Blend Profile | Tom Paiva
January 8, 2013 § 3 Comments
Tom Paiva is a professional, freelance photographer based in California who specializes in large format photography of industrial and maritime settings, as well as architecture and interiors. He is a Blend shooter and his night photography, whether it be of ships, industrial spaces, or cities, is unmatched.
Tom has over 70 cover images for various Trade Magazines to his credit. He has published a book, Industrial Night, containing 46 color images of industrial settings at night. He is in the process of publishing another book showing off the construction of the new Bay bridge in San Francisco.
His real expertize and abiding interest is night photography. He loves to create images of urban settings and moonlit landscapes on film. He was a cofounder of The Nocturnes, a group of night photographers who had a landmark exhibit in San Francisco in 1991. He has co-lead photo workshops on night photography and view camera use over the past 15 years and has had several articles on these subjects in photographic magazines.
He was educated at the San Francisco Academy of Art, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography.
How did you first become interested in photography?
My interest in photography started in my early teens. My dad gave me my first real camera, a used 35mm Leica knock-off from the 1940s when I was around 14 years old. I learned how to use that totally manual camera, learning about f-stops and shutter speeds with a stand alone light meter by reading books on basic photography. Like most any other teenager, I shot most everything from friends to flowers in those days.
What sorts of cameras were you using as a student and in your twenties when you were first starting out?
By the time I was in my 20s, I had moved to 35mm single lens reflex cameras with interchangeable lenses, and I also experimented with a second hand twin-lens medium format camera.
And how did you come to specialize in industrial and maritime work?
I went to art school in my 30s, learning how to shoot virtually all aspects of photography, from sports to fashion to scientific macro work and in all formats. Early on, I discovered what I really enjoyed was architectural photography with the large format view camera. This appreciation of the man-made environment lead me to the industrial side (but I still shoot architecture, too). Maritime became an extension of the industrial photography.
This is really a continuation of the last question. What led you to prefer to shoot at night?
Shooting at night really started in my college years, oddly, because I worked during the day and night was when I had the time to shoot assignments for school. I had experimented shooting at night in my teens, but really didn’t know what I was doing at the time.
The discipline of college plus being around professors who knew the technical and creative side and constantly be critiqued helped my photography, including night work, become more polished. Of course I have refined my night shooting abilities and style since. I find that many subjects, especially the man-made environments of industry simply photograph better at night, hiding the grime and ugly details seen during the day. Industrial lighting can be dramatic and colorful, adding drama to the facility.
For my personal work, I simply enjoy being out at night, usually by myself in that quiet, still time of day.
Can you describe the main cameras or camera that you use for night shooting and whether or not your images are digital or from film stock?
Since I enjoy using the view camera and the control it gives me, most of my personal work is still shot in film with those cameras. My commercial work is digital capture, like most everyone else, since this medium is really well suited for publication and web use.
How much studio or Photoshop manipulation goes into one of these shots?
Very little Photoshop work is done to my work except for basic color and density correction and simple dodging and burning to lighten or darken certain areas. I’m of the school of making the best image you can in the field at the time of exposure. I think this comes from my years of doing traditional wet printing and appreciating how much easier it is to print from a properly made negative.
How long are your exposures when you shoot at night?
My work is typically urban or industrial, so exposure are in the range of a few seconds to 10-15 minutes, based on the lighting. This is quite different than shooting using moonlight. There is quite a bit of ambient light in cities and industrial plants. I rarely add any light to my images, as I enjoy observing and working with existing lighting.
Do you have any simple advice or techniques you might share with photographers thinking of shooting at night?
When I experimented shooting at night, I learned quickly to take field notes to learn which images worked or not and why. With today’s digital cameras it is much easier to get an exposure because of the immediate response from the camera monitor, and you have the meta data for basic exposure notes. When I shoot sheet film at night today, I still note the exposure information for each shot. I also use a simple voice recorder app on my cell phone for further note taking. After all, it is difficult to see to write at night in the field! The main thing is to experiment and try new things and to notice the different lighting situations in the modern world, and how to capture it with your camera.
Do you have a favorite subject matter for your non-commercial work?
My personal work is really and extension of my commercial work, which is the man-made environment, be it urban landscapes or industrial facilities. I have made many portfolios shot in industrial areas that were made for my use, not the company’s. Their needs are often very different.
Since you are old enough to remember, how do you feel about the digital revolution In photography that has taken place over the last fifteen years?
Photography is an ever changing medium. Digital is just as radical a change as was the introduction of color. Today, photography has become so much easier to make a properly focused and exposed image. That’s a good thing, as this expressive medium is now open to more people. There are more photos made with cell phones in one year than all the images made since the beginning of photography over 150 years ago. On the other hand, a good exposure does not guarantee a good photograph. There is still a discipline needed to become an excellent photographer. It takes years of practice to hone the eye to see and to create a signature style. I believe the college environment with its critiques is still one of the best ways to get feedback on your work to make you grow.
Your first book Industrial Night is available on Amazon. Do you have any plans to publish another?
Yes, there is a forthcoming book with Nazraeli Press due out this fall of my work on the construction of the new eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. This work, all shot in 4×5, has been shot over the past 5 years.
You have no doubt traveled the world a lot in gathering photographs. Do you have a favorite place you’ve traveled to and why?
I do travel quite a bit for business and for pleasure, too. Like most people, I always have a camera with me, but I don’t consider myself a travel photographer. As for subjects, again, I enjoy the man-made environment. Recently, I was in Spain, and enjoyed shooting at train stations at night, sometimes in the rain, as they are dynamic, exciting locations and to me, they make great subjects.