DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

Today we are interviewing Fine art photographer Steve Richard. He is an amazing photographer who has supreme understanding of light. Some of the photography below is NSFW. (They are top notch fine art, but skin is showing…)

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Hi Steve, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your relations with photography?

SR: I have been involved with photography off and on for most of my life. I was interested in both music and photography relatively early on; I began playing guitar and had my first manual camera both around the age of 13. Though I was initially more interested in music in my youth I have always been intrigued with capturing images. Over the past 40 years I have had the opportunity to work within almost every category of photography you can imagine (landscape, portraiture, commercial, wedding, product, etc). I even did some time working in a commercial colour lab in the late 70’s, which I think was the reason I actually gave up photography for a while. In addition to my obsession with photography, over the past 11 years I have also become very passionate with cinematography. I think this has also broadened my perspective on taking still images and given me a much better insight into the art and importance of lighting to tell a story.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: It seems that your photography is deeply exploring the human body, how did you get involved with it?

SR: When I first started shooting I was interested in musicians, bands, live music performances, etc., probably because that was also a big part of my life at the time. I think I was around 18 when I began working for a portrait studio and fell in love with the studio environment. In the studio I found much inspiration in the ability to have absolute control over the environment where I could create an image like I would a sculpture. Compared to my experiences shooting out of the studio where my I was trying to capture moments as they happened, the studio offered me the freedom that was more in line with what I needed to be creative. My studio experience combined with my interest in from, line and performance is what inspired me to eventually move into fine art nude photography.

I think most artists look to subjects they find beautiful, powerful, and versatile to base their work around and I am definitely not unique in finding my inspiration in the human body. I love the lines and form of landscape and architecture, but I could never find the subtle stories there like I could when photographing people, especially dancers, gymnasts, or anyone involved in motion. I also love the challenge of trying to create a strong image that has some small level of uniqueness with one of the most studied and explored subjects in visual media. I have this Mantra that has become the foundation for all of my work – “it is easy to take a photograph of a beautiful thing, it is difficult to take a beautiful photograph”. I see millions of images of beautiful, powerful, or dramatic things, but it is extremely rare to see a beautiful, powerful or dramatic image. The nude is one area where this is definitely true and though it does not happen for me very often, it is extremely rewarding when I create a powerful image in this genre.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: where do you find your inspiration and motivation for your work?

SR: Most ideas and inspiration for me happen when I am not looking for them. I usually find my best ideas happen when I am out for a walk and it will be just the shape of a shadow in the light or the flow of a piece of clothing on someone walking in front of me that triggers an idea that becomes the inspiration for a new image. When I am shooting I usually only have the foundation of the image and the lighting (which I spend a great deal of time on) set. It is only when the model walks on the set that I start to sculpt the image one small step at a time. As with all things some days are better than others and every now and we create something that is powerful or beautiful or meaningful to some who view the image. I also spend a great deal of time experimenting and fine tuning different techniques. Even though I have become very narrow with what is acceptable for the look of my work, I do continue to refine and expand any processes that fit within my personal dogma.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Can you define your style?

SR: As a fine art photographer I believe having a unique or iconic look is as important as having great work. A good friend of mine once told me “you can work towards knowing nothing about everything or knowing everything about nothing”. I believe the latter is the direction to choose when trying to establish a unique voice for your work. I am not sure if I have what you would call a defined style, I have instead what I call a personal dogma, a set of self-imposed rules that I apply to every single image I create. This is what keeps me focused on creating work that is consistent and I hope somewhat unique. For example, I tend to keep my subjects anonymous, my environments are there but abstract, my story lines are always subtle – no hitting anyone over the head, and there is always a sense/hint of darkness that supports the beauty in my work. This dogma of course does not ensure the work is good, that is something that I struggle with each day. I hope that I never get to a point where I am comfortable with the level of work I am producing.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: What was the most challenging photograph that you made?

SR: The most challenging photographs I have ever made were definitely from the Sensual World series. This series involved the models being underwater and the camera being up above the surface (about 16 feet up) looking down. For this series I knew there definitely would be some significant technical challenges like building a pool in the studio deep enough, keeping the water temperature warm so the models would not go into hypothermia, managing humidity and bacteria, and lighting through the surface. What I totally underestimated was the level of difficulty in getting the models into the required position long enough to get the shot. One of the greatest challenges was to make sure the water surface was completely calm. This required the model to go under the water, get into perfect position (usually by holding onto weighs hidden under cloth to keep from popping back to the surface) and not moving for about 10 to 30 sec while the surface ripples settled. Normally when I shoot in the studio it can take me an hour to fine tune one single image to get it to where I think it is good. For this series many of the final images took 2 or 3 different sessions to complete (most sessions usually lasting 3 hours before the models could not stay in the water any longer). Some of my favorite images from the series took over well over 9 hours total shooting time over a number of days to create. Most of the models let me know that this was the most difficult set they had worked in and it always amazed me how much effort they were willing to put in to achieve the final image.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

There is a video showing the behind the scenes for this one

DIYP: What is the worst war story that you had happening to you?

SR: I may be one of the rare photographers that do not have any good war stories. I have definitely met a few crazy people in my years (some would say that about me) but luckily I have no lasting scars. In saying this I do have some amazing experiences and have had the opportunity to work with exceptional people with talent that is beyond my comprehension. When you work with dancers, gymnasts, and circus performs you get this wonderful chance to observe a level of dedication that is far from normal.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: What is the Aerial Acrobatics series? How did you shoot it?

SR: I have always been interested in dance and bodies in motion; I can’t imagine a subject more beautiful or relevant. Aerial acrobatics and performance definitely falls into this category and is something that I had wanted to shoot well for a long time. I had no interest in adding to the large number of images that are essentially captures of aerial acrobatic performance routines. I wanted to create work that embodied the beauty and power of the body that was not just a picture of the performer. For me the only way I could do this justice was to shoot in an environment where I could direct the performers and have complete control over the set and lighting. So it was only since the construction of our new studio space about a year ago that I had high enough ceilings to accommodate the rigging points, and enough space to accommodate the lighting and lens choices that I wanted.

The setup for the series “Aerial” has two rigging points 18 feet in the air and 8 feet apart. These points will allow most aerial performance apparatus – silks, cerceau, trapeze, etc., to be suspended safely with enough room for the performer to work. I am lucky to have a studio with a large enough footprint that I have about 16 feet between the performer and the background (which is 20 feet wide) and about 30 feet between the performer and the camera. I usually use 3 or 4 light sources (mostly gridded soft boxes) to light the set and most of these are either mounted on large booms or on the ceiling tracking system. With this system I can create images with aerial performers the same way I would work with a dancer or model.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: What are the specific difficulties involved with aerial acrobatics photography?

SR: As with the underwater work, this is another series where I totally underestimated the level of difficulty in getting the shot. I knew it would be difficult working with people posing on apparatus suspended in the air but not this difficult. I work very much like you would when creating a sculpture. Once I have my base lighting and overall body form set, I spend a great deal of time with the small details in body language, making subtle changes to hand gestures, body line, head position, etc. between each shoot. Normally this is difficult enough when the model is standing or sitting, but when they are hanging upside down and using their full core strength to support the pose the level of difficulty goes up by orders of magnitude. In most cases we can only get a few shots in before the performer has to come down take a few min and then reset back into position. It is only because of the extraordinary amount of conditioning and dedication from the performers that I am able to get the images I go for. I also have a lot of help from my assistant(s) who are usually just out of frame throwing cloth, making small changes in the direction of the performer so they are in the proper light, etc. I have to admit this is the series that I feel the most like I hardly contribute anything.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: your photos have a very strong style, can you share a bit of the lighting and setups that goes into them?

SR: I started out in photography shooting film and my favourite camera during my “film days” was a medium format Mamiya RZ67. I don’t know if it is the requirement to control everything manually, having a large bright viewing screen or just the overall tactile nature of medium format in general but there is something incredible about shooting with this camera. When I switched to digital about 12 years ago for my commercial work I moved to 35mm and at that time was using the “state of the art” Kodak/Nikon DCS 760, a 6-megapixel camera built on the Nikon F5 body. It was not until 2007 that I moved my fine art shooting from film to digital when I was able to purchase a Phase One H25 digital back that would work on my RZ 67. I now use an updated version – the Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID camera equipped with a Phase One IQ180 digital back, a very expensive but extraordinary piece of technology. The ability to pull detail out of the dark areas is one of the most important things I need from a technical perspective and the Phase One product lineup has always been able to do this very well. I also love the over tonality in the skin that I can achieve with this combination not to mention the resolution.

A large camera like the RZ67 would probably be a bit awkward for those that primarily shoot hand held, but since I shoot 100% on tripod (or studio stand), the camera size/weight and inability to autofocus is not a problem for me. Another advantage of having the camera anchored in one place for most of the shoot is that I can easily shoot tethered, something I have been doing since I first switched to digital. I use Capture One software for image capture and also it is the software I use for most of the post processing I do (which is very little).

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: And how about the lights?

SR: I am not much of an available light shooter and would say I spend 99 percent of my time shooting in studio with strobes or continuous light sources. For me it is important to be able to control the quality of the light, the relative intensity of the light within the scene, and probably most important where the light isn’t. I usually prefer very soft light sources so I use a lot of soft boxes and diffusion material. To place the light only where it is needed I use grids on all of my soft boxes and a lot of flags and c-stands. Most of the time I am trying to beat the inverse square law and tend to keep my light sources far away from the subject. This added distance from subject and the large amount of diffusion forces me to use a bit more strobe power than most people would require for the F8 at ISO 100. For the past year or so I have been using a number of the DynaLite SP1600 packs with SH2000 and SH4080 heads. This system gives me great power output with relatively fast flash durations, something I need to capture bodies and cloth in motion. For jobs that need more power and even faster flash durations I like to use the Broncolor Scoro system. This is probably my favorite studio lighting system but can tend to be a bit expensive.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

Other than a large amount of lighting and grip equipment, I am not much of a gear pig. I have started to play a little with the newer Nikons like the D800 and D4 and have to admit they are very impressive. Although I do not do a lot of post-production (I am still using Photoshop CS4), I usually upgrade the computers I use for tethering just to speed up the process when dealing with large files especially since I moved to the 80 megapixel IQ 180 back.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Who are your favorite Photographers?

SR: I have a number of favorite photographers; unfortunately a number of them like Bob Carlos Clarke, Helmut Newton and Jeanloup Sieff are no longer with us. Two of my favorite living photographers are Jan Saudek and Howard Schatz. I love the work of Jan Saudek, certainly a photographer that creates beautiful/powerful images and not just pictures of beautiful things. In fact his subjects for the most part are far from beautiful. Howard Schatz consistently creates wonderful world-class images that I consider iconic, timeless and truly inspirational not to mention his ability to continually come up with unique versions of common themes. His dance and underwater work has set the bar so high I am not sure I can even see it anymore let alone reach it. And even though it is not in my genre, I love the work of Nick Brandt. His work is absolutely remarkable.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Do You play any music in the studio? We would love to know what?

SR: Yes I do play music in the studio most of the time and my choices are something we end up joking about a lot. I love listening to Sigur Ros when I shoot but I also will sometimes choose Kate Bush, Fisher and Yes (my favorite band). At 53 I have this notion that I have earned the right to play what I want to hear. For the most part my choices are not in line with what the models, makeup artists and assistants are interested in hearing but they usually put up with it without protest. I do have a few models that have been working with me a long time and they can no longer take it so we usually compromise.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Is there anything you would have done differently?

SR: With reference to photography I think it would have been nice to realize much earlier on that I know as little as I do. This would have made it a great deal easier to get on with learning and growing as an artist. The few times in my career I felt I knew a lot about the art of photography were the times that I stopped moving forward, I think I may have even moved backwards.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: What is your advice for anyone looking to begin with fine art photography?

SR: As I mentioned earlier I believe it is important for a fine art photographer to have work that has a unique signature. Just like being able to consistently produce good work, having an iconic look takes a great deal of effort and time. I think a good place to start is recognizing that that a photographic style is much more than applying your “unique” combination of Photoshop filters/actions, and that the number of Face Book “likes” is not a measure of how good an image is. Maybe the most important thing is not to be in such a rush to be the next “great” photographer, just enjoy the journey.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Where can we see your work?

SR: You can see my work on my site:  steverichard.com

I have recently started a FB page, where I plan on letting people know when I upload new work to my main site. I also have a Deviant Art and tumblr account but do not use these as much any more.

DIYP Interviews Photographer Steve Richard [NSFW]

DIYP: Thanks Steve

SR: Thanks

  • Sam

    Incredible!

  • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

    this is great :D

  • Martin

    I recently attended a Steve Richard workshop and it was fantastic!!! Steve was a pleasure to work with and was exceptional in his teaching abilities. I would highly recommend taking one of his workshops. Worth every dollar.