See a portrait by Tim tadder and you won’t forget it in a hurry. The chances are that it will be dramatic, hard hitting and with an edge so sharp you could cut your finger on it: it’s his signature style and it’s proved so successful and has spawned so many followers anxious to exploit the HDR feel that he’s concerned his look is in danger of turning into a trend.
I never really considered it to be a style,” he says. “It was just the way I saw things and I’ve been working in that way for years, long before it became so popular. Now so many other people are working in that way it could be time for me to look at a slightly different approach.”
Tim is a classic example of a photographer who has made his own breaks through hard work and an appetite for photography that sees him shooting as much personal work as he does paid commissions. His background in photography goes back to the days when, as a boy of nine, he assisted his father who was a professional sports photographer working for the Baltimore Orioles and Colts. “I began shooting sports as a hobby,” he says, “mostly photographs of skateboarding while I was in my teens, but then I put the camera down and didn’t find photography again until I was in my mid-twenties.”
Following a five-year stint as a teacher, Tim rediscovered his passion while working for an adventure travel business in the Ecuadorian Andes. He also discovered the work of landscape photographer Galen Rowell, whose immaculate eye for composition and masterful control of the dynamic range within a scene through use of graduated ND filters, inspired him and first gave him the framework for the kind of pictures that he wanted to produce.
“Although he was working with transparency film and not digital, in many ways Galen Rowell was the first HDR photographer,” says Tim. “I loved his work and the way he could control colour and contrast, and it gave me the ambition to take up photography again and to try to land myself the dream job of working for National Geographic.”
Having done his research Tim discovered that Ohio University was offering a masters degree in visual communication that prepared students who had aspirations to go down the National Geographic route and at the age of 29 he signed up and then moved to San Diego to begin freelancing as a photojournalist. “It was a great course, and I really did learn so much from it, everything from design skills through to Photoshop. I was taught about the importance of your images communicating with your viewer and that’s something I’ve never forgotten.”
However, hard reality set in and realising that his ambition was perhaps unrealistic, Tim decided in 2005 that he needed to find a way to make a better living. Accordingly he turned from photojournalism to the commercial world and set about developing a portrait portfolio made up of a series of test shoots.
“The personal work is hugely important to me,” he says, “and I feature a lot of this on my website alongside the commercial projects. Clients often come and take a look and I’ll occasionally get jobs given to me that have been inspired by something someone might have seen that I’ve done for myself. Beyond the commercial benefits, however, I also simply have the need to continue to push myself past my current work so that I can discover the next thing that is going to drive me creatively. The images that people like the most are inevitably the ones I’ve shot for myself.”
Working with people
Another aspect of Tim’s work that soon becomes clear is that he is definitely at his happiest when he is working with people. “I’m fascinated by people of all kinds... I often stop people in the street and ask them if they will sit for me. My personal work has always been people-centric, and the evolution of my images came about from a desire to be different and to create images that people had not seen before.”
Before putting his images through his special brand of post-production Tim will meticulously plan how he’s going to work on each set-up and little is left to chance. “I do a ton of pre-visualisation,” he says. “My work is really pre-planned; it’s just the approach that works best for me. I do love the occasional happy accident, but for the most part I am very detail orientated.”
A couple of examples serve to show this approach in action. The first of them is a portrait of a stunt pilot that features a plane trailing smoke passing overhead. Given the ease by which things can be faked these days it would be natural to imagine that Tim just shot the components and dropped all the elements into place. Not a bit of it, however, and the challenge of the situation was also part of the inspiration.
“That shot was an insane experience,” says Tim. “It was an editorial commission from Reader’s Digest and it was all completed in one shot. I wanted a unique heroic portrait of this stunt pilot and I was looking for a way to combine his activity with the presence of a plane. This was one of the ideas I presented and he just said sure, let’s do it, made some calls, got some pilots to the airfield and then next thing I knew we were at the end of the runway and this plane is speeding right at us!
“The lights you see on either side were happy accidents. I pulled wide at the last minute to make sure I included the whole of the plane, liked the look and then simply Photoshopped the stands out....”
Another shot that jumps out of the portfolio is the chilly portrait of the mountaineer with the snow in his beard and the ice peak behind. Did Tim really have to take himself and his crew to the frozen wastes to set this one up? “That shot was a composite,” he says. “I shot the background years before in my mountaineering days in Ecuador. A client came to us with a shot like that in mind and that was really the only way to do it. However, it still took a great model and amazing special effects make-up for that particular idea to work.”
With a portfolio rammed full of incredible shots and a determination to carry on evolving his approach, there appears to be nothing to stop Tim Tadder from going on to become a photographer who can inspire others in the way that Galen Rowell first got him so excited and motivated all those years ago.
Taken from the March 2012 issue of Photo Professional magazine