Interview with Craig Bill

– Please introduce yourself

My name is Craig Bill and I am a landscape & travel photographer residing in Austin, Texas USA. I am a biologist and naturalist producing award-winning images including a #1 panoramic image in the world, numerous Photographer of the Year awards such as a World Landscape Photographer of the Year, World Fine Art Photographer of the Year and achieving a Master of Photography in Fine Art. My images are collected by U.S. presidents, celebrities, and private fine art collectors internationally. I’m known mostly for a vivid, high impact and dynamic photographic style. Where most photographers focus on a specific style and subject matter, I choose to push my limits through experimental and diverse photographic approaches.

– How did you get interested in photography?

I’ve always felt at home artistically among Nature. Having influential family and friends during my youth vastly encouraged my passion for natural world exploration and soul-searching… one that has continued to elevate my sense of conservation and love for photography overall. In specific, the introduction of a little “110” camera from my mother, was critical. She gave me this super used, old film camera and taught me how to load it with film. From there it was all experimentation. Later on, I was able to try one of the first digital cameras: the Casio QV10 that produced very crazy low resolution images – but was a total marvel to me. I completely wore that camera out. Over the course of my life, I’ve used photographs to construct a visual diary from that early age.

– Do you have an artistic/photographic background?

Initially, no. In fact, I’m almost completely self taught. I began to get more technical with photographicscience while I was doing fitness modeling. I got to see many photographers workflow and business as itpertained to a photographic enterprise. Being an entrepreneur myself, I was especially interested inseeing the actual raw guts and gears of various photographer’s work – from camera to finished product. That’s also when I became familiar and comfortable with the amount of failure there is behind the scenes to be able to finally experience a successful outcome, like a profoundly shared social media image or world class photographic artworks. Yes, a picture is really worth a thousand words – way before it is ever served to a larger audience. And I took those opportunities and applied them to my own photography over time. And since, I continued to develop almost independently – which reinforced and allowed my style to evolve more authentically, I feel – although by reinventing the wheel a few times. I went on to achieve a record amount of awards and publications including a #1 panoramic image in the world in 2012, the Nature Discovery of the Year Award at the international Lucie Awards, a World Landscape Photographer of the Year among other titles and recently a Master of Photography in Fine Art.

– Which artist/photographer inspired your art?

This changes, but a few that have continued to inspire me over time is Galen Rowell, Marc Adamus, and of late, Lincoln Harrison and Derek Stuman.

– How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph?

Usually an immense amount of work. I daydream about certain areas or camera perspectives. Even how to experiment with settings or styles. But no matter how much preparation I embrace, off menu opportunities come often. Still, knowing the area, weather and equipment challenges can not be overstated.

– Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?

Ah yes, this question brings in the photographer/artist aspect. You just are not a true artist unless you get involved at some point physically producing your prints. This always not only interested me, but has been a part of my artwork process. I don’t produce all artworks, but I still do all the post processing, print testing and alot of framing/crating. As far as post processing, I never have used a all-in-one program or preconstructed LUT/filter style. Each image starts from scratch and comes to life – both with my processing and the character or personality naturally revealed from the exposure. All images are now shot digitally. I also am very very particular on the type of substrate or paper I print on. Although I can’t tell exactly what they are, I can say they are super gamut, slightly metallic featured and with high visual fidelity. Chemical or pigment prints? Both.

– What do you do in your life besides photography?

Life Science is my operating system. Always has been. Just about anything I do has a bio-science aspect. My first degree is Biology and I originally built a business around aquatic science and aquariums – designing and maintenance in homes and businesses.

– What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?

I’m always testing the limits with my photographic comfort zone. Many photographers stick with a very narrow or focused genre or styled theme. I feel the challenge of pushing my creative limits – often with unfamiliar techniques or territory – to be fraught with failure, but almost always is finally rewarded with.

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– Is it possible to purchase your prints and, if so, where?

My images are custom and freshly made to order and purchased from and at world class galleries such as Carnivale Gallery in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Nevada.

– You obviously excel at panoramic imagery. What is your fascination with this format?

I really do think a “shape” can convey or deliver a different artistic tone and statement. For instance, I am fond of the 2:3 vertical formats because they are more difficult to find in landscape photography. I am sure this is mostly due to the fact that even the thought of landscape subject photos showcase vista shots that often include the stretching horizon. But I use a photograph’s shape to help define its story and visual presence. The panoramic layouts do emphasize horizontal viewing. But that’s not all. The other consideration is one of the overlooked points of panoramics – one that I am most intrigued by: the grand conveyance or emphasis of space. Much thought goes into composition, strong subjects, lines and all the rest. We also see most closely in a panoramic layout, and I believe this gives us a sense of space or visual freedom within depth that other layouts are limited by. No other aspect ratio does this like panoramic framing. It also feels very natural for me to view an expanse that a great pano shot can give. I just get excited when experiencing a great panoramic image.

– Are your “fused” (as you call it) images the same as a composite photograph?

Well… sort of. To me, “composite” images are usually the type of products that I think of when I see commercial or advertising materials like what a graphic artist produces. They use bits and parts of sometimes unrelated and non-photographic content along with computer programs to make a final image (that may be the founding for the photoshop stigma…) In my case, a “fusion” photograph is one where multiple exposures (usually slices of time) are captured in a single planned project. Not that all multiple exposure images work out – no matter how hard you plan. In fact, many do not. You have to set up the right time and space, have the correct gear for that project, watch weather forecasts, drive 7000 miles. Some “fused” final images can take hours long or lots of equipment changes. Its hard to change your environment in landscape photography. But sometimes your patience is rewarded with images that are beyond what the normal eye can see. Some variations of this has been around for years. Lately, however, I have seen several features in the magazines where this is becoming a popular technique known more commonly as Still Time-Lapse photography. But other possibilities exist that I like to try such as a fusion of shutter speeds, filters, focuses…

– Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?

Don’t get too concerned about each image and its measure of outward success. Even the most novice photographer is engaged in a story – a story of personal visual and emotional experiences. I try to explain that you should make a collection of what I call your Shots Of A Lifetime. Get to it! And get to failing as soon as possible… the very basis of emergent style – Your style. Engorge your collection with fun and creativity. Study and appreciate other styles, filters, LUTs, compositions, layouts, but stumble along and imbue your interest and personal skills into your lifetime collection. Listen to all the teachers and tutorials on what makes a successful photograph, then go break it. As more than one judge has told me,”your winning image breaks every {photographic composition} rule, but it worked amazingly”.

– Do you use Photoshop? Does this make a photograph fake? Are your images real?

Yes they are real. Yes I use software to process my photographs. And NO, this does not make them fake. There is such a stigma right now about the use of processing software, sometimes loosely called “photoshopping”. Although I do not use computer software that is an all-in-one processor such as load-in-the-photograph-and-it-spits-out-a-variety-of-results to choose from. I use a selection of programs that give me the same and more control over my photographs that old darkrooming did (some of these you can almost get a degree in!). Now it is called lightrooming – same controls such as cropping, contrasting, color balancing, dodging and burning, and leveling but all the way down to the pixel! And I shoot RAW which means the information or data the camera captures must be processed. You can not print and display these types of RAW files. I do not use LUTs or precreated digital filters. Now for the critics: every photograph must be processed. Yes, yes I know, there are a few master photographers out there that say that they do not use computer software – that it magically pops out of the camera ready to hang. To be fair, the only camera that actually happened with was the Polaroid cameras, but processing still occurred in-camera and developed in-hand. Many contemporary film photographers now drum scan their film images so that they can be computer processed. Even Ansel Adams did a fair amount of “old school photoshopping”. I always love to tell how Ansel’s photograph, “Moonrise, Hernandez”, 1941 was so altered until it became the famous image that it is today. You see, Ansel loved the composition, but did not care for the certain clouds within the sky around the moon. By “dodging and burning” the image during many developments using his hands, he was able to darken the sky to a final approval. It’s really interesting to see what the untouched negative looked like before all the dodging and burning he did. What’s always amazing to me is that Ansel’s prints were all done before the days of software and computers, and every area of that image was altered by actual hand and shadowing with extreme attention.
Additionally, I relish the imagery that technology has unlocked. I get so bored talking to master photographers and how they are are “purists”. Show me nature! Show me the star trails! Show me the bones in an X-Ray! Show me infrared or ultraviolet photographs! Show me moving camera long exposures! Show me the world.


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