Earlier this year, at the beginning of the Covid lockdown here in the USA in March, I watched a documentary entitled “Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool” on Netflix. In one part it talked about how Miles spent a few years early on experimenting with a lot of different techniques to find his sound. That part about “finding his sound” hit me and made me think hard if I have found my true sound with my photography. After 25 years as a professional photographer, in some ways I feel like I am still trying to find it.
Obviously if you see my work, or have been following me for any length of time, you would think I have found my voice and my look but as a working pro there is a constant move to adapt new and different technologies, techniques and concepts to keep pushing the work in a new, exciting direction. Of course, over the last 25 years I have massively incorporated a variety of artificial lighting techniques in my work–and that has revolutionized both my images and my client base.
Interestingly, also during this Covid-19 pandemic, because I have been home more than at any other time in my career I have also picked up the guitar again. I used to play two to three hours a day back when I lived in Austin, Texas during and after University. It is great to pick it back up and crank up the amp and the distortion. I have always found it to be a great release. Somehow the sound of a distorted screaming amp feels like a warm blanket of consolation in these strange and scary times.
I have also spent more money than I care to admit on new guitars, amps, pedals and the like in search of new and exciting sounds to envelope myself in. I am not looking to play in a band again or in public, the music is just for me–an indulgence. Guitarists in general seem to spend enormous amounts of money just to get a certain tone that echoes their guitar heroes–or helps them express themselves. Just as musicians, and especially guitarists, are always seeking a gorgeous tone or sound, it seems a very apropos comparison to photographers finding their look–or their voice. Hence, after this long-winded intro, I thought I would discuss how to go about finding your voice in the photographic realm.
It’s Not about the Gear–Unless it is
It is very easy, both in music and in photography, to get wrapped up and obsessed with the gear. There is a well-known way of thinking that good gear equals good images. Sure, excellent gear can make technically higher resolution, wider dynamic range images. But guaranteed, crappy images can be made with any type of gear, even with a medium format camera that costs more than a very nice car.
One analogy I have always found interesting is looking at top chefs. No one says to a 3-star Michelin chef, “Wow, look at those amazing, expensive, high-end pots and pans you use. Your food must taste incredible!” I could certainly use that same cookware and make something so horrible the dog would turn up her nose. It is the same in photography, a good photographer can adapt to the limitations of whatever gear they have at their disposal. I have had assignments where I shot with prototype point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones and we captured some pretty amazing images. The sea kayaking image shown below was captured with a Nokia mobile phone way back in 2014. Sure, it would have been easier to use a modern DSLR with interchangeable lenses but the assignment was to shoot with that mobile phone camera to create marketing images for Nokia.
On the flip side of this is the fact that in some cases you have to have the right gear to even make a certain type of image. I am thinking about a lot of my lit adventure images where I was using cutting-edge advanced lighting techniques to create the image I was after (as shown below). An image like this involves a lot of forethought and a serious amount of gear to pull off. Sure, I owned the gear (since I use it all the time) but it could have been rented for a much cheaper price. Sometimes you need wicked-fast autofocus, or fast frame rates or whatever it may be to create the image you have in your mind’s eye. But that is just part of the game.
It has never been easier to rent just about any piece of gear. The internet has a million options and anything can be shipped directly to you with the click of a mouse. Gear should not the be limiting factor in your photography. As a great example, check out Russell Preston Brown’s amazing work and realize he captures all of his images these days on cell phones. On a mobile phone!!! Look at those images! Incredible. He is perhaps one of the most creative photographers I know. He also happens to be one of the co-inventors of Photoshop. Photography is his passion and his side gig.
Find your Passion
Who are you? What makes you tick? What gets you excited? Who you are will impact what you create. Who you are will show up in your images. You may not know what your aesthetic is but your images will show it. I was passionate about art, and creating images long before I got into adventure sports and climbing in particular. But when I did get into climbing, I realized very quickly that I wanted to create images of this wild and fantastic sport and share those with the world. Putting those two passions together is what started my career and keeps the fire burning.
I grew up in the rolling hills of Wisconsin and then the flat lands of west Texas. As a kid I was dying for an adventure. I had found one passion in art, another in science, and lastly a third in photography. I was a dreamer as a kid. I wanted to be a pro tennis player or an astronaut and if those didn’t work out a career as a professional photographer was alluring. But I chased the science dream, thinking that was my ticket to NASA. Studying physics taught me logic, and how to teach myself essentially anything. In the end, after graduating with a B.S. degree, while taking graduate level classes and working in a lab, I realized physics wasn’t my passion.
About that same time rock climbing and the outdoors came into my life–and changed my future radically. Climbing changed my worldview. I wanted to share that worldview with as many as possible, which is where photography came in. Photography was also my ticket to adventure–and adventurous travel. If I had to create images in a studio day in and day out I would do something else. I wouldn’t be a photographer. I realized this early on in my career and it was fundamental to understanding what drives me to create the types of images I create.
I am fascinated by nature and our place in it. I am also fascinated by the human mind and how we choose to live our lives. How does a world-class athlete overcome their fear, deal with the risk, and pull off what to outsiders seems impossible? Practice. Dedication. Commitment. Obsession. When you look at my images, you realize the athlete doesn’t only have to condition their body but also their mind to be able to do what they do. It takes years and incredible effort to get to a high level in any discipline. The reality is that once you find what you are passionate about you will work hard to create images of that passion–and it will show in your work.
The secret to great photography is Hard Work.
There are no shortcuts. This is the reality that no one wants to hear. The secret to being great at anything is hard work. You want to be an amazing musician? Get to work, learn the instrument and music theory. Get obsessed. Play it all the time. Miles Davis put the work in. John Mayer played guitar all the stinking time as a kid. He was totally obsessed. I don’t know if it the 10,000-hours rule or the 50,000-hours rule. It doesn’t matter. Get to work.
From the outside, success seems to be overnight success–all of the sudden you are aware of whomever is now at the top of their game. In almost all cases it is more likely the 20-year “overnight” success meaning that they have been toiling away for two decades in obscurity until their work matured to the point that they became well-known. Very few if any musicians, artists, athletes or scientists achieve greatness without a ton of hard work and elongated periods of dedication to that craft. While photography is not as difficult to learn as say quantum mechanics, it is still a complex craft–even more so in this digital age. To create top-end, incredible imagery requires some study of the craft and years and years of capturing images to become a master.
Do your Research
Just as playing songs from different artists requires careful study of how they crafted the song, learning how to create images that resonate with yourself and others takes years of learning and research. I could have just as easily entitled this section “Learn the Craft.” By studying the craft, and how a photograph was made, you will then be able to take those techniques and use them to create new and different images that speak to your aesthetic. By studying the craft, I also mean look at the history of photography, not just the latest Instagram images rolling by on your feed. There is a lot that can be learned by looking at the work of the masters.
Limiting yourself to just a single genre or a single look is also a one-way ticket to squelching creativity. By all means, especially when starting out play around with all kinds of different techniques and see what resonates. Likewise, photograph a wide variety of things to see what is interesting and fulfilling–and what is challenging. This is all part of learning the craft.
Going back to the guitar and music analogy, most young guitarists learn classic rock songs or whatever music inspired them at the time. Learning those songs is not just for the sake of copying the artists who created them but a way to see how the sausage was made so to speak. Similarly with photography, it isn’t as if you need to re-create an image exactly but learning to use the same techniques goes a long ways to finding your own voice.
What do you want to say and how do you want to say it?
This might be the most important aspect of finding your unique voice with photography–or any art form. This is also one of the toughest questions to answer. In the beginning, I was just learning a craft. I was interested in photography–and then became obsessed. There is an intense learning phase–perhaps the first two years–where one gains a significant portion of the basic knowledge. And then after that phase, you can start to ask these types of questions and continue to push on the learning front and on the artistic front.
Way back in October 2004, David Lyman (the former director of the Maine Media Workshops) wrote an article entitled, The 8 Keys to Success: An Essay And Thoughts on What It Takes To Reach Your True Potential. I encourage everyone reading this article to go read David’s piece. It is by far the most realistic, honest and informative article I have ever read on what it takes to make it in any endeavor. In that article, he says, “It will take at least two years to acquire 70 percent of the craft you will need to work in your medium. It will take another eight years to acquire the next 20 percent of your craft. At 90 percent, you will have mastered your craft, but there is that 10 percent that will take a lifetime to acquire.” In my experience it is after ten years that you start to ask the questions like “what do I want to say with my work?”
In many ways what you want to say with your work will change as you progress–and as opportunities come about. For example, even though my career has been mostly about documenting adventure sports, perhaps the most important images I have created were during the filming of the documentary Tribes on the Edge with Céline Cousteau (see images above). On that project we went deep into a closed off portion of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil to document recently contacted tribes. These tribes are struggling to stay alive in a world that encroaches upon their land and their way of life. Global warming, greed, and governmental power struggles are all conspiring to destroy their way of life. The documentary and the still images are a powerful way to bring recognition to their plight–and hopefully to help change the outcome.
What am I trying to convey? What do I want to say? These are the two questions I ask myself before any assignment where I want to make meaningful images. As a working pro, not every assignment is one where you expect to create images that speak to a higher calling. Sometimes it is just about getting the images the client needs to promote their product or tell their story. That is just part of being a working pro. We all have to pay the bills and support our families. But even on these “run of the mill” assignments there are opportunities to add your voice and to create something that fits within your pantheon of work. Often, as with your look or style, you may not know what you want to say but you see it afterwards, years later, when you look back at your work.
Never stop Learning
I am continually looking at great photography, gleaming from it what I can about how the images were created and how that might influence my work going forward. At the same time, technology helps to shape my current and future work as new options pop up in every new camera model and lens. Recently, I have been playing a lot with color grading and adding tints and off-kilter colors to my images. That is a radical departure from my past work where I sought to remove any color cast or artificial color grading from the image. Who knows if this will last but it is fun to play with and the birth of these new techniques came from seeing the “Classic Chrome” color simulation in my Fujifilm cameras.
Finding your voice with any craft doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years and years of work, dedication and love of the craft. Gear will come and go, your passions and interests may change slightly, but the dedication and experimentation has to continue to keep pushing and perfecting the results. I still take workshops, read vociferously, and continue to push my own images to learn new ways of doing things. There is always something to learn. That is the beauty of a craft like photography, which is innately complex by its nature.
To get the ball rolling for the fall holiday season, I am happy to announce a 25% off sale on all of my fine art prints until December 31st, 2020. How this works is very simple, just take 25% off my standard fine art print pricing, which can be found here, and contact me to order the print.
All of my images are available as Fine Art Prints. You can see which of my images are in the Limited Edition category on my website. Any images that are not shown on the Limited Edition page are considered Open Edition prints. Please note that these prices do not include shipping. If you have any questions about print sizes or available images please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will work with you to make sure the final print is the best it can possibly be and will look great mounted on your wall.
These archival prints are painstakingly created by yours truly on some of the finest papers available. I do not outsource printing to a third party printer because I want to have tight control over the quality of the final print, and I have not found a third party printer that can achieve the same level of quality that I can produce here in my office. The prints are made on Epson printers using a variety of papers including both fine art matte papers and baryta photographic papers. The printer and paper combination is chosen specifically for each image so that image will be rendered with the highest possible resolution and the widest color gamut. Our main papers are Ilford Gold Fibre Silk, Ilford Gold Cotton Textured and Ilford Fine Art Smooth papers.
Below are a few sample prints that I have made in the last few months to give you an idea of just how stunning these turn out when framed up.
Please contact me with any questions or if you would like to look at a wider range of images than are featured on my website.
The Summer 2020 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This is the largest issue of the Newsletter I have ever produced. It includes an editorial entitled Social Distancing Edition, a full review of the brand new Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 high-end Adobe RGB monitor as well as a review of the “holy grail” Eizo ColorEdge CG319X monitor, an article detailing my photographic adventures in New Zealand last year after speaking at the NZIPP photography conference, an extensive interview with legendary photographer Arthur Meyerson, an editorial entitled A Bumpy Ride, and much more.
The Michael Clark Photography Newsletter goes out to over 8,000 photo editors, photographers and photo enthusiasts around the world. You can download the Summer 2020 issue on my website at:
If you’d like to check out back issues of the newsletter they are available here.
Please note that the newsletter is best viewed in the latest Adobe Acrobat reader which is available for free at www.adobe.com.
Also, if you are a subscriber and you have not already received the Newsletter, which was email out a few days ago please send me an email with your current email address and/or check your spam folder.
Disclaimer: Though I am not sponsored by Eizo, I was supplied this monitor to test out and review. I have owned an Eizo ColorEdge CG243W for a decade and have been continually impressed by Eizo’s monitors in terms of their color accuracy, build quality and the ColorNavigator software. I have found Eizo monitors to be the most color accurate and reliable monitors on the market for photographers looking to take their color management to the highest possible level. I was supplied the CG319X along with the slightly smaller CS2740 to test out. You can find the review of the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 here on the blog. Note that I was also profiled in an Eizo Case Study a few years ago on the Eizo website.
The Eizo ColorEdge CG319X is the holy grail of Adobe RGB color accurate monitors. After working with the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 (which I was also testing) for a week, I traded it out for the GC319X. The CS2740 was so good I was asking myself, “How much better can the CG319X be?” When I turned on the CG319X, I wasn’t prepared for just how much better my images looked on this giant monitor. Viewing my images full screen in Lightroom made them look like they were hanging on a gallery wall. Zooming into 100% the images made them look larger than life. The images already looked incredible on the CS2740, but the CG319X took that even further. My images looked magnificent!
In short, the CG319X is the most incredible monitor I have ever seen!!! I pulled up image after image and this is the first monitor that really shows the 102 MP images from my GFX 100 as it seems they should be displayed. I stared at the screen mouth agape for several seconds looking at a few 102 MP images full screen at 100%. I was seeing details in my images I have never seen before—and I didn’t think that was possible.
As shown above the CG319X is a huge monitor. With a 31.1-inch (78.9 cm) diagonal display, it takes up some serious desk space. The CG319X has a DCI 4K native resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels with 17:9 aspect ratio. What that means is the monitor has incredible clarity, not unlike the Apple Retina screens but with slightly lower resolution. [Note the Apple Retina monitors have a pixel destiny of 220 pixels per inch.] The CG319X has a pixel density of 149 pixels per inch, which makes it one of the higher pixel densities on any of the Eizo ColorEdge monitors.
Having such a huge number of pixels makes it feel like you really have two monitors in front of you, especially if you have the monitor set to its native resolution. I find that I have to physically turn my head to look at either edge of the monitor, but that has more to do with the depth of my desk than the monitor.
The CG319X also displays 10-Bit color, which means that it can display a significantly wider range of tones than most monitors that display only 8-bit color. What this means is that tonal transitions are much smoother and the images displayed on the monitor are closer to how they would appear in an actual print, which would show the full 14-Bit or 16-Bit color captured by the camera.
Of note, not every computer can output 10-bit color to the monitor. Most high-end PCs will be fine in this regard, but only the latest Apple computers will be able to output 10-Bit color to an external monitor. To see if your computer is outputting 10-Bit color to your external monitor go to the System Report (as shown below) and check the Graphics/Displays section. If your computer and external monitor are capable of showing 10-Bit color then under the Framebuffer Depth it will say “30-Bit Color.”
To make sure Adobe Photoshop is displaying images with 10-Bit color go to Preferences > Performance and select the Advanced Settings button (circled in red below) and then choose “30 Bit Display” as shown below. This will make sure that all images viewed in Adobe Photoshop CC are displayed with 10-Bit color. Note that the 30 Bit Display simply means 10-Bit in each of the RGB color channels [10-Bit Red + 10-Bit Blue + 10-Bit Green = 30 Bit Color].
As a side note here, all of the Eizo ColorEdge monitors display 10-Bit color so the CG319X is not unique in this feature. I just thought I would point this out here in the review as I did not discuss it in my review of the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740.
4K MONITORS AND SCALING
As with the Eizo CS2740, if you have never used a 4K monitor, you may be shocked at how tiny text appears when the screen is set to use the native 4K resolution. As can be seen below, with the screen set to the full 4K native resolution it is incredibly sharp but the text is quite small. The text can still be read, but it might lead to eye strain, especially if you already have poor eyesight. This native resolution mode has the monitor and the image in the highest resolution possible, which is great for looking at images. This is the mode I prefer for editing and working up images in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and Photoshop CC–even though the text is small.
In the Preferences panel, under Displays on an Apple computer, you can adjust the scaling of the image shown on the monitor simply by clicking on “Scaled” and then choosing among the five options as shown above and below. Note that the actual number of pixels on the monitor do not change, the scaling just interprets those pixels to look like a monitor with fewer pixels. The actual image and text remains crisp and sharp. When using the monitor for other tasks, not related to still image or video post-production, this middle option (i.e. equivalent to approximately 3840 x 2160 pixels) is the one I use to check email, browse the web, and do all of my other work. It offers readable text and the benefit of a big workspace that almost feels as if you are working on two monitors.
With the Apple Retina monitors on my laptops I have noticed over the years that when culling and editing images, I can’t actually 100% tell if an image is truly sharp on those high resolution screens. If an image is really out of focus then that is easy to spot, but if it is just a hair out of focus the resolution of the Apple Retina monitors hides the slight focus issue. Hence, one of the first things I checked on the CG319X was if I could still tell if an image was critically sharp and also if an image was just slightly out of focus. I am happy to report that I can certainly tell when an image is critically sharp and also when it is slightly soft. When editing images–and choosing a monitor–this is a critical factor. The CG319X, with 149 pixels per inch, seems like it has the perfect pixel density for photographers that need to critically examine their images, make sure they are sharp and also see how any additional sharpening affects the image.
Monitor Stand Adjustments
The Eizo CG319X is a beast of a monitor. Thankfully, the back of the monitor has a built-in carrying handle to lift it and the stand that it comes on is very easy to adjust. You can easily rotate the monitor thanks to the rotating base (shown below) and also raise and lower the monitor with one hand.
The monitor comes with a hood that snaps on magnetically making it very easy to attach or remove as the situation requires. This new monitor hood design is vastly superior to the hood that came with my Eizo CG243W. And because the CG319X has a built in monitor calibration device there is no need for the monitor hood to have a slot that allows a monitor calibration device to be slung over the top of the monitor making for a very clean design.
On the front bezel the monitor has a series of six glowing touch sensitive buttons that allow you to change the monitor settings easily. I found these buttons and their associated menus to be very intuitive–and a massive improvement from my older Eizo ColorEdge monitor.
COLOR MANAGEMENT WITH COLORNAVIGATOR 7
One of the major advantages of Eizo ColorEdge monitors is the ColorNavigator software that works with the monitor. I have been using ColorNavigator 6 for years now and with the new ColorNavigator 7 software it is better than ever. From the Eizo website, “The proprietary software performs hardware calibration by directly utilizing the LUT (look-up-table) of the monitor for higher precision and better gradation characteristics compared to software calibration.” Hence, with hardware calibration the CG319X can can calibrate all of the various settings for sRGB, Adobe RGB, Rec. 709, Print Profiling and more all at the same time. I have never seen a faster, easier calibration process with any other monitor.
Of note, I calibrate my monitor to the Adobe RGB color space (since this is an Adobe RGB monitor), and my calibration settings are a Gamma of 2.2, a Luminance of 120 candelas per meter squared and a color temperature of 6,500 K. When printing images, I switch the color temperature settings depending on the paper I am printing on to match “paper white.”
The CG319X has a built-in monitor calibration device that slides out and calibrates the monitor for you. As shown below, when you open up the ColorNavigator 7 software that comes with the monitor and select “Calibrate” the screen turns black and the built-in sensor rotates out and runs through a series of colors and tones to calibrate the monitor. All in all, because it is a hardware calibration it takes only a minute or two to calibrate the monitor, which is a lot faster than using an external monitor calibration device and software to calibrate the monitor.
In addition to the easy calibration process, it is also possible to schedule calibrations whenever you want (as long as the monitor is on). This is an amazingly easy way to make sure your monitor is always calibrated and ready to go. Typically before calibration most monitors need at least 30 minutes to stabilize but with the CG319X it is up and ready to calibrate in an incredible 3 minutes. This is just another time saver that helps keep the monitor calibrated. Lastly, switching color modes is as easy and pushing a button on the front of the monitor and you can easily switch between Adobe RGB, sRGB or Rec. 709 (or any other option) without having to recalibrate the monitor. Hence, if I am working up video I can easily switch to the Rec. 709 color space and jump into Adobe Premiere Pro CC to start editing and color grading my motion footage.
The CG319X is also one of the few Eizo monitors that has the ability to display video in HDR (High Dynamic Range). Eizo has a whole section of their website dedicated to explaining what HDR is and I encourage you to check that out if this is something of interest. Essentially, HDR creates a wider range of tones from dark to light that can be displayed on the monitor. This is not to be confused with HDR photography, which is a way of combining different exposures.
From the website, “The ColorEdge CG319X is equipped with HLG (hybrid log-gamma) and the PQ (perceptual quantization) curve for displaying and editing HDR (high dynamic range) video content. The optimized gamma curves render images to appear more true to how the human eye perceives the real world compared to SDR (standard dynamic range). This ensures professional creators can reliably display HDR content for editing and color grading. HDR has drawn attention as a next-generation high-quality imaging technology, and content produced in HDR is now available through video streaming services like Netflix and on UHD Blu-ray discs.” Below is a chart outlining the specs for HDR.
At this point there are not that many monitors that can display content in HDR. There are some TVs out there that have this capability but it is still relatively new. As technology marches on I have a feeling the number of displays that offer an HDR mode will increase and this may become the new normal. HDR is a new video specification and color space. For still photographers HDR displays create a new paradigm, which might force us to re-process images so they can be displayed properly on HDR monitors. As the general public is not quite there yet with HDR this is not a huge concern for still photographers but something we will have to watch out for as this new display specification becomes more common.
Who is this Monitor for?
The Eizo CG319X is an epic monitor for working up still images, but with that said Eizo has a plethora of other ColorEdge monitors that are equally capable for still photographers–like the CG279X and the CS2740. The CG319X obviously offers more screen real-estate, which is very nice to have. But where the CG319X really shines is in video post-production. Working with this monitor for the last month I have worked up some video clips in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, and the large DCI 4K screen really helps to see all of the adjustments and the footage itself in all it’s glory–as long as you have a computer that can play back the full resolution footage in real time. The CG319X is used by a number of high-end post-production houses including Netflix and Skydance Media, which goes to show who this monitor is aimed at. Skydance Media produced the latest Terminator movie using the Eizo HDR monitors as shown in the YouTube video below.
Top end Hollywood level color accurate reference monitors, like Eizo’s own ColorEdge PROMINENCE CG3146 cost upwards of $30,000 USD. In comparison the CG319X is a bargain offering many of the same features as these ultra-expensive options. With a price tag just shy of $6,000 USD, there are not many still photographers that will even consider this monitor but those that will know who they are–and are at the top-end of the industry pushing the quality of their images to the bleeding edge. As with expensive medium format cameras that capture incredible resolution, like my venerable FUJIFILM GFX 100, working those images up on a top-end display like this helps to craft the best possible final image.
Why does this monitor cost so much?
I realize there are a few other brands out there offering slightly less expensive options that Eizo’s ColorEdge series with nearly identical specifications. There are only two other brands that I would mention in the same breath as Eizo’s ColorEdge monitors and those are the NEC PA series monitors and the BenQ Adobe RGB monitors. In the first case, the NEC PA series monitors are quite good. I don’t have much experience with them but I have heard from several photographers that they can be hard to calibrate–especially with third party monitor calibration devices. In the last few years, BenQ has come on the scene and offers what appear to be very similar monitors as Eizo’s offerings but at much cheaper prices. While the BenQ prices are very attractive and the BenQ monitors are vastly superior to most non-Adobe RGB monitors, my experience has been that the BenQ offerings are not nearly as accurate edge-to-edge in terms of brightness and color accuracy as the Eizo ColorEdge monitors.
In comparison, the 32-inch 4K BenQ SW321C sells for $1,999.99–one-third the price of the Eizo CG319X. NEC also has their venerable PA series monitors and the 31.1-inch NEC MultiSync PA311D sells for $3,249– just over half the price of the Eizo CG319X. Both of these are respectable monitors but the Eizo is still the most color accurate of the bunch from corner-to-corner. But at twice the price of the NEC option and three times the price of the BenQ what is the deal? Why is the CG319X so much more expensive? The answer lies in the color accuracy of the monitor. With every percentage point of color accuracy the effort and technology required to get to that higher level of accuracy increases exponentially and hence the cost also rises exponentially. For example getting to 95% color accuracy is not crazy expensive, but increasing the color accuracy to 97% or 98% increases the cost of that monitor significantly. Hence, the Eizo CG319X is the cream of the crop, with incredible color accuracy from corner-to-corner, which is perhaps two percent better than the NEC PA311D and four to five percent better than the BenQ SW321C. Whether or not you are willing to pay for those extra few percentage points in color accuracy is up to you and your needs. The CG319X is the Ferrari of color accurate monitors, and comes with a Ferrari price.
Over the last month, having tested out the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 and the CG319X, I have really been able to compare these two top-end color acurate 4K monitors head-to-head. The CS2740, as discussed in my prior review is a stellar monitor and an excellent deal, especially given its level of color accuracy. As I said at the beginning of this review for the CG319X, it is the top of the high-end in terms of color accurate monitors for still photographers. It is also a dream monitor for those producing top-end motion projects.
I have been drooling over this monitor for years, and now that I have actually been able to try it out there is no going back. This gorgeous monitor was so nice that I opted to buy it instead of sending it back to Eizo. I suppose that is the ultimate recommendation I can give. I liked it so much I kept it.
Disclaimer: Though I am not sponsored by Eizo (pronounced A-zoh), I was supplied this monitor to test out and review. I have owned an Eizo ColorEdge CG243W for a decade and have been continually impressed by their monitors in terms of their color accuracy, build quality and ColorNavigator software. Note that I was also profiled in an Eizo Case Study a few years ago on the Eizo website.
The brand new Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 monitor is a high-end Adobe RGB monitor designed for photographers, cinematographers, graphic designers, and anyone needing a highly-tuned, color accurate monitor for working up images, color grading motion footage or laying out content for reproduction. After ten years, my older Eizo ColorEdge CG243W is starting to show signs of its demise and it is also not covered with the latest software upgrade to ColorNavigator 7, the latest version of Eizo’s color calibration software. Hence, it is time to update my monitor–in fact, it is well past the time I should have upgraded my monitor.
Before we dive in here, I want to add a note about choosing the right monitor for your needs. I consider the monitor you workup images on to be one of the most important–if not the most important–piece of equipment in any digital workflow. I would also say the monitor is more important than what camera and lens were used to capture the image if you really care about the color in your images. Because we work up images by looking at them (on a calibrated and profiled monitor) and we are not adjusting color by the numbers so to speak, having a monitor that can show accurate color from edge-to-edge is critical. I consider an Adobe RGB monitor, as are all of the Eizo ColorEdge monitors, to be a critical piece of kit for any photographer looking to take their images to the highest level. If you have ever taken a workshop with me then you know I am pretty harsh when it comes to monitors. There are very few companies that produce monitors that are up to the task for critical color management–and Eizo’s ColorEdge series monitors are hands-down the best on the market.
While looking at new Eizo ColorEdge monitors, I got in touch with Eizo just to check in since they did a case study with me for their website a few years ago. I found out they had a new monitor coming out–the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740. It is a 27-inch 4K UHD monitor and they offered to send me one to test out. Since I was looking for a new monitor, this seemed like a good option. The CS2740 is 3840 x 2160 pixels, on a 26.9-inch diagonal screen with an aspect ratio of 16:9. This makes for a pixel density of 164 pixels-per-inch (ppi), which is at the upper end of what I would want for editing and processing still images. The CS2740 shows 99% of the Adobe RGB color space and as such it is one of the few monitors on the market that shows pretty much the entire Adobe RGB color space. The CS2740 is also Eizo’s first monitor that can connect to a computer with the USB Type-C connection. This makes it very easy to connect this to any of the latest Apple computers. Since I already have a DisplayPort cable that I have been using for my older Eizo monitor I connected it to my 2019 MacBook Pro laptop with a DisplayPort cable via a CalDigit TS3 Plus Dock. [Note that a DisplayPort cable comes with this monitor as well.]
As can be seen above the CS2740 has a stand that is easy to raise, rotate and tilt and the monitor can rotate vertically. It also has an easy to grab handle on the back of the monitor. The frame of the monitor has electrostatic switches on the front bezel that are touch sensitive and make for easy adjustments. This is also a non-glare panel, so reflections are not an issue you will have to worry about.
Eizo ColorEdge monitors are typically a bit more expensive than other lesser monitors, as you would expect for a top-end wide gamut monitor. Amazingly, Eizo’s CS range, which sits just below the more expensive CG range, offers a wide variety of options for very reasonable prices. The CS2740 sells for $1,789 USD. The monitor hood for the CS2740 is an additional $189 USD. I would highly recommend purchasing the monitor hood in addition to the monitor. Considering that my older CG243W cost $2,400 when I bought it over ten years ago and is a smaller, lower resolution monitor, the price for the CS2740 seems incredibly reasonable–especially give that the CS2740 is more advanced than my older monitor in just about every way.
Color Accuracy and Neutrality
The entire reason for the extra expense of an Eizo ColorEdge monitor is because they are the most color accurate and neutral monitors on the market. Those looking at these types of monitors are counting on them being uniformly color accurate from edge-to-edge. As shown in the screen shot below, the CS2740 is incredibly uniform in brightness. If the edges of this screenshot look dark for any reason, I can assure you that is your eyes playing tricks on you because of the white background of this blog. I used the eye dropper tool in Photoshop to measure the gray backdrop from edge-to-edge and found it to be perfectly uniform from corner to corner.
Having worked with this monitor for the last month, and having worked up images and printed them here in my office, I can assure anyone considering this monitor that is has excellent color accuracy once it is calibrated and profiled using the ColorNavigator 7 software that comes with the monitor.
Color Management with ColorNavigator 7
One of the major advantages of Eizo ColorEdge monitors is the ColorNavigator software that works with the monitor. I have been using ColorNavigator 6 for years now and with the new ColorNavigator 7 software it is better than ever. From the Eizo website, “The proprietary software performs hardware calibration by directly utilizing the LUT (look-up-table) of the monitor for higher precision and better gradation characteristics compared to software calibration.” Hence, with hardware calibration the CS2740 can can calibrate all of the various settings for sRGB, Adobe RGB, Rec. 709, Print Profiling and more all at the same time. I have never seen a faster, easier calibration process with any other monitor.
ColorNavigator 7 works with a wide variety of third party monitor calibration devices including most of my X-Rite devices. My newest X-Rite i1 Pro 3 device was not an option–probably because it is brand new and just came to market–but I am sure at some point soon it will be added to the list of approved devices for ColorNavigator 7. The CS2740 does not have a built-in monitor calibration device like the ColorEdge CG series monitors but even so, it is a quick and easy process to calibrate the monitor.
Of note, I calibrate my monitor to the Adobe RGB color space (since this is an Adobe RGB monitor), and my calibration settings are a Gamma of 2.2, a Luminance of 120 candelas per meter squared and a color temperature of 6,500 K. When printing images, I switch the color temperature settings depending on the paper I am printing on to match “paper white,” which can range from 5,500 K up to 5,800 K.
4K Monitors and Scaling
If you have never used a 4K monitor, you may be shocked at how tiny text appears when the screen is set to use the native 4K resolution. The CS2740 has a native resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. What that means is the monitor has stunning clarity, not unlike the Apple Retina screens but with slightly lower resolution. [Note the Apple Retina monitors have a pixel destiny of 220 pixels per inch.] The CS2740 has a pixel density of 164 pixels per inch, which makes it the highest pixel density on any of the Eizo ColorEdge monitors.
As can be seen below, with the screen set to the full 4K native resolution it is incredibly sharp but the text is quite small. The text can still be read, but it might lead to eye strain if you already have poor eyesight. This mode has the monitor and the image in the highest resolution possible, which is great for looking at images. This is the mode I prefer for editing and working up images in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and Photoshop CC–even though the text is small.
In the Preferences panel, under Displays on an Apple computer, you can adjust the scaling of the image shown on the monitor simply by clicking on “Scaled” and then choosing among the five options as shown above and below. Below is a screenshot showing the middle setting which scales the screen to look the same as it would on a monitor with 3008 x 1692 pixels. Note that the actual number of pixels on the monitor do not change, the scaling just interprets those 3840 x 2160 pixels to look like a monitor with fewer pixels. The actual image and text remains crisp and sharp. When using the monitor for other tasks, not related to still image or video post-production, this middle option is the one I use to check email, browse the web, and do all of my other work. It offers readable text and the benefit of a big workspace that almost feels as if you are working on two monitors.
As shown below, the largest scaling option, which mimics a 1920 x 1080 monitor (but with much better resolution), makes the text and the Lightroom interface appear quite large. I pretty much never use this setting but I wanted to present it here to show the power of the scaling options.
With the Apple Retina monitors on my laptops I have noticed over the years that when culling and editing images, I can’t actually 100% tell if an image is truly sharp on those high resolution screens. If an image is really out of focus then that is easy to spot, but if it is just a hair out of focus the resolution of the Apple Retina monitors hides the slight focus issue. Hence, one of the first things I checked on the CS2740 was if I could still see if an image was critically sharp and also tell if an image was just slightly out of focus. I am happy to report that I can certainly tell when an image is critically sharp and also when it is slightly soft. When editing images–and choosing a monitor–this is a critical factor. The CS2740 seems like it is at the upper edge of pixel density for photographers that need to critically examine their images, make sure they are sharp and also see how any additional sharpening affects the image.
Connecting the Monitor to a Computer
The CS2740 has a few different options for connecting the monitor to your computer. Cheif among those options is the venerable DisplayPort, which is how I connected it to my computer. Along with the DisplayPort to calibrate the monitor one is required to connect the included USB cable as well. Most computers do not have a DisplayPort built into the computer. As I said above, I have a CalDigit TS3 Plus dock that has a DisplayPort connection option, which is why that is my normal monitor cable (and because I have had an Eizo monitor before that required a DisplayPort cable).
In addition to the DisplayPort option, the CS2740 is Eizo’s first ColorEdge monitor that can connect to a computer via USB-C, which makes this monitor very easy to connect to any of Apple’s latest computers. One of the cool features of this monitor is that you can plug-in the monitor and by connecting your computer via USB-C to the monitor it will also power the laptop as well.
I realize there are a few other brands out there offering slightly less expensive options that Eizo’s ColorEdge series. There are only two other brands that I would mention in the same breath as Eizo’s ColorEdge monitors and those are the NEC PA series monitors and the BenQ Adobe RGB monitors. In the first case, the NEC PA series monitors are quite good. I don’t have much experience with them but I have heard from several photographers that they can be hard to calibrate–especially with third party monitor calibration devices. When you add in the cost of purchasing the NEC monitor calibration device with the PA series monitor the price comparison with Eizo’s offerings are fairly similar. The NEC PA271Q-BK-SV, which is not a 4K monitor, with their monitor calibration device sells for $1,549.00 USD at B&H. That is only a few hundred dollars less than the CS2740, which is a 4K monitor. As NEC does not offer an Adobe RGB monitor with the same specs as the Eizo CS2740 this is an apple-to-oranges comparison.
In the last few years, BenQ has come on the scene and offers what appear to be very similar monitors as Eizo’s offerings but at much cheaper prices. For example, the BenQ SW271 has almost identical specs as the Eizo CS2740 and it sells for $1,099, nearly $700 less than the CS2740. BenQ has another even larger 32-inch 4K monitor, the BenQ SW321C, which sells for $1,999.99–only $111 more than the Eizo CS2740. While the BenQ prices are very attractive and the BenQ monitors are vastly superior to most non-Adobe RGB monitors, my experience has been that the BenQ offerings are not nearly as accurate edge-to-edge in terms of brightness and color accuracy as the Eizo ColorEdge monitors. I have also heard recently from several photographers that have purchased a BenQ that they could not calibrate their monitors due to a SNAFU with the latest MacOS operating system and the BenQ software. Hence, if you are looking at this category of monitors–those that show the entire Adobe RGB color space–and are looking to get a monitor that can show the most accurate color from edge-to-edge, I think it is worth the few hundred extra dollars to get the best in class display.
When I consider monitors, I think of it as the price-per-day of looking at that monitor. My Eizo CG243W has lasted me a decade. It still works but I am ready for a new monitor. To calculate the price-per-day, let’s just say I was in the office six months each year (I typically travel for assignments anywhere from five to nine months per year) so that makes for approximately 180 days each year in front of the monitor. Over the course of ten years that equals 1,800 days total in front of the monitor. So over the course of 1,800 days the $700 difference in price between the BenQ option here and the Eizo CS2740 comes down to $0.39 per day. Is it worth it to pay an extra 39 cents per day to have a higher-end, more color accurate monitor? That would be a resounding yes for me. If you need a monitor like this with the best possible color accuracy and just can’t afford anything above $1,000 USD then I would direct you to the Eizo ColorEdge CS2420, which goes for $849. That monitor is more color accurate than any of the BenQ offerings and is a very affordable Adobe RGB monitor.
Those looking at these types of monitors know it isn’t how great the monitor looks that differentiates these high-end monitors. We can not differentiate the minute differences in brightness and color accuracy with our eyes that are needed for a top-end monitor to work up images on. All of these monitors from Eizo, NEC and BenQ “look” great but it is the technical details and the level of color accuracy that matters–and that is where Eizo rises above the pack.
I want to reiterate here that I am not sponsored by Eizo. Even though they have loaned me these monitors to test out, I will have to pay for a new monitor. I have come to trust my Eizo displays more than any other monitor on the market. When making fine art prints, I rarely have to make more than one print and that is mainly due to my Eizo monitor and the excellent ColorNavigator software.
In the course of reviewing the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 I have learned a lot about 4K monitors and it has also realigned some of my preconceptions. The thought of it being a “lower-end” CS ColorEdge monitor instead of the “higher-end” CG ColorEdge monitors has pretty much been eliminated. What I have come to realize is that the CG ColorEdge series is not that much different from the CS series. The CG series just has the built-in colorimeter to calibrate the monitor on the spot without the need for an external calibration device like my venerable X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 3 device. Of course it is very nice to have the built-in calibration device as found in the CG series monitors, but if you already own a monitor calibration device (as you should) then it is a non-issue.
After working with the CS2740 for the past month, I can say that it is a massive upgrade from my old ColorEdge CG243W. Images look incredible on this monitor, especially the 102 MP images created by my FUJIFILM GFX 100. I was blown away at how sharp my images looked fullscreen on this monitor when working them up in Lightroom. I didn’t even need to zoom into 100% to tell if they were tack sharp and I was able to see details in the images that I couldn’t see on my old monitor.
For the price, the CS2740 is a stellar deal and it is just about the perfect monitor. If Eizo had a 4K 27-inch monitor with the built-in calibration device that would be even better–and I suspect they may be working on that. If you are looking for a 27-inch 4K top-end Adobe RGB monitor then the CS2740 is the best one on the market and at just under $1800 USD it is a great price for a monitor that sets the standard in the industry.
I’d say the only monitor better than the CS2740 is the 32-inch Eizo ColorEdge CG319X, which is their premiere top-end Adobe RGB 4K monitor–and it costs nearly $6,000 USD. In addition to testing out the CS2740, Eizo also sent me their top-of-the-line ColorEdge CG319X monitor as well to check out. The 31.1-inch CG319X is a massive monitor–and one I have been drooling over for years. Look for my review of the CG319X coming soon.
My thanks to Eizo for letting me test drive the new ColorEdge CS2740. For more information on the Eizo ColorEdge CS2740 visit the Eizo website.
I remember first seeing Arthur Meyerson’s images back in 1999 in Nikon World Magazine. The images stopped me in my tracks. The colors, the textures and the composition of the images forced you to stop and stare. Ever since then, Arthur has been a huge source of inspiration—both as a photographer and as an instructor. I haven’t taken any of his workshops, but I have taught a few times during the same week that he was teaching at the Santa Fe Workshops and we had a moment here and there to meet up and chat. Seeing someone such as himself, a true legend in the field of photography, teach photography workshops, showed me that not only is teaching a way to diversify your income but also a way to pass on your knowledge and experience.
One of those weeks we were both teaching at the Santa Fe Workshops, we were giving presentations of our work and it turned out that I was going on just before Arthur. Typically the instructors that are presenting sit together on the side of the auditorium. I don’t really remember much of my presentation but I do remember Arthur leaning over after I finished and sat down. He whispered into my ear, “Those are some damn fine images!” Well, that made my day, if not my week. It is one thing to get positive feedback and a whole other thing to get such positive feedback from a true master of the craft.
But, this blog post isn’t about me—it is about one of those rare photographers that is not only a master of his craft, but also someone who is a phenomenal teacher and mentor—and also a down-to-earth, kind-hearted soul. Arthur’s images have a painterly quality to them that underlies their honesty, and the moment. Many of his images in his latest book, The Journey, require closer inspection to derive the complex story behind the image and also to really see what Arthur was seeing.
The book is incredibly beautiful, both in terms of it’s layout and design, and also in the sequencing of the images. At the beginning of the book is a long in-depth interview that Arthur did with Anne Wilkes Tucker, a world-renown curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. That interview is a fascinating read—and it also sets the stage for the book, which is laid out in the same order as the topics of the interview. Arthur self-published the book so that he could craft it just as he wanted and that shows. If you are interested in purchasing the book you can do so via Arthur’s website.
What I love about Arthur’s work is that there is very little difference between his personal work and his commercial work. He was the lead photographer for Coca-Cola for twenty years, and worked with a who’s who of international corporations for decades. His has been an enviable career filled with so many highlights it is hard to even quantify the immensity of his success. Any photographer worth their salt and pursuing this craft professionally would give anything to have the career he has had. Without further ado, let’s dive into the conversation I had with Arthur about his career and the book…
Michael Clark (MC): I saw your work twenty-something years ago in Nikon World Magazine and was blown away then. Some of the images that really connected with me and really showed me a bit of your style are the images created for Coca-Cola. The logos were somewhat small and that forced the viewer to find the Coca-Cola logo, because it wasn’t obvious what the point of the image was exactly. I think that was brilliant. It’s something we could do with more in marketing these days. Can you tell us more about those assignments? Did you feel a lot of pressure when you were shooting these big ad jobs?
Arthur Meyerson (AM): Yeah, I’m sure I did [feel the pressure]. I never took anything casually. Being a freelance photographer there was always excitement because you never knew if the phone would ring, who it would be, what it would be, or where you’d be going. It was like every day was potentially magic. And I had a lot of those days. I had a lot of days where the phone didn’t ring either. But that is the business of freelance photography. And I really liked being a freelance photographer. I liked not knowing whether the phone would ring and when a client would call saying we want to send you to Asia or Europe–or here or there. We want to send you to the desert Southwest. It was always a great surprise.
With Coca-Cola, they came to me at a time when things were really peaking. I was very busy and I was in Chicago shooting an annual report for a company when my studio manager called and said, “Guess what? We got a call from Coca-Cola and they want to talk to you about doing some work.” They wanted to meet with me immediately. And my schedule was packed, this was in the fall, which was when we shot annual reports—pretty much the busiest time of year. I had one half-day where I was going to be in Houston and that was it. I had no time to go anywhere else. And so I talked to the folks at Coca-Cola and said, “I’d be very interested in talking to you, but I’ve only got this one slot and I can’t fly to Atlanta. Would you guys be willing to come to Houston?” Their response was, “Yeah, we’ll come meet you.” And I thought, Oh great. At least this hadn’t gone away yet.
We met and we talked and they showed me what they’d been doing. And they asked me what I would do different. They were showing me these situations that all look like they were done with central casting. They said, “Well, we would go to like LA or Hollywood and we would get models and we would put them in costumes and we would use these backgrounds. So what do you think of these?” And I said, “To be honest, that looks like what you did.” Then they asked “What would you do?” And I said, “For the money you’re spending to do that, we should go to the Philippines. We should go to Hungary. We should, we should go to all these places and let’s use real people and real situations and we’ll integrate product into the shot and make it more slice of life rather than there’s the can of Coke and I’m happy cause I’m drinking it.” It took a little persuading, but they said, “Well, okay, all right, well, we can try that. Um, we need to start immediately.” And I said, “Well guys, I can’t start until January 2nd.”
I thought this is going to go away. And so they went back to Atlanta and I thought it was gone but they called back and said, “Okay, we want to hire you January 2nd. And we want you for six weeks straight and we’re going to go around the world on your suggestion and go to these places.” And so yeah, there was pressure there because here the big shot [photographer] had thrown this idea out and it was accepted. Now you’re going to have to come through with it. But, it worked out great. It was the longest running client relationship I had for like 20 years, maybe longer. And you know, different agencies and design firms would come and go. I became a constant for a long time, I wasn’t the only photographer that shot for them, but I was the primary I think. And it was great to have that opportunity and then to be able to come up with ideas and they would say, okay, let’s try that. I remember after a couple of years of doing that idea, they wanted something different. I said, well, let’s try this. And I had recently gotten a Fuji GX617 panorama camera, and had been doing some other assignments with that. I ended up doing a series of portraits. They were environmental portraits of people and product around the world, and it was with the Fuji GX617. We used a battery-operated strobe to light the people.
They always liked me coming up with something different. At some point, you did feel put upon, but you also felt like, well, that’s why you’re here. That’s why they keep coming back to you. But I think my favorites without a doubt were the ones that you’re referring to which were very editorial in feel. I wanted them to have a, for lack of a better term, a National Geographic quality to them with real people in a real situation and they just happened to have the product within them. They [the art directors] at times would overdo it by saying we need to put more Coke out there so we can see more of that. I said, “You can do it, but you run the risk of going from real to unreal. Uh, you’re paying for it. We’ll do that, but I’m going to shoot it both ways.” I always would do it their way, but I also did it my way.
I think lastly with Coke, I remember we were in China and it was right when China had opened up in the early 80s and we were down in a fishing village and it was an incredible sunrise. And we found these fishermen and this guy was doing a thing with these backlit nets and it was killer. It was a beautiful silhouette of this guy. The net was glowing and he was pulling on it and I gave him a bottle of Coke and he’s got a Coke in his hand and he still pulling on the net. And you know, what else could it be—that silhouette of the bottle that, that shape that everybody knows. I loved that shot. I remember when I was shooting it, the client said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Oh, look at the light, look at it. This is great.” The art director said, “Yeah, but nobody’s going to know that’s a Coke.” And I said, “What else could it be, man? You know, look at that shape.” We argued about it. Eventually. He said, “Well, go ahead and shoot it if you want.” And I said, “I’m going to.” And it got used.
I think so much of the type of photography that we do [commercial photography], it’s important to be able to have the confidence in what you’re doing and also to be able to kind of lead the client. That’s part of what they’re paying for. If they’re just paying for a hired gun, then in my opinion, they weren’t getting their money’s worth. And I really wasn’t interested if it was heavily art directed. I didn’t like it. I like collaboration. So if they allowed me to do what I did best, I think they got their money’s worth.
MC: Hopefully they got better stuff, which they liked more than they could have ever dreamed up, when you were allowed to use your imagination and your creativity.
AM: Well, I don’t know if they liked it more, but they got more stuff. And generally I think most of my things probably were accepted. And even those that were rejected at one time [came back around]. There’s a picture that you may remember of mine. It’s was shot in Norway. It’s the side of a hillside and it looks like a tapestry. It’s all these little houses, really colorful houses, in a snow scene and within that is a red and white Coca-Cola truck small in the frame. (See image below)
MC: That’s the image I have in my mind actually. I love that image.
AM: They didn’t like that shot at first. And I said, “You’re kidding!” because I choreographed that shot. I was trying to do something else that wasn’t working over a bridge. And then I looked across the Fjord and it was like, Oh my God, look at that scene. Let’s put a truck over there. When they saw it the art director said, “Oh no, the truck’s too small.” I said, “Nobody’s going to think that’s a Pepsi truck. I mean, come on, man.” We argued about it. He had final say and it never got used. About 20 years later, when they built the World of Coke exhibit in Atlanta, they called me to buy additional usage to my images for a huge gallery show display. It was all my work. And that was one of the images they wanted to use. So in the end I felt good. You know, sometimes it comes back in different ways to us. So Coca-Cola, that was a good one.
MC: Your career spans a wide range of assignments in the commercial space. Can you relay a few highlights of your career?
AM: I’d gotten what I thought was the dream assignment, Michael. It was to go down route 66 and shoot whatever you want, any way you want. This was an assignment for Russell Athletic, the sports clothing brand, but I didn’t have to shoot any product. It was go and shoot anything. It was a road trip. It was the ultimate road trip and I plotted it out.
The route starts in Chicago and goes to Santa Monica or vice versa. And I thought we’ll fly to Chicago, we’ll start there and we’ll go through the entire highway in as much as it exists and road trip all the way to the pier in Santa Monica. We had it all figured out, put a budget to it, figured doing it over 10 days or so—I can’t remember exactly. That ended up being a few hundred miles a day, probably 200 to 300 miles a day. What ended up happening is we’d be going down the road and it’d be like, “Do we stop and shoot this? Do we wait for the light? Would it be better?” So a lot of decisions had to be made as we were going, but that was sort of the joy and agony of doing a trip like that and sticking to the budget and sticking to the timeframe.
Backing up, the one thing that I thought about beforehand was, there’s been a million road trips. How am I going to shoot this? You can do Robert Frank’s The Americans through America, that from the hip kind of shooting. And I thought, but that’s been done. Then again, I could shoot anything I wanted. So I got familiar with the FUJI GX617 panoramic camera, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with. It was an awesome camera. Fucking fantastic camera. I shot it like a view camera. I got a eight by 10 piece of glass back plate and I cut it down and used clothespins to fit it on the inside so that I could get super precise. The viewfinder on top [of that camera], wasn’t exact, and I wanted things to be precise. So using that and a black cloth and a loop, I would see exactly what I was getting. I was shooting everything from architecture to landscape, the crazy things you would see, including funky motels and crazy signage. The whole premise was based on this “panoramic” idea because I kept thinking about a road trip, and how you’re in a car. Your point of view was that long horizontal windshield. And I thought, okay, that makes sense. I’m going to utilize that as my reason. And I’m going to shoot the entire project with the Fuji GX617 panoramic camera, which was what I did. I backed myself up with a 35mm camera, just for myself, but the main part was going to be shot with that panoramic camera.
I explained [my concept] to the client and they, they were kind of like, “So it’s going to be this long, horizontal, and we’re going to have to make that work in the catalog or directory?” They said, “Well, go for it.” And it was awesome. It was great. And it was frustrating. There were times when you had a vertical [oriented shot], but I wanted to keep it all horizontal.
So I really had to figure it out. The camera really only had one point of view. Luckily, they built a version of the Fuji GX617 with interchangeable lenses. So you kind of had a wide, a normal and a short telephoto. So I had had one with interchangeable lenses [that we rented] and then I had my own, older version with a fixed lens as a backup. That was it.
It was fun, so much fun to have made that trip. And my only regret when I think about that trip was even if it would’ve cost me—I did it within budget—is that I didn’t do it both ways because I know there were things that I missed and that I would have gotten going back that I didn’t only going the one way, but yeah, that’s afterthought.
MC: The Journey is one of the most amazing photography fine art books that I have—and I own quite a few. The image on the cover “Water Wall” blew me away (as do many of the images in the book). Can you tell me about that cover image and how you created it? That image is like a painting.
AM: It is. And I thought the same thing. I was leading a trip to Japan with George Nobechi. It was one of our first trips and we were checking into a hotel halfway through our trip. I let the others go ahead of me. I was just standing in line there at the reception killing time. I looked behind me and there was this glass wall with water running down. It was just beautiful. I thought, well shit, it’s going to be 20 minutes before I get my chance to check in so I went over and was looking at it, then I could see people through it since you can walk on either side of it. The wall was this black piece of glass with a beautiful illusion with the water running through it and I began to shoot it.
I began to play with the perspective and I began to see the light and the color. Then I thought, you know, this would be really fun to kind of play with exposure a little bit. So I tried dragging the shutter a little bit [i.e. using slow shutter speeds] and shooting at 1/15th second or an 1/8th second to get that kind of runny liquidy mercurial feel. And it started to get even more interesting. But what was happening was that people were passing by [on the other side of the glass]. I did want figures in there. I thought it was important not to just be totally abstract but at such slow shutter speeds the people would be blurs–they were the walking too fast, too close or too far away from it. And so I just began just shooting a series and shooting and shooting and then this one person, I’m pretty sure that was a woman that walked by at a nice, slow pace and click. That was the image. I framed her right in the center there. I looked at the camera and went, wow, that’s okay. I can go check in now.
I didn’t think anything more of it. I thought I had a nice picture. When I looked at that image on the laptop later on I could see the beauty and the light and the color. The only thing that’s really sharp in that image is her hand, which is down almost to the bottom of the frame. I was shooting that with a Leica Q and I was really testing it. That was shot at ISO 12,800. And again, when I think about these astronomical ISOs that we can shoot at now as opposed to ISO 200 or 400, it’s like a whole other world. I couldn’t have made this image without [the new digital technology]. I have a 30X40-inch print of that image here in the studio and it holds up pretty damn well, which is a real credit to what can be done nowadays with our digital equipment. So that’s how that came about. It became the cover.
MC: Your latest book “The Journey” was self-published. Can you tell us about the decision to self-publish and the process?
AM: I shopped around my first book,The Color of Light, for maybe 10 years. [Below is a classic image from the Color of Light.] It was all personal work. It was work that I’d done on the side when I was on an assignment. I shot for myself on my off time. I wanted to give that work a life. Other than slideshows, I wanted to put bookends around that work. So I put [that first book] together and I shopped it and I’ve got a stack of the nicest rejections. They just said, no, this just doesn’t fit our format and what we do. I thought, well, maybe it won’t happen.
I was having lunch one day with an old college buddy of mine. He has several of my prints. And he said, “Hey, when are you going to do your fucking book?” And I said, “Well, you know, I don’t know if it’s going to happen.” He said, “Well, what does it cost?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been told that it might be this much.” And he said, “Well, what if I gave you a third?” And I went, “You’d do that?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, what do you want?” And he said, “A book.” I said, “Well, if you do that, I’ll give you more than a book. I’ll give you a few books. I’ll give you a deluxe edition.” I mentioned it to somebody else. Not much later after that, somebody in one of my classes, a participant who was well fixed said, “Well, I’ll give you a third.” And I thought, okay, I’ve got two thirds. I’ll do the other third myself and believe in myself. That’s how that first one came around. The beauty of self publishing is this: when you self publish, you get exactly what you want. You just have to pay for it. I think secondly, you’re also the distributor.
I remember when the book came out and I handed it to Sam Abell, who was very instrumental in helping me. We’ve been talking books for years—always have. And when I handed him the book, even before he opened it, he asked “I have one question for you. How do you feel about your book?” I said, “If I die tomorrow, this is the book I wanted to do.” And he said, “Good on you. Most photographers don’t feel that way. In fact, they feel the exact opposite.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Oh yeah.” I felt very strongly about that. And I still do. So I was very pleased with the self-publishing route when it came time to do the second one. This time I wanted to open it up more. I wanted to do more.
One day I was having lunch with Anne Wilkes Tucker (a well-known American museum curator of photography). I’ve known Anne for years, but I’ve never, nor would I ever, beg on her to do this or that for me. It was always just a friendship, respect, kind of thing. She was a colleague. And she said, “Well, what are you working on now?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got this idea for another book.” And she said, “You’re going to do another book?” And I said, “Well, I’d like to.” And she said, “Oh, we should do an interview.” And I went, “Okay, can I get that in writing?” And she said, “No, I’m serious.” And I said, “I’d be more than honored.” She said, “Send me, everything that’s been written about you, interviews, audio recordings, videos, everything.” Within a few days, I’d put it all together and gave it to her and then I didn’t hear anything for a month or two months. It was about three months later when I thought she had changed her mind, gotten busy or forgotten when she called me one day and says, “Okay, you ready? Let’s do the interview.” I asked, “You really went through all that shit.” And she said, “Oh yeah. I wanted to get a complete idea of you, your work and I wanted to ask the questions that have never been asked. I wanted to go deeper.” We spent three sessions doing the interviews. From that interview is where the ideas for the book evolved.
MC: So it was before you had fully put the book [The Journey] together that you did the interview?
AM: Yeah. I had it transcribed and I gave it all to the designer who said, “Just give me everything.” He said, “Okay, I’ll get back to you. I’ve got to go through this and organize it.” He broke it down into what became the organization of the interview kind of early beginnings, influences, process, teaching, blah, blah, blah. That was the roadmap right there—it all evolved from the talk with Anne.
I love interviews much more than reading somebody’s essays or thesis. Some things get a little too academic and I think lose people and somebody just going on and on about a photographer in his work or her work. I don’t know. I love the fly on the wall aspect of being there and hearing the back and forth between two people whom I respect.
It became really obvious that I was going to have to write for this book. The first book was (his words, not mine) an appreciation by Sam Abell followed by an introduction by Jay Maisel and then my page. At the back of that book was an interview between myself and John Paul Caponigro. It was all photographers, talking photography about another photographer because I figured in the end, that’s going to be my audience. It’ll be my participants, colleagues, and family and friends that buy the book. It’s not going to be something flying off the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, which as we both know, these days went from being a big section of the book store to a shelf. The realization of how many books you do and who’s going to buy them is a big thing. So anyway, that led to me doing a lot of writing for each section, breaking it down and what, putting backstories in. When I talked to people about the first book, the only thing I heard that people wished for is that there’s no writing in between the images. Many people said I would have loved to known more about this picture or that picture. And so it became obvious I need to talk. That whole writing process was going to be difficult because I don’t really consider myself a writer. And my designer said, “Write and write fast. It will all come to you. Just get it down on paper. We can fix it later,” which we did. I think your voice is so key to what you do, just like your photos. I mean, that’s what, you know, people react to.
I’m very, very pleased with how The Journey turned out and now am considering the third book. I’d like it to be in trilogy. I’m still hard pressed to decide how and what it’s going to be. But yeah, there’ll be a third book at some point. I’d like it to come out probably in the next three to four years. That gives me time to kind of think more about what I wanna do. I’m not interested in doing 20 or 30 books like a lot of other photographers. I want to self publish, which I’ve actually grown to enjoy doing (besides the distribution), which is the toughest part. You know, you’re the guy with the tin cup and the pencil saying buy a book, as opposed to having, you know, a publisher who is out there doing it for you.
MC: How many copies did you make of The Journey?
AM: 2,500. What I don’t think a lot of people realize is you’re probably looking at selling anywhere from a thousand to 1500 books, maybe 2000 total. If you are Annie Leibovitz, maybe 10,000 to 15,000. But, for the average Joe, photo books are expensive to produce. It’s a losing proposition for most publishers. By self publishing I’ve made money. I’ve made good money doing both books.
I only did a thousand on the first one cause I was going to be modest and I had a budget. I wanted to stay within my budget. Only time in my life I’ve stayed on budget, but I just figured I had to. So this one here, at 2,500, the books still continue to sell. I wanted it to sell over time. I have the facility to store them, so I’m good with that. In any case, there’s are certain pluses and minuses to everything as you know, and I guess for me, I’m more happy with the pluses, which is I’m getting the product I want.
MC: Not only are you a master photographer but you are also a phenomenal instructor and mentor. Do you enjoy teaching? How have you found that transition into teaching?
AM: I want to answer it honestly. I’ve only really taken one workshop and it was with Ernst Haas back in the eighties, and it was a trip to Japan. It was life changing in many aspects, but the biggest one being him and how he affected me. I can’t speak for everybody in that group, but I’m sure they felt the same. A connection was created. I never met him before that. He was on the Mount Rushmore of great photographers, certainly as the great color photographer. I just thought what an opportunity. In that two weeks of traveling around Japan, I was lucky enough to get some opportunities of just him and me time. That grew into a friendship that blossomed and continued afterwards—one of those things [that grew out of that workshop] was a desire to teach. When I finished that trip, which was put together by the Maine Photographic Workshops, I contacted one of the guys on the trip who was one of the principals at the workshops. I said, “You know, I would really love to teach.” And he said, “Well, I’ll talk to our guy there who handles that? His name is Reid Callanan [now the founder and director of the Santa Fe Workshops for the past 30 years].” I spoke with Reid and he was very nice. And he said, “Come up with a synopsis of what you want to do.” And I did, and they put it out there and I had one person sign up. Reid wrote me back a very sweet note. And it was like, “It didn’t happen this time, but if this is something you really want to do, stick with it, continue to keep putting your name out there and it’ll happen.” A couple of years later, I got a call from Reid about the Santa Fe Workshops. I knew Santa Fe had just been around for a year or two, but he asked me if I wanted to teach.
From then forward, when I started teaching, and I’m being honest, I really and truly liked the idea of it. But more importantly, I felt like it was an opportunity to give back to a profession that had been good to me. At that point, I’d been in the business 15 years or so, maybe more, but I really felt that gratitude. Initially, most of my participants, maybe half of them, were professionals. That totally shifted over time for whatever reason. And it’s this thing [teaching] that’s always stayed with me. Every summer I’d dedicate a week or so to teaching.
I remember having a conversation with Jay Maisel early on about teaching. And he said to me, “Now if you do this, you do it and do it 100%.” And I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “I mean that if a job comes along, you put the job on the back burner and you do the workshop. You make the commitment, or you don’t. If you say you want to do it, and then you back off because you got a job, or something better came along, that’s not fair to the workshop. That’s not fair to the people that signed up. At some point, you know, you’ll get a reputation and nobody’s going to be asking you to come teach.” So I thought, “Wow, okay, I’m going to keep that in mind.” And I try to abide by that because, you know, a commercial assignment comes along and it pays a lot of money, a lot more money than a workshop.
I will say that I never turned a workshop down ever. I had one time when I had an illness and I had to bow out. I got Jay [Maisel] to fill in for me for that workshop. I’ve had times where I’ve had to talk to the client and it’s like, “Can we even do it the week before? Or the week after I’ve got this other commitment?” I think I lost one job. But I kept the workshop. And it’s that sense of dedication to the workshops as well as to the people. I think you have to look at it as they’re putting down as serious chunk of change to come spend a week with you. They want to come be with you and hear what you have to say and watch you and listen and hear you talk about their work, et cetera.
I think the more I did it, I felt like I was doing a better job over time. I think I’m a better teacher now than I was. I’m sure it’s experience. It’s a real sense of joy to watch people succeed. Not everybody is going to be a great photographer. The great majority of people I get in my classes are, we’ll say serious amateurs. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the word amateur. In fact, I think it should be held up on a pedestal because it comes from “Amore,” which means to love. I’m as serious an amateur as anybody.
I may have had a professional career, but it’s the amateur that is the thing that I think speaks to our passions, speaks to what we love doing. I feel that privilege of teaching. Over the years, there’s been a number of great locations. There’s been this comradery. These people that you meet, a lot of them keep coming back for more, which either suggest they’re crazy, gluttons for punishment, or that they really like it and want more of being with you. That’s an honor. I think it needs to be held like that. I’ve never taken a workshop for granted. I’ve always considered it a privilege.
When I walked away from the commercial world, I wanted to dedicate myself to teaching, to taking and leading people on these photo trips and also to my own work. I’d always done my own work. But it was more important now than ever to continue to. I think it’s so important for a photographer to continue to show what they’ve done lately? I think it was Woody Allen or somebody who said, “You know, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” You have to continue to keep pushing the boundaries and doing new things and I get great joy out of it. I feel privileged, and have a love for teaching.
MC: In your podcast interview with Ibarionex Perello way back in 2016 you talked about how the commercial world has changed from how it was back when you were shooting a lot of your commercial work—can you elaborate on that?
AM: I stopped doing commercial work, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago because the handwriting was on the wall. I could start to see changes that were bothering me about the business—and I loved the business. I really did. Digital was part of it, but digital wasn’t the reason. It was just a technological thing that was inevitable and the genie was out of the bottle. I taught myself enough [about digital] to where I could go to a client and say, it’s as good as film. It’s better than film. Here’s why, and this is how we do it. But until I got to that point, I couldn’t do it. And quite frankly, most of my clients didn’t want digital, they wanted film. They didn’t trust digital yet.
I also began to notice that collaboration seemed to be kind of out the window too. I like going on a shoot with a really good art director or even a good client or both. I always felt two sets of eyes were better than one because you were always trying to do better work. Nine times out of 10, it was up to you to get the images. But I was open. When I’m out there shooting, I try to be open to anything and everything [including the art directors input]. So I saw the collaboration thing disappearing. I found that with the younger art directors that I was dealing with toward the end I’d ask, “You’re coming on the shoot?” And, they replied “Uh, no, no, no. I’m gonna, um, I don’t, I don’t need to go.” I said, “It’s not a matter of need to, you ought to want to, you know, you’ve gotta go see what’s going on and see your idea come to life.” And nine times out of 10, I would hear this, “No, no, no. Just go out and make the shots. I’ll fix them in Photoshop.” Every time I heard that, I said, “Look if I do my job, right you’re not going to have to fix it in Photoshop.” I like getting it in camera, whether it was film or even digital. It’s not like I have anything against Photoshop. It’s a great tool. But it was just that thinking because so much of what I shot did require manipulation.
There was something else I was thinking of Michael. What was it? Oh, usage rights. Usage rights were something my generation and the generation before fought so hard to maintain. I started to see that going away too. I mean, first thing you started to hear in a discussion about a job was the client saying, “We’ll own all rights, or we want all rights for this and that,” which amounted to they’ll own the copyright or this will be “work for hire.” I never sold my copyright. I own all my work. I lost a lot of work [because I never sold my copyright]. I maybe made my reputation, as Ernst Hass once told me, by saying no. Well, I said “no” a lot and I lost [a lot of work]. But when I got what I got, I got it on terms I was happy with.
And I wanted them [the client] to be happy too. It was real important that you have that connection with you and your client. They were getting what I felt they needed and wanted and were willing to pay for it. And I was going to give them that, but certain things I wasn’t going to give up. I felt if we go into a job like that, you’re going to be happy as the client, because you’re getting what you want, you know, what you’re paying for and you know what you’re getting, and I’m going in happy because I know what I’m getting paid. I know these will be my images. It was clean. I saw more and more where it was the demand of this, that, and the other [usage rights]. And, you know, I would say I’m sorry, I don’t work that way.
It’s important to me to own the work. I care that much about it. And if you want additional rights or usage, absolutely. We can negotiate that. But the more you want, the more the price goes up. It won’t be the same price. I wasn’t a great businessman, but I was better than most photographers because most photographers were terrible. There are the guys that are great photographers and terrible business people. There are the guys that are mediocre photographers, but pretty good at business. The successful guy or gal is the one that can do both. If they can’t [do both] then for God’s sake, you need to get a rep [or an] agent. I never, well, I take it back, for about a year toward the end [of my commercial career] I had a rep. He was a dear, dear friend of mine who was a very good rep, and I’d known him since we where kids. He kept bugging me to do something. And I said, “All right, let’s try a few and see, I’m not keen on it.” We did some stuff, but it was the idea of giving somebody 25 to 30% of the fee. And again, you had to be happy with the deal.
I remember once going to New York, I had been getting hit on by a lot of reps. And I finally thought I’m going to go to New York and I’m going to get in the hotel room, park myself there for a week, and I’m gonna schedule meetings [with reps] and they’re going to come to me and we’re gonna sit down and talk. And I went and did that for about three or four days. And I met with many of the top reps. I don’t know if it’s a good idea or a bad idea [to get a rep], but the one thing that was always explained, it’s like getting married and quite frankly, I didn’t fall in love.
I knew some people had really big reputations. What would happen [in those meetings] is I would ask, “Okay, so let’s say this job comes along from X? How are you going to sell me when I know you have a stable of photographers like Jay Maisel, Stephen Wilkes, and Greg Heisler.” And they said, “Well, at that point, then your portfolio would sell you.” I said, “Wait, wait, wait. That’s not what I wanted to hear. I mean, if that’s the case, I can do that.” Yeah, that was it. There is no other business I know of where the agent gets that huge a fucking percentage. I just thought it was crazy.
So, once again doing things my way, maybe the wrong way, but my way, I didn’t really go for that idea. So that didn’t happen. And like I said, I missed a lot of stuff. You know, I can pick someone like Stephen Wilkes, who is a very good friend. I’ve known Stephen for years. He’s had an extremely successful career. Still does. I assume he still has representation, but he did for a long time–and it equated to some big things that I didn’t get.
I remember situations where I bid against other people–and in fact, that was another thing that was different [back in my day]. You would get called to bid on an assignment, which I didn’t mind. I would always ask, “So who else are you talking to?” And if they were honest, they would tell me X, Y, and Z. And if X, Y, and Z were notable people, then I thought, okay, this is for real. And if I lose it to Jay, or if I lose it to Greg, I’m good with it. Because while I felt like I was as good, if not better for the job than them, if they went with them, I knew they were serious. And I knew that they were going for the look and the feel, the style where it really made a difference. It wasn’t the bottom line.
You know, there was that aspect of it that I liked, and I was able to keep up with my competition. You mentioned the other day that you had gotten something into the Communication Arts Photo Annual. CA was like the wall street journal of our business. I mean, you know if you made it into CA that was big. I remember when I had a feature article [in CA] that was a big thing, but in every annual you wanted to get a picture or two or three or more in there, because people really paid attention and work came from that. Not only that, I was always looking to see who else had stuff in the CA Photo Annual? What did they do? Wow, that’s amazing. And you kind of knew who your competition was and what they did. And it was, that was it. That was a special time that I think has gone.
MC: Any last words?
AM: I think I’ve had the best of all worlds, Michael. I really do. When I walk into a room, I feel like the luckiest guy in the room having done what I did and making a living at it. A lot of people would give a body part to do that. So, yeah, it’s been good.
This interview was conducted on May 13, 2020 via Skype and has been edited down for this blog post. The conversation lasted well over an hour, closer to two hours and we covered a wide variety of topics. What is included here is the meat of that interview—as publishing the entire interview would be a huge, ungainly blog post. My sincere thanks to Arthur for taking the time to do this interview. If you would like to order Arthur’s book The Journey you can find it on his website. Buy it! You won’t regret it!
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