Today’s interview comes from Houston, Texas and features the remarkable and talented Photographer Norman Gabitzsch. Inspiration for Norman’s art comes from his unique view of the world and his travels. With careful consideration and skill, Norman excels at capturing those parts of the world that are so very often hidden from the human eye.
Norman, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us and thank you so much for all your thoughtful responses. You are a brilliant photographer and someone who’s work is definitely worth following.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I was educated to be a scientist with a Ph.D in Physics, but after finishing Post Doctoral work at Los Alamos, New Mexico, I took a position in the research department of a Multi-National Oil company where I did fundamental research to image the interior of the earth. It was here that I learned the fundamentals of signal processing that I now use for photography. I spent a career with this company performing both research and operational oil exploration. It was a great opportunity to travel and see the world.
As a future Physicist, I became interested in the theory of photography at an early age. I was interested in how cameras work mechanically and optically. I did not develop an artistic feel for photography until after I had a chance to travel and see the great Art Galleries of the world. The first camera I used was my fiancé’s Minolta SRT 100, a fully manual 35 mm single lens reflex film camera. It was with this camera that I learned the technical fundamentals of photography. The camera is long gone, but I am still married to the lady with the Minolta. Over the years I have owned Canon’s, Ricoh’s, Sony’s, an Olympus and I am presently attached to the Nikon line of products.
Where is home?
My home base is Houston, Texas, but I spend the summers in Europe where I have a chance to indulge in Travel Photography. I especially enjoy the spring time light in Slovenia and the summer warmth of Croatia.
After browsing through your website, I see that you’ve built up an extensive collection of wonderful photography. What is it that led you toward this field and how long have you been working in it?
I have been seriously photographing for five years. My earlier work was done mostly with small travel cameras. Although they made nice postcard size photos, they weren’t of professional quality.
How did you go about learning photography? Are you self taught or formally taught? Where have you found the majority of information you use today?
I am a self taught “artist.” I like to study the work of the Masters both in the Paints and Photography. Painters have the luxury of creating perfect composition and palette with their mind’s eye (there is much to learn from their work), but the photographer has only a short time to find the right composition before the scene changes. The photographer has to develop great instinct and fast non hesitant reactions to do their work outside the studio. This is especially true of Street Photographers. The best way to learn these skills, in my opinion, is go out and take a lot of photographs.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
I like to do candid street photography of people doing interesting things. The biggest challenge is to be in the right spot to isolate the subject while still telling the story. Street Photography is a constantly changing scene. Timing and a keen eye are everything. I tend to shoot street photography in high speed continuous mode. This way I have a better chance to getting the expression and story exactly right.
What do you do to keep your photography fresh and how do you stay motivated to keep on learning?
In 2017 over 1.2 trillion photographs were made of the existing world. When one stops to think about it, there are very few things that have not been photographed before. For me I find motivation for photography by looking for the shot that others have overlooked. It may be a new Point of View or a different way of seeing light, or even using light that is not visible to the human eye. For the viewer of the photograph I hope they find something that they have failed to notice before.
As a Senior Critic on the 1x.Com website, I look at over 25,000 photographs a year and attempt to help others make better photographs. This activity makes me think about “what makes a good photograph or what can ruin a photograph”. I am constantly learning and rethinking my own work based on what I can verbalize about other peoples photographs.
What has been the biggest source of inspiration in your work?
There have been so many great photographers. For street photography, I like to look at the urban humanity of Vivian Maier, the composition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the juxtaposition of Robert Doisneau, the socio-political underbelly of a post war Tokyo captured by Daidō Moriyama … Just to name a few street photographers. For landscape, who cannot help but marvel at the work of Ansel Adams, or for documentary photography, the portrait humanity of Dorothea Lange. For false color Infrared photography, I am fascinated by the contemporary amateur photographer, Martin Zalba, with “Lagoon” and “Lights and Shadows” being two very expressive examples of his work.
If I had to pick the most powerful photograph I have ever seen, in would be Dorothea Lange’s 1936 “Migrant Mother”… a story that keeps repeating.
What type of equipment do you shoot with?
My general purpose camera is the Nikon D850 with the Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. It is a remarkable camera that can nail the difficult shots. It probably is more camera than I need for general photography, but for those special, difficult light shots, it is superb. I use a Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8 for Macro photography, and a Nikkor 70-200 mm f/2.8 for zoom.
In addition to the D850, I have a Nikon D3300 that has been converted for infrared photography. All digital cameras have the theoretical ability to measure infrared, but the camera manufacturers have put in a special internal filter to limit the sensitivity of the sensor to the visible spectrum. In an infrared converted camera the original internal filter has been removed, and a new internal filter that transmits infrared and blocks out blue light has been put into the camera. In essence, half the light that the infrared converted camera records is not seen by the human eye. This gives some remarkable interpretations of the subject having a great, dramatic impact on clouds and vegetation while softening older complexions in Portraits. The D3300 is a simple, no thrills, light weight travel camera ideal for infrared. The Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 is my favorite lens for infrared and landscape photography.
For Street Photography I use a Ricoh GRII. It is a small “pocket” camera that is designed for stealth, candid, street photography. The Ricoh is a full feature (modest cost), fast focus, quiet camera recreating the excitement of the legendary Japanese street photographer, Daidō Moriyama. If I aim the D850 in a city, people turn around and notice, but with the Ricoh GR, I rarely disturb the mood of the scene.
What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?
I carry everything from filters to flashes to monopods and tripods. With multiple cameras, multiple lenses and multiple accessories, my most important accessory has become my camera backpack. It is an inexpensive, nondescript backpack, but fully opens up for easy access to the various internal compartments. The backpack is well padded to protect the gear and is weather proof.
What are your processing tools of choice?
I use a number of different tools for photo editing. Photoshop is my first choice for infrared photography. I like to start with PS Auto Tone to bring up the tonal contrast of the infrared image followed by a red and blue channel swap. Finally I go into PhotoShop LAB Color to get more striking colors, and then tweak with CMYK colors.
For black and white photography I use the Google Nik collection. First, I use Color Efex Pro 4 to get a strong, vivid color contrast… almost to the level of unrealistic color. Then I use Nik Efex Silver 2 for the conversion to black and white. Bold color processing, for me, is essential for a successful black and white conversion.
For noise reduction I prefer Topaz Denoise 6. It gives the control I want to remove the noise while keeping the image sharp. For Image Sharpening, I go with one of the many PhotoShop clarity, sharpening tools.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite or most memorable photo sessions? What made it so great and why did you like it so much?
I had a chance to photograph Istanbul… what a lively, glorious city. It was nothing like what I was expecting… I was completely enchanted. The architecture is, of course, magnificent, but it was the character of the people of Istanbul that fascinated me the most.
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
I like to keep my old work close to remind me of all the mistakes I have made, and how far I have come as a photographer. Knowing what I know today, I wish that I had a chance to take some of those old photographs again.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
The great Cosmology Physicist, Stephen Hawking, proved theoretically that the world is not deterministic… that is to say given all information of the past and present, one cannot predict the future. This supports my own antidotal experience that life is uncertain, and can change for the better or worst in a fraction of a second. As a result I do not worry much about the future, but rather wait for that moment in the present when the harmony of the universe poses itself for the capture of the perfect photograph.