background, and I've got a few suggestions of myself on this one.
Okay, let's do yours.
I would like to see a little bit more detail in that robe so I'm gonna raise the shadows. If we go too far you get a little too much noise but I wanna see a little bit more in the shadows there. That little upper left part is just kinda breaking the background for me a little bit so I'm just gonna bring that in just a little bit. And I don't have the room to kind of move it left and right as I might like to but one other little thing that I will do with people photographs like this is I will go down to effects and I will add a vignette. Now obviously that's too much and my rule of thumb is go until it's like, okay that is way too far John, and so you see I went 42? So now I'm gonna back it off and do about one-third of that and I can't do that math in my head right now but somewhere right about here and I'm darkening the corners just a little bit so that it keeps your eye into the photograph. And I might, if I was gonna work on this just a little bit more, no actually, I want to get it out of that frame right there. Just a little less floor space right there. And so just cleaned it up just a little bit, wanted to see a little bit more in the shadows there.
So, my only critique on Emily's photo is not really after the fact that she shot it, it is before you would have shot that, Emily, is that next time the person obviously is facing slightly to the right. I would have moved myself, my body to the right so that I could put that background behind her more. I like that area, too.
So you mean to the left?
So I'm moving right to put the subject to the left and put a little more space in front of where they're looking and therefore getting the body out of the middle, which when the subject, like this person, is in the middle it's analogous to having the horizon in the middle. Okay, let's move on.
All right, we only have a few images here. And so we're up at Glacier Park. Now I wanted to ask you about this one. I included this one because I know you're here. When you get that sunrise just hitting that one ridge should the shot be taken before it hits there or should you wait 'til you kinda get the whole thing? What do you think about just having that sliver there?
Yeah I would have preferred just to have had that black and white or dark and light. I think that one slice of orange is making both of our attentions go in there. I love this composition. What I would do with this is to simply make it more of a panoramic. I would just open it up, and there's about five or six different panoramic profiles, one of which, and you can find 'em down here, if it was 16x9 that's probably too tight, but 16x9 actually takes the horizon out of the middle. I love where the rocks are in relationship to the distant mountains and the reflections and then I would just drop in a neutral density filter here to kind of take down a little bit of the brightness on that top.
Yeah 'cause that color really draws your attention away.
The main thing there is that it gets the horizon out of the middle, puts a greater emphasis on the rocks in the foreground. It's a beautiful image.
And so there's a couple here that are actually very similar. So we got two trees here, and what do you think about the kind of over-exposed sun? That's kind of hard to deal with.
That is, you know, we have 'em in our own images. It's a beautiful shot, but, yeah, maybe I would have moved left and had the trunk of the tree kind of obscure the brightest part of the sun. And maybe they've done that but there's still, you know, with clouds, the brightness of the sun is kinda spread out into a larger area and that may be part of the issue, but it's still a very nice shot.
So getting potentially I think maybe a little closer to the tree, get that tree bigger and then the clouds on the top, I don't like the way that one on the top left is getting clipped, and so maybe include that. Let's see what did I just lose? Right there, so we want to get to the next image which is king of a similar image but they backed off. Now were they more or less successful here?
You know what? Are these worked on images do you know? 'Cause I would see, just by bringing on the highlights, opening up the shadows, and I think the composition, given all the things we said about the horizon, I think the horizon is nice, it's the big open space, just taking down the highlights a little bit works on that, and let's go to the next one. Oh, that's a really nice shot of the eagle.
And these are a challenge to get sharp. At first when you get your first sharp photograph, you're just happy with it.
So that beats the first 10 years of my eagle-shooting right there.
Thanks a lot and we'll see you next time around on the show.