Daniel Binkard was recently the featured speaker at the Graves Lecture Series. The title of his presentation was “Multi-exposure Photography.” As a companion to his lecture, he is exhibiting eight photographs in the library’s faculty multi-use room. This exhibit will be available until May 8, and is open during normal library hours. Shortly after his presentation, I asked him to share some of his thoughts and knowledge on photography.
Tell me about the photos that are displayed in this room.
The photographs that I have displayed in Room 111 at the King Library are companion pieces to my Graves Lecture Series presentation on multiple-exposure photography. They include stitched panoramas, focus stacks, and high dynamic range images. All of these processes are designed to allow the photographer to see, or capture, more than what could be captured in a single photo. They all consist of multiple photos that are combined to create a single image.
Among your works, which one is your favorite and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. However, as I was thinking about this question, I looked at a print that I have on the wall, an aerial photo I shot while flying with Mike Bogner. The evening light plays across the craggy formations of the badlands near Toadstool Geologic Park and gives the scene a stark, graphic quality. I enjoy looking at that, and being reminded of good times with friends.
Exactly what is it that you want to say with your photographs, and how do you get your photographs to do that?
I don’t know that I have a concrete message with most of my photos, certainly not the kind of concrete story that can be found in things like Eddie Adams’s wartime execution photo. Having said that, it’s important to have a reason to take a photo. Michael Reichmann would ask that the photographer be able to answer the question, “What’s the shot about?” For me, the shot is about the interesting shape of the tree branches against the sky, or the texture of the stone in the old building, or the arrangement of the foreground element leading to the background element. Jay Maisel’s trio of light, gesture, and color are important to me, particularly the idea of gesture. Gesture can be the simple twist of a plant stem, or the stepping stone pattern of objects, or the relationship between a rock on the ground and the clouds in the sky. I think it’s an interesting way to consider the scene that I might photograph. Put another way, much of my work consists of, “Hey, this is interesting! I’ll make a record of it and hopefully share it with other people.”
Are there any photographers that particularly influenced you and if so, how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
Jonny Binkard – My mother – she has created imaginative artwork all her life, provided me a camera to use while I was in my early stages of learning photography, and continues to collaborate with me on projects.
Andreas Feininger – His technical manuals were an important part of my training. I continue to return to his monumental scenes — crowds, cityscapes, tiny seashells, and so forth.
Dewayne Gimeson – Bouncing ideas back and forth, whether weird or mundane.
Thom Hogan – Insight on the photography industry, notes on composition and technique.
Michael Johnston – For years, he has published articles on a wide range of photographic subjects.
Jay Maisel – Light, gesture, color.
Michael Reichmann – A variety of articles on photographic art and technique.
Björn Rörslett – Abstract ideas grounded in practicality.
There are many artists who will inspire you throughout your life. Keep your eyes peeled for more of them.
When photographing, what technology/software/camera gear do you use?
For my personal work, I am usually shooting with an interchangeable lens camera and several lenses ranging from wide angle to moderate telephoto. A sturdy tripod when the situation warrants. For photo organization and editing, I use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, which is common software for many photographers.
When you go on your photo travels, what do you take with you?
The instinct is often to take everything, just in case you need it. I’ve done that many times; but, I continue to tell myself to simplify. It’s nice to head out to Chadron State Park or Fort Robinson State Park with just one focal length, and work on making compositions to fit that. For longer trips to more distant places, I think it’s still better to simplify. Perhaps three lenses: a wide angle for expanded perspective, a telephoto for compressed perspective, and a third to keep things interesting.
Which is your favorite lens, why?
It’s hard to name a single favorite lens, because there are many with their own useful characteristics. Some that I have enjoyed using include:
Nikkor 50mm f/2 – This was a standard kit lens in the ’60s, and it’s capable of producing delicate softness wide open, and razor sharpness stopped down. I did a lot of training with a similar lens that my mother owned when I was learning photography, and this still has a place in my bag.
Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 – Outstanding medium telephoto lens. It works well wide open and stopped down which is great for portraits, and also near and far landscape scenes.
Tokina 12-24mm f/4 – This wide angle zoom lens ranks highly, based on my volume of “keepers” taken with it. A wide angle lens can be difficult to use effectively, but the depth arrangement possibilities for compositions are fascinating.
How do you get the person/object that you are taking just the way you want?
Work the subject. One photo might not be enough. I’ve often told students to look at various angles of a subject. Play with the lighting. Play with the time. Keep coming back to the subject.
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
Read about photography, and look at photos. It’s good to go back to your previous work and see what you were shooting five or ten years ago, and think about what worked and what didn’t work. There is a wealth of easily accessible information about photography; the challenge is finding the useful information. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of camera specifications and lens measurement charts, but it’s better to fall down the rabbit hole of composition discussions and other aesthetic ideals. I’m currently watching a series of interviews with David Muench, who has spent the latter half of the twentieth century creating powerful landscape compositions. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that simply getting out there and shooting is a must.
What is the one (or more) thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
I wish I had started earlier, because things change, and there are many scenes and places that I can no longer photograph because they no longer exist.