After spending the first ten years of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio, Tim Meyer has been a longtime transplant in the Los Angeles area. He’s lived in L.A., Orange County, San Diego County, and Santa Barbara. Studying photography at Orange Coast College in Coasta Mesa, California, he then went on to get a bachelor’s degree at Cal State Fullerton. While at Fullerton, he began his career in commercial portrait photography.
“I noticed the people who were doing the best work and who were the most creative had a little bit of an art background, which I had no experience in at all,” he recalls. The value of education is strong for Meyer, and at the start of his career—and with a young family just beginning—he went back and got a Master’s Degree in Fine Art Photography. That was 30 years ago. All his education and life experience haven’t slowed his desire to learn. Last year he started an MFA program at Brooks Institute, where he also teaches. Meyer credits education with “completely changing my style of work, my interest in work, and my understanding of others’ work.” For instance, his study of the work of masters such as Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent has influenced his composition and grouping.
Conversely, Meyer understands the business world’s application of formal education. “The letters after your name don’t always do much for you, professionally,” he explains. “They did when I came back to teach, but when you’re working for somebody commercially, they don’t care whether you have a letter or two after your name. They just wonder what you can do for them now.”
Meyer credits education with helping keep his style fluid. “One of the reasons I went back to get the degree is that most of the people I knew—even the best photographers I knew—tended to be one‑dimensional. They had a particular thing they were very good at. They did it really well and built a whole career off of it, but they never diversified much. And, once you got them out of that area of expertise, they were not only average, but sometimes less than that. I didn’t want to be that person.”
During Meyer’s thirty year career, styles have changed a lot. Probably best known for his dramatic black and white images, Meyer has seen photographic trends come and go. When one of his early images was given a negative review at a competition, he began to research how the criteria from which it was judged had evolved. “I started researching and finding out where a lot of those rules came from,” he recalls. “Most of the stuff I found didn’t have a basis at all. It was just somebody’s idea of something that kind of turned into a tradition.”
His research led him to photographers like George Hurrell, Yousuf Karsh, and Victor Avila. Meyer carefully studied the work of these masters, but realized he wanted to go beyond their techniques. “I’m not against the traditional things,” he says. “I think the traditional things are very important, but, again, it falls back to that one-dimension sense. We do what we do. We do it very well, but there are just so many other things out there that people don’t even consider and that’s been my quest for quite a while.”
Whether Meyer shoots in color or black and white is largely a stylistic choice. “In the old days, even when digital first came out, or before with film, I used to always use one camera for black and white and one camera for color. When digital came out, even though you could switch it immediately, I still had one camera set for black and white and one for color. I don’t as much now because I don’t shoot them commercially as much as I used to. I actually think differently when I photograph in black and white than I do in color. When I think about color, I think how color dominates and that it’s almost always about the color. Black and white is almost always about the shape and form. So I light them differently, I compose them differently, I think quite differently about them. I do shoot them both in the same camera, but I just think differently about it. I think about dramatic lighting and contrast.”
The last few years have brought much traveling for Meyer and his wife. While most of his work professionally is digital, all of his landscape work and travel work is shot on film. Landscapes are often shot with an eight‑by‑ten inch camera on medium format film transparency. When he travels, Meyer shoots 35mm transparency. He uses a Leica M7 for his travel photography. “My main body is the Nikon D700,” he says. “I had the Fuji S5. I just moved that on, and now I’m using mostly Nikon products. So, D300 or D700.”
Meyer relies on his Induro tripod for his travel work. “One of my favorite times is the evening,” he declares. “I really enjoy just incredibly long exposures on night scenes within cities. The tripod we use traveling is the Induro CX113. I also have an Induro monopod I just purchased that I happen to love.”
When asked about using tripods for his wedding work, Meyer is a believer. “I do absolutely,” he says. “I use it mostly for groups and for some of the still work. I use it extensively for the family portraits. I still do a lot of large wall portraits in my work, and you just can’t handhold a camera for that. I don’t care what shutter speed, whatever combination, you just can’t produce the spotlight 20″ x 24″ or 24″ x 30″ or larger off of that unless it is on a tripod.”
Meyer finds people mistaking tripod images for something created in Photoshop post-shoot. “With the advent of higher ISOs in noise reduction, et cetera, we meet a lot more people using tripods less and less. There is an image on my Web site, that opens up on Weddings. It’s a photograph of a bride and groom in front of a waterfall. My students look at that particular image and ask, ‘What effect did you use in the Photoshop to get the water to look like that?’ I tell them it takes basically two seconds to do and they can’t understand how you can do something in Photoshop for two seconds. Then I explain that it’s done on a tripod and dragging the shutter for two seconds and asking the bride and groom hold still. But it can’t be done, unless you’re using a tripod.”
There are other examples of these types of shots on Meyer’s site. The couple kissing in the water at sunset, waves breaking around them, is also a tripod shot. “That was done with a Profoto AcuteB with a Magnum standing in the water. It’s about a two- or three-second exposure. So the Magnum is illuminating the couple and the rest of the scene is way past when the sun set, and that’s why you have to drag your shutter and wait two seconds. It looks like that, but then you see the movement of water. Of course the camera is on a tripod. That’s the only way to get that shot.”
For lighting, Meyer owns the Profoto AcuteB 600R. For full details of Meyer’s lighting gear and how he applies it, please see Profoto’s blog post about Tim, which reprints part of this story.
Meyer sees the irony in the purchase patterns for professional photographic gear. “With digital cameras and computers, we end up replacing them every two years, eighteen months, whatever it may be,” he says. “They become either backup equipment or you’re replacing them. But when it comes to tripods, meters, strobe equipment like the Profoto equipment, or lighting equipment, you hold on to those guys for years, and years, and years, and years. In my case, I have come to believe even though the Profoto is a little bit bigger investment than most, I would wait the extra couple of months or whatever it is if required to come up with a little extra cash, because I would rather have good equipment for ten, fifteen, twenty years, than always wanting to get up to the best later on.”
In November a book entitled The Portrait was published which Meyer co-wrote with Glenn Rand.
Next on his plate will be a series of black and white portraits shot with an eight by ten camera. Still in the planning stages, the subjects of the portraits may be the townspeople of where Meyer is living, Santa Paula, California. He will continue to take photographs and educate. Currently teaching at Brooks Institute, the future promises more quality photos and lessons from Tim Meyer.
Tim Meyer Photography
Tim Meyer Blog
Written by Ron Egatz