Local Austin Photographer Spotlight: Tim Bliss

Local Austin Photographer Spotlight: Tim Bliss

Posted by Caroline Janes on 20th Oct 2021

Known for his sharp black and white photos and captivating landscapes, local Austin photographer, Tim Bliss knows that the key to good photos is patience and at times a bit of planning. I got the chance to learn more about his methods and photographic style via email as follows below. 

How did you get started in photography?

Tim Bliss: I was about eight or nine and a family friend invited me to go with him to his college darkroom. He got all set up and put a piece of paper in some “water” and an image appeared. I was hooked from that moment on. A few years later, my family and I built a darkroom in our basement and that was where I spent most evenings. A week after getting my driver’s license, I shot my first wedding.

I’ve noticed that black and white photography is a recurring part of your work. What factors go into making the decision to make a photograph black and white or keep it in color?

TB: Having started shooting in black & white, I feel as though I “see” in black & white. It comes back to "Keep It Simple." When I walk around with my camera I typically have the viewfinder in black & white because I can get a better feel for the contrast and mood of a scene. In color, I feel we all get a bit distracted. Working in black & white makes the true subject come to the surface. When I shoot in color it's for a purpose. There’s certain scenes I know I’ll shoot in color (cityscapes with great lights, fireworks, astro) — scenes where color is a subject or helps tell the story of that moment in time.

Along the same lines, I’ve noticed that prominent shadows are a theme throughout your work. What impact/importance do shadows play in photography in your opinion?

TB: I think sometimes people get into their editing suite and feel the need to see everything…all the highlights and all the shadows. For me shadows are a subject. They create mood and atmosphere. When we look around, we can’t see every detail in every nook and cranny…so why should our images open up all the shadows? For some images I like my shadows to go full black. It gives a mystery, framing, contrast or mood. We all need to not be scared to embrace our shadows.

What elements make for great macro photography?

TB: A few times a year I set out to work on some macro work. Over the years my macro has changed a lot. In the beginning, I think we all try to get everything in focus from front to back and have this tack sharp image. I’ve grown to really like an extremely shallow depth of field. I’d say 90% of my macro these days I’m shooting wide open. It allows me to focus the viewer on what I want them to look at. At times, seeing the macro that is out there can get very repetitive. We should all be looking for ways to put our stamp on it. So I rarely shoot the traditional macro.

What is your favorite macro lens to shoot with?

I’ve been shooting with a 105 f/2.8 for 20+ years now. I’ve tried a few other lenses but keep going back to my 105. So far I haven’t found anything that can beat it.

What’s one thing every landscape photographer should know?

TB: Patience. More often than not I see too many photographers that run to a location, capture an image and then move on. With a little bit of research, and if possible even a test run, the final result will be much stronger. By staying an extra 15 mins to 45 mins, the sky, the light, the weather can change and that's when the best images are captured. It isn’t always possible but when it is, visit the location at different times to determine the ideal time of day and year that will showcase that location the best. Then plan for the shoot. However, there are plenty of images I’ve taken just driving by or arriving the day before. So I get that not every shoot can be researched and planned but it helps a great deal when it’s possible.

You’ve done extensive traveling from Vermilion Lakes in Alberta to Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. What’s your favorite travel photography story?

TB: It’s hard to pick just one. About eight-nine years ago I started to plan my trips a bit more and my daughter had gotten the photo bug at the time. So I gained a partner in my photo travels. It was great to explore some national parks, like Yosemite, and also get to spend some father-daughter time together. Seeing her enjoying a location like I did made my experience even greater.

On the other hand, there was my trip to Banff in Alberta. This was a trip I took solo for the sole purpose of photography. Most of my trips are vacations with other activities planned – this was all about photography. I only had a handful of days, but I spent my nights photographing the stars, then I’d get a couple hours of sleep, and then be at my next location before sunrise. It was a whirlwind, but amazing.

What are your favorite hidden gem shooting spots around Austin?

I’m not sure I have any hidden gems as there are so many great photographers in town and we all explore and find great spots. I have my go-to spots. I love the view looking down Congress towards the Capitol. Whether I’m shooting from the Congress bridge or further south on Congress, there is a great view of the city from so many spots. If I’m looking to shoot the skyline I will walk for quite some time trying to find a view I haven’t shot before. If I’m looking for less of a city shot and more astro, I’ll head southwest of Austin to try to get to a better Bortle scale area (which is getting further and further away these days). But there are plenty of locations all throughout Texas that have some really dark skies.

This is such a cool photo. What’s the backstory behind it?!

TB: This is one of those shots I stumbled on. I was visiting family in St. Louis, and we took a trip to an animal and nature preserve. As we entered, I saw this little door and it really caught my eye, but the light was pretty bad at the time. As we were leaving the snow had started to come down heavier and heavier and passing this little door I could see the potential. I didn’t have a tripod, but knew I wanted a slightly slower shutter speed to allow the snow to be captured with some motion. I tried a few different exposures until I was happy with the amount of snow blur in the image. I was drawn to this spot because of the bright red door and the surrounding monotone background. This image always has my mind spinning, wondering if this is where they make the Keebler cookies or if it's a home for gnomes.

What are your go-to pieces of equipment?

TB: Besides the basics of a tripod for 95% of my landscape photography, I’d say I don’t leave home without my 14-24 f/2.8. I used to be a 24-70 shooter but found I like the ultra wide a bit more these past few years. It has the ultra wide option with the 14 and mid wide with the 24. After looking back on what I historically use, I found this range is my sweet spot. I've been traveling a bit more with my 70-200 as it gives me a totally different perspective, but it's a heavier lens so if there is hiking involved I think/plan ahead before putting it in the bag for that session. For street photography, I pretty much only use a 35mm equivalent (27 f/1.4). It's light, small and I can carry it all day.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

TB: These past 2 years have been tough for travel. I had three trips I was planning that have been pushed out: Calgary, Prince Edward Island, Yosemite. So for 2022, I'll be trying to get them back on the calendar. In the coming months I’ll be doing my planning and will be rolling out my next projects. I do have quite a few batches of images (from Colorado and here in Austin) that I still need to edit and get displayed. So that will be coming soon…

You can find more of Bliss's work on his website and Instagram.