How did you become a photographer?
I started out intending to become an illustrator, actually. I would practice drawing by tracing over snapshots. Eventually, I began trying to actively increase the detail and contrast in those snapshots so that I would be able to draw over them better. In the end, I wound up taking more of an interest in the photographic process and how to bring out the most of reality.
Did you have formal education or were you self-taught?
I went to school and studied graphic design, where I had a few photography classes. Ultimately though, it developed through studying books and magazines; learning how digital cameras operate; experimenting with ways to blend exposures together in order to bring out that detail; and lots and lots of trial and error.
How did you break into the industry?
I got into doing this for profit rather than simply as a hobby after a number of people began approaching me with photo requests or people simply saying, “you should sell these.” After trying various approaches to showing art or figuring out ways to have work seen, it started working out nicely. I had a lot of help and a lot of advice from other friendly artists. There’s a large learning curve involved in this industry, and it takes time to feel comfortable in it.
Can you give us a description of what you do, how you do it, and your
methods that bring about these fantastic images?
To give a description of what and how I produce my images is difficult. It literally varies every single time. I wish I could say there is a magic formula that would simplify this process, but there is not. I experimented for years on how to best approach a photograph the way I envisioned it. Generally, all my work incorporates several differently timed exposures blended in various combinations. One piece may be made up of seven exposures while another may be made of 70. I try to get as much tonal range as I can. I’ll make sure to underexpose enough to get the most stubborn highlights and expose again long enough to bring out the deepest shadows.
Once I have all those images, I start combining them in many different ways. A combination may work for certain parts of a scene — but movement or lights going on or off in others would require a different combination. Sometimes I’ll go into a scene full of skyscrapers window-by-window and put just the right piece of an exposure that I want for each window. I don’t use strictly “HDR” software, but I do use it to make initial blends of exposures. Finishing images by hand is the only way I can get them just the way I’d like to. I think the longest I ever spent on an image is just about one year. It was a large panorama of Chicago at night made of somewhere around 75 exposures.
What kind of inspiration helped you develop your photographic style? Was it slow to develop or was it a light bulb moment?
Inspiration came from a variety of sources. The strongest one I can recall was just part of my daily routine. I would walk across the Chicago River every evening and marvel at the complexity of the city scene before me. I thought, “someone should really capture that in a way that shows more than what we normally see.” I had read about different ways some photographers combined exposures to bring out more tone, and one day I just decided I’d give it a try. The early ones were loaded with failures and results I wasn’t happy with. It takes a long time to figure out what a particular scene might require.
What have been some of the best ways you have built and marketed your business?
I think that just approaching people from all over who may have an interest or appreciation in viewing their cities in a different light has been key. You never know what is going to appeal to someone until you try.
Where do most of your clientele come from?
They come from all walks of life. Businesses, individuals, designers, media — it’s odd seeing how many random people find my work through the Internet.
What are your favorite things about being a photographer?
I’d say my favorite things about being a photographer are reflected in being able to capture a scene that really resonates with people. I absolutely love it when people go up to my shots and start pointing out all the buildings they know, or where they used to work, live, and so on. They seem excited, and so I am. Having people see something they may have walked by a thousand times in a new light is quite satisfying.
If you had to do it all over again what kind of advice would you have given yourself as a photographer? Are there areas you wished you had focused more on?
If I had to do it all over again, I’m not really sure what I’d have changed. Like I said, it’s a really long learning process and I’m nowhere near done yet – so I don’t think I’d change much. Oh, I would advise myself to use some better lenses than I started out with, that makes a huge difference. And I’d advise myself to be a bit more forward with showing my work.
Do you have any final words of wisdom to artists aspiring to become a photographer?
Final words? Keep doing what you love to do, study from the photographs taken by others. Never be afraid to ask questions or experiment, and stay true to whatever aspect of photography you enjoy!