10,000 hours. We are entering the era of ten thousand hours. We’ve just left the era of tipping points, blinks and well, instant gratification/payoff and we’re headed for “ten years of hard work will get you somewhere.” If anything Malcom Gladwell–who wrote Blink, Tipping Point and now Outliers (which contains the 10,000 hours reference)–has the uncanny ability to read the zeitgeist and apply an idea to it that defines how we feel. I can feel it too. As a society we want hard work to equal success. We don’t want to reward people anymore who don’t put in the time and the effort.

Erik Almås is a successful commercial and editorial photographer. When I had a look at a presentation he gave about his career that had the evolution of his book I asked how is it possible to go from the first book he ever made to the book he has now. His answer. 11 years of hard work.

Here’s the first book he ever made called “Erik’s summer job application ’97.”

Here’s book he made when he graduated from the Academy of Art University (4 years).

Here’s the book he made after assisting for Jim Erickson (3 years).

Here are the promo cards he sent out.

Here is the book he has now (4 years).

Here are the promo cards he sends out.

Thanks to David Bornfriend for the tip.

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  1. Curious: Am I understanding correctly that his latest books feature images on black backgrounds, or are they just presented that way in the slideshow? And if so, are the photos mounted on black pages or is the black background printed on the same surface as the photo?

  2. amazing to see the progression of his photography, really hits home to what i am doing as well.

  3. amazing presentation! bigger fan than before!
    since Gladwell is mentioned, accd to him(I THINK) 3 yrs assisting does NOT count, nor does a ton of downtime in photography. probably only a photojournalist who shoots 4hours a day, or a 40 yr photography veteran can qualify. (especially considering the expense of film only 5 short years ago)(but maybe you can count retouching as time)

  4. I am a huge fan of Erik’s work and it is great to see this progression. But I have got to be honest here… I only see true progress being made up to but not including that last book. The difference between the earlier books is obvious artistic growth. Going from the 2nd to last book to the final one I see more visual cliches but the most obvious difference is a rather heavy handed professional retoucher. Maybe I am just being cynical, and perhaps I am just plane wrong, but is this how we judge photographers… by who they can afford to hire to retouch their photos?

    Again, I am a huge fan, so please don’t take my criticism the wrong way. It is a criticism that is only relative to Eirk’s own previous work. Both of the last two books are simply stunning and truly inspirational.


    • @Chad,
      Yes of course, retouching is a part of one genre of photography and that is how you judge the photographer. Photographers rely on master printers as well. Is that a problem?

      • @A Photo Editor,

        I know Erik. Not well, but we’ve met a few times. I arranged for him to talk to a small group of photographers a couple years ago and he showed us basically what you see above.

        I agree with Chad, a lot of the work you see by Erik and many others has more to do with post production than anything else. This isn’t just about what can also be done with a master printer… a lot of this stuff is heavily composited.

        However, if you gave Erik a camera and a roll of film and got that film developed… what you saw one the straight contact sheet would likely be some of the most amazing images you’ve seen. Personally, I don’t like the heavily retouched/composited images… but if you go to Eriks website and look at the nudes and fashion shots, they are amazing.

        But then again, my tastes lie more with Chris Buck than say Jim Fiscus.

      • @A Photo Editor,
        No, it is not a problem. It is just part of the process at this point I guess, just like hiring a stylist and makeup. I think much of my post is just bitterness that I do not have access to productions of that size… perhaps in 10 years right?

    • Chad,

      As I understand it, he does virtually all of his own post production. Sooo.. in this situation it, its pretty erroneous to negate any creativity based on this hypothetical outsourcing of retouchers you speak so knowingly about.

  5. oh man, thanks for sharing this. As a student it’s pretty helpful information..

  6. i’ve never thought things happen over night.

    his story is nice to see.

    while it may be tough to be a working photographer ( and a father, and a husband, and a etc….) there is no other option if being an artist/photographer is for you.

    these stories breed optimism. and i appreciate Erik’s work.


  7. I have to agree with Chads points about the retouching. Yes, his work is great and I hope the retouching was done by him, but more and more I see the photographer evolving into a “Data Collector” or “sample collector” and the retoucher and their process more important to those buying the product. Is that wrong? I don’t know, maybe I’m just “old school” and stuck in my ways, or maybe that is what photography is evolving into. Youth in the photographic society maybe teaching something, get a retoucher or learn to convey our photographic ideas via parts (several different photographs) and learn to put them together (be your own retoucher).

  8. Hey Rob, Thanks for the follow up.

    I can’t speak for Erik, but I think it is more about him refining his style(which just happens to involve retouching). I think there are hints of who his is today in the work he started with. I think that is what interests me most about seeing progressions like this – its an evolution of a vision, retouching is just a tool.

  9. As for the composited landscapes: I find the end product very good as an image that serves a particular need, and it’s instructive to see the progression in Erik’s work, but I don’t consider these landscape images photography. It’s illustration that uses photographic images as an input; it’s data collection and art direction. For quite some time Erik used several of Kate Chase’s retouchers in the bay area as illustration partners- Erik would start the work, and then art direct the images via the retouchers. The starting images in most instances bear absolutely no resemblance to the captured images. This is not photography, and I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary. It’s illustration. And don’t get me wrong: very good illustration.

    Also, I think there is a group of photographers who have a very similar retouching look: Erik Almas, Andy Anderson, Jim Erickson, Jim Fiscus, Andy Mahr, Eric Kiel, and others- and I think a great deal of that look can be attributed to Jim Erickson’s FatCat retouching business that in effect solidified this look and its popularity years ago. Jim and FatCat in some ways were the tipping point for this look and its acceptance in the advertising world.

    For all the talk here and elsewhere that photographers have to own and show something unique and new in the style of their imagery, I think this illustrates a counter point – that there is a need for images that have a style that the market (read: agencies) wants. There are visual fads, and this heavily retouched style with fake vignettes, unrealistic depth of field and shifter color palettes will evolve just like any other fad or style. In the meantime, there are a lot of people- photographers and retouchers alike- who are making a killing replicating this style in their own work.

    • In the first paragraph I mean to say: the starting images in most instances bear no resemblance to the finished images. The retoucher is a critical- if not *the* critical component- in the final photograph. Often the photography itself is incidental.

  10. I love his work and the look. I wonder though why don’t the retouchers get more credit, many contemporary images would be nothing without retouching, yet when you see photos in annuals and such the retouchers rarely get any credit. I remember seeing some images shot for the world cup in PDN the end images where really amazing it looked like some super stylized lighting on players in action, I thought wow who did they pull this off. Turn the page and see boring flat lighting on source images which where then retouched to look amazing the article was about the photog but to me it looked like it should have been about the retoucher. I don’t think Erik’s are anything like that his straight work is as good as his retouched stuff it’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately.

  11. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU! It is so refreshing to hear a success story built on hard work.

  12. I’m reading Blink right now. I highly recommend it.
    So much of what photographers do is thin-slicing and making snap decisions.This book has some great insights into how those judgments and decisions are influenced. tons of anecdotal goodies and scientific research findings as well.

  13. maybe I am a douche, but I think all his books are kickin rad.


  14. @12: funny that you mention gladwell’s book. I just caught an interview with him on Charlie rose last night promoting his new one; Outliers…. Was interesting. Mostly about how people become really successful and how little it a ctually has to do with talent and more about hard work environment culture etc…. Kind of pertains tos what’s been discussed in this blog lately regarding success. It was an interesting perspective.

    I’m on iPhone now so sorry for short speak.

  15. and as someone that has had a career pleasure to participate in decision-making on erik’s post production process in estimating&planning, i can add some back story that we’ve evolved and found a healthy working relationship whereby, when needed, continued art direction and responsibilities for finishing can lie with a retoucher selected most times for his/her own innate sensibilities and potential influence to a finish. i’ve seen how this gives erik his important authorship of being able to ensure his post work is also seen first and foremost as his original vision.

    merry merry,

  16. At some point retouchers are no longer retouchers, but image creators. Just as many DJs are artists in their own right, so are retouchers.

    At some point it’s possible that the retouchers, or whatever they are called in years to come, will be the ones every one talks about, and the photographer, in many cases, will become supplementary to the process instead of central to the process. Times change.

  17. I am a former classmate of Erik’s from the Academy of Art. I have always been a fan of his work dating back to our days at the Academy. Back then, which really was not that long ago before the days or dSLR’s Erik was always using a Hassleblad and black and white film. He always came up with beautiful ways to present his work in a graphic fashion. I definitely see Jim Erickson’s influence on his work but he IS a Photo Illustrator! What’s wrong with that? Photography is evolving with the new technology of photoshop, HDR, dSLR’s. At the end of the day photographer’s are image makers, whether it be doing it old school, cross processing, HDR, whatever is in your tool kit. His images are highly produced, he still has to plan the end result and work backwards to get the final image.
    Some of the previous posts act as if we have to ignore the digital possibilities that are available to us now. I do agree however that retouchers should be recognized but I think the vision is the photographer’s. In an interview I read last month (December, 2008) on commarts.com in the Insight section 11-12-08, when asked what piece of equipment could you not do without, his answer; the one thing I could not do without is not a piece of equipment, but my crew.

  18. Rob,
    Great post. Seeing the progression and changes in Erik’s work and style was great. By the time I got to the most recent slides I was in awe. Mind blowing and inspiring photography. I still don’t get the hubub about retouching. I think it is part of the editing process and some form of retouching is a necessity in most professional photo applications today.
    Thanks again.

  19. […] the progression of Erik Almås portfolio on A Photo Editor once again. (APE is a great resource for […]

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