Tony Sweet is a widely published photographer, workshop leader (Visual Artistry Workshop Series), sought after speaker and member of the Gura Gear Pro Team. We wanted to dig deeper into the life of Mr. Sweet to learn from his experiences and tell his fascinating story.
What brought you to photography as a profession?
Good question. It all began in my previous career as a jazz musician and educator. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the greatest jazz artists on the planet. So, I decided to get into photography to photograph the musicians I was working with, and to document one of the last jazz scenes in the country, the Cincinnati jazz scene of the late 80’s. I was playing then and was working every night. About that time, I met my future mentor, Tony Gayhart, who dealt in used camera gear. After a few visits and transactions, he showed me a few nature slides, which immediately captured my imagination. I sold my fast glass, for low light of jazz clubs, and purchased a good tripod, wide to telephoto zooms, and a macro lens. I read everything I could find, especially the books of John Shaw and Jim Zuckerman. I began shooting at local nature preserves, expanding into national travel with the Great American Photography Workshops company. After a few years with the GAPW, I began local lectures to build a workshop clientele. Got picked up by Nikon, who sponsored speaking events. After getting a feature article in Shutterbug, many moons ago, things picked up and the Visual Artistry Workshops business was started, still going strong after 20 years.
What tips or advice do you have for becoming a better photographer?
Tip 1: Learn your gear so that it’s instinctual. That way you can function in the moment, quickly and fluidly, being one with the subject. Any mechanical issues at all greatly distract from the experience and can affect your image making and creative flow.
Tip 2: Always try to get a different perspective than your own height. Very low, very high, at an extreme angle. Horizontal and vertical formats can greatly change the feel of your image.
Tip 3: Learn everything you can about the particular style of photography to which you aspire and attend live location workshops with photographers who do the kind of work that you like.
Who or what have you looked to for inspiration and why?
Pat O’hara and Freeman Patterson were my first major influences, exemplifying the more artistic side of nature/ outdoor photography, which was my native proclivity being a professional jazz artist (drummer) for 20 years at the time I started photography. I’ve taught along side of John Shaw, Pat O’hara, Rod Planck, Bryan Peterson, and others and have gained great insight and inspiration from watching these masters work live.
You talk about how you love to go back to places. Tell us about a particular place that has changed for you as you’ve gone back.
One of our most visited locations since I began as a photographer up to a workshop a few weeks ago, is the Great Smoky Mtns, TN. Aside from being the most visited park in the country, it is easy to get around, even at peak times, if one knows when and where to go. In regards to your question, the change that takes place when revisiting locations over and over again is very little in the outer landscape, but in the inner landscape. As I revisit a location year after year, it becomes almost literally impossible to take the same image over and over, so I begin to look at different things, perspectives, smaller areas, tighter compositions, different angles, infrared, panoramics. The software is getting better and better all of the time and, if we’re lucky, our processing matures, lending to more original and personal work. This is a natural, not a forced, process. Changes and evolution is style and vision takes years, actually throughout one’s life.
You have authored five books. Tell us a little bit about what it takes to write a book and get it published.
All it takes to write a book is an idea that can be expanded upon for about 100 pages, or so, then sending manuscripts to publishers until it gets picked up, or declined. I’ve authored our 5 book Fine Art Photography series through Stackpole, but have collaborated on several more over the years. Although, I continue to work with Stackpole, I also have e-books in the pipeline. A great deal of hard/ soft cover books are also available as e-books. However, anyone can self publish and the quality is excellent, depending on how much one wants to pay. E-books can be the most lucrative.
What workshops, books, speaking engagements or other things do you have coming up that we should know about?
Thanks for asking!
Our workshop schedule is at: http://tonysweet.com/location-workshops
Of particular interest is our Iceland Tour w/ Focus on Nature and Santa Fe w/ Bobbie Goodrich!
Not on the schedule is our Portugal workshop next May. (email firstname.lastname@example.org for details)
We also do a series of day long Creativity Seminars that are currently being booked. Schedule will be posted soon! http://tonysweet.com/seminars