Feature Photographer Interview: Toby Harriman

Toby Harriman
Toby Harriman (Photo by Joseph Fanvu — http://www.josephfanvu.com)

Ladies and Gentlemen, after being on hiatus for almost four months, TIA International Photography is very pleased to continue the Feature Photographer series!

We are going to resume the interview series with a photographer who, I believe, has an incredible talent for showcasing the enchanting mystique of San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Ever since I first viewed Toby Harriman’s remarkable images of this undeniably beautiful region of the American West Coast, I have been quite intrigued to see what he will produce next.  To date, Toby’s photographs continue to dazzle and mesmerize.  One hasn’t really seen the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, or the San Francisco skyline at twilight until one has seen his photographs of them, be them in full color or monochrome tones.

I was able to meet Toby near Berkeley in May this year.  Funnily enough, we actually met by chance!  We had decided, via a verbal conversation on our cell phones followed by a series of text messages, that we were going to meet at an overlook spot in Claremont Hills. When the time had approached to meet, I realized we had never determined precisely where in Claremont Hills we were going to meet, as there were at least seven different overlooks!  As I grinned at this human oversight while setting up my tripod at one of the seven locations, a vehicle approached, parked next to me, and the driver came out and walked towards me.  It was Toby!  (Fortunately, I believe that seeing each other’s photographs in advance helped us out tremendously here).  Photo enthusiast that he is, Toby had been checking each and every overlook spot, one by one, and happened to drive towards the one where I was setting up my equipment.  The weather was completely uncooperative, and I learned a new expression from Toby that day when he sent a text that stated, “We might have got skunked.”

It turns out that Toby and I have a couple of things in common alongside of our love for photography.  We both have the same birthday.  (Let’s just say that I’ve had more trips around the sun than he has).  We both have strong ties to the grand State of Colorado — Toby’s “home away from home.”  Most of all, our admiration for what San Francisco has to offer cannot be contested, not just to us as photographers, but to anyone pursuing any interest or transforming a dream into a reality.  There’s an energy about San Francisco that’s rather contagious, and Toby captures this unique and dynamic essence in his photography.  A student of New Media Web Design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Toby is well on his way to achieving tremendous success afterwards.  San Francisco is fortunate to have a fellow that presents the city with so much style, and TIA International Photography wishes him very well.  Let’s get to the interview!

NAME:  Toby Harriman

CITY & COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE:   San Francisco, California USA

OFFICIAL WEBSITE:   http://www.tobyharriman.com

GOOGLE+ WEBSITE:   https://plus.google.com/102691005290181713701

FACEBOOK WEBSITE:  https://www.facebook.com/tobyharriman

FLICKR WEBSITE:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/tobyharriman/

500px WEBSITE:  http://500px.com/tobyharriman

TIA:  What are your favorite locations to photograph?

Toby:  San Francisco is my home base right now, being in school and not traveling. I really didn’t get into photography until two years ago. My favorite locations are all around the Bay Area and down and up the coast.

TIA:   Do you have any favorite locations you would like to photograph in the future?

Toby:  Well, there are no favorites yet, but I have a map saved on My Google Maps that has over 100 locations all over the world that I want to shoot!

TIA:  Your photos of San Francisco and the Bay Area are phenomenal.  What is it about the Bay Area that inspires you to take such amazing photos?

Toby:   Well, I am not sure it’s the area itself. I do love this city. It’s unique, interesting, and has lots of photogenic areas. My favorite time is shooting after the sun goes down, so being in a city with so many great vantage points makes it pretty enjoyable to visit them and just leave the shutter open for longer periods.  And then, of course, you have the Golden Gate Bridge, which yes, everyone in the world has probably photographed this bridge, but everyday the bridge has different weather going on. The best is getting up for sunrise or before sunrise and heading to Marin Headlands. If you’re lucky enough to get low fog, you will truly appreciate this city. It’s about a 10-minute walk up Slackers Ridge, the best view in my opinion. If there is low fog, you will be walking in it the whole time on this little hike, but when you get to the top, you rise just above the fog. The feeling at 5:30am is surreal as you walk above it. You have the bridge towers peaking above and the skyline of San Francisco floating in the distance. Sometimes you don’t even want to shoot it, but just stand there in awe.  The best part of San Francisco is living downtown, and then with a 10-minute drive and 10-minute hike, you can stand on the top of the Headlands with no buildings around you.

TIA:   Please describe how you first discovered your passion for photography. 

Toby:  Ever since I got my first computer, I loved the wallpapers it always came with, especially the long exposure seascape wallpapers. At the time, I didn’t know too much about photography, but it was always very interesting to me. In high school, I got my first DSLR, a Nikon D60. I can’t say I did too much photography then, usually photos of family ski days and a few scenic shots. At that time, I was only using whatever iPhoto had to offer as my editing. Once I got to San Francisco, we were always required to have some sort of photography incorporated with our design projects. Well, at least I did, because I feel a strong photograph can draw someone into something more than just words. I never wanted to use other people’s pictures, especially because I liked taking photos myself, so I would challenge myself to go out and take all original photography. It started becoming a habit.

I then took an intro to photography for design class. It taught us how to set up studio lighting with pretty much nothing. I took one photo class in high school which taught me pretty similar stuff, so I already had some background, but you can never learn enough. Once that class ended, that’s when I really started taking photography seriously. 

One of my first big experiments was heading out to Marin Headlands, on the cliffs of Rodeo Cove. I just got a set of the P-Series Cokin Neutral Density filters and a clicker. I started off trying 30 to 45-minute exposures. I pretty much had no idea what I was doing, but I am not much of a reader so I liked trying things rather than pre-research. I stood on these cliffs in 20 to 30-mile an hour winds. I was holding my tripod down and would do that for up to 45 minutes.

This is one of Toby’s personal, all-time favorite photographs:

Pacifica Pier

TIA:  Another wonderful photo from the gorgeous Bay Area, without a doubt!  Please share the story behind achieving your favorite photograph. 

Toby:  It’s never easy trying to pick my personal favorite photo. I know it won’t be everyone else’s favorite but, for me, it wasn’t about the photograph itself. It’s about the story and the moment I captured to tell that story. 

I was with two friends and we decided to go shoot at Pacifica Pier, which is just outside San Francisco. We went a bit before sunset and ran all around the pier, seeing what angles we wanted to get for sunset. The shot I really wanted to get was right in the center under the pier and looking a little up. I had seen similar shots through Flickr in black and white, so I wanted to get this one right around sunset. The water was a bit high to really get the shot I wanted, but I usually like to take those risks anyways!

I have gotten to a point where I pretty much have to get knee-deep in the ocean and my shoes full of wet heavy sand or it’s not a successful outing!  
Well, that is exactly the case for this shot. I go and get right in the center with my Canon 7D, tripod, a 17-40mm f/4 lens and my old set of Cokin Neutral Density filters. At the time, the water level was low for the most part, but it was one of those evenings where, every once in a while, a very large and unexpected set of waves come in. I was taking one to three-second exposures. I was getting waves up to my knees after each three-second shot. I had to quickly grab my set up and run away a few times as well! I was also raising my tripod and camera over my head after every few shots, to save them from taking a swim. I finally had my settings dialed and knew the next couple would be the keepers. I take a few one-second shots and then, right as the picture finished, I was above waist deep under water, but luckily lifted my tripod up fast enough that only a little bit of water sprayed my camera. I was completely soaked though.

I stupidly had my iPhone in my pocket as well.  It wouldn’t stop playing music all night. I clicked pause and it kept playing. The speaker broke as well, so I could even hear the music, haha!  The voice control also popped up every three seconds and it was sending FaceTime calls to random people for an hour or so. I kept it off for the night and it worked just fine the next day, thankfully.

TIA:   Now that Is quite a story!  Looking at that image, I would not even be able to imagine what you experienced to get the shot.  I typically believe that knowing the story often gives so much more context and significance to a photograph for the viewer. Thanks for sharing what you went through, Toby.   Even though there are humorous moments in capturing the image you want, there are clearly challenges as well.  Could you describe the aspects of photography you find challenging or frustrating?

Toby:  Well, I don’t shoot a lot of people or events. Unfortunately, if you want to make a living or try to, shooting events, weddings, and people are the best way to do that, but I don’t have fun doing that. With events, you just click, click, and click away, trying not to miss anything, as everyone will be looking back to find those shots you took. You have a couple of seconds for every moment and then it’s gone. Later on, while editing, you realize “that one shot” you were asked to take, well it’s blurry. It’s stuff like that I just don’t like enough. I would rather be standing over some cliff or be knee-deep in the ocean trying to catch the sun going over the horizon. I guess you only have a few seconds with that until it’s gone, but at least that’s fun.

TIA:  Please share what you believe are the ingredients for a fantastic photograph. 

Toby:  As I shoot more and more, I have come to a point where, sometimes, I won’t even go out. I love shooting around sunset, and I do it a lot, so weather is one of the most important things. If it’s not cloudy, I might stay in or, at least, go shoot something else. My number one ingredient is enjoyment, though. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, then why do it? I love what I do, so enjoying it is very important. Number two would be weather and conditions. I never use to study the weather like I do now. Is it cloudy? How high is the tide? The temperature. The season. Moon cycle. Where is the sun rising? Where is it setting? And so on. There is so much research that goes into all this now that I have realized how important it actually is, and helpful. My final ingredient is just having your own style. You have to like what you’re posting and sharing with the world. If you don’t like it, why show it at all? You have to have confidence with what you’re doing. Straight out of the camera, or post-processed to the max, it’s your style and art. Do what you want, not what others want.

TIA:  What or who motivates your photography?

Toby: Living in San Francisco, you realize there are a ton of photographers here. I go on quite a few photowalks in the area and even down to Santa Cruz. Google+ has brought me to all these people. All these great, like-minded people who I have now met. They all motivate me. We are all doing the same thing, so that helps keep me going. If it’s a few hours before sunset, there are always people online planning somewhere to go chase the sunset, or go wander into the night and drink and click.

5 thoughts on “Feature Photographer Interview: Toby Harriman

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  1. i loved every minute of it and the photo is terrific. Knowing this part of you is like meeting a new friend.

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