Student Success: Student Success: Jeffrey Dannay
1. When did you realize that photography was the field you wanted to pursue?
I started getting serious about photography about four years ago. My father-in-law had been hooked by the photography bug, and he started winning local contests. My wife and I, being very competitive, decided to start learning the craft so we could spend time with him shooting and hopefully surpass him. Unfortunately, he got very ill and passed away soon after we started. He gave me his camera (Nikon D800) which only spurred me on further. In the beginning it was for him. But after a bit, the students surpassed the teacher. Now it’s all about going to fantastic places and taking the best images we can.
2. When did you enroll at NYIP?
I was getting more and more excited about photography, spending hours a day reading articles on-line and watching YouTube videos. My photography was improving but not fast enough. I felt I needed to get a broad foundation to lean on. After an exhaustive search for an online program, I came across NYIP. The course material looked to be a match for me, covering all types of photography fundamentals and a survey of photography genres. They even offered a reduced price. So, in January of 2014 I took the leap.
3. What was your coursework like?
I took the “Professional Photography Course.” It took me a lot longer to finish than I expected. This was due to the depth of material presented and life. Life always gets in the way! Being able to take the course online allowed me to fit it into my schedule, making the entire course more enjoyable.
4. Was your mentor helpful during the process?
My mentor was excellent. The critiques of my submitted images really helped me improve my eye. Even though I never talked with him live, I felt I got to know him through the audio reviews. This was helpful as I built a level of trust in him.
5. What type of work are you doing now?
I have teaching in my blood, as my father was a teacher in NY during my formative years. Although I didn’t go into that profession (I went into software instead), I always like helping people learn. Doing workshops is very new to me. I have taken workshops with excellent professionals and have learned a lot. But what could I offer that they do not? I don’t want our workshops to be a “me too.” We want to set ourselves apart and offer something unique. We settled on offering workshops where we go to great places but also provide the ability for our participants to travel and eat gluten free (my wife being Celiac). We now offer “Gluten Free Photography Journeys.” We are hoping to mesh safe travelling with excellent instruction. You can find out all sorts of details on our website.Through some photos I posted on the National Geographic site I met the founder of the WorldPix charity. WorldPix is a nonprofit organization that believes a country’s beauty is its greatest natural resource. Its goal is to help impoverished nations around the world by capturing their beauty through photographic images and returning the profits of those images back to causes within those countries. I was very intrigued with this charity as it melds two of my passions, photography and giving. I am now the President of WorldPix, my charter being to grow the charity through its on-line presence: www.worldpix.org.
6. Tell us about the Photoshop World Guru award!
I had been thinking that my photography has been improving year after year. At least that is what my wife has been telling me! We visited Myanmar and Cambodia earlier this year where I took some very nice photos of incredible subjects, receiving accolades from others (beyond my wife). With my confidence brimming, I felt I should compete against some of the best photographers around. And, I am very glad I did. Winning the guru award at Photoshop World for best in photography is very satisfying. All the work I have put into improving my photography skills paid off at that moment when they announced my name. I still get chills when I think about it. Now a little bit about the photo that won. It is called, “A Monk and a Serpent.” It was taken in Bagan, Myanmar while walking through a temple. The monk in this photo was studying his prayer book next to a latticed window which produced incredible light. I love the light on the edge of the prayer book and the light reflecting into the monk's face off the book. What finished the photo for me was the smoky incense shaped into a serpent. How lucky is that to get a beautifully lit monk and a serpent in the same photo?
7. What qualities do you think a successful, aspiring photographer needs?
Desire to learn, ability to receive criticism, and a good work ethic. Of course a bit of skill is necessary!
8. What were your post-graduation plans?
Since graduation, I have been traveling a lot with the goal of increasing my photography library. In some cases, I have traveled to locations I photographed in the past, trying to improve upon my previous images. Now that I have accomplished this goal, my wife and I are embarking on a venture to run photography workshops – with a twist. We are offering “Gluten Free Photography Journeys” where we take our students to fantastic places, provide instruction, all while ensuring that those with gluten sensitivity feel safe (http://www.sweetlightphotos.com/gluten-free-travel/). It really feels good to help people improve their photography while attending to their dietary restrictions.
9. What do you always carry with you in your camera bag?
My trusty Nikon D800E (now upgraded to a D5), 14-24 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, and 80-400, polarizer, and some ND filters. These with my Really Right Stuff tripod and ball-head make me ready for most anything.
10. What’s the most interesting thing you learned at NYIP?
There are so many types of photography that I had never been exposed to. At NYIP, the Professional Photographer’s course introduced me to some types that I did not think I would be interested in. After taking the module and making images for submittal to my mentor, I became much more interested and have since explored the techniques on my own (after graduation). The types that interested me the most are architecture photography, advertising and still life photography, and environmental portraiture. I have been able to employ architecture and environmental portraiture in my street photography and get very good results.
11. If you had to pick one, what was the most memorable photography project you’ve ever completed?
The people of Myanmar, in their fast evolving culture from Imperial Burma to British rule to communist military rule to the promises of freedom. The people seemed both happy and sad at the same time. After photographing some of the people, I began to feel their plight. I documented some of my thoughts in our blog. Here are three blog posts: http://www.sweetlightphotos.com/school-children/ and http://www.sweetlightphotos.com/the-little-faces-of-bagan/ and http://www.sweetlightphotos.com/a-bagan-village/
12. Describe a day in your life as a photographer.
Landscape photography means shooting during the best light of the day: sunrise and sunset, as well as during the blue and golden hours. On a very recent trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA we experienced a very long day when we added star shooting into the mix: http://www.sweetlightphotos.com/the-longest-day/ . We started our day in the middle of the night, waking for our star shoot. We followed that up with a sunrise shoot at Mono Lake, then some other local shoots, a sunset shoot back at Mono Lake, finishing up late in the evening after some post processing. Up early, to bed late, with almost no rest all day. Is this typical? Yes!
13. What’s the most rewarding part of studying photography?
I try to combine my love for the land and its people with modern technology (trained mathematician and computer scientist) into beautiful photographs. I like to combine advanced photographic techniques with various post-processing techniques to arrive at images that fully capture the beauty of my subject. I have never been very artistic. Photography allows me to explore this part of me which has never been exposed. It is exciting to see what I can produce.
14. What subject is usually your favorite to shoot?
I started with landscapes because they don’t move. It gave me plenty of time to set up my shot and shoot it over and over again until I got it right. It didn’t hurt that I was shooting sunrise and sunset at beautiful locations. I worked real hard at capturing the light. Then the travel bug hit hard. I tried to capture the essence of the locations we visited, then write about it in our blog (www.sweetlightphotos.com/blog). Family and friends started to follow us and enjoy what we were writing. It was a great feeling to share what we were seeing and feeling at locations all around the globe. As soon as we finish a trip, we are planning the next one. It’s a great life. Recently, street photography has grabbed my attention. Wherever we go (recently to Myanmar, Cambodia, the Mediterranean, and Kenya), I have added the photographing of street scenes to my shot list. The shots from Myanmar and Cambodia were some of my favorites.
15. If you could give one piece of advice to our current and prospective students, what would it be?
Don’t limit your learning, explore different avenues. The NYIP class is excellent and you can get a lot out of it. But there are many other ways to learn. I have participated in many workshops (feel free to sign up for ours!). Workshops offer one-on-one instruction in potentially very interesting locations and situations. Investigate other on-line learning options such as KelbyOne which offers more narrowly focused courses (each are about an hour long) taught by leading industry professionals. I have been a member for years and have benefited greatly. You can also attend expos such as Photoshop World where you can get hands-on training from the masters.
One other piece of advice (I know you asked for one but I cannot resist because it is so important) is to seek out critiques from more advanced photographers. Don’t seek out people who will tell you your photos are great. What help is that? How can you get better? Find real critics and listen to their criticisms. This was a tremendous help for me.
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