In this segment Fine Art / Architectural Photographer Derek Galon shares his thoughts and images with James Robinson Photography Blog. Thank you Derek for taking this time with us.
Derek Galon: Thanks for inviting me.
JRP: Where do you call home Derek?
Derek Galon: I changed homes so many times , cities, regions, countries … I call home where I feel at home. At present I am in Victoria, Canada.
JRP: What led to your interest in photography? Is there any formal training in your background?
Derek Galon: I studied fine arts, photography, and music. I was into arts for as long as I can remember. What triggered my interest in photography? I think seeing my father developing prints in our home darkroom. A blank piece of paper turning slowly into image … it was magical!
JRP: Name some of the artists that have inspired and influenced your work?
Derek Galon: Sorry, no one comes to mind. I try not to get influenced.
JRP: How did you develop your vision and technique in the early days?
Derek Galon: Early days? It was in Eastern Europe, long ago. I usually shot with simple Russian or Polish made cameras working in black and white. The darkroom was in our bathroom and most of the equipment was home-made. It was rather limiting but I did not even think about it then. Image editing was limited. I simply knew I needed to catch as dynamic and lively images as possible. Something that will look great even with minimalistic darkroom processing. That became “my specialty” in the early years.
I often photographed world-famous classical musicians. My musical education helped me better understand their performances, and predict moments when they would look great. Those photographs brought me first awards, and made up my first solo exhibition. I think I was around fifteen at that time.
JRP: Do you have people who assist you with your projects, and if so what roles do they play?
Derek Galon: I have many hats to wear. I am a pro photographer specializing in architecture and landscape. I often travel far away to exotic countries to photograph on locations. On such shoots I get assistance from Margaret my partner and award-winning writer if she is with me. We worked closely together on two large coffee table books, helping each other working on locations.
I have learned to do my work alone and with minimal equipment. Airlines are not really “equipment-friendly” and even the very minimum I carry puts me in a spot of trouble from time to time.
When I work closer to home I can use more gear and more assistance. Especially when I work on my art portraits. I use the help of a makeup artist and sometimes a hair artist.
JRP: What would we find in your camera bag for a typical shoot?
Derek Galon: Well, as I just said I wear many hats, so what is my typical shot? For architecture I will have more lenses, using often prime lenses and wide-angle. My Nikon D800, 20mm prime, 50mm prime, 105mm macro, 24-70mm zoom. Then PCL polarizer filters. I often shoot in tropics where I almost always keep polarizers on. A remote shutter cable, sensor cleaner, batteries, and other small stuff. That fills my bag. I need a backpack to keep my tripod, panoramic head, my backup camera (Nikon d7000), and a flash (SB900).
That would be my basic gear for interior/landscape. When I shoot portraits, I use some portable but a bit heavier gear. Fomex strobes with soft boxes, a beauty dish, etc. I would leave most lenses at home, using more extensively the 24-70 zoom.
I work in a fully manual mode when doing my art stuff. For other work I may use different lighting. If I shoot a wedding for example, I would change my strobes to a pair of Nikon speedlights with a wireless TTL controller, and would use umbrellas for a softer light.
JRP: What type of lighting do you prefer, artificial or available light? What are your most often used light modifiers?
Derek Galon: Once again it depends on the kind of shoot. I rarely use artificial light for my architecture shots. I try to work with natural light, and so far it gives me really fine results. The whole thick coffee table book on Caribbean architecture has not a single photo with a flash or any added light. The book won several awards. Clearly, one can do without extra lights.
In darker spaces I just keep my camera on a tripod and shoot long exposures. If I really lack some light here and there I do bracketing and will fusion the images later on. Outdoors on landscape shoots I sometimes add a little fill flash but nothing more.
With portraits I very often go for strobes and modifiers. I love harder light so my modifiers would be honeycombs and snoots.
JRP: Please describe your digital work flow and the software you use? What do you feel one must do to master image processing?
Derek Galon: Unlike in my old, home based darkroom-bathroom setup I now work totally digital. I can be more in control of editing, and I am afraid I am a bit of a maniac when it comes to editing.
I often use fusion (HDR) and my most favorite software for that are the free versions of SNS-HDR, and TuFuse. As for my work flow: First, selection and editing in Lightroom. All major corrections, lens correction, etc., are done in Lightroom. I then export usually as a 16-bit TIFF. Images get further editing in Photoshop. There I do all the detailing, composing, superimposing, you name it. I know I spend too much time editing every small detail.
What do I feel one must do to master image processing? Be merciless on yourself. Don’t like it only because it is your photo. Ask yourself do I really like it? What can be improved? What can make the message in your photo stronger? What is there that is NOT necessary and can be removed/cropped out?
After working on it put it aside for a few days. Forget about it. Then look at it again. You will notice many more things to improve when you are not so attached to your freshly made photo.
JRP: What is the most critical moment in the capture of your images?
Derek Galon: When photographing people I still use what I learned as a kid. Intuitive prediction of what may happen within the next few seconds of action. That helps me capture that special expression, that finest moment.
In photographing architecture there is no such split-second crucial moment. I often have to remember that I can’t return to a remote location so I need to concentrate and not make mistakes. That extra concentration, that total focus on the thing I do often helps to create the best shots.
JRP: Name a shoot or project that revealed to you the distance you’ve come as an artist.
Derek Galon: First … I NEVER say I am an artist. I may work on artistic images, in an artistic profession, and I studied the arts but it does NOT make me an Artist. My work judged by others may eventually (or may not) make OTHERS decide I’m an artist. To me it is not a label you add to your name but a measure by which your creative work is seen by others. It is not up to me to say so. If my works will earn me such a title, I will indeed be honored.
To your question … progress. I think I had such a chance to notice my progress last summer. I was hired by the Government of Montserrat (in the Eastern Caribbean) to document a major project there. While working there I was given a rare chance. I was allowed to photograph their old capital town destroyed several years ago by a volcano. With the assistance of scientists from the volcanic institute who monitored closely conditions in the area I entered that (normally off-limit to all people) danger zone. I witnessed terrible destruction inflicted on the town and its people. It was rather an eery feeling to photograph that devastated place full of volcanic ash, lava and mud.
I guess it was a bit like photographing a war zone. I only an hour or so to take photographs so I had to hurry. I switched to my super-focused work mode trying to photograph as much as possible in best possible way. It was like I was in a trance. Only later, after I opened my images in Lightroom to edit them I saw how much of that eery feeling they kept. How strangely beautiful yet high in drama they were. Wow! I could not believe those images. Great work! I could not believe I did it! I realized I came a long way as a photographer.
JRP: When not artistic photography, what does Derek Galon do with his time?
Derek Galon: It may be editing architecture/landscape or any other kind of photographs. It may be editing/designing a book for a client. I may be updating one of my Web sites. I may be away shooting or I may be at home experimenting with my equipment and ideas. I am addicted to work. When I am idle I feel weird, a bit sick or perhaps it is a sense of guilt.
JRP: What has been the best advice given to you by another photographer or artist?
Derek Galon: I can’t recall a single piece of advice which would change my ways. I recently got quite a bit of advice on the fine nuances of studio lighting which helped me improve and progress. The photographer sharing his knowledge with me was Jon Hoadley. Perhaps not widely enough but a PHENOMENAL artist. If born 200 or 300 years ago Jon would be one of the best Flemish painters. A master of chiaroscuro art, and his canvases would be now hanging in the best museums. His photographs usually artistic portraits take my breath away. He can capture the bare soul of his models in a truly amazing way. He spends most of his time in the studio, mastering his fine lighting techniques. I call him a Soul Photographer.
JRP: What advice would you like to share with other photographers?
Derek Galon: Be persistent. It is tough to get recognized. Keep progressing and learning and keep doing your thing. If you trust you are on a good path don’t stop. You will build a momentum one day. Just don’t stop.
JRP: Thank you Derek, this has been a pleasure and we wish you continued success.
Derek Galon: Thank you, and my thanks to all who take time to read this. Cheers!
JRP: To view more of Derek Galon’s photography please follow these links: