Robert Trawick – The Most Famous Photographer You’ve Never Heard Of!
The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast
Robert Trawick routinely describes himself as “the most interesting photographer in Oklahoma” or “the most famous photographer in Oklahoma that you have never heard of”. I am going to take it a step further and declare him the MOST famous photographer you have never heard of.
Robert has a long list of photographic accomplishments, and he loves sharing his knowledge, along with a few tricks honed over a 30+ year professional career.
A self-professed ‘time-traveler’, Robert has been active in the industry since 1980 receiving most of his formal training during a twenty-year career as a USAF photojournalist. A recent convert to mirrorless camera system — Fujifilm X Series — he encourages others to embrace new technologies to achieve their photographic goals. Just spend a few minutes with Robert to gain insight into the passion that drives him to share the joy of crafting fabulous images.
Robert is the co-host of the FotoFacts Podcast, a casual iTunes audio show highlighting photo education and industry influencers.
Robert happily shares life’s beautiful “Instagram’s” with the inspirations in his life — a fabulously talented photographer wife Terri & amazing daughters Amy, Amber, Georgia and Shannon.
Transcript | TOGCHAT Resources
Where is the shoot
Robert Trawick – The MOST famous photographer you’ve never heard of!
My guest this week routinely describes himself as the most famous photographer in Oklahoma that you have never heard of. I’m going to take it a step further and declare him the most famous photographer anywhere that you’ve never heard of. Plus, he’s just a super fun guy. Stay tuned.
You’re listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to the HOWS and WHYS behind creating consistently great photographs. Here’s your host, Joe Edelman.
Hey gang. Thanks for joining me for episode number 241 of the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. I am Joe Edelman and my mission is to help photographers like you to develop a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind great photography. This episode was recorded. Live on Wednesday, March 3rd. 2021.
You can watch the TOGCHAT live stream on YouTube every Wednesday evening at 6:00 PM. And if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel yet, please do. You can find the link in the channel and all my social profiles in the show notes or visit my website, www.joeedelman.com.
And if you’re listening on iTunes or any other platform that allows reviews. Please leave a few positive notes to help other photographers find out about the show. Remember photography is not a competition. It is a passion to be shared.
Next up is a TOGCHAT exclusive interview.
I’m honored to call this week’s guest of friend. Robert Trawick has a long list of photographic accomplishments, and he loves sharing his knowledge. Along with a few tricks honed over a 30-year professional career. Robert received most of his formal training during a 20-year career as United States Air Force, photo journalist.
He is a recent convert to the Fujifilm X series cameras and the co host of the photo facts podcast. A fun show that I’ve had the good fortune to be interviewed for. I also want you to be sure to check out Robert’s website and Instagram. All of his links are in the show notes. So let’s get right into it.
Robert Trawick. Thank you so much for joining me on TOGCHAT today. How are you, sir? It’s been awhile.
It’s been well, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be on here. I was, I was very humbled when you called and of course, whatever I need to do to rearrange my schedule, to hang out with the coolest guy on the internet.
That’s what I’m doing.
Well, thank you so much. And keep that up. I’ll send a check when we’re done. So Robert, look, I know quite a bit about you, but my audience may not know you yet. So do me a favor, introduce yourself to my listeners and let them know a little bit about you and who you are and what you do.
Wow. My name is Robert Trawick. I’m a full-time photographer based out of Oklahoma City. I like to brag that I am the most famous, unknown photographer in Oklahoma, that you’ll never hear of. And I still have to pay full price for my coffee at the local coffee shop. Uh, right now I am focusing a lot more on fashion editorial and commercial work, so more business to business, but I would not turn down a wedding portrait session, high school, senior.
I do turn down maternity’s and kids. So if you’re seeing any of that on my social media feed, it’s because of bride. Begged me to shoot it basic. I’m a working photographer, just trying to grind it out every time.
That’s not where I was going to start, but let me ask you, when you say that you turned down the maternity and the kids. Why is that?
You know, I think that everybody has to look at it, their strengths and weaknesses, and I have a lot of weaknesses out there and one of those are children. I love them. I think they’re great. Especially if they belong to someone else. I have four beautiful daughters myself, but when I photograph the kids, I really have.
Difficult time connecting with them. And I think there’s other photographers out there that I’ve worked with that really connect with the child and are able to get the best images from it. And I really want to give the client a great experience. I just don’t want to take their money and not give them a great experience in great images.
I can make a sellable image of a child, but it might not be the best experience for that child or the parent.
I’ve got to tell you, I always love hearing photographers that are honest with themselves about their strengths and knowing when to say no, I know as a younger photographer is someone said, Hey, can you take a picture?
I’d be like, heck yeah, I’m in. And often times I would set myself up for failure because it was a project that was really out of my wheelhouse. So I always appreciate hearing a photographer, putting their strengths ahead of a quick buck.
Well, I think what happens a lot is, you know, being a photographer, that just means that we have a skill set to operate a camera to light a scene.
Maybe, you know, some other things that go along with that, how to post-process properly maybe do social media. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a great candidate for certain genres of photography. I can shoot and stuff. An interior of a house for real estate. It doesn’t make me feel happy. It doesn’t give me the joy to photograph an empty house the way it does my, uh, my partner on the photo facts podcast, Jim Felder, he can go to a house, and he gets excited about lines and graphics and color schemes inside of a house.
It just doesn’t do it for me. So, if I’m asked to do it, I can, but I would really prefer to pass that over to Jim that is gonna and give the client a better experience. And I think that we have come to a point in our photography and I think it’s always been this way, but I think it’s more being realized today that we have to provide a much better experience for our clients, because that goes into the value of what we can do.
So many photographers. These days can take a great image. But not many photographers can provide a great experience to keep that client coming back.
That’s great advice, Robert. I agree with everything you said. Now you touched on a word that I find myself using a lot more in conversations with photographers.
Talk to me a little bit more about the idea of creating an experience. I know it’s a lot more than just your outgoing personality. So explain.
Well, I think the outgoing personality is important. Let me give you a really good example, just so that we can try and be on the same page. So a few years ago I had some brides and I like to stay in touch with a lot of my brides after I’ve shopped or wedding.
And one of the complaints I’ve had with our brides is the, they spend all this money getting fitted for a dress, finding the perfect dress for the wedding, but. They never wear the wedding dress again. So I had several brides and I said, get your wedding dress back on. Let’s go out and get photographed. I did this for free, but I did it because I wanted to give them something more.
And the experience of that client, those people in, they have their own businesses. They come back and ask me to reshoot their headshots or shoot their babies or shoot their family or their reunion. But it’s because we had a connection. But when we did this shoot in the park that I was strictly doing for them to provide a little extra, Robert wants to be a little extra.
I thought that I would dress up in my wife’s wedding dress and I would use that for it, uh, a marketing piece and the marketing piece was very effective in getting brides that were fun-loving. Uh, at the time we were using the tagline fun, flirty and fabulous. And that’s the kind of brides I wanted to attract because our attitudes and our outgoing personnel highly fit.
So that is one aspect of the client and experience. But at the same time, the clients want to know that they’re being taken care of. They know you have other people that you’re working with, but they want to make sure that you’re focused on them. So by sending them, thank you notes. When you’re done. I find that very important.
A lot of people don’t do that today. Once they take the photograph, they deliver the images, and they got paid. Then they’re onto the next job. It is easier to get repeat business from a client that is already comfortable with the experience and the quality than it is to ever go out and find a new client that doesn’t know you.
So I find that the experience is everything from start to finish, how you talk to them, how you communicate with them. Are you listening to that client so that you can provide that photo and give them, uh, I think the word experience should be. Swapped out for the word care. Do you care for your clients as a friend or just as a dollar sign?
And I think if you can define that difference within your own business, it’ll help you move forward.
Robert. I think that’s great advice. I mean, younger customers are especially interested. In the actual experience, they’re more willing to put their disposable income into experiences and tangible products. And I totally agree that the experience is something that photographers need to pay a lot more attention to.
We need to understand that it’s not about us and our pictures. It is about the experience that we provide to our clients. So I seriously, I think that’s awesome. Now I want to talk to you about the beginning of your career. I know that you and I share a few things in common, aside from our love of photography, we both began our careers as photo journalists, but in very different ways, your father was in the air force. I believe, as was mine. You grew up in Spain. I definitely did not. And I believe you also served almost 20 years in the air force, is that correct? Correct.
I’m a retired combat photographer from the air force 20 years service.
So first of all, thank you for your service to our country. So tell me a little bit about being a combat photographer.
Is the air force where you discover photography? Is that where you learned photography? How did that all happen?
You know? I don’t know how long you want this to go on, but I can tell, we can talk about this forever. So let me explain to you how I learned photography. So basically I grew up in Spain and when I came to the United States, I went to a small town, North Carolina, Laurinburg, North Carolina, to be exact.
So if you ever been to Myrtle Beach, you went through Laurinburg. I got to just be honest with you. I’m not going to pull any strings. The education system, the United States is, is sad compared to most countries. And I had a great education in Spain. Obviously I lacked American history and English, so I basically went from the ninth grade to the 12th grade.
And one year I’d go in and out. I’d pass a couple tests. I would talk to the teacher. They would kind of give me like a little oral exam, and then they just pass me on to the next grade, except for American history and English, obviously. So in Spain, you don’t get to pick. What you study, you do basically biology, math, language, foreign language, and every year it just gets harder.
So I had these two classes to take, so they offered me this abundance of electives in high school. And one of those was the yearbook and I’ve always liked photography, but again, we’re talking about a one 26 Instamatic or a one 10. And if you’re one of the new guys on the podcast here, go look those up on Wikipedia.
So when I got into that, and I’m just like the skinny pimple hit kid that can barely speak English. And when I hung a camera around my neck, I’m not going to lie. And it was a chick magnet. I walked around high school. Everybody wanted their photograph taken and it was a great door opener for relationships and a conversation.
So my first assignment was to photograph the cheerleaders at a basketball game. So imagine a 17-year-old kid in a small town of North Carolina coming from Spain, kind of awkward. And I take this camera, this magic box and put it in front of my face. And everybody wants to be my friend. Now, obviously not for the right reason, but I’ll still take it at 17.
That was quite naive. Took photos, went back to the dark room. My professor, my teacher helped me unload the film and process it. Not a single image came out. Not a one, they were not underexposed or overexposed. It was blank at the time. I didn’t understand why it happened. I just feel the, the film wasn’t loaded properly that never advanced.
I was so embarrassed. To see the people in my high school asking me about those photos and are they going to be in the yearbook? And can I get a copy? Can you do whatever? I was so embarrassed that I spent basically the rest of the year at my local library, reading everything I could on photography. And I learned one valuable asset.
For me. And of course, I think it’s different for everybody, but as you get involved in photography, you’ll find out that it is the one art form that involves everything in the world. Light optics, composition, framing, chemistry, psyche, experience, positioning, everything that you could look at in the world.
Is applicable to photography and that literally, it just really blew my mind. I didn’t really discover women again until I was in my twenties, but I wanted to get out of the, out of the, my little one horse town, because my friend Scott Chapman, I remember him from high school. He was so excited that he was able to get a position as an assistant manager at the local, a and P, which was a grocery store in town.
And I thought to myself, I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve traveled through Europe before I was 17 years old. And I felt that I needed to be traveling the world. I did not want to be in this one horse town. Of course, as a child, I was rebelling against my family. Like I think all children do and I joined the military and became a photographer and.
It was the best experience of my life.
So tell me about the life of a combat photographer. What does that involve?
We’re talking 1979. I’m not sure if most of your listeners are able to count back that far. So 1979, I entered the military in 1981. And I went in the military, and I was just going to do four years.
And after four years I was having so much fun. I signed up for another four years. So the life as a combat photographer, and I use that term because it makes it easier for everybody to understand. So there’s about 300 photographers worldwide in the United States Air Force. And out of that 300 photographers, there’s roughly between 70 and 120 that have a designation of photojournalists.
So it’s an added on qualification. You have different kinds of training that you would get as a photographer to make you a better, more independent photographer. So think of national geographic, but you’re embedded into different. Forces the majority of the time. It was 80% of the time we’re talking about being stationed at a base photographing gripping grants where presidents or generals or commanders are actually handing awards out your photographing, um, accidents, mishaps.
Uh, you’re doing lots of documentation work. And then there’s that 20% of the time where you are embedded with a unit. And either a combat zone or a conflict zone, or even an operation I’ve been in Haiti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Bosnia, first Gulf War. I had a great opportunity to photograph the Berlin Wall coming down for stars and stripes magazine in 1999.
That was pretty. Pretty awesome. So talking about the life of a fatality for in the military, there’s one thing that I struggled with a lot, right? Towards the very end of my career. I knew I was getting out at 20 years. I retired one September 2001. And, and you go from a small pool of photographers where you are well-known and you have people looking for your style of photography, your personality, they get along well with you. You know, they’re able to go out two weeks in the field, and they don’t get bored with you because honestly, there are people in the military that you just really, you’re going to shoot them in the back.
If you ever go into a combat zone because they annoy you so much, and then you retire from the military. And immediately you go from the number one guy that’s called to no one knows your name and you don’t know if you can actually make a dollar using your photography, even though you have the best skills ever in the world, making images, you just can’t make a dollar.
In fact, out of the military, one of my first jobs was working for Walmart portrait studios, just trying to figure out the whole marketing thing. You know, I grew up. As a photographer in a situation where you were given a camera body, you will give them three lenses, prime lenses, a flash and 50 rolls of film, and you will drop it off and a location to come back with the story.
And now we have better technology, better cameras. We have more so than anything we could ever imagine back in the early eighties and people still struggled. And that is one of the reasons I love watching your shows and how you focus on the how and why of doing what you’re doing.
So you come out of the military, you take a job at Walmart portrait studio. What were your next steps? I mean, obviously you’ve come a long way since then. So was your plan to stick with photography or was it something else? I mean, how did you kind of get yourself right side up to start a career that’s led you to where you are today?
That is definitely one of those great conversation starters while I think with so many photographers.
I’m probably one of those people that are not in photography for the money. Now, obviously I’m making money, and I am building a business, but even if I wasn’t, I would do photography. It is my passion. I drink it, sleep it, eat it. 24 seven photography to me is, is, is not only who I am, but it’s what I am. So when I came out of the military, it was a pretty big disconnect from where I was.
And then joining the Walmart portrait studio, I figured out pretty quickly. I really wasn’t a photographer, even though in the basic sense I was pushing a shutter button. I was more of a sales person. And I knew I wanted to build a business. So at that time, that is basically the transition period where, uh, the internet was coming out.
You know, we’re in the early two thousands, the internet is coming out. So a lot of newspapers were losing there. And this is what you experienced as well. Joe, I believe a lot of the newspapers were going digital, and they were cutting back. And a lot of their staff and photo journalists that were assigned to newspapers.
Kind of dove in to weddings as a way to make some extra income on the weekends. And that’s where our photo journalism style wedding photography kind of came for because previously we would go out with a medium format camera, and we would shoot basically five rolls of film. And you got a, almost like a cookie cutter album.
So when I came out and did that, I realized very quickly that I had to do, I had to make some major changes in my life and I’m not an internet baby. So I had to learn the internet and social media. I always tell people all the time, social media really isn’t social. It’s a can to standing on a street corner and yelling I’m a photographer, hire me, but at that right person, doesn’t pass by that street corner that you’re yelling at.
Your message goes unheard. So I started looking at people that I wanted to connect with and do photography for. And I started reaching out through social media avenues or contacted them directly via phone or email and just tell them, I’ve just got out of the military. I’d love to work with you. Do you have any work for me?
And I was able to stair-step little by little until I got to the point where I went full-time. I mean, I spent. Several years as a, I guess what you would call a part-time photographer. And like, I almost hate that term just because you have a regular day job Monday through Friday, doesn’t make you less of a photographer than someone’s doing it.
Full-time. It just sometimes makes you smart because you could love photography and maybe not be able to make a dollar with it. You can still transition to that, but just because you’re taking care of your family with insurance, insurance is important. Do you know how much insurance would be? If I was not a retired military, I have friends of mine that are paying $600 a month for insurance, for their family.
That’s a, that’s a big nut to crack every single month, whether you’re a working photographer. So I applaud. People that do not let society dictate how they should do their life. So if you feel like you need to work a regular job and do photography on the weekends and make that extra bump, you go Glenn, Coco, I’m for you.
My biggest thing is learning to market because in the military, we didn’t have to do that. They gave us assignments, and we went and completed those assignments. And I got paid regardless if I was successful or not. So it was, it was quite a hard road of, of grinding it. And I’m still doing it today. It’s not easy. Everybody has to grind every single day. If you’re going to move your, your passion and your dreams forward.
your career, lets fast-forward to 2021. You’re paying your bills with a camera. You’re working full-time as a photographer, you’ve got commercial clients. You’re doing portrait work. You’re an educator, you’re traveling, you’re doing workshops, and clearly you’re a guy who loves what you do. But my two questions at this point in your career, what do you find is the most difficult part of your job and the second? How are you educating yourself today?
Wow. Okay. So the hardest thing in today right now, so we’re talking about active, actual, so I would say the hardest thing today is getting clients, getting new clients.
That would be the hardest thing. And let me explain, because this kind of goes back to that whole thing of experience. Photography is a personal journey. And I like to tell people in my workshops that you are where you are because of the things you’ve done and the things you haven’t done. So if you do not like where you are currently, you either have to stop doing some things or start doing some things to be able to change your position.
The vast majority of clients. Because there’s so many ways to take, let’s not say a great photo, but an adequate photo. So an adequate photo, lots of construction companies that I like to market to, they’re quite happy with the foreman using an iPhone six, taking a couple of quick shots on the construction site to be able to put on a website.
Because they’re adequate enough for them. They’re not the best. They don’t show
case them well, but it’s adequate for them and there’s no additional expense. So it’s hard for me to convince them, to engage with me. And provide them a better experience where I keep backups of all the files. So if you lose your copy, I can go back right now, my system, because I’m a professional and I want to continue doing this.
I have a system in place where I can go back to 2009 and I could pull up any photograph I’ve taken all the way back to 2009. I can pull up in 15 minutes or less and access the exact image that you need. So that to me is a part of that experience, but trying to get those clients to do that when all they see is the amount of money I’m going to charge them.
It’s hard to bridge that gap and explain everything else that I’m bringing to the table. I’m also a registered drone pilot. So I always operate with a liability license in case my drum goes down. I work and make sure I have airspace clearance before I fly. So I’m very safe operating, which in turn makes sure that my client and myself neither one incur any fines by the FAA.
So if they have a foreman, like, well, my kid’s got a drone. I’ll just go ahead and fly that overhead. You could have some issues. So I provide a lot more service than just the act of photography. So trying to get those clients to understand the extra services and the experience they’re going to get to be worth the money I’m going to charge.
That would be the largest, the largest thing I have to overcome. And I think most photographers do too, is they will tell someone what’s $200 for a portrait session. And then that person says, well, that’s just too much because you know, Joe blow down the street charges 50. The client is only looking at the output of money and not the value of what they’re receiving.
So that would be the hardest thing for this year to overcome. And then the second question is how are you educating yourself? Wow. That’s a deep hole. We can go down right now. And, um, I think education is twofold and you have. The gaining knowledge and gaining knowledge is very important to learn new techniques.
And so you have to have the knowledge you have to read study. You know, you can watch YouTube videos. You can go to a workshop. I personally love to learn hands-on, so I am a dexterity type learner. I like to learn by doing. Part two of education. I think a lot of people don’t see, this is practice. If you go to a workshop and you don’t immediately practice the techniques that you just learned in that workshop, you will fail.
You will have the knowledge, but not the practical experience to be able to apply those principles in a different location. How many photographers I’ve seen? I call them professional students. I’m sure you know them as well. They go to every single workshop that’s available in their area. They’ll even fly to different places to take workshops, but you never.
Either work ever. Why are you spending all that money if you’re not gonna practice? And I think some of it could be confidence and other ones, they just believe, well, I’ve done it. Or look at this great shots I did at this workshop. Okay. Where your instructor set the light up? They got the model. They told you where to point the camera, you took the shot and it looks beautiful, but it looks exactly the same as the other 20 people in the workshop.
You have to practice. So. My favorite way of educating me is to use what I already know daily. If I’m not shooting for a client for money, I’m shooting for myself to become better and to be more proficient at what I’m doing, because I want to be so good at what I do, that I can operate my camera without looking.
And all of a sudden the camera becomes. Invisible and almost non-important so that I can provide that wonderful experience for the client because I’m doing this because I love it. I want to become so powerful, efficient that the technical part of what is happening completely disappears. And this becomes an experience between two people that I can share it, and they can share it.
And yeah. I get paid to have a good time.
That is such a great way to look at it. Robert, I completely agree with you about the need to get the camera out of the way and the idea of being able to have a good time with people. I mean, I do. I think that is an extra incentive there.
Okay. Listeners get a bit upset with me. If I don’t ask about what gear you use. I know you’re a diehard Fuji guy. In fact, footie marketing team. If you’re listening, why is this guy not one of your Fuji ambassadors? He was a Fuji evangelist long before you guys even started an ambassador program. So, so Robert, why Fuji, what did you shoot before Fuji?
Uh, 40 years shooting Nikon.
Yeah. When I was looking at switching to Olympus, I had a lot of people hit me with why didn’t you consider Fuji? And my answer was very simple. I just don’t like the ergonomics. And that is just a personal thing for me. It doesn’t mean they’re bad cameras. I mean the primary reason I stayed with Nikon for 42 years, especially through the early two thousands.
When let’s face it, Canon was kind of mopping the floor with Nikon. At that point, it was because of ergonomics. You talked a minute ago about practicing to the point that you’re taking the camera out of the equation. For me, the camera has to feel right in my hands. So what is it about Fuji cameras that makes that work for you?
What, you know, and, and I looked at Olympus as well. I looked at several different cameras, but it was a transition and it kinda hit me a little sideways, Joe, to be honest with you. I, I really wasn’t expecting to switch from Nikon. I’ve been a diehard Nikon shooter forever. Through the ups and downs, it didn’t make a difference.
I loved my Nikon or overseas Nikon, so I needed that. And, and I hope since you’re a Nikon shooter, you can understand this. We are working photographers. We’re going to pick the tool. That’s going to do the best job for us, but you correct. It needs to fit our hand properly. I always hated Nikon point and shoot cameras.
They were horrible. They were absolutely just. Nasty Canon on the other hand makes a beautiful point and shoot camera, and I’m using the word point and shoot as non-energy changeable lens camera. And I had a G series. That’s what I would always carry people thought it was funny that I would have a big Nikon camera and then a little, little Canon G series camera.
And I’d just take pot shots with. So I wanted a new one, and I was debating on getting, I had the gene tan, which was great. And I wanted a new pocket camera to take on motorcycle rides and my friend, Leah Smithers, which is an Oklahoma City wedding photographer. She is fabulous. I love her to death. We have coffee often during coffee.
She pulls out this Fuji X 100, the original that the very first one, they cranked out non-interchangeable lens camera, and she sets it on the table. We’re having coffee. I all my God just fell in love with that camera. It was so sexy. It’s a rangefinder style. And I liked the range finder because I can look through one.
Uh, you know, the viewfinders off to the left, so I can use my right eye to focus, but my left eye stays open to just kind of check what’s coming out of the frame. And I just, it was so retro and so classic. I instantly fall in love with it. She was going to upgrade to the new 100 F and my wife, Terry reached out to her and actually purchased that camera.
I still have it today. So I would take that camera on motorcycle rides and I, and it was really just a point of view camera. I didn’t have to carry my big Nikon around. What I found down is I, I wanted a smaller camera to shoot wedding receptions, and I found out that I would carry two Nikon cameras on a spider holster with flashes big lenses, 24 to 70, 70 to 208.
When Terry was doing some of the shooting or my second shooter was doing something else, I would go grab some candids at a reception, and I would take off my belt because it’s really heavy and I would take my belt off and I just run around and do black and white with my X 100. And I found that people were not intimidated in that little camera basically disappeared.
And let me have that experience. And I was just blown away. So then I have this bride go, Oh my God. I would love to see that image in my wedding album and immediately. And I’m sure you get this as well, Joe. I thought, Oh, Oh, this is not my full frame. Nikon camera. These images are going to look like crap.
If I make a 12 by 12 print. So I did what she asked. I put it in there and it was flawless. It looked beautiful. There was no problem with it whatsoever. So that led me to, I can’t take the lens off of this. Now. I want one, I can take the lens off. And then once I went to the X pro two and I bought it used at my local camera store, Bedford camera and video.
Okay. And I was able to start picking lenses that were my favorite and shooting those. It became by second camera at weddings by Nikon was primary. And then Fuji was my second. It’s also a lot lighter and I thought, can I shoot a wedding with just Fuji? So I had my wife sheet with the Nikon’s. And I shot the wedding with the Fuji and I came back and looked at the quality of images.
Not only was the quality, at least identical from my eyes and editing style, but I found the images. The images had a little bit of film quality to the color. And I had moments of clarity where I was connecting with my subject and the camera disappeared. The form factor, the size, the knobs on the outside, where I can just quickly rotate a shutter speed or ISO.
And I have an aperture ring back on my lens, the way Nikon was in the, in the old days. So. I decided that that was what I was going to do. And here I was an educator that was a diehard promoter for full frame sensor. If you’re not shooting full frame. Well, you’re not a professional. I’m sorry. That’s bullshit.
It doesn’t make a difference. Find the camera that you can fall in love with again in photography. And I hope that the camera you choose disappears in your hands, so you can have a better experience as well. So there you go. My Fuji story and a box.
Oh, believe me. I’m with you. I had a similar experience with Olympus. It’s not about the megapixels and looking through your images, Robert, one of the things that I really like about what you do, and I mean, really like a lot of photographers have a kind of very distinct style. When you look at their portfolio, there’s kind of a consistent thread, you know, maybe it’s the way they color tone their images. Maybe it’s the way they tend to shoot more with a wide angle or more with a telephoto. But there’s a kind of consistency to the visual elements. I think the challenge with that is that while they may be creating amazingly good images, there’s a certain kind of predictability to their work, which their clients are paying for.
But as I look at your work, I see someone who is obviously very skilled, very good, but who also seems to embrace. All kinds of different scenarios. Like obviously you do studio work, you do work on location, you shoot with natural light on occasion. You shoot with strobes on location. I’m all for the idea of being able to do all these things, but we find that so few photographers do that today.
How much of that has been a conscious choice for you and has that had any kind of an impact on your business in terms of. Opening you up to more clients?
Well, that’s, that’s a really good question. And you’re really digging deep. Yeah. Like ripping off those band-aids let me tell ya. Well, I think when it comes to style, people ask me what my style is and I have to be honest, I really don’t have a style.
I do like to say that when I create the images, I would like them to be somewhat timeless. I would like you to look at the images on my website or on my social media feed. And if you didn’t know what year it was taken in, it could, it could be a range. It could go back 10 years or 15 years. Uh, for example, I think one of the images that I sent to you, I called it my unbridled series, where she has a dress all ripped off, and she has a flame torch on there.
That image was taken, I believe in. In 2009. So that’s been almost 20 years ago, 20, 20, 10 years ago. Sorry, 10 years. Yeah, go. My math is kind of crazy. I think that everybody, as a photographer and as a person that we change, and we enter different seasons in our life, and there’s going to be times where I like a lighter color.
Sometimes I like black and white. Um, if you really dig on social media, you’ll find a time. I call it my orange phase and I have actually reached out to bride’s and told him I would reprocess their images. Cause I was in and out. Orange phase. Everything was like super warm, but I, I just tell my clients this time was, I want you to have a good quality image.
That’s wall exposed and focus that you’re happy with that. If you hang on your wall in 20 years, it could look like it was taken yesterday. So I’m not a big guy with like filters, different kind of color, Tony, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to play with it. And post a couple of images up there. I will, I want to experiment with everything and I just haven’t settled.
I think, as a photographer, Joe, if I have to be honest, I’m 58 years old and I haven’t grown up yet. I don’t know who I’m going to be when I grow up, but I’m having a hell of a time.
Hey, that’s my line!
I’m sorry. I may or may not have watched some of the shows of yours.
I frequently point out for those who may not have noticed. I’m a little type a, I talk fast. I work fast and that’s not always a good thing. It actually can be a really bad thing. And it has a lot to do with why I like the tether because it forces me to slow down. Robert, you are definitely a little hyper like me. And when you’re doing your commercial work, let’s face it. It’s all about the details. How do you deal with being hyper? I know you’ll have your coffee, so I know you’re getting that caffeine and you’re hyper to begin with. So does it ever get in a way?
Uh, it does get in the way quite a bit as, as you probably have experienced. Um, I have very highs and lows. Some people would call it bipolar.
I don’t want to put a label on it. I feel that creative people that are type a we’re on the constantly go, and if we don’t have inspiration, then we’ll slightly kind of glide down into depression. And I go through that quite a bit. It’s a struggle that I deal with. Routinely on a regular basis and to be able to focus with this high energy.
So if I’m working with people that high energy comes out, they don’t hire me because I’m the mild-mannered photographer. I am constantly talking behind the camera. I am engaging with them. I am. I want to have a good time. I want them to have that experience. I want them to know that I absolutely care about what I’m doing right now.
And nothing else in the world is as important as these 30 minutes, we’re going to spend together walking the streets of Oklahoma City, taking photos, but then on a commercial shoot, when I’m shooting with an, uh, an architect or a real estate agent or a. A rep from a flooring company. A lot of those images you see are from Bentley floor.
And one of my clients, you can’t rush through that. Like you have to sit down and walk into a room. And my goal is to show the carpet, the flooring, the hardwood flooring, the color, and how it lends itself to the room at large. And I have to walk around and find. What angle I’m going to shoot that farm to showcase that particular item for that client.
I can’t even tell you exactly what I do other than I just tell myself that this is not for me. This is for them. And I need to be on their level. I think, as a photographer, one of our skillets that. That I think that you will develop over time to be a great photographer and I’m not there yet. I’m still a good photographer.
I’m a bread and butter photographer. I can create a decent image that can sell a buck, but I’m not great is the ability. To become a chameleon in different situations. So if you’re in a situation that’s high energy, like a fashion shoot this week. And I was with breed in St. Louis for a workshop it’s high energy, there’s music going the models and moving the flashes are going.
I am in my zone. I am full on Robert, but then two or three days later, I am shooting headshots for a corporate event. And they’re a little bit more meek, a little bit more. Well-mannered they’re speaking softer. Hi, how you’re doing on Robert? Trey will come here and take your portrait and have you stand right there on that line.
Please look at this light. Turn your shoulders towards me while you look amazing. Look right in the camera. One, two, three, click. Thank you so much for your time. You have to become. That other person, I really believe that photographers are superheroes, and we have the high energy guy, and then we have the low energy guy.
And you just have to be able to either put your Cape on or not, depending on what situation you are. So I don’t have a secret. I think everybody has to find their way of toning down when that’s allowed. And I are going to be honest with you, Joe. There are some times that I should tone it down and it’s like, the kid in me wants to come out and play in it. And it’s been disastrous before.
So a couple of things I want to finish up with here, Robert, what makes a good picture or better yet? What makes a picture above average?
Wow. I would have to say. Wow. That’s, that’s really, it’s, it’s a great image because, uh, you know, involved in PPA as I am, I’ve never entered print competition ever at all.
And yeah. And it’s, it’s not that I don’t believe in print competition. I do believe in it and I will enter eventually. I don’t think I’ve created a body of work where I would be proud to have other high-end professionals look at it and basically shoot me down. And I know, I know I’m going to get hate mail for that, but that’s how I feel a good image.
And I know this is going to probably come off bad, but a good image. Isn’t good for everybody. Every time you take a photograph, there’s two people in the scene and I believe, and so Adam said this and correct me if I’m wrong, but. There’s two people on every photograph, the one person that’s behind the camera and the person that’s viewing the image you photographed.
So there is no way for every image that I produce to be a good image to every body. So I feel that the good image will speak to a person. In a different way. And I hope that the communication that I put in to creating that image strikes a chord with the client that’s actually paying me. So I have a lot of photographers that will send me images.
And they’ll say, what do you think about this image? How do I Eke someone’s image if I’m not drawn to it? If I don’t see the value in that image, It can be a photograph of their child. It’s a kid I’m really not into children. So I don’t have, you know, it’s likely they took a photograph of mine, Fuji, and then I can be like, Oh my God, it’s my Fuji.
And look how sexy she looks. It’s the child. So I can critique you on your focus. I can critique you on the technical, but being technically perfect. Doesn’t make the good image. A good image is one that communicates to the viewer and that is going to be different for everybody. So I don’t, I think it’s very hard to say image an is a good image and image B as a bad image when there are different experiences, different expectations, different dreams, hopes, etcetera, for each person.
And they’re going to see a different storyline in those images. So I think that’s very hard to put a finger on it. I think that if you had five photographers, And five different images. Each photographer would pick the best winner unless there was a gigantic disproportionate thing, but it would be very hard to go.
This is good. And this is bad. I can say, technically it’s in focus it’s while expose your highlights or control, you have good shadow detail. And my eye is drawn to the face of the model. So that’s a good image, but if someone else looks at it and goes, I don’t feel anything from this image. I can’t sit there and say, that’s a bad image of someone else doesn’t feel the same way about it.
So I think that’s so subjective that it would be very hard to put a label on a good image. And I that’s all I got. I mean, you really stumped me.
That’s a great answer. And an honest answer. Thank you. So Robert, I like to finish my interviews with a 10 question speed, light round. This is just 10 super simple questions and all I need her super short answers.
So number one, What was your first camera?
Okay. Number two. What is your current go-to camera?
Current go-to camera. My daily travel that comes with me everywhere is a Fujifilm X pro three, but when I’m shooting regular work, it’s a Fuji X T3 and XT4. All right.
Question number three, your first flash?.
Was that not the greatest speed light ever made? I’ve got five of them. I had to get most of them off of eBay. And whenever I have summer interns, they’re only allowed to light with the guitar to 80 threes. And that’s how I teach them lighting.
All right. Number four. The one lens in your current kit that you can’t live without?
The 23mm F2.0. So on full frame, it would be a 35mm F2.0
Number five photoshop. Or Lightroom or something else?
Everything. I prefer to do capture one with Fuji. Um, but I have been a diehard Lightroom user since the inception, I have to get the beta test light room. I’m very impressed with it, but the way it Hansel handles the different sensor in the Fuji, I wasn’t happy with. So I switched to capture one and then Photoshop for, uh, basically, you know, destructive editing or basic manipulation. Okay.
Question number six. Get it right in camera or fix it in post or both?
Not an easy answer, but I’ll give you what I do. The camera can not capture what your eyes see. So software is the bridge between what the camera captures and what your heart felt.
However, you need to work hard to make sure that you’re using your camera to the best possible way and make sure that you’re getting the best capture possible. So you’re using the bridge as little as possible.
Number seven. Presets or no presets.
I had this conversation with Jim Felder just the other day. I will use presets to create my own. So I will buy somebody’s presets. I’ll click through them. I’ll look at it. I’ll tweak it the way I like. And then I save it as a new preset for myself. All right.
Number eight. What’s more important for you when photographing people the expression. Or the pose?
Always the expression. I think the pose can let you know if they’re comfortable or not, but the pose will follow the expression. And now that you bring that up, I think I want to try some shots where they’re very much smiling and having a good time and their pose is very awkward and not.
And number nine, similar question, what’s more important. The lighting. Or the moment that you’re photographing?
The moment you can’t, you can’t, you can’t redo the moment. You can restage it, but you can’t take that person back to that exact same moment. You take them back to one that’s fake. It’s like a total recall moment. So the lighting is important, but the moment is by far, much more important.
Okay. So number 10 F8 or F1.2?
Oh, come on. If you’re going to do that, you got to go to at least 5.6.
We can go 5.6 that’s way too close to F8. That’s a lot of depth to field for just to allow for any focus and errors from the old man shaking.
Okay. All right. That works. So Robert. I have got to thank you so much. This was really, really enjoyable. I mean, you know, we’ve, we’ve known each other for a little while now. We’ve crossed paths and it’s always great to talk, but we’ve never actually gotten into so many of our WHYS. That we do these things. So I really appreciate you taking the time and folks, all of Robert links are in the show notes. So make sure you check them out, check out his work, check out his workshops. In fact, actually, before I sign off, Robert, tell me a little bit more about this new project that you’re doing, where you’re traveling around the country.
Yeah. www.wherestheshoot.com. Um, you know, COVID 2020 was difficult for all photographers. And I did have my little pity moment. I had probably about a month was very depressed refund to lots of weddings, had no events, cause everything canceled. And I’m a type “A” like you, I needed to do something. So in the morning time I would get up at seven o’clock in the morning, every morning, just like I was going to work because I was going to work.
I would take a shower to get dressed, and I would sit there in front of that stupid computer, that black box, that connection to the world during the pandemic. And I made friends. Spend a lot of time on Melissa rod Wells page, the fashion connect for photographers, the dogs about fashion. And I met Dwayne lichen from New York fashion photographer.
And of course my friend, Jim that’s on the podcast with me. And then my friend fielding, we reconnected after many years, he lives in Washington and Carl Brown. That is one of Dwayne’s friends. So it’s the five of us. And we really got connected online and decided that we wanted to have meaningful workshops after the pandemic is over and travel the country and have.
We want to help photographers so many workshops, I feel do they give you that first part of knowledge, but they don’t give you the experience. That’s what our workshops are going to be. So we’re in the process right now of building that up where we’re aiming to have a, our first workshop in Flagstaff, Arizona in June.
So you’ll come in, we’ll have a little bit of lecture. We’ll tell you about some settings. We’ll tell you how to use your cameras and different flash. And then we’re going to go out and practice and build your portfolio. We’re not going to let a student fail. But you’re going to practice. You’re not going to just listen to us and go, Oh yeah, I got it.
I got it. And then go home and not do it. We want you to practice. And then of course you have this, a chance to travel United States and see our beautiful country after spending a whole year in our underwear at home on the TV. So yeah, that’s our project. So look for that. It’s where’s the shoot.com. We have a simple website right now as a placeholder, and we’re launching our new website here probably in the next 30 days. But thank you for asking about very cool. Indeed.
I’ve seen you talking about it on social media and it sounds like a really fun project.
00:53:20] Yeah. And then we’ll have the amazing Joe Edelman come out and be our guest speaker.
Okay. We can make that happen. Absolutely. So again, Robert, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And I hope we cross paths again, real soon. Take care.
I’m coming to see you really soon, take care. And it was great talking to you. And I really appreciate you letting me be on board.
Let’s open the door for this week’s up and coming photographer.
“The photographer must be a part of the picture”. This quote comes to us from the American environmental portrait photographer Arnold Newman.
Newman was born on March 3rd, 1918 in New York City. Yup. Today would have been his 103rd birthday. He passed away in New York on June 6th, 2006, generally acknowledged as the pioneer of the environmental portrait. He’s also known for his still life and abstract photography, and he is considered as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.
Newman found his vision in the empathy he felt for artists and their work. Although he photographed many personalities folks like Marlene Dietrich, John F. Kennedy, Harry S Truman, Pete Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Mickey Mantle, and Audrey Hepburn. He maintained the philosophy that “Even if the subject is not known or is already forgotten. The photograph itself must still excite and interest the viewer”.
Newman normally photographed his subjects in their most familiar surroundings with representative visual elements, showing their professions and personalities. A musician for instance, might be photographed in the recording studio or on a stage, a Senator or other politician in their office.
He shot with large format cameras. He was quoted by American Photo magazine is explaining “I didn’t just want to make a photograph with some things in the background. The surroundings had to add to the composition and the understanding of the person, no matter who the subject was. It had to be an interesting photograph just to simply do a portrait of a famous person. Doesn’t mean a thing”. Folks that is a great lesson for any portrait photographer, regardless of who the subject is. Newman left us with numerous iconic portraits and a career that included many publications and gallery exhibits. I encourage you to study as much as you can about Mr. Newman and his techniques.
It will definitely impact the way you approach portraiture. I have a link to his website. In the show notes,
You can help Joe highlight the work of a talented up and coming photographer of any genre. Please share his or her Instagram handle with Joe so that he can feature them here on TOGCHAT.
Enjoying the show?. Please take a moment and share it with your friends on social media. Let’s open the door for this week’s up and coming photographer.
This week’s up and coming photographer is Carlijn Jacobs. “I like to take my viewer on a journey.” Says Carlijn Jacobs whose work could also be considered storytelling even when it takes the form of an ad campaign.
But it’s fashion editorials where the Dutch photographer really thrives far from the static as is so often the case Jacob’s fashion photography is cinematic in style. She goes out of her way to create mysterious artistic scenery. So that each shoot exists in its very own atmosphere. It’s no wonder that the famous phone photography museum once exhibited her work alongside that of Helmut Newton in a show tracing the legacy of his distinctive unconventional approach.
Be sure to check out Carlijn’s work. The links to her website and Instagram are in the show notes.
Did you know that you can have Joe as your personal photography mentor, I’m talking about direct access to ask him questions and get advice. You can also attend weekly video meetups for members to share and help each other with Joe’s guidance. Be sure to check out the link in the show notes.
Okay. Folks, that’ll do it for this episode of the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. Stay safe, have a great week. And until next time. Please remember these words.
Thanks for listening to the TOGCHAT Photography podcast. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something because your best shot. It’s your next shot. Keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting. Adios.