Several years ago I was at one of the big photo trade shows. I had paid for a conference ticket and took some of the seminars. I remember not being all that impressed with some of the Photoshop instructors at the show. I wasn’t really learning anything in the conference sessions. So I decided to hit the show floor. In one of the booths, a woman named Katrin Eismann was doing some demos on how to retouch a portrait using Photoshop. I took a seat, and over the next hour learned more about Photoshop than I had the entire conference. I think she’s one of the best Photoshop instructors I’ve ever seen and accordingly, am thrilled to interview her for Photofocus.
1 – Scott: Please tell me how and when you got into photography/Photoshop.
The first time I went to college I wasn’t very happy or productive with the major that I chose and one day my roommate pushed her camera into my hands and practically kicked me out of the apartment! I came back about 30 minutes later and asked her how to turn the camera on and that was it – I was hooked! I remember that first walk with her camera as if it was yesterday. The concentration and focus of looking through the world through a viewfinder was intoxicating. I still see more clearly when I have a camera with me.
2 – Scott: What is your favorite photographic location or subject?
I like to photograph subjects that aren’t obvious or intentionally pretty including; the overlooked and discarded, abandoned and forgotten. People leave traces on the landscape and tell stories through what they throw away and I like to discover and tell those stories with my photographs.
3 – Scott: Can you recall the first photograph you made that caused you to think WOW – that’s a good shot and if so, what was it?
It was a panoramic, infrared landscape of a WW1 war memorial in Germany and I had to go to the site a number of times to catch the moment when the light came through the memorial entrance. The light created the impression that the solder’s souls were speaking out.
4 – Scott: Do you have any formal training in photography, art, Photoshop or a related field and do you think that’s important for aspiring serious photographers?
Yes, I studied photography at Rochester Institute of Technology where I completed a four-year bachelors degree. This is also where I first started working with an early version of Photoshop. Today, whenever I work with Photoshop or Lightroom I still rely on my experience of making both color and black & white prints in the wet darkroom.
5 – Scott: Are you more of a technical or an artistic person?
I can’t separate them! Technically perfect prints of a boring idea or muddy images of a great idea simply don’t work for me.
6 – Scott: Who has inspired or influenced your work?
Many people and art forms have inspired me. When I first started appreciating photography, I spent a lot of time with; Helen Levitt’s New York City street images, Olivia Parker’s still lives, and how Ernst Hass used color. Recently, my husband and I were in Paris and he literally had to tear me away from a Camille Pissarro landscape painting that showed two people working at the edge of a field tending a smoky fire. The rendering of the smoke was wonderfully sultry, delicate, and multilayered. He portrayed the beauty of the smoke as I’d never appreciated before.
On a contemporary note, I appreciate Philip Toledano, Corey Arnold, and Maggie Taylor – three completely different types of successful photographic artists – but three people that are entirely dedicated to their art and amazingly humble at the same time.
I am also inspired by my students who are open to what I teach them and then create surprising and fabulous images. Often the thank me – but in all honesty I should thank them every day!
7 – Scott: What has been the most interesting or surprising thing to you about how people react to photography?
The combination of curiosity and trust. People look at photography to see the photographer’s point of view and often to imagine themselves at the edge of the scene. This back and forth exchange between photographer and viewer is an engaging and exciting one to be a part of. I love both roles – being the photographer and the viewer.
8 – Scott: How would you describe your style of photography?
Always changing – I love to experiment with lenses, ideas, techniques – in fact just today I was taking a walk and decided to work on an out of focus series. Why not – all I can do is learn by trying.
9 – Scott: How do you decide what to photograph?
As a graduate student said in class a few days ago, “Shoot with your heart and edit with your mind.” In other words, I photograph subjects I appreciate and want to look at more closely.
10 – Scott: Of your many projects, which is your favorite and why?
Hopefully the one yet to come! Seriously, my favorites projects are the ones that I have an idea for before I start shooting and that require me to think through how to best create the image in my mind to best express the concept. Some of those projects include the composites I did for Montage ’93, the ’99 Exhibit in Los Angeles, Silent Beauty in 2002, and most recently the work I did in Tasmania where I photographed refuse from Hobart City Dump to show its discarded integrity.
11 – Scott: Is there any photographic discipline that you wish you knew more about?
Many, many, many – I would love to explore alternative processes, working with large format view cameras, portrait lighting, and combining sound, image, and videos to tell compelling stories.
12 – Scott: After all these years as a photographer/teacher and author, do you ever find it hard to remain passionate about your work?
Only if the Starbucks was closed! I want my students to take risks, explore, and excel – that keeps me passionate. I’m constantly exploring and trying out new ideas so show them. You can never run out of ideas!
13 – Scott: Everyone will ask me why I didn’t ask this question if I don’t – so here goes – What cameras/lenses do you use and why?
Right now I’m working with a Sony A900 and love the 16-35 mm and 135 mm lenses. I also use a Canon G10 and a Canon D40 with a Lensbaby Composer. For studio work I use a classic Hasselblad 503 with a 50, 80, and 120 mm lenses and a Phase P25+ back. Which one I use depends on what I’m shooting and how much weight I want to carry.
14 – Scott: What’s the biggest mistake you made when you first started out as a photographer?
My biggest mistake was to not look at enough work by a wide variety of photographers. Thankfully I’ve shaken that and now appreciate viewing photography from a wide variety of sources – form historical references all the way through to Flickr! You have to look at a lot of work – it will teach and inspire you!
15 – Scott: Would you like to give any final words of advice to photographers who want to improve their photography?
Don’t doubt yourself and love what you do!
I really appreciate Katrin taking time for the interview. She has a hectic schedule and is on the road often. If you’re interested, I think several of her books are in the “MUST HAVE” category if you really want to get good at Photoshop – including Adobe Photoshop Restoration & Retouching and The Creative Digital Darkroom