Photographer of the Month: Thomas O'Brien
Thomas O'Brien's work shows the value of training and experience. His story and answers speak of the challenge and courage to hone one's craft and vision, and still face the difficulty of tackling each new step. I think you'll agree with me, that we can be very thankful that he is taking his work to the next level by putting his work out there for us to see. I'm honoured to share with you the works and words of Thomas O'Brien.
moonset and the milky way on independence pass near Aspen, Colorado
Maroon bells reflection
How did you get interested in photography?
I have been taking pictures for as long as i can remember. I grew up in Stowe Vermont, a small resort town in the middle of Vermont so I have always been surrounded by nature. I started out photographing in high school shooting mostly black and white, developing that myself in the school darkroom. After graduating I joined the Us Snowboard Team and raced on the world cup for a few years. This was the mid to late 90's just as snowboarding was gaining popularity and was accepted into the Winter Olympics. That was an absolutely incredible experience to see the world and the huge variety of cultures, customs and friendly people all across the world. During that same time I was going to school at the University of Utah working towards a BA in photography. I worked with 4x5 (built my own camera) pinholes and lots of color darkroom and alternative, historical photography processes. I have always been at the leading edge of digital imagery but also saw the value of learning the history of photography and the processes that have been available since its inception. I am trying to edit together a reel of all the timelpase footage that i have taken over the past few years, it's going slow but I should have something together pretty soon, I think.
Taylor Pass, Colorado - self portrait
Winter Storm Rainbow, San Rafael Swell Utah
prayer flags, Little Annie's Basin
How long have you been a photographer?
I guess since I was about 15 years old (about 1990) its been an off and on thing my whole life. I go through phases even today where I don't touch the camera for a few months then go out and go crazy for a week or a month shooting every day and all night. Up until this past February I had been working for other photographers for most of my career after college. I worked in a stock photo agency in SLC, then a fine art photo printing business that was spun off the agency for a few years. At that time i was also editing a video magazine called "Volume" that documented the progression and evolution of freestyle skiing in Salt Lake City from the introduction of twin tips to the incredible boom in popularity. My roomates and I produced14 videos over approximately 5 years. About 8 years ago, I got a job offer in Aspen Colorado and immediately took that and moved from Utah to Colorado. I have been living and working in Aspen since then and most of my work was with Lynn Goldsmith (lynngoldsmith.com). I was the studio-manager at her studio/gallery in Colorado. I did all the fine art printing, celebrity retouching and photoshop compositing on her self portrait series "In the Looking Glass" (thelookingglassbook.com/pages/image_pages/01.html) and was instrumental in creating her rock mosaic series (rockandrollphotogallery.com/pages/featured/rockcomposites.html). I was trying to figure out what to do with the thousands of images in her archive that would generally never be seen, and came up with this.
In February of this year, I went out on my own and really started to make a photo career out of my own work. I put up a website for the first time, started really putting my images out for people to see and made an effort to market myself. I am still working on putting a blog together, starting to write more (I am absolutely terrible at writing about myself and my images, but making improvements by just doing it, putting it online and learning from the experience). I have been teaching/consulting in Aspen for about 7 years to individuals (computer, photo, workflow) and decided it was time I start offering workshops and photo tours around Aspen and Utah. It's a bit strange putting my own work out there for others to see, since I have spent the past 10 years working for other photographers in the background with little or no publicity as to what I was doing.
Lightning strikes in Aspen Colorado
aspen trees, fall, Aspen Colorado
What is your favorite place to photograph? Or subject?
I would have to say anywhere in the mountains or the desert. I really enjoy shooting around my home town of Aspen and i tend to go up to the Maroon Bells more than I probably should. I literally have thousands of images of that mountain. There are few places in the country that are as scenic or incredible as the middle of the rocky mountains (winter, spring, summer or fall). For the past few years, I have really gotten into shooting at night. The advances in cameras is pretty awesome when combined with really fast lenses and the processing tools available in the computer. I am now able to capture things that I cant even see with my own eyes (moonrise light and the intense number of stars and the milky way). I just got back from a trip to Denver for the one year anniversary photo-walk for google+ I realized while down there that I really enjoyed street photography, so I will be trying to do a bit more of that in the future.
How can photographers help change/impact the world, while they are traveling?
I do feel that photography is one of the most powerful mediums in the world to convey what people are experiencing and how some are suffering. Images can be a very influential medium to invoke people to help, pay attention to the plight of others, and just get people to care about what is happening in the world.
Photography can be an incredible tool to be used to help others but there is a fine line between helping and exploiting, I try thinking about that when out shooting news situations quite a bit. I was recently down at the Waldo canyon fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I spent a few days down there taking pictures, and the whole time I felt terrible shooting the destruction and felt like I was intruding and just generally in the way of people that were helping. I probably won't ever publish the images anywhere, and on the last day decided to focus on the incredible job all the people fighting the fires did. They saved so many houses. It was a completely different mindset (not heading there to photograph the destruction) and I felt that I got much better photos because of it. I wish I could have stayed around a few more days to photograph all the people and the stories behind everyone, the signs thanking the firefighters around town, and the incredible number of houses that were saved in blackened neighborhoods. I would really like to try to photograph the firefighters and be able to tell the story behind what they do.
Vermont country road fall
Are there rules in other countries people need to be aware of about who or what you can or cannot shoot?
There are for sure, I can't really say what they all are for different places but its something to be mindful of thats for sure. Many places in the world it is very bad form to take photos of someone without asking for permission first. It's probably a best practice to ask first then shoot, rather than shoot then ask like I am inclined to do while in the USA.
Adams Lake overlook
Any photography tips you want to share?
Invest in really great very fast aperture lenses. People that I teach and talk to about photography are always interested in the latest and greatest camera bodies then buy kit lenses or terrible zooms. Modern cameras are no more than disposable computers that really only last a few years then get replaced. I always recommend people buy lenses that will work on full frame cameras (they are backwards compatible with the cropped sensor cameras) and I am a huge fan of prime lenses. I do most of my shooting with a 24mm 1.4, 50mm 1.2 and the 85mm lens. Most important is don't be afraid to try new things, don't be afraid to fail and always have fun.
Happy 4th of July. Giant flag painted on a barn near South Park, Colorado.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
I don't really know, I love taking photos of all kind of different subjects, pushing myself out of my comfort zone to learn new things whether that is in taking the photos (focus stacking, exposure stacking, panoramic stitching, light-painting, studio lighting, time-lapse, and motorized time-lapse equipment etc..), new ways of processing images or just learning from others while teaching.
I try to always try to push myself beyond what I am comfortable doing, learn new ways of working with images, and always have fun. The past two years I have been playing with 3d printers made by a company called Makerbot Industries. One of the slogans that they use all the time is "Be Awesome" - there is not much better than to try to be awesome every day.
Corona Arch near Moab, Utah
hanging out in the milky way rainbow room. maroon bells wilderness near Aspen, Colorado. about 5 min before the moon rose (yellow glow on the horizon) with the maroon bells to the far right.
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Jordan Oram isn't only WE's Photo Editor, he's also the Outdoor Adventures Editor and combines these passions in photographically adventurous ways on his world rambling journey. You can follow his zany hijinks at http://maplemusketeer.com/
All photos courtesy and copyright Thomas O'Brien