Robert Englebright is a New York-based photographer who takes pictures of people and places for advertising, editorial and corporate direct clients. He seeks out unique views of the ordinary. After studying fine art photography and art history at the University of Illinois, Chicago, he began his career first as an assistant, then studio manager and producer—in full-time and freelance capacities—for commercial photographers and studios. During that time, he also worked on and exhibited his personal projects. A few years ago he decided to quit his career working for other photographers and started defining himself as one. Robert stuck with what he knows, commercial photography, and is involved in and committed to seeing that succeeds. He is also committed to spending as much time as possible on his personal projects, which give him a great deal of joy and informs his professional work. Visit Robert Englebright’s website at www.englebright.biz.
DOMINIQUE JAMES: How did you get started in photography?
ROBERT ENGLEBRIGHT: I had always been involved in art. I was lucky enough to go to a high school with a very good art curriculum. I took classes in everything from weaving to pottery to jewelry making. But I did not pick up photography until I was in the Air Force. After my honorable discharge, I went to college and studied photography (fine art) and art history at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
DJ: What kind of pictures do you like to take?
RE: For my own personal work, whatever inspires me. I use photography as a tool for discovery. But even more importantly, for my personal well-being I use photography as a tool to stay present. The Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has written for many years about mindfulness, and photography helps me achieve that. I am much more “in the moment” when I have a camera in my hand. A few years ago, after a career spent mostly working for other photographers, I decided to concentrate my effort on working as a commercial photographer. Trying to get that career off the ground is what currently occupies me. As a commercial photographer I like to take pictures of people and places: environmental portraits and travel. I prefer an editorial/photojournalistic approach to travel photography, as opposed to “lifestyle” photography, which does not appeal to me.
DJ: Who or what would you consider as influential to your photography?
RE: It’s an amalgam. Having studied the history of photography and art I like to think I bring some of that to my work. Probably some of my biggest early influences are: Ray Metzker, Harry Callahan, Richard Avedon, and Edward Hopper. But also I have had the privilege of working with some amazing photographers—Mary Ellen Mark, Brigitte LaCombe, Bruce Davidson, Doug Menuez, and the great Victor Skrebneski, to name a few—and I tried to learn something important from each of them.
DJ: What’s your favorite camera and lens?
RE: Unequivocally my favorite lens if my 17-40mm. I like the viewpoint of a wide-angle lens. The 50mm and up don’t interest me for my personal work. Otherwise, it depends for what purpose and my mood. I have Canon 5D Mark II’s and various lenses that I use for assignments; a Canon G12 that I use a lot for street photography (I will use a Leica when I can afford to buy one); and my iPhone that I enjoy using for my Instagram.
DJ: Any other particular piece of photo gear that you like using?
RE: I recently bought Lumedyne off-camera battery strobe equipment because I want to incorporate strobe into my environmental portraiture in some sort of creative way. I don’t want to use them just for utilitarian purposes, but to create interesting lighting that enhance or contribute to the aesthetics of the image.
DJ: Do you edit and enhance your pictures before showing them?
RE: I wouldn’t use the word “enhanced,” but I absolutely post-process and retouch if needed. As stated earlier, I studied fine art photography and was an excellent darkroom technician and printer. I learned that taking the picture is just one step in the process. The darkroom—which for me has now been replaced with Photoshop, Nik Efex, DXO OpticsPro, and Lightroom—is where the magic can happen. I do not adhere to the dogma that the picture is finished the second it’s taken: that’s necessary in photojournalism to ensure authenticity in a photograph, but I’m not a photojournalist. I use post-processing to get the most out of an image. I do not rely on post-processing as a crutch, but as a tool. I avoid using HDR (except in architectural photography) or crazy effects gimmicks. If a photograph is bad to begin with, no amount of post-processing will rescue it.
DJ: How do you share your pictures and to whom?
RE: As a professional I have to be careful what photographs I post where, because social media sites have agreements that can be harmful to photographers who may want to sell their images as rights managed. I share my work with those in the creative industries (advertising, magazines, etc.)—the people I want to hire me—through targeted marketing campaigns and on my website, www.englebright.biz. I used to have a lot of work on Flickr, but I took my work off there over a year ago because of their agreement. I also enjoy posting on Instagram, www.instagram.com/englebrightphoto/, whenever I am out I am looking around for something that catches my eye to take with my iPhone and post. I then tweet the same post and put it on Facebook, www.facebook.com/englebright.photography. I share quite a bit on Facebook, but again it is mostly imagery that I don’t think I could sell as rights managed. For a while, I was putting my fine art work on various sites, but to sell one's artwork online requires time and effort that I’d rather put into my commercial work for now. Websites devoted to selling artwork want artists to believe that they can get their work sold easily on those sites, but in truth it is really up to the artist to drum up interest and drive traffic to those sites that exhibit their work—the websites are not going to do it.
DJ: How do you store or archive your pictures?
RE: All of my work is backed up to a rack in a JBOD configuration of 5 hard drives that are 1 terabyte each. Every evening the 5 terabytes of hard drives on my Mac Pro Workstation are automatically backed up using ChronoSync software. I use Lightroom for my DAM (Digital Asset Management).
DJ: What advice can you share with others?
RE: My best advice would be to study the craft of photography and pursue what you love within the medium. I agree with Philip-Lorca DiCorcia's statement that, “Photography is a foreign language everyone thinks he speaks.” Photography is a language that uses metaphor, iconography, symbolism, etc., to tell a story. If you want to speak the language of photography well you need to understand that. And I think you have to treat photography as a craft like any other art form. Know your craft. A person is not a photographer just because they have a camera. Elevate yourself above the din of competing voices by honing the craft and developing your own aesthetic sensibilities.
Note: All photographs on this page by Robert Englebright, taken at Caberete, Dominican Republic. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.