Inspiration: Dan Winters

While looking through my bookshelf the other day I thought about how cool it would be to share with my readers those photographers whose work has inspired me and some of their books that are references I go back to time and time again. Hence, I thought I would start a new vein of blog posts (that I will add to regularly) where I share those books that have inspired me greatly over the years. Please note, that for everyone of these I post, I have contacted the photographer in question and have asked permission to post any images and/or book covers.

Early on in my career, I didn’t have the money to purchase photography books. Instead I would go through hundreds and hundreds of photographer’s websites. I still find a lot of inspiration online and on Instagram but I have to say there is nothing like holding a physical book in your hands, feeling the heavy paper stock and sitting with a book full of stellar images. If you can afford it, I highly recommend buying photography books that grab you. If you can’t afford to buy photo books, head to your local library.

For anyone paying attention to the photography space in the last few decades Dan Winters is a well-known photographer. He has worked for a wide variety of clients ranging from Vanity Fair to National Geographic to Wired Magazine in the editorial space and just about every Hollywood studio there is producing a wide range of movie posters. If you have ever opened up a copy of Wired Magazine in the last few decades then you have seen his work. He has inspired all of us, at all levels. I have heard other very well-known portrait photographers whisper his name and say things like “the god of lighting” when they speak of him. He is a photographer’s photographer, who wields incredibly skill, and he is an artist as well as a photographer. I was lucky enough to meet him briefly a few years back (as shown in the image above captured by photographer Steven St. John) when he did a book signing here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In our twenty minute conversation, I realized a few things about Dan. He is not only a great photographer but from what I can tell he is a great human being. I know saying that after a short conversation might seem presumptuous but even so, you can tell a lot about a person from a conversation like that. He is also the best conversationalist I have ever met. He instantly put me at ease and engaged in the conversation sincerely. He was completely present. It isn’t often you meet people like that everyday, even people you know very well. Without further ado, let’s jump into Dan’s books that have inspired me.

The Road to Seeing: In his book The Road to Seeing, which I have spoken about before here on the blog, he is very open about his process and what it took to create the images contained in the book. In this book he also lays out his entire career path, which is fascinating to read about. I never knew about his fascination with model building, but it makes total sense, and helps to explain how he can build such elaborate sets and props for his images. His focus on each and every shoot is very apparent in the book as well – as the quote below indicates.

“I make it a habit to approach every picture as if it were my last” – Dan Winters, The Road to Seeing

This book is a gorgeous. It will make every photographer jealous. I say that as a high complement of the layout and design as well as for the images. If you love photography, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Road to Seeing. I am pretty sure you will enjoy it just as much as I did. I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it – and there are very few photography related books that fall into that category. It is much more than a fine art photography book as there are hundreds of pages of stories sharing what was going on behind the scenes as well as essays about his path as a photographer and how he sees the craft.

Last Launch: All of Dan’s books are incredibly inspiring, but I have to say that Last Launch is my favorite of his fine art photography books. This is because I am a total space geek and really wanted to be an astronaut. When I was young, I could list off all of the Space Shuttle missions and tell what happened on each one. I was fascinated by space travel and the Universe in general, which is why I got a degree in Physics. Last Launch was Dan’s personal project to document the last launch of the Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor Space Shuttles. The images in this book not only show the launches with Dan’s signature look, which I might add is quite different than normal launch images–and much more compelling, but also includes detailed images of the shuttle, the shuttle cockpit and the gear involved in launching into space.

Periodical Photographs: In his first book, Periodical Photographs, Dan provides an overview of his editorial work photographing a wide variety of top celebrities. In my view, if you want to see some of the best portraiture being produced in the modern age of photography then this book is a must see. It is out of print but you can still find used copies, though these come at a high price. On Amazon the least expensive used copy right now goes for $182.33. A new copy starts at $515.40! That should tell you about the quality of this book and the importance of the images that reside within. Highly recommended.

America: Icons and Ingenuity: In America: Icons and Ingenuity, we see a compendium of Dan’s work that includes images from Last Launch, Periodical Photographs and The Road to Seeing as well as a few new images. If you are new to Dan’s work and want to get one book that shows a wide range of his images then this is the one to get. America also contains several of his works on paper, his close-up images of Honeybees as well black and white images.

All four of the books listed above are quite different and each deserve a decent amount of time to digest. Dan also has another book, which I haven’t even seen: The Grey Ghost: New York City Photographs. This book contains images of New York City captured in the early part of Dan’s career when he lived in NYC. I will definitely check it out the next time I am down at the Photo-Eye bookstore here in Santa Fe. 

As you might be able to tell, Dan’s work really resonates with me. I am a huge fan. I tried not to gush too much, but it is hard not too. As someone who has been an artist (from very early on) and has lived a life filled with creativity I can see the artistic sensibility in all of his images. If his work inspires you, check out his website at and also pick up a few of his books.

Thanks for the inspiration Dan and for allowing me to post this blog with your images. I look forward to seeing where you go next.

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