Why I think Thomas Hawk is a Great Photographer


Thomas Hawk (photo from his avatar)

Ok, I’m not one to typically gush like a fanboy and spew my praise out on the web, but as I was perusing friend feed this morning and taking in some Thomas Hawk photos, I had a contemplative moment about why I enjoy his photo stream(s). So strap in, curb your gag reflex, and see what if you agree.

TH (I’ll use the short version going forward) is no saint. I don’t hold him up on a pedestal and praise his every move. I often don’t agree with his opinions on various things and from my online observation of his personality, he can be fiery and bull headed on what he believes. He’s more left leaning, I’m on the conservative side of the line. That’s what I like about him. He is passionate about what he does, is willing to be corrected and even wrong, but will jump in with both feet and discuss, debate and learn. I like to think I am much the same kind of person.

So why the post of praise? Because in my moment of contemplation, I started to think about why do I think he’s a great photographer. Here’s what I came up with.

He’s Always At It

I’ve always enjoy photography, but it is only in the last few years that I’ve started taking it seriously, spending more time and money than I’d like to admit with my hobby. In this last year I’ve finally decided to always have my camera with me and be on the lookout for photographic opportunities. I’m still not perfect in doing that, but I have noticed since making the commitment to shooting more often I find that those moments to capture seem to happen more often. The more I have my eyes open the more I see. Pretty obvious, but it is a feeling that you have to experience to understand.

He’s Passionate About Photography

TH doesn’t just take pictures for the fun of it, though I am sure it is most often fun. When you love photography you take in every bit of information you can that applies to your passion. Reading tips, tricks, tutorials, latest news, upcoming technologies, etc. all seems important when you love what you do. How many people do you know dedicate hours a day to educating themselves on becoming better at a skill you already are not too shabby at?

Along with betterment, TH is a self appointed voice of the photographers’ rights. There is no other blog author I currently follow that is as strongly vocal about defending our rights to take photos and getting the attention to situations where a photographer rights have been trampled on. You may or may not agree with his strongly worded diatribes at all times, but you have to admire his passion.

He Makes Time to Photograph

I’m not talking about the guy that shoots off one photo a day in his backyard (ahem, me on some days) just to make sure he has done something; TH takes more trips and walks around town more than anyone I know. I learned the concept of the “Photo Walk” from reading and watching the escapades of TH and Robert Scoble, which led to me joining up with Photowalking Utah on their monthly outings for the social, educational and challenging aspects of group photography outings. Just getting out and doing photography is necessary to being better at it.

Even at my level of time commitment, people often ask me how I do I have time to photograph as much as I do. Truth is, you make time for those things you enjoy. Lately I watch a lot less TV than I used to. Why? I have better things to do with my time. I’d rather be out photographing than sitting in front of the boob tube getting nothing but some brain numbing in return for my time spent. (That said, when I am processing photos I’ll often have a show going in the background.)

Ask yourself, how often do you make time for photography? Do you leave the house for a walk or drive somewhere specifically for the purpose of finding interesting photographs to make? When is the last time you scoped out a location for perspective and timing for light so you can return at the optimal time for the “perfect” shot? Are you willing to spend money and dedicated vacation time to travel for the sake of taking great photos and even meeting up with other photographers for a unique experience?

He Spends Money on Great Equipment

Now I know the equipment doesn’t make the photographer, and great ones can make an incredible image with a pinhole camera if that is all they have; but, great equipment does make a difference. Getting a bag with the best, or at least worthwhile equipment for the types of photography you engage in is a step in the right direction. That doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy all the available L-series prime lenses to be great, but getting a few good lens options for the ranges you deal with sure makes a difference. Get a good but manageable bag of equipment and keep it with you for when luck shines upon you, when preparation meets opportunity.

The World Is His Canvas

I had the opportunity yesterday to visit with an amazing photographer, Henk van Kooten, who I have enjoyed at a previous photography seminar here in Salt Lake City. Henk is from the Netherlands and is known for his emphasis on creativity in photography. In our discussion I was discussing how I am a technical guy trying to learn creativity, which is a difficult thing to do (for me). Henk was stressing you have to remove the idea that by learning all the mechanics you can force a creative eye. It takes looking and striving to see the creativity in any given moment. He talked to me about a friend he sends on out on challenges of creative themes to see beauty in certain areas and to shed the strict logical approach to everything. Ahh, something expect to be working on my entire life.

TH is always looking for the creative angle and identifying what interests, intrigues or otherwise draws him to point his camera and hit the shutter release. Whether its an abstract in the most unusual of situations, the mannequin in the plate glass window or the homeless person in his $2 portrait project, TH is open to and typically does photography anything.

He Sheds His Comfort Zone

I am sure there are things that still make TH uncomfortable, but where he’s revealed such things it’s because he’s revealing publicly what he is stepping out of again and working on. Case in point was his story behind the photograph on a recent trip to Portland. By nature I am a pretty reserved guy, but I’ve made a point recently to step outside what I normally find comfortable. I used to be completely unwilling to engage people when walking around photographing, but at one point I finally decided I need to talk to people to really get to know my subjects and to capture better photos. Now I am completely comfortable asking people to take their photo and find I rarely get a refusal. I am better for the experiences as well for having met and learned more interesting people this way.

There is also photographing in situations that may seem uncomfortable for many people. TH just does it. Better to repent later than ask permission, right? Sure, this may lead to some uncomfortable moments, but in the end you get far more photos that others are unwilling to try for…or even think of doing.

He Believes in Post Processing As Part of the Creative Process

This is an area that has staunch believers on both ends of the spectrum, but personally I am a big proponent of the digital darkroom. Of course a great photo needs to start with something worth working on, but the abilities offered with RAW processing and creative tweaking/healing in Photoshop (or other apps) after the fact are nearly just as important. Perhaps my bias comes from my coming from a technical realm to the photographic world, but I find I thoroughly enjoy the end product regardless and sometimes because of the process that got it there.

He Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary

I read this phrase somewhere, so it isn’t my own. I do think it applies though. Even the most mundane of situations or scenes can have something interesting if you just look. There is beauty in everything, and there is a beauty in all people. Not all people are “pretty” and not all things are stunning, but there is a beauty and intrigue to be found everywhere and in all people.

That’s Enough Fanboy-ism for Today

I can keep going, but I think that’s enough for today. Really, I don’t think Thomas Hawk is a god, and I don’t follow his every move. I do think TH is a lot of things in a photographer that I am trying to be. It is the daily photos shared that inspire me to want to do better at what I love, and to be dedicated to follow through on that inspiration.  There are actually a number of people I admire I could have written this article about, but TH happens to be the most public one of them and embodies many of these things.  That’s what I enjoy about all the better photographers I follow and admire online, and TH is one of the best.

One of these days I’ll be on a photo walk with the guy and shake his hand. Thanks TH.

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