Thomas Schoeller Talks the Talk with 1stAngel
When did you first become interested in art, in general?
As a child. This seemed to coincide with my families relocation from NYC to rural Connecticut. It was a literal jump from an urban concrete jungle to the serene rolling hills and farmlands of New England. My first attempts at art were drawings, landscape and caricature. This caught the eye of my middle school art teachers.
When did you first become interested in photography, specifically?
Years later, I displayed some interest in my late teens and a keen interest by 21. Purely as a hobby at the time. I think of it as a natural progression. Looking back at myself as a child, I realize I wanted a better tool for which to express myself and make a visual impact. My first obsession was learning to properly photograph automobiles.
In what other forms of art do you also work, if any?
I learned some trades in my early 20′s. I wound up working for a wonderfully talented guy who owned a tile business and was an equally skilled finish carpenter. He made quite an impression on me! He viewed each installation and remodel as leaving his mark on the world and taught me to appreciate architectural design and character from multiple time periods. What I loved about the tile and marble business is that your completed work is on display for the world to see. I cannot believe the stroke of good fortune I had to connect with him at that period in my life. His wife was a talented sketch artist as well. Then back in my mid-30′s I took a stock Harley Dynaglide and designed a custom chopper with it. I was actually one of the first to do so, the Dyna glide was new on the scene and the aftermarket had absolutely nothing until ’95. We had lots of really cool fabricated parts on this scooter. I designed the entire paint scheme including the shadow flames and took my idea to Bob Gorski who applied it with paint to the tins. It looked like an old school wide glide after I was done. I was doing this a decade before you ever saw any of these TV chopper shows like OCC.
On which style(s) of photography do you specialize?
A large volume of my work is based on Fine Art scenic landscapes, more intimate close-ups and semi-abstract in nature. Not so much macro, which is a 1:1 life size ratio or larger. I specifically look for scenes that work well as B&W, and enjoy long timed exposures and a technique called pan blurring to do impressionist painterly abstracts.
Has your style changed from when you first began?
If so, why? Immensely. I’m 100% self taught. About 7 years into the learning process and beginning to comprehend the aesthetics of the trade I met a favorite photographer who was signing books at Logan’s Pass, Montana. Gordon Sullivan. I always cherished the opportunity to meet and learn from an established professional and this was a half hour that changed my style and perception completely! LOL, he may not recall a minute of it since this goes back to 1989. I happened to have a few hundred slides packed with us and a mini slide viewer and was able to steal him to view a sampling of some of my better images at the time. He honestly really enjoyed quite a few, however I vented some frustrations about being unable to capture “trophy shots” from the roadside pulloffs and he just blurted out “are you looking?”. I distinctly recall being almost unable to respond and my mind was racing, processing and comprehending all at once. Those three simple words forever have impacted my style and approach. I continuously challenge myself to this day, seeking a new approach. Your always learning.
What kind of equipment do you use?
I’m completely converted to digital, after some time kicking and screaming. I had my doubts when digital first burst upon the scene. I became familiar with things slowly and was amazed at how quickly the technology was improving. I think around ’09 digital far surpassed anything you could do with film.
I decided to switch to all Nikon SLR professional equipment a few years ago. The D300-D700 workhorses. I’m very close to adding the D800e to the arsenal. They have been fixing a few bugs with the new release, making some firmware adjustments.
I’m no tekkie, and not a gadget collector so I stick to versatile PRO lenses that deliver crisp quality, low distortion if any and no chromatic aberrations. The downside to this is the cost factor.
I have a 12-24 f/4 G AF-S swa, the 24-70 f/2.8 G AF-S ED-if, an 80-200 f/2.8 ED-if and also a 50mm f/1.8 G AF-S that is razor sharp yet delivers bokeh smooth as butter.
I use an assortment of extension tubes which help with selective focus and close up.
I have use for only a few filters. The filters I use cost more than most consumer kits lenses do. My favorite in the Singh-Ray variable ND filter 77mm. I can carefully compose at only 2 stops through the viewfinder and re-adjust to an 8 or 10 stop ND in only 2 seconds. No need to fumble around with screwing on a 10 stop filter at twilight to find you have light leakage or you tweaked the focus slightly. I also use B+W glass circular polarizers. You need to be careful however using a POL with SWA lenses.
I use a tripod about 95% of the time, and employ two Manfrotto 055XPROB tripods with different ballheads. They are rugged and sturdy, yet versatile and competitively priced.
What made you choose that equipment?
The availability of high quality upgrade equipment. Nikon’s been in the game since the 1930′s. They offer great customer support, the D-SLR’s have great control panel layouts and superior ergonomics. Also, the used market is excellent if needed as there is great compatibility between the newest SLR bodies and high quality older lenses.
Are you a specialist photographer?
Nature is my passion. So outdoors using available natural lighting would be a good descriptive. I’m also a bit of a gear-head, muscle car guy and will do automotive shoots for people at cruise-ins under the colorful neon lights. I have a unique secret processing technique to make the scene appear as a realist painting. I’ve done some commercial work, touristic inns and restaurants. But I’m really comfortable being one with nature.
Do you have favourite times of the days to take shots in?
Absolutely. Most important lesson learned is to seek appropriate lighting for the subject. Depending on my location and what I’m shooting, I try to capture the soft diffused light of alpine glow. Also twilight, the colorful illumination under the high clouds. During the golden hour, roughly only the hour after sunrise and before sunset you can capture lighting that really captures the character of the landscape and it’s texture. During the mid-day I prefer overcast or light rain which helps saturate and intensify colors and reduce the overall contrast of direct sunlight.
Are you a patient photographer, waiting for the right moment, or do you tend to just shoot and hope for the best?
I’m very patient and quite deliberate. I go about my day with a game plan that is adjustable to accommodate lighting conditions. This gives me the time I need to be technically excellent, choose the right lens, look through the viewfinder to examine the scene and eliminate distractions and to be sure we’ve got a level horizon if it has to be. One does however need to be open minded if something suddenly reveals itself to you. That’s all part of the fun, the anticipation.
I once discarded dressy shoes to run faster so I could change my perspective while photographing a great old barn here in Connecticut. The sun was suddenly obscured by storm clouds, and the rim lighting was just spectacular! Amazing, but I barely had time to run about 100 yards to set up,compose, find my focus and bracket exposures to do an HDR. The photo has turned out to be a best seller for me. I did relocate my slippery dress shoes. I happened to be leaving a business meeting with a prospective client minutes earlier.
Tell us about one of the longest shoots you had and why you were willing to be patient?
Ahh. Bass Harbor lighthouse in Maine.
Ordinary images from here are as common as pancakes for breakfast. I waited out a sunset for dramatic post sunset colors. Only myself and 2 other photographers waited until dusk holding on for the sun to do something remarkable. The burst lasted a brief 15 seconds and was gone. We were all euphoric, we worked together to share a location and then share the experience of capturing it.
How often do you go out just to photograph or, do you have your camera ready at all times, even shopping?
Great question. To put it in this context, I think if I had been shooting for 24 hours in a day I would wish for 25. It’s never enough to satisfy. However I also have so many other activities that I love.
I love to drag race my 1970 Plymouth, I’ve also put almost 300,000 miles on my Harley-Davidson motorcycles since 1992. I try to keep things balanced.
Marketing yourself and the business end of photography have taken up quite a bit of my attention as well.
Do you edit in Photoshop or another programme? Or do you outsource to someone else?
You don’t take it, you make it. I edit using many software programs. NIK is my favorite and by far the most powerful. Adobe makes the program “Photoshop”, which I use for basic editing RAW files and to convert to tiffs.
I do 100% of my own editing and have very strong feelings concerning this. The early masters of photography have been editing their work since photography became an art. Ansel, Elliot Porter. I began studying their work and philosophy’s over 22 years ago. Ansel said, “the negative is comparable to the composers score, and the print is to the performance”.
The advancements in digital photography have never made his words ring more truthful. Today it’s just a different process to get the same result.
Photographic art. This is all about tonal relationships, how the human eye perceives light vs. the camera sensor ability. The camera equipment is cold metal and plastic, and can only record bits of information in a manner that you did not experience in person. The post processing workflow is where the artist is able to express their euphoric feeling for the scene they photographed and make a connection with the viewer. Any photographer who is outsourcing their work simply does not understand the deep connection they need to make.
The photographer is the only one who experienced what he or she recorded, and being artistically inspiring goes hand in hand with being technically excellent.
How much time (on average) does it take to edit a work?
This varies. If I had a stock photo in mind, they are usually concerned with sharpness and proper exposure along with the subject matter. This requires basic editing in camera raw, maybe some contrast/color adjustments and sharpening. We’re looking at only 25 minutes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a pano-stitch that I may have bracketed for an HDR exposure. I may work on this in segments, keeping notes and recording my adjustments and come back to it several days in a row.
How do you know when a piece is finished? Is it easy to walk away?
I usually have a preconceived final artwork in mind when I am viewing the scene. When that vision comes to life I know I have achieved my goal. I may decide to revisit a file I have stored at a later date especially if I have been inspired by something I have experienced in my life. In that essence, I guess you never completely close that book.
What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?
This happens to everyone. Writers, musicians, painters and photographers alike.
I have two cures that always seem to work. I like to try a change of scenery for starters. Something just to get away from the day to day routine. I’ll leave all my equipment home and just explore, take a hike. Without the gear, I feel released from all those self-imposed responsibilities and can just look at my world with a fresh perspective.
I think maybe you start to challenge yourself to attempt to always best your last effort and it becomes a form of a burden. I do find I suddenly begin to see things more clearly and my creative vision restores itself.
Living in New England can be a challenge for the nature photographer simply because we don’t have the Trophy “grand landscape vistas” like they do in the western states. We have a subtle topography, the scenery is often on a far more intimate level. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore. Sometimes it really takes a 200-300 mile ride to a completely new environment to really overcome any mental block that has effected my creativity.
How well do you take criticism and how do you make use of it?
You MUST be able to handle criticism well. You will definitely have fans and the occasional critic. If for some reason I overlook an important technical aspect and it makes it all the way to the print stage, shame on me.
Items such as distracting elements, maybe soft focus or I overlooked a discarded soda can or cigarette butt. Dust specs and crooked horizons are also not acceptable. High end aficionado’s will spot the slightest lens distortion, digital noise and also chromatic aberrations that are very common with consumer grade lenses. Those are just some of the technical aspects.
On the other hand you need to be mindful of where the criticism has it’s roots.
A licensed plumber with 25 years experience will not accept the critique of a 12 year old kid on a new hot water heater installation the same way as the building inspector’s code violations.
There are no clear cut violations when it comes to aesthetics in art since art it subjective. I guess that not everyone will just love what you are doing, that’s the nature of it. You do get passionate reactions, thankfully almost all of them in a very positive manner.
It’s funny, say at an Art show you find when folks enjoy what they are looking at they go about it in a peaceful manner. Certainly my artwork is not what I would catagorize as controversial. I don’t lean on a political agenda or discriminate against gender or race and I definitely don’t take preference towards religious beliefs.
To avoid any technical oversights, during the post processing I will have a trusted confidant review and double check my progress. In this manner I am actually requesting the critique.
Who is your favourite photographer?
Oh boy, do you have a minute?
Let’s go back 80 years or so and start with Ansel Adams and Elliot Porter. They were pioneers in the field, and visionaries. They both displayed a strong environmental interest. Ansel in particular just seemed to have unlimited wisdom and I believe his combined impacts on photography as art should at least be part of every nature photographers learning foundation. Porter by the way also was the pioneer for color landscapes and was 100% self taught.
Moving up to the ’70s, for me it is Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe. Galen was the pioneer for a whole new era of nature photographers. He put an exclamation point on the ART of wilderness photography by introducing evocative landscapes filled with drama. One of his quotes: “A continued pursuit in which art becomes the adventure, and vise-versa” just says so much about the journey of fine art photography. Art Wolfe is a passionate wildlife advocate with a profound love for the environment. Factors such as these separate both of them from the rest.
Some of today’s standouts that continue to set the high standards who’s work I love are Tony Sweet, Liz Carmel,Andy Cook,Brenda Tharpe,James Kay and Peter Lik. Lik is another one who took the most difficult path to his success being self taught.
Which one of your photographs is your favourite?
Right now I would have to say my images of Acadia’s Otter Cliffs from the shore of Monument Cove. I’ve been chasing after the lighting conditions here for many years for that “gallery” shot that just stops people in their tracks. Everything was just so perfectly lined up on this one morning and fell right into place. I had to contend with a long exposure to create ethereal movement of the surf and time the exact moment the sun would crest the horizon to capture the soft alpine glow as it illuminated the cliffs and wet rocks in the foreground. Too much light on the cliffs and the highlights would have been burned out completely.
I was on location navigating in complete darkness except for my headlamp at 3:45 am. The whole experience was pure exhilaration, I mean your senses are just so tuned in to your environment. The smell of the ocean mist, the rhythmic pounding of the surf, the muted tone of a distant fog horn and those gorgeous tones! I actually did ask myself aloud “Am I dreaming all of this?”
Have you exhibited any of your work in galleries?
I have had some gallery exhibits dating back only as far as about 2008. You find there is a strange perception amongst some art galleries that Fine Art photography is not considered a legitimate art. To a degree I understand their reasoning as they are bombarded with casual enthusiast who feel they have a professional presentation.
I’ve developed my own back door strategy to conduct an interview of sorts before I consider appearing at the front door with my work under my arm. My first concerns are their display and lighting. Then I look for other high quality fine art photographs.
When they approach to prospect a sale my wife will inquire if they have any Fine Art photography in stock. This always gets them to commit their biased opinion and allows me to qualify them as a potential representative of my work as I quietly continue to peruse in the background.
If I see a certain degree of enthusiasm that matches my own, and if they are knowledgeable about the current artist they have on display then you know this can become a fruitful partnership.
The investment from the photographers perspective is too high to risk with a gallery owner that is not a good match.
Will your work be included at any upcoming contests or galleries?
I’ve recently inquired with a gallery in Woodbury Ct. and drove them direct to my website. I immediately received a submission form. This has been fairly recent and I have yet to commit on this.
What are your plans for the future?
This is going to be exciting.
We’re in the early stages of opening my own brick and mortar fine art gallery away from our home.
The idea is to have a place of my own to represent myself, get to meet the customers and allow them to feel my energy and enthusiasm. People like to purchase direct.
I plan to use the location to conduct educational workshops to introduce people to the functions of their new D-SLR camera’s and the basics of photography. Teaching the fundamental technical aspects and to show them how all those confusing gadgets and controls work.
From there I’ll offer classes to begin teaching the aesthetics and artistic side.
I also plan to use the space to allow local skilled photographers an opportunity to show their own work in an open house setting. All genres of photography. I don’t intend for this to be a complete self serving gallery by any means.
As long as I’m not willfully being taken advantage of, I want to reach out and make a difference.
What advice do you have for budding photographers?
For starters, learn to be patient and have FUN with this.
READ, read as much as you can stand.
Immediately go to the bookstore and the photography section and purchase books on learning the fundamentals and the operation of the camera.
When it comes to gear, spend money wisely and save up for higher quality glass. A basic entry level SLR will be sufficient for several years.
Ken Rockwell and Thom Hogan are good review sources!
It’s also important to maintain a level of modesty. Understand right from the outset that you will NOT be ready to market your work for quite some time. Technique and art do overlap, but not at the early stages. That part is a process, a journey and a commitment that should really be enjoyable. I had mechanical skills when I started, so understanding the technical aspects came pretty easy. I used every opportunity I could to speak with professionals and soak up their knowledge.
You know, I would warn the beginners to be wary of whom they are asking advice from on internet forums. You really don’t want to fall into the newbie asking the newbie scenario. Chances are you’ll be led astray. Here’s an eye opener for the budding photog..Google search “photography genres”. This brings you to Wikipedia and maybe 150 or more specific forms of photography. Talk about having a few opportunities to learn something!
Have you done any courses to help you?
Yes, and to add to that I continue to learn more advanced digital processing techniques with some of the available software products out there. These are not like an adult-ed course, but seminars put together by the leading software companies such as NIK and onOne.
You can do live webinars as well. You can go right on You-tube now and have a Nikon or Canon rep walk you through the complicated menu’s on a new professional body and set your camera up for all sorts of advanced techniques.
What do you do to market your work?
Unless you offer some kind of service, business cards generally don’t work.
I have tri-fold brochures that allow me to elaborate a bit about my artwork and show a few miniature samples. I’ve done some art/craft shows, and plan to get back into doing a handful of shows within New England probably within the next year or two.
I’m currently re-inventing my display since I sold what I previously owned. I think if your extremely careful about the venues you choose, Fine Art shows are a nice way to market.
I have a presence on the web, an official homepage with a link to my on-line shopping store.
For 2013 a calendar is being published with all of my original artwork. Last years effort was a success and we sold out after only 5 or 6 weeks. Units are being bumped up for this year, and the 2013 theme is “Scenic New England”. This will be annually, I begin to blog about the release date on my “artistwebsites” page in August
Do you enter your work in contests?
Seldom have I. There have been some “just for fun” contest on a website that I’ve entered and won but I really place little emphasis on it unless it’s a legitimate juried contest.
In September 2010 I did enter a juried fine art photography contest sponsored by Better Photo. According to the press release, over 19,100 entries were submitted from around the globe and I took a 2nd place award in the category “Travel & Place” with my B&W titled “5 Dinghy’s”. I’d really like to explore submitting to a few of the nature photography oriented magazine contest.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
I use FB specifically for family and very close friends, not my photography business.
You can follow my blog at http://www.thomas-schoeller.artistwebsites.com and just click on BLOG right there in the menu. Feel free to subscribe to my blogs if you like!
My homepage www.ThomasSchoellerPhotography.com is interactive, with a guestbook where you can stop in and say hi. I am on Linked In, if your in the art industry as a buyer or as an art gallery please look me up.
Are you available for work (commissions)?
I’ve done some work for hire type jobs. Primarily commercial property for businesses here in Litchfield County. I’ll do automotive photo-shoots on location, especially if we can get hooked up at evening Hot Rod cruise-ins. Weddings and events are definitely not something I’ll do.
Have you got hobbies?
Nothing small scale here! My hobbies have morphed into a lifestyle and I define them more accurately as activities.
I’m really into the muscle-car scene especially the MoPars from 1960-1972.
My 70 Plymouth Duster 340 has won twice at a national event called Musclepalooza. The car appears factory original however it’s set up to kick some asphalt. I love to compete in drag racing. I’ve also been wearing out Harleys since 1992. Wow, I mean I’ve logged close to 300,000 miles on my bikes since then.
Sold my ’98 RoadKing in 2005 with almost 130,000 miles on it. My baby still looked new. I parted ways with the RK to attain my current Road Glide which is the best touring bike I’ve ever owned.
We’ve taken cross country treks that have lasted 3 weeks. You really get to see America from the saddle of a Harley Davidson. Aside from the natural beauty, I’m speaking of the people in small town rural USA to the suburbanites and city folks. You filter through life’s experiences, and they continue to make an impression on me much the same as my parents trips to Vermont and New Hampshire when I was a child. Maybe that is a hobby of mine after all, the constant need to explore.
Where are you based?
A rural little town in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut very close to Washington Depot.
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