Trent Chau, a Georgia-based photographer and member of the Atlanta Photographers Guild. Much of what he has learned has been self-taught, but beginning in 2009, he entered the Gwinnett Technical College looking for a degree in photography. He has a penchant for portraiture photography, but has certainly run the gamut of the art.
Since entering the photography scene Mr. Chau has also built himself a web presence, operating a website, as well as a blog where you will discover samples of his work and discussions about photography. He’s also active on Twitter, @trentchau.
The technician in me likes the fact that successful photography is an equation. A puzzle that is laid out in front of you, and you have the power to put those pieces together in whatever way you want. There is a level of set rules that you have to follow, but the more you know about those rules and regulations the more you can achieve efficiently and potentially bend and distort to your needs.
Do you have a personal philosophy about photography?
TC: Some basic ones.... Shoot 85~90% of your photo in camera. I have absolutely nothing against post production, but after years of shooting thousands of photos I rather spend time with my daughter than editing photos. So using technical knowledge and experience, mixed with general photography experience such as people interaction, it's a personal goal to pretty much shoot the shot in the camera, not in the computer.
A major personal philosophy about photography of mine is "Remember the root" of photography. The root being Light. My father was an engineer and he once told me "Son, always learn to the foundation level why something works.". Photography at its most basic level is dictated by light and how it interacts with your subject. So I believe that the continuous path of understanding light, manipulating it, and capturing is my personal goal with photography. (I'm beginning to sound like Ryu from Street Fighter, but instead of kicking Ken's ass, I'm clicking shutters instead).
Saying such, I do tend to favor natural locations that show a state of being lived in our decay for any natural shot. For studio shots white or black roll paper, some kicking trance music, and fan and it's a good day.
On the other hand web presence items such as Websites and Blogs have been a good experience for me. Websites are a little archaic now but still provide an audience a glimpse into my work. Blogs have been a great part of the internet experience and it's been great. Heck this interview is done now because my blog was found by you guys so that has to mean something. The blog experience is awesome.
Do you find any common ground between photography and other creative pursuits like writing or poetry? TC: At its most basic level yes, and that is pure unadulterated joy. The internal joy we have as individual pursuing something we find pleasing. The self acknowledgement of progression as we move forward in our work. The conquering of self doubt as we explore new techniques or beliefs and apply it what we create. The only major difference I see in writing/poetry (which I used to do) is that in photography the audience is more expansive since there isn't multiple languages along with cultural differences to work around. A picture of a flower is a picture of a flower, while a poem about a flower can be translated so much differently between languages.
What sort of education/experiences have you gone through to get where you are today with your photography?
TC: I was self taught until 2009. That's when I enrolled into Gwinnett Technical College's photography program just to have a degree (hey the little daughter shouldn't see her pops without a degree). It was lots of reading the internet, lots of messing with lights and lenses, and most importantly going out there into the world and just plain screwing up and having the balls (or ovaries) to ask yourself why you screwed up and how can you fix it. Experimenting was a key factor in improvement, and also getting multiple different opinions from people but in the end forming your own by actually trying out everything you can. Never ever saying "I believe in this because this what so and so believes", but saying "I believe in this because I did it".
What’s your take on the debate between traditional “purist” photographers and what’s viewed as the more modern crowd advocating digital editing/post-processing, etc?
TC: I've got no beef about major post production, I personally try to avoid it myself. Bringing back dad's belief in the matter, as long as you know "Why it works on the foundation level" is what's most important to me. Purist photographers bring up a great point when they ask people if they know aperture, shutter speed, iso, white balance, and all the other aspects that control photography. It is very good to be able to consistently be able to get results because all the technical aspects are controlled by the photographer. Yet digital editing and post processing is not a crutch that holds photographers up, it's a catalyst and it can bring even the best "Pure" photographers work to the next level. To ignore the benefits of digital editing would be very short sighted and arguably idiotic. Something to ask though is if the digital manipulation is to fix a problem or to make something better, if it's consistently for fixing a problem than that's something that should be remedied by just good old traditional "Learnin."
TC: I would like to teach photography, actually would LOVE to teach photography or marketing in the collegiate level. I've been blessed with amazing and wonderful teachers throughout life, and it would be a pleasure to return the favor. Along with teaching it would be nice to moonlight as a photographer for small gigs such as weddings, commercial work, and potential a book of sorts. I had a studio and loved it, but money is difficult to come by as a student so it was one of the first things on the chopping block. Potentially in the future another studio would be nice, but having more money in the account is paramount right now.
What would you suggest to people just beginning with photography?
TC: Buy Lightroom, it's the smartest thing you can do. Seriously. Learn it just so you can import your photos from your card, and organize it. It will save your photos by date, so even if they do look like snap shots, at least they are organized snap shots. Go do it now..I'll wait for you to come back from the store and install it.
Okay it's installed? Cool! Now go shoot. Shoot everything. Shoot leaves on a tree, take a photograph of a person, take pictures of cats. Now bring it into Lightroom and get it organized, look at it on your screen (which is hopefully bigger than your cameras lcd). Now take more photos of something different....rinse, repeat, and enjoy! Photography is you going to it, not it coming to you so go out and have fun, and shoot shoot shoot.
What kind of lenses, filters, editing programs do you use? What f-stop/settings do you prefer? And, being a Nikon man myself, I have to ask: why Canon? What about their cameras appeals to you?
TC: I'm a huge fan of L series lenses from Canon, and pretty much shoot exclusively with them. They were purchased when I was working corporate though so it's rarer these days to own them since they are pretty darn expensive. My favorite lenses is the Canon 35 1.4L, the Canon 24-70 2.8L, The Canon 85 1.2L II, and lastly the Canon 50 1.2L. A majority of my shooting ranges from an F range of 1.2 to 3.5, using iso 50~800. I avoid high Iso personally, and will introduce my own lights if the scene becomes dark. Since I favor primes it's not uncommon to use 2 cameras at the same time with one prime lens each. This leads into editing and image maintenance, and that's were Lightroom shines. With it you can import and tag all the photos, and also easily apply universal fixes if required. This saves time and makes editing a pleasure.
Concerning why Canon. My father gave me a Canon camera, and it's been that way since. When I got the first Digital SLR the Canon 20D had just come out and it absolutely destroyed the Nikon D100 in all aspects (but most importantly the use of a CMOS over CCD). Overtime I found the lenses that Canon had were better for my style of shooting over Nikons. Lenses such as the 35 1.4 and 135 f2 were awesome Canon lenses that Nikon either didn't have or were a little too expensive. Canon's always have been a little cheaper in comparison to Nikon and that was a major factor. If you took the kit that I amassed over several years and go the Nikon equivalent, you could easily purchase a D3x with some lenses when equating the cost difference. Something else that really sealed the deal was the Canon 5D, it really was revolutionary and amazing with its full frame sensor. I still drool at the photos that come from it today. Nikon did respond several years later with the D700 but Canon released video capability with the 5D Mark II and I haven't looked back. Nikon is great and should always be considered by someone when looking at cameras, but for me Canon is the number 1 option.
Are there any photography resources you would recommend for individuals who wish to know more about the art form?
TC: There are so many great places online to get information. Something really cool though is to check your local school system. In Georgia its free to go to school if you don't have a degree, and that could really help one get educated. Education is not what people hand you, it's what you are willing to go out and get yourself so do the hard work and time and you will be rewarded.
Online as mentioned there are many wonderful resources. I've always been a fan of photography forums such as Photocamel (www.photocamel.com), Canon Digital Photography Forum (http://photography-on-the.net/forum/), and one of my personal favorites Fredmiranda.com (Fredmiranda.com). These forums educate via interaction with other photographers and provide excellent feedback.
One of the greatest websites as a photographer to go see is Strobist.com run by David Hobby. David Hobby knows it's about light, and he delivers education about light in a way that challenges you and makes you so much smarter. His website should be favorited by everyone who wants to do photography on a high level.
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