Our next installment of Photographer Appreciation Month features Tony Stromberg. Read on to learn more about his photography!
What type of photography do you most often do or prefer?
For 20 years, I was an advertising photographer based in San Francisco, CA. Somewhere around 2002, I closed my commercial studio and started photographing horses, and only horses. I have had four coffee-table books of my equine photography published and that is currently my specialty. Sure, I photograph other things for pleasure, but my focus has been horses for the past 20 years. I currently teach equine photography workshops in the US and overseas.
How did you get into photography?
I started as a graphic designer, and slowly evolved into photography over the course of many years. In the beginning, I didn’t think I was very good at photography, but I kept coming back to it and kept experimenting. There was something inside me that kept drawing me to photography. A friend of mine once said “photographers are just illustrators in a hurry”, and I think there is some truth to that. I don’t have the patience to draw or paint. It was a very gradual transition that took many years.
What’s your most favorite photo you’ve taken and why?
I don’t think I have one favorite photo. I might be able to narrow it down to 15 or so, but not just one. I do have one image that is probably my most popular, and I call it ‘fierce grace”. It was a photo of a stallion that I took at a ranch in Wyoming, with the wind blowing the horse’s mane across its head and neck. It’s one of those shots that just happened in a split-second, but it is not something I chose as my favorite. It is just my most popular image.
What inspires you and your photography?
I think that is hard to narrow down to just a few things. I would say that my inspiration comes from everything I have ever seen, including photos, painting, sculpture, music, books and literature, people, and probably, more important than anything else, I am inspired by nature. I tend to be an introvert, and I find solace in nature. Being in nature is my “temple”, so to speak. It is where I’m the most connected.
What is your background – did you study photography or are you self-taught?
I am 100 percent self-taught in photography. I learned by trying different things to see “what happened”. I think that is the best way to learn – by trial and error. I heard someone once say “how do you learn how to raise a child?”, and the answer was “you have a child”. I read books, I hung out at camera stores, but mostly I just figured it out as I went along. Life is an ever-unfolding experiment anyway, and that is how I learned photography.
What is your process?
My process? Well, when I do a shoot, with horses you have to shoot many frames, hundreds or even thousands, because you know that 98% of it is going to be thrown in the trash for one reason or another. The next step is to do a preliminary edit, where I go through the photos one by one and if anything has potential, I rate it with a star. Usually when I do this, I throw away 90% of what I shot. Then I do a second edit, more slowly, where I narrow things down even more. This is an important step, because when I go through the images, I am not looking for technical “correctness”. Rather, I am feeling which images give me a spark, which images that make me pause and feel something. It’s an emotional process. Then when I narrow it down even more, to perhaps 7 or 8, then I will start to “fine tune” and work on those images to bring out their potential.
Do you use Photoshop or other software or are your photos more natural?
I use Photoshop, but not in a really manipulative sort of way. I basically do what I would have done in the darkroom… darken here, lighten there, work with contrast and saturation, cropping. It’s a lot of little steps that all add up to the final image. I call it “fine tuning” or “bringing out the potential” of an image.
How has technology impacted your artistry and photos?
I was resistant to the change to digital at first, but then realized that there was great potential, and way less toxic chemistry to deal with. It gave me more tools, ultimately, to work on and create the images. So now I have embraced the technology. The downside of photography is that people now become more reliant on the technology to take a great photo, and it makes it more accessible to everyone, but there is still a certain “mastery” in photography that a camera or technology cannot create.
Where do you photograph – your most common locations? Do you have a favorite place to photograph either as a subject matter or as a background?
Since horses are my primary subject matter, I travel to where the most beautiful horses are. Spain and Portugal would be first on the list, and I would also include the Netherlands. But I have traveled to many countries to photograph horses… Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Canada, Mexico. What I do now allows me to travel to many different places.
How do you market yourself – do you have a website or social media that you use to promote your photography?
I have a website, a Facebook account, and an Instagram account. I probably use Facebook the most. Most of my clients for workshops come from word of mouth, or from the books and calendars that I have published over the years. It is at a point where I do not have to market aggressively anymore – I have an established name and reputation after over 40 years of doing photography.
Facebook: Tony Stromberg Photography
How do people find you and your photos – do you sell your photos or are you more “to hire” / commission-based?
Workshops are my primary “thing”. People love my work, my style, and they want to learn how I do what I do. They find me through search engines, through my books, through my calendars, through various articles that have been written about my work over the years. It’s a little of everything, I guess. I do sell my photos as large prints through some art galleries, and also privately to individuals or interior designers. I do very little “commission” work anymore.
Have you (your photos) won any awards?
When I was doing advertising photography, my work won many awards because the ad agencies and design firms that I worked for would enter many contests and win, and since I was the photographer on the project, I was part of the team that got the award. I don’t enter competitions anymore, because I don’t feel I need to. I already have recognition. Plus, it gets expensive with all the entry fees.