A Photographer’s Perspective: Al Del Degan

Photography is an interesting medium, in that it permeates across most creative professions. It may be the main focus of a project, or act as a supporting tool. It documents experience, projects a brand, or tells a story. For that reason I have been intrigued to incorporate it more into my creative explorations. If you share a similar interest, then I would like to pass along a conversation I had this weekend with a local Calgary photographer by the name of Al Del Degan, of Aduro Photography.

You might already be familiar with Al, as I have worked with him before on a variety of photographic collaborations, including some of the promotional photos on this blog.

Photographed by Al Del Degan in the Aduro Photography studio.
Photographed by Al Del Degan in the Aduro Photography studio.

What first inspired you to get in to photography and when was that?

I have been in to photography ever since I was young. My mom got me a film SLR camera when I was 12 or 13. I loved pictures because when you looked back on them years later, every single thing that happened at that moment – what you were thinking, what you were feeling, who was there – all of it instantly comes back to you. That captivated me and I’ve loved photography ever since.

What is your favourite kind of photography?

I’ve found that I have a talent for and really enjoy fine art boudoir.

How did you learn?

Mostly self taught. I took a photography 101 course at SAIT, then I started going on the internet and seeking out a lot of the information there. Over the years I’ve taken workshops, joined groups, and have learned a lot from other photographers.

What piece of advice would you give someone who is interested in photography?

The main rule in photography is: you can’t settle for just trying to make money once you know how to take a half-decent picture. Constantly keep learning and growing. The more you know the better you get. You never stop learning. Constantly research, learn new techniques and try new things.

What are you shooting with these days?

Nikon D300 with crop sensor.

What is on your wish list?

The Nikon D810, or D4 with full-frame sensor.

What is Calgary’s photography scene like?

There are three types of photographers. There is what we call “GWC” (guy/gal with camera) who is someone just starting out. Then there are the photographers that are usually professional and that really know their stuff, but keep everything close to the chest. Lastly, there are the photographers that may or may not be professional, but are open to sharing, learning, and giving back to the community. You learn a lot from sharing information, asking questions, brainstorming answers, and being involved. In Calgary it’s a great community, there’s lots of resources out there including a number of collaboration groups made up of photographers, models, makeup artists, stylists, etc.

What is your opinion regarding photo-editing software such a Photoshop?

There are a range of different styles from completely unedited images, to highly Photoshopped. They’re two different forms of art that are equally valid. I believe I fall somewhere In the middle. I like to aim to get everything right in the camera so that images can stand alone, but I do sometimes like to tweak a little bit.

Who is your inspiration?

Joe McNally. He is a photographer who uses camera flashes in crazy conditions. He comes up with ways of making photographs that nobody has ever imagined. They are almost like dream-scapes.

"Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown" Photographer: Joe McNally. From http://blog.joemcnally.com/2008/07/02/rollin-with-the-pride-of-midtown/
“Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown” Photographer: Joe McNally. From http://blog.joemcnally.com/2008/07/02/rollin-with-the-pride-of-midtown/

Yousuf Karsh, was a black and white portrait photographer. A photo of his that I’ll never forget was a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. He always had that cigar and he wouldn’t let go of it for the portrait. Karsh was just about to take the photo and he said “excuse me sir,” walked over and plucked the cigar right out of Churchill’s hand, walked back and took the picture. Churchill has this look on his face, dignified and stern, but a look in his eyes like “did you just do that?!” This photo is breathtaking.

Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill by Photographer Yousuf Karsh.  http://www.karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits/winston_churchill
Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill by Photographer Yousuf Karsh.

In the context of professional photography, I hear the comment “everyone thinks they’re a photographer” a lot in reference to the prevalence of cameras and photo-editing apps. Is that a valid comment, or are there things that professional photographers do that set themselves apart?

Technically anyone who takes a picture is a photographer. In Canada and I think in the United States, whoever presses the shutter button is the copy write owner of that photograph. However, a great photo is determined by composition, lighting, and subject. A great photographer doesn’t just take photos, they make photos. Anybody can pull out a camera and take a photo, but when you compare that to a professional photographer there will be a clear difference in quality. There really is something else to a photograph other than pointing and shooting. What captures my interest in a photograph is if it tells a story. You can take a picture of something. You can document a scene. You can document what someone is wearing or how they have their hair done. It’s a matter of documenting versus speaking. A great photograph will say something amazing. You can tell what the person is thinking. You can imagine what the scene was like, what the world was like. But you can’t put your finger on exactly what is telling the story.

What are your current goals?

I’m the first to admit that I still have trouble making the photograph that captures the story. That extra punch. And I’m working on that.

Would you care to share with us some of your favourite photographs from your portfolio?

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