I spent years trying to figure out how to get out of my state to take images of mountains, streams and waterfalls. But a few years ago, I had an epiphany that I was missing the wonder of my home state of Louisiana. So it’s become my goal to capture the culture and scenic beauty that is often taken for granted.
When did you first become interested in art, in general?
While I took a photojournalism course while a student at Louisiana State University, I graduated with a news-editorial journalism degree and jumped into the writing side of journalism. After two years as a newspaper reporter, I moved into the consumptive outdoor communications industry, working first for our state conservation agency and then freelancing for several hunting- and fishing-focused magazines. It was then that I returned to my photographic roots, capturing images to accompany the stories I wrote. I spent the next 15 years developing my photography skills as a complement to my writing. During almost nine of those years I was a staff writer for Louisiana Sportsman magazine, and then I went freelance again – writing for Louisiana Sportsman, Bassmaster magazine, BASS Times magazine, Cabela’s Outfitters magazine and other titled. Photography was an important part of my body of work. During this time, I branched out to landscape and urban photography, taking every opportunity as I traveled around the United States to capture images of waterfalls, streams, mountains and cityscapes. This work was still ancillary to my “real” work as a writer/photographer for hunting and fishing magazines, however, It was when my daughter needed high-school senior photos that I learned portraiture, using strobes and umbrellas. That has lead to a growing sideline business as a portrait photographer specializing in on-location sessions. I currently am focusing on my home state of Louisiana, building my portfolio by capturing intriguing images of some of the things most people take for granted. Of course, living only an hour from New Orleans and minutes from the swamps of coastal Louisiana, I have an unlimited number of options.
When did you first become interested in photography, specifically?
I have always loved photography. When I was a child, I always wanted to take photos, and I remember driving my parents crazy buying the 110 mm film and the old flash bulbs. Recently, we all got a good laugh because my mother had some old family Super 8 film reels digitized, and on one I could be seen as a youth with a camera around my neck looking for photo opportunities.
On which style(s) of photography do you specialize?
My original area of specialization was hunting and fishing photography. It’s not unusual for me to be wading around in the swamps of the state, capturing images of anglers with fish from new and different perspective. Or laying on the ground shooting images of hunters with their latest trophies. But I also love landscapes and urban photography. I carry my camera equipment with me pretty much wherever I go, and it’s not uncommon for me to pull over, jump out and capture a few images of a home, a building, flowers or something else that has caught my eye. I also am drawn to old cemeteries (a love passed down from my mother). The old, often-decorated gravestones seem to call to me. And the rows of above-ground crypts that are used in New Orleans can be true works of art. Panoramic and HDR techniques produce some stunning images. And, lastly, is portrait work. This is the newest part of my business, so my skills and technique are still developing. However, there is such a sense of accomplishment when I successfully capture someone’s personality. This is an area in which I will be concentrating much of my efforts going forward.
Has your style changed from when you first began? If so, why?
Oh, man, this is such a great question. As in all things, I believe we should continue to grow our techniques and skills. I recently came across some of my old slides from the late 1990s and had a good laugh at the rudimentary composition and exposures.
What I love about photography is that learning never stops. Before the Internet was so prevalent, I maintained a subscription to Outdoor Photographer magazine, and I devoured every article and every image to learn how the featured photographers captured those incredible images. I still have a stack of old mags that I flip through periodically, studying images for new ways of seeing my surroundings. Today, I subscribe to Youtube channels including strobe specialist Ben Sant, and dedicate time to learning. I also have been fortunate to work with photographers like David Morefield (www.fluffyshotme.com) and Tim Stanley (www.timstanleyphotography.com), who have been kind enough to share their expertise, and push me to grow and try new things. Such group photo sessions are invaluable. But like all things, the real key is to practice, practice, practice. The more time I spend behind my camera the more my photography grows.
What kind of equipment do you use?
Right now, I use a Nikon D300s. My lenses include a Tokina 12-14mm (which is my workhorse lens for fishing images), a Nikon 24-120 F4G VR and a Nikon 80-400 f4-5.6D VR. I also use a Nikon 50mm f1.8G that I hate taking off my camera. I also have Nikon SB900 and SB910 flashes and PocketWizard triggers. The triggers include a FlexTT5 for each flash, and a MiniTT1 paired with an AC3 for the camera.
What made you choose that equipment?
I chose the Nikon D300s because of its resolution, ability to handle high-speed noise and its status in the Nikon line as a pro model (albeit on the lower end of the line). It has proved to be a great piece of equipment. But I’m eyeballing a D800 full-frame body, which I think will move my work to a new level. The lenses were chosen to provide full coverage from 18mm all the way out to 600mm (equivalents when used with an APS camera). The flashes were chosen because they’re Nikons to ensure they work properly with the camera body, and the triggers offer such freedom to work, with full, on-camera, on-the-fly light adjustment.
Are you a specialist photographer?
Honestly, I don’t necessarily consider myself a specialist, in terms of what I shoot. I love to try new things, so I don’t get hung up on specific topics. I will give anything a try — even if I ultimately fail. And there are times I come home from a shoot and toss everything out because I don’t like the results (and I’m brutal about keeping only those images I believe are great). Those failures are teaching moments. That said, in terms of style I would say I specialize in realism.
Today’s processing software (even the very inexpensive versions) allows pretty much anyone to stylize their captures. And I definitely take advantage of all the available tools, but I think the grunge look has been so overused today that it’s become somewhat cliche’. So my aim is to use processing tools to enhance what I see without making it look fake – unless I’m trying to communicate something very specifically. The same approach extends to my portraiture: While I smooth a woman’s skin a bit and clean up some complexion issues in Lightroom, I don’t want that woman to look plastic. I also don’t go overboard on enhancing irises (I’ve tried that, and it just never really works).
Do you have favourite times of the days to take shots in?
I’m 46, so I remember the old film days when harsh light could be a killer. So the rule of the magic times of day (first hour or so in the morning and the last hour or so of light in the evening) was drilled into me. However, as an outdoor photographer spending weeks each year on a boat taking photos of anglers, I was forced to push those boundaries. I honestly feel that today’s digital cameras allow great images to be created at any time of the day. While I definitely try to use those old “magic moments,” I never hesitate to shoot when I have the opportunity. I have captured some great portraits at midday, working in shadows, underexposing backgrounds a bit and using flash to bring out the details I want.
There remain some limitations in terms of landscapes, but really a tripod and shooting bracketed exposures for later HDR processing solves many of those issues. So my best advice is to shoot, shoot, shoot. No matter what time of day.
Are you a patient photographer, waiting for the right moment, or do you tend to just shoot and hope for the best?
Shooting portraits, I really have to take charge and make things happen. But working with children continually develops my patience; the worst thing to do when trying to get a child to smile is to lose your patience. Sometimes it’s a matter of allowing the portrait subjects freedom while not relinquishing all control. When it comes to my urban and landscape photography, I do have a tendency to shoot even if conditions aren’t optimal. Some great images have been captured this way, but I do waste a lot of images that I have to toss. But, as I said earlier, I think that modern cameras, flashes and processing software is much less restricting than the old film cameras.
Tell us about one of the longest shoots you had?
I had a portrait shoot with a young family from my church, and the couple’s two children (both under the age of 6) presented different challenges. The eldest of their two young children has a hard time sitting still. It’s not that he’s bad: He just wants to be moving. His father worked hard to get him to sit still enough for the full- family images, but when it came time to shoot individuals he was all over the place – and when his father fussed at him enough to get him to sit still for a moment or two, the images just looked stiff. I finally realized that he liked to peak around the columns and trees in the area. So I set up my flashes, prefocused and made a game of it. By telling him to jump out and smile, I captured some of my best children’s images to date. The daughter, who is a toddler, was the complete opposite: She couldn’t have cared less that I needed to capture some images of her. She ignored me and her parents ruthlessly. So I had to just stick in there and be prepared for the few times she would glance at the camera.
How often do you go out just to photograph or, do you have your camera ready at all times, even shopping?
I try to get out on planned photo shoots a couple of times a month, but I almost always have my equipment with me. It’s not unusual for me to leave my “real” job and decide on the spur of the moment to spend the last couple of hours of the day shooting. It has developed into somewhat of a joke between me and my wife.
Do you edit in Photoshop or another programme? Or do you outsource to someone else?
I do all my own processing, as I think that’s just as much a part of the creative process as seeing and capturing an image. I have traditionally used Adobe Photoshop CS with Perfect Photo suite 8 as a plugin. However, recently I have moved to almost exclusive use of Adobe Lightroom, which is just so powerful. I still use Perfect Photo suite for some processing needs (for instance, it has a killer erase function), but almost all of my work is now done in Lightroom. And the more I learn about its functionality the more I love it. Of course, I still use Photoshop to create HDR and stitched images, and when I need to work in layers (i.e., adding logos to my work).
How much time (on average) does it take to edit a work?
I have developed a workflow that, unless I have very specific problems, allows me to move through my images very quickly. I can perform the meat-and-potato processing on an image in a couple of minutes. If I need to remove elements or work in Photo Effects, it adds a bit of time. But if I have to spend more than five minutes on an image (OK, so HDR and stitched images are exceptions) I feel like I’ve really missed the mark on my exposure. What was your worse job? My first paid portrait session was probably my worst job. I was so nervous and still learning how to work with remote flashes (at that time, I was using line-of-sight remote flashes, so that added to the frustration). I was a nervous wreck by the time I completed the shoot. I got the job done, and the clients were satisfied, but I just felt drained by the end of the day.
What was our best job?
By far, my best job to date was a recent New Orleans shoot with David Morefield, Tim Stanley and Jeremy Mancuso. I met those guys, who are all from Texas, in the New Orleans French Quarter at 4 a.m. and we shot pretty much all day. The day ended capturing panoramas of the New Orleans skyline, and the nighttime images from that morning and that evening are some of the best of my career. We really fed off of each other, and I learned so much during that two-day shoot.
How do you know when a piece is finished? Is it easy to walk away?
As I’ve said, my goal is almost always to simply present the beauty that I saw when I captured the image. Obviously, I do enhance some vibrance and/or saturation, but I’m not looking to create surrealistic artwork. So when I get the image pretty much to the point where I am reliving the beauty I first saw, I know it’s finished. And I almost never go back and re-edit images.
What do you do to overcome a ‘block’?
As a writer, I am very familiar with experiencing a block to work. My approach is to get away from the work and take my mind off of it. Do something different. Listen to some music. Whatever. Usually when I return to the work, it just flows.
How well do you take criticism and how do you make use of it?
I actually love critiques of my work, as long as it’s well- intentioned and not mean or ugly. Art of any kind is subjective, so I know not everyone will appreciate what I produce, and that’s fine. But I take every opportunity to find out what strikes people as good or bad, and then learn from that to produce even better work. My goal is to share my work with others; I want my art to hang on their walls. So, just as I must ensure I’m providing editors what they want when I write a magazine article, I have to provide my photography clients work they want to buy. So learning from criticism is important.
Who is your favourite photographer?
Well, it would be easy to say Ansel Adam, Frans Lanting and those masters. And, while I definitely love their work, I have run across some less-known photogs like Steve Reed of Colorado, and David Morefield and Tim Stanley (both of Houston, Texas). James Aiken of New York is another photographer I follow because of his mastery urban photography. There is such a wealth of great photography out there – and, honestly, some of the best is being captured by photographers who are not household names.
Which one of your photographs is your favourite?
It would probably be an image I captured of the famous Jackson Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is an HDR image taken about 4:15 a.m. one morning, and I still find myself going back and looking at it. It is one of the images included with this interview. But a close second is a stitched panorama from almost the same spot, showing a small slice of the New Orleans downtown district, the old Jax Brewery, the Washington Artillery Park monument and Jackson Square.
Have you used smartphone cameras? Do you think Smartphone cameras will change the whole world of photography?
To be honest, I think smartphone cameras have been awful for the world of photography. Don’t get me wrong: They have also made photography available to pretty much everyone, since so many people carry these phones all the time, and there are some positives in the sense of encouraging photography. However, I think the technology has diluted in the minds of the general public what it means to be a photographer who invested in producing works of art. Everyone thinks they are photographers now because they have instant access to a camera. I’ve seen people shooting high-school senior photos with cell phones – and while these little cameras can definitely produce some nice images, there’s no substitute for having a professional photographer capture such moments. So about all I use a smartphone camera for is to capture silly images of my friends and family or to post quick social posts about sessions while in progress.
Have you exhibited any of your work in galleries?
Some of my work was included in the grand-opening exhibition for Crated.com (a new online art house) held at the end of May at the Soho Arthouse in New York City. I also have exhibited photographs at a local coffeehouse – not an art gallery, of course, but it provided me with some sales and a lot of visibility.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan is to be a full-time photographer within the next three to five years. So I’m building my portrait clientele to provide a stable source of income, while also marketing my fine-art prints on several online platforms.
What advice do you have for budding photographers?
1) Don’t worry about buying the best and latest equipment; instead, focus on your techniques. I know that might sound contrary to my comments about smartphone cameras, but I think knowing how to capture great images and transfer a vision to the digital canvas is more important than having that $5,000 body. If you learn to take great images with a $500 kit package, you’ll be able to produce stunning images when you build up to those pro-model cameras and lenses.
2) Shoot, shoot, shoot and then shoot some more.
3) Be your own harshest critic. If you have to think about whether or not an image you captured is worth keeping, throw it away and focus on those images that stop you. There’s a lot of mediocrity on the Internet, so your goal should be to break through the crowd and grab attention.
4) Study the images of other great photographers. What angle did they use? How did they generate the depth of field in the image? How did they frame a subject, and how do the backgrounds contribute/distract from the central subject.
5) Shoot with other great photographers. Group sessions have grown my skills and pushed my vision more than anything else.
6) Spend time learning processing techniques. You won’t produce that “wow” factor if you don’t know how to maximize your images. Youtube is a vital tool that can significantly shorten processing time.
7) Develop your own style. You can look at others’ work and even incorporate some of their techniques, but do so within your own style so you don’t become part of a fad.
8) When you do buy equipment, get a nice, sturdy tripod and ballhead (there are some great options that won’t break your bank), and focus on glass. Camera processors have come so far that you can get by putting off that pro-level camera, but lenses are worth every dime you invest.
9) Market yourself. I’ve heard people say they don’t sell their work because they aren’t salesmen. Well, if you don’t market your work, then no one else will. Your job is as much about marketing as it is about capturing intriguing images. So use every opportunity to put your work in front of people and don’t be scared to put a price on your images.
10) Be generous. OK, don’t think I mean you should hand out your work for free to everyone, but when you are getting started you can support great charities by providing prints (with your logo imprinted and business cards taped to the backs) for raffles and giveaways to help get your name out there and start some chatter about your work.
Have you done any courses to help you?
I took a photojournalism course in college, but other than that I haven’t gone through any courses. Youtube vids, however, have been used.
What do you do to market your work?
As I’ve mentioned, marketing is vital. I have a website (http://andycrawford.photography) that I spend a lot of time tweaking so it shows up in search engine results (and that’s a huge task). But all of my work is housed on third-party platforms (i.e., Zenfolio for my portraits and Fine Art America for my fine-art prints), so my website is a clearing house to capture traffic and send it out to my work. I spend inordinate amounts of time keywording, tagging and writing descriptions for my fine-art work to enhance SEO value on those third-party platforms. And, of course, I use social media. Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are my main targets, with Facebook garnering the most time. I have joined a number of FB groups on which I can get my work in front of people who I otherwise couldn’t reach. I also have invested in some paid campaigns to increase my Facebook fan base, and I plan to continue such campaigns. Aside from that, I have exhibited my work at a local coffeehouse (I just asked, and they loved the idea), given away fine-art prints during various charitable events and provided free portrait sessions for fundraisers I know my target audience will attend.
Do you enter your work in contests?
I really don’t. Mainly because I don’t have time. Holding a full-time job means I basically work each evening (and many weekends) processing images, working on my website and marketing my work locally.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
I am on
Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/andycrawfordphotography), twitter (@CrawfordPhotos) and Google+ (google.com/+AndycrawfordPhotographypage). Social media is maddeningly time consumptive, but it’s vital to driving traffic to your work. One of those good/bad things. I try to promote at least one of my pieces on one of these platforms each day.
Are you available for work (commissions)?
I’m definitely available for commission work. In fact, I’ve already completed some work for which I was commissioned.
Have you got hobbies?
I love to fish, and being about 80 miles from the Louisiana coast provides me the opportunity to catch redfish, speckled trout, bass, bream and just a wide variety of species.
Where are you based?
I live in Prairieville, Lousiana, which is only about an hour west-northwest of New Orleans.
New Artwork by Andy Crawford
New Artwork by Andy Crawford
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