Photographer of the Month Interview: Aaron Feinberg | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, November 2012:   Aaron Feinberg

This month, our featured guest is Aaron Feinberg.

We want to thank Aaron for taking time away from his busy schedule to answer our questions and share his work and thoughts with us! Please visit his site links to learn more about him and his work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: Take us on a journey from your beginnings in photography; what spawned the passion?

The true beginnings of my photography are a bit muddled. I've had to answer the question often enough to realize that I have no idea where it came from. I can remember there was always interest in photography, but nothing serious. Photo elective at summer camp, an SLR as a gift, a digital point-and-shoot in college. I can remember taking the digital and being "creative" with it but it never entered my mind as a profession. It wasn't til I was skiing in Utah and my friends started encouraging me after seeing photos I was taking with the P&S [Point and Shoot], that I was interested to upgrade. I purchased my first DSLR, a Canon 20D, on March 6, 2006.

Passion for capturing the images, I believe, started back when I was younger and my affinity for hiking. The idea became to show people how beautiful the world around them was. Even if it were something more familiar seen in a different way. Of course, taking photographs was always fun and now with the current skill set it really allows for that vision to be fulfilled.

:: Your profile on Facebook says you studied atmospheric science in New York. Can you talk a bit about that and what took you from there to Hawaii?

Ah, that's a long story <>.... Basically, after graduating college, I was not in the mood to get a "real" job and sit behind a desk or the such. Around sophomore year I mentioned to a friend I wanted to head out west to be a ski bum and he recommended a place he had worked at when he was younger. Once I graduated, I went out to Utah to chase the powder. Toward the end of my 3rd season I called up a chef I had worked with for the first two seasons to see how he was doing and say hi, and as the conversation progressed, it ended with him offering me a job at a new restaurant he was opening on Kauai. My options at the time were to either move to Portland, OR, to work on my photography and hopefully work with a friend up there, or move to Hawaii and manage his restaurant. How ironic the choice is now. I landed on Kauai on May 7, 2007, and the rest is history.

:: Unlike a lot of typical landscape and nature photographers, you do weddings, some portrait and nude photography. What is it about those other genres that draw you in?

That's a really funny question. Honestly, it was a couple of years after I started shooting that I realized that not all photographers shoot everything. It actually hadn't occurred to me that some people can't shoot a good portrait and some can't shoot a good landscape. Just made sense to me to shoot everything.

I really love capturing compelling portraits. There's just something about getting that image that makes the viewer stare and get involved. Then there's the side of taking a great picture of someone that has never seen themselves in that way before. Can be really rewarding. As for the commercial side, the portrait and wedding work started out as a part of my general income but has since waned to be just an occasional gig. If someone finds me, and I have time, I usually say yes. The nudes is a different story. That's another side of my creativity that I am exploring with that and had friends that trusted me enough when I started to create some beautiful images.

:: I remember seeing your work a few years back on Fred Miranda forums and then the next thing I knew you had three galleries "erupt" in Hawaii (a little Hawaiian reference for ya). Talk about that process and what ultimately led to the galleries, etc.

Ah, look at you getting all punny! Well played, sir. And yes, it's been a wild ride. I started selling my work consistently in Dec. '09 at the Westin in Princeville. One day a week, then two days a week. I was doing every art night I could. Any chance to set up my work somewhere, I was there. Huge amount of hours.

It was obvious, while selling my work, that I needed a space to actually display proper sized images. Considering I was selling 60" prints off my laptop screen and then seeing how awesome they were once printed, it was the obvious progression. With all the hours and pushing the product, I was able to save enough money to open up my first aFeinberg Gallery in Hanalei in Nov '10. It was 200 sq. ft., enough to finally display some proper sized images and hopefully get my foot planted.

I continued at the same pace with a friend or two helping run the gallery for the next year and was able to open aFeinberg Gallery Poipu in Jan '12. The need for a bigger space was apparent as 200 sq. ft. can only show so much. Now we have prints up to 10' long in the 919 sq. ft. gallery. A completely amazing experience. Admittedly, I got really lucky. And am so thankful for the way that life has played out and the people that have believed and supported me and the island that has allowed me to capture it like it has.

:: What is the most difficult aspect of photographing in Hawaii? Everyone sees the good sides through your work, and I assume it feels like it's always paradise all the time, but certainly it must come with some difficulty, right?

If by difficulty you mean sometimes the ice in my mai tai melts before I can drink it, then yes, there are some difficulties. [grin] The two main issues I can think of are that the sunrise and sunset down here happen pretty quickly. Because we are so close to the equator the sun is much more vertical to the horizon when rising or setting.

When I was shooting in Maine at the end of May I was shocked how long the twilight glow lasted. Seemed like forever! Of course, that means out here one has to be on it to capture things quickly when the light happens. The other major difficulty is the lava rock. Shooting and processing black rock is very tricky, especially with such intense light as we can get.

:: How many times do you hear the statement, "you don't look like what I thought you'd look like?"

Ha! I actually got that the other day, but usually that's because of how much younger I am than people expect. I just turned 30 and that tends to surprise people. If you're referencing my occasionally awesome beard...well...always expect the beard.

:: How do you find the time to split between shooting and spending time in the galleries?

Good question...I don't. I actually do not work in any of the three galleries anymore, which is crazy to think about. I have an amazing team of 13 that helps hold down the fort, so to speak. That being said, I still don't get out much to shoot as I'm putting in long hours on the computer mostly. Also, having shot so much over the last three years, especially on the north shore, I find myself passing it up more and more save for working on projects that I have which may only be one-day-a-year kind of shots.

:: Any plans coming up for new adventures outside of Hawaii?

Well, funny you ask! I just did three weeks in Northern California and one at Burning Man. As it turns out, I will be heading back to the mainland every 5-6 weeks for business, so that will force me (thankfully), to start working on more of my portfolio from places like Death Valley, Yosemite, Zion, Pac NW, etc.

:: You've been shooting nudes in Hawaii for a while now, and had some issues with censorship. I have to assume some people might be shocked because it's different from what they see as your traditional work. How have you dealt with, for lack of a better term, the "haters" of this side of your work?

I was wondering if you were going to ask about this. Le sigh...I HATE censorship. Let me rephrase, I f***ing hate censorship. Especially when it's art. I can feel myself getting fired up inside actually as I type this. Most of the fine art nudes that I post are landscape orientated that happen to contain a nude figure. They're art. And actually some of my best work, period. When some person decides that because an areola is showing that it needs to be censored/removed/banned, I lose it. How much smut do we see on a daily basis with commercials from any major brand that uses scantily clad women to sell its product? And this is art. BAH!

I separated out my nude work to its own fan page but I still have had to block out parts of bodies...which I now do fairly hilariously, as I have gotten to the point of throwing my hands up. Luckily my new website will slowly see the portfolio take shape over the next couple of months as we release the nudes in VERY small limited editions.

:: What is it about the nude work that interested you? What aspects about it do you find difficult when including a model into a nature scene?

Another great question and one that I could probably write a course curriculum answering. I think my interest started in just really appreciating the human figure. While I do shoot both men and women, women are much easier to shoot with regards to integrating them in to the landscape. Men work, it just requires a more specific body type.

As I was already shooting and becoming proficient with landscapes my ideas have mostly been blending the human and natural forms to create compelling images. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes a bit more blunt, so it seemed like a logical progression for me.

The most difficult part is usually coming up with a unique way to pose the model. I've had the awesome pleasure of working with a few professional models, St. Merrique, Floofie and Wolfpup, who are able to bring a completely different feel to the photographs. They are artists, except their art is expressing themselves through motion and poses. It makes my job a lot easier when they are able to pose on their own in ways that I would have never been able to direct.

Otherwise, it's just been a lesson in trial and error. Most of the time I work on the fly with very few ideas in my mind before a shoot and just feel and work with what is around me. Generally composing my landscape shot first and then figuring out how to best include the model. Keeps it interesting.

:: You had a little documentary video made on you that I thought was more accurate with the behind the scenes side of photography. Any plans to do more videos? How hard was it to make the current video, in terms of keeping your shooting looking natural?

Ah, that was a crazy new experience. Being in front of the camera for film! Completely different beast. I've done a bunch of PA work and BTS for productions but they've never been on me. Funny to feel the other side. The best part about the whole experience is that it was exactly that... natural. Given that I normally wouldn't have shot so much in three consecutive days, it definitely is an accurate portrayal of what I go through when creating images. As far as more videos, that would be up to the people wanting to shoot me.

:: What is your favorite piece of non-photographic gear, and why?

Non-photographic... seems odd to even think about, as I feel that everything I have is centered around photography. My headlamp is pretty key, as is my phone/apps. The Photographer's Ephemeris is invaluable. Does that count as non-photographic?

:: I don't see lava shots in your portfolio. Any plans to fly to Hawaii's big island and shoot some? I imagine people ask you on a regular basis.

There are lava shots in my portfolio, but my portfolio isn't always online. The best way to see all my released work is through one of my aFeinberg Galleries. I had the opportunity to shoot the lava three years ago but definitely need to go back and get more. It's one of the most impressive feelings I've ever had. Primal in all its true meaning.

:: What was the best piece of advice you've received while pursuing your photography business?

The only piece of advice I can remember actually is from a friend of mine in SLC when I was just starting to shoot back in '06/'07. And it was, "don't do it." Ha!

:: What advice would you give to someone trying to get a start in photography as a career path?

My advice? Don't do it. But in all seriousness, the best thing would be to be a sponge. Learn as much as possible, and work your ass off. It doesn't come easy or quickly. Believe in your work and value it.

:: What's the scariest thing that has happened to you while photographing?

Scariest thing was actually shooting the lava on the big island. I was super lucky; the lava had broken through by the visitor area and was getting close to crossing the road. I went out with a friend and in the process met the awesome Tom Kuali'i. We started talking story and he had actually seen my work online before and offered to hike with me down to the ocean entry. Of course this was after 12am and I jumped at the chance. Hiking out there solo is dumb and very dangerous. So off we went.

I can't really describe the feeling of standing on the bench as the waves are pounding the lava while it's pouring in to the ocean. The ocean is undermining the bench constantly and every so often it collapses. Always good to keep in the back of the mind. Then of course, you have to watch the gas plume so that it doesn't over take where you're standing and poison you. No big deal.

Hiking back to the road, we came back to where we had started the night and the lava had cut off the road. We dipped in to the tree line to see if we could get around it but to no avail. Now, standing in a dry forest with lava moving toward you isn't the best feeling in the world. We backed out and found a safe spot on the lava field and waited til sunrise, shooting as the light increased and getting some pretty sweet images in the meantime. After the sun came up we were able to hike down and around the lava and forest to get back to the car. Definitely a memorable night!

:: What problems do you see facing photography in the future?

Problems? None. It will continue to evolve as everything does. There are exciting things coming in the next five years. Mirrorless cameras are one of them. I'll be excited when that technology catches up so that I can get rid of that pesky thing. Plus increased dynamic range is always a plus. We've already come through the transition from the old stock days to the new micro stock. That was probably the biggest obstacle for most people... now it's just about adjusting and formulating our business to fit the new model.

:: Your social media side of things is refreshing and honest, and less technical than I imagine many photographers looking at your work would hope. Do you get any backlash for your style?

Never. And if I did I would ignore it. I do things my way and people will either love me or not for it. But I'm always going to be who I am and speak my mind and put my art out there for those that want to view it. I used to post more about the technical aspects of the shots, and still answer the questions when asked, but my clientele is not photographers as most other professionals market themselves. People want to know the story behind the image more than the technical mumbo jumbo.

:: What is your favorite image (as of now)? How was it made, and what kind of effort/process helped make it one of your favorites?

Favorite is relative. I don't have a favorite, honestly. There are too many images that I have connected with for various reasons. Whether it be what I was going through when I shot it, the difficultly of pulling off an image, the specialness of the light... whatever it might be.

I will say my most recent favorite image is probably "Eternal Vernal" or "Gateway To Where?" Yes, that's in fact two images. Both were shot on my recent trip to Yosemite and both have unbelievable light. "Eternal Vernal" is a shot of Vernal Fall (yes the leave off the s there) under clear skies, but the morning light was back/side lighting the mist and created an unreal scene. I started further away from the spot I started shooting from and then noticed that water in the foreground and moved up to bring that to fill the bottom of the frame. The rest was careful processing to make sure it looked like it did while I was there.

"Gateway To Where?" was one of those shots where you slap yourself that it's actually happening. I was with a couple of friends and as we were headed out of the valley I looked behind and saw a brief bit of light on El Cap. Luckily it was at the view area and quickly pulled out my gear and tried to catch the light. But missed. I then made the decision to set up and camp out to wait for it to happen again. Thirty minutes later, not only did I get the light, but a double rainbow. Unreal. My friend pulled off an all-time favor and held the umbrella over my camera so that I could focus on shooting and not on keeping the lens dry.

:: Where is the next location for a photographic adventure, and what new projects or news would you like to share with us?

Well, I will be making trips back to California every six weeks, it seems, so that will give me the impetus to start exploring more of the mainland. There are way too many places I have listed (yes, I keep a very detailed spreadsheet of places to go and shoot), that I need/want to capture. It's exciting on many levels, but building a wider portfolio for future gallery expansions is one of the main reasons, other than the fact that I really just want to go and shoot these places anyway.

Right now there are no big projects in the works, but the new website was a big one. I hope to be able to put together some intensive 4-5 day workshops out here on Kauai. And perhaps elsewhere.

Aaron Feinberg

Aaron Feinberg's Links

Photographer Spotlight Interviews

   • Want to be a featured photog?

Students of the Aperture Academy are eligible for special discounts and promotions from our partners.
Bay Photo SinghRay Filters SmugMug
Nik Software Induro Tripods thinkTANK

Photo Workshops

   → Photography Workshops
   → Photoshop® Classes
   → Meet Our Team
   → Student Hall-of-Fame
photo classes

Other Cool Stuff

   → Past Workshop Photos
   → How-To Articles
   → Photographer of the Month
photography lessons

Contact Us

   → Contact Us
   → About Us
   → Site Map

© 2009-2024 Aperture Academy, Inc.