Interview with Flickr's Carpeicthus

The Ghost of 23rd Street

Christopherd6: seize the fish? why Ryan?

carpeicthus: It actually was my high school quote, back when I entirely embraced the nonsensical
when I started out in the blog world, I thought I would remain pseudonymous
that lasted about 10 seconds, but when I chose my name, I reached back to my past and came up with this
that was in 2002; it's stuck ever since
Christopherd6: And who are you beneath Carpeicthus
carpeicthus: A lot of things, I suppose, since I was Ryan long before Carpeicthus. I'm a 26-year-old New Yorker with a restless mind, and a ever-growing photography obsession that sometimes clashes with my long-term drive, which has been to do more or less everything.
Christopherd6: As I understand you earn an income from your photography obsession. How did that come about?
carpeicthus: Well, I categorize myself as semi-professional, in that photography is part of my full-time job and all of my part-time job. My real background is as a journalist and newspaper editor; I was Editor-in-Chief of an upstate paper when I was just 21. The thing about working at small papers is that you end up doing everything. I had only been there a few weeks when someone thrust a camera in my hand and told me I was the pool photographer for President Clinton and his family when he came to visit in 2000. I only knew the basics of photography, but just simple tenacity, getting as close as I can and taking shots until something came out, won me a statewide news photography award
from there I eventually moved on to Columbia, where I was hired partially because of my photography skills, but mostly because of my writing and editing (since my skills were still comparatively wanting at that point) This job gave me full-time access to a digital SLR, and I used it to the fullest, trying to figure out how the darned thing worked.
after a year and change of that, I ended up shooting Columbia's graduation
we'd had freelancers, so I was just shooting because I didn't want to be bored and would have something to post to flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carpeicthus/sets/352541/
but we ended up using more of my shots than the extremely well-paid freelancers, which made me thing "Hmmmm… maybe I can do this on my own."
Christopherd6: you have an artful quality to alot of your photojournalist type photos, and I think that is quite rare and quite unique. How did you develop this, was it simply through experience or did you have a determination to distinguish yourself in that field of photography?
carpeicthus: From there I quickly got some excellent jobs due to my connections and, though I'm still getting the business end on its feet, things have been great.
carpeicthus: I think a lot of that came from looking at other people's photos. Even though I didn't take a lot of photos when I was a newspaper editor, I did constantly receive a barrage of AP photos, so every day I'd be looking at hundreds of photos taken by some of the best photojournalists in the world. I think that helped give me a sense of what was a strong composition
Christopherd6: and long term goals?
carpeicthus: Eventually, I would like to use photography to supplement my income substantially. More importantly, though, is personal development. I want to be great; I would love to regularly produce images that can startle people, change minds, tell stories and get at the heart of my subjects. That's where the obsession goes. The money is just so that, along the way, I can eat.
Christopherd6: so I can understand making the most of situations you were thrown into, but really give us some tangible advice to get to a point to support our own obsessions
I mean, what did you find integral in earning something from your work
carpeicthus: Well, portfolios. Nothing matters as much as the image. Photography is a profession laid bare, so you have to know how to sell yourself. There are many wonderful photographers on Flickr, much better than I am, who will never make a dime, because they don't want to do the sorts of photography that can make money, or they aren't comfortable selling themselves. And then, of course, there are many, many photographers who are very good at selling themselves and making money but really suck at taking pictures. Almost none of these are on Flickr.
Christopherd6: lol
carpeicthus: The bottom line is the image, but you have to know what you're selling. A fantastic picture of a flower probably won't sell very much, because there are billions of fantastic pictures of flowers. But if you can get a fantastic picture of an event, capture a person in a new way, etc. you're in a unique place. With so little supply, you'll have greater demand,
Christopherd6: your personal inspirations? who or what drives you?
carpeicthus: a lot of people do event photography, wedding and such only because it makes money, and secretly hate it, though. don't do that. I love event photography. I like working with people. (previous question)
My #1 hero is Steve McCurry
The guy is fabulous. There is a novel lying behind every photo he takes
Christopherd6: what tools were instrumental in your skill development
carpeicthus: Other than the absolute greats, I don't pore over a lot of famous photographers' work, though. There's enough at Flickr that is wonderful in its own right, and I more enjoy particular studies of a subject than particular names.
First, a camera that's hard to use. The harder the better. My first camera was a Minolta SRT 101. Manual everything, steam-powered. You had to know how things worked to get a good image out of it. The same was true with early dSLRs -- it's much harder to get a good image out of a D1 than a D70. That teaches you things
Second, shooting. Lots of shooting. The wonder of digital is you can shoot just to see what a setting does, and you waste nothing.
Third, the Net, the other side of digital.
EXIF in net-based photos is a college course in itself
if you see a photo you like, you can always answer the question "how did they do that?"
I did that for hundreds of photos, teaching me about apertures, ISO values, etc.
And then there's the rest of the Net, where there are thousands of different places to answer any questions you have
that's why I try to keep the EXIF in every photo I post, so other people can figure out how I got what I did.
Christopherd6: where would you define your current skill level? how much more do you feel you need to develop
carpeicthus: well, time wise I need to develop forever, and I hope I never plateau
skill wise, I don't feel I'm anywhere close to plateauing, but I've moved from figuring out how basic photography works to trying to expand my creative options and understanding more complicated things, like how to get the best image from a complicated lighting set-up. I know what the relation between f/2.8 and f/22 is, I know how to get the best results out of lenses, etc. Now it's about getting emotion and stories through the camera, and I know I can always improve.
Christopherd6: As I have gone through these interviews my goal has been to learn and improve, yet as often the case, if bad routine goes unchecked it becomes bad habit, and I feel I have began to develop bad habits. How do you keep certain "bad" photographing tendencies in check?
carpeicthus: I love feedback, of all kinds. I am blessed to have friends who won't praise me just because they like me, for example, so if they say I've done something well, I can believe them
such as on my recent Smokey Robinson set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carpeicthus/sets/1314961/
and that includes constructive criticism. God knows I criticize my own images, so why can't others? If they're thinking those things, let me know. Maybe I'll disagree, but it can inform me.
I'm not sure about bad habits. For me, that would be mostly falling into a creative rut, which I try to shake up by introducing something new, or giving myself an assignment. When I rented an 85mm f/1.4 last month, it brought me out of a creative rut I felt I was settling into by giving me a new toy to use in a new way.
Christopherd6: so equipment, what do you own, why do you own it and what will you buy next?
carpeicthus: right now for bodies I have the Fuji S2 and D70s. The S2 is for work, but it's a great backup camera, if starting to feel the technology lag. I will get the D200 the minute it comes out
For lenses I have the 17-55 f/2.8, a fantastic documentary lens, a 30mm f/1.4, which is on my camera most, an incredible low-light shooter, and a 70-200 f/2.8 VR, which is an unbelievable lens whenever I'm in a situation to bring out that beast
I just hit eBay and got a Canon Powershot s45 for when I can't bring a dSLR around, and a 50mm f/1.4 manual focus lens in anticipation of the D200, which can provide full metering with it
My next big buy is the D200 and accessories, but I would also like the 85mm f/1.4 and something wider, probably the Sigma 10-20mm.
carpeicthus: I like equipment.
Christopherd6: indeed you do.
When you were choosing your camera system, what pushed you toward Fuji and Nikon?
carpeicthus: Well, I'd been using Nikons ever since my newspaper closed out darkroom and bought Nikon D1s back in the day, so it seemed a natural step. I had an opportunity to go to whatever system I wanted before I bought the D70s, but I like the feel of Nikons and it's a great lens system, so I stuck with it. Of course, as you can see from my array I'm not as much brand-conscious as pragmatic.
Give me enough money and I'd have Nikons, Canons, Hasselblads, and large-formats all together.
Plus, of course, the D200 looks freaking fantastic.
Christopherd6: other than the next big D200, what's your next goal?
carpeicthus: That's a big one for me, since I'll finally have the camera that I want, instead of saving up for a giant like the D2X. For what I do, I'd rather have a camera with an optional grip so I don't need a giant rig, so it's sort of a paradigm shift; I'm set. From there, my main goal is to expand my freelancing business, particularly getting the word out for wedding work and to companies in the city that do a lot of events.
Guess that means I should finally print my business cards, haha.
Christopherd6: How did you get into model work and what equipment is preferred there?
carpeicthus: well, it's in my hands a good part of the day. I don't own a car, so I have to obsess over something…
I actually got into model shoots because I ran out of friends
I just wanted to shoot people, and eventually my friends were like "No. No more."
Of course, some of my friends were models, actresses and singers, so I already had a model-like portfolio
So I went over to ModelMayhem.com and looked for more people to shoot, not because glamour is what I want to do with my life (god no) but because I like shooting everything and giving myself new challenges
Christopherd6: seems you have met with success, will you continue?
carpeicthus: That's where I met Mehak, Noa, and Cindy. I met Mercedes and Mimo at OneModelPlace. Like I said, though, most of the people around there want to hang out with hot chicks, whereas I just want to make good pictures. I think a lot of the models really like that, knowing that I'm not there to drool over them
I will continue mostly as a means to an end. I'm looking for shoots that serve a purpose in my portfolio now, like couples shoots, bridal shoots, or things I haven't done before
but I never, ever want to have a studio. To me, photography is wonderful because it forces you to be versatile, not putting you in the same place every day.
Christopherd6: how long have you been shooting so far?
carpeicthus: I've only been really shooting obsessively since about march or April, and I think you can see it in my stream.
before that, it's hard to say. sure I took photos, but everyone does that. I just did it a little more because I had to figure out how to work a dSLR
Christopherd6: your most fond photography experience?
carpeicthus: Probably getting to meet and shoot James Watson, the guy who figured out what DNA looks like along with Francis Crick. Of course, I'm a geek, but this guy is a seminal figure, and I got to spend a good part of an afternoon talking to him and his wife. It was also my first freelance job, and it seemed at that moment that everything was opening up to me, everything would be OK, and photography was where I was meant to be. Even if he was a bit eccentric and didn't want to pose for photos. After all, I got to use the word "phenotype" in conversation with a Nobel-prize winner.
Christopherd6: lol, priceless
Do you mind us getting back into techniques
carpeicthus: no problem
Christopherd6: Can you detail your workflow for us?
From creative process to finished product
carpeicthus: sure. creative process depends entirely on what I'm shooting. Because my background is in photojournalism, I almost never do extensive set-up for a shoot -- generally lighting at most, but usually I'm recording the world as it is.
carpeicthus: I shoot entirely in RAW since moving to the D70s, and use Adobe Bridge and CS2 to go through the files.
I have a set tone curve that I apply to every image, discarding or altering it only if I don't like how it turns out, and then I work through all the RAWs.
I delete the ones that, for some reason sucked, delete the RAWs but keep the JPEGs for those that were OK, and keep the RAWs for the ones I really like
Then I figure out which ones I want to present (post/give to client/whatever) and bring them into CS2.
I have several commands that are set macros, such as a default contrast sharpening, default saturation algorithm, etc. These are set slightly higher than I would ever want to go, so I can then fade them into the exact setting I want
Christopherd6: elaborate on the tone curve? why?
carpeicthus: for most of my images, that's it.
well, I like to give my images a bit of punch by bringing down the shadows, and I like to protect my dynamic range, so I have designed a curve that does that. In fact, for a while I was even making a large swath of my shadows into absolute black, but it was bringing out noise a bit
by applying it universally it also gives my images a "look," so if someone else applied the curve, someone might say "hey, that looks like a picture by carpeicthus." consider it branding.
that's for the Web, though. Output would be slightly different for printing.
My production background is with newsprint, remember, which is of slightly worse quality than toilet paper, so I'm always conscious of how a photo will look on a given medium.
Christopherd6: Ideal subject?
carpeicthus: that's hard to say because I like shooting everything. given that I want to move beyond to images that tell great stories, the ideal subject would be either those stories taking place or people that just project themselves, their emotions and thoughts, right through the lens.
I've also vowed to try to take a flattering photo of Joel Klein. It's hard.
Christopherd6: advice to an aspiring photographer?
carpeicthus: first, get a camera. those are important. as I said before, SLRs are great not only because they take good images, but because they're hard, and will force you to learn. In that light, I recommend making it as hard as possible for the best results. If you have a zoom lens already, get a prime lens, especially a dirt-cheap 50mm f/1.8. If you have that, work on manual focus. If you have film, try digital. If you have digital, try film -- and not just 35mm film. Noted reviewer and photographer Thom Hogan has said that he had a sadistic photo teacher who made them use the exact wrong tool for the job -- such as having to shoot a track meet with a TLR, in which the motion appears upside-down and backwards. That seems like a amazing learning opportunity to me.
(oh yes, I also have a TLR, a Yashica Mat 124G, but I'm awful about getting film developed)
Christopherd6: it has been a fantastic speaking with you Ryan. As we rap up I'd like to turn the interview over to you for any closing words, discussion or questions.
carpeicthus: Thanks, it was great talking to you as well. Hm, in conclusion I'd just like to note that Flickr has been an incredibly positive force. I never would have felt so strongly about photography to go freelance and devote a chunk of my life to it if it wasn't for Flickr. I visit a lot of other photographic communities, and the energy is totally different. People tend to tear each other down to justify the money they've spent. Whereas while Flickr tends to skew toward the amateur, it's filled with people who love pictures in all their forms, who take pictures because it makes them happy, and not only are the results better, but the community strengthens the photography of each member. I love this site with good reason.


Blogger Sophia Marcey said...

Excellent interview with a great flickr photographer. I've only just discovered this site through the flickr group. really interesting and inspiring stuff.

Tue Nov 15, 08:54:00 AM  

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