Behind the Lens With Skip Bolen
I knew I wanted to be a photographer when...
Years ago, I was a junior art director at Conde Nast (Publisher of Vogue, House & Garden, Vanity Fair, Glamour and many more) in New York City, and we would get these amazing images in from photographers all over the world (our photographers included Annie Leibovitz, Herb Ritz, Richard Avedon, etc). As an art director, my work was never complete unless I was physically at my desk working on a layoutit was there and then where I realized the photographers got to travel and go to locations to shoot while I was glued to my desk. I became jealous of the photographers and decided one day I would turn that around and eventually leave art direction behind me and become a full time photographer. And while I had a great time as an art director early on, I'm really enjoying photography these days.
Your approach to photography:
My approach to photography is to have a good time and to always be very considerate of the audience paying to see the show on stage. Bill Claxton once said to always shoot first before giving it any more thought (I don't remember the exact quote)meaning, get the shot first before contemplating whether you should be getting the shot or not. Better to always get and have the shot rather than not having the shot and regretting it later on. So, when I walk into a club or a situation to shoot live music, I quickly try to get a few shots right awayso I know I've got several shots of what is going on and then I quickly figure out my strategy. I also had a major breakthrough one day with my digital photography where I began to treat Photoshop the same as I would a darkroom back in my film daysmeaning, I use Photoshop on my photos the same way I would work with a negative in the darkroomthat RAW image out of my camera is the digital negative that I work with to dodge and burn areas within the photo, I sometimes crop, I adjust the contrast and brightness and make any and all further adjustments.
Your teaching approach/philosophy:
My first real job out of college was working as a junior designer in New Orleans where I was hired by the owner and Art Directorand I gotta say, I learned so much from him. He had a real knack at sharing information and teaching without really realizing itand much of what I learned about design and composition way back then is what I still use now when shooting photography and composing my images. And so, any time a young photographer asks me questions, I think back to this guy that taught me so much in my early 20s and always try share as much as I can with anyone starting out in photographyespecially if they're photographing jazz.
Your biggest challenge when shooting indoor (or low lighted) events:
I always enjoy good challenges and I especially enjoy shooting in extreme low lightwhether it was back in my film days using Delta 3200, or now with digitalto capture an image in natural low light with just a glimmer of light has always produced some of my most favorite images. I never use flash while shooting live musicflash in my opinion completely destroys any sense of feeling and emotion found in a natural low light settingplus flash is horribly distracting for the artist performing and the audience there to see the show. And now, with the latest generation of cameras coming out, shooting in low light at an event is hardly a challenge any more. Now, I would say my biggest challenge is just "capturing the moment" and finding that perfect moment in a live jazz performance using only available light that best reveals an image infused with the spontaneous intensity, raw energy and collaborative spirit of that live jazz performancesomething that best tells the story and conveys all the feelings and emotions of that live performance or the communication between the musicians on stage.
On movie sets, I'm always competing with new motion picture cameras being used and the camera of choice lately for many directors is the Arri Alexa which has the ability to shoot in extreme low light. So for me, I always have to have the latest camera gear to stay competitive and for the increased ISO performance with as little grain as possible.
Your biggest challenge when shooting outdoor events:
Outdoor events can be tricky depending on where the sun isif it's in front of you then you'll have glare, or if it's directly overhead then you have harsh shadows on faces, and too much sun isn't much fun. I prefer overcast cloudy skiesthis produces good even light with no harsh shadows, or a setting sun with just enough stage lighting to make it visually interesting. Another challenge is often there are so many photographers in the photo pit at the same time all shooting from the same angle, and so I always try to find alternative perspectives that will give my images a completely different perspective from everyone else.