Todd Korol: A Pro’s Pro, Part Two

Todd Korol is a self-taught Canadian photographer who lives with his family in Calgary, Alberta, but has traveled the world on assignment for various corporate clients and international publications as well as trips solely for his own personal projects. We first interviewed Todd Korol in June about his career in photography, his family and his involvement in the upcoming Leica Akademie Workshop in Calgary. You can read part one of our interview here. We had a chance to sit down with Todd again after the M9 Shooting Experience workshop that took place on Saturday, July 16. Here Todd shares his experience at the workshop, his inspirations and his plans for future projects.

Q: Many of your rural and cowboy images are characterized by a masterful use of light and very precise timing. How do you manage to achieve these things consistently and are there any tips you can suggest to help other Leica users?

A: Well thanks, that’s a great compliment. What a lot of new photographers don’t get and, in part, because the camera manufactures sold them on this, it’s all about light and timing. Camera companies are now selling people on nothing but technology, every bell and whistle they can imagine on a camera. The whole premise of the Leica is the way the M camera handled and in the film days, you really had to understand light, how you wanted to expose the image to get the look you wanted and when you had no motor drive, timing was everything. You had one, maybe two, shots and if you missed it that was it. Composition is also something that new photographers struggle with. In almost every photo, the subject is in the dead center of the image. Why? Because that’s where the auto focus dot is. Now with all M cameras and the new M9, you still have to focus and compose. The camera makes you think about light, timing and composition. Those are the three essential elements that make a great photograph.

Q: Aside from its ruggedness, reliability and straightforward simplicity are there any specific characteristics of the Leica M9 you find especially useful as an editorial photojournalist and documentary photographer?

A: Well for me I love the fact that it is light, I recently had a chat with a friend who just got back from Italy and hauled all this gear around and a tripod! He said that at the end of the day he was beat, soar and he knows he missed pictures because he had too much stuff. With the M9, you need a pocket full of batteries, a couple of lenses and you are off. You can’t shoot everything, but it forces you to concentrate on what’s in front of you. You have to interact with people, to get into their lives. The smartest thing Leica did with the M9 is they kept it very simple. A shutter speed dial and the shutter release button, a single menu on the back. That’s all I need.

Q: Which lenses do you rely on most often in your work? Do you have a favorite Leica lens and do you think it has, as many have asserted, a special look to the images it produces?

A: I have three workhorse lenses: the 50mm f/2 Summicron, unbelievable sharp, light, love it; the 35mm f/2 Summicron Asph, almost always on the camera, again amazing; and an old 28mm lens, need to upgrade that. The great thing about the whole kit is that it weighs almost nothing. Carrying the body and lenses around takes no toll on you. When you are shooting on the street, it just looks like you are a tourist; people pay no attention to you. It’s great! I have to say though, the crispness of the images and the contrast with my 35mm Summicron lens is unlike any other 35 I have ever had. It will be with me forever.

Q: Can you tell us something about your experience conducting a Leica Workshop, and did you ever get a chance to try the 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux you were looking forward to shooting with?

A: The Leica workshop was wonderful. I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to try a Leica M9 out. All of the students get their own body, some students were looking at this thing going, “That’s it? Where are all the buttons?” It’s really a whole new way of shooting. When we got on the streets to shoot, students started commenting on how they were starting to wait for that moment to happen. Some of them started shooting a series of photos on a subject. I think everyone loved it. Sadly, the Noctilux didn’t make it to the workshop.

Q: You mentioned that you wanted to capture the spontaneity of catching “great moments” or “someone when their guard was down” and to show your students how “you can make more of those moments with the M9.” How well do you think you succeeded in the mission at the Leica Workshop and can you share a couple of the suggestions you made to your students?

A: One of the things we looked at was just having the one body with you and not looking like a photographer. One of the things I suggested was that they have to pre-visualize where a photo might happen, set up the framing and wait for either the right people or light. That’s a big thing I do, is pre-visualize what will happen in the frame, and then try and capture that. I rely on a lot of luck and serendipity in my photography.

Q: You said, “My family is my life and the most important thing to me, but photography is everything else.” It is a beautiful and telling statement, but can you elaborate on what you mean by it and whether you have ever combined these two passions in your life?

A: Well, I think every photographer comes to that fork in the road when they have to decide if they are going to spend the rest of their lives with someone and make a family, or are they going to become a photographer that travels, spends months away working on projects and becomes that famous photojournalist. A lot of people try both, some succeed and a lot fail. I was lucky and met this great woman who I have now been married to for almost 20 years. We have two great boys and that’s the world to me. However, the rest of my waking hours are spent in photography. It’s my calling in life and I have known that ever since high school. I wake up every morning completely happy. I probably don’t get to travel as much as I want, but having my family there at night makes up for it. I am consumed by great photography. I have a great photography book collection and a great working space now. At this point in my life I am going to really concentrate on taking meaningful photos.

Q: Do you have any new assignments or personal projects in the works, such as documenting subcultures you haven’t covered before, and can you tell us something about your photographic plans for the immediate future?

A: Fifty years after he shot the pictures, Robert Frank’s book “The Americans” still has a haunting effect on me. I love that book. I think it opened so many doors for so many different photographers. I have been thinking of turning on the M9 black and white feature and finding my own road trip of discovery. There is a certain kind of freedom in traveling light. I have been researching where to go right now. I’ve been traveling to Europe once a year just to do street photography. I went to Berlin, Prague and Vienna this year; Rome is already booked for next year.

Q: We found your statement, “often what’s out of focus is as important as what’s in focus” intriguing. Do you frequently use wide-aperture lenses and shoot wide open to blur backgrounds and make the subject pop? Do you consider beautiful bokeh an important attribute in your kind of photography?

A: I love aspects in a photograph that are out of focus, but add an element to the photograph. It could be a lone figure or an out of focus building; all these things add to the mood of the photograph. I often think about creating a mood or feeling of a place and not just documenting what a place looks like. For me, it’s about how a place feels. Leica has long had a beautiful bokeh. I love shooting just on the edge of light, when the sun has set and there is some twilight left mixed with some street light or light from a building, when you have to use those lenses wide open. Those are when really magical pictures seem to happen. Leica lenses are just super sharp and when used wide open, they really shine.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Todd’s images on his website, www.toddkorol.com, and his blog, http://toddkorol.wordpress.com.