Kathleen Norris Cook
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Gallery Direct Interview with KATHLEEN NORRIS COOK|
Kathleen Norris Cook is a landscape and commercial photographer who has published four books, the most recent, a national award winning coffee table book, Sprit of the San Juans. Using natural light she photographs at specific times so the effect of that light brings out all the beauty nature has to offer.
Could you tell us a little about how your interest in the arts evolved and from what age you knew you were destined for a career in the arts?
As a child, I was always fond of drawing and I was good at it. I received a small art scholarship to Mississippi College and made my choice to pursue an art degree there.
Tell us a little about your formal education before you decided to become a photographer?
I have a BA degree in Art. Upon graduating from college, I went into commercial art and advertising. Photography was the furthest occupation in my mind.
I understand that after graduating from Fine Arts School you had a successful career as a commercial artist. How did this prepare you for a career in photography?
As an Art Director, I had the good fortune to work with commercial photographers. My art background enabled me to eventually create images strong in composition and design. The technical part of learning the basics of equipment operation was the hard part.
When and why did you decide to make a career change from a commercial artist to a professional photographer?
I became bored with commercial art and more intrigued with photography in the late 70's. Moving to Arizona gave me the incentive to learn about natural light and how it worked within the landscape.
Did you take photography courses while attending Fine Arts School or did you learn much of what you needed to know during your time as a commercial artist?
I learned from other photographers and also self taught.
Could you tell us what equipment you use and which lenses you find most useful when taking landscape photographs?
I've recently switched to digital. Previously, I used the Pentax 6x7 system and the Fugi 6x17 panoramic cameras. Film was Velvia ISO 50. I had 12 different lenses; the most frequently used was a 135mm Macro, 55mm wide angle, and a 90mm. I occasionally used a 75mm shift lens. The other lenses were used as needed.
I currently have a Canon 5D, Mark II digital camera with a Canon 28-300mm zoom + Canon's 180mm Macro. This system pretty much allows me to do everything I used to do with the 5 cases of film equipment.
Light is very important in all photography. Could you tell us what time of day you do most of your shooting and why you prefer these times?
Pre dawn to about 1/2 hour after sunrise; 2 hours prior to and through sunset. The exposure values are more even during those times, yielding less contrast between shadow and highlights. Also, the colors are richer and shadows are longer which help to add to the design and composition of the images.
Most photographers now use digital cameras. What would you say the advantages/disadvantages are to using digital camera versus film?
For me, it's the instant feedback. Also, as a commercial photographer I don't have the expense of buying commercial quality film, and also the expense of processing. Now, my clients want digital files. In the past, I've had the expense of hi res drum scans also. Now, I shoot and have the image to send out immediately.
Has Digital photography made any kind of impact on your work?
Obviously less costly, (see above). With the advantage of my new zoom lens, I'm not carrying so much weight as I did with my fixed lenses. My system is still so new, that sometimes I still forget that I can stand in one spot and zoom to compose rather than having to walk around so much to make a composition with my fixed lenses!! BIG CHANGE. Also, big advantage so far, the high end stitching software has enabled me to create panoramic digital images replacing my cumbersome, medium format panoramic camera equipment. That's ultimately what made me go digital. I can still create panoramic imagery because of the superior software.
How important of a role does the computer play in your work?
Extremely important. It's another tool in my camera bag and I use it extensively.
What have been your biggest successes as a professional photographer?
I'm very proud of all of the award winning commercial advertising work that I did in the mid 80's and through the 90's, to the mid 2000's. I created an outstanding body of work for the E&J Gallo corporation. I'm proud of the work I did on "The Spirit of the San Juans" book and documentary.
You have now made your mark as a successful commercial photographer. What words of advice would you give a young artist wanting to become a professional photographer?
It's the time worn advice: A great work ethic is invaluable; clients look to you as a problem solver. It's an opportunity to make them a "hero" and in doing that, you become a "hero" in their eyes.
Learn as much as you can about your craft; that includes the photographers who have come before you. Learn the history of photography and those who have impacted it and why they did so.
Nothing can replace a solid foundation of composition and knowledge of light and lighting whether it is indoor lighting or natural outdoor lighting. Don't undermine your profession by giving your work away.
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