rc concepcionWhen I reached out to Ibarionex Perello for help connecting with Rafael Concepcion — he quickly responded with that help.

I was very excited to connect with RC. When I first got into photography — 13 months ago – Concepcion was one of the first photographers I gravitated to. And not because RC is Latino but because he is a very accomplished professional photographer. And while I was not able to get any photos to display in this interview — you can head over to his site.

But the featured image was taken by Rafael but processed by me. The image was from a set that Concepcion provided to his community so we could play around with the HDR process.

Interview

LBTL: In the photography industry you are considered to be one of the most accomplished photographers. You are an educator, best selling author, Adobe certified, host of Photography Tips & Tricks and columnist for Photoshop User Magazine and Light It Magazine. Was there a clear path to your success? Or was it a journey?

RC: I wouldn’t say that there was a clear path to it – but more of an evolution to it.

I originally went to college to be a teacher of the deaf, and settled into becoming a high school English teacher. To me, all I’ve ever really wanted to do was teach and share – it didn’t really matter what it was.

As I moved away from the academic world and got into corporate stuff, it was still based on that underlying principle. What could I do to share my enthusiasm about the things that I am doing, with as many people as possible. That always kept me teaching – and it always kept me wanting to learn. Combine that, with a fortuitous set of circumstances and I get the honor to do what I do.

Note: You can link to the Photoletariat interview that gives a little bit of the back story to how RC got to where he is.

LBTL: As you were growing into your photography who were the photographers that you admired?

RC: There were many influential photographers for me, but I would have to say that there were three in this space that I’ve always found to be incredibly influential. Joe Mcnally, Jay Maisel, and Gregory Heisler.

Its actually funny because many of the people that I admire and look towards for influence and inspiration could not be more polar opposite in styles for me. My biggest passion is working on making environmental portraits, and I am absolutely in love with taking the concept of the portrait and reducing the elements to their most basic constructions. Think of it as a logo.

When you work in design, you are trying to whittle down all of the ideas of an organization into one really really small piece of iconography. When its done well, it just sings. To me, that’s what environmental portraiture is. If you go back and take a look at Arnold Newman’s picture of Stravinsky at the piano – you can see this in action.

Telling someone to make a picture of a pianist would be one thing. But to whittle down the concept so that this picture is what you get… that takes a lot of chiseling. Michaelangelo is often credited with saying that he chiseled away at stone so that only the statue remained.

In essence he saw the statue in the stone, and he spent his craft chiseling out all of the unnecessary stuff to get to the heart of the matter. Jay Maisel has that. Joe McNally has that. Gregory Heisler has that. These guys are tenacious and unyielding in their craft-work to get to that. My images involve sweeping scapes, need to really be seen really big, and have processing done to them thanks to advances in Photoshop.

At their core however, they are looking for the same thing these guys are looking for. I am just going about it a different way.

LBTL: What advice would you give young aspiring Latino photographers?

RC: The most important thing that you should find in photography is your voice. Mechanics are important, and they are absolutely essential in photography considering how fast everything moves nowadays – but the voice is paramount. When you look at images – collect them. Paste them on a wall. One you have them set – write down in actual words on a piece of paper –why- they mean something to you. What does this make you feel? This will.. little by little… start producing a series of things that you’ll see patterns on. This is the start of your voice.

Once you’re on your way… make sure that not in your own love affair with a specific thing. If I can borrow an analogy – think of your voice in photography as if it were a language. The best thing to do to your voice as a photographer is to find someone not speaking your language, and study them.

You’d be surprised as to how many lessons you can get from the ‘feeling’ of the voice rather than the mechanics of what the words are saying.

LBTL: When you are teaching workshops what are the three most important things you want your students to walk away with?

RC: The first of which I’d have to say would have to be that the mechanics of doing something are separate from the intention of doing something. It is absolutely essential to learn how to operate a boat if you want to travel to an island. It is in your best interest to learn how to operate that boat as best as you can so that you can get to the island as fast as you can.

However, you need to recognize that the mechanics of operating a boat are not the real reason you started on this. You started to get to that island. Once you separate the two, it makes it easier to say “Ok… got it..

I can do this mechanically.. now.. what am I chasing” rather than get into the whole “If I can just get this light/camera/modifier/bag and master it, I will get closer”. The two are separate.

The second thing – Photoshop is your dark room. No matter how faithful you are to the camera, Photoshop is where you go to eek out every last bit of intention in a picture. People who did film toiled in a darkroom to get the very best print. We are doing the same thing .. we just don’t have to smell chemicals.

It’s OK, if you spend time in Photoshop. You are not in a contest to show people how hard you can make it to serve the images that are in your head. You are here to show people what is in your head.

The third thing is to learn how to listen to criticism. We spend a lot of time invested in making a picture that we become emotionally attached to them. Understanding that you may need to step away from it gives you a much better perspective on what to look for in a shot.. and a better understanding on how to want more from your work.

Counter-intuitively enough, this also lets you love the process more. You’ll understand that if it doesn’t work..it work. If the picture good – its OK… you’re off to hunt for the better one.

LBTL: Complete the sentence for me, “When processing with HDR images, one of the key things to keep in mind is…”

RC: The suspension of belief is interrupted by bad processing. There are so many people that believe that HDR is done the moment that you finish tone mapping the image. That could not be further from the truth. There is so much heavy lifting that you need to do to the image in Photoshop in order to really get the intention of the shot out. When I wrote the HDR book,

I focused greatly on what you did on the HDR file –after- it was tone mapped. Shooting a bracket is easy. Tone mapping it is even easier.. These things however give you a new raw file – that needs to be finished. If you can do that.. you’ll be infinitely more surprised as the results you’ll get.

Call To Action

One of the reasons that RC has been so successful is because of his passion to teach — and help others. And because of this inherent desire others gravitate to him. Not to mention that Concepcion has modeled those that came before him – Joe Mcnally, Jay Maisel, Arnold Newman and Gregory Heisler.

No community can grow without educators. And no educator can grow without mentors. So it is imperative — for you — to not only give back to the community but find those that you aspire to be like.