So, Peter, what have you been shooting recently?
I'm always out shooting and creating new work. New York City is one of my favorite subjects and there is always something to go shoot. Right now we're coming into the July 4th Holiday and there are all kinds of cool fireworks displays around the City. Last month I did a helicopter flight over New York at sunset and it was just amazing. We took the doors off to avoid glare and my feet were literally hanging out 1,000 feet above the streets below. I wrote a blog post about the experience. My friends and I also do Storm Chasing over New York. In June we were set up hoping to get some lightning strikes on the World Trade Center and Empire State Building. Instead, the clouds broke and we got an amazing double rainbow and sunset. Those once-in-a-lifetime photos have gotten tens of thousands of "Likes" on social media.
I do a lot of shooting at night. One of my favorite subjects is the moon in relation to landmarks on the ground. One of my photos of the crescent moon and Statue of Liberty is being featured in a national photography magazine next month. And I recently had a photo of an amazing sunset behind the Statue of Liberty featured on The Weather Channel's prime time broadcast. My mom loved that one!
I continue to display my work in shows and exhibitions. I have photos in three group shows right now and am preparing a virtual solo show for an online art gallery, which will open in August. I have won 31 awards for my fine art photography in the last three years, and I've met some amazingly talented artists along the way. I am active in several arts organizations here in New Jersey and am also a featured artist on the soon-to-be-launched ArtsyShark Art Gallery
website. I'm also very active on social media, in addition to teaching workshops and leading meetups for amateurs and professionals alike.
What photo are you most proud of taking?
I am proud of all my photos. I look at them as my children: I love them all equally - and eventually hope they will move out and find a good home someplace else (as in being sold to a customer!). That said, I have a photo of the moon atop the spire of the Empire State Building that was a finalist in the 2015 Empire State Building Photo Contest. That photo took weeks of planning and execution and a willingness to show up at the same spot with 40lbs of photography gear on two consecutive nights (the first night clouded over so I missed it).
Also the photo of the Statue of Liberty and crescent moon that I mentioned earlier is being featured in a national photography magazine next month. I was also lucky enough to have the image appear on ABC 7 NY TV, prompting the anchor to comment, "sometimes a photo just takes your breath away." It's just a gorgeous photo in every way and took lots of planning and execution. That's one thing I would say to people who may not do a lot of photography: all my photos require significant planning and preparation, as well as a willingness to go places most other people won't. It's never a question of just showing up and getting lucky when I get a shot (although luck, especially in the form of favorable weather, is helpful.)
What was the first camera you owned?
I purchased my first real camera in 2004: a Canon Rebel XT. It was the second digital Rebel from Canon, and it was a game-changer for me. There was something about looking through the optical viewfinder and seeing what I was about shoot that was really exciting. I probably took 75,000 photos with that camera and still use many of them in my professional portfolio.
That leads to two things I'd like to say:
- You don't need the latest or most expensive equipment to take good photos. Stick to a budget and maximize what you already have.
- Most of the gear out there (cameras, lenses, and accessories) is just so good these days. They are engineering marvels.
I am really grateful to engineers and their support staff who toil away for years developing new technology that allows me and everyone else to be so creative. I never shot film and probably wouldn't know what to do with a film camera. These engineers in my opinion are the unsung heroes of what I consider to be the Golden Age of photography. There's so much great photography out there today! Whether it's on a DSLR, GoPro, or cell phone, average everyday people are producing great work that inspires me. And the technical men and women at the major camera manufacturers make it all possible.
What photographer(s) most influenced you?
I'm really most influenced by my peers. It is the photographers I see everyday on Instagram, Facebook, etc., that really inspire me to get out there and shoot. I so appreciate their creativity and talent. That's what constantly pushes me to be a better photographer. Also, I am a co-admin on a Facebook group of 1,500 New Jersey-based photographers and I love to see new people come into the group who are just starting out and watch them learn and grow as photographers. It is so exciting to see them progress. Many of them are now better photographers than me!
If you could have any photograph on your wall, what would it be?
My own. I really love my work and am very proud of all the photos I have made over the years.
Do you have any advice you would like to pass on to other photographers?
Well, I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself. It sounds so cliche at this point, but I can say from my own experience, without some level of confidence and belief in yourself it's hard to excel at anything in life. Other people can believe in you, but if you don't believe in yourself it won't be enough. Now, obviously, confidence is gained as you learn and improve as a photographer, but if you can set out to be your own best friend early on, it will make the journey to becoming an accomplished photographer go that much quicker. Not every photo I take is great, but I no longer beat myself up or put myself down for taking a poor one; it's all part of the learning process. If you don't believe in yourself, it is easy to give up on anything before you realize your full potential.
What camera do you use on an everyday basis?
I am currently a Canon shooter. I have an EOS 6D and 70D. But as I said earlier, the cameras and lenses out there today from just about every name manufacturer can serve most new photographers really well. Set your budget and stick to it. Consider buying used or refurbished if money is tight. And take care of your gear. I routinely re-sell lenses and other items for 75% of what I paid several years later because I take good care of my stuff.
Is there any piece of equipment/lens that is essential for your work?
As I've kind of been saying, I am less gear-oriented than I used to be. I do a lot of product photography (www.greatproductshots.com) and corporate headshots (www.superstarheadshots.com) to pay the bills, and I could probably do 85% of that work with my Canon 70D and 15-85 IS lens. I can also do landscapes and time-lapses with that combination. On my full-frame camera, my go-to lenses are a 17-40 (landscape) and a 24-105 (portraits). I use a 70-200 for many portrait-oriented subjects, in addition to a 85 F1.8 and 35 F2 prime lenses. I recently picked up the Sigma 150-600 C OS lens. It's a great lens for wildlife, shots of the moon, and even model shoots. I recently shot a swimsuit model down at the Jersey Shore and used that lens for about 1/2 of my shots. They look great, but beware: it is a pretty big and heavy lens!
Is there any non-photographic practice/activity that you rely upon to stimulate your creativity?
I'm just really passionate about what I do. Even the most mundane product photography work can be fun. I love problem solving and I love shooting, and most photography tends to be a combination of both (I also love getting paid for those things at the same time!). I recently created a collection of abstract photos based on an idea I found on YouTube! It was my first real attempt at creating abstract art and one of those photos was featured in a local group photography exhibition, while another won First Place in the Photography category and Second Place Overall in an International Juried Fine Art Competition, so you never know. I can't wait to have you guys make some acrylic prints of those photos for me!