Insights and ideas from Joel Grimes
Pursuing the creative dream
For Joel Grimes, the passion to create is not optional; instead, it is part of his DNA. As a young child, he constantly drew, painted, sculpted, and played music. In his freshman year in high school, he tried photography and fell in love with it. Initially, he was fearful of pursuing a photography career because he is colorblind, but, thankfully, his teacher reassured him that this would never hold him back.
Grimes went on to earn a BFA in Photography from the University of Arizona. He credits six semesters of Art History, which seemed pointless to him at the time, with inspiring him to use lighting and his unique artistic vision to transform his photography into dramatic works of art, rich with both emotion and style. Throughout his 26-year career, Grimes has worked for many of the top advertising agencies across the globe on assignments that have taken him to every state in the United States and more than 50 countries. Here, Grimes shares his unique approach to photography and creating art that pushes boundaries.
Photoshop.com: Which piece of equipment couldn’t you live without and why?
Joel Grimes: For retouching, it would have to be my Wacom tablet. Funny thing is, when I first purchased it, I felt like I was on a rocking ship trying to play a game of billiards. Within an hour or so, I gave up. My tablet sat in a drawer for more than two years before I eventually took the time to learn to use it. Now, it is second nature. The tablet gives me the speed and flexibility to accomplish things I could not do with a mouse. For example, I like the ethereal look of adding tapered light streaks coming into sports arenas and stadiums—a result of using the Adobe® Photoshop® software Pen tool and the tablet.
Photoshop.com: You describe yourself as an illusionist creating images larger than life. Can you tell us about your photographic process and vision?
Joel Grimes: For years, I viewed myself as a photographer. In many ways, that mindset shackled and bound me, preventing me from truly fulfilling my vision. Once I began to think of myself as an artist, my work was transformed. Now, with tools like Photoshop, I take multiple elements of photographs and—like a magician—create something that does not exist in reality.
Photoshop.com: How does being colorblind affect your photography?
Joel Grimes: Everyone has so-called strengths and weaknesses. This is one of life’s greatest beauties: we are not all created with the same set of tools. Often, we look at what we might view as a weakness and wish it were not so. But it is our uniqueness that separates us from others. My colorblindness is one of the single greatest assets I posses as an artist, because it forces me down a path that others may not travel.
For me, more important than color is the way light strikes a subject. During the creative process, I spend a lot more time working my lights than I do dealing with things like makeup or wardrobe. Also, in my post retouching, I am drawn in the direction of desaturating my images versus creating a punchier, saturated look. Primarily, this is because I am afraid of dealing with color balancing my images and this is my way of getting around it. So, in the end, a large part of my signature look is a result of my colorblindness and the vision I have as an artist. It is my firm belief that those of us who embrace our uniqueness, in the end, will without question make a greater mark on this earth. I appreciate that we are not all cut from the same mold, otherwise this world would be a much less interesting place.
Photoshop.com: What role does Adobe Photoshop play in your photography process?
Joel Grimes: When Photoshop first came on the scene more than 25 years ago, most photographers looked at it as a way to replace the darkroom. If you were a “true” photographer, you would fix a problem in-camera versus in Photoshop—Photoshop was the “last resort.” Today, Photoshop plays an equal if not more important role in the photographic process. For me, the capture side and post-processing side are just one big creative opportunity with a common goal: to fulfill my vision as an artist. I no longer look at the camera and Photoshop as two separate elements.
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in Adobe Photoshop CS6? Why?
Joel Grimes: One of the standout features is the new Crop tool. I especially like the ratio presets. They save time, but also allow me to revisit an image later and expand it to its original size, so I am never locked in. I also love the new features in Liquify. They work in real time so I stay in the creative flow, and I can change my brush size faster and easier than ever.
Photoshop.com: How did you create your signature look?
Joel Grimes: I achieve my signature look by working in Smart Objects from Adobe Camera Raw. I take both color and black-and-white copies of an image and merge the two together using Blending Modes such as Overlay or Soft Light. The added bonus is that with the black-and-white copy, I can adjust the sliders with the filter packs and change the overall value of my skin tones. For example, on the image of NFL athlete Will Blackmon, I darkened the skin value by adjusting the orange and yellow sliders in the negative direction. For my beauty and fashion images, I can give a model’s skin the appearance of flawless porcelain by moving the same sliders in the positive direction. This gives me amazing control with the overall look and feel I want to achieve in the final image.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite photo you’ve shot and what grabs you about it.
Joel Grimes: I love the image of Lauren, because by the old school’s standards it would have been considered overexposed and blown out. One of my goals is to create images that 10 years ago would have been impossible technically or not generally accepted by the photo community. I want to break new ground and push the boundaries of how we define a photograph. Of course, this is a bit scary and, without question, puts my neck on the chopping block. However, I would much rather climb and fall than stay on flat ground.
Photoshop.com: Tell us about your experience participating in the “Digital Darkroom” exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography?
Joel Grimes: To be chosen as one of the artists represented in that exhibition was truly a huge honor. In my opinion, hard work trumps talent every time. So to be recognized for my hard work and to be viewed among other artists was very inspiring. It’s also rewarding to see how moving forward and embracing all the tools available truly pays off.
One thing that struck me was the diversity of the artists represented at this exhibit. It supports the fact that, given the same basic tools, we all end up in a different place. This is why, as artists, it is so critical that we stick with our intuition and not conform to what we think others want us to do.
Photoshop.com: As an artist working in the commercial arena, what has helped you to successfully compete in the marketplace?
Joel Grimes: You could say that my occupation is a photographer, but my passion is being a creative artist. Finding a balance between the two has never been easy. But the world is looking for artists that have the ability to set the trends that drive the marketplace. There’s a role for technicians in the industry, but true visionary artists stand out and impact the world. When push comes to shove, most art buyers and clients would prefer to hire an artist rather than a technician.
Photoshop.com: Tell us about a really memorable shoot you have done.
Joel Grimes: In the past few years, I have photographed some of the world’s top athletes, from Hope Solo of the USA Olympic Soccer Team, to Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers. I am drawn to that “in your face” type of portrait that reveals something about my subjects. When you have the opportunity to work with celebrity athletes, the pressure is on to do something extraordinary. I love that pressure, because it forces me to recognize that I have to be at the top of my game or it could be a lost opportunity that I may never have again. The challenge is, you normally have a limited amount of time, and the luxury of experimenting on the fly is very rare. So you have to be prepared to work within the constraints and make the best of it.
Photoshop.com: You have talked about art not being defined by the finished product, but by the process of creating. With that philosophy, how do you determine when a project is done?
Joel Grimes: It is so easy to define art by the finished product, but the problem is we all have different definitions of how the final product should look. This is the nature of humanity: we have likes and dislikes. Music is a great example of how different we really are. So, where is the common ground? We know the process can vary, just look at all the different methods of creating a photograph. The common ground is the passion to create. This is what binds us—not the tools, nor the final product, but our passion to work toward a goal of fulfilling our visions as artists. So, as an artist, I have the power to say: “This is what I like,” and be done with it. I just hope there are a few others that identify with what I like as well.
Joel Grimes's Soft Dreamy BW Action