Feature Photographer Interview: Sam Antonio

Sam Antonio

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Subscribers to TIA International Photography, it is with extreme delight to welcome you to the revamped edition of TIA’s official blog!  In addition, TIA is very excited to introduce you to the latest photographer for the Feature Photographer series:  Sam Antonio!

I have followed Sam’s work for roughly three years, and it’s safe to state that his photography has taken him across the world numerous times with several fantastic, indelible images to document his experiences.  One of the most engrossing aspects of Sam’s photography is his travel images from multiple corners of the earth.

Many of the images, by themselves, tell such intriguing stories before Sam even describes what took place at the time the image was taken.  From the villages of Vietnam, and the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., to the hidden treasures of central Mexico, Sam’s “Wanderlust” continues to lead him on an adventurous path that continues to take him around the globe ad infinitum.

TIA caught up with Sam briefly — probably while he was in between destinations — to conduct this interview.  Without further ado, let’s get to know a bit more about Sam before he takes off again!

NAME:  Sam Antonio

CITY & COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE:   San Diego, California, USA

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

FLICKR WEBSITE:   http://www.flickr.com/samantonio

BLOG:   http://www.SamAntonioPhotography.com

FACEBOOK FAN PAGE:   http://www.facebook.com/SamAntonioPhotography

GOOGLE +:  https://plus.google.com/109775789443112038938

TWITTER:  https://twitter.com/samantoniophoto

PINTEREST:  http://pinterest.com/samantonio


Landscapes, Cityscapes and Travel Portraits

TIA:  Hi Sam!  Let’s get started with some of your favorite locations to photograph!

Sam: I can only speak in generalities since I have so many favorites. First, I love photographing in America’s National Park System since they have so many pristine landmarks (Half Dome, Mesa Arch, Delicate Arch, Old Faithful), iconic landscapes (Grand Canyon, The Grand Tetons) and adventures waiting to happen. They are truly an American national treasure and a gift for photographers since the amazing scenery is provided and all we have to do is press the shutter button. Second, my hometown of San Diego is an undiscovered treasure trove of vast photo opportunities with our beautiful beaches, diverse cultures and near perfect climate. I use the term “undiscovered” because sometimes San Diego is overlooked by our neighbors to the North.  You may have heard of them: Los Angeles and San Francisco. Third, after spending the better part of last year in Southeast Asia, I fell in love with the culture, food and warm hospitality. Southeast Asia is a great place to expand your people photography portfolio since the people are so photogenic, warm, and inviting.

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

Sam: I have yet to travel to India, but it is on my short list of places to experience. India with its flavors, culture, people, history and rich colors is a photographer’s paradise.

TIA:   You have hundreds of riveting photos from locations around the world.  Could you please share how you first discovered your passion for photography?

Sam: There is a phrase, “Great writers are great readers.” I believe the same holds true for photographers. For photographers, reading informs, educates and inspires. I was blessed because, at a young age, I loved to read books. I grew up in a lower middle-income family where we did not take many family vacations, but we did have a complete collection of Collier’s Encyclopedia. A whole new world opened up to me as I read about foreign cultures and distant lands. I would imagine myself climbing along with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to the summit of Mount Everest.

My active imagination would open doors to fuel my creativity, but it could only be fostered by sharing with others. Writing filled this void for many years. In college, and afterwards, I finally was able to travel to the places I had only read and dreamt about. Writing in my travel journals (yes, good old pen and paper – the days before Facebook, iPads, and smartphones) and in lengthy emails (pre-blog days) to my friends and family fueled my passion for travel and writing. I had a compact film camera to document my trips, but that is all it was, a simple tool to “show and tell” my friends and family of my journeys.

My personal watershed moment in photography came in 2001 when I took a trip to the Philippines, the birthplace of my parents. To prepare for the trip, I bought one of the first consumer cameras to come out, the Canon Powershot S100 at a whopping 2 megapixels! Bringing that camera on that trip was a real eye opener since I could receive immediate feedback of my photos on the tiny LCD screen on the back. More importantly, when I showed the photos of people I just took a picture of on my LCD, their faces would light up. I knew then that photography would be a powerful medium for my creativity, personal expression, and bringing smiles to people’s faces.

Below is one of Sam’s personal, all-time favorite photographs:

             Good Morning, Vietnam!


TIA:  A most enchanting image!  What is the story behind achieving your favorite photograph?

Sam: This is the Red Sand Dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam. Mui Ne is a beautiful beach resort that looks nothing like the rest of Vietnam. Inundated with backpackers, boutique resorts, and tons of Russian tourists. This is where you go if you don’t want a slice of the real Vietnam. I went there for some welcome relief from the madness otherwise known as Saigon, otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City. Besides the beach, Mui Ne is famous for windsurfing and their white and red sand dunes.

Walking through the dunes was a surreal experience. It reminded me of a mini Death Valley National Park and, at other times, I did have my “Lawrence of Arabia” moments.

After walking through the dunes for an hour or so in the hot sun, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration for a great shot. So I walked back to the cafe across the street where I parked my motorbike to get a cold beer. I met this young woman and an older woman in the cafe who were models for a photo shoot earlier in the day. I asked them to be my models and in return I would send them copies of my photographs. They agreed and we headed back out to the dunes.

The sun was setting quickly so I had only about ten minutes to photograph them. Under the time constraints and changing lens in between shots (not a good idea with so much blowing sand around you), this was perhaps this best of the series of shots I took.

I love the photograph for its simplicity of composition, colors and “spirit of place” it evokes.

TIA:   I remember seeing this photo for the first time on Flickr and I’m certain Vietnam was not first country that came to mind when I saw this.  It is always enlightening to see an image from a location one would not suspect is the actual location!  There’s often an element of surprise and amazement upon the realization.  Let’s switch gears for a moment.  Could you please describe the aspects of photography you find challenging or frustrating?

Sam: I have always found post-production the most challenging part of my photography for a number of reasons. One, I am really slow. It takes me a while to process my photos since I process each shot in a different manner and I do not use any presets. When I review my photos, especially my travel photography, it evokes so many wonderful memories of the places I have seen and the people I met. As a result, my workflow comes to a standstill at times. Second, finding my voice. It may take an hour or more to work on a photo and not because I am trying to change the dynamics of a scene, but rather fine tuning my vision and voice of what I want to express. Third, the technical aspect. In the past I have used Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements which are great tools, but I hated working with layer masks. It took me a while but I have finally converted over to Apple Aperture 3 which has been a godsend.

TIA:  In your view, what are the ingredients in creating a fantastic photograph?

Sam: First and foremost is the quality of light. The word photography is derived from two Greek words: photos (light) and graphos (drawing), so in its pure essence, photography is the “drawing of light.” Second, the connection between you and your subject.  For example, have a good understanding of a city’s history when shooting cityscapes. In addition, when shooting portraits of people have empathy, and not simply sympathy. Lastly, do not forget about the person behind the camera. Upgrading your camera to the latest and greatest will not necessarily yield fantastic photographs, but rather upgrading your knowledge of photography and growing as a person will. Focus on expanding your mind, rather than expanding your lens collection.

TIA:   Photographers often get inspiration from different sources. It can be from other people, current events, or profound ideas.  What or who motivates your photography?

Sam: When I first started out, I would shoot landscapes and like most people I was heavily influenced by Ansel Adams.  Since I love to shoot in color, I was inspired by the works of Galen Rowell and David Muench. Bob Krist sparked my interest in travel photography and, in the last couple of years, Steve McCurry has been responsible for directing my photography toward portrait photography and photojournalism.

I do have to give a special high-five to David duChemin and Chase Jarvis because they are phenomenal photographers and rank high in the coolness factor in my book.

TIA:   Before we conclude, is there any topic that we haven’t discussed that you would like to share for this interview?

Sam: I want to thank you, Tosin, for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed for your blog. I have always admired your photography since coming across your work on Flickr.

Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech has always had a profound impact on me. In particular, this story he told to the graduating class:

“When I was young, there was an amazing publication called ‘The Whole Earth Catalog,’ which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960′s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: It was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.”

“Stewart and his team put out several issues of ‘The Whole Earth Catalog,’ and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.’ It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

As a wandering travel photographer, I have to constantly remind myself to Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. To wander a city as a temporary local and seek new experiences and not have it handed to me from a formulaic tour package. To photograph people as human beings with fascinating stories and not as a cultural backdrop.

I guess this is why I love to travel and photograph, to tell compelling stories and to Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

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