It's the Mount Rushmore debate. I frequently hear sports talk show hosts throw out the question, "who would be on your Mount Rushmore" for (choose any sport or team here).
This week, I heard a version of that question posed to the Supreme Court nominee. Who are your legal heroes?
That got me thinking. Who are my photography heroes? Who are yours? And why?
In the Mount Rushmore thinking, you usually limit it to the heroes list to four options, but since I am a fan of the rule of odds, I prefer the five heroes question. Here are my candidates.
Before I get into the list, my selections are based on a few assumptions and criteria.
Create great pictures. I'm assuming they all create great pictures. We should be able to agree on that. You must be an amazing photographer with a body of work to match.
Build an audience. The photographers on my list have been savvy enough to not just produce great pictures but attract an audience of raving fans to their work. As popular photographer Rick Sammons says, "You're not going to save the world with your photography unless people know you are out there."
Make an impact. The photographers must have used their photography talents to build something greater than photography. I'm looking for overall impact on the industry or the practice of photography.
Do these criteria look familiar? They should if you just glance up to the nameplate on this blog.
My heroes are current photographers who excel in all three of these categories, and I think it provides a good road map for any of us who aspire to photography greatness.
Now here's the list.
In no particular order...
Scott Kelby seems to have done it all. He has mastered photography, post production, and teaching. Along the way, he has built some of the more enduring institutions in our industry.
I love his travel and sports photography. Scott created this post from his trip to Italy that is a great example of what I would aspire to do on a trip like that. He is a great sports photographer who is on the sideline of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the NFL season. I love seeing the action and drama he captures, even if he sometimes makes Tampa Bay the hero at the expense of my beloved New Orleans Saints.
In terms of impact, it is hard to really underestimate what he has done for our industry. He created the National Associations of Photoshop Professionals, Photoshop User Magazine, Photoshop World, KelbyOne Training, and now The Gallery at KelbyOne. Any one of these institutions would be a tremendous achievement for any photographer's biography. To have created all of them is truly amazing.
Every time I watch Joe McNally shoot or teach, I leave with a serious man crush.
He not only masters the technical side of creating breathtakingly beautiful images, he demonstrates that he can do it on demand. Joe has carved out his niche in a photojournalism-ish niche of photography. As a regular photographer for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and Life, he has logged covers and bylines in most of the coveted magazines around the world.
Joe is also a master at manipulating light, as anyone who has viewed his many courses on flash photography can attest. Personally, I love Joe's work because, at heart, he is a people photographer. Look at the breadth of his work, and you see people — from glamorous situations to heartbreaking moments. They are always portrayed in an authentic and powerful way.
Speaking of on demand, Joe is a regular presenter in the Nikon booth at the PhotoPlus. There he shoots portraits of random people in the audience, creating magic right in front of our eyes. He often jokes near the end of his talk and demonstration when he only has five minutes, "I've shot cover photos in less time than this." Then he proceeds to create one right in front of you.
I don't associate Joe with the photography institutions like Kelby, but I think Joe teaches and inspires a generation of shooters in a way that is special.
It feels like one day I saw Lindsay Adler for the first time, and the next day she was everywhere.
As a fashion photographer in New York City, Lindsay creates not just beautiful images of models but photographs that feature beautiful storytelling. Her work has earned her the Canon Explorer of Light distinction, which is rare air.
I admire Lindsay because she epitomizes the result of disciplined professional development and focuses on self-improvement. Lindsay often talks about how she creates her own personal campaigns and pitches them to potential clients. She shows how creativity and pure hustle can create a brand.
I'm sure they all have this in common, but I hear Lindsay talking more about her journey than the older guys.
Lindsay is also an inspirational and through photography instructor. She really has a gift for teaching.
My Lindsay aha moment was when I got her three-day Creative Live class on posing. At first, I rolled my eyes and wondered what you could possibly say about posing for three days. Lindsay packed that entire time with useful information. I found myself furiously scribbling notes. It's like that with all her classes. She's an inspiring mixture of generosity and talent.
If Jay Maisel is talking to you, you better sit down and listen. Jay seems to be a constant source of grandfatherly photography wisdom.
In interviews and training videos, Jay casually talks about seeing, composition and impact. And if you aren't paying attention, little nuggets might get past you.
His wisdom stems from a 60-year photography career that has been recognized with the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Society of Media Photographers, and the Infinity Award of the International Center of Photography. You get that kind of applause when your portfolio has images of everyone from Miles Davis to Marilyn Monroe.
In the latter part of his career, Jay mastered the art of street photography without using the actual distinction. He walks the streets of New York every day, carrying his camera. As a result, he has created a gallery full of serendipity. Moments that seem to come once a lifetime? Jay can fill a whole wall with them. Listen when he talks.
You have probably quoted Chase Jarvis, and you don't even know it.
Quick. What's the best camera? If you say, 'the one you have with you'" you are quoting Chase. He wrote that book. Chase cut his teeth shooting extreme sports and developing his own unique style.
For me, Chase makes the list for founding CreativeLive, an online learning platform that disrupted the photography instruction industry. Chase created a concept of watching photography instruction for free live or owning the experience by purchasing the video recording. He grew that idea into the world's largest live-streaming education company.
The best camera is the one you have. And whatever camera that might be, you can learn how to use it on CreativeLive. That's the Chase Jarvis legacy.
Who are your photography heroes?
So, who are your photography heroes? You don't need to come up with five or limit yourself to the current ones. Choose the ones who inspire you and share them in the comments. Also tell us why the photographers earn your vote. I can't wait to see who you choose.
Share your photography heroes in the comments.