Featured Member: Scott Cromwell
Scott Cromwell’s nature photography is nothing if not eye-catching. From the expressions on his dog’s faces to the comedic insect setups to a flower’s delicate beauty. I can’t imagine someone seeing one of Scott’s chameleon images and not wanting to take a closer look and learn how he got the shot. Scott’s technical skills matched with his dedication and compositional eye create an impressive portfolio. -J
Scott Cromwell: Nature Photography
Who are you and where do you live?
Scott Cromwell – Oklahoma City, OK
How (and when) did you get started in photography? In short, tell us the story of your photographic journey.
I have always loved photography, but like many people with the same passion before the digital age, I didn’t do a whole lot with it until acquiring my first digital camera. That was 14 years ago and right after the recent ownership of a 7 week old Labrador named Amber, who had just about everything to do with me getting that first digital camera. It took me exactly 3 minutes and 17 seconds to get completely hooked and I haven’t looked back.
Who (or what) have been your main photographic influences and inspirations?
I don’t think there’s ever been one or two people that have influenced me as much as it’s been just looking at the top photos on several sites daily.
Your Photo.net portfolio is filled with a variety of subjects. But those that gather the most attention are undoubtedly your animal and insect images. You have everything from naturalistic representation to comedic setups. The images in your Panther Chameleons folder being perhaps the ultimate example of both. How did you get started with this type of photography?
I would have to say the old rating system on Photo.net has more to do with the way I shoot than anything else…one rate for aesthetics and one rate for originality. Ever since joining many years ago, I have taken the originality to heart and try to think of ways to shoot that has not been done before. I think today, now that almost everybody has a camera, originality is more important than ever. I had done a lot of setups with praying mantises, but I felt they had run their course and I was having difficulty coming up with fresh ideas, so I started looking around for a different subject. That’s when I discovered panther chameleons. I actually had two solid ideas in mind for chameleon pictures and felt that if I could pull them off I would make more than enough off of them to pay for a chameleon and the setup. That was a few years ago and I still haven’t managed to get either picture. I refuse to give up on either one, so maybe someday.
Explain how you see your body of work and what draws you to do the photography that you do?
I’m very proud of my body of work. Such an incredible amount of time has gone into it that I’m sure I would have quit long ago if I wasn’t at least a little. Although, looking through my Photo.net portfolio, I feel like I do need to clean it up and delete some old stuff that I would never post if I took it today. I suppose my love of animals and the ability to do most of my shooting from home whenever I want draws me to it more than anything. On top of all of the obvious pictures, nearly every bird picture, including the hummingbirds, were shot from my dining room table.
Have you ever worked as a professional photographer? If “no”, why not? Is it something you would like to do? If “yes”, do you wish you could do more of that work? What does it bring or take away from your photography?
Other than a couple of dogs, not professional in the sense of being hired to shoot something, but I do get published in magazines and newspapers(mostly tabloid type) quite often, with an occasional book or ad sale. The majority of the sales are through news agencies and sometimes I am requested by them to do some other shots to go with the photos already chosen for the story, so then it does start to feel a little like work, but a couple of my best pictures were taken under the gun for the story, so I am thankful they asked for more. I haven’t looked into it very far, but I think product photography for ads would be something I would be good at and enjoy, albeit not the kind of enjoyment I get when shooting my chameleons or dogs.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
The feeling I get when I know I just captured a great picture. I’m a fisherman and have likened it to the same as capturing a large fish, but the photo lasts forever. I also very much still enjoy a good ego stroke from my peers after uploading a newly taken good picture. That’s right…I’m not afraid to admit it.:)
What was the most recent photographic technique that you learned or mastered? And what is the next photographic technique that you would like to learn?
Shooting objects in a studio with proper lighting. I have always been interested in underwater photography and would absolutely love to be able to learn it and have a place to do it at my leisure. I recently purchased a GoPro 4 Black, so now I’ll at least be able to shoot video underwater and poor quality 8MP still pictures from each frame recorded at 4K. Now I just have to wait until spring.
What was the most recent piece of truly useful photographic equipment that you purchased? What is the next piece of equipment that you are looking to acquire?
Battery packs for my flashes. I just very recently purchased a couple off brand ones that work fine and are cheap. I’m just going to bite the bullet and plead ignorant on that one. I’m dumbfounded why I didn’t know of them sooner. No telling how many good shots I missed because of not having them. A variety of subjects too…chameleons, mantises, dogs, birds, insects. When pressed to shoot quickly over and over at an exact moment the battery packs definitely reduce the recycle time and let you get more shots. Of course, now I’m just telling everybody that is reading this what they already know. Nothing too spectacular on my list to acquire. Just some studio items, like another backdrop stand, better flash holders, and another softbox.
What is in your camera bag on a typical day?
Normally, if I leave the house to go shoot something, then I am shooting my dogs or wildlife, so just my 100-400mm already attached to my camera. Possibly my 8mm fisheye if I plan on maybe taking fisheye shots of my dogs. Most of my other type of shooting is at home, so I have about anything I will ever need.
What is your typical downloading/storage/sorting/processing procedure? Where do you store/backup your images? What programs do you use for post-processing?
I always copy the images to my computer from my memory card and delete them from the card later. I backup my final post-processed pics to an external hard drive I keep buried in a hole through the slab floor. Plenty safe from fire or tornadoes there. I am currently using Photoshop CS6 for post-processing. Still don’t shoot RAW. Not one picture in my portfolio was shot at anything but jpg.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for anyone just starting on their photographic journey?
Like I said before, be original. Nearly everybody has a camera and nearly everything has been done to death. Post to sites like Photo.net and Flickr to learn and receive encouragement from people other than friends or family. Don’t let low rates or lack of comments on any sites discourage you. Think hard on how you can make it better and redo it if possible. Sometimes you know you have a really good picture, but they just don’t get it.
A favorite image…
I have a grapevine branch with a piece of 2×4 screwed to the bottom of it and a tripod mount screwed into the bottom of that, so I have easy and safe control over the position of it by using the dedicated tripod. I had that tripod with the chameleon on it in the middle of my bedroom. I had the piece of wood the mantis is on sitting on a tower speaker next to it. My gold colored wall is the background with a flash mounted from the ceiling a few feet away pointing down at it. One flash to the side of the camera with a diffuser pointed at the chameleon. A 580EX flash was mounted on the camera doing the communicating to the others, and was pointed straight up to give a little fill light by bouncing off the ceiling.
All flashes were set to 1/4 power. Can’t ever go more than that when shooting chameleon tongues or you get a blur. There is still a very slight blur coming from the mantis when viewing the full size picture. Now I normally shoot around 1/8 power and up the iso. This was 1/200, iso100, f5.6, using a Canon 7D and the 28-135mm lens.
This was my first tongue shot ever, which just happens to still be my favorite after many others. Took me a couple hours to get the shot. The chameleon was iffy on going for it and he and the mantis just stood there for quite some time. Feeding my lizard a couple of mantises just prior to this shot because I was too slow on the trigger, probably had something to do with him just standing there for awhile. I had a long remote shutter release cable attached and ended up working on my computer for awhile as I waited, with one eye on the setup and the other on my monitor. Now, whenever I try to get a tongue shot, it’s in my studio, and if he doesn’t go for it very soon or acts uninterested or I miss the shot and he’s no longer hungry, I put him back in his cage within 5-10 minutes and try again later.
Images ©2016 Scott Cromwell.