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Photographer of the Week: Lee Cullivan

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  November 9, 2009 06:00 AM

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Lee Cullivan of Belmont, aka shoothead, is one of four RAW regulars who have won prizes in two monthly contests; the others are Garry Schlatter of Brisbane, Australia (Garry), Gillian Henry of Revere (amythyst_lake), and Kati Seiffer of Burlington (kseiffer). But Lee is the first one to capture two First Places -- in last November's Motion contest and this September's Jobs competition. I knew I had to make him a Photographer of the Week.

By Lee Cullivan

Beginnings: I began taking photography seriously again after my wife and I had our first child almost 6 years ago. I had dabbled in the early 90s and again in 2001, but it always fell off the radar for me, with other creative outlets taking precedence.

After children, however, those hobbies were harder to maintain, and I turned to photography again to whet my creative appetite. I bought a Canon 20D and began taking it with me on my morning walks, to family dinners, and to work. When that wasn't enough, I began driving to destinations early enough to catch the best morning light. "At the Lighthouse Again" and "Boat and Rope" were results of that time.

At the Lighthouse Again
"At the Lighthouse Again"
Canon 20D, 1/40 at f/4.5, ISO 100, focal length 18mm
Boat and Rope
"Boat and Rope"
Nikon D200, 1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 100, focal length 14mm

We were living in Maine, so the beautiful landscape helped immensely. I was getting so engulfed in photography that I started ZipLens, a camera lens rental company. I had access to some great gear, and that fueled the hobby as much as the hobby fueled the business.

Evolution: When we moved back to Boston, I found myself wanting to photograph people more. I also liked the urban landscapes that a city offered. So I spent the next couple of years exploring photography in that environment. "Shadow" and "The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place" are examples of this.

Nikon D200, 1/1000 at f/11, ISO 200, focal length 85mm
The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place
"The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place"
Nikon D200, 1/25 at f/8, ISO 100, focal length 12mm

I also found myself photographing my life a lot, and with children it can make for some interesting photographs. In "Margot the Light", "Petals", and "Airplane", you don't see my children's faces. To me, this is what makes the photographs unique. I want to tell a sort of historical fiction, and make it seem a little dreamy, and you rarely see your own face in a dream. I use very wide apertures and compose off-center (usually way off) to create this effect.

Margot the Light
"Margot the Light"
Nikon D300, 1/125 at f/2.8, ISO 1600, focal length 30mm
Nikon D300, 1/1000 at f/3.2, ISO 400, focal length 60mm
Nikon D700, 1/8000 at f/1.8, ISO 400, focal length 85mm

Philosophy and Style: It wasn't until recently, though, that creatively I've become comfortable with what I consider my style or my photographic philosophy. I have four general guidelines that I like to follow when taking pictures. These certainly aren't for everybody, but they work for me.

1. Unless I'm on a specific paid shoot, I'll take only one lens - a fixed focal length. Right now, it's a 35mm f/2 Nikkor lens. I've been shooting with it almost exclusively for about 7 months.

2. I also generally take only photographs that have specific meaning to me. "Grass" and "Autumn" may look like generic landscape photography, but they have a special place in my portfolio - maybe because it's a place that my family visits frequently ("Grass" was taken at Ferry Beach in Scarborough, Maine, where my parents live).

Nikon D700, 1/500 at f/16, ISO 200, focal length 14mm
Nikon D700, 1/250 at f/2, ISO 400, focal length 35mm

3. I don't crop. Well, sometimes I do, but I never take a photograph with the intention of cropping. I've found it's helped me learn to compose the photo the way I want in the viewfinder and make me a better photographer.

4. I don't take myself too seriously. If you know me, you know this. I like to enjoy photography, and by following this guideline, it's never become a chore to take pictures for any reason, paid or for fun. I hope this attitude shows in the results.

See more of Lee's photos in a full-screen gallery


Lee Cullivan
Lee Cullivan, 36, lives in Belmont with his oft-photographed family. He is currently using the Nikon D700 with the following Nikon lenses: 14mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f1.4, 60mm f/2.8, and 85mm f/1.8. You can see a collection of his images and information on his website, shoot | head. Lee leads a busy life as an IT professional, a photographer, a business owner, a wannabe musician, and a father.

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