Photographing the King: An Interview with Photographer Rob Garland

I can vouch for Rob Garland as a photographer.  Why?  Because I hired him to photograph one of the most important events of my life - my wedding, almost 10 years ago.   We've kept in touch ever since.  That speaks to the kind of person he is and business he runs and I'm excited today to share with you some of his images. 

Photograph by Rob Garland

A Photograph of me and my lovely wife taken by Rob Garland.  One of the photographs most dear to us from our wedding.

In addition to being a full-time wedding photographer, Rob is the house photographer at the amazing Paramount Theater in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.  Over an email exchange a couple weeks ago, I asked Rob a few questions I'd been curious to know the answers to.  We cover topics from how we keeps creatively renewed after nearly two decades as a wedding photographer and the gear he uses to shoot concert photography.

More of Rob's work can be found here.  

All photos are used with permission by Rob Garland Photography,

Q: You are a man of many talents - photographer, teacher, entrepreneur, (and new dad).  Tell us a little bit about your background, how did you get into photography in the first place.  What was your first camera?

This is a fun question – it allows me to look at my career in a nostalgic fashion since I’ve been at it over 20 years.  I had the interest in photography as a child, but my dad had one nice film camera and he wanted to keep it that way, so he didn’t let us simply “take off” with it.  So, I didn’t end up buying a camera until college.  I bought a Nikon 6006 and immediately fell in love with everything about photography, with the lone exception being the cost of film and developing.  The trial and error process started from there.  I walked into the offices of my college newspaper and asked them if I could be a part of the operation.  They were thrilled.  In those days, most college students didn’t have a film SLR suitable for journalistic work.  So, I soon found myself in some very cool situations.  My first photo in the paper was an image of the great James Taylor in concert – it doesn’t matter who are and when or where it happened, but you will never forget the feeling of getting published for the first time.  I took on many sports assignments for the University as well as taking on many great events in the area.  I photographed Dennis Miller just after he finished up with Saturday Night Live, country stars George Jones, Conway Twitty, Vince Gill, and Dwight Yoakam.  I also photographed other events like Nancy Kerrigan’s ice show (just after the fiasco with Tanya Harding at the Olympic Trials) with some of the legends of skating.  To make a long story short, I was having fun – skipping parties and hanging out with celebrities.  Interestingly enough, things have changed – the celebrity scene is far more “protected” than it used to be – they are controlling when and where photographers can shoot – it’s not as fun as it used to be and you can’t always grasp their true personality.  You capture their “staged” personality. 

Rob Garland Photography

Photograph by Rob Garland

Photograph by Rob Garland

Q:  How do you keep yourself creatively renewed in your wedding work?

    This is a question that is very easy for me to answer.  I don’t shoot in a “Cookie Cutter” approach – I  love photojournalism and that keeps each wedding unique.  No two people have the same expression or reaction to their nuptials and diving into their soul with a camera in an intimate and respectful manner allows me to have total uniqueness at each wedding.  You also approach people in a different way depending on their personality.

    I think many photographers like diving into other types of photography for fun.  Wedding photographs takes almost every hat in the book – fashion, landscape, journalism, details, etc. – so practicing other types of photography will influence your chosen field and that is ultimately very rewarding.

    Photograph by Rob Garland

    Photograph by Rob Garland.

    Q:  You also have a passion for music and photograph quite regularly at the Paramont Theater in Charlottesville.  Tell us some of your favorite acts to photograph?  You have one particular series of the late B.B. King which is quite stunning - what was that like?

    I’ve worked for B.B. King a few times and he was a gentleman when I met him.  I really enjoy his music and because of my age, unfortunately never got to see him play in the late 1940s.  He early work is absolutely outstanding.  He set the stage for so many blues players after him (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, etc. – the list is endless).  As a musician I was in awe, but as a photographer your goal is to showcase the intimacy of the craft and show what makes Mr. King who he is.  Documenting concert photography gives you great tests with lighting – it will refine your skills no matter what style of photography you might pursue.

    Photograph of B.B. King by Rob Garland

    Q:  I've personally photographed several of my friends bands and found out quickly how difficult it really is - with moving subjects in low and changing light, it is a challenge.   What are some tips you've learned along the way that help you nail the shots you need?  What gear do you find most useful.

    Well – it depends on your angle.  If you have the opportunity to take photographs off to the side, you have side lighting from the spot and not a typical front light.  If you are taking images from the side and the background is dark, you have to compensate for your exposure.  In a matrix metering situation, it would not be uncommon for me to take images at a setting of “-2” or “-3” on the light meter to keep the highlight detail on my subject.  I love photographing ballet, however.  I don’t know much about the trials and tribulations of becoming a dancer, but those folks can jump and they know how to hold their body.  Honing in on Savion Glover’s feet was intense.  I shot with a slow shutter speed to get movement and love the results.  In regards to equipment, the fast (wide-aperture) lenses are essential.  At times many artists require you shoot at the beginning and for a short amount of time.  It goes back to the control portion of things I mentioned earlier.  Practice being fast – study lighting and learn your camera inside and out – you can’t always see your buttons in low light.  Quiet cameras are also essential for jazz or classical shows.  I love my Canon 1Dx for speed and the files that come out of it are excellent, but I also love the 5D Mark III because the silent shutter setting is very quiet – so there are times that is the only camera I use because of the lack of shutter/mirror noise.

    Photograph by Rob Garland

    Q:  What's one of your favorite photographs you've ever taken and why?  

    I could answer this in two ways.  First, the obvious.  Any image of my daughter, Clare, that I am happy with, falls into that category.  I treasure it.  As a parent, you don’t want to become too obsessed with taking photographs of your child because you will miss being a part of the moments – I am big believer in the experience of being a parent and putting the camera down – A LOT.  However, as a photographer, you can’t help but try and document your child.  There is no greater photographic joy.

     For the second answer, I would like to answer this with an “except for family” approach.  I have a few wedding photographs that will always stay in my portfolio because “I was there” and I realize how special that moment was.  There is an image of an African American gentleman that is in my portfolio – I love it.  He is seeing his bride walk down the aisle and he lost it……alligator tears and all.  I shot that image years ago, but I still love to look at that.  I have many fun lighting situations and emotions that are always enjoyable to go back and view.  You hit the nail on the head when you asked me about B.B. King – I loved photographing the faces he made when we was playing – so bluesy!  I have a few landscape photos in my personal collection that I treasure as well.

    Rob Garland PhotographyPhotograph by Rob Garland

    Bonus Q:  How many celebrities would you say you've been photographed with?  It's a lot, I know :)

    Maybe 200 – probably more, but that’s a conservative answer.  Here are a few names: John Mayer, B.B. King, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Bo Diddley, Cal Ripken, Ken Griffey, Jr., Renee Flemming, Diana Ross, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Johnny Knoxville, George Carlin, Harry Carey, Brian Reagan, Norah Jones, etc.

    Rob Garland with the Dalai Lama

    Rob with the Dalai Lama.

    Thanks again to Rob for sharing with us.  Find more of his work on his website.

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