Mainstream photography has been around for over 100 years and you might think it and the artists who practice it would be pretty well established by now. But there are always going to be a small number of artists who break the bounds of conventional thought, master the latest technical innovations and find new outlets to share their enthusiasm for the art.
I believe this story could easily be entitled “900 Photographers Who Are Changing Photography”, because as I wrote it, I came upon more instances than I could count of photographers who are pushing the limits of their craft. But I believe these nine will more that suffice.
Adam Senatori, a High-Flying Instagram Sensation
With over 870,000 Instagram followers, Adam Sanatori has gathered his share of accolades and attention. But, in my opinion, the most impressive thing Adam has done is to combine his love of flying with his love of photography. Combining multiple interests into a single hobby is something many of us have done, but Adam took it one big step farther and made it a successful business.
Of course, there are plenty of successful photography businesses in the world, and I bet a fair share of the photographers running them really enjoy what they do. But I doubt if very many of them use an iPhone instead of a traditional camera. Yes, you read it right – an iPhone. And I thought they were only for selfies and shots of last night’s dinner.
But seriously, Adam is one of those extra-smart photographers who knows how to build a brand around his work. He combined aerial photography with Instagram to fill a previously unheard of niche, and now he is reaping the rewards.
A good place to start with Adam’s work is his website, but I’m sure you’ll end up following him on Instagram as well.
Martin Bailey, Podcaster Extraordinaire
I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit addicted to photography podcasts. I listen to as many as I can, especially when we’re travelling long distances on our photography excursions. And I never leave home without some Martin Bailey podcasts stashed away on my iPhone. It’s like having the best photography class in the world delivered directly to wherever you happen to be – for free!
There are a host of great photographers on this planet of ours, and Martin is one of the best of them, but it’s his concise, thoughtful and information-packed podcasts that impress me the most. He’s just a great teacher. In fact, when you visit his website, you’ll notice the first two choices are “Blog and Podcasts” and “Tours and Workshops”. That tells me that Martin takes his teaching seriously, and not simply as a way to earn a few dollars to help offset his photo excursions.
But don’t think I’m slighting his photography. The old saying “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” would never apply to Martin. His exotic landscape and wildlife shots are some of the best I’ve ever seen.
People have been teaching photography for years, but Martin was one of the first to embrace the intimacy and ease-of-use of the podcast, and the education he’s provided for thousands of photographers has advanced the art of photography as we know it.
Bill Gekas, What Once Was Old, Is New Again
Take a peek at Bill Gekas’ portfolio and you’ll be reminded of a trip to the museum. That’s because his style so closely resembles the master painters of the 17th century. His work is old style, and I mean really old style. If you look up the Golden Age of Dutch Painting, you’ll see hundreds of works that resemble Bill’s photographic masterpieces.
As your eyes soak in the warm light and rich colors, I think you’ll find yourself connecting to his subjects in a special way. Unlike today’s modern portraits, you’ll seldom see a smile. But you will see personality and an attention to detail that makes conventional photography look like drawings on an etch-a-sketch.
Bill says his camera bag is lighter than his lighting bag. And it shows. Or, I should say, it doesn’t show. The first things you notice in his shots are the models. The second is the creative environments he places them in, and the third, if you notice it at all, is the lighting. And yet, without that gorgeous light, the first two wouldn’t succeed.
Why do I include Bill Gerkas in a story about photographers who are changing photography? Because Bill moved from film to digital in part so he could create the images that were already in his mind. He uses technology as a tool, in much the same way the masters used their brushes, canvas and paint.
Sigi Kolbe, the Namibian Dreamweaver
I’ve been following Sigi Kolbe on Flickr for nearly four years now and I’m constantly amazed at the worlds she gives me to visit. Each photograph offers an intimate glimpse into her dreams, her hopes and even her fears. My favorite works are her portraits, as they not only reflect her own imagination; they reflect the inner personalities of her models as well. I believe this is because her models are, or quickly become, her friends and she throws everything in her rather impressive repertoire at bringing out the inner spirits of the people she clearly admires.
It isn’t surprising that Sigi started out as a painter and illustrator. As with Bill Gerkas, she is an artist who has made the technology work for her, and not the other way around. I often judge photography by a very simple means test. If I look at a photograph more than once, it’s good. If I look a third time, it’s special. If I go back to it again and again, more than likely it’s Sigi’s.
Randy Halverson, the Time Lord of Time Lapse
I bet there isn’t a single person reading this who hasn’t dreamed of creating a time-lapse video. You know what I’m talking about; those incredible time-lapses of the Milky Way moving across the night sky. Well, Randy Halverson didn’t just have the dream; he went ahead and did it. Several times in fact. Now, why am I talking about video in a story about photographers? Because Randy’s “videos” are really series of long exposure photographs merged together using video software.
Being out in the middle of the night taking one 30 second shot after another for hours and hours requires a great deal of patience, but after looking at Randy’s finished products, you’ll soon realize that his “patience”, combined with a great deal of talent, pays off.
Once again, here is a case of a photographer using new technology to create unique and highly praised creations. His use of digital cameras and advanced camera dolly systems has earned him praise from the likes of National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.
Make sure to take the time to check out Randy Halverson's gorgeous time-lapse work.
Randy Jay Braun, Flying High with New Technology
Randy Jay Braun knows drones. In fact, he was the first person to write a book on drone photography, and his drone stills and movies from his native State of Hawaii will leave you breathless. They might also have you itching to get a drone of your own. Just make sure that you, like Randy, already have a firm background in fine art photography. The photos might look more impressive taken from hundreds of feet in the air, but the rules of composition, focus and exposure aren’t affected by altitude. Want to get a jump start on mastering the art of drone photography? No problem. You can start off by reading Randy’s book, and then you can treat yourself to one of his classes or workshops.
Drones can provide photographic possibilities that were unheard of for the average photographer just a few years ago. But, as with most newfound freedoms, they come with some important responsibilities. Recently a photographer lost control of his drone and crashed it into the Grand Prismatic Springs in Yellowstone National Park. It’s not clear what damage the metal and electronics will do to the landmark hot springs, but it doesn’t take a scientist to tell us it won’t be good. All the more reason to pay attention to the photographers, like Randy, who know how, and just as importantly, when and where, to do it right.
Klea Mckenna, when photographers go off the beaten tracks, it’s hard to follow in their footsteps
I’m a “see it, shoot it” kind of photographer, and digital is the only format I’m ever going to embrace. Klea Mckenna is the antithesis of those two schools of thought. She is an artist first and photographer second, and I’m willing to bet even her definition of “photographer” runs counter to most of us. But I must admit, seeing her work makes me wonder if she’s the one who’s headed down the brightest path and the rest of us are simply groping in the dark, following the current technology, trends and fashions.
There is no simple way to describe Klea’s works. She takes the most rudimentary photographic ingredients and uses them to capture both the imagery and the emotional content of a place. For example, she has been working on an on-going series of photograms titled, Rain Studies, which are produced by “exposing” silver gelatin paper to the night sky in the falling rain. The results are unpredictable and perfectly unique.
When she does use a camera, chances are she made it herself. For one series, she used a pinhole camera that was nothing more than a cookie tin with a small hole cut out of it. And I bet that’s got a lot of us who routinely carry around 30 lb. camera bags rethinking some of our choices in life.
Klea is proof that you don’t necessarily need to be a devoted fan of newest technology to take your photography to another level. Light is light, no matter how you decide to record it.
Michael Frye, Your Digital Guide to Yosemite Photography
Michael Frye started his photography career working at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park, and he’s remained one of the best-known, and most respected of the parks multitude of photographers. And I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a bit of a Michael Frye Fan Boy. I always look forward to new entries in his blog and I’ve devoured most of his books as well. And that’s because Michael is a sharer. He shares his locations. He shares his shooting techniques. And he shares events as they transpire in what I increasingly think of as “his” Yosemite.
Michael is so intent on sharing his knowledge he published “The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite” back in 2000. It was originally tailored for film shooters, giving photographers in-depth descriptions of Yosemite’s numerous shooting locations, as well as tips and advice on when and how to get the best possible photographs. My own copy, from 2001, is a cherished item, and sits on the shelf with a few of my favorite film cameras.
But technology marches forward and so does Michael. He created an app for the iPhone and iPad built around the content of that first book, but updated and expanded to fit the needs of today’s digital world. Going to Yosemite in December? Just enter the month and the time of day and you’ll find the best places for photography. I’ve used it time and time again. It’s like having your very own guide to Yosemite in your pocket. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to capture Michael’s magic. His Yosemite shots are breath taking.
Erik Johansson, Photoshop Never Looked So Good
Erick Johansson is a photographer and Photoshop retoucher who works on a grand scale. Can you even imagine taking 20 to 30 photographs just to produce one shot? Or working with over a 100 Photoshop layers at a time? For Eric, that’s his routine. To him, the photographs he takes are only raw materials; nothing more than a small part of his grand designs. There is a feeling of “Largeness” in Erik’s work, and that may be, at least in part, contributed to his location. It’s wide and flat in his preferred shooting location in Sweden, which helps him achieve his tremendous “Wide Open” landscapes.
What I find most frustrating about Eric’s work is the fact that he doesn’t have any special, super-expensive equipment. Nor does he have years and years of professional Photoshop training. This man has no advantages over the rest of us, except for his skill, his imagination and his dedication.
Do You Know a Photographer Who is Changing Photography?
I’m sure you all know photographers who impress you with their skills, but do you know a photographer who is actually changing the face of photography as we know it? I hope reading about these nine photographers, and seeing their work is inspiring. Because, who knows, maybe the next photographer we all hear about will be you.
For more about the author of this article, be sure to check out Kevin Reilly.