Timothy Hogan: Photographer’s Profile

Mixed with equal parts of a healthy dose of curiosity and a gifted  perception of beauty, Timothy Hogan, a native of Santa Monica, California, is making waves (literally) in the photo industry.  He lives by the  mantra “act like ya been there,”  which we took as : walk with confidence! Walk like you own it. How’s that for some daily wisdom?

Timothy Hogan’s driven self-motivation keeps him on his own two feet. As a photographer, director, cinematographer, and avid surfer, he is a jack of all trades, working with global clients on everything but the kitchen sink – from still life, to film, to fashion. He recently produced a collection of photos entitled, “The FIN Project” that merges his love for still life and an obsession with surfing with the goal of exposing “the shape of the wave… and the way a quarter of an inch can make a dog into a ‘magic’ board.”  Few photographers have chronicled surfboard fins, and Hogan has breached the topic, with a mix of modern and old architecture – some wood, some color, each one with its own distinct aura. The photos remind us of how the simplicity of objects can become in their own way, beautiful masterpieces.

We sat down with Timothy Hogan to talk about his big break, his workflow, and a recent picture he took of Gordon’s Gin.


How did you become a photographer?  Describe your career development?

I guessed. I was at Syracuse looking into their computer science program and had the realization that I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer for 8 hours a day. I started thumbing through the course book and saw photojournalism, which sounded fun, so I signed up for that instead. The irony of course is that I sit in front of a computer for 10 hours a day now!

Describe your style in 5 words or less.

Iconic. Dynamic. Essential.

When and how did your “big break” come?

I wish there was one. Just lots of hard work.

What are some techniques that you have taught yourself?

Most of my lighting is self-taught. I’m a keen observer, so most of my skill is sitting off to the side, quietly watching and analyzing. Once I understand the qualities of something I want to photograph, I can replicate and expand on it.

Name one photographer who inspires you.

Sarah Small, who’s intensely personal, dynamic and unscripted work is the virtual opposite of mine.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever told you?

I was on a film set during my first summer in NYC between junior and senior year in college. It was a very hands on set – I was gaffing, holding the mic boom, and doing my best to dolly grip. The DP turned around to me (after I missed my mark and was stressing a bit) and just simply said: “Act like ya been there.” I’ve never forgotten that.



Where’s one place you’ve always wanted to go, and why?

Away to the south pacific with my surfboard, a pair of trunks, and maybe a tent for 6 months. Why? Because it sounds like fun. And there’s no email.

What’s the one regret that you have?

Besides becoming a photographer? (joking of course!) I’d love to say I don’t have any regrets, and in a way I don’t, because whatever we’ve gone through makes us who we are, in this moment. Regrets seem to be living in the past. That said, if I could do it over again I wouldn’t do photo school. I’d do art school and business school.

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?

As a profession? A furniture designer / woodworker building things with my hands.

What is your workflow typically like?

It depends on the job at hand, but I’ve been exclusively using Hasselblad backs ever since I converted to digital. For a while that meant capturing into Flexcolor but I’ve been using Phocus quite a lot now and really like it. One unique thing is that I always end up doing a lot of dimensionalizing the final files from the retoucher – subtly bringing shadows down and highlights up in a painterly way. It really makes the final files sing.

What do you think makes or breaks a picture?

So many things it’s hard to count. Anything really! To be truly successful, a picture needs to have the perfect lighting, the perfect expression and mood – the perfect composition. I’m not saying perfect in terms of schoolbook rule-of-thirds perfect, but perfect for that particular subject. It all comes down to reading the subject and feeling what it needs!  However, you get one thing wrong – cast the wrong person, over-retouch something and not pay attention to the light – and the whole experience is shot. Anything that makes the viewer wrinkle their forehead and wonder why something isn’t quite right – that’s what breaks a picture.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Somewhere in Southern California – surfing a lot, traveling, making films and building things with my hands.

Tell us something interesting. Anything.

Sally sells seashells down by the seashore.


Learning from the Pro

What are we going to shoot today?

We’re going to start off with a bit of learning about light quality – which is the first step in – well – lighting anything. I’m going to go through a variety of broncolor light modifiers and show the differences in the light qualities. We’ll look at the color saturation, the quality and depth of the shadows, and the directness of the light, and begin to understand their characteristics and how they relate to our subject. Then we’ll apply that knowledge to a real world situation.

How did you learn how to do what you are about to show us?

Like most things, trial and error! I’m only halfway kidding. The only way to learn this is to experiment. I’m a very hands-on person – so in the beginning of my career I started with books, which can only go so far in describing setups. After that, I would rent gear for the weekends or use the studio at school and just play with light. I’m pretty certain I still have a book full of Polaroids somewhere with me running through every light modifier we had at Syracuse, looking at specularity, shadow quality, and directionality. It’s like learning how to paint – you do some reading, take some classes, and then just paint!

What tools are you using to make this image?

We’re going to modify a shot that I did for Gordon’s Gin in London. We’ll shoot from a lower angle with the Hasselblad H4D with the background grad and main bottle light created using the broncolor Lightbar 120 through a sheet of translucent diffusion. This makes a beautiful, linear highlight in the bottle. I’ll then use the Striplight 120 for the main bottle highlight, showing the gloss and reflectivity of the glass. We’ll then add in the hard, specular quality of the Pulso Spot attachment for the sunlight effect. When combined, these create a beautiful, dynamic photograph with lots of depth and visual interest.

Why did you choose these tools?

Basically, because each has a unique quality of light that when combined, make a dynamic image.

What features of the equipment that you use make it easier to do your job?

Well, the adjustability of the scoro pack allows me utmost control in getting my ratios correct. And the zoom feature on the pulso heads allows me to tailor how hilights come across to great effect. The striplights have this great, linear quality that you don’t get from a traditional softbox.

Did you use competing products in the past?  What made you change?

Yes, just about all of them, from Speedotron to Comet’s to Profoto. The precision of these broncolor packs and heads is really second to none. And despite being very powerful, they’re incredibly easy to use. No sixths of a stop here! (which might be the most frustrating fraction on the face of the planet) (!)


*Timothy Hogan will be featured as a speaker at the broncolor/Hasselblad event, Shoot-LA, on April 28, 2012 at Smashbox Studios. From 10-11:30 AM he will talk about  “Understanding light: moving beyond f-stops and watt-second” : Light is the paint and the paintbrush by which we, as photographers, work. To use light effectively we need to first understand it, and only then we can employ light shaping tools to achieve the effect, mood and quality we wish to create. In this introductory course, Timothy Hogan will explore the qualities and moods of light and teach you how to use broncolor and Kobold lighting in a studio environment to tell a story, moving beyond f-stops, watt seconds, and lighting ratios.

For more information about Shoot-LA and Timothy Hogan’s seminar, please click here.

Timothy Hogan Photography