Pro Photographer Interview. Thomas Hawk

September 28

10 min. to read

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We recently had a chance to talk with one of our favorite photographers on Google +, Thomas Hawk.

Hey Thomas, so you spent last weekend at Coachella. If you haven’t gone there, what would your weekend look like?

Every weekend has the potential to be different.  Some weekends I’ll shoot specific events, trips, local interest etc.  I few weekends back I did some aerial photography over San Francisco.  This weekend my pal Gordon Laing is in town so we’re doing a photowalk in San Francisco.  Other weekends I just hunker down and get serious photo processing done.  I try to average at least 350 new photos a week, so there’s always that too.  In between it all I spend time with my family and my four kids.  Usually a dinner with my wife out will be in there somewhere and something with Scouts for the boys or ballet or piano for the girls or just whatever comes up. 

But it happened that you went to the music fest. How was it in terms of finding perfect subjects to shoot?

Coachella is so amazingly photogenic.  The sheer numbers of people and bands there, make it a cornucopia of photographic possibility.  In terms of which bands I wanted to shoot (you can’t shoot them all), I did do some research the weekend before.  I watched some of the bands perform on YouTube.  Shooting bands can be interesting.  I may really like the music of a certain band, but they may be boring to shoot.  Other bands just put on amazing performances.  There were a few that I knew for sure that I wanted to shoot ahead of time, like Lana Del Rey. 

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From shooting Coachella in 2013, I knew that much of the most energetic possibility would come from the Sahara tent with the EDM kids.  As a photographer I love capturing emotion, and that’s where the biggest emotion lives at Coachella.  

A lot of what I also wanted to capture was the fashion of Coachella.  I think fashion ages particularly well for photographic subjects.  I spent a lot of time just running around shooting the people and fashion of Coachella as well.

What else was awesome about Coachella this year?

It was fun being there to shoot with friends.  I always love shooting with my pal Robert Scoble. Robert got two big lenses (a 200mm f/2 and a 400mm f/2.8) that we shot from BorrowLenses.com.  Having the big glass is fun. My friend Sam Levin and JBL really made the whole experience delightful. Sam has a ton of energy and it was great being in the pit with him this year. He also brought some fun toys to play with.  I’d never shot my iPhone with an Olloclip before.  For those instant shots, that setup worked great.  

While Coachella can get pretty hot during the day, the nights are just fantastic.  Warm enough for shorts, that warm desert evening is so nice to shoot in.  The sun is particularly nice there at sunset as well.  That was my favorite time to shoot street portraits, when I got such nice light off of people’s faces.

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From your Facebook/Google+ images it’s pretty difficult to define a certain style of photography you prefer. How will you describe it?

I shoot everything.  I don’t think I really have a traditional style of photography.  I do street, fashion, event, macro, travel, live music, abstract, landscape, people, long exposure, just whatever.  Mostly I refer to myself as an American photographer because I mostly focus on documenting America — anything and everything, the more the better.

Our PHUN issue this month is dedicated to photography and inspiration. I know you can talk forever about things that inspire you, but are there one or two things that help get you out of the inspiration doldrums?  What do you think usually kills a photographer’s inspiration?

In terms of inspiration it’s easy to drift into a lull.  Photography is hard work — both capturing the images and processing the images.  Sometimes I think you just have to have the discipline and force yourself to do it even when you don’t want to.  I think if you want to accomplish big goals, a lot of the time you just have to push yourself when you might not want to.  I have a lot of that sort of internal discipline. 

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Also I’ll frequently look at the work of other photographers to find ideas and inspiration.  I have lots of photography books by people like Eggleston and Friedlander and Winogrand and Shore and many of the more modern photographers who I admire.  I also will just go check out Flickr or Google+.  I’ll search Flickr by tags or just look at my contacts’ photos — there are so many talented photographers out there.

I think what can hurt a photographers inspiration is negativity and criticism. By and large I avoid this as much as possible.  I block a lot of people online.  There are so many negative people out there and I find that they give off the worst soft of energy.  I try to stay positive, keep a sense of humor and perspective and really just dismiss everyone who has anything negative to say about anything ever.  

We already have shared links to your photo galleries. What are other names of photographers, that you personally like and can recommend for our crowd to check to get inspired?

Wow, it’s always hard naming photographers, because inevitably I will leave a million people out. I’ve got a photographers circle on Google+ that includes a ton of photographers who regularly inspire me. Even naming a lot of names in those circles, I’m sure I still leave people out.

And the last question. What’s next in your pro life? Any special plans for 2014-2015?

I’ll probably end up shooting more of America in 2014-2015.  I’d like to shoot Marfa, TX.  I’d like to shoot Baltimore or Philadelphia or Alabama or Mississippi.  I’d like to shoot in Ohio — Cleveland and Cincinnati.  I might shoot Burning Man in 2015.  A lot of what I’ll end up shooting though will just be stuff that sort of falls into place at the last minute.

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