Insights and ideas from Robert DeRosa, Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® user
Urban Landscape PhotographerVisit this innovator's website
Passion to profession
Robert DeRosa took up photography as a hobby from an early age. But, for 32 years, he held “day jobs” in marketing and finance. After retiring at age 61, he set out to fully pursue his dream: photography. In three short years, he achieved what many photographers achieve over the course of a lifetime. His work was selected for four juried exhibitions and four group shows and was also covered in Real World Digital Photography, Photoshop User Magazine, and Photo District News. We sat down with DeRosa to learn more about how he became the quintessential artisan photographer—and why it’s never too late to pursue a passion.
Photoshop.com: Tell us about your journey from casually taking photographs to where you are today?
Robert DeRosa: Like many people, I’ve always enjoyed photography as a hobby, and sometimes even took continuing education classes at night to improve my skills. When I retired, my wife and daughter encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a photographer. I went to grad school at the School of Visual Arts and earned a Master’s degree in Digital Photography in 2010. You can imagine how daunting it is to be in a class full of people less than half your age in a world that is now almost completely digital. Katrin Eismann, Chair of the program, introduced me to Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® software, which has since become my constant workmate and companion. I dedicated 60-plus hours per week to the program, and in the end I received the Paula Rhodes Memorial Award for Excellence in Photography, which is given to the top 10% of the class.
Photoshop.com: You focus mostly on landscape and architectural photography. Has this always been an interest of yours?
Robert DeRosa: Yes, I’ve always been fascinated by landscapes. At 10-years-old, I would show my mother the pictures I took when I was out and about and she would say, “That’s nice, dear, but where are the people?” Many of my images today are of urban landscapes. In addition to fine art work, I also do freelance photography work for architectural and real estate clients.
Photoshop.com: Where do you most like to shoot?
Robert DeRosa: More than half of my work is from Brooklyn. I grew up there and I still find it to be such a diverse and ever-changing community. I usually shoot on Saturday mornings around sunrise, before the city wakes up and when the light tends to be warm and textured.
I’ve been working on a series of images of Coney Island. It’s just so fascinating: sword swallowers, gorgeous beach landscapes, cityscapes, clusters of people that form painterly vignettes, shops and signs that say things like, “Defending American Popular Culture.” It begs to be photographed. I’m also working on a series on the Gowanus Canal, which—as a sad result of years of discharges, storm water runoff, sewer outflows, and industrial pollutants—has become one of the United States’ most extensively contaminated water bodies. My favorite reaction from people during gallery showings is when they say, “You make piles of garbage look beautiful.”
Photoshop.com: Which features of Lightroom do you use most extensively for your landscape and architectural images?
Robert DeRosa: I process 100% of my images in Lightroom. To stay organized, upon import I put in global keywords for all of my images. I shoot most of my work with a Canon 10-24mm zoom lens that gives the wide angle, but there’s sometimes distortion from the 10mm side, so I use Lens Correction to fix it. If I’m shooting straight into the sun, I also use Chromatic Aberration to get rid of color fringes. I shoot most of my work bracketed so I can use HDR—an important capability for urban landscapes and interiors because the dynamic range is usually wide. Basic adjustments also come in handy, such as the Eye Dropper tool for white balance, highlights and shadows, and tone curve adjustments, and the Gradient tool and adjustment brush for stubborn areas of an image.
For architectural photography, two features in Lightroom 5 really stand out. I love using the Upright™ tool to straighten out verticals in a single click. The Full option is amazing because it both adjusts the verticals and brings the image to a straight-on view. The Advanced Healing Brush is also very helpful for the odd shapes that I need to remove from a room, such as cable TV wires sticking out of a wall.
Photoshop.com: What is your favorite urban landscape series and why?
Robert DeRosa: The Coney Island series is special to me because I’ve been shooting there for four years, and during that time I’ve seen the development of my work and vision. I originally shot there for a graduate course project and became interested in the natural landscapes. There is something about it that is constantly changing and keeps bringing me back. This is an interesting time in Coney Island's history—a point between decay and overdevelopment. Being primarily a landscape photographer, I wanted to do something different from street shots of people and documentary images of rides and games. At first I would go at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. in winter to get clean lines of site and vacant streets. Then I started to shoot in other seasons and types of weather. I started to include the rides and the constructed landscape. I fought hard to keep people out of the shots because I could not reconcile those images with my focus on the landscape. But then I found a way to embrace the people, while holding true to my goal of interpreting the landscapes. I have learned to compose people as elements of the landscape. The project now includes the natural, constructed, and social landscapes, and it’s starting to feel complete. I hope to have a book finished by the end of this year.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite image and what grabs you about it.
Robert DeRosa: I took a lot of images in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy when I went there to assist with relief efforts. We were mucking out houses and ripping off sheetrock. I carried tiny cameras like the Canon PowerShot G12 in my rain suit. One day, I needed a break and decided to take walk through a major burn area. I saw a bright pink and red sign shaped like a star with the word “HOPE” in bold white letters. It was hammered onto a power pole that was still standing. The sign really took me aback, and it captured so much of what I wanted to say and how we were trying to help as volunteers. The message is framed against the background of all that devastation.
Photoshop.com: How do you share your images?
Robert DeRosa: I share on Facebook, Twitter, and, of course, my website. I like Facebook because it really democratizes the feedback. Sometimes I post the image with a question, or ask a handful of friends to provide input. The process is helpful because it fills something I genuinely miss from graduate school, when we had weekly critique sessions that helped shape our work.
Photoshop.com: You provided a Lightroom preset to share with our readers. Can you tell us more about it?
Robert DeRosa: For my architectural and real estate clients, I do a lot of interior shots. I created a preset to get those images to a common ground before starting adjustments. The preset uses lens profile correction because I shoot very wide; chromatic aberration correction because it’s very common especially around windows when shooting wide; highlights and shadows adjustments to reduce the dynamic range in rooms with contrast and to brighten the exposure a bit in the HDR images.
Photoshop.com: What’s next for you?
Robert DeRosa: I want to finish or augment several of my urban city landscape series. I’m also working on an extension to my Master’s thesis on the Manhattan Bridge, and I want to expand it to focus on all the wonderful bridges that connect Manhattan to the other boroughs. Once I’ve completed these, I’m interested in augmenting several of my urban landscape series, including moving into environmental portraits of people who’ve been living alongside the Gowanus Canal, the older industrial businesses there, and the artists who’ve come to live in the area. I’m also investigating doing a series on the churches of Brooklyn. Many are storefronts, some of which are gothic masterpieces built a long time ago, and they are fascinating.
Photoshop.com: What advice would you give to others who have considered pursuing photography?
Robert DeRosa: Photography is both an art and a business, so understand your market and know how to develop business and marketing plans. Learn the craft, either by assisting others or choosing a quality, credible education program. Most of all, feed your passion. Gain inspiration from other photographers’ work, and be aware of what is being done in other media. Shoot every day. And remember why you loved photography enough to get into it in the first place.
Interiors Start Point preset