Interview with Samuel Bitton
#1 Please introduce yourself
I am a professional fine art landscape photographer based in the Swiss Alps.
Following a 10 year career as a software engineer in the space industry, my deep passion for photographing nature together with the growing success of my work, allowed me to turn the page in mid 2010 and become a full-time photographer.
What generally inspires me is colour in the landscape. So I truly enjoy photographing breathtaking vistas bathed in the most amazing lights.
Today my photographic business consists in various things. I deal with world-renowned companies, and also with local businesses, tourist information centers, magazines, books, calendars and postcard editors. Since 2009 I edit my own calendar on the Swiss Alps and offer workshops all year round in the Swiss mountains. I also sell fine art prints all around the world. This last part is by far the most thrilling part of my work.
With all modesty, I’m also proud to say that my pictures regularly receive awards in some of the world’s most prestigious photo contests such as Nature’s Best or Memorial Marial Luisa amongst others.
Today my main goal is to keep photographing nature under its most beautiful lights and in the most artistic way possible, in order to share with my audience these unique moments that Mother Nature graciously offers.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
In early 2000, my wife and I decided to go to western Canada for a 3 week holiday. It was for both of us our first big trip so we thought it would make sense to bring along a “descent” camera. So I bought my very first SLR camera, a Canon EOS300. I instantly wanted to learn how to use it properly so I read the entire manual in one go. Then as I started using it, it became very clear that I wouldn’t get satisfied from just shooting souvenir pictures and the artistic side that was buried inside me started to emerge and I simply became hooked. My main passion really was, and still is, spending time in nature and particularly in the mountains, and I quickly realized that photography was allowing me to express myself artistically by sharing the beauty that I felt so lucky to see with my own eyes.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
Not at all. My background is electronic and software engineering and up until mid 2010 I was still working as a full time engineer in this field until I put it all behind me and went full time landscape photographer. Looking back over my early years at school however, I realize now that I always used to have very good grades in artistic disciplines, especially in drawings, but I never really paid much attention to this hidden talent. As I discovered photography this artistic interest came to life and since then I have learned pretty much everything I know now by myself, mainly by reading many magazines and books about photography and art. Internet has also been a big source of learning as well as going out in the field with fellow photographers.
But for sure the main learning tool has been being out there practicing, practicing and practicing again!
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
At the time I started my photographic journey I was living in England, so I inevitably became very influenced by the excellent local landscape photographers, such as Joe Cornish, Lee Frost, Tom Mackie, Colin Prior, David Noton, amongst others. Other world renown photographers have and still are influencing me today such as Mark Adamus, Ken Ducan, Yann Arthus Bertrand, Gallen Rowel, just to name a few as the list is very long.
I also draw a lot of inspiration from my photographer friends around me such as Vincent Favre, Xavier Jamonet, Rafael Rojas, Alexandre Deschaume, to name just a few once again (apologies for the ones I’ve missed out!).
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
It depends. When working on assignment, a minimum of preparation is necessary as you generally have to come back with images that fit certain criteria. But these images are usually not the most artistic ones by any means.
I really believe that a big part of successful landscape photographs is luck, just being at the right place at the right time, and although luck can be encouraged by getting out there when weather conditions are the most appropriate to generate great light, in the end it really is down to nature to decide what light it will decide to display and then it is down to your artistic eyes and emotions to react to it in the best way.
I do prepare my outings to some extent by looking at the weather forecast, studying maps, guide books, etc, to learn about locations with great photographic potentials and make sure that I go there at appropriate times. But no matter how much I will prepare myself, the best pictures will most often be unplanned and the result of connecting emotionally to something unexpected and unusual. If we could plan everything, our reaction to what nature presents before us would not generate the strong emotions required to fuel our artistic creativity, which are after all some of the main keys to produce stunning art pieces.
So to summaries I’d say that my best preparation for producing the best images is usually to simply get out there, as often as possible, discover, feel the adventure and enjoy myself as much as possible, no matter what. This puts me in the best possible state of mind to see and capture the most amazing displays nature can offer me.
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
First of all, living in the European Alps, mountains are what I photograph the most and where I spend most of my time. What really fascinates me about these places, which is also true for many other amazing places on earth, is how infinitely different the same landscape can look every single day. I obviously have my favorite locations which I return to regularly and no matter how much I have photographed them in the past, nature still manages to make them look always different whenever I return to them.
What also fascinates me about the mountains is how much impact it can have on my personal journey through life. Evolving in this unforgiving and often dangerous environment allows me to realize what really matters in life, and this helps me to grow as a better person I believe (at least I hope!).
Finally what also fascinates me about these incredibly beautiful places is that so many people still don’t care about looking after them and protecting them. This is certainly one more incentive for me to keep photographing and showing nature’s beauty as making people love these places is one step further to make then care about them.
#7 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
When I started up in photography I worked in the analogue world, shooting primarily on Fuji Velvia 50 slide film. Around about 2004, I decided to switch to digital as I saw many benefits for mountain photography (no more films to carry and easy production of panoramic images by stitching, being some of the main ones). Today I am 100% digital working exclusively with SLR equipment, again for the great flexibility it provides when working in the mountains, especially at high altitudes. I also try to disconnect as much as possible from the technological aspect of photography and solely concentrate on the artistic side. Just like a painter who doesn’t really care much about its paintbrush but really focuses on the art piece he is creating. The only difference being that photographic equipment, especially digital, is highly technical so we do need to get really familiar with them so they become an extension to our eyes and soul. When the light and the landscape are just perfect we don’t want to be wondering what aperture to select nor where to find a particular important camera setting. In terms of cameras and lenses I do look for the highest resolution possible which will allow me to produce big prints. Big prints are for me when the pictures finally come to life. This is also the reason why I always produce my own prints. For that I currently use a Canon iPF8300 and print mainly on Ilford Gold Fiber Silk. This paper’s very large color gamut and high D-max simply produce astonishing prints.
Printing myself my images really allows me to control all the artistic aspect of creating an art piece from beginning to end, on top of guaranteeing absolute quality to my customers.
In terms of post-processing, I always try to keep it to a minimum as it is out in the wild that I want to spend much of my time. However, when working in digital, post-processing is part of the artistic process of producing a beautiful image. The difficulty is always not to go too far.
Having started photography on Fuji Velvia slide films, I now always try to reproduce a similar rendering in my digital images, i.e. colorful and contrasty images. I do use tone mapping to do dodging and burning in order to perfect the images. I am also a big fan of ND grad filters which allow me to get the shots as perfectly exposed as possible in the field, leaving as less as possible dodging and burning in post. So my post-processing will never go beyond dodging and burning, color and contrast adjustments. I do try to remain as faithful as possible to what I saw in the field and my final images are really a mirror of my emotional response to the scenes that I captured.
#8 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
First of all, many thanks for such kind words about my work!
The answer is quite “simple”: PASSION. I really think that this is really the common quality of all great landscape photographers. With this ingredient anyone can achieve just about whatever they want. That said, I also believe that a minimum amount of artistic sensibility is required. Although this can be learned and improved over time, without it, it will be more difficult to achieve thoroughly artistic master pieces. But as long as passion is alive and kicking inside us and as long as we absolutely love our subject, we can really go a long way in achieving things we never thought we were capable of. When I am out in nature, the conditions are often very tough and may look for many people completely un-pleasant. However I truly enjoy every aspect of it, whether it is cold, wet, dark, long and tiring, or dangerous even, I never feel sorry for myself or complain, I simply love it. I just feel like a kid in a toy’s store. I guess if there’s one thing I don’t enjoy so much is getting up early for sunrises but even that I have never regretted once! It is this deep love for the outdoors that really puts me in the perfect state of mind to transmit the strong emotions that I feel while being out there, into the images I capture, which is after all the most import ingredient of all successful images.
#9 What do you do in your life besides photography?
My current hobby is refurbishing my house! But let’s face it, photography in the way that I practice it, i.e. as an art form, is for me a real way of life and everything revolves around it in whatever I do. I do enjoy a lot skiing in the winter, but rare are the occasions when the camera isn’t in my backpack! In the summer, climbing and mountaineering are some of my main activities but again, the camera is always in the backpack too!
#10 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
Probably too many and would need several lives to realize them all!
But more realistically, right now I am working on my first solo book on the Swiss mountains. Not sure yet when it will come out but I still have to cover a few more regions before I can start having a firm idea for a release date.
I will soon be publishing my latest images taken during a 6 week trip to Bolivia last year, where I was very lucky to travel to some completely wild places, where only very few people have been in the past, and of which you will still not find any pictures on the web! This photographic project also has the aim in helping out financially, but in the most ethical way possible, the locals who live very tough lives.
I’m also working hard in improving my fine art print services as this is an area of my business that I want to develop more and where I want to reach the utmost quality. Seeing an image printed in big and hanged on a wall is certainly what provides me with the most satisfaction in my work.
Being a bit more present on the social networks is also one of my short term goals but that is really hard for me as I try to limit the time I spend on the computer. But I am also conscious of the many people that today can more easily follow your work via these types of communication highways. So stay tuned as I’ll be there soon!
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