Milky Way Over Death Valley by Jim Goldstein
Every day we see stunning photos from our peers in the 500px community, but not often do we turn the lens back upon the photographer. The Portrait series focuses on remarkable 500px users who may have something to teach us about their field of photography. This week's feature is Jim Goldstein, interviewed by Matt Knight.
Hi Jim, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a full-time professional photographer, based out of San Francisco, California who specializes in outdoor, nature and travel photography. I've been having fun behind the camera for over 15 years. In that time I've also been sharing my photography online on various photo forums, through my podcast and on my blog. Each year it keeps getting better and better.
What’s the best thing about being a photographer?
Creative discovery is the best thing about being a photographer. I get a natural high from the creative process and that high continues when I see others react to what I've created. I should note the creative process to me is the full spectrum of creation from finding/seeing my subjects to post-processing.
Are there any parts, or things you would change?
I look at things a little differently in that photography is about adapting as much as it is about discovery. Technology is always changing and that provides new creative opportunity. It would be easy to list things that are difficult or hard that I wish were different, but in reality I seldom think that way as it is never something that helps me move forward. I am constantly looking for opportunities to discover and create something new. That seldom or never happens looking at things in my rear view mirror.
San Francisco Foggy Evening View by Jim Goldstein
What makes your work different to anyone else’s?
In all modesty, I like to think the differentiating factor in my photographic work is me. I bring a unique set of experience and quality to my photography. It'd be easy to say my style, my unique perspective or my knowledge of the areas I photograph, but really it comes down to who is behind the camera to make those things true. I am really driven to capture something new that is reflective of my creative & technical skills when in the field, or on an assignment, and I strive to have that shine through my work.
What makes a good photo?
I'm a firm believer that a good photo is one that can grab and hold a viewer's attention for an extended period of time... a minute, a day or longer. In this day and age, with so many photos that are only a mouse click away, the ability to hold a viewer's attention takes something special. Of course, the same can be said of prints at galleries, but these days most photography enthusiasts have an easier time scouring the Internet for great photography.
If you’re going out on a day trip what camera and what lenses do you take, compared to a more planned out photo shoot?
I'm a glutton for punishment as I take my gear with me everywhere. The exception is when photographing my 1 year old son when I use my iPhone 4 the majority of the time. By and large I always have my Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS and my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod.
White Sands Moonlight by Jim Goldstein
Do you plan projects? Or take photos with a particular shot in mind?
I always have several projects running concurrently. Some projects are very long-term, while others are much shorter in duration to complete. I'm always working on something and planning shots in advance is always part of the equation whether for a project or not. Many times the shots I have in mind are kept in mind, but my more complex or future forward images are mapped out in a notebook I keep. The goal is to write out as many creative ideas as I have to 1. remember them, and 2. to build on my ideas.
I've heard that from a set of 100 photographs, a photographer may only be happy with 1 of them. How many shots do you take, and do you shoot for insurance?
It really depends on the subject I'm photographing. For example, a sporting event or wildlife subject may require many shots to be taken and produces fewer quality images due to timing or sharpness. On the other end of the spectrum, nature or landscape photos, where the subject is stationary, may require fewer photos, but span a broader time frame with changing lighting or varied compositions.
Ultimately, no matter what, you want to walk away from a shoot and highlight the very best of the best. If I walked away from a shoot with 50 great photos out of 1000 photos I'd still only want to show the best 2 or 5 photos unless there was something unique or special to highlight like a sequence. As for shooting for insurance I do, but in decreasing frequency. Over time experience helps reduce the need for this. But truth be told I'm a rather paranoid guy so I tend to side on the insurance side when it's a special moment or event.
What’s better, photographing by yourself being able to do what you want? Or shooting with friends?
Photographing with like-minded individuals is always fun. I've run photo-walks here in San Francisco with 50 people and I've hiked in the backcountry with 1 or 2 friends. In both instances it's great fun. The one exception is when I'm keeping a very aggressive travel schedule (traveling and shooting 18-20 hours a day) then it's easiest to shoot solo. I want my friends to remain my friends!
How important is it to have the best (and potentially the most expensive) gear? How much do you own yourself, and what couldn’t you leave the house without?
First and foremost I never travel anywhere without a camera. Whether that is my iPhone 4 or Canon 5D Mark II. I'm not fixated on having the most expensive gear. Whatever equipment I'm lucky enough to have I'll find a way to push it to its limits. It's the photographer not the gear that makes a photograph. That being said when traveling light, as noted earlier, I bring my Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS. I do own 4 or 5 more lenses beyond that and anything else that I need for specialty use I'll rent.
Street/Landscape? People/Animals? DSLR/ SLR?
Simply put I love photography, all types of photography. Given the opportunity I'll experiment taking photos of any subject. What people see most of mine is my nature, landscape and travel work, but in my personal library I have a variety of different types of photos. My personal passion though will always reside in the genre of landscape and nature photography. I shoot exclusively with digital SLRs, but I do have a film SLR still and I swear I'll use it again someday.
Which photographers, or any artists, inspire you the most?
Art Wolfe, Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Elliott Erwitt are but a few of many photographers that I'm inspired by. In terms of inspiration though, there are numerous artists outside of photography that are also an influence including Josef Albers, Gerhard Richter, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and many others.
How important is post-editing? To what extent do you use computer software to improve your photos?
Post-processing is a critical step that is employed for all of my photographs. I am a stickler for color correction to help bring my photographs closer to what I perceived. While cameras have made leaps and bounds in technological advancements they're still non-thinking electronic devices. Their clinical representation of the world lacks the real-world interpretive dimensions that our eye and brain see before the camera. As to the extent of my post-processing, I lean towards a natural representation of my subjects. My work flow includes contrast, luminance, saturation and basic color correction adjustments for each of my images.
How can new photographers improve their photography?
The best tip I can provide to new photographers looking to improve their photography is to keep an open mind and never stop learning. And, for that matter, never stop experimenting. What you see from the best photographers are often a small percentage of images from their photo collection built upon years of experimenting and learning by experience. For every great photo you see there are often hundreds, if not thousands, of mediocre images that never made it.
More and more people are gaining popularity through photo sharing sites such as 500px; are galleries still important?
While I'm a huge fan of photo sharing sites like 500px, nothing will replace galleries or museums. Galleries and museums are exceptional places to both find inspiration and to showcase work. In addition to galleries and museums I'm extremely big on photobooks, both in print and electronic form such as iPad apps. The ability to showcase your work is important and by any means possible. Online photo sharing sites make it easy to access a variety of photographic work, but seeing a showcase print or book is an experience that all photo enthusiasts should experience.
Can you explain why you signed up, and what you like about 500px.com?
I found 500px by word of mouth, from a friend, and I was immediately drawn in by the great photography and sharp presentation. After creating an account I was impressed with the many features missing from other photo sharing sites such as integration to more robust metrics and and e-commerce functionality. Technical features aside, photo sharing sites for me excel when built upon a community of inspiring photographers. I immediately found that at 500px, making it easier and more motivating to be a part of the 500px community.
For more of Jim's photography, check out his 500px Profile and his blog. If you're a fan of his star trail photos you can also sign up, for free, to his ongoing, online Mastering Star Trail Photography Video Course.