Photographer Spotlight : Patrick Ross
Tell me about you!
I grew up in Maryland. However, as an adult, I’ve lived in multiple states and at times concurrently. These include Philadelphia, California, Florida and MD. A fun fact about me is I was once identified in Berkeley, California by my “ollie.” which, for anyone unfamiliar with skateboarding, is slang term for a jump trick. I discovered this when I ran into a friend of a friend I hadn’t seen in 5-6 years. After performing a few tricks, she called out my name. She then explained she “didn’t remember what I looked like, but remembered that ollie.”
Having skateboarded from my middle school years into my early thirties, I have millions of stories I could tell about it, including when I was hit by a car. Fortunately, no substantial injuries there. But I did have quite a few court appearances for other skateboard related “infractions.” It was a great learning environment, and certainly had a massive impact in shaping who I am today.
How did you discover your love for photography?
I discovered my love for photography through elective classes in high school. I attended a public school in MD, where at the time I believe the art electives were general arts, photography and music. I mainly chose photography to record skateboarding and life. It was instant love. It became my favorite activity and is luckily one you can do for most of your life.
The best decision I ever made was to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography. It was a pressure cooker of the best talent from across the country with the best facilities and staff. For the first year, we used view cameras exclusively. Following that, you could then work in Medium format film for a more spontaneous slr setup. I always have, and believe I always will, use view cameras. That is, if you grant the leniency to call a technical camera a view camera. I had a few years where I integrated 35mm dslrs into the mix (upon client request) with 4×5” film., However from this experience, I realized I cannot produce my finest work on the 35mm dslr platform. I have also seen many great photographer’s work taper off as a result of said switch.
Who are some of your favorite photographers (past or present)?
First and foremost, without Ansel Adams, I don’t believe this interview would be happening. He was certainly the biggest single influence on me and at a very formative age. After reading The Camera, The Negative and The Print, his three-part technical book series, I decided to make photography my life. I was so fortunate to still be in my late teens when this happened.
Number two on the list would be Jack Dykinga. His large format color nature photography is some of the most stunning work that will ever be produced. He was very inspirational to me during my years at Brooks Institute. Much of his work of the American Desert Southwest will never be rivaled. The tools he used during this time was the classic 4×5” camera on fabulous film with an unrivaled talent behind the lens. These simple combinations of doing everything right and the images being about the light on the subject is a lost art. I see lots of images these days attempting to recreate imagers in the style of his with gross negligence. It seems that light is rarely understood or even considered these days.
David Muench should be mentioned as an unbelievably persistent and resilient photographer. His archive is heroic in volume and so many of the images are great. Michael Kenna should be acknowledged for creating his genre of photography as well as having a spectacular eye. I was lucky to hear him speak in college and was blown away at his very non-technical approach to the craft. He makes it work, though!
If I am looking to modern architectural photographers for inspiration, I think that Alan Karchmer is just about the pinnacle. Albert Vecerka is another of my favorites. Casey Dunn has really carved out quite the niche as “the” premiere desert dwelling photographer. We attended Brooks Institute together and he was a huge talent back then also.
*I think it is important to note that I have excluded all my closest personal friends from this list. The talent pool from Brooks was vast and I certainly would have made the error of unintentionally excluding someone.
You invested in a Phase One system early in your career. What about Phase One has kept you continually investing in their systems?
I went with Phase One for one reason. Quality.
As I mentioned before, I cannot produce my finest work using 35mm cameras. I don’t approach the subject matter in the same way I would with a technical camera, digital view camera lens and digital back. Why do I keep investing? They keep improving and making new features that simply lead to better images.
Can you describe a photographically challenging situation that you were confronted with that you were able to resolve on the fly?
There are technically challenges every shot if you are trying for perfection. I’ve been in some tricky spots however. Often on architectural photography assignments, the architect wants to photograph the first possible day that the project can be photographed. Many times, they don’t have a full assessment of the status of the project. I have been on site where we had twenty volunteer students in a lab, dressed up in lab coats and a fully setup / mocked up lab when the room lighting blew. We photographed the scene anyhow, we had to. The light source was a nuclear bright exterior coming in from the window with all the students opposing the light in shadow. Luckily, I had the wide dynamic range and gamut of the phase one back for that shot! That situation went a long way in securing trust in me from that architect.
What got you into/ helped you decide you wanted to be an architectural & landscape photographer?
I got into landscape photography because I have always loved nature. My family would travel through the desert southwest of the US often when me and my brothers were growing up. It’s a magical and mystical experience to be out shooting when everything goes right.
I started photographing architecture while at Brooks Institute. It was an elective class and I fell in love instantly. It really spoke to the technical and problem-solving side of my photography/personality. We were shooting everything on transparencies at that time and we were graded on 1/10s of a stop on exposure. For dusk shots, we would turn off every light on a property and light the facades and interiors with Tungsten. We would gel the lights for proper color temperature. It took a team of 4, 3 to 4 hours for one of these exteriors. I believe the most lights we ever used was 50, and we are talking Lowel totas and omnis mostly, powerful tungsten lights.
You experienced the transition from film to digital, and surely many other changes to the industry as your career evolved. Can you elaborate on your evolution as a photographer?
My evolution as a photographer has been shaped by personal choices in the direction I have wanted my career to go, balancing that with making a living, and riding the ever changing wave of the marketplace. I don’t think the market has ever been changing so quickly as today and it will be changing even faster tomorrow.
In regard to making a living, the market is flooded with photographers, many of which shoot as a secondary career or career change. “Well can’t the marketplace dictate the difference in quality?” My answer is, I hope. I see a lot of people working these days that wouldn’t have been a decade ago. I think it shows that the actual viewer and hirer of photography have less of a discerning eye these days. I’m not sure they are to blame given how inundated we are with imagery in our modern lives.
What is your favorite underrated photographic tool? Why?
My favorite underrated photographic tools are canned air, light blockers (compendiums, black flags) and bag organizers. You’ve got to keep your sensors and lenses clean, light off your lenses, and the organizers can help you find what you need when time is tight and will also keep the aggravation levels down!
If you were behind your camera and could choose anything you wanted to be in your viewfinder, where would you be and what would you be looking at?
I would be happy to be photographing anything that brings me back to the reason that I first started photographing. When it all goes well it is the best high you can get. With the variety of subjects I enjoy, I don’t think it’s that specific to a certain beach or building. Anything that makes me feel alive and excited.
Why did you select Capture Integration as your equipment partner?
What initially lead me to Capture Integration as my digital provider was a Cambo sale. This was back when P45+ was the newest back. The sale may have been a free DS body with the purchase of a back and lens? It was just enough of a break to allow me to make the leap into MF digital.
I think the more important question is why I have stayed with them. Because they have the best customer service of any organization I have ever worked with. It is important to note that I am not sponsored or incentivized to say this! My first tethered shoot I ever did I called them, and they walked me through the issue I was having. It was straightened up in two minutes and the clients could properly view the photos. I dropped one of my camera bodies and called them about repairing it. CI said send it here, one of the team members literally took it in his personal bag as he was going to the Cambo Headquarters that week. Dave has personally driven equipment to the airport to overnight it to me. It’s been situation after situation over the course of our multi-decade relationship where I almost feel guilty about the lengths they go to for my absurdity!
I couldn’t recommend a company more.