Tony Corbell: 7 Questions on the Truth About Photography

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All images shot by Tony Corbell. Used with permission.

Tony Corbell has photographed hundreds of faces and hundreds of weddings. From heads of state and astronauts to newlyweds, Corbell’s career has spanned decades and earned him accolades. He also gives seminars and hosts workshops to help new photographers cultivate their vision. Aside from being a Kelby teacher, he is doing a workshop on creativeLive soon. Tony has also been shooting since 1979–which is longer than many of us have even been around.

Here, he shares his insights with us about the industry and the deep things that go into the creation of a photograph.

This December 9-11, Tony will teach a course on creativeLIVE dedicated entirely to studio lighting. During the course, which is free to stream live, Tony will explain lighting basics as well as the subtle lighting adjustments that turn average images into extraordinary. 

julius motal the phoblographer tony corbell image 02Phoblographer: How did you get your start in photography?

Tony: I started when I received a phone call from my sister’s husband who had just bought a portrait studio in the late 70’s and he felt that I might make a decent photographer. It was just a job for a long time. I felt no passion for photography unlike so many who started as a hobbyist and took it further. It was simply a job to me. Then after about three or four years, the art and craft kicked in and I sort of “got it.”

Phoblographer: When you were just starting out, what was the most important piece of advice you heard?

Tony: There are two things that have proven to not only be true but also vital to anyone’s success. First, the work. Nobody cares how much trouble it was to take the picture or what you went through to get it.  Only that you either got it or you didn’t. You can’t ever apologize for your portfolio. If something is in there that shouldn’t be, then remove it–today. The second thing to keep in mind is that people do business with people they like. Develop people skills and if you just don’t have any, then hire someone who does. The work has to be good but people also have to enjoy the process, not feel dread when it comes to working with you.

Phoblographer: What difference is there, if any, between taking andjulius motal the phoblographer tony corbell image 04 making a photograph?

Tony: For me, you either document what is taking place or create what is not there.” This is a direct quote from my old mentor, Dean Collins. I think to make a picture is what I am best at probably because I love the controlled environment. I’m not a photojournalist, although I have done quite a lot of this kind of work. I completely applaud those that are great PJ folks. I wish I was one of them…

Phoblographer: In “The Other Photographic Tool”, you encourage photographers to try things unusual to them in order to push themselves creatively. How have you done that in your own photography?

Tony: Ah, you’ve read some of my stuff. I like to think that if you don’t step out of your comfort areas from time to time you can never possibly grow. For example, I never use wide angle lenses so I am forcing myself to “practice” with them more and more so when the time comes to use them, I am not lost. Specializing is one thing and that’s fine. But find a way to be well-rounded.  It will always serve you well.

Phoblographer: With the proliferation of better, more affordable cameras, it’s very easy for anyone, regardless of photographic skill, to pick one up and start shooting. What’s essential for nascent photographers to understand in order to advance their craft?

Tony: Well if you think about it, there is a button for A, M, P, but there is no button marked C. Creativity is yours. Gone are the days when it was only the professionals who could get a sharp, well exposed, crisp looking photo. These days anyone can and the only thing that will advance your growth is creativity. Well, that and the full understanding of your craft and your tools from not only an artistic side but also the technical as well.

julius motal the phoblographer tony corbell image 01Phoblographer: What keeps you motivated to go out and keep shooting?

Tony: I find inspiration from the movies. I was raised inside an apartment in the base of a drive-in movie theater from the time I was born until I was seven years old and somehow it influenced me to watch movies all the time. I see a lot of movies and study the work of great cinematographers and pay close attention, not to see how they did something, but how a scene makes me feel. There can be so much learned by just paying attention to these great lighting and design technicians.

Phoblographer: You teach quite a bit these days, what is it you like about working with new photographers and where can we see you teach next?

Tony: Today’s photographers have a terrific eye for design, composition and style. What is missing is an understanding of the science of the craft. I think it’s an important part of the overall effort to be a well-rounded photographer.  Coming up you’ll find me teaching at PPA’s Imaging USA in Phoenix in January. I’m also really proud to be receiving their International Educator Award, The Gerhardt Baaker Award this year. I follow that up with WPPI in Las Vegas in late February 2014. I also teach the Texas School each year in Dallas as well as the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in New Mexico.
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