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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 Jeff Clow, interviewed by Matt Knight.
Hi Jeff, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I live in a suburb of Dallas, Texas and am 56 years old. I'm self taught in photography and have decided that photography is the purest form of communication because it doesn't require words or vocal inflections.
What’s the best thing about being a photographer?
Seeing something really special in front of your eyes, and lens, that you feel you can capture and freeze for eternity. And then being able to share that frozen moment with others.
Are there any parts, or things you would change?
I only wish that I had embraced photography early on in my life; I've only been shooting seriously for about five years.
Do you have any memorable stories from any of your experiences with photography?
I consider myself the accidental professional photographer. I started uploading my photos online several years ago to back up my computer. Some kind soul commented on one and I decided I needed to get better if others were looking at my shots. Another person suggested stock photography and that prompted me to set higher goals for myself. Then a magazine wanted to use one of my images for a cover and the bar got raised higher. I went from point and shoot to amateur to semi-pro to pro in five years because of things happening that I never expected to happen.
What makes your work different to anyone else’s?
I stand in front of different things at different times than other photographers. Every moment is unique; not better nor worse, but unique.
What makes a good photo?
Light, composition, depth, color and visual appeal. Something that makes you look for more than a second or two.
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 always travel with two cameras these days: a Nikon D700 with a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for landscape and wide nature shots and a Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens for wildlife or long distance nature shots.
Do you plan projects? Or take photos with a particular shot in mind?
I plan locations but not projects. Said another way, I head to a location with an understanding of what is there and what might be available, but then I'm at the mercy of everything any photographer encounters: light, wind, hot, cold, crowds and atmosphere.
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?
I shoot a lot of frames because I bracket many of my shots. And I consider it a very good day if I can label 5% of the shots taken as keepers. Heck, Ansel Adams said 1 or 2 a month was a good average and he knew a thing or two about photography.
What’s better, photographing by yourself being able to do what you want? Or shooting with friends?
I'm biased because for the last few years I've been fortunate to serve as a tour host for my photo tours in the Tetons and Banff and I really have grown to enjoy the camaraderie of shooting with others. I shoot alone as well, but being with other photographers in some of the world's best landscape locations is a real treat.
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?
It is not the camera body nor the lens that makes the shot, it’s the person behind the lens. Some of my best selling stock photos were taken with an entry level DSLR with the kit lens. I couldn't leave the house without a camera, and the more expensive lenses are nice to have on a trip, but they sure aren't a necessity.
Street/Landscape? People/Animals? DSLR/ SLR?
I'm known for my landscape and travel photography and I enjoy that very much. Lately I have been pursuing wildlife as well as macro and I enjoy the variety that each of those genres offers to a photographer.
Which photographers, or artists, inspire you the most?
I'm a big fan of two wildlife shooters: Moose Peterson and Buck Shreck. Both capture wildlife magnificently and I look to both of them for inspiration. Buck is on 500px and I hope people will check out his world-class photo work.
How important is post-editing? To what extent do you use computer software to improve your photos?
I use Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom but I try to limit the amount of time I work on any photo. I find that if I'm fooling around with levels and layers for more than 10 or 15 minutes, I'm probably not working on the right photo.
How can new photographers improve their photography?
People always laugh when I give them the advice that I've handed out hundreds of times: if you want to get better at photography, you've got to stand in front of better things. The better things can be a magical sunrise or sunset anywhere in the world. It can be in front of a flower or an animal or a mountain. It can be in the backyard or in the Tetons. But the photographer has to be aware and develop a vision of what they could be standing in front of today and tomorrow that could give them a chance to craft a better image.
More and more people are gaining popularity through photo sharing sites such as 500px; are galleries still important?
I have had my work displayed in galleries and museums and that was a nice validation that I know a little about photography. But hundreds of thousands of people have seen my work online and the reason I'm a pro-photographer today is because of my online exposure that led me in so many unexpected directions. Without the online portfolio, I don't believe any of that would have happened.