DO YOU USE "DIGITAL"?
Easily, the largest single question I get. The honest short answer is absolutely no and absolutely yes.
My Golden Rule is that all that you see in my final images was in my original set in the studio. I do not add or subtract elements to my sets digitally, including my backgrounds. This may surprise some but I can easily prove it.
However, when it comes to lighting, perspective and creating a sense of perfection I consider all as fair and spend countless hours accomplishing the same. Take a look at the info on how I did Realization of Freedom in my "Experimental" gallery for a more in-depth explanation of what I mean.
WHY DID YOU SWITCH TO DIGITAL?
I abandoned film completely in 2005, never looking back for a nano second. My mentor and I concluded that the best digital back on the planet, actually available to mortals at the time, a $30,000 multi-capture Imacon 528C, could surpass the image quality of the best film based 8x10 view camera on the planet. The catch, of course, was the $30,000 part (which didn't include the camera, any lenses or the monster computer needed to run the darn thing) and the hellacious learning curve.
There are those who would cry foul with that claim but I would say to them they need to go back and do their homework.
The basic reasons are immediate feedback from what the camera is "seeing" (a gigantic creative benefit), 9 to 14 stops of dynamic range (huge!), no film grain (I never liked grain except in B&W infrared), exponential increase in image control and freedom to shoot as much as you like without worrying about the cost of Polaroids, film, film processing and so on. (Of course, you're still numb from the amount you spent to buy in in the first place and try not to think about that reality.)
The secondary reasons, what becomes possible with advanced techniques working with digital files, are equally numerous but I won't go into those here.
HOW DO YOU DO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
I often spend more time on my backgrounds that the actual subject once an idea and the right material come together. Though they are very secondary, they are the critical support for the overall feel and impact of the image.
I have used prismatic spectral colors distorted by a flexible mirror, dry ice fog, ice, textured papers, rocks, aluminum foil, crystals, paintings, special mirrors, metal, moving water and, one of my favorites, backlit translucent film. For those, I often download various nebula shots from the Hubble website (which are all public property), modify them in Photoshop, then print them out.
WHAT KIND OF EQUIPMENT DO YOU USE?
The heart of my studio is my Imacon 528C digital back, a 120 mm Zeiss APO makro lens, an amazing Macro APO-Componon 4.0/60 mm Schneider machine vision lens, a Sinar 4X5 body, a Contax 645 body and two heavy studio camera stands. Add a 3000 watt/sec Bowen strobe pack w/ lights, a loaded Mac Pro with a 27" color-calibrated NEC monitor.
If I ever became flush, I'd love to play with the latest Hasselblad 50 megapixel Multi-Shot digital back and add an APO-Componon HM 120/5.6 enlarging lens (forget those who say enlarging lens don't make great macro lenses--zoom in on either my Lost and Found or Dream 1 images see what I got with my 60 mm Componon.
PLEASE EXPLAIN "FRANKIE"
"Frankie" is short for "Frankencamera", named because it was custom fabricated with a wild assortment of parts and pieces (note the bolts on the side of the carriage).
I designed for two main reasons. The first was to get a method for precise (think thousandths) incremental moment of the camera for my extreme depth-of-field procedures. The second was to be able to achieve lateral and vertical exit pupil swing shooting for later stitching.
See the blurb below on extended Depth-of-Field and how I did the image Contemplation for an explanation of what the heck I just said.
Click here to see more of Frankie.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
I do get asked this an awful lot.
My first response is to answer "desperation"--the photography fine art market is certainly a challenging way to make a living and, boy, you'd better come up with something truly unique and well done or it's a day job at Home Depot for you.
Closer to the truth would be to say "immersion". To see something differently you must first understand how you are tending to see it in the first place. Then, having a grasp of that, consider other possibilities.
Another way comes from simple observation. Looking at a beautiful arrangement of leaves frozen in the ice in the wilderness with little control of lighting led to my freezing a flower in a bucket of water in the studio. The experiment ended up launching my career. Watching rain water sheet down my windshield in a parking lot one day inspired a series of images playing off of the same fluid dynamic. It can work like that.
Of course, there is always simple inspiration. Sometimes that can seem to come out of nowhere; other times is seems to be a function of pounding on the door until it actually cracks opens. That may be in the form of a dream, an exhausted flash, a visual prompt or even a mistake.
I'm a big believer in setting your "stage" with as many evocative props as you can while looking between the lines. In my studio I try to surround myself with wondrous items and great music in a stimulating atmosphere. You don't have to get fancy to do that.
When something does catch your attention, focus in on that detail and look for ways to expand it. You might be amazed at where you can end upů
Lastly, get off thinking it is "you" who is responsible for coming up with the "great idea". If you can, step back and try to be more of the observer when you feel stimulated. You might find that when some of "your" best ideas or performances come you feel strangely detached--that's normal with many serious artists and craftsmen who are willing to admit it. The ironic thing is those occasions are the same time your personality wants to take as much credit as possible. Just watch...
WHO DOES YOUR PRINTING?
All of my canvas prints (available only through galleries), Somerset watercolor prints and posters are printed in my studio on a big Epson printer using pigment inks. I am a very fussy customer so that ability works out quite well.
The super glossies come from a pro lab where they are "exposed" on a Lightjet 430, a $200,000 hunk of equipment (not including any of the equipment necessary to turn it into a final print). The exposure is done using Red, Green and Blue lasers that project with varying proportions through each pixel of you digital file--no optics--onto a special film made by Fuji.
Remarkable technology, it is the highest resolution printing process in the world (and cooler than heck). See more on the subject here
The company I use for the process--there are not many of them in the country--is Photo Craft Imaging in Boulder, Colorado. Great people (ask for Jen)...
I AM TOLD PHOTOSHOP IS EASY. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?
That's like saying driving is easy. Yet you need to clarify if are you driving a minivan to the store on a sunny day or competing in the Grand Prix in the rain.
It's a dumb comment made by those who have never looked at what Photoshop can really do or the years of work it can take for those who are eminently competent with the software to become truly good.
DO YOU TEACH CLASSES OR HOLD SEMINARS?
I have looked into the idea several times. Because much of what is different about my work is not mainstream and utilizes advanced studio techniques I have found my potential audience to be fairly minor. I am looking, however, as to ways to work with others in terms of what I do with depth-of-field and "impossible lighting". I feel the applications for the lighting, in particular apply to most any photography. But, again, it is only for those willing to put some hours into a single image and get away from pushing sliders in Photoshop.
I'm always open, however, to one-on-one in my studio. I guarantee I would get your head thinking in new ways about the potential of your imagery.
WHY DO YOU SEEM TO CONCENTRATE ON FLORAL?
When I first got into photography I promised myself all I did would be suitable for any age group--from small children to the grand folks. I wanted my studio subjects to be universally recognized as being beautiful, able to make people feel good, have the potential to be handled differently from the norm and have a broad market appeal. Flowers rose above other possible contenders pretty quickly.
WHAT ARE YOU PERSONAL TOP 10 FAVORITE IMAGES?
That's a tough one and varies as I seemingly progress.
In no particular order, I guess they would be Dreaming Lily, White Delphinium, Nautilus Shell, Double Stargazers, Double Iris, Lilies and Crystals, Butterfly/Ball 2, Luna Moth, Realization of Freedom and Lost and Found.
HOW ARE YOUR GALLERY EXHIBITION PRINTS DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU SELL ON THIS SITE?
First, my gallery prints are larger. Later editions start at a 30" size and go up from there. Most newer images can print as large as 48"64"; my special still life images can go as large as 48"X72".
Secondly, exhibitions prints are available printed as superglossy Lightjets, similar to the 20" prints I offer on the site, as well as archival canvas. For the canvas, I use the best substrate I know of and print that in my studio with the latest archival pigment inks. After that they are double coated by a professional finisher with an expensive protective UV finish and, preferably, dry mounted with a archivable and removable adhesive to Artcare foam core.
My largest sellers in recent years are the high resolution super glossy Lightjet prints face mounted with high pressure to the back of Museum Grade UV acrylic (the same pricey material used to protect priceless documents in typical archives). The print and presentation, though not ideal for all, is, in my opinion, the most immediate and dramatic presentation available in photography.
ANY COMMENTS CONSIDERING ARCHIVAL PRACTICES?
"Archival" is a much bandied and much misunderstood term, often used and abused my lesser characters in the business (including some very exclusive galleries). To further complicate the matter, materials considered archival compared with those which are not are often indistinquishable. People hate paying extra for what they cannot see when the value of the concept of long term preservation is fairly weak in our society in the first place.
Lectures aside, in the world of prints, longevity starts with the substrate (paper, canvas, film, ect), then the ink/printing process, moves on to the protective coating and, finally, on to how it is mounted and/or framed.
The real variables, over time, that determine the value of the above elements are the degree of light, pollutants and care the final piece will receive. Dark is better than light, country air is better than the city and loving care always wins over sloppy handling.
If you really would like to see your art acquistion handed down those special in your life (and one day you will) feel free to ask direct questions to you gallery and your framer. Fuzzy answers are normally suspect as the answers that affect the topic are quite specific. And beware that archival as a term is quite variable. For example, many kinds of foamcore are considered archival but are not nearly as effective as a specialty foamcore such as Artcare yet both are in the same category. It is a sliding scale that most are happy to let mush together...
In short, do your homework. I have watched countless people plunk down thousands and never even ask the question. That may be a funcition of trust they feel for the vendor but, so often, it just isn't considered.
THOUGHTS ON HOME DISPLAY OF PRINTS?
Lighting is not only what makes great photography magical it is also what gives any art significantly greater presence in the home. Yet, strangely, equipping homes with that capability is one of the most ignored functions in architecture, even in the luxury end of the market. Ask any pro interior photographer what they go through to artificially augment the lighting of a space to make it look like it could.
The associated fear I carry is having a happy new collector take one of my pieces home after seeing it beautifully lit on a gallery wall, hanging it on their own dark wall and wondering why they don't like it as much. That is what happens when you, literally, turn off the lights.
In short, the ideal is tungsten halogen lighting, on a dimmer, positioned at roughly a 30 degree angle above your art with a bulb angle (flood, narrow flood, spot, etc.) that covers as much of the art and as little of the wall as possible. Larger pieces typically need 2 or even 3 lights, each with full adjustability. There are a myriad of options on the market for accomplishing this though the largest variable usually comes down to where your power source in your ceiling is located. If you have some proximal, your expense can be moderate; if not it can run a bit more.
Like "archival", question your approach when you watch yourself spend hundreds or thousands on a prized piece only to skimp on one the most important aspects for enjoying it. Remember, unlike many investments, it pays back everytime you turn it on.
YOU SPEAK OF "IMPOSSIBLE LIGHTING". WHAT IS THAT?
Impossible lighting implies adding values of light into a composition that would defy the Laws of Physic in a real life situation. Fine painters do it all the time and, done with a sensitive touch, it can create a powerful visual effect. A light glowing surround of a figure in a room in a Rembrandt painting is a good example--there is no visible light source yet the highlighting sets off the subject, draws the eye in and creates a sense of depth. Check out another Rembrandt example here: Aristotle
In general photography, the technique of "light painting" was developed, along with some fancy and expensive equipment to facilitate the effort, but is was still a crude approach. Further, in conventional studio photography, the smaller the subject, the more difficult it becomes to creatively light as, with any object, every light source has a corresponding shadow.
In my tungsten days where I was layering different light sources with an open shutter in a dark studio into one final exposure, I got into elaborate light blocks, magnifiers and multitudes of fiber optic lines with adjustable lenses. It was time consuming though effective yet, ultimately, I was frustrated and felt I was always leaving potential on the table. (This is a good example of an image lit by using seven different tungsten fiber optic lines with layered exposure times: Rose Bud).
Photography has also had burning and dodging, which I consider a powerful tool, and it was greatly improved as a technique with the advent of Photoshop, principally with the gray layer function. But it also has seriouslimitations while, meanwhile, the painter adds and subtracts light at will. I wanted what they had...
Then it occurred to me; in photography we always try to work out our lighting in one take and accomplish everything at once. What if I used the power of digital layers and masking to light my subject independently two different ways, superimposed both exposures precisely over each other in Photoshop, and carefully hand brushed the preferred aspects of both exposures into one final image? Would it be cool or weird? Did the surreal lighting of Rembrandt bother me? Heck, no! But I knew if would have to be done extremely tastefully.
The experimenting began, using one light at a time on my subject, keeping both subject and camera absolutely still. I set out to master the variables of brush size, shape and opacity, constantly reminding myself finesse is everything. My first success, I thought, was Nautilus Shell (and I quickly realized two lighting renditions would never be enough; four to seven is more like it for me now).
For the shell, without a care for the rest of the set, I lit once for the background, once for the optimum look of the spiral, once for the highlight in the outer curve and once for the reflection in the crystal. As the shell was small--only 3 1/4" tall--I quickly reaffirmed accomplishing all of above in one take was absolutely impossible.
Once I had my four different exposures,looking for a seamless blending, I spent several hours putting it all together. See the final result here: Nautilus Shell.
I knew there was much more potential to be had and the hours mounted until it was taking me days to put together one image. But in my business, one success always pays more than a dozen good attempts and, at heart, I'm a trophy hunter. I leave the huge portfolios to others.
Double Stargazers was my next way point, followed my Double Iris, and realized I was feeling the most creative I ever had in photography. Every element I added, or chose to not, and the touch with which I used it, became a part of the final image. My camera became the tool for gathering the components I needed, not the instument of the final product. Further, the technique let me add a full range light value to any image without resorting to the heavy, global look of HDR. And I could do additional things HDR never could. Take a look, in full size and screen, at Double Stargazers via the link below. When you look closely, you will see elements of translucent petal (light coming from behind as with a slide or monitor) combined with reflective light elements (as with a print). I find the effect somewhat surreal and utterly impossible to achieve conventionally, noting absolutely nothing has been digitally added to the set. Double Stargazers
For a more dramatic addition of light, look at the petal junctions of this image: Siberian Iris
In all art, the use of light--what was reflected back to the eye and what was absorbed or reflected away--completely determines how we see and percieve. Working with it is a rewarding place to put your time.
YOU ALSO SPEAK OF "EXTENDED DEPTH-OF-FIELD. WHAT IS THAT?
YOU MENTION HOW DIFFICULT YOUR "SPECIAL STILL LIFE" PIECES ARE TO DO. WHY?