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We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers

We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers

Finding success in a single area of the photography industry is no small task. And yet, R. J. Kern has managed to find success not only as a wedding photographer but now as a fine art photographer as well. I sat down with him one afternoon to pick his brain on his top five tips for emerging fine art photographers.

I recently caught up with Minneapolis-based artist R. J. Kern in his home studio, where we chatted about his art and career. Kern is a photographer creating work related to ideas surrounding home, ancestry, and sense of place. He currently has a new book coming out, which you can find more information on and purchase on his website. He is also working on a video series for this project, which I highly recommend checking out!

We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers 1

Stay Inspired

Kern had a successful wedding and portrait photography business going. For some, it may seem an odd choice then that he somewhat pivoted to start up a fine art side to his practice. I asked him why he has been making this transition, and his response is valuable advice for all photographers:

I prioritize personal work center for my creative practice. Otherwise, the risk of burnout is too high. We owe it to our talents to grow and nourish them, not leave them for when we return home, exhausted. I followed my gut, but also looked at work in museums, books, galleries, and film for inspiration.

This advice happens to be number five on his top five tips as well. One key to success in any area of photography is to stay inspired. If you lose sight of that, it is quite likely that it will come across in your work as well. I’ve written articles on finding inspiration before, but as Kern suggests, looking at lots of work (and it doesn’t have to be just photography), reading books, and watching films are great ways to keep that inspiration alive.

We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers 2

Think Like an Entrepreneur

Kern’s fourth piece of advice may seem to contradict what we are sometimes told in the art world. However, by thinking like an entrepreneur. you will be able to grow your fine art career more effectively and sustainably than if you ignore the business side of things. 

For example, Kern’s work is heavily funded by grants. He told me that it would have been easy with that first grant to use the money to go out and buy a single piece of expensive equipment. However, instead of doing that, he reinvested the money into himself and considered the ways that he could turn that one grant into more money in order to continue funding his work. This allowed his art practice to be more sustainable and even helped it grow to new levels faster than it likely would have otherwise.

We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers 3

Pimp the Work You Want to Shoot

The third piece of advice that Kern shared is at times easier said than done but is extremely important to keep in mind. If you only create work that is perhaps making you money but isn’t what you really want to be creating, you will never move beyond that work. The key is to build up a portfolio of the work that you want to create in order to take steps towards making that your main source of work. That may mean taking on unpaid test shoots to create the work that you want to make more of in the future. Collaborating with other photographers or creatives is also a good way of building up the portfolio that you want to have and can also help boost your creativity and inspiration as well!

For Kern, this process of pimping the work he wanted to create started in part with hand-making portfolios of his work and bringing them to portfolio reviews. Having a well-made, personalized portfolio made a big difference in how his work was received and allowed him to show off the work that he wanted to be able to focus on moving forward. Also, for him, the work is more than just a photograph, and he enjoys seeing full projects come to fruition. In fact, when I asked him what his favorite part of the creative process is, he told me:

Seeing a completed project come together in all the various components— book, exhibition, or community engagement— excites me. It’s not what drives me, however. The creative part, photographing and editing, is the part I love the most. However, that is just one pillar. Without the pillars of networking, marketing, sales, and thinking, I wouldn’t be able to do the part I love.

We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers 4

Be a Good Mentee

The second tip that Kern provided is to simply be a good student. Follow the advice that is given to you. If you are going to have someone spend time to help you and provide tips on how to grow your career, take that advice seriously and take the steps necessary to move forward with it. He mentioned that this generally is easier when you are paying for advice, such as portfolio reviews or paid mentor sessions because there is more weight on those and there is another layer of accountability since your hard-earned money is involved. Those opportunities that you have to pay for can be extra valuable as a result.

Finding, Identifying, and Engaging Your Audience

The number one piece of advice that Kern has for emerging fine art photographers is to focus on finding, identifying, and engaging with your audience. For Kern, that happens to be peers in the photography and fine art industry, curators, book collectors, and publishers. Putting time into considering who will most appreciate your work and then connecting with those people is imperative to successfully grow your audience and therefore career. 

Portfolio reviews are a great way of starting this process of finding and engaging with your audience and are great for getting your work in front of those who may be able to move your career forward. Building up a mailing list and a newsletter process is also a vital tool when it comes to engaging with your audience. People who invest in your work (in whatever form that may take) want to know what you are up to and how their investment is making a difference, so sharing updates and keeping them informed will keep them invested and interested in your work.

As you identify your audience as well as your style and artistic voice, it could be easy to fall into a style and subject matter that becomes extremely narrow and perhaps limiting. I asked Kern about this, as his work is very focused and narrowed in at the moment. He told me:

I will expand the scope of this four-year project to include the changing complexion of youth in other regions of the United States. My intention is to expand the representation, especially with regard to the socio-economic range and the geographic scope. And in so doing answer these fundamental questions: What is changing in rural America? What is the same? And what, if any, values are transmitted through the raising and husbandry of animals. Is there something about the rural experience of raising animals that creates a common bond across diverse ethnic groups?

We Interview R. J. Kern: 5 Tips for Emerging Fine Art Photographers 5With his broadening view of the project, he will be able to also broaden his audience and engage with them in new ways as well. Thinking of ways that you can stay true to your work while also reaching new people is important for staying active in the art world and for growing your career. Plus, working to expand on projects can lead you to find new inspiration and motivation for your work!

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An Interview With Martin Palm: Constructing Small Sets and Images With Big Impact

An Interview With Martin Palm: Constructing Small Sets and Images With Big Impact

Martin Palm is a commercial photographer based in Sweden. He strives to create clean minimalist images that offer a unique point of view.

Martin began photographer by way of graphic design. He was working for magazines and creating print ads. As part of his job, he was tasked with creating editorial images to accompany articles. Although he was always interested in photography, it wasn’t something he thought he could do because of his shyness.

I can speak from my own experience of using the camera as a social tool. Being an introvert with a camera gives you a reason to connect with others.

For Martin, being tasked with photography made him realize that the camera could be a social device: through his camera, he could communicate with others! On his earliest shoots, he’d bring friends along to help break the ice and help chat with and direct subjects. Of course, he doesn’t bring his friends along to do this now on commercial shoots.An Interview With Martin Palm: Constructing Small Sets and Images With Big Impact 6

Creating a visual brand identity is something Martin enjoys and excels at.

The simplicity to do commercial product photography is what drives me.

When working with a client, his instinct is to find a singular point of difference that he can replicate across multiple brand properties. A concept doesn’t have to be complicated; a simple concept that is executed can be very effective. He references Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s “The Comedian.” Duct-taping a banana to a wall isn’t complicated. But the work became notorious recently!

In a recent campaign, Martin photographed a series of underwear images on a plain background. He also added drips of paint; these were out of context and didn’t exactly fit. What does underwear have to do with paint? But it does fit somehow through the simplicity of colors. The paint adds a whimsically incongruent element to the images, which further highlights the colors of the product.

The client loved the concept so much that Martin pitched a collaboration between his sneaker brand using a similar visual language. The campaign, which was released just before summer, hints at melted ice cream but also still lives within the broader identity of the brand.

Martin’s recent project creating lifelike models of car images was borne of his passion for creating fantasy scenes.

There’s a part of me that loves the unknown that doesn’t really exist.

The images are strictly photographs with nothing computer-generated. But they exist within a space that isn’t real because they wouldn’t exist outside of a photograph. That is to say, that as a concept, everything in the image only exists to help create the image. Again, there is a strong clarity of concept with special attention and care given to the execution of the work.

Producing car images is exactly that: a huge production. Working with model cars allowed Martin to create car images without having a huge team; but also leans into his strengths of product imagery. The images pay homage to real preexisting car images photographed by other photographers but using models. Martin wanted to see how close could he come to a big-budget production using small-scale models. I reckon he got pretty close!

How can I make an impression on someone with less effort but with a wow factor?

To backtrack a bit, one of Martin’s clients includes an architectural firm that hires him to create CGI renders of their plans. Martin was inspired by the constructed nature of these CGI images but wanted to take this idea of construction into the real world. He could have just rendered his images on a computer, but there is a certain look that only photographing “real” objects provides. Working with models makes the images special.

I’ve never been the photographer who likes to travel to make these pictures.

Although he has worked on shoots where he has to travel and coordinate locations, he finds working in a studio to be much more fulfilling. Finding a place within photography is about finding photographs that lean into your skill set and way of thinking.

Creative vision is very important to Martin. He admits that he pre-visualizes all his work and knows exactly how the final images will look.

It’s a major thing when it comes to my kind of work, when it comes to sets. I don’t know how other creatives are actually thinking, but many times, the image I create is already created before it’s done.

This is a major part of creative practice, but often, the struggle is being able to communicate the final image to a client. As a creative, you can see the final image, but explaining that to a non-creative is important to work as a commercial photographer.

Over the last couple of years, Martin’s product photographic practice has leaned into the use of video lights. When shooting tethered, he can see exactly how the lights will look in the final image. Additionally, he’s able to use long exposures for creative and technical effects! His light of choice is the Godox SL-60 with a reflector and small softbox.

He confesses that he still uses flashes when working with human subjects or when he needs more power for physically larger sets.

Time is what haunts us creatives everyday. I have always looked for ways to create more time.

An Interview With Martin Palm: Constructing Small Sets and Images With Big Impact 7

A big part of creative practice for Martin is being able to work efficiently. It’s less about using one type of light or camera or feature, but rather using what is best for a particular job.

To be a commercial photographer, you are always a cost. You are not an investment. I don’t like that part; it takes so much energy from your creative side. Helping people has been something I’ve wanted to achieve in some way.

Which is a great place to end this article with a lesson: do something well and keep doing it. That’s it. It’s that simple.

Images used with permission from Martin Palm.

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ePHOTOzine Member Interview: Steve Banner (Stevetheroofer)

ePHOTOzine Member Interview: Steve Banner (Stevetheroofer)

1 Steve’s stunning dawn view of Stonehenge – a shot he couldn’t take now, because of changes in the regulations.

Steve’s stunning dawn view of Stonehenge – a shot he couldn’t take now, because of changes in the regulations.

 

Steve Banner (aka Stevetheroofer, because he runs a roofing company) has been a member of ePHOTOzine for 6 years and has gained quite a following for his aerial images, some of which he’s claimed to have shot from the top of his longest roofing ladder. His drones have proved useful for his work, but that’s not how he got into flying his cameras above the height of a big tripod… I first noticed his pictures taken with a drone a couple of years back, at least. They showed such good use of the high vantage point and sympathetic use of light. Steve and I met up at the Roaches tea room near Leek in Staffordshire to chat about drones and then go out with model Misuzu to do some photography.

 

Steve also uses a conventional camera – he’s recently switched from an EOS 5D to an EOS R5. © John Duder

 Steve also uses a conventional camera – he’s recently switched from an EOS 5D to an EOS R5. © John Duder

 

I began by asking Steve when he first started using a drone, and why?

I initially bought a drone because I missed my model helicopter and I thought it would be a new way of combining photography with my love of remote control vehicles. Initially, it was just a toy for me, and having had the camera on it was a bonus. I realised that anywhere I could take my camera I could take a drone, and it did so much more – get a different perspective on the world.

 

2 Misuzu posing high above the Leek-Buxton road: landscapers will recognise a favourite haunt.

Misuzu posing high above the Leek-Buxton road: landscapers will recognise a favourite haunt.

 

What is the biggest problem with drone photography?

Legalisation and the limitations on where you can fly, in general. but really the biggest problem for me is that you can’t fly when it’s raining because of the electronic issues and because it’s a camera moving through the air and if it’s raining or if the air is damp, the lens gets wet and your shots are ruined. In practice, that’s worse than the way that it’s been clamped down.

 

Please tell me about the legal constraints on using a drone to take pictures.

It’s an ever-changing, evolving rulebook so I’d rather not say what they are because they could change next month. For anyone joining the drone flying world, the best thing is to get the up to date rules yourself.

(For current regulations, please see the CAA website – drones under 250g weight are, at the time of writing, classified as toys, and do not need a licence.)

 

Do you need a licence to operate any drone?

No – certain drones don’t need a licence. But I’m registered with the civil aviation authority and pay my fee every year. Anyone starting needs to look at the rules, see if it suits their needs and then can stick within the rules to be a safe flyer.

 

Drone image of Misuzu in the heather on the Staffordshire Moorlands.

 Drone image of Misuzu in the heather on the Staffordshire Moorlands.  

 

Which drone picture or pictures are you most pleased with, and why?

My photographs of Stonehenge, for the simple reason, that the rules have changed and flying a drone over Stonehenge isn’t allowed now. Having those which were taken before the rules were put in place means that I’ve got photographs that have been in magazines and been sold all across the world. It’s great knowing that I was there at the beginning when you could fly drones at Stonehenge and it was legal to take the photographs. It was taken quite soon after dawn, and the light was just coming over. The golden hour remains golden with a drone.

For me, I enter club competitions and it’s nice putting in pictures I’ve taken with my drone where the judge can’t tell it’s a drone photograph. For example, when they marvel at a slightly unusual angle of a regular photoshoot place and I know it’s a drone shot but they don’t pick up on that and so can’t quite figure out why I’ve got a better vantage point than someone else…

 

3 Steve’s misty dawn view of Weston church in Staffordshire.Steve’s misty dawn view of Weston church in Staffordshire.

 

There’s also an image of the church at Weston: the sun was just coming up, and on the ground, it was really misty but the drone lifted above the mist and it was amazing. I just bobbed the camera above the mist and it opened up a beautiful world above the fog.

 

What advice would you give to a novice wanting to begin using a drone?

Find a friend who’s got a drone and have a go yourself first because drone photography isn’t for everyone. Some people can’t get on with them, for whatever reason, so it’s important to try it first. It’s the same as cameras – not every camera suits everybody, and with drones, you’ll find it’s the same. For me, I’m a photographer but a lot of people are into capturing videos with their drones, for example.

 

4 Misuzu takes control of the drone: Steve smiles encouragingly! © John Duder

Misuzu takes control of the drone: Steve smiles encouragingly! © John Duder

 

What sort of location makes for a good start with drone photography?

Anywhere you take your normal camera you can take a done as it just gives you a different angle. Places like Trafalgar Square are exceptions because you should never use a drone where there are crowds of people. Any place that you are legally allowed to fly your drone is always a good place to take pictures.

 

Please give one top tip for spectacular drone images.

Take your time – you don’t need to rush, even with limited flying time. Drone photography is all about composition as, really, it’s just a camera on a bigger tripod.

One more thing – switch your mobile to aeroplane mode before you fly. The controller uses it as a screen, but not for communicating with the drone, so you don’t need connectivity. And you really don’t want to be trying to fly a drone and talk to a salesman at the same time.

 

5 A view from behind Misuzu, with the drone out of focus in the background. Although drones are fitted with wideangle cameras, the drone is so small that you have to look hard to see it!

A view from behind Misuzu, with the drone out of focus in the background. Although drones are fitted with wide-angle cameras, the drone is so small that you have to look hard to see it!

 

What other areas of photography interest you most?

Wildlife’s my passion, really. Which is not something you can do with a drone, especially. For me, I don’t mix the two; sitting down by the river with the kingfishers is my way of escape.

 

6 Steve’s passion for wildlife led him to this shot of a kingfisher.Steve’s passion for wildlife led him to this shot of a kingfisher.

 

What question that I haven’t asked do you want to suggest I should?

Let me turn that around. As an interviewer, is it something that you’d want to do? I’m going to ask you again after you’ve had a go with the drone – because you are going to fly it.

Also, you didn’t ask me whether I’m a member of a club, and I am. I’m a keen member of Stafford Photographic Society, which is a very welcoming organisation, and open to new ideas, including drone and smartphone photography. If you live in the area, come along and join us some time!

 

7 I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognise this bird, and had to ask Steve. It’s a greater spotted woodpecker.I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognise this bird, and had to ask Steve. It’s a greater spotted woodpecker.

 

Steve didn’t ask me his question again later – we were too busy – but I did fly the drone, and it’s something I want to do! It was fun, and I want one. And I know exactly the pictures that I want to take with it first!

 

8 Cold, misty mornings work well at ground level as well… This haret may or may not be listening for tips on flying a drone…Cold, misty mornings work well at ground level as well… This hare may or may not be listening for tips on flying a drone…

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been an amateur photographer for fifty years, which surprises him, as he still reckons he’s 17. He’s welcomed the easing of restrictions and the chance it’s provided to go back to model photography, and he’s also been running occasional lighting workshops with Misuzu. He remains addicted to cameras, lenses, and film.

 

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An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Led to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Vanity Fair

An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Lead to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Harper's Bazaar

Dario Calmese is the first black photographer to shoot the cover of Vanity Fair. In this interview, we talk a bit about that as well as his recent collaboration with Adobe to create presets better suited for diverse skin tones.

Dario’s path to photography was a circuitous one. Although Dario is creative, he is technical and an academic as well. He’d trained as a performer since the age of 15 but eventually pursued psychology and mass media at university. Talk about a change of pace! After graduating, he made the move to New York and allowed himself one year to pursue professional performance. His work as a performer gave him opportunities to travel, and he’d take images wherever he went.

However, it wasn’t until a three-week trip to Europe that he purchased his first DSLR, which bridged the gap between his technical side and his artistic side. He could work out the technical aspects of photography, such as lighting ratios and shutter speeds, while also being creative and making photographs. When he returned to New York, he continued to work as a performer but began collaborating with his fellow actors and friends to create photographs, such as headshots and stylized portraits.

Despite his many achievements as a photographer, Dario doesn’t consider himself to be one. He uses the skills and language of photography, but that’s only a single means of expressing his ideas, just as dance or music or writing can be a way of expression. In alluding to Deleuze and Guattari, truth isn’t a singular thing. Dario aims to speak truth to places of power and to be that voice within spaces to say what others might not.

What do I aim to do as an artist? I think ultimately, to set people free. And I don’t mean that in some savior complex way. But I mean free to be themselves. Free to find freedom within their own minds. To access their own imaginations. And to dissolve some of the illusions we find ourselves in.

The world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Having a multidisciplinary approach allows Dario to create richer photographs, informed by a broader spectrum of influences. If you draw inspiration from other photographers, then you are simply recreating what has been done. But if you can draw inspiration from any other place, you can create specific moments that are more than just photographs. For a photograph to exist within the confines of photography, it has to contribute to broader conversations of history, art, or anything else other than photography. Dario very seamlessly creates connections and references within his photographic work. About Guy Debord’s spectacle, it is artists, he believes, who are the ones to hold power to challenge the status quo.

The Vanity Fair portrait of Viola Davis was extremely monumental for what it represented. It wasn’t just a photograph. He believes that going into the work knowing the impact it might have on the zeitgeist and history was both humbling but also a very large part of the photo-making practice. He credits the pose for the image to black women artists, such as Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems, who often photograph subjects from behind. Working for a client such as Vanity Fair is a different level of photography, which includes additional resources available to a creative. The stakes are incredibly high, so you have to step into these shoes that you’ve found in front of you and just get the job done, essentially.

Dario is a firm believer in community and creating long-standing relationships. His Vanity Fair cover was not only his first cover for a major magazine but also his first cover for Vanity Fair. He confesses that a large part of this opportunity came about because a stylist he’d collaborated with previously on editorial shoots recommended him to Vanity Fair. Oftentimes, it’s not about just being talented or having the right portfolio, but also having the right connections and creating connections for others.

Because of this, creating a community informs a large part of Dario’s outlook. He highlights Dana Scruggs, who does this brilliantly. For example, she recently shared her insights on negotiating contracts. For those who are in the profession or have been working for some time, this might be commonplace. However, young creatives starting often don’t negotiate their contracts for editorial or commercial shoots. So, even something such as sharing failures or experiences or practical knowledge is a great way to create conversations and community. Someone just starting might not even be aware of certain pitfalls that you may have learned through experience.

Adobe first invited Dario to speak at the Adobe Max Conference, which was held remotely recently. He was later invited, along with Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and Summer Murdock, to help create presets for Adobe’s Lightroom. Not only are these free for all Adobe subscribers, but the conversation to help create these was initiated by Adobe themselves.

An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Led to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Vanity Fair 8

An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Led to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Vanity Fair 9

Adobe saw a need in available resources for processing certain skin tones and proactively worked on a solution. For companies or individuals to say “I don’t see race” erases people. Instead, creating equitable spaces where these paradigms are challenged creates a more progressive and inclusive world. I think it’s fantastic for Adobe to not only have recognized this but to proactively engage a community of photographers to help fill in the gaps of systemic racism in photography.

Stay curious. Keep dreaming.

We are finite beings in a relatively infinite world. Dario urges exploration and the impulse to stay curious and try new things. Access to knowledge, which sparks the imagination, is a privilege. To then be able to manifest that knowledge into the real world is something that not everyone gets the chance to do.

And if given the moment, provide people access to tools and imaginations. Only through creativity and community can we know ourselves and others.

Images courtesy of Dario Calmese.

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An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Lead to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Harper’s Bazaar

An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Lead to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Harper's Bazaar

Dario Calmese is the first black photographer to shoot the cover of Vanity Fair. In this interview, we talk a bit about that as well as his recent collaboration with Adobe to create presets better suited for diverse skin tones.

Dario’s path to photography was a circuitous one. Although Dario is creative, he is technical and an academic as well. He’d trained as a performer since the age of 15 but eventually pursued psychology and mass media at university. Talk about a change of pace! After graduating, he made the move to New York and allowed himself one year to pursue professional performance. His work as a performer gave him opportunities to travel, and he’d take images wherever he went.

However, it wasn’t until a three-week trip to Europe that he purchased his first DSLR, which bridged the gap between his technical side and his artistic side. He could work out the technical aspects of photography, such as lighting ratios and shutter speeds, while also being creative and making photographs. When he returned to New York, he continued to work as a performer but began collaborating with his fellow actors and friends to create photographs, such as headshots and stylized portraits.

Despite his many achievements as a photographer, Dario doesn’t consider himself to be one. He uses the skills and language of photography, but that’s only a single means of expressing his ideas, just as dance or music or writing can be a way of expression. In alluding to Deleuze and Guattari, truth isn’t a singular thing. Dario aims to speak truth to places of power and to be that voice within spaces to say what others might not.

What do I aim to do as an artist? I think ultimately, to set people free. And I don’t mean that in some savior complex way. But I mean free to be themselves. Free to find freedom within their own minds. To access their own imaginations. And to dissolve some of the illusions we find ourselves in.

The world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Having a multidisciplinary approach allows Dario to create richer photographs, informed by a broader spectrum of influences. If you draw inspiration from other photographers, then you are simply recreating what has been done. But if you can draw inspiration from any other place, you can create specific moments that are more than just photographs. For a photograph to exist within the confines of photography, it has to contribute to broader conversations of history, art, or anything else other than photography. Dario very seamlessly creates connections and references within his photographic work. About Guy Debord’s spectacle, it is artists, he believes, who are the ones to hold power to challenge the status quo.

The Vanity Fair portrait of Viola Davis was extremely monumental for what it represented. It wasn’t just a photograph. He believes that going into the work knowing the impact it might have on the zeitgeist and history was both humbling but also a very large part of the photo-making practice. He credits the pose for the image to black women artists, such as Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems, who often photograph subjects from behind. Working for a client such as Vanity Fair is a different level of photography, which includes additional resources available to a creative. The stakes are incredibly high, so you have to step into these shoes that you’ve found in front of you and just get the job done, essentially.

Dario is a firm believer in community and creating long-standing relationships. His Vanity Fair cover was not only his first cover for a major magazine but also his first cover for Vanity Fair. He confesses that a large part of this opportunity came about because a stylist he’d collaborated with previously on editorial shoots recommended him to Vanity Fair. Oftentimes, it’s not about just being talented or having the right portfolio, but also having the right connections and creating connections for others.

Because of this, creating a community informs a large part of Dario’s outlook. He highlights Dana Scruggs, who does this brilliantly. For example, she recently shared her insights on negotiating contracts. For those who are in the profession or have been working for some time, this might be commonplace. However, young creatives starting often don’t negotiate their contracts for editorial or commercial shoots. So, even something such as sharing failures or experiences or practical knowledge is a great way to create conversations and community. Someone just starting might not even be aware of certain pitfalls that you may have learned through experience.

Adobe first invited Dario to speak at the Adobe Max Conference, which was held remotely recently. He was later invited, along with Laylah Amatullah Barrayn and Summer Murdock, to help create presets for Adobe’s Lightroom. Not only are these free for all Adobe subscribers, but the conversation to help create these was initiated by Adobe themselves.

An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Lead to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Harper's Bazaar 10

An Interview With Dario Calmese: How Community Lead to Working with Adobe, Viola Davis, and Harper's Bazaar 11

Adobe saw a need in available resources for processing certain skin tones and proactively worked on a solution. For companies or individuals to say “I don’t see race” erases people. Instead, creating equitable spaces where these paradigms are challenged creates a more progressive and inclusive world. I think it’s fantastic for Adobe to not only have recognized this but to proactively engage a community of photographers to help fill in the gaps of systemic racism in photography.

Stay curious. Keep dreaming.

We are finite beings in a relatively infinite world. Dario urges exploration and the impulse to stay curious and try new things. Access to knowledge, which sparks the imagination, is a privilege. To then be able to manifest that knowledge into the real world is something that not everyone gets the chance to do.

And if given the moment, provide people access to tools and imaginations. Only through creativity and community can we know ourselves and others.

Images courtesy of Dario Calmese.

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Here Is How Platon Captures the Most Significant Portraits in Modern History: Exclusive Fstoppers Interview With Platon

Here Is How Platon Captures the Most Significant Portraits in Modern History: Exclusive Fstoppers Interview With Platon

Hailed as one of the world’s greatest portrait photographers, Platon has captured the likings of world leaders, actors, musicians, and human rights victims. What does it take to capture the world’s most recognizable images? I spoke to Platon himself to find out. 

Culture Is Inspiration 

Platon thinks that creative people have to be like sponges. We are all drawn to different types of inspiration. He always thinks of inspiration as fuel in a gas tank. If you don’t absorb lots of good stuff over the years, then your gas tank is empty, and you can’t go anywhere. For Platon, inspiration comes from culture. Although Platon is known as a photographer, he doesn’t look at other photographs anymore. Most of his inspiration comes from architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier are his two absolute heroes. Le Corbusier has inspired Platon’s color and form. Sculptors like Rodin further inspired Platon’s work. Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker has great similarities with Platon’s work. The hands are prominent, as are the legs. The wide angle distortion that he uses sometimes adds further similarity to Rodin’s sculptures. The monumentalism in Platon’s work is a direct page from Rodin’s book. Other sculptors such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth have also inspired Platon. Although Moore and Hepworth are more abstract, there is still a degree of monumentalism in their work. Applied to people, Platon seeks monumentalism in his subjects. It is common to see people as mountains in Platon’s work. 

Van Gogh is another source of inspiration for Platon. There is a lust for texture color and form. When Van Gogh draws someone’s hand, you really understand the form of it. There are contrast levels that describe form. His black and white pen and ink drawings are prime examples of that. 

Picasso has also heavily influenced Platon’s portraits. Although Picasso’s portraits are very abstract, you still get their power, their spirit coming through.

When I’m photographing someone, it’s not about aesthetics. Far from it. What is important is to capture their spirit, their soul. 

The Beatles also inspired Platon, so much so he named his son Jude after “Hey Jude.” What really is amazing about The Beatles is how they would always change and push themselves to enjoy something different that’s new. We all get trapped in our own fear of change. Sometimes, you have to destroy what you created in the first place to move forward. Miles Davis is inspiring to Platon, particularly, the way he always pushed for change in his work. He was not afraid to destroy and move forward with his work. 

Frank Sinatra had the capacity to tell a story in two minutes. Frank Sinatra’s Capitol songs do that best. You really feel how Sinatra tells an epic film in just a short song. In terms of photography, Platon has to tell stories with his work, especially when he is dealing with human rights issues. It’s far from a pretty picture, and sometimes, it’s not pretty at all. It’s a powerful story about humanity: abuse of power, someone rising above adversity. Those are powerful stories. They are stories of the human condition. 

Here Is How Platon Captures the Most Significant Portraits in Modern History: Exclusive Fstoppers Interview With Platon 12The way Sinatra takes a song you listen to for entertainment and transforms it into a story about life struggle, heartache, being lonely, or feeling the joy of life. Can you take that out of the song and put it in a photograph? 

Culture comes from everywhere. If you’re a really good photographer, you have to be like an investigator. Books, films, exhibitions, music, everything, it’s all good for inspiration. 

In conversation with Platon, he hasn’t described a single photographer that he looks at. He believes that if you only look at photography, you are looking at 1% of everything that is out there. By looking someplace else, you in fact become more original in your work. Don’t just look at other photographers, because then you’re just copying. Be more authentic with your work by having multiple influences. 

At the end of the day, Platon says that photography should be close to your heart. The closer it is, the more powerful it is. 

A Great Portrait Is Not About Aesthetics, It’s About the Story It Tells and Change It Brings

A portrait always tells a story. There is a story going on when you’re photographing someone. A lot of photographers get freaked out by the nerdy side of photography. They forget that their job is to capture history in front of their camera. There’s something going on, and your job is to document it, freeze time.

When we look back at 20th-century history, we often look at photographs. It was photographs that helped end the Vietnam war. The educated people on how horrendous the war was. It was only thanks to brave war photographers that the world saw how awful it actually was, it helped educate the world on the horrors of war. 

Photography helps cure society’s amnesia.  

Photography can be important if you believe is it important. Platon says to himself every time he picks up a camera: this will be an important moment. If he feels invested at that moment, chances are his subject will also feel invested and feel his passion and commitment. They will work together to create something that means a lot to both of them. If it means something to them, chances are it will mean something to the audience who sees the image too. Platon says that when you approach photography in this way, it gets very interesting. 

People know that I photographed important people, famous people. It is relatively easy to take an important picture of someone who is important. What is interesting is when he turns his lens to someone who was robbed of power, who nobody knows, who was neglected and abused. Can you make an important picture of that person? 

If you really care and believe that photography is a transformative tool, then that picture of a human rights victim can become more important than any picture of a famous person. It dealing with an issue or a story of our time. For Platon, photography is interesting when it is being used to drive change. 

Your Job Is Not to Judge, Your Job Is to Be Curious

There is no method to dealing with anyone. If you want to be authentic with someone you have to be curious and less judgmental, even if it is someone you disagree with, even if they’ve done things that you know are wrong in history. There is no point in taking a picture of them if you’re not curious. 

Everyone is jumping to judgments about each other, especially on social media. We stopped asking questions about each other. As a photographer, my job is to put aside my judgment and capture them. It is not my job to make someone look good or bad. I’m not in a position to judge. My job is to describe what it is to meet that person. It is their legacy that will judge, its history that will judge. 

Platon photographed Harvey Weinstein. That picture used to represent bad-boy Hollywood swagger. As time went on and we discovered his abuses of power, the meaning of that picture changed. The picture is the same: it’s him, he looks like a gangster in it. What changed is what we know about him as a human being. If a picture is good, we can read all of those things in him at the same time. 

Platon’s image of Putin is no different. He was told that Putin likes that picture because it shows him as a strong leader who wants Russia at the table of global power. Putin supporters like that picture too. Yet, his opponents, such as Platon’s colleagues in the human rights moments, also find that picture interesting. To them, it shows everything that is wrong with power and authority in Russia. That picture has become the banner for demonstrations across Russia. People would adopt that picture: the LGBTQ+ community would put a rainbow on that image. There are hundreds of versions of that picture — so many that the picture is apparently banned in demonstrations. What makes that image for both sides is that it is him. 

When you’re photographing someone, you have to be very curious and capture them on film. It is not my position to say that this is a good person or a bad person. History does that for us. 

Finding Magical Human Moments in the Most Inhumane Situations

What is that magical moment? You can describe it. Everyone knows what it is. It’s not a photography thing. When you’re with someone that you care for deeply. Have you experienced a moment when something magical happens? Perhaps they’ll touch you with their little finger across the table. When you smell someone’s perfume that you have a feeling for, that does something to your humanity. It’s your senses connecting to your heart. It’s very powerful stuff. It’s what we live for. Platon’s job is to find these moments of human connection. His senses are so open that he is able to pick up the slightest hint of such a moment. Every person knows what those human moments of connection are. If a picture Platon took resonates with you, it is simply because you recognize the connection that he found. 

It might be a moment of chill, his image of Al-Qadhdhāfī taps into his defiance and monstrosity. He was a monster of his time, and he tapped into that menace. When you look at it, you can’t feel anything but a disturbance of human values. A corruption of human values. 

However, the image of Remy Essam is different. He was the singer of the revolution who sang positive, unifying songs every day. Remy came to Platon after he was tortured by the failing government who felt threatened by him. He was tasered by them until his back caught fire. When Platon saw the marks, he burst into tears. He said” “the marks on your back are horrible, I’m sorry about them. People should never be hurt in this way.” Remy responded by saying that he wears these marks with pride, he wears them as evidence that he stood for change. Platon photographed Remy in an unusual way. Remy stands showing his marks while also holding his guitar, not as an instrument but as a weapon. That picture became like a poster in the revolution. Everyone understood the price of change. 

Applied to today, how prepared are we to make sacrifices to bring change? Speaking of the environment, there are people lecturing each other on climate change. Do we know where the conflict minerals in our phones come from? We are not asking these questions on a mainstream scale, yet we are all accusing and canceling each other because of a decade-old social media post. Meanwhile, there are horrific abuses going on right now. People talk about slavery and BLM. Platon has been to places where slavery exists; he saw it first-hand. His job is not to lecture people on what’s wrong or bad, his job is to raise awareness. 

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Adventures in Self-Portraiture: We Interview Anna Isabella Christensen

Adventures in Self-Portraiture: We Interview Anna Isabella Christensen

Photographers that have true originality in concept and style are few. But Anna Isabella Christensen’s photographs show just that. We discussed her photographic adventure in Iceland, where she took self-portraits to a new level.

The otherwise ubiquitous self-portrait becomes a work of wonder when it is shot by Anna. Instead of being an instantaneous, throwaway snap, she has put time, effort, creativity, and adventure into producing unique shots.  

She also shuns heavy image manipulation, so her self-portraits are very different from, say, Brooke Shaden’s. Anna mostly develops her photos in Lightroom, so none are composites, and she doesn’t Photoshop herself into the landscapes.

“The photos are real, but I think that raw files always need some editing because they look quite dull otherwise.”

Anna’s Journey to Photography

Like many good photographers, Anna’s creativity has been expressed in other areas, such as drawing, painting, and writing too. She didn’t set out to become a photographer, but in 2015, she started exploring nature. The enjoyment she got from that kindled an urge to photograph it. At first, she was shooting with her phone and a point-and-shoot camera but then graduated to what she called her first semi-professional camera.

She didn’t know any photographers who could teach her, so she learned most of her technical skills through YouTube videos. Because this is an unstructured way of learning, she also did a short online course to discover and fill in the gaps in her knowledge.

Her photographic journey began by photographing close-ups of plants. Then, during a visit to Southeast Asia, she started capturing landscapes. Although she enjoyed that, she felt there was something missing, and, when she returned, she started including a human element in the photographs. Her mom helped her in the beginning by modeling for her. Subsequently, that progressed to her figuring out how to take self-portraits.

Self-Portraits and a Passion for the Natural World

In my conversation with her, it became plain that photographing herself isn’t a matter of vanity or publicity. In fact, besides her refreshingly honest approach to photography, Anna appears modest and camera shy. Instead, it’s her desire for self-expression and a reason to be in the natural environment that drives her work.

Anna takes the self-portraits because she likes being alone in nature, feeling she can express her feelings of appreciation and admiration through her photos.

I’m so grateful for those moments that I want to ‘freeze’ them with my camera. I’m happiest in nature, and this whole process makes me feel so alive.

She has a passion for environmental causes, believing in doing everything we can to protect nature and animals. She told me that if people felt more connected to nature, they would also do more to protect it.

To me, nature is everything, and it adds so much harmony, beauty, and clarity to my life. I hope that my photos show it. I’m trying to show a harmonious relationship between a human being and nature in my photos.

Inspired by Nature

When people tell her that her photos inspire them to spend more time in nature, she considers it the highest compliment. She also recognizes the importance of spreading awareness of the physical and mental benefits of spending time in nature.

Her style of photography is imaginative. The images would not be out of place illustrating scenes from a fantasy novel. This is unsurprising, as Anna’s influences include Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. She considered Iceland to be the perfect location for her type of photography.

I try to make my photos look like something from a fantasy world, and Iceland made it very easy. I loved the waterfalls, the glaciers, the lava fields, the moss, black sand beaches, rock formations, Northern lights, everything!

She certainly pushes personal boundaries when taking her photos, learning to overcome her discomforts for taking photos in all kinds of conditions.

My photoshoots really help me to train my willpower. I know that nothing is going to happen if I pose for five minutes in the cold, yet it’s still it’s so hard for me to take off my warm jacket and change into a light dress every time, but I feel like each time I overcome myself, I become stronger.

Anna’s Iceland Adventure

That dedication to her art paid off on her recent visit to Iceland. It was a spontaneous decision to take herself there. She booked her flight just days before flying there alone, hoping to see the Northern Lights. Not knowing beforehand that there would be an eruption or thousands of earthquakes while she was there, she felt very privileged to have witnessed them. Falling in love with that otherworldly landscape, she extended her stay from one month to four.

Despite the visit being a last-minute decision, the eruption photos involved planning, including checking the volcanic reports from the authorities and the weather forecasts.

To photograph the volcanoes, she was setting off to arrive at a location between 2 am and 5 am. The nighttime hikes would take between two and four hours. Sometimes, she would go with a guide and at other times alone. The night shoots would not only show the glowing lava flows but also meant that the areas were not packed with other people.

Anna told me that thousands of people hiked to the eruption site every day. She would not have been able to take photos with the compositions that she wanted without other people in the frame, so the best times to visit were between 2 and 5 am, as there were usually just a few people then.

Mindful of safety in the way she works, Anna only took photos where it was allowed by the search and rescue teams, so the closest she could get was a few hundred meters away from the crater. The eruption site is officially open to the public and therefore considered safe by the Icelandic authorities. She told me that it was a relatively small eruption situated in a valley that is surrounded by mountains. In the beginning, she was able to walk around the valley and see the crater from all the angles.

Witnessing this eruption has been the most fascinating experience of my life. It felt absolutely incredible and surreal to be there. I was thinking that if I wasn’t a photographer, I would probably still go there 25 times just to see all that beauty and power.

Anna considers her eruption series of photos as symbolizing new beginnings, rebirth, and letting go of the old.

The Dangers of Photographing Near Volcanoes

I was thinking of the eruption as a healing fire that was removing everything that no longer serves us so we can be free to live the life that we want.

It’s not just the heat that is a danger from volcanoes; they also emit poisonous gasses. She recommends carrying a gas meter and a gas mask. However, it was windy and so long as she had the wind on her back, she knew she was safe from that hazard. The search and rescue team was on-site to measure gas levels too.

I’m extremely grateful to them. They were all volunteers and made it possible for all of us to enjoy the eruption.

She said she was also grateful for the way the Icelandic authorities managed this event. They made it possible for so many people to witness the eruption instead of just closing the area. They made hiking trails, parking lots, etc., making it easier for hikers. It is estimated that more than 200,000 people have visited the volcano since it started erupting.

Anna also told me that it’s important to not walk on solidified lava, as there can always be molten lava underneath. She always followed the rules there and, consequently, felt very safe there.

As we all know, with all the best planning in the world, things do go wrong, so I asked Anna if there were any accidental incidents that happened on the visits. She said that there were a lot of dust devils around the eruption site that was mostly on the opposite side of the lava field from where she stood. But, she was shooting with her jacket off at the top of a hill when she was hit by a very strong gust. 

It was already very cold and windy, so I kept my jacket right next to me and hid it behind my dress while shooting because I was only able to take it off for a minute or so due to the cold. And suddenly, this insane wind gust came, and it lifted up my jacket, and then, it threw it downhill towards the lava field.

Because I couldn’t see where my jacket went, I thought that it flew all the way down to the lava field and was probably gone forever. So, I was standing there in my dress, extremely frozen and without a jacket. Luckily, my friend, Vincenzo, (who was filming the video) was able to find my jacket, and it didn’t fly all the way down — it was around 50 meters away from us. I also had to search for my gloves afterwards.

The behind-the-scenes video was shot by Anna’s photographer friend Vincenzo Mazza, who is clearly a talented photographer too. He thought that it would be a good idea to have a video where Anna explains everything because there have been misunderstandings about her photography.

For instance, some people don’t believe that I take the photos myself and that I don’t Photoshop myself into the landscapes. I’m very happy that Vincenzo ‘forced’ me to make this video, because it shows my workflow very well.

He also has some amazing photos from the eruption! Making this video was his idea, and I was refusing to do it for a while, because I’m so scared of being filmed. So, we ended up filming it just before I left Iceland over two nights.

Anna does take regular landscape photos too. She knows that there are lots of places that don’t need a human element in them, and for her self-portraits, she tries to find locations and compositions where including herself in the picture adds something extra.  Commercially, Anna also does portrait photography for clients and sells prints on her website.

She has some new photographic ideas forming and is hoping to work with brands, and I have no doubt that her creativity, photographic skills, and originality will be called upon.

I encourage you to join Anna’s already popular Instagram following to view some more of her fantastic eruption images as well as other photos from around the world. You can also find her work elsewhere online, including Facebook, Twitter, and her own website.

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World-Famous Photographer Rankin on Inspiration, Great Images, and More: Exclusive Fstoppers Interview

World-Famous Photographer Rankin on Inspiration, Great Images, and More: Exclusive Fstoppers Interview

One of the photographers that shapes the future of portrait, fashion, and advertising photography is Rankin. His portfolio includes the portrait of HM Queen Elisabeth II and countless images of Kate Moss, Heidi Klum, and A-List celebrities. As a fashion photographer, he has photographed commercially for some of the biggest clients, while his editorial work has been displayed on the covers of most major magazines over and over again.

In conversation with Rankin, I asked him some of the most baffling questions I, as well as you, have. I spoke to Rankin and asked him everything from finding inspiration to what the future holds for photography.

Inspiration Comes From Being Bored and Hungry  

For Rankin, inspiration is everywhere. Rankin loves photography and classic photographers. Rankin’s fascination with photography is nurtured by his commercial work, where he breaks taboos of genres and tries something different. He calls himself a big fanboy of photography. On top of that, he reads a lot and listens to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts. He describes himself as a cultural sponge that takes stuff in, which then nourishes him. Rankin’s magazine, Hunger, is called so as the founder is indeed hungry for stuff around him, like a cultural sponge.

Having started with little to no background in the arts at 20, Rankin studied the history of art and semiotics in college. This gave him the chance to be a blank canvas, as none of his family members were influenced at all by the arts.  

Being a blank canvas person is what Rankin still strives for to this day; he makes himself bored and goes on walks. Ideas come from being bored and hungry. 

Everything I learned, I taught myself.

Not Following Any Style Is Also a Style

When starting, Rankin made a conscious decision to not follow one style of photography and a choice to use whatever tools required to create the image. It then came to him as a shock that people were able to recognize his work at all. People commented that the images had an impactful directness to them, a strange honesty. In hindsight, this was the artists’ personality coming through, regardless of the style or technique.

When asked about his style, he responded that he uses a visual style that matches the idea. This is not normal for most photographers, but he gets bored after a while if he does the same thing over and over again. Sure, he admires artists like Peter Lindbergh and how they explore their style, but Rankin can’t do it, as he gets bored. Although some may view this as a weakness, implying he is not seen as a top artist in one area of photography, for him, it enables photographing cars one day, flowers the other day, and nudes the third day.

I love photography, and it’s exciting for me.

Be a Photographer, Not a Technician

When it comes to large sets, he simply views them as a problem to solve. He likes solving problems, and that is what enables him to create work on a technical level. If something appears beyond his knowledge, hiring a more proficient technician does the job. Importantly, Rankin always pre-lights and solves all technical problems before the day of the shoot.

Photography demands concentration on the subject, not the technicalities.

Any Big Photographer Loves Their Genre

Albert Watson and Rankin both agree that to be a really big fashion photographer, you need to love fashion. Rankin admits he never loved it, so he considers himself not a big fashion photographer. In portraiture, he believes that you have to understand people. If you want to be a big portrait photographer, you need to love people. Rankin agrees that any well-respected photographer loves their subject. If you don’t love landscapes, don’t do them.

A lot of fashion photographers don’t necessarily understand fashion: the business, clothes, etc. It’s a real skill. Very few people can do it well.

Thought and Feeling: What Defines Great Work

If you can create an image that initially makes you feel something and then think something, it will be successful. He loves images that can break down a person. Images like that take a life of their own. When someone says, “that makes me feel something, and it sticks to me, I don’t know why” is when you’ve captured a great photo.

Some photographers will only have one picture that meets these criteria over their whole careers. The difference between a good and a great photographer is that a great photographer can do this again and again. Rankin states that if he is given a brief, he can fulfill it without any problem at all. This implies that he can create great work over and over again.

A great photograph does two things: It makes you think something and it makes you feel something.

Be an Artist, Even in Commercial Work, Especially in Commercial Work

A lot of photographers starting in commercial work do as they’re told; this is exactly what Rankin did too. Yet, he quickly realized that he is paid for his perspective. When someone hires Rankin, they don’t hire a technician; they hire a creative photographer whose job is to have an opinion and tell the client how Rankin would shoot it. The creative agency may use a mood board, to which the true creative photographer like Rankin has no problem saying: “I’m not copying that. I’ll do it like this.“

Even for photography greats such as Rankin, it’s tough, as sometimes, people don’t want him to have an opinion. He admits that when that happens, his work becomes boring. Rankin is a contrarian; he says that his style is being opinionated, and this is what makes his work interesting.

I am very collaborative, although I do have an opinion. As far as I’m concerned, the reason I get my day rate is because I have that opinion.

No budget too big, no budget too small. Rankin says that if he loves an idea, he can work for free. Working for free or with small budgets isn’t a waste of time; instead, it is planting seeds. From a shoot that you’ve done for free, you might get a big campaign. While that’s not the right approach for everyone, it works for Rankin.   

Portrait Photographer That Dabbles in Fashion

Rankin describes himself as a portrait photographer who dabbles in fashion. These two genres were far from what he started as: a documentary photographer. Unlike portraits or fashion, he saw himself as not very good at it. Because of this, he had to rethink his art. Portraiture came as the second favorite, as Rankin always was interested in people. 

On the other hand, fashion was his sixth or seventh interest in photography. Rankin is seduced by fashion. He uses it to create ideas, and it’s the most creative part of his portfolio.

Rankin says that his fashion work is more about the idea, not the clothes. When he chooses clothes or models, he looks for a story, attitude, personality. A good professional model should have incredible character and a great attitude.

A lot of fashion is similar, and I try to do something very different.

Advice to Photographers: Being a Photographer Is Not Enough Now

Perhaps one thing that I as an interviewer and young photographer wanted to ask Rankin most was: if he were to start from scratch, what would he do differently? Interestingly enough, he doesn’t believe in regret and would keep his career the same. However, if he did go and have a word with his younger self, he would say to not be as arrogant. He says that his arrogance came from a lack of confidence. According to Rankin, humility and working collaboratively are two of the most important things that any photographer can have.

On a practical note, his advice to young photographers is to make sure you understand all of the media now, not only photography. To be successful, you can’t just be a photographer. Some aspiring photographers only shoot film because they think that this is what the big commercial photographers shoot on. Although this is sometimes true, a new era of photography dawns.  

There’s a new breed of photographers coming through that don’t care what they shoot on. It’s more competitive now than it’s ever been before. If you don’t have the skill set, do you understand the media you’re working in?

Want More? Upcoming Talks and a Recent BBC TV Show

This is just a small slice of what Rankin has to say to his audience. With decades of experience behind his back, Rankin’s advice is second to none. To that end: Rankin will be giving a talk on The Photography Show on the 19th and 20th of September.  

Furthermore, Rankin’s new TV show, “The Great British Photography Challenge,” is available to watch on BBC Four for anyone who wants to see how Rankin inspires and guides young photographers through new techniques and challenging setups, all culminating in an exhibition.

Twitter: @rankinphoto

Facebook: @RankinPhotographyLtd

Instagram: @rankinarchive

Vero: @rankin

Images used with permission of Rankin. 

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We Interview Tesni Ward, One of the UK’s Leading Wildlife Photographers

We Interview Tesni Ward, One of the UK’s Leading Wildlife Photographers

There are some photographers whose work you can learn from. Tesni is one of those whose wildlife photography is worth following not only because of her eye for a great shot, but her enthusiasm and knowledge of the natural world that also shine through in her images.

Lots of us dabble in wildlife photography, but for Tesni it is her life. You can tell that from her outstanding images, and her enthusiasm for the natural world that becomes evident when you speak with her.

Wildlife is my passion and I get to do it with photography. It’s wonderful

How an Injury Created a Photographer

As a child, going on holiday with her parents, her stepdad would lug his camera kit around the amusement parks they visited. He would seemingly take forever getting a shot, while the young Tesni would be eager to get to the next roller coaster ride. You would think that would have put her off photography. Instead, to hurry things along, she would take out her point-and-shoot camera and challenge him to see who could get the better photo fastest.  

Other than family holidays, she didn’t have time to do photography because, on top of studying, she was training for athletics twice a day, seven days a week. She reached an incredibly high standard, but then a devastating sports injury in 2012 put an end to her athletics career. The injury was a “complete and utter bummer”. However, Tesni clearly likes to concentrate on the positives. Dropping athletics left the room in her life to pursue other things, especially photography.

Shortly after the injury, she took herself off to explore the Peak District, where she lives, and her love of both nature and photography spiraled from there.

 When you spend time with wildlife, you become invested in it. And I became very attached, very quickly. Now I am absolutely bonkers for wildlife.

Although she is driven to capture great images, she also wants to understand as much as possible about wildlife, learning about the animals’ behaviors. So, when she is running a workshop, most of the time she is not holding her camera. Her clients sometimes tell her she is missing out on great shots, but for Tesni, enjoying watching wildlife is equally essential.  She emphasizes that it is important to put the camera down and take in the view with your eye not pressed up against the viewfinder.

Although she does research before going out to photograph wildlife, she says that by observing the creatures she learns things that no books can teach. When she sees a behavior she doesn’t understand, it is something she can go away and research. She hates not knowing.

The Badger Diaries

Tesni famously studies and photographs badgers. It started five years ago when she was looking for an achievable one-year project, but she was immediately hooked and has been visiting the sett regularly ever since. She originally intended to be just an observer, but then a young badger, and then its siblings, came to investigate her, so her intentions went out of the window. She does try to photograph them behaving as naturally as possible, but in times of drought when water and earthworms are not available, she will take bowls of water and supplementary food for them.

Badgers get bad press here in the UK, but Tesni told me they are so much more than they are portrayed to be in the media; they are not the TB-carrying, aggressive pests they are made out to be. She told me that they are all unique individuals with their own personalities, sociable and playful creatures that love grooming one another and they sleep huddled together. She thinks the wrong impression that people have comes from Europe where badgers are hunted.

Like any animal, if you corner a badger, of course it’s going to defend itself. The poor thing’s terrified. But I’ve had badgers right next to me. I have never felt threatened, they have never shown any signs of aggression.

Last year’s lockdown meant that she could not visit the badger sett. This coincided with the controversial cull that’s happening in the UK because of an alleged, but widely disputed, link with the spread of bovine tuberculosis. At that time, she was really worried about the colony she was studying, but fortunately, it survived the cull. However, at the age of around two years, the young badgers left the colony, so their fate remains unknown. She told me that if they went one way they went into cull territory, if they went in the opposite direction, they were fine.  

She thinks that lockdown will have made the badgers forget her, so she is going to have to start from zero to rebuild their trust. As part of her research, Tesni had also built up a family tree of the badgers and now that has a year-long hiatus.

Protecting Wildlife with Photography

Understanding the subject, she says, is important. If you know from a creature’s behavior that it is uncomfortable, then you stop approaching and back off. Her goal is always to minimize the impact on the creatures she is photographing. She is a member of a photographers’ organization called Nature First. Their aim is to help educate and guide all photographers in sustainable, minimal impact practices, and she urges other photographers to join.

She comes across things that the public would not usually see, such as illegal traps and setts that have been dug out for badger-baiting, an illegal blood sport that usually ends with the death of the badger and serious injuries to the dog. She says that even people out walking their dogs cause untold disturbance to wildlife. People let their dogs off the lead, and they will disturb and chase wildlife.

Things Don’t Always Go as Planned

Her own encounters with wildlife don’t always go smoothly. Tesni had rescued a pigeon while running a photography workshop. It had landed by her feet and was tangled in a fishing line. She had untangled the bird and it had subsequently followed her around all day. Then she saw a goose with the same problem. She tried to untangle it and it bit her on the face. Tesni told me that the goose got named Charlie, after the viral “Charlie bit me” video. Then, she smiled when telling me that she always names the creatures she repeatedly encounters, a little bit of anthropomorphic fun that shines through her genuine concern for the natural world.  

Every wildlife photographer has creatures that have proved elusive. Tesni told me that for her it was foxes. She had found a perfect meadow location with a family of foxes playing in it. Sadly, when she went back three days later to photograph them, there were quad bike tracks through the field and the foxes had been shot.

Brown hares are high on her list for photographing too, as are stoats and weasels, which are notoriously hard to capture.

Striving for Equality

It is disappointing because photography is still dominated by middle-aged white guys like me. I want to see the industry driven by young, talented, and exciting photographers, and that was one of the reasons I was keen to interview Tesni. Following on from Kate G’s article about sexism in the photographic industry, and Canon’s all-male “Crusader of Light” lineup, I asked her if she had come across it. She started by saying that the difficulty with this conversation is that some people deny that it exists, to which she says it exists in every industry in the world.

Just because you haven’t witnessed it, and just because you don’t participate in it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. And denying that it exists is part of the problem.

Although she recognizes that she may get sexist comments for speaking out about it, fearing the repercussions, and consequently, not talking about the issue is also part of the problem. However, she is keen to point out that, sometimes, being a female photographer in the industry sometimes benefits her too. Nevertheless, there is a small minority of people who treat women negatively, and both she and many other female photographers she knows have been on the receiving end of nasty sexist comments. But she knows it is important to address and combat that. She also stressed that there are many male photographers who actively fight against misogyny.

She was pleased to tell me that Olympus is addressing the disparity. So far, besides herself, there are now more women in Olympus UK’s line-up of ambassadors and mentors; she was once the only one. Let’s hope this push for diversity of every kind continues across all manufacturers.

Tesni’s Photographic Equipment

We talked a bit about kit. Tesni started moving from Canon to Olympus five years ago. It was the functionality and features in Olympus that are not present in other systems that persuaded her, such as the in-camera auto-focus limiters that she finds invaluable for her stills and video work. She loves how customizable the system is, and, of course, how lightweight, and small the cameras are. Furthermore, she finds shooting with the cameras is fun. Although she enjoyed photography with her previous system, it became a chore carrying the kit around.

Her main camera is OM-D E-M1 X, fitted with the 300mm f/4 pro lens, with which she uses teleconverters. She also uses the OM-D E-M1 Mark III with the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens, again with a teleconverter.

We then talked about the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO Lens. She hasn’t bought it yet but has one on loan.

It is the most incredible thing, ever. I can’t shut up about it. I hope to own it by the end of the year.

Tesni uses Benro tripods. She says that with the image stabilization with the Olympus gear, a tripod is rarely necessary. However, if she is sitting waiting for several hours for an animal to pop out of a hole, or if she’s shooting over the water, she will use a tripod, but she prefers the flexibility of shooting handheld.  

Dabbling in Different Genres

Most specialist photographers experiment in other types of photography. Tesni sometimes does a little bit of macro, but doesn’t feel she is that good at it, telling me that Geraint Radford is the master of that genre. When she is traveling, she loves photographing people and incorporating different cultures into the shots.

Advice to Other Photographers

I finished by asking Tesni what advice she would give to other young photographers. In reply, she told me she developed her love for wildlife photography by going out and seeing things. She didn’t do any formal training. She learned by making mistakes, and sometimes by missing once-in-a-lifetime shots. She says you should find your passion, get out there, enjoy yourself, and not be hard on yourself if you make mistakes, but learn from them.

However, there was one thing she really emphasized again.

As wonderful as photography is, you don’t get the full experience looking through a viewfinder. Put the camera down and enjoy.

A big thank-you to Tesni for the time she set aside from her busy schedule for this interview.

You can see Tesni’s work, and book a workshop with her via her website. Please do follow her on Instagram, as well as her Badger Diaries Instagram page.

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We Interview With Scott Bacon, Managing Director at Nature First

We Interview With Scott Bacon, Managing Director at Nature First

As a landscape photographer, what is my impact upon the very thing that I love to photograph and how can I reduce that impact? This was the overarching theme of the conversation when I recently sat down with Scott Bacon, Managing Director for a group called Nature First, the Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography, to ponder this question. Scott’s passion for the subject was immediately evident, and I found him to be an engaging and committed ambassador for what Nature First is all about.

Background

Nature First got its start around eight or nine years ago as a conversation between a few Colorado nature photographers who began to notice that more and more areas, even some of which they thought of as fairly remote, were seeing a dramatic increase in traffic. And with that traffic, of course, came more and more impact to those areas. This increase in traffic is driven largely by the rise of social media along with improved camera phones, making it easier than ever to share photographs and their locations with the world.

Knowing that they did not want to get into the political arena and also knowing that they did not want to take a policing or a shaming type of approach, the group instead opted to try to educate people about the impact that they are making upon the ecosystems that they travel and shoot in. In the founding principles, the group leaned heavily on the Leave No Trace principles, which are well known for backcountry travelers but are not as often applied to photographers.

We think that most nature photographers don’t want to damage the places that they’re going to and that it is happening as a side effect. If people take a second thought, and if they’re a little bit more careful with their approach and have more knowledge, then we could minimize the impact on these areas.

With that intention, the group officially launched the organization two years ago on Earth Day, and so, Nature First was born.

The Nature First Principles

Here are the principles of Nature First, as stated on the website:

1. Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.

2. Educate yourself about the places you photograph.

3. Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.

4. Use discretion if sharing locations.

5. Know and follow rules and regulations.

6. Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.

7. Actively promote and educate others about these principles.

Desired Impact of Nature First

When asked about the impact he would like to see from Nature First, Scott said that they are really going for a change in the mindset of people who are going out into nature to take photographs. We discussed something that had been on my mind, a kind of “trophy hunting” approach to landscape images that has become prevalent on social media. We both agreed that sometimes, that drive to get the shot takes precedence over the well-being of the actual locations that you are visiting.

The mindset that we want to change is right there in the first principle, prioritizing nature over the photograph. There’s this huge pressure these days to not only to get the shot but then immediately share it on social media to show that you’ve been there.

But it seems that different places may require different approaches. This is why Nature First encourages photographers to be thoughtful about the location they are going to and what its sensitivity might be.

We realize that there are no set rules that you can come up with because going to a paved overlook at the Grand Canyon and the impact that you’re going to make there in that location is very different than the impact you make on a trail at a National Park or even maybe an off-trail site in the wild backcountry. Those are very different ecosystems and very different environments”

What Can We As Photographers Do?

On a practical note, I asked Scott what some of the things a person could take away from a visit to the website and maybe even joining the group were. Scott directed me back to the principles.

If we go on the assumption that most people don’t want to intentionally damage the areas that they’re visiting, then having knowledge about those areas will help them minimize their impact. If they know more about the ecosystems which they’re visiting, they are less likely to unintentionally damage those areas. So, knowledge is a big thing.

Another key point according to Scott is to follow the rules and regulations. If there is a roped-off area, it’s probably that way for a reason, so don’t hop the rope. The same goes for rules about not getting too close to the wildlife. Those rules are there for a reason, probably the protection of both the wildlife and the photographer, so just follow them. Seems like a no-brainer, except when we consider the urge to get that really unique shot. So, I can see for myself where this can require a real change in mindset.

How Does This Apply To Scott?

I was curious how all this philosophy had changes Scott’s own approach to photography. He said that the major change he has implemented in his own work is that on his website, he no longer shares exact GPS locations of his images like he used to.

That’s something that personally I do very differently today because I think today’s online-based information sharing just really allows for masses of people to visit locations almost immediately after you share that location. If you share a GPS coordinate on Wednesday, and it’s a spectacular location, you could have 50, 100, or 200 people showing up to that location on that very weekend.

Visitation Impact

It’s not always about remote locations either. As landscape photographers, we are often compelled to go shoot well-known places, sometimes because of a sense of needing to have those spectacular scenes in our own portfolio just to be competitive. As someone who does the art festival circuit, I see this a lot. Almost everyone has a shot of Mesa Arch at sunrise. Almost everyone in Colorado has a shot from Maroon Lake. A couple of decades ago, you might visit those places and hardly see anyone else there, but now, when you go you are often jostling with sometimes hundreds of others, ultimately clamoring for the almost identical shot. All this attention takes its toll.

When I look at photographs that I took at Maroon Lake 15-20 years ago, I have grass right up to the edge of the lake. Today, the shore is gravel and mud. The grass is gone because hundreds of people go to that shore during the fall and summer. The foot traffic has killed all the grass that’s along the lake.

This illustrates how those of us who regularly photograph the natural world have had an impact, sometimes a big impact, on the places we love to shoot. The cat is out of the bag for the most popular areas, but Scott’s point was that the lesson learned from them can inform how we approach newer areas. It can provide an opportunity to ask ourselves what we want these locations to look like in five or ten years. Do we just want it to be yet another place where we have destroyed part of the ecosystem in an effort to get the prized image for our own portfolio or for that ad campaign? Or do we want those places to still hold that pristine quality that first drew us there?

Response

I asked Scott about the response for Nature First that he has seen in the photographic community. Is all of this finding any traction at all?

The response that we’ve gotten from a vast majority of photographers has been so positive, and people want to help and see us succeed. It gives us the inspiration to keep going. If all we got was indifference and negativity, we would have quit a long time ago, but we continually get just this encouragement, and people want to see us succeed and to be a part of it.

Nature First has grown a lot in its relatively short time. They have over 4,600 members in 69 different countries around the world. Those members have taken a pledge to adopt the principles laid out on the website.

There are also approximately 20 partner organizations and photography workshops helping spread the word, introducing people to the Nature First principles and trying to change the mindset of nature photographers.

Some have even gone further and taken on being ambassadors for the brand, working in over 20 different countries around the world to help spread the word in local areas, and in turn, help Nature First learn how to apply the principles in different ecosystems, languages, and cultures.

That’s a huge challenge because the culture towards nature is very different in the US than it is in Europe, than it is in South America, than it is in Asia. With the goal being to minimize the impact and change that mindset, we need those folks in those local regions to help us do that and do it in a way that’s consistent with their culture and their language.

In addition to taking the pledge or being an ambassador, people can also donate directly on the website. I asked Scott about where the money goes. He said the money goes to the programs and keeping the website going. It also helps to create materials for the ambassadors to hand out at events. There is zero paid staff, so it’s not going into anybody’s pocket. It goes directly to help spread the word for nature first.

The Future Of Nature First

Nature First has applied for tax-exempt status in the U.S. and has the goal of finding corporate sponsors once that status is gained. That will allow them to bring on some paid employees and have a small staff to help run the organization beyond the all-volunteer staff that they currently have.

To find out more about Nature First, click here.

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