Insights and ideas from Jay Graham
Showcasing stunning locations
For some of his most stunning landscape and architectural photography, San Francisco Bay Area-based photographer Jay Graham strays no further than his own proverbial backyard. Graham specializes in photographing destinations, special events, and architectural projects and devotes much of his energy to scouting places to discover their unique perspectives, angles, and how natural light influences a location’s mood and beauty. In this interview with Photoshop.com, he reflects on his creative process, photographing on location, and the joy of sharing his images both digitally and through photography books.
Photoshop.com: Which piece of equipment couldn’t you live without and why?
Jay Graham: A camera—without that it’s hard to corral the pixels. I love my Canon 5DII but I’ve also gotten some great shots with the iPhone 4. I’m also getting to the point where it would be hard to live without Lightroom. I’ve been teaching classes in Lightroom on a one-to-one basis and am using it in the workshops I teach. It has become essential.
Photoshop.com: What role does Adobe® Photoshop Lightroom® software play in your photography process?
Jay Graham: Lightroom plays a major role from beginning to end. I use it when shooting tethered to be able to accurately judge the composition, exposure, and detail when I’m shooting architectural interiors. I can then choose the heroes, do quick adjustments, and give the client a preview of the final image to come. I use it to organize and edit my whole library, create preliminary album sites for clients to choose finals from, add images to my website with NeonSky’s plug in, create, order, and print books with Blurb, update albums on Facebook and SmugMug, run portfolio slideshows during open studios, and print from it on an Epson 7880 and a smaller printer when making greeting cards.
Photoshop.com: How did you create the particular result in the Ghosts (Image 2) photo?
Jay Graham: I started doing a series on Angel Island a couple of years ago. I’d kayak from Sausalito to the far side of Angel Island. I’d leave Sausalito about an hour before sunrise so that I could be in the old, abandoned hospital taking advantage of the low-angle light flooding in just after sunrise.
For the Ghosts shot I had the camera on a tripod and took multiple exposures using the self timer on the camera. I positioned myself in different areas of the shot for each exposure. When I got back to the studio I selected three different images, did preliminary exposure, contrast, and correction adjustments in Lightroom and then sent them to Photoshop software. I blended them together in Photoshop and then went back to Lightroom to finalize the final composite. I used one of the presets in Lightroom to give it a cool blue look. It won third place in the International Photography Awards (IPA) contest in the historical architecture category.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite photo you’ve shot and what grabs you about it.
Jay Graham: It’s hard to choose one favorite but I really love Golden Gate Commute (Image 1). It says so much and was shot from a perspective that most people don’t see and can’t figure out. I shot it on one of those fantastic, lucky mornings in early spring. I went to specifically photograph my wife and her rowing partner rowing a double shell underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. I got that shot just after 6 a.m. and then saw the Golden Gate Commute. I shot a few test shots to get just the right angle and then began shooting as bicyclists rounded the north tower of the bridge. I finally got the perfect shot at about 6:20 a.m. As I was heading back around the tower I took a portrait of a local cyclist using the orange tower as a background. Portfolio shot number three before 6:30 a.m. What a morning! I use Lightroom to keep track of the different versions of the shot using virtual copies. I have about four different crops of the image that I use for different purposes. The great thing about Lightroom is that they are just virtual copies so they don’t take up much storage space and are easy to manage.
Photoshop.com: How do you know that a photo is really good?
Jay Graham: What a question! Sometimes you just know right off the bat. Other times it takes a while to get used to the shot and really appreciate it. Really good photos keep you coming back for more. You don’t get tired of looking at them.
Photoshop.com: Was there a defining moment when you knew that it was time to take pictures professionally or was it a gradual transition?
Jay Graham: I bought a SLR camera when I was in college and took a photography course. When I came home for the summer I found out my mom had enrolled me in a photography class at UC Santa Cruz taught by none other than Ansel Adams. However, I didn’t immediately pursue a career in photography. I worked as a general contractor until I was 38, and that’s when I decided to turn my attention to photography. I took five or six classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and then I worked as a photography assistant for a while. I moved pretty quickly into my own studio, mostly because I was married and had a small child so I needed to make money! At first I was afraid to shoot people, so I focused on architecture. Today I shoot landscape, architecture, events, and some travel photography. And yes, I do shoot people now too!
Photoshop.com: How is your photography workflow different today than when you started out?
Jay Graham: I’ve been an avid Photoshop user since Photoshop 2.5. The very first Photoshop job I had was for Better Homes & Gardens. I had to drop a scene into a window and I swear it took me 100 hours. Of course, the technology and my Photoshop skills have come a long way since then. I participated in the first Lightroom beta and it has really turned my workflow around. Today, I use a combined workflow that includes both Lightroom and Photoshop.
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in the latest version of Lightroom?
Jay Graham: The new noise reduction in Lightroom 3 is a big enhancement. The perspective control and lens correction are also critical to shooting architectural work. I also enjoy the integration between Lightroom and Photoshop. It is really easy to take images from Lightroom, work with them in Photoshop, and then take them back into Lightroom.
Photoshop.com: Do you have a favorite Lightroom preset or plug-in?
Jay Graham: I love the new Blurb BookSmart plug-in. It makes gathering photos in Lightroom and publishing a book through Blurb a simple, linear task. I just pick the images I want to use in Lightroom and publish them using the Publish Services feature, which connects directly to the Blurb BookSmart software. A lot of times when I’m building a book and I put images next to one another I realize that they need some fine tuning to look just right. The really cool thing is that instead of having to make changes and reimport the images I can just go back to Lightroom, edit the images, republish them, and when I go back to BookSmart the updates are all there. The templates are easy to modify too for those times when I have an image that can’t be cropped or I want to change the text block size. I’m currently working on a book with my wife to commemorate the amazing pilgrimage we took on the Camino de Santiago in Spain and I can’t wait to see the finished product!
Photoshop.com: What are some of the challenges in shooting on location versus in a studio?
Jay Graham: As most people know, weather is one of the main challenges shooting outside, on location. The best light is at either end of the day, and I’m a morning person so that works for me. Also, shooting at different times of year can be tough. A client may decide in the fall that they need a shot that they should have gotten in June when the sun was in a different location. That’s when we need to get creative, but that’s part of the fun. I get bored shooting in a studio; I have to see what’s out there. I once shot a hotel in Baja, California and fought a hurricane the whole time. It was difficult but it made for some really neat photos.
Photoshop.com: Describe the most remarkable photo shoot you have done.
Jay Graham: That’s a tough one. I’ve been on many remarkable shoots. One that stands out was when I was shooting for the book Indochine Style in Vietnam and Laos. The author, Barbara Walker, did all the hard work – scouting, finding locations, and setting the itinerary. I got to shoot five or six days a week for two and a half months. What a luxury and challenge. New and exciting places every day. I think my photography improved dramatically during that time.
Photoshop.com: How do you share your photography with clients, family, and friends?
Jay Graham: I love digital photography. It’s so easy to share. Books are wonderful. Remember when you’d get duplicate prints from the drugstore and put them in an album for a friend? Now making a book is much easier and longer lasting (and you can have multiple copies). I use books as gifts for friends and clients and as leave-behind portfolio pieces. It’s easy to share the electronic version using Blurb BookShow. Using it, I share books on Facebook, my blog, and my website. I use SmugMug galleries for clients and friends. I also use Lightroom to place images on my website and create web pages for clients to preview preliminary images from a shoot.
Photoshop.com: What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Jay Graham: First, make sure you’re passionate about photography. Keep your eyes open, always watch the light, keep shooting, and don’t forget the U-turn—if you see something that catches your eye, turn around, go get it. Working with established photographers is a perfect way to learn different ways of doing business whether it’s shooting techniques or business practices. Working with a few different photographers gives you a full palette of styles and practices to choose from.
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