Stephen Newport is an Ohio native with a basecamp in Columbus. He splits his time between post-production/photo-illustration for local and national clients and travels as far away and for as long as possible to progress his photography and discover new roads with his partner.
“I realized that I was learning more getting paid, than I was paying to learn.”
What made you get into photography? I tend to jump between interests very easily. When I was focusing on graphic design in high-school I started becoming more interested in music. When I was studying painting and drawing in Chicago, I signed up for woodworking and sculpture classes to hold my interest. When I was studying digital illustration in Columbus, I began taking my bike out through the town to photograph… avoiding my assignments. I suppose photography is the one thing that I’ve been able to maintain relative focus.
Did you go to school to become a photographer or morph into that field from something else? Drawing had been my primary interest for most of my childhood, but at the age of ten I was introduced to digital illustration when a family friend installed a British vector program on our home computer, and I was hooked! I progressively became interested in graphic design, and then digital painting, then concept illustration. I enrolled at SAIC to explore traditional painting, drawing & sculpting, then transferred to CCAD in Columbus, Ohio to pursue digital illustration. In high-school, I began exploring digital photography with a point and shoot. In college, I bought my first DSLR and started experimenting outside of class. I eventually started getting photography work and used my illustration background to jumpstart a new focus. I still have an interest in those other pursuits, but photography seems to have taken over!
What made you choose to focus on landscape photography? As with most of my direction in life, it wasn’t a particular decision as much as simply realizing one day that this is a thing that I’ve really been enjoying. Through various factors I’ve gone through stages of pushing and pulling in different directions, mostly “this is what I should do,” or “this is what I feel I’m expected to do,” and I’m thankful each time I’ve snapped out of it and done the things that interest me most… I’m lucky to have had supportive voices around me.
When did you know that you could make a living in this industry?Around the same time, I decided to end my formal education in 2007. I was starting to get consistently paid to shoot or assist and I realized that I was learning more getting paid than I was paying to learn; I still sometimes think, “How am I actually making a living doing this?”
Looking at a majority of images on your website it seems that you favor cloudy conditions for shooting. What are the ideal conditions for your style of shooting? Well, you nailed it. I’ve noticed a preference to have a “roof” on my images, something that makes me feel like I can explore any direction but “out.” Clouds are a helpful tool in promoting this sense of introspection. I do try and challenge these notions, nevertheless.
What happens when you are planning to shoot and the day is sunny and clear? Sunny days scare me (photographically), and I’ve only recently begun finding techniques and subject matter from which to approach them. I’ve had the ambitions of solving this problem for a number of years, and I don’t think I’m there yet. My Southwest gallery benefits from the expectations of clear skies, and therefore they are a little easier to succeed at. The challenge for me has been to solve the ‘Midwest Summer’ where things seem all blue and green (postcard colors). I believe I have benefited from being exposed to the work of Wolf Kahn a number of years ago. His style may not suit everyone, but his work (along with the teaching style of one of my college painting professors, Ernie Viveiros) subconsciously built a different relationship with colors and I began seeing the palette that hides behind every hue. This exposure influences a lot of my post-production color-grading, sometimes softening the obvious and enhancing the subtle. That’s where I’m at currently, we’ll see where that takes me.
You have a gallery of cloud shots that all appear to have come from being above the clouds. Did you go up in a private plane to get these shots or were they just taken from the window seat of a commercial flight? I had a client for a number of years that sent me across the country 26 out of the 52 weekends of the year, so I was frequently on a plane in the wee-hours of the morning. I don’t like sleeping on planes which is very beneficial to evolving this particular portfolio. It is extremely challenging shooting quality work out of two layers of greasy, muffed-up, shatter resistant plexiglass, so the urge to shoot out of an open fuselage is very real, but I haven’t had that opportunity yet. The other challenge of commercial airline photography is that you spend most of your time at 39,000 ft or above, which usually puts you above the interesting cloud layers and leaves you with a boring fractal “ground,” flat horizon and clear blue skies. As such, many of my images could only be shot well after the captain advised us to turn off all electronics as we rose or plummeted between all the wonderful levels of cloudscapes. Thankfully that arbitrary rule is quickly being written out of regulation
Most of the images on your site are in a panoramic layout. What format camera do you use for shooting? I shoot with a Nikon D800e using a pano head. I typically am shooting 3-5 horizontal frames to stitch together…. even when I’m flying!
How much work is done in post-production to get the images to where you want them as a finished product? I maintain that post-production is as important as any other aspect of photography. As such I am usually not happy with how the lab-engineers have profiled my colors! My approach could be described as impressionistic, with the attempt to recreate what it felt like to be me, there, at that specific time. Art is an empathetic discipline, and if the viewer can feel what you felt during those moments you’re probably doing a decent job. ‘Proper’ white balance and lab-conditioned contrast rarely seem to do that for me. I think it would help most photographers not to take pride in that title and instead think of themselves as artists first, photographers last.
In terms of landscape shots are you just shooting things as you see them or do you first find a location you like and then come back when shooting conditions are optimal for your style? Part of the fun for me is working with what I’ve got. I like to road-trip, explore and see what I can find. Photography gives me an excuse to do this. I wouldn’t have as much fun going on a weekend trip to sit in the same spot and wait for the perfect shot (though props to those that do, we all benefit from it). I have a lot of fun taking all of the back-roads and weird hikes and seeing what I can find and capturing it in a way I couldn’t plan for. I learn a lot that way. Golden light is great, but so is producing a good shot at high-noon when you thought that was impossible.
What locations are on your photographic bucket list? I’m very attracted to the Northern latitudes, I like harsh environments. I would love to take a couple months and explore the hell out of Northern Russia, but that’s a trip I’m not even sure how to start thinking about. Rural China and Mongolia fall into similar categories. It seems like there would be so much more there than is typically documented… it excites me to think about. In the more immediate future I’m planning a trip to Iceland 2016, and New Zealand the year after with lots of smaller trips in-between. It’s always very exciting to think about.
If you could only shoot one region for the rest of your career where would it be and why? The most beautiful place I have ever been is Norway. It is really hard to imagine a more beautiful country… but I still have a lot to see.
Do you always carry your camera when you are traveling? The only times I will go without a camera is when I am traveling with a group for a unique reason (not very often.) I will then resolve/challenge myself to enjoy the experience without being too worried about “that shot.” It’s hard, but it can be enjoyable…. I mean, I guess some people do that all of the time!
How often do you see a perfect shot that you can’t capture because you left the camera behind? Not very often. I do, however, often pass up a shot that I feel won’t be good only to regret not trying later. My partner, whom almost always travels with me these days, has helped to keep me from doing this by giving me a reason to stop and enjoy a moment even if the shot may not turn out great. It’s been an interesting evolution of my traveling style.
Has there ever been a scene that would have made an unbelievable image when you didn’t have your camera handy? I was traveling through Ecuador when we found ourselves in the evening on a high-mountain pass on a very narrow dirt road in the middle of a cloud forest. The light was dripping through the air over-top the lower mountains and all I had was an instant camera (this was before I owned a camera). I wound and snapped the shot. When I had those developed I never found it flipping through the prints. It has always haunted me like a dream that didn’t happen.
What element of the photographic industry do you find most challenging? Agencies creating vanilla imagery to maintain pretty balance sheets.
What are the pieces of camera gear you can’t live without? Probably a simple polarizer. Being able to subtly change the quality of light reaching your sensor is more powerful than I think is usually given credit. The science behind them still impresses me.
Also, my iPhone. I frequently like what I shoot on my phone more than my fancy camera. I credit this to the ability to intuitively take the shot. Being pinned to a tripod and twisting knobs and levers to frame your shot can sometimes blind you from the reason you stopped in the first place.
Why did you choose Photo Folio for your website? After a trial phase with a hand-picked selection of companies, Photo Folio was extremely responsive to my needs. Having my wide-format shots displayed large and quickly was essential as well, and I am very happy with how my site performs, how good it looks, and how easy it is to keep current. I’ve had a personal website for about ten years, and this is the first time I’ve ever felt that it’s been more than an embarrassing relic of my past work. Previously I had dreaded anyone visiting my site because of how outdated it was. Now I am very proud and confident with the direction it is going and happy with my choices.