Tony Corbell - Tamron

Tony Corbell - Tamron


Corbell’s philosophy of photographing people is easy to

state, but requires considerable talent and perseverance

to execute. He says, “My goal is simply to show people as they

are, doing what they do. But you have to make it exciting–you

have to make it insightful. You might be able to fulfill the letter of

your contract on the first or second shot, but getting it right in

terms of art and expression may take three of four shots–or

forty. I call a lot of what I do ‘creative contemporary portraits’

and the key element here is creativity, which means understanding

your subjects and relating to them. That’s one reason

I Iove to photograph musicians--they’re expressive without

being self-conscious.”


The Tamron SP AF28-75mm f/2.8 Di MacroLens:





Tony Corbell of San Diego, California is a highly regarded,

well established professional photographer well known among

pro shooters and students of photography from coast to

coast. His specialty is taking pictures of people--incisive

environmental portraits of everyone from musicians and

celebrities to lawyers and bank presidents. He also known

for his inspired photojournalistic coverage of society weddings

shot in such posh places as Beverly Hills. And he creates

commercial and editorial images that rise to the level of fine

art. Like many top photographers, Corbell has a discriminating

eye for dynamic composition, a well-developed instinct for

capturing decisive moments, and a finely-tuned sense of

color balance. But above all he is a master of light–it is

his brilliant use of lighting that distinguishes his work and

defines his unique style.

Unlike most successful photographers, Corbell did not begin his

career as a teenage photo hobbyist. Although he was always

visually sensitive and observant, he didn’t really get into

photography until his mid 20s--and then he was pushed into the

pool, so to speak, and discovered he was a natural swimmer. “At

age 24,I was directing and producing a kind of silly late night talk

show on cable TV that was basically a time filler. Out of the blue,

my photographer brother-in-law, Raymond Taylor, asked me to take

a portrait of a high school senior. He encouraged me, assuring

me that I had a pretty good eye for framing, and so I took the

shot, which I successfully sold. I had never thought of photography

as a career--I had never even owned a camera–and here

I was, a pro that had never been an amateur!”

Shortly afterward, Corbell bought his first camera, a Hasselblad

500C, and within three months he was shooting fulltime every

day. After about a year of on-the-job training and commercial

success as a hard-working portrait photographer, he decided to

enter some of his pictures in a local print competition. He won

in three categories--best portrait of a woman, a child and a

family. Out of this gratifying but seemingly minor triumph, something

truly remarkable evolved that was to shape Corbell’s entire

life and career. A visiting Nigerian businessman saw the contest,

contacted Corbell, and made him a business proposition.

It seems that back in 1979 there were no color photo studios

in Nigeria. Once a year, a pro from the U.K. would travel to

Lagos, the capital, and take pictures of top officials and

well-to-do families.That was it as far as color photography

was concerned.The businessman proposed that Corbell set

up a color photo studio in Lagos and teach local people how

to run it. He was to be paid a fair day rate for his services

plus a percentage of the sales, and was given carte blanche

to order any equipment he needed.

Corbell accepted the once-in-a-lifetime offer. He then spent

six weeks in Nigeria taking pictures of heads of state and

government officials, in both formal western attire and colorful

traditional Nigerian dress, while his shooting techniques and

setups were carefully documented by the studio staff. After

Corbell returned to the U.S., his Nigerian pictures were seen

and admired by the Professional Photographers of America

(PP of A) and he received much favorable publicity. By the early

80’s he had established his first real studio in Midland,

Texas, which he calls “the white collar city of the oil industry.”

While there, he photographed George Bush, Sr. on several

occasions, and these memorable portraits generated even

more publicity and business.

Despite his increasing technical competence and notable

commercial success, by 1985 Corbell sensed something was

amiss. “I felt stifled--I was in a rut--and then in late 1985 I had

an epiphany. I met my mentor, Dean Collins, a true genius, a l

egend among photographers, and one of the great photographic

teachers of all time. I sold my studio and moved to

Like all Tamron Di (Digitally Integrated) -series lenses, the

Tamron SP AF28-75mm Di has been especially formulated

to meet the more stringent demands of digital photography in

order to assure outstanding image quality with both digital media

and film. To achieve this exceptional level of performance

in a super-compact, high speed (F/2.8) constant-aperture

zoom, Tamron’s optical designers used LD glass to reduce

chromatic aberration and peripheral light falloff, high-index

XR glass to enhance sharpness while while reducing size and

weight, and an aspherical element to compensate for spherical

aberration and distortion. The result is unsurpassed imaging

performance in the smallest and lightest zoom lens ever

made in this class.

With a fast f/2.8 aperture over its entire zoom range, the

Tamron 28-75mm Di lens allows shooting in low light, and

shooting at extended distances with flash even at the tele

end. And it focuses continuously down to 13 inches at all

focal lengths, a true macro magnification of 1:3.9 at

75mm, while maintaining image quality of the highest

order. Contributing to its ease of use are its excellent balance

and handling characteristics, with extra-wide, well-textured

zoom and manual-focusing controls, and large, legible

white-on-black numerical scales. Unlike most lenses

optimized for sharpness, the Tamron 28-75mm Di delivers a

beautifully blurred quality in out-of-focus areas of the image

that draws the eye to the subject. Or, as the Japanese

would say, it has very good bokeh.

The Tamron SP AF28-75mm f/2.8 Di lens is only 3.6 inches

long at the 28mm setting and extends to a still-very-compact

4.9 inches. It weighs 18 ounces, and is available in mounts

for Canon, Minolta, Nikon and Pentax autofocus SLRs,

both 35mm and digital. Other features include: 16-element,

14-group optical construction, 7-bladed diaphragm, zoom

lock mechanism to prevent the barrel from extending

unnecessarily, and a flower-shaped lens hood designed to

minimize stray light at all focal lengths.

If you’re looking for a top-quality universal zoom lens for

your digital or film SLR, this is one to put on your short

list. As Tony Corbell said, he’s used to shooting with Zeiss

lenses on Hasselblads and he’s quite taken with how the

Tamron 28-75mm Di performs.Chances are mighty good

you will be too.



San Diego to work with him. He was a tremendously talented

commercial photographer, but he was also the best photo

educator in the country. He was an unparalleled master of

lighting, with a full and complete understanding of being in

control of light. We would talk about light for hours, drawing

diagrams and coming up with theoretical explanations. We

would sit in a restaurant and look at the light falling on a salt

shaker and analyze why the shadow was hard or soft and why

it fell where it did. We also did lots of hands-on experiments.

Eventually, we crystallized our observations and theories into

a series of books and videos called Fine Light. We also set

up four separate companies--a lecture company, a studio, a

video company, and a research and development company

for lighting devices. As you might imagine, we were pretty

busy. In ‘86, we gave 52 lectures for Kodak all over the U.S.

and in six foreign countries. We were a veritable think tank,

but we also took lots of pictures, everything from hotels to

motorcycles. Of course we also did lots of R &D shooting in

developing the new soft boxes we marketed.”

ing at Brooks, my own creativity in areas such as wedding

photojournalism was enhanced enormously. Looking at and

really getting into the amazing images created by these

students not only pushed my own creativity to a new level, it

also energized my creative drive.”

Another important lesson Corbell learned at Brooks is that

education is an ongoing process. “One of my colleagues, an

excellent landscape photographer, recently asked a simple

question that brought me up short. ‘How come photographers

don’t go out and practice with their cameras?’ I thought about

that for a while and decided that she was right. So I gave myself

an assignment which turned into a series of images I call ‘My

Life as a Fork.’ What I did was take an ordinary fork, some red

poster board and different lights to see how much I could do

graphically with these simple elements. By thinking creatively

and trying to see differently, I created unique shadow patterns

that elicit strikingly different feelings and emotions. This goes

back to the three essential aspects of light I taught my students

at Brooks--light quality, light quantity, and light direction.”

All this experience and exposure, plus a natural affinity, eventually

led Corbell to an entirely new aspect of his

multifaceted career---teaching. He knew Ernie Brooks, founder

of the famed Brooks Institute of Photography, and let him

know he was interested in a teaching position. Despite Corbell’s

lack of academic credentials, Brooks hired him within 48 hours

based on his exemplary reputation and impressive track

record. His teaching stint at Brooks lasted four years.

As any good teacher can tell you, teaching is one of the most

effective ways to enhance the depth of your knowledge, and

Corbell emphatically agrees. “When you think you know something,”

he says, “just try to teach it and you’ll immediately come

up against your own limitations. The questions that you don’t

know to ask yourself are invariably the ones the students will

ask. These are the questions that force you to stretch, and

that’s how you gain a more profound understanding. By teach-

The next major shift in the amazing career of Tony Corbell

came in 1993 when he got a call from Skip Cohen of

Hasselblad offering him an executive spot as Director of

Corporate Communications at Hasselblad. He accepted on

one condition: That he could continue to shoot and continue

to teach. “Happily, they agreed,” he says, “and from 1993 to

2000, I was one-third corporate executive, one-third teacher,

and one-third photographer. I really grew a lot during this

period because I got to interact with really first-class

photographers like Mary-Ellen Mark, Greg Heissler, and Jay

MaiseI and look at their outstanding work. I would visit their

studios, meet them at press conferences and conventions,

and talk with them about their methods, goals, and directions.

As a result, I began to see a bigger picture of what was possible

and widened my perspective. You might say I acquired more

peripheral vision.”

When Corbell finally left Hasselblad he felt re-energized and

determined to reinvent himself as a photographer. “When an

old friend said ‘I’m so glad that you picked up a camera

again,’ I knew I had made the right decision. I had built-in

clients at Hasseslblad, but now I had a new understanding of

the commercial quest. I understood that you needed to

market yourself, to make new connections, to be an active

seeker of things. I knew I wanted to go after work that excited

and intrigued me. I like giving people what they expect, but I

also want to give them something they don’t expect. If you

consistently do the latter, you are growing as a photographer and

growing your business. In short, you are exceeding

expectations.”Over the past six months or so, Tony Corbell has

returned to one of his early specialties--shooting weddings--but

with a vibrant new twist. He now concentrates on high-end

weddings in such well-heeled venues as Beverly Hills, and his

approach is that of an inspired photojournalist. “To shoot a

wedding in this way, you have to gain the absolute trust of the

bride and groom and get them to allow you to tell the intimate

and honest story of their special day--everything from the

bride’s hair being coiffed to driving away on their honeymoon.

Unlike other photographers, I don’t even deliver proofs, but a

finished story book album of the day, so you really have to get

their commitment by making them feel this is the best choice

for them. Of course it helps to have a solid reputation and an

empathetic personality. Most photographers also charge a set

price for a certain number of pictures, but I don’t work that

way. I include digital montages, and may include 300 or more

images in the album. And we don’t miss anything. We do our

homework, so we get engaging and natural images of all the

special people, as well as capturing great moments like the

flower girl kissing the ring bearer. It is significant that this new

wedding business has been promoted entirely by word of

mouth and referrals by bridal consultants.”

While Tony Corbell still shoots about 30 percent of his images

on film, he shoots the majority of his current work, about 70

percent, digitally, with a Fuji Finepix Pro S2 camera and

Tamron Di lenses, which are designed to meet the demands

of digital photography.“For wedding portraits, the first lens I

grab is the Tamron Di 180mm f/3.5 Macro. I know that

optically it’s optimized for close work, but it is exquisitely

sharp at all distances and produces great pictures. With the

1.5 multiplication factor of the Fuji S2, it’s equivalent to a

270mm lens on 35mm and it really separates the subject

from the background, especially when shooting wide

open.”Corbell also has high praise for the 28-75mm f/2.8

Tamron Di, a lens he often leaves on the camera. “I can cover

a whole wedding with this one lens, which means I don’t have

to change lenses--and fewer lens changes mean a cleaner

image sensor. Even more important, when I shoot with this

lens, or other Tamron Di lenses, I don’t have to go into

Photoshop and enhance the images with a 20-60-0 unsharp

mask. There is less visible flare--it’s like looking at the world

after you’ve just cleaned your glasses. Tamron lenses are

physically very well designed too--easy and comfortable to handle

and hold onto. I also use a 14mm Tamron for wide-angle shots-–it’s

not a Di lens, but it has unbelievable coverage and remarkable

evenness of illumination with no falloff at the corners.

I am frankly amazed at what Tamron lenses can do. And

remember I am a Hasselblad shooter who is used to

working with Zeiss lenses. I’m not the average photographer–I

understand how optics work. And I am delighted with the

performance of Tamron lenses, which I can only describe

as outstanding.”

As my enlightening and inspiring interview with the incredible

Tony Corbell was winding down, he told me he was heading off

to Pasadena. “To shoot a society wedding?.” I asked. “No,”

he said, “I’m going to take a few advanced Photoshop courses.

If you want; to be a leader in this profession you’ve got to say

on top of our industry” A commitment to continuing education,

an unquenchable desire to expand his capabilities, and an

openness to new ideas--these things, plus a wealth of talent

and experience, are what make Tony Corbell one of the best

in the business. Corbell has just come out out with a new

DVD series on lighting called “The Power of Light” and a new

line of soft boxes of the same name. For more information on

both, go to

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines