A conversation with Bryan Peterson
I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Bryan Peterson. He is the best selling author of Understanding Exposure. Bryan is a world renowned best author selling close to a million copies of his books; Understanding Exposure
He is the founder of Picture Perfect School of Photography, one of the most successful online photography school. Bryan runs workshops all around the world with Bryan Peterson Workshops.
Thank You for your time Bryan. What do you think has made Understanding Exposure so successful?
It goes and describes the fundamentals of exposure in a visual way that probably reminds people of 3rd and 4th grade simple math and the way I use the analogies I do. Believe me, when this first started I was accused by the photographic community and my peers for going to great lengths to dumb down a subject to the point where if we humanized it, it would roll over in it's grave for having to be dumbed down to this point. I faced a lot of criticism initially but I believed in it so much that I went ahead and submitted a book proposal anyways to Kodak. The day that Kodak contacted me to say they wanted to do the book was the same day the people at Amphoto contacted me and said they wanted to do the book as well. Learning to See Creatively was the first book I did with Amphoto, so I felt an obligation to give them the opportunity first.
For those that haven't read Understanding Exposure yet, can you explain the difference between "correct" and "creatively correct" exposure?
As anyone will tell you, you can put your camera in program mode, shutter priority or aperture priority mode and the chances are good that you will get a correct exposure. It's not 100% but the chances are high. That is a credit to the sophistication and the automation features available today which are predominately computer driven through the chips in the cameras. This allows you to get a consistent exposure time and time again, all things being equal. A creatively correct exposure is where you are able to control those two elements that dictate a creatively correct exposure which are aperture and shutter speed, both of which have a tremendous impact visually on the outcome of the exposure.
There are no less than 6 combinations of aperture and shutter speed (in a given lighting condition) that can produce a correct exposure and of those six depending on the content of the composition that one is framing up will determine which will produce the most creatively correct exposure. Creatively in terms of display the correct depth of field; which could be a great depth of field that one is seeking or it is a photograph where you want your focus to be limited only to the subject.
Likewise, if you have no depth of field concerns and your concern has to do with shutter speed you might want to freeze action, or imply motion such as the cotton candy effect when shooting a waterfall. You could also just point the camera at an autumn colored tree that is out in a field with blue sky behind it and the sun setting behind you and just shoot and the camera will probably do a pretty good job of capturing the picture. If in that same scene you want to get the detail of the grass in the foreground that has fallen leaves on it and the tree in the background you also want to be sure to use the creatively correct exposure which would be apertures of f/16 or f/22 then you would need to know where to focus. If the wind is blowing the leaves around, you might want to capture the movement of the leaves on a tripod with a deliberately slow shutter speed for a correct exposure.
Aside from Understanding Exposure, which others books have been your favorite?
I would say Understanding Shutter Speed. I say favorite, somewhat carefully, as I say favorite because it was fun to work on. I got to try out some things that I have been looking for an excuse to try out. I had some hits and misses along the way but I enjoyed the discovery. I would also say Learning to See Creatively. It was the very first book I wrote and a combination of 15 years of work that hadn't been published in book form but certainly was part of my years at Popular Photography Magazine. I was writing monthly articles for them working freelance and I simply pulled together a collection of those together and brought them over to Random House and said there might be a nice book here. They saw what I saw and left within 10 minutes with a contract. That is a book that is all about the elements of design and composition.
Who are your personal influences in photography?
I grew up in the era of the real icons that will be forever: Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Eric Meola( Eric’s not much older than me, but he got out of the game a little quicker than I did!) Al Satterwhite, Jay Frederick Smith and Walter Iooss from Sports Illustrated. I never migrated towards the likes of Ansel Adams which probably has more to do with his whole nature landscape focus and shooting black and white. I'll be honest and say to this day that I don't quite get what he did. It isn't a criticism, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you can look at my work and see I am a huge fan of color. That is probably why I have an indifference to any black and white work. I am also a big fan of Richard Avedon and David Munch when he was with Arizona Highways. That was a lot of fun to watch his work as he developed. Those were pretty much the guys that I wanted to be like.
As we got into the mid 80s, I found myself doing a lot of annual report work for Fortune 500 companies and was thrilled that my competition were the people in the late 70s that I was trying to emulate. I was competing against Jay, Peter, Walter and Eric on a few jobs. I got some and others I didn't but the fact that I was in the competition was pretty incredible to me. Burt Glinn was another one, he was doing a campaign for American Express in Tokyo where he was living. I got called from an ad agency in New York saying they wanted me to bid on a job for American Express in Germany. I said "OK" and then I found out that Burt Glinn was also bidding on it and I said, "My god this is incredible, this guy is my hero"! I ended up getting the job and subsequently they were so happy they ended up sending me to Mexico City. The 80s and early 90s were good to me no question. I decided I had enough in 99 and decided I needed a break. I had done a few books by this time. I took off and move to France to live for the last 10 years and came back to America in August 2008.
Can you talk a bit about Picture Perfect School of Photography and what you have been able to achieve?
While living in France I launched PPSOP. I initially was teaching for what is now my competition Better Photo and Jim Miotke. Originally when Better Photo started it was just Jim. and I got on board with Jim and we started to see a lot of growth. Unfortunately, the only reason I am still with Better Photo is I was given the impression by Jim that soon they were going to cut me into Better Photo as a Partner, and that just wasn't happening so I decided it was time to fish or cut bait. It was unfortunate. This isn't my ego talking, but I knew my name and not Jim's was drawing a hell of a lot of people to Better Photo and it was the only show in town. So, I bailed under the threat of lawsuits that never happened of course and opened up PPSOP. We are having a great time now at PPSOP. I have been very fortunate to have great instructors that can work independently.
Do you still do much commercial work today?
Yesterday, as a matter of fact, I was in LA and got to shoot Academy Award winner Lou Gossett Jr. who won it for Officer and a Gentleman. He is a real gentleman. I don't do as much as I use to. It all came to a relatively conservative halt when I moved to France. I did work over there for some agencies out of London but after a couple of years of doing that I thought, "I came here to get away from all of this and slow down and do my own thing". I wanted to give more attention to teaching.
What was your favorite shot you have taken?
Gosh, honestly if you walked into my studio/workspace outside of seeing a couple of lights and soft boxes you won't have a clue I was a photographer. I haven’t made a print in 10 years, let alone framed a print. I have nothing on the walls. I am not doing fine art photography. I can think of a few paintings I would hang on a wall and could look at forever, but I can't think of a photo that I would do the same. I do have some of mine that I really like: I have a cat going down the stairs in Santorini, and a red car going through an intersection in the snow taken at a slow shutter speed. I took this from my apartment in France. There are a few more that I am proud of.
You have run workshops all over all over the world, Angkor Wat, Dubai, India, Singapore, Italy, South of France, South Africa, Oregon, New York, and Chicago what should someone expect from these?
First of all I feel very fortunate. I have no marketing budget to speak of for these, I just send out a mailer to my distribution list typically with 48-72 hours I am all but sold out. The groups are limited to 8 people so because of this limited size they can expect to get a lot of personal attention. Generally, everyone coming to the workshops are in the same place with their photography. They all generally understand their camera really well in terms of the basic fundamentals of how to operate the camera, they understand exposure and the creative application of aperture and shutter speeds but then they are just hungry for some new vision. Nine out of ten times their biggest struggle is compositional arrangement. You address all of these issues sunrise to sunset. Depending on the location, if we are not shooting, we are either moving from location to location or sitting in a hotel meeting room doing photoshop.
What was one your favorite locations?
The villages on the way to Angkor Wat. I can't count how many villages we stopped at and just hung out. I got some of the best people shots I have gotten in years in Cambodia. I want to go back after my next workshop in Singapore next November and just hang out for couple of weeks. I didn't get nearly enough of what I wanted and of course I couldn't because I was doing a workshop. Me running a workshop and then going off taking pictures really isn't the idea. I also love shooting in the South of France. Both South East Asia and France are my favorite spots to shoot.
Any plans of doing a workshop in Japan?
I am not opposed to putting one together. I'll tell you what, we can work on this together. You can help me pull together some places for shooting, I am sure we can fill up a workshop together. Let's work together on building one for 2012.
What gear do you typically use when shooting?
I shoot all Nikon. I shoot D300. I am not into the D7000 or D3X. The D300 is more than sufficient. I did have a D2X but I got rid of that when the D300 came out.
Which lenses do you prefer?
I shoot a lot with the 12-24mm. I just ordered the 24-120mm. I had a chance to see it and was really impressed. 35-70mm and i have the 70-300mm. I got rid of my 70-200mm. It was too heavy and it was more about looking professional than the shots I got from it. I have a couple of different bodies and some Nikon SK900 strobes.
What's next for Bryan Peterson?
I finally got around to writing another book. It will be coming out in August called "Understanding Electronic Flash". We have done some tests with focus groups and they are madly in love with it.
Thank You for your time and a great interview Bryan!
You can see more of Bryan's at www.bryanfpeterson.com
You can see the upcoming workshop schedules at www.bryanfpetersonphotoworkshops.com
You can find upcoming courses at www.ppsop.com
You can find his books here:
Thanks for stopping by today...