Interview of Ron Matson by Allyson Barnes, Ventura County Camera Club
Allyson: I would like to know a little about your background.
Ron: I have been retired almost twenty years. During most of that time I have just played. I was active in expedition kayaking, backpacking, mountaineering, and other outdoor pursuits. I have been slowing down in recent years, although I still golf several times a week and otherwise spend a lot of time in the out-of-doors. We bought a house in Idaho a number of years ago, located in the high country near Yellowstone Park, primarily because of the fly fishing opportunities in the area. My wife and I spend four or five months of the year there where I spend my time fishing and hiking, and in the winter, cross-country skiing.
Allyson: How did you get interested in photography?
Ron: I developed skills while a teenager, primarily in the darkroom. Out of necessity I had to work my way through college and with my experience was able to get a job working the darkroom of a small portrait studio. It was a good job for a college student as I could make my own hours, as long as I got the work done. After several years I began shooting weddings on the weekends. When I graduated from college and began my professional career as an economist, one of the first things I did was to sell all my camera equipment as I vowed to never again take or print another photograph — I viewed my photography experience as a demanding, often stressful, and not enjoyable endeavor. I don’t attribute any of my current success to my early photo experience. I only recently took photography up again as an activity to take the place of some of my previous outdoor adventures I was backing off from.
Allyson: Do you have any mentors or people you admire?
Ron: I spend time looking at photographs on the internet and at libraries and bookstores, although there is no one photographer I strive to pattern myself after. I have received greater inspiration from fine art painters. I am most influenced by the Renaissance painter Caravaggio and his treatment of the tonal areas of his paintings with what is called the chiaroscuro style of lighting. One can see much of his influence in my images, even though he painted portraits and I am doing my best work shooting old machines.
Allyson: Do you have any particular strengths or inclinations towards a type of capture: landscape, portrait, etc.?
Ron: I have never taken a landscape I thought had merit, even though I spend a lot of time outdoors, much of it in the backcountry. I enjoy taking street portraits, even though I am always uncomfortable approaching people to do so. I find doing my light painting, and more recently still life objects, rewarding in that I am able to create compelling images through creative lighting, again, using elements of the chiaroscuro style.
Allyson: What equipment do you use? Do you like to use things like Photoshop, Nik filters, HDR, etc.
Ron: I worked my way up from several Canon Rebels, and now use the 5DII. I soon learned that good glass is undoubtedly the most important hardware consideration. I use Lightroom for my cataloging and initial processing and Photoshop for my creative treatment. My Photoshop files typically have many adjustment layers, often ten or more, which I use to gently tweak the tonal characteristics and color rendering of selected areas. I also experiment a great deal, mainly because it is enjoyable. I have done HDR work, created images with obvious extensive compositing, and have made Corel Painter images, but I view those things as interesting diversions rather than serious endeavors. The only filter I occasionally use is Topaz.
Allyson: Tell us how you got interested in painting with light.
Ron: It all began with a workshop at the VCCC by Eric Curry. He had prints laid out for viewing before the talk, and I was totally blown away by them, primarily because his lighting was so unique and because I could not figure out how he did it. He then told us that with a fixed camera and short time exposures, he took many shots, each illuminating only a small portion of the subject with a powerful flashlight, and then layered them all up in Photoshop to obtain his final image. With nothing more than that, I began experimenting and after a number of failures, figured out a method for doing it and came up with an image which I call “Pump House” as a first effort which I still think is the best one I have done. I have stayed in touch with Eric Curry and once assisted him with one of his shoots. Our styles and means of execution are considerably different but the technical light painting process is much the same. The basic image of one of my light paintings typically consists of 60 to 100 frames layered up, and that is before I begin the creative tonal enhancement in Photoshop.
Allyson: What role has travel played in your photography?
Ron: My wife and I have traveled quite a bit in the past. When doing so in recent years I have been in the photography mode and have obtained some relatively good images.
Allyson: Your website has a blog – what about that appeals to you?
Ron: My website is new and as of this interview is still very much in the beta stage. I included a blog simply because I see so many other photographers doing it and it seems like a good way to communicate with people and to obtain a following. You can find it at http://how-i-see-it.com.
Allyson: Do you find VCCC valuable or not and why?
Ron: I have found the VCCC experience extremely valuable and I certainly would never have obtained the skills I have without it. I joined in late 2005 with a used inexpensive basic DSLR and through the critiques, competitions, and interactions with other club members, feel I have obtained some degree of competency.
Allyson: Do you have any advice to impart on beginning photogs?
Ron: Experiment, shoot a lot, and don’t be afraid to fail. My advancement has come almost exclusively from the analysis of my failures — when I get the concept for an image I will work it over and over again, each time learning from the failures, until I get something I am pleased with. One should constantly be pushing themselves, striving to obtain that next level of skill necessary in the process to becoming a better photographer.