Thanks for stopping by today folks, and I have a real treat for you! Today’s post is the 2nd installment in my ongoing interview series, called “10 Questions with...”. As the name implies, I ask a photographer that I admire 10 questions, and sometimes the answers are not what you think! It’s great fun for me (and I assume for you, too) and I think we all learn something in the process.
Today is a treat because I am honored to feature Jeff Clow - landscape photographer, tour guide leader, and all-around nice guy - to share his thoughts on some topics of interest to all of us!
If for some reason you have been under a rock and are not familiar with Jeff or his work (or if you just want to follow him more closely), then here are the places to do just that:
Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffclow/
Dirt Cheap Photo Tours: http://www.dirtcheapphototours.com/
Jeff’s work is very popular, and when I first came across his images years ago I loved them. I am apparently not the only one who loves them, because he has almost 5,000,000 views on Flickr, and an affection rating on 500px exceeding 26,000!! That’s insane!
Ok, enough with the introduction Jim, let’s get into it! Read on and enjoy....and thanks Jeff for doing this!
1. How did you get started in photography?
Up until seven years ago, I was simply a point and shoot Dad taking photos of my family. Then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a new site called Flickr that was a good place to back up your family photos. I joined in November, 2004 and started uploading my family photos .... a few days later some kind soul commented on one of my shots and I was shocked. I didn’t even know at that time that there was a comment function built in to the site. But, being somewhat achievement oriented, I decided that if strangers were going to be looking at my photos, I better get better and I started reading voraciously everything I could about photography. I took lots of bad photos but the more I read and the more I shot, the images started getting better and pretty soon I had a lot of people following my work on Flickr.
2. You call yourself “the accidental pro”. Can you share how that happened?
A few months later another stranger asked me if I ever thought about putting my photos in a photo stock agency. Funny thing is, I had to look up what stock photography was because I didn’t have a clue. But I decided to give it a try and uploaded what I thought were ten good shots to one of the online sites. Every one of them was rejected. That fueled my inner fire a bit and I decided I would really concentrate on getting better at the craft of photography. Six months later I submitted ten different images and every one was approved. And then Flickr exploded with lots and lots of new members and I was fortunate to be on Flickr’s front page several times with the Explore feature and soon I was getting a steady stream of people asking to license my photos for advertising campaigns. I was floored, but after figuring out how to price my photos by reading lots of online articles, I was off and running. A few years later a Getty editor invited several dozen of my images into the Getty collection and now I have several hundred images with them and the monthly commission checks have bought me a lot of new lenses and equipment – as well as funded lots of trips to fun places. I didn’t set out to be a pro or a photo tour host or an author of a book about photography – all of these things happened more or less accidently. Opportunity knocked and I answered the door – plain and simple.
3. What is your favorite photograph that you have taken thus far? Why?
Seems like that changes with the years. The first photo that got me noticed on Flickr was this one – a frog hiding inside a canna plant:
...and that one is still a personal favorite. But lately I’d say that this shot is my most recent favorite:
4. You have started a photo-tour company, Dirt Cheap Photo Tours. Can you tell us about that?
I was fortunate to have my stepdaughter and her husband live near Jackson Hole, Wyoming for several years and so my wife and I made many trips up to the land of the Tetons. I took a lot of photos of the area and many ended up being featured on Flickr’s Explore front page. That led to a lot of people asking me about the area when they themselves were headed to Grand Teton National Park. After being asked many, many times about where and when to shoot, I decided to organize a photo tour and see if there was any interest. I didn’t want it to be a workshop where you sit in a hotel room for much of the time and critique photos or work on software processing, so I purposely called it a photo tour. I also wanted it to be different than the multitude of other workshops out there so I came up with the name Dirt Cheap Photo Tours because I wanted it to be much more reasonably priced than anything out there at the time. The concept of shooting photos all day at a fair price was a success and I’ve been doing multiple tours every year with lots of return participants. It has also enable me to meet a lot of nice people who I am now friends with in real life instead of simply online. I have a website that features many kind testimonials:
And the photo tours led me to write an eBook about photography in the Tetons that was picked up by a book publisher and now is also available as a paperback guide:
5. I assume your favorite place to shoot then is in Jackson Hole, WY. If so, what attracts you there as opposed to other mountain spots?
I’ve been to a lot of mountain locations but the Tetons are unique because of the fact that the mountain range juts out in such strong relief from the floor of the Jackson Hole valley. In Colorado, you’ve got lots of 14,000 foot mountains but they don’t jut out from a valley at 6,500 feet like they do in Grand Teton National Park. And it is a compact park about 50 miles in length ... so it is very easy to get around without spending hours and hours driving. Plus the wildlife and the many great landscape locations make it a photographer’s paradise. I’ve been to Glacier and Banff and they are spectacular, but there’s nothing like the Tetons in North America.
6. What is the best advice you can give someone about how to improve their photography?
I have been asked that question many, many times. My answer never changes. My advice is simple: Stand in front of better things. As a photographer, you need to know about things like depth of field and focal length and composition – and you can learn those through self study and looking at lots of other photos and seeing what “works” from your vantage point. But you’ve got to force yourself to get up and find great things to stand in front of with your lens. And it doesn’t have to be a mountain range. Some of my most popular photos were taken in my backyard garden or in the forest not too far from my home. Don’t bemoan the fact that you don’t have great scenery nearby – make do with what you can photograph. That’s what so great about macro photography. There are bugs and insect and flowers everywhere. If a person takes lots of photos and learns from their successes and failures, then their photography will improve. I have seen it happen many, many times on my photo tours.
7. What is your most-viewed photo?
I honestly didn’t know which one had been viewed until you posed the question, but it is this one on Flickr:
I sure don’t think its in my own personal top ten, but it has been viewed by 145,000 people via Flickr. In terms of all time views, this shot has been used in a worldwide ad campaign and as a book and album cover, so I believe it probably is the most viewed photo I’ve taken overall:
8. You are probably best known for your landscapes photos. What other subjects do you like to shoot, and why?
I really like nature in all its forms – macro, wildlife, birding and trees and plants. I enjoy attempting to capture a scene that speaks to me and to share it with others. After all, that’s why I shoot – to ultimately share what I photograph with others. I’m a validation junkie – and when a stranger tells me that they like a shot or that they want to use a shot of mine for some purpose, then I feel that I’ve done a decent job of capturing something that others find appealing.
9. Can you describe your typical workflow for a landscape shot?
I normally shoot from a tripod in RAW/jpeg format and I usually bracket three or five shots with auto bracketing. Sometimes I blend the images, but often I’ll just use one of the frames to create the finished image. I don’t spend more than ten or fifteen minutes on post processing but I do know my way around Photoshop CS5 and I have several plug ins that I use regularly like Topaz Adjust and Viveza. I find that if is taking more than ten minutes or so, its too much post processing and I move on to another image – I’m much happier shooting that I am spending tons of time in the digital darkroom.
10. What spots are on your bucket list, and what plans do you have to cross them off?
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to catch a lot of places in North America during my travels, but places I’ve not been that I would enjoy visiting include the many national parks in Utah and the shoreline in upstate California, Oregon and Washington. Like so many other photographers, I’d enjoy visiting and photographing wildlife in Africa and the magic of Machu Picchu in Peru. They are on my life list and I plan to hit them all if circumstances allow it.