Insights and ideas from Tim Tadder
Seeing beyond reality
Tim Tadder is a visual communicator who produces award-winning campaign work for top consumer brands including Adidas, Budweiser, Coke Zero, Craftsman, Gatorade, and more. He creates highly-stylized action shots that draw viewers into the moment. Tadder has always been active in sports, exploration, and adventure and believes that being familiar with shooting live action makes it easier to recreate the look for advertising shoots. In this interview, he shares what drives him as a creative professional and how he strives to deliver something new with every project.
Photoshop.com: What piece of equipment can’t you live without and why?
Tim Tadder: Within the spectrum of all of the pieces of equipment I use – from multiple types of lighting equipment and modifiers to cameras and lenses – one of the major parts of my image making process is Adobe® Photoshop® software. I know it’s not a piece of equipment, it’s a software, but there’s no way I could do what I do today without my ability to use Photoshop as a creative element, just as I would use any camera, lighting style, lens, or other device. I make my images for the most part in Photoshop. I concept them in the real world, I shoot them in the real world, but I assemble them in Photoshop and that’s really where the image making process comes together.
Photoshop.com: What role do Photoshop Lightroom® and Photoshop software play in your photography?
Tim Tadder: I always start with a collection of images that are cataloged and stored in Lightroom. From there, I’ll go in and search for the specific pieces I need to make my puzzle. I create collections of images like sky, crowds, players, lights, stadium, etc. that I can pull from. I start with the background and layer the image together. I’m dragging and dropping images from Lightroom into Photoshop constantly.
With all of the compositing I do, the intelligent selection technology in Photoshop speeds up my process by large chunks of time. I probably spend 50% of my time in Photoshop making complex selections so that’s a big winner for me.
Also, Lightroom has become the cataloging feature for my website. I create featured galleries as collections in Lightroom that are keyworded and include all metadata. I export and upload them directly to my website, keeping the same structure. All of the images are searchable on my website, just like they’re searchable in Lightroom.
Photoshop.com: How did you create the result in the image of the dancer?
Tim Tadder: The inspiration for the shoot came from the Holi Festival in India. We wanted to have the dancers interacting with this powdered paint but we couldn’t find a substance to use that wasn’t going to irritate somebody’s eyes or get in their mouth and upper respiratory system. We didn’t want to put our talent in harm’s way, it wasn’t worth it. So I thought we could do the same thing with Photoshop.
We shot the paint and the dancers separately, and then composited them together. The powder enhances the subject’s movement, creating more power and drama. We always struggle with this very still movement, where you’re not sure if the subject is coming or going. With the addition of the powder, you get a clear sense of where the movement is coming from and where it is going. We’re elaborating on the motion, creating a bit more depth, shape, and vibrance. We like to create images that are full of movement and peak action. They’re dynamic, vibrant, explosive, and in your face. This is just another manifestation of the type of imagery that we like to create.
Photoshop.com: Tell me about a favorite photo, yours or someone else’s, and what grabs you about it.
Tim Tadder: My favorite photo hangs on the wall of my studio; it is a picture of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. That photograph is such an amazing storytelling image. You can’t help but get a reaction when you look at it. When people walk into my studio it’s the first image that they see and I love watching them look at it because they can immediately pick up on the struggle and strife that this mother is going through. There’s so much going on in the image, there are a lot of different elements in play, and on closer inspection you get a full viewing of it.
This image is not only a favorite because of how beautiful, amazing, impactful, strong, and communicative it is. It’s also an amazing image when you think about the technical hurdles and challenges that the photographer went through taking the picture during the Depression era. It’s a phenomenal piece of work. It’s an image that I’ve always loved and that has always inspired me. It speaks to the very reason I became a photographer: to communicate and have my images inspire people and affect people and for them to have a reaction from it. It’s just an iconic image that I love and that I can stare at for hours.
Photoshop.com: How do you know that a photo is really good?
Tim Tadder: As an artist and visual communicator, I struggle with this on a daily basis. I’m always somewhat dissatisfied with my work. I think that’s a blessing and a curse. I’m constantly motivated to improve upon my vision because I’ve never quite reached perfection, the point where I pat myself on the back and say, “That’s the perfect execution.” Everything I work on is a work in progress toward the elusive search for perfection. I don’t know if we ever reach it. I haven’t reached it yet, so there’s a constant motivation inside of me to push harder to create more dynamic and inspiring images that make people react. I want that jolt of good, bad, or indifferent. When you see an image that’s successful you react to it, and that’s the goal. My goal is to create images that jump people, make them react, and inspire them in one way or another to have an opinion or feeling. Within me is a constant drive to be a better communicator, to visually share more.
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in the latest release of Photoshop? Why?
Tim Tadder: When Photoshop CS5 came out I upgraded right away, primarily for the 64-bit capability. My work on the back end is all about time. The more time something takes, the less profitable it is. If I can speed up my workflow, it directly benefits my bottom line. Also, the just-do-it initiatives are off the charts. I work in 16-bit exclusively because our images are full of color and vibrancy and I am always saving JPEGs out for clients. The fact that I don’t have to go through the extra step every time to convert to 8-bit to save a JPEG is great.
Photoshop.com: Are you a self-taught photographer or did you have a mentor or teachers that showed you the ropes?
Tim Tadder: My father was a commercial photographer so I grew up within the photography world. He was a pretty well-known sports photographer and the team photographer for the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Colts. He would take me down on the sidelines and have me carry his bags. I remember just being a part of the game and the experience. I would go to spring training with my father and he’d hand me a long lens and a camera with a motor drive and say, “Point it at what you see and take some pictures.”
Photoshop.com: What other lessons did you learn from your father?
Tim Tadder: My father had what I call a blue collar studio, where he did a lot of small jobs. He was the kind of guy could rub two nickels together and make a quarter. He worked really hard and provided a good home for us. From him I learned that photography is not only a creative art, it’s also very important to understand the business side of things—the difference between renting and buying equipment and the difference between what it actually costs you to do a job versus what you’re earning. This strong business sense that I learned from him has helped me tremendously.
Photoshop.com: What do you say to photographers who believe you shouldn’t manipulate images in Photoshop?
Tim Tadder: I work within a conceptual based image-making world and I’ve been incorporating post production into my imagery since I started. Some people believe that photo enhancement is a non-traditional way to view photography. I always looked at it differently. I view it as just another tool to create a more dynamic image. Excuses are not in the captions, and neither are explanations of how the images are made. It’s either a dynamic image or it’s not. And whatever tools you can use to create an impactful, effective image so be it. It’s just another tool, like a lens or a light. It’s just part of your arsenal to create a more impactful product, and our product is images.
Photoshop.com: What advice would you give other photographers about taking action shots?
Tim Tadder: Whenever I speak to young photographers who want to take action shots I always try to convey the message that less is more, keep it simple. Try to understand the timing and the activity you’re shooting so you can fully understand why the final image is going work. Know your sport, subject matter, and athlete; know all of the things that you can so when you interpret the action and the timing you end up creating an image the resonates. Your image should appeal not only to the people who know and love the sport, because they’re going to be able to smell a fake a mile away, but also to people in the general public.
By creating an image that embodies the right action, drama, and technique the general audience can get the metaphors you’re trying to convey – power, strength, speed, intensity, focus, and determination, which are all critical elements in an action shot. What I find is action photographers get hung up on the technical aspects of capturing the action and don’t spend much time thinking about the beauty of the action, the peak of the action, the best moment to capture the action. You want to capture an image that looks the best from a technical standpoint, showing great technique on the athlete’s part, but also from a wider audience standpoint, where it is going to convey and read quickly and grab people’s attention.
Photoshop.com: Tell us about your early photography experiences.
Tim Tadder: My first experiences with photography were photographing things that I loved. When I was 13 we had a big skateboard ramp and I used to photograph kids skateboarding. For my first start-to-finish process I shot black-and-white pictures of a professional skateboarder that came to visit. I took the pictures to my dad’s studio and processed them—cut the negatives, dried them, selected the ones I liked, and printed them as eight by tens. I had a show in the school library of all the skateboard pictures. That was my first exposure to sharing my vision.
Photoshop.com: Do you ever just shoot for yourself?
Tim Tadder: As an artist, there’s a great difference between personal work and client work. I find that it’s my personal work that attracts the client work. I’ll have a vision, something that pops into my head, and I have to execute it. Then an art director or client will see the work and want to be part of that type of vision. It goes hand in hand with allowing me to have the resources to do the things that I want to do from a personal standpoint. Our photography is very conceptual and resource heavy. My vision is more people, prop, and location intensive. It’s all of those things that come together to create the image and I don’t want to be limited by lack of resources. I need the commercial work to help fund all the personal projects. At the same time, I find that working with commercial clients can be very inspiring because I work with a lot of great art directors that have made my vision better.
Photoshop.com: What do you like about shooting digitally?
Tim Tadder: I was one of the first people to embrace digital photography from the ground up. The moment I saw it I compared it to scanning 35mm film and latched on to it right away. It was faster, cleaner, and smoother. The workflow was better and the result was better, so I was sold whole-heartedly into digital. I bought the very first SLR and I’ve had one ever since.
Photoshop.com: What inspires you as a photographer?
Tim Tadder: Inspiration is a funny thing to put a finger on because it comes from everywhere and it comes from everything. I might catch a glimpse of something very quickly on a bus driving by. I might see something in the background of a TV commercial. I might see a movie poster as I’m walking through the mall. For me, inspiration is the world around me. As a visual communicator I put images out there that say, “This is where I am right now, what do you think?” And people like them and are inspired by them and respond to them and that’s been pretty cool.
Photoshop.com: What is the ONE lasting impression you want to leave with your photography?
Tim Tadder: I just hope that I’ve inspired people to see things differently. I hope that I’ve inspired them to look at imagery the way that I look at life, which is passionate, angst filled, and desire filled. My images represent moments that are beyond reality and sometimes they’re very much a perfect reality. I want people to say, “Yeah, I can communicate that way. I want to express movement that way. I want to express the hero that way.”
I would be honored if people carried some of my work forward. Whether it’s the way I use contrast or the way people think about detail and texture. It would be great to be thought of as someone that has contributed to this great science of photography, this great art form that is part technical, part philosophical. All the great photographers are always remembered by a couple of images. If I’m remembered by a couple of images and those images have inspired other people that would be great.
Tim's file prep: cleaning and sharpening action