This week, we’re treated with some New York eye candy through fine arts photographer, James Maher.
James is an American fine arts photographer based in New York, James credits his inspiration for photography to his love for the city and its endless supply of personalities to capture and streets to explore. He enjoys the balance that photography provides between the creative and technical sides, as well as the constant problem solving and learning that it involves.
I hope this interview will give aspiring travel and fine arts photographers out there some tips, insights, and inspiration to pursue this niche market in your own big city. If you’re as big of a New York fan as I am (I just love NY, though I have more attachment to Boston), I’m sure you’ll enjoy James gallery as much as I did.
DT: What subjects and genre are you specializing in?
JM: I specialize primarily in New York street photography. I do studio work as well, but street photography is where my heart is. I try to reach a balance between photographing the architectural beauty of the city with the everyday life on the streets. The city is really defined by its people, and so I like to often focus on them.
DT: How do you define your photography style and signature?
JM: I like my photos to feel classic and timeless. I have this romantic view of the city and feel the deep ties to its past and I like to try to portray this feeling in my photos.
DT: Which one photographic piece of equipment would you say is the most critical for you?
JM: There are three pieces of equipment that I think are integral for how I work:
- A good, fast, zoom lens to allow me flexibility to shoot handheld and quickly in many different lighting conditions. A zoom is key because you can=92t always be in the exact perfect position when a moment is about to happen.
- My Gitzo Mountaineer Tripod. A good tripod is expensive but will last a lifetime. The lighter it is the more willing you will be to carry it around.
- Adobe Lightroom. The editing and organizing capabilities of the program has transformed the way and speed at which I am able to work and edit. It has cleared up the digital clutter in my life so that I am free to focus on the photography.
DT: Do you have a favorite go-to lens?
JM: My go-to lens is the Canon 24-70 2.8. I like to get in close and be on the wider end of the spectrum for street photography but also like to have some zoom to allow for flexibility in case the moment happens and I’m not in the perfect location. I=92m not going to miss a shot because I’m stuck with a prime lens.
DT: Can you briefly describe your processing workflow?
JM: This is a tough question to answer briefly.
After a day of shooting I will load the photographs into Lightroom, saving them on two Internal raided drives and also backing the negative up on an external drive.
I will first go through and delete the terrible shots (out-of-focus, exposure etc.) I then go through rounds of selecting images. I’ll give three stars to every photograph I think is decent, then show only those and go back through them again giving them 4 stars. I will weed the photos down one final time to a small selection of 5 stars. I find this way works fast but also makes it hard for good photographs to fall through the cracks. I will then go through these photos and crop and do overall exposure, contrast, light temperature, and saturation fixes to the RAW file in Lightroom.
At this point I leave the photos alone until I am ready to test them for printing and/or put them in my blog or portfolio, which is when I will go into photoshop and do more localized corrections if they are needed (dodging and burning, image cleanup, output sharpening etc.). I also tend to tweak some of the original camera RAW work from the first time around.
A huge tip that I have is to come back to a photo or a set of photos on a different day or after a short nap after you have spent a long time time working on them. I feel like after hours and hours of staring at a monitor you can sometimes lose site of what an image really looks like.
You need fresh eyes.
Finally, I keyword my photos and add them into collections based on photos that would be good for the blog, or into specific print collections. I like to think that I do this after every shoot, but I probably do this one a month on the previous months worth of photos.
DT: I so agree with the ‘fresh eyes’ advice. Great tip. What inspires you most?
JM: Interesting faces and concrete. I enjoy the architecture of the city because it is beautiful and has a history to it, but I feel like the people of the city are really what defines it.
DT: How do you decide on location or subject?
JM: I make lots of lists of ideas/places. I like to daydream. Half the time I pick a location ahead of time and half the time I wander and search for new locations.
DT: Which ONE photograph that you’ve created that you’ll consider as your favorite and why?
JM: It has to be the “Waiting in Grand Central” photograph.
It’s probably my signature print up to this point and I think it really defines the movement of the city and how an individual can feel in the middle of the crowd. It was also one of the first prints that I took where I had the image in my head before I went to try and take it.
A lot of people might chalk this image up to luck or being in the right place at the right time, but I put myself in the right place and waited for that right time to happen.
DT: Very true, while luck plays a part in most photos, as photographers, we must have the experience to know where to wait for that moment where luck transforms to an expected process in our workflow. What’s your current project?
JM: I have more specific portfolios in mind for the future, but as of now now I am currently focusing on increasing my overall New York portfolio as well as creating a steady stream of interesting shots of New York people for the blog. It=92s amazing how hard it is to take a unique angle of something that has been shot a million times. But it happens.
I’m also trying hard to increase my readership and to make my website a source of interesting New York information. I love city history and so I write articles that mix my photography along with historical photos of interesting places in the city, such as the old Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, or the abandoned City Hall Subway Station.
DT: Your location write-ups do work really well with your featured photos and stirs up a lot of interests for your readers. Please provide our readers three quick tips to be successful in your field and genre.
1. Pick your spot ahead of time and let the subject or moment come to you.
2. Take your camera everywhere with you and force yourself to shoot when you don’t feel like it, as those are often the best days.
3. Get used to staring at the computer and focus on making your editing skills better and faster. It will make your life so much easier.
Thank you James for imparting your insights and experience to our readers. New York provides an endless supply of subjects for every type of photographer there is, but to one needs the passion and perseverance to be able to make a mark as a fine-arts artist for such a popular subject and destination.
To see more of James’ art pieces, visit http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com
James Maher Photography