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Monday, September 1, 2008

Tim Tadder - Ahead Of The Game

Feeding off an unmatched competitive will to beat his own personal best, Tim Tadder’s incomparable work ethic is making him a modern master of commercial photography


Running The Game
Tadder is always working. He previsualizes everything, but while shooting, he’s pushing new ways and positions, always trying to figure out how to make the image better. When he’s not shooting, he’s editing or exploring ideas on the computer. Tadder’s work ethic is brutal, something else he may have learned from his father, a professional photographer in Baltimore, who made most of his profit by churning out sheer volume.

“It’s definitely hard work if you want to be successful at it,” says Tadder, “because there’s a lot to making something that has a particular communicative value. For me, it’s about thinking a concept through at the beginning, putting in the effort at the start of a shoot that’s required to make sure the photos are thoughtful and resonant, and have a purpose, and the visuals connect with the concept that you’re trying to get across.”

A recent assignment for Coca-Cola’s Full Throttle energy drink provided some insight into the intense process of a Tadder shoot. The eight-day campaign began in Santa Maria, Calif., where Tadder and crew built a rodeo ring from scratch, hiring bulls, riders and a location. The shoot also involved, at various points across the U.S., a strongman competition, drag racing and shark fishing.

“In a period of eight days, we captured 30,000 images,” recalls Tadder. “We had four shooters going, four cameras, all different angles, capturing all this stuff. That, in itself, is hard work, but then every night, we turned around a hard drive to the client that had 6,500 images on it with a Lightroom catalog edited down to 35 selects so they could turn it around before the Fourth of July. By the end of the day, you’re putting in long, long hours, and you’re very tired, you’re fatigued; you’ve traveled all over the country on one assignment, and you’ve been in five cities in eight days and logged 12,000 miles—and you end up with one picture. That, to me, can be very hard work.”

It’s definitely hard work if you want to be successful at it,” says Tadder, “because there’s a lot to making something that has a particular communicative value.

To maintain such a tremendous workflow, Tadder travels with at least two or three people from his own inner circle. Think of it as an entourage, one that knows and anticipates Tadder’s needs and whom he knows will be able to provide what he has asked for the first time. He also hires a lot of crew, with many familiars on the West Coast, both in his native San Diego and in nearby Los Angeles.

For such large-scale projects and clients, Tadder also is able to work with a production budget akin to shooting a small film, and he’s often able to hire both typical crew, as well as digital intermediates—techs who are able to begin basic edits while Tadder is clicking away. Then, once the day’s shooting is over, he can jump right into getting images selected and turned around to the client. His job isn’t just to be photographer; he’s often a director, producer, location scout and editor.

The Back End
Not surprisingly, emulation of Tadder’s work is a popular topic on the Internet. There are numerous forums where you’ll find topics of discussion on “the Tim Tadder style” of imagery. Tadder finds it flattering that there are so many people out there loving what he’s doing, but his biggest advice for photographers is to “go out and be you.” Tadder’s style is something that he himself developed through practice and patience, and he’s fully aware that the current heavily processed look may be the flavor of the month. So he’s always working on new possibilities and further developing his style in the meantime. The important thing to him is to keep practicing and to keep working.

Muses Tadder, “To be a photographer, you need to be a photographer. You’d be surprised at how many people sit around and wait for an assignment to make a picture, and then say, ‘Now I’m going to take a really great picture today.’ When you have an assignment, that’s the last place that you should be trying something new or experimenting. You need to develop your cool images on your own time, where you have no pressure, and you can really explore something digitally and take care and toil around, and do that a lot—really continue to shoot and shoot and shoot. If you want to be a good communicator and a good photographer, someone who has strong images, you have to be able to replicate them every time, make it happen on demand, and to do that, you have to know what you’re trying to say, how you’re trying to say it and how to say it. Master your craft.

“Photography is a little like baseball in that these guys get paid millions of dollars, and they only hit the ball one out of three times,” concludes Tadder. “We have to take a lot of pictures in order to take the right picture. There are a lot of mistakes that make that success. Visual perfection is elusive, and to better your chances at it, in my opinion, you have to refine and really know what you’re trying
to accomplish.”

Tadder’s Gear
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
Hasselblad H3D-39
Profoto Heads
Profoto Pro-7a 2400 Power Supply
Profoto Pro-7b 1200 Power Supply
Profoto D4 4800R Power Supply
Adobe Lightroom
Apple Mac Pro 8-core

To see more of Tim Tadder’s photography, visit www.timtadder.com.


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