Interview with Ted Grambeau @tedgrambeau
Firstly, can you start with a little bit about yourself and your photography career.
I grew up in Victoria in the Gippsland region in Wonthaggi and Foster.
My interest in photography evolved through shooting surf photography and expanded from there.
I studied photography at RMIT, in Melbourne, working briefly as an assistant at Brian Brandt studios in South Yarra. That was a leading Advertising, Commercial and Fashion photographic studio in the day in Melbourne. Brian was a living legend in the industry during this time.
I travelled and worked in New York as an assistant to Burt Glinn, chairman of Magnum at the time. Burt was shooting corporate work. Magnum is considered the most prestigious photo agency with a collection of the world’s greatest photojournalist/artists. It still is today.
I returned to a nomadic lifestyle for some 30 years shooting surf for Surfer magazine and Surfing Life in Australia. I have developed a range of clients in the surf industry Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong. In addition to Red Bull, Apple, Speedo and Patagonia. I also shot swimwear issues for several years.
I specialised in big projects such as Rip Curl’s Search, Quiksilver's Crossing, and Billabong Odyssey.
I also rode a motorbike from LA to Patagonia for BMW and Rip Curl on the Search, eight months and 35,000 km.
I’ve published several books, including ‘Ted Grambeau - Masters of Surf Photography’ by The Surfers Journal, ‘The Surfer and the Mermaid’ with Tim Baker, and ‘Adventures in Light’ with Rip Curl and Tim Baker.
In addition, I have pursued personal fine-art projects, in particular, ‘Sealevel’ a fine-art abstract documentation of the ocean.
This series was unique, and I have developed that for about 8 or 9 years now with numerous exhibitions.
Now I share some of this knowledge through photography workshops.
What equipment do you use to create your images and why did you select it?
I have had the good fortune of working with and owning a diverse range of camera equipment.
From 8x10, 4x5 film cameras, medium format, Hasselblad, Leica, Fuji, Mamaiya, Linhoff, 35mm systems Nikon, Canon and Olympus.
I currently use Nikon cameras and lenses and occasionally other medium format equipment.
I want to be clear that no camera or brand makes will make you a better photographer; it may make the photos you take better! By this, I mean the camera does not make you get out of bed earlier to search for the perfect light or create unusual compositions. It will not create great anticipation or connection with your subject.
Your camera is a tool; you must feel comfortable and confident in what you can achieve. This knowledge will provide you with the opportunity to create images with a minimal effort, in a reliable manner and importantly support that reliability with back up service. It would be a system that extends those opportunities through lens and accessory choices. All this at a suitable resolution that you require for your end-users within your budget.
Currently, the range of high-quality options available for all the above criteria is endless.
If your destination is exhibitions, your requirements may be different from someone whose use is mainly shooting for the web. Determining your requirements for the end usage is essential.
Shooting mega resolution pixels for the web is overkill and expensive.
If you are a high-end advertising photographer shooting with a $60,000 equipment may be justified.
It's a very personal decision, and there is no one best camera, of course, the budget will usually be the determining factor.
I love fast prime lenses, and I like to be able to choose the best camera for the assignment at hand. The medium format experience is higher quality sometimes at the expense of the slightly deliberate (slower) process.
If you have got a 150-megapixel camera and end-use is Instagram you may have spent too much and slowed your workflow down dramatically.
Can you tell me about your book ‘Adventures in Light’?
My book "Adventures in Light" ( my companies’ name ), literally describes my life.
I wanted to create a book that represented all aspects of my photo journey. Quite often, when you do a book, you need a definitive theme. Which, immediately rules out a lot of your favourite images.
My theme is more about my photo journey, much of which was a collaboration with Rip Curl. As the philosophy of The Search closely mirrored my own philosophy, maybe I was looking for light as much as waves.
But my theme was broad enough to sustain images that stand alone. An underwater portrait could sit alongside a wave shot, so turning each page is like a surprise. It is intersected by several little feature trips on extreme travel and surf adventure.
In essence, it is a photo-based book with words by Tim Baker and designed by Alastair Mitchell of "The Potting Shed" in the UK, it is in effect about my photographic journey.
I self-published, a daunting task as creating the images is only about 25% of the work required when creating a book. There is a large financial commitment. Selling the book is the biggest ongoing challenge.
I continue to sell exclusively through my website as well as some Rip Curl stores.
I have been fortunate with the number of industry connections that have assisted me. My partner Selina has been that key to making the book successful. Her knowledge of social media and design have been invaluable.
Which photographers have inspired your journey and why?
Photographers that consistently produce high-quality work, I draw my inspirations form a diverse range of genres.
The great photojournalist's who turn truth into art, my boss Burt Glinn was indeed one of these. Henri Cartier Bresson, I believe, was the greatest photographer ever. Sebastian Selgardo. Frank Hurley, an Australia photographer who was unbelievable, James Nachtwey.
Fashion legends Richard Avedon, Peter Lindenberg, Albert Watson, Mario Testino, Gilles Bensimon.
Landscape inspirations Ansel Adams, and Murray Fredricks.
Sports, Walter Boos, and Art Brewer.
This is the tip of the iceberg, but these are the calibre of people I will spend $150 on their book. They produce consistently high quality work. But most importantly, they have developed their look by contributing to the creative process.
How has social media changed the photography world today?
Today Instagram is a constant and immediate source of amazing imagery, much of which the photographers have not gone on their own creative journey but that have seen a look online and gone out and copied that technique.
It becomes quite evident when you look at someone's body of work, whether they have evolved with their own style with a constant evolution of development.
To be considered valid as a good photographer, we must contribute to the creative process.
All the inspiration we feed off should be a starting point, not an endpoint. If it's the endpoint, then you haven't gone anywhere, other than showing you have mastered a technique.
This is a long journey; it is a lifetime journey.
It is a significant point that our inspirations should only be a starting point.
How has surf photography evolved over the years, what do you see in the future for the industry?
Surf photography has had several major disruptions in the last decade.
One was digital; images became unlimited in quantity. Good and bad.
But the instant verification cut out the learning curve. People could get a result without knowing technically about what they are doing.
Previously shooting film, whether that be for surf, wedding, fashion or commercial was daunting. Someone invested thousands of dollars for you to go on assignment. Sometimes I would be away for two weeks on a commercial assignment and bring back 200 rolls of film. You didn't know if you had a single image until they were processed. When shooting slides the margin for error was about ⅓ of a stop for reproduction in a magazine. You had to know what you were doing. Exposure was not a guessing game.
Your workflow had to be impeccable. There was a lot of pressure to get it right; you had to choose what ISO you were going to shoot before you left the country: 50 ISO, 100 ISO or 400 ISO.
You had to meter highlights, shadows, mid-tones, know the nuances of the film, know the lab where you were getting them processed, what colour bias they might have. It was very specialised.
Now you look in the back of the camera you can get a result or change exposure.
Professional photographers solve other people’s photographic problems, so it's essential to know what you are doing. No amount of "likes" makes you solve those problems.
It's raised the bar for sure, and there are a lot more great images as a result, but as I said maybe some people have taken a short cut and do not understand how they achieved that result, so it's less likely they can re-create that result again.
What have been some of your favourite photography trips?
Generally, the most challenging trips stand out for me like the Bike trip through Mexico, Central and South America, looking for the northernmost surfer in the world. Boat trips with Martin Daley and Sonny Miller on the Search, Mozambique, Madagascar, Russia with Tom Curren, Iceland, Norway, Tahiti for perfect surf (hopefully my next trip will be my best!).
In your opinion what makes an image exceptional?
The ability of an image to affect us emotionally, it has to be able to connect with us.
For whatever reason, it has to communicate with us, it might be the subject, the composition, the technique, the tone, the colour, the texture.
It has to be such that it is no longer just an arrangement of pixels but something that impacts us profoundly.
This is essential for all great pieces of art.
It might be historic, horrific, beautiful, but it must have the power to move us.
Images that stand out for example:
The napalm girl from Vietnam or the man in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square.
The tonal master of Ansel Adams and so it goes on.
Cartier Breton was a genius at defining moments, of real life.
It's an excellent exercise when we see an exceptional image to ask ourselves that very question. What makes this image great...
What is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer today?
The most challenging aspect of photography today is standing out in a saturated sea of images.
With clients erring toward-influencers it becomes a popularity poll and less about crafted image-making.
Magazines have died a natural death; other opportunities have flourished; everyone can be an expert. Saturation dominates subtlety.
There are more great photographers than ever before, but it gets somewhat smothered in the sheer volume of visual stimulus.
Do you have any projects planned?
Do you have an advice for aspiring photographers, especially in such a saturated market?
For aspiring photographers, it is the most exciting, challenging time.
There is more competition than ever before.
My advice: learn your craft thoroughly, follow your passion relentlessly and enjoy the journey.
Finally, you offer incredible Ocean, Lifestyle and Surf Photography workshops, what can people expect from this experience?
Next year’s Surf, Ocean and Lifestyle Experience in Bali will be pretty exciting. Darren Jew, one of the most gifted ocean photographers on the planet will be joining us as well as Jasmine Carey, who is full of talent and technical knowledge.
This course aims to have practical and relevant exercises. Whilst it has aspects of surf action, it is more about learning and understanding skill sets that can be applied to all aspects of your photography.
Understanding light, colour, working with water housings in the ocean and pools, applying solutions to portraits, swimwear, fashion as well as action and street photography.
Helping you solve photographic problems as you evolve as a photographer.
Creating more professional workflow solutions all while having fun in one of the most amazing working environments. It is about giving you the confidence to take your work to the next level.