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Digital technology has profoundly changed the way we create and experience photography. No one knows that better than the artist John Paul Caponigro, who combines his background in painting with traditional and alternative photographic processes. Exhibited internationally, his work has been purchased by numerous private and public collections. Caponigro's primary focus is the natural world, and many viewers find his work deeply spiritual. B&H sat down with Caponigro recently for this exclusive interview.
Respected as an authority on creativity and fine art digital printing, Caponigro is a highly sought after speaker, lecturing extensively at conferences, universities, and museums. He teaches workshops globally.
A contributing editor for Digital Photo Pro and AfterCapture, and a columnist for Photoshop User, Luminous-Landscape.com, Apple.com, and the Huffington Post, Caponigro is the author of Adobe Photoshop Master Class and the DVD series R/Evolution. Caponigro is a member of the Photoshop Hall of Fame and one of Canon’s Explorers of Light.
How has digital photography changed the way you work, and how has digital changed the content of your photographs or the subjects you choose to shoot?
Digital technology changed everything about the way I work and the way I share my work. I use new tools that open up new possibilities every day. Process informs perception. I see and think with both traditional and contemporary eyes. Technology hasn't changed the core content or the mission of my work-- inspiring conscientious creative interaction with our environment. What people do with technology is what's most interesting. People and the world around us are much more interesting than technology. And that's really saying something!
With everyone packing a digital camera and self-publishing their work on the Internet, are professional photographers an endangered species?
Professional photographers are not an endangered species. As more people make photographs, more people will develop an appreciation for photography and what it takes to achieve professional quality. That said, the bar has been raised for what it means to be a professional photographer. Being a professional photographer means a lot more than being able to focus and expose well. Professional photographers have to distinguish themselves with exceptional creative skills and unique visions.
Should pro photographers stay pure to the still image or is it okay for them to use their cameras’ video capture capabilities?
"Is it ok?" shouldn't even be a question. Give yourself permission to do anything you need to do. Still or motion? It's a choice. Ask a series of questions. What are the differences? What's the best fit with the subject? What will be most effective? What are your talents? What outcomes are you looking for? Why? What you produce will be your answer. What's interesting are the choices you make, not the medium of your choice. Passion, commitment, sensitivity, and intelligence will all elevate the work you do.
Tell us about the photograph that got away, the one you wish you had taken.
I wish I'd taken more portraits. One person who comes to mind is Arnold Newman. He was a dear friend and a great photographer. Because of a lack of venue, I never formally interviewed or photographed him. He's gone now. As with so many things in photography, you have to seize the moment and make opportunities.
What or who inspired you to become the educator that you are?
All the good teachers and all the bad teachers I've had inspired me to do better. The people who inspire me to keep teaching are my students. When you contribute to someone else's growth, you grow. It's truly a privilege to be able to make a real difference.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to become a professional creative photographer?
Ask yourself if you really want to be a professional photographer. Realize that you're going to be spending more time running your business than you will be behind the lens. Talk to working professionals and work for them to find out what it's really like. Realize that the way they do things is only one way among many. You'll have to find your way. If you really want to do this, you'll find a way to make it work. Ultimately, you have to be as creative with your business as you are with your photography. Communicate your passion and vision to your immediate family, the people behind you. You'll need their support. It's a lifestyle choice as much as a professional choice.
What’s your favorite place in the whole world to shoot?
Do you have a favorite paper?
Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art Paper.
What software do you find yourself using most often?
Do you have a favorite lens or does it depend on what you are shooting?
28-135, 16-40, 100-400 mm -- in that order.
What are the greatest influences in your life?
Nature. Family. Acts of inspiration and compassion.
What’s next for you?
A series of Blurb books. A series of creativity DVDs. Workshops in the southwestern American desert, Iceland, Namibia, and Antarctica. A keyword searchable online gallery of my entire inventory. A renewed focus on deserts and virtual earth art.
What is your background as a photographer?
I started making images before I could talk. My father is a fine art photographer. My mother is a graphic designer. I studied painting and literature in college and photography with my father during the summers. I found my primary medium with the introduction of Photoshop. I've always worked in multiple media so I consider myself a visual artist, which is a much broader definition than photographer.
What is your relationship and history with B&H?
B&H has always been my go to source for all my equipment needs, meaning both cameras and computers. That's true for many of my students as well.
What do you shoot with?
What's on your wish list?
A few things that exist. New laptop. New tower. A lighter taller tripod. A wider lens. An underwater housing. I've planned for many of these this year. But also a lot of things that don't exist. A bigger iPad with a camera. New software features. A 50-Megapixel DSLR. Chips with 20-stop dynamic range. A tilt-shift sensor. Multi-lenses that allow interactive depth of field during post processing. Voice commands. Glowing paper. A force field to replace glass for my prints. Only the last item is in question. But for the rest, it's only a matter of time.
Tell us more about Blurb
Blurb is leading the print-on-demand publishing revolution. We knew this would be coming 20 years ago. It's here now. Blurb makes new things possible. Blurb's free bookmaking software is easy to use. The quality is good. Blurb's store sells and fulfills orders for you. You can order one copy or many. You can update a book anytime anywhere. It's a winning combination. Blurb produces over 100,000 new titles every year. Hundreds of thousands of people have books in their hands that would never have existed without Blurb.
What should self-publishers be thinking of while composing a book?
There's a history and an art to bookmaking. Familiarize yourself with it. You'll make better books. I provide a number of related resources on my website. And I teach a Blurb Bookmaking workshop. Ask yourself what outcomes you'd like to see from your book project.
What tips do you have for self-publishers looking to distribute their book?
Many people don't ask themselves how they'll market and distribute their books until after they produce them. Make a plan before you produce a book. Blurb stands out from all the other print-on-demand services because they fulfill orders; this eliminates distribution. The Internet provides many opportunities for marketing that didn't exist before. Again, you need a plan.
To find out more about John Paul Caponigro and his work and receive more than 200 lessons with his free newsletter, visit www.johnpaulcaponigro.com.