Tom Bol lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. He often speaks to groups as part of promoting his business, and thus I first met Tom when he talked about field flash to the Loveland Photographic Society several years ago. Tom uses flash creatively, and it’s an integral part of his craft. The results are stunning.
Tom is a multitalented guy. With a journalism background he is into the obvious, which is shooting people in action. But that’s not all Tom shoots. He is well rounded in his portfolio, which includes editorial, places, sports, people, adventure, and more.
Part of his profession is teaching, and part of that teaching is in exotic places like Prague, Guatemala, Alaska, Grand Teton NP, Acadia NP in Maine, Tigers in India, Yellowstone NP, Easter Island, Ireland, and my favorite stomping ground Utah. I guess this makes Tom a professional traveler. He also does private guiding.
It is utterly amazing all the places Tom is published. You’ve probably seen his work and didn’t even know it. In his incredibly busy schedule he even finds time to blog, and was also kind enough to do this interview. For more on Tom, you can check him out at Tom Bol Photography. All images ©TOM BOL 2010/2011
1. Sports and action shots seem to be the foundation for your career. What other favorite subjects do you shoot?
After journalism school I guided adventure sports, which was a natural direction for my photography out of school. As my career has evolved I have shot a lot of different subjects, everything from still life food to portraits. Right now I am shooting a lot of environmental portraits and travel images on assignments and workshops. I really enjoy working with people. I like the interaction between photographer and subject, and the challenge of getting a really strong portrait. I have moments that I fall back to my roots as an outdoor guide, and just load up my pack and head into the mountains or desert looking for a beautiful landscape to photograph.
2. Your work demands you go where the action is. How do you manage all of your gear?
Getting gear into remote locations can be challenging, as well as just getting lighting gear through the airports. Some assignments allow me to hire a second person to carry equipment, especially trips into the backcountry. I always try to streamline the gear I need with no excess. I was just shooting at Copper Mountain the other day with a studio pack, flash head, camera, lens and light stand all packed in one Lowepro Vertex 300…this is a great portable lighting kit I can carry on my back skiing or hiking. I also have lots of adventures trying to get my lighting gear through airports. I always include battery specifics and information so TSA can see what is going on…they always open my cases. The real challenge is foreign destinations. I’ve had to beg and plead to get my studio packs into and out of countries…in Mongolia I almost didn’t get my gear on the plane.
3. Digital allows great latitude in postproduction. How much latitude can you take with the shots you get?
This really depends on the end use. The magazines I shoot for often want clean images, shots with just basic adjustments. On the other hand some the photo magazines I shoot for encourage interesting post production processing, sometimes this is what the story is about. Occasionally we have had clients ask to see the RAW file to make sure we aren’t adding new elements to a shot. I normally don’t add things to an image or strip in skies that weren’t there, but I think some of the work other photographers are doing here is really amazing.
4. With your background in journalism, do you find it enjoyable to write about your experiences and images?
Writing came about as a request from clients. Many magazines I originally shot for didn’t have budgets to send writers and photographers to distant locations, so I started writing stories to go along with the images. I enjoy writing stories, and it is really nice to work on instructional pieces for the photo magazines and share some experiences this way. When I was in journalism school I did a lot of writing, but I was sure all I would do out of school is photography. I guess I have come full circle because I write daily for articles, assignments and online media.
5. How much of your career is devoted to workshops?
20 years ago I didn’t teach any workshops, my business was all assignment and stock. Now my shooting is split between workshops, assignments and to a lesser degree stock. Maybe 40 percent of our business is workshops. I enjoy teaching, it is just like teaching adventure sports, except instead of talking about ropes and knots, you are talking about f-stops and shutter speeds. I really enjoy watching people progress with their shooting, and giving them new ideas on how to improve technique and artistic vision. Digital photography has produced a large population of people eager to learn photography skills.
6. Your online presence is excellent. How much time do you spend promoting your business on the Internet, and is it time well spent?
Online presence is very important for a photographer today. Media is evolving, and more people today find things on the Internet, whether they are reading an online version of a magazine, or looking for a photographer. As newer/younger art directors and photo editors come into the work force, they use the Internet to find new talent. We follow a multi-targeted approach to our online presence, everything from email campaigns, multiple blogs, online videos, portfolio portals and photography reps aimed at multiple audiences from workshop participants to photo editors. It is very important to our business.
7. What do you enjoy most about photography, the creativity, the assignments, or the people?
Bottom line, after it is all said and done, I love getting one image that really captures what I hoped it would. It is just as exciting today as it was 25 years ago producing an image that really hits the mark. Maybe it is great light on a dramatic landscape, or a subtle expression in a portrait, it is very rewarding to ‘get the shot.’ But as with all artistic endeavors, you are never really satisfied with your work. I just have to keep trying to that capture that ‘one shot.’