Gerald Brimacombe paid his dues early on in his photographic career. He shot for annual reports, immersed himself in advertising, and covered everything from political conventions and riots to the Olympic Games. While his portfolio is impressive—Life, National Geographic Traveler, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune are just a few of the publications he’s shot for during his career—it’s Brimacombe’s seemingly effortless ability to consistently deliver compelling imagery from the far reaches of the earth that keeps clients coming back for more.
“Customers can send me all over the world, and they know I’ll come back with images that are meaningful and evocative,” he explains. “‘Evocative’ separates the would-be’s from real artists.”
And those “would-be” photographers are certainly out there in droves, says Brimacombe, many of them searching for a coveted career in travel photography that they mistakenly believe to be a glitzy, no-strings-attached meal ticket.
“Most of them don’t realize that travel photography takes a lot of work,” he says. “There’s a lot of walking, climbing, eating dinner at whatever hours. Everyone just gets caught up in the glamour of it all.“
Knowing what to look for while on location underneath the Eiffel Tower or in the grasslands of South Dakota is crucial to producing beautiful imagery. Since many just don’t have that artistic eye, Brimacombe has the aesthetic advantage when competing for clients. “You have to have an ability to recognize those important vignettes that say ‘This is Rome,’ or ‘This is Paris,’” he explains. “When I see things, I just react. I have that built-in sense of what will do the job best in terms of perspective and composition. My editorial background has taught me to deal with unplanned situations, so I can just see those vignettes and shoot them.”
Dispelling the Myths
Brimacombe scoffs at the idea of certain photographic traditions that have become sacred cows of sorts, including shooting only in the early morning and in the late afternoon.
“That really bugs me,” he exclaims. ”That’s an old cliché which, in my opinion, has never held water. I have made some brilliant images midday, especially in areas like the Greek Isles and the French Riviera. I’m not saying you can’t get nice light at those times, but you can also get wonderful light and colors during the middle of the day.”
While he tries not to be gimmicky in his creations, Brimacombe is not afraid to enhance his work with a little help from Adobe’s signature software. “I do so much in Photoshop—it’s wonderful!” he says. “People will say you’ve altered the picture when you use Photoshop, but that’s a bunch of baloney. Clicking the shutter on pure raw film or on a digital file is itself just an interpretation. You’ve got to have a good, evocative image to start with, and I always maintain the integrity of the original image. But it’s my privilege to go in there and do whatever enhancements I want to do. I’m pretty judicious with how I use it. You won’t see me adding in fake moons!
“People will come into galleries that represent me in Carmel and Santa Fe to see my work, and they’ll often ask the gallery salesperson, ‘Did he do anything to that photograph?’” he continues. “I’ve instructed the salespeople not to tell them a blessed thing. The bottom line is the end result: Do you like it, or don’t you? People don’t realize how manipulated Ansel Adams’ photos were—if he had had Photoshop, he would have gone crazy!”
On the Road
Packing light is key when you’re traversing white-sand beaches and cosmopolitan concourses, and Brimacombe has mastered his gear-gathering routine before every big trip, whether it’s a month-long cruise or a junket to Moscow.
“I’ve gone from carrying 20 pounds of stuff around to maybe a quarter of that,” he says. “I bring along just two cameras and a Gitzo tripod, the one with the carbon fiber right through it. It’s very strong and light, and also very sturdy—more than adequate for digital.”
It’s his radical camera selection he’s most proud of, eschewing the usual “big two,” as he says, for his Sony DSC-F828 and DSC-R1. “They’re configured a little differently, but the ergonomics are essentially the same,” he explains. “Sony has caught on to the ergonomic possibilities, taking steps to change and reconfigure their cameras. other companies are still building digital cameras based on cameras that were designed for film capture—they’re much heavier and more complex. The lenses they use, these great big mortars, are totally unnecessary.
“Both Sony cameras have Carl Zeiss lenses, which, I swear, are the sharpest lenses I’ve ever owned,” Brimacombe continues. “The 828 has a 28mm to 100mm f/2.8 lens, so I just work within that range. I’ve lugged around 300mm, 500mm, and 1,000mm lenses, but never used them.”
Replacing the interchangeable lenses he used to carry around with the self-contained zooms has also helped eliminate any problems with his sensors. “I don’t want any part of [the interchangeable lenses],” he says. “For one thing, in digital, every time you change that lens, you’re introducing dirt, dust, and bugs onto the sensor, especially out in the field. I don’t care how careful you are, you will get stuff on your sensor when you change lenses.”