Three Photographers Tell You About Their Creative Processes

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Image by Ben Von Wong

All images in this blog post were used with permission.

Every single photographer has a special creative process that makes them who they are. Think about it: there’s a reason why folks are captivated by the work of Benjamin Von Wong, enthralled by the landscape photography of Varina Patel, and go to Colby Brown to learn how to create photos in the way that he does. What these photographers have in common is that they create images that make them gainfully employed from their photography, and they’re all part of a special workshop taking place in Fiji at the end of October 2015.

We asked these photographers about their creative processes and for tips on how to get the most out of your workflow.


Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored blog post from F Stop Lounge for a special workshop. Readers of the Phoblographer receive a special discounted price. While the cost of the workshop is usually $1,400; the price for you guys is $999 USD and can be accessed by clicking this link. But you need to act fast, it expires in 10 days. 

The following instructors will be teaching classes:
Colby Brown
Benjamin Von Wong
Elia Locardi
Varina Patel
Jay Patel
Tony Hewitt
Nick Rains
Michael Fletcher

Varina Patel

Kilauea Lava Flow, Big Island - Hawai'i, USA

Phoblographer: One of the best ways for landscape photographers to create a more balanced images of landscapes is to use a graduated ND filter–many people know that. But do you find that underexposing and pushing the files is just as good of a process these days?

Varina: Although post processing software is getting better and better, I still find that getting the image right in the camera produces the best finished product. When you push the exposure in post, you’ll be introducing noise and/or banding – which means you may have to make further adjustments to handle those issues. The more you push your exposure and adjust for noise, the more details you’ll be sacrificing. And of course, I always prefer to spend more time out shooting, and less time in front of the computer.

Phoblographer: What are a couple of things that a photographer should look for in their histograms when shooting these images?

Varina: The first and most obvious thing we look for in our histogram is blown highlights or lost detail in the shadows – but the histogram can also provide information about contrast, and tell us if we need to add a graduated neutral density filter to handle a broad range of light. It can tell us exactly which filter we need – and even if we need to bracket in addition to using a GND filter.

Phoblographer: In the workshop, you folks are also talking about fieldwork and being able to capture great landscapes in any light. Part of this obviously has to do with a creative vision; so with that said, do all landscapes really need to have all of the highlights and all of the shadows to be considered amongst the best?

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Varina: Definitely not! Technical details are an important part of photography – but the artist’s vision is key to the finished work. Knowing how to capture those details effectively is just a part of the artist “box” of tools. The more you know, the more freedom you have to create a finished image that matches your artistic vision.

Benjamin Von Wong

 

The fundamental blocks on which I build epic photography is to focus on making as many elements as possible unique and challenging. I believe that photography, and art in general is all about pushing the boundaries of what is possible and getting people to look at the image a second time. If you know how to do something, and do it well, try doing it differently, or try 1-upping it! Don’t look for the easy hack or the presets – focus on growth and innovation.

There’s nothing consistent about my work and it’s different when you’re shooting on a skyscraper or underwater.

If you want the fundamental blocks, it would be more something along the lines of how I don’t bother taking a photograph unless I think it’ll be something that will either stand out in a unique and challenging way or make a difference in someone’s life. I always push the boundaries of what is possible, looking for that extra additional fantastical element that will get people to look a second time, and I always try to do something different (i.e. not repeat the same style of shoots over and over).

Besides that I tend to lean towards a more cinematic lighting style thanks to off camera lighting, and tend to tweak colors in order to get a certain look and feel.

I don’t use presets, and try to light/design my shot based on the purpose of the images in the first place.

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The following are excerpts from Ben’s blog post here that give you more of an idea of his thought process when it comes to creating images.

A while back, I found myself in San Francisco for a couple assignments. I had scheduled extra time to hang out with my buddies from SmugMug so I found myself with a couple free days. Rather than take the time to explore the city and be a good tourist, I turned to Facebook and asked if there was something interesting to shoot with the couple free days I had remaining.

Discovering Ka’s work was a journey on it’s own. I was immediately enthralled by her amazing feather costumes and was even more impressed to learn that she had hand made each and every one of them on her own. After only 30 seconds on her site, I knew I had to work with her. I reached out to her on Facebook crossing my fingers that she would be available the few days I had remaining in San Francisco.

It’s always an interesting thing to reach out to someone that you admire. You never quite know what the feedback is going to be. Though I am fairly comfortable with myportfolio I have a massive respect for talented artists. That fear of maybe being turned down never truly leaves, but I learned a long time ago that you missed a 100% of the shots you didn’t take. Taking a deep breath, I introduced myself.

“Hi, my name is Benjamin Von Wong and I am a photographer…”

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After only a couple hours of waiting impatiently, the answer came: she was excited and down for it!

I was exhilarated. Mind racing, I started running through all the things I would need to lock down. Dates. Location. Talent. Assistants. All the typical variables that would be needed. Things I knew that I could figure out fairly quickly. Yet somehow, with that exhilaration also came a familiar underlying layer of stress. I was going to be working with someone amazingly talented who was going to give me her time and trust. what if I didn’t get the shots? What if she was disappointed?

Despite the years of experience I’ve accumulated shooting, and the amazing equipment I had access to (A brand new Leaf Credo 80 to try out with my Broncolor Move kitscoming up at almost 50k worth of gear) the tension and that glimmer of self-doubt still hovered.

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Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to invest in worrying and as I started to focus on all the things that needed to get done the worrying got kicked into the back seat and excitement settled in.

Finding the right location was quite a challenge – not only did it have to be exotic, it also had to be accessible. I reached out to my fans in California asking them for suggestions for a location that would be rocky with dramatic cliffs and while they had some amazing suggestions, a lot of them were extremely hard to come by. We eventually decided, the day before the shoot, that the Sutro Baths was going to be the perfect place to pull the shoot off with a nice combination of rocks, water and trees despite a ridiculously steep climb. It would give us the variety needed for the three different outfits that Ka was going to be bringing.

All that hard work though, was completely worth it when we managed to capture the perfect wave that just swept in looking like a water horse or dragon. Hands down, my favourite frame of the day.

This was my first outdoor photoshoot where I was going to be using the Mamiya Leaf Credo 80 and the fact that I could get my ISO as low as 35 and my shutter speed as high as 1/1600th was something I had never experienced before. Combining that with 1200 watts of power out of my Move packs meant that I could have an unprecedented level of control that I never had in the past – No need to hypersync, no need to jerry rig up some bedsheets for shade, and no need to worry about the sun not playing nice.

This meant that I could focus on other things such as figuring out how to get my lights from one edge of the rocks to another, having Brandon and Paul struggle to not fall over as they balanced precariously on the rocks and having Ka Amorastreya balance from one challenging location to the next while making sure to not get any feathers wet.

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All the fun and excitement finally began to come to an end as the sun inevitably began it’s final descent and so with the last little bit of battery remaining, I captured the final frame for the day, with my camera plugged into the laptop so that it could charge on the go.

And only then, as the shutter clicked for the final time did I finally feel a sense of accomplishment and safety. There was no turning the clock back now, and I had done the best that I possibly could have. That regardless of how the images turned out, everyone had given it their all and that no matter what happened, we all had… at the very least… a great experience.

You can find one specific example of Ben’s creative process in our special Creating the Photograph post featuring a shoot he did involving fire.

Colby Brown

Phoblographer: Give us two tips on working a scene.

Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park, CA

Tunnel View – Yosemite National Park, CA

Colby: Tip 1 – Slow Down

To often I see photographers visit a new scene or location and get so excited, they look like they are running around with their heads cut off trying to capture anything and everything. During my workshops, I tend to ask my clients to keep their cameras in their bags when we first get to a spot. Sometimes it can be handy to sit quietly in silence or you can even walk around and take everything in. Either way you need to get a feel for a new location and how you want to shoot it before you ever take your camera out of your backpack.

Tip 2 – Develop a Workflow Process

For many photographers, it can help to have a step by step processes that you are familiar with any time you go out shooting. This can involve identifying your subject, putting your camera away at first, determining if aperture or shutter speed is important and anything in between. Regardless, establishing a proper workflow process while working a scene the fits your needs as a photographer is key being able to work under pressure when the light is great and your don’t have a lot of time to sort out the rest of the details. The more your practice your workflow…the more it will become like muscle memory…working inside your brain the moment you step out of your car or walk up to a location that you know you want to photograph.

Phoblographer: When it comes to achieving an exposure for the creative vision that you have in your head, do you feel that this is easier to attain if you’ve shot on film before for reasons that you’re more careful? And how does this apply to digital photographers?

Husafell, Iceland

Husafell, Iceland

Colby: There is no doubt that the digital age of photography has allowed photographers to have more freedom when it comes to shooting out in the field. We are no longer limited to 24 or 36 images per roll of film and can instead shoot thousands in a single outing. This however does come at a cost in the sense that most landscape photographers don’t consciously think through their shot because in reality…they don’t have to worry about the cost of developing the images that didn’t work out for one way or another. While film photographers tend to be more slow and methodical, I think the proper use of a tripod can work as a replacement “reminder” to slow down a bit. It takes an effort to get your tripod in just the right position and hopefully that the time spent getting it right can allow a photographer to be a little more present in the scene they are trying to photograph.

Phoblographer: How important do you feel it is to use spot metering when trying to match your creative vision, and why?

Colby: When used properly, spot metering can open up a ton of creative doors when it comes to capturing challenging lit scenes, such as a ray of light beaming through a cloudy day. Because spot metering often uses around 2% of your frame to help your cameras light meter determine what you want to expose for, you can get incredibly specific. You don’t need to worry about the shadows, highlights and mid-tones of a scene and instead focus on the specific spectrum of light. While this isn’t necessary for most scenes, it can allow you to capture creative exposures in the right situations.

Phoblographer: What big mistakes do you feel you made when learning how to get better exposures and how did you learn to remedy them?

Colby: Knowing your camera. Too often photographers take un-tested gear out into the field and often miss photographic opportunities because they have taken the time to learn the tools they have at their disposal. This can be fixed by actually reading the manual that comes with your camera when you first take it out of the box to get familiar with the new technology or perhaps looking into purchase a 3rd party book or tutorial that covers your cameras features and functionality in more depth than your manufacturer. Either way, it is no fun to be fumbling with your camera when the light is perfect and you should be taking the shot instead.

My part of the workshop will be focused on in-field work, learning how to work a scene, creatively use exposure to match your own creative vision and ultimately give you the best images to work with by the time you start post processing.