Magazine Article


Reconnect With Medium-Format
Learn to Listen With Your Eyes

Daniel J. Stankey
Daniel J. Stankey

Daniel J. Stankey
Daniel J. Stankey

Daniel J. Stankey
Daniel J. Stankey

Daniel J. Stankey
Daniel J. Stankey

Like too few in our industry, I have had the unusual privilege of learning the photographic craft under the direction and eye of more than one master photographer. This strong connection to the history, techniques, and insights of masters from an older generation has given me an incredible foundation for creating my own visual direction.

My experience emphasizes the need for and responsibility of mentors to pass along their knowledgeóespecially with the advent of digital capture.

In 1992, the owner of Todd Studios Photography, a portrait business dating back to the 1920s, approached me about buying the studio. I applied for and was granted a small business loan and became sole owner of the studio in August 1993.

Today, I run two photography businesses: Todd Studios Photography, for classic fine portraiture; and Daniel J. Stankey Commercial Photography, representing mainstream commercial and advertising photography.

Learning the Craft

My mentors knew that quality photography is rooted in lighting. The greatest of these men was Wilson Todd, founder of Todd Studios Inc. Although Wilson was deceased when I arrived at Todd Studios in 1990, his work and influence were prevalent. The premier vaudeville and theatrical photographer of the 1920s (and a pioneer of studio lighting), he created many memorable images of that era, including those of Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Ray Bolger, and Ethel Barrymore.

Two other photographers influenced my work, as well. The first is Clifford Martin, owner of Todd Studios, who ran around with the likes of Joe Rosenthal, W. Eugene Smith, Margaret Bourke-White, and his captain, Edward Steichen. Clifford was a staff photographer for Admiral Nimitz during WWII, stationed onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, before joining Todd Studios. The second is Carl Duft, a graduate from the Brooks Instituteís first class, who joined Todd Studios in 1955.

Both Martin and Duft shot with large-format cameras. It was these two men who showed me how to ďlistenĒ with my eyes, one painstaking image at a time.

My greatest lessons about the business came from Jim Herron, a photographer for the St. Louis Cardinals and owner of Jim Herron Photography in Collinsville, Illinois. Hiring me fresh out of college, he told me, ďDan, if youíre not making money with a camera, youíre using it wrong.Ē Iíve never forgotten those words.

Iíve also learned that, despite all the bells and whistles you might find on some cameras, itís really about what the photographer brings to the equation and what he can draw out of his subject. Success lies in our ability to be technically sound and to understand that what we do must have value in the eyes of our customers. The confidence of the photographer combined with a real appreciation of light makes the image.

Recharging My Batteries

Although I saw the potential of scanning film in the early í90s, it was tough convincing customers to accept this type of work because the cost was prohibitive. But we adopted a scanning workflow with some success. Unfortunately, early digital cameras were so limited that they restricted the creative process of lighting and removed basics, such as long exposures. By the late Ď90s, I felt we were delivering nothing of lasting value. Images were burned to CDs, and thatís what we sent to clients as final work. It was very unsatisfying. Commercial photography left me with a disconnected feeling. I began to feel less like a photographer and more like a computer monkey.

With every major change, we lose something and we gain something. The trick is to be able to understand the changes and how to take advantage of them. By 2002, I needed to recharge my creative batteries. I didnít want to stop shooting commercial work, but I had to make prints, to connect my capture to the finished product, so I could feel great about being a photographer again.

Millerís Professional Imaging gave me that sense of reconnection. They truly understand how to reconnect capture to the photographic print. I have successfully reestablished Todd Studios as a portrait business, taking it back to its roots of fine portraiture that captures light and mood, and moved my commercial work to Daniel J. Stankey, under a division called Nordic Art Management.

Depending on Digital

I use digital solutions for both my businesses, and Iím producing better work and enjoying it more. Iíll move from a portrait to an international ad campaign to an editorial project with ease. With portraiture, I see the final product: a beautifully framed 20x24 print. You canít produce this quality with a DSLR. Itís like shooting 35mm film versus shooting 8x10 film.

I didnít think digital was there until I saw the Phase One H 5 in 2001. I couldnít believe how close the color was, and I could shoot tungsten with time exposures. I cut my color work by over 80 percent and upgraded to the H 20, then to the P 20, which I have now. I easily reach 4x5 to 8x10 quality. The color accuracy and consistency is like shooting Ektachrome, but with a lot more control.

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