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Rick Smolan is responsible for some of the largest photographic projects ever undertaken. A former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer, Rick created the best-selling Day in the Life book series and many other large-scale photographic projects, such as America 24/7, 24 Hours in Cyberspace, and Blue Planet Run. He pushes the boundaries of technology with each new project while delivering inspiring books that tell masterful photographic stories. His projects have been featured on the covers of magazines such as Fortune, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers inside Rick's latest production, where he reveals his unique processes and shows how he reinvents himself for each new project.
(Music plays.) Rick Smolan: So I know it probably seems very antiquated to be dealing with glue and scotch tape and post-its, but it's still in my mind is the best way to sort of step back and get a quick overview. I know with Aperture and Lightroom you can create this huge virtual screen, but I still-- I mean when we have these on the walls, literally we've got 15 boards with a thousand pictures on it and I don't know how you would do that on a computer. I don't know how you'd keep track of it. And I used to do this on a light box, but this is actually I think much more effective even than a light box.
Female Speaker: We completely changed from one project that was all film. In fact, when we did "24 Hours in Cyberspace", it was all film. There were no digital cameras at the time. But we had the film scanned and then emailed to us, which sounds so outdated now, but that is the way we did it. But when we started the "American 24/7" series that was completely digital. So we completely just jumped off the cliff on that project and in fact we hired tons of photographers for that project, and so many resisted the idea that they had to shoot only digital and they all tried to sneak in film and we said we won't even look at it. We have to go all digital. And a lot of photographers were calling us up right before the shoot week. That was in that particular project, it was a whole shoot week, and they were complaining and going, "I have a digital camera, but I don't even want to use it. I don't know how to use it, I don't want to do it." And we had a team of people that were actually helping them through in terms of kind of talking them down, "you can do it, you can do it. There is a whole bunch of us out there doing it" and you would not believe the number of phone calls from photographers we got after the shoot week, when they said, "thank you so much for forcing me to use my digital camera, because I was so afraid of it and I can't believe that this project helped make me get going into that whole digital side of things." A lot of photographers at that point from the newspaper world were already using digital, but we were tapping into photojournalists and whatnot that hadn't quite made the switchover yet and they were really glad that we'd forced them to go digital.
Female Speaker: You cannot be a photographer and not have Photoshop. You cannot be a photographer shooting RAW and not have any kind of these softwares to open up your images and send them through. There are a lot of photographers who were shooting the best quality JPEG and that's good enough for a lot of the papers and magazines. So you've got this kind of, are you shooting RAW, are you shooting TIFF, are you shooting JPEG, are you working on the pictures? A lot of them -- a lot of the guys I work with back home in Fast News are shooting, it's down the wire, into the computer, and it's already at their desk. There is nothing happening to the picture and it goes straight into a newspaper.
So it's different. But then the high- end stuff, I mean what we are doing here for example. Some of these pictures have already won awards and those photographs you know that there is a craft and the photographer has an eye and they've shot it in a way and they have then magnified how they want these pictures to look and feel with some degree of Photoshop work. Rick Smolan: Most photographers that I know out of pride want to edit their own work to see which images work, which ones didn't, because you get instant feedback. I think they want to do-- RAW images, which give you this amazing tonal range, tend to be kind of flat. So you want to sort of -- it gives you the ability to go up or down. So you want to make the decision and then add your own sort of editorial voice to how you saw the picture when you took it.
Right now as a book publisher though, I am going back to photographer saying give me your RAW pictures. I don't like the way you translated that picture. For the book that I am doing right now, I need to open up the sky, I need to open up the contrast to the shadows, whatever. So in many cases, it's like me saying I want your negative. And fortunately all the photographers that I have asked have said, sure. I mean they know that we are kind of obsessive about the quality. The books that we do are real showcases for photographers. I can take off my publisher hat and put my photographer hat on very easily. So a lot of photographers have told us that our books are around for 30 years and TIME Magazine, your pictures are wrapped in fish the following week or kitty litter. So I think people feel that our books are something they can be proud of for an awfully long time.
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