TWiP #182 – Thomas Hawk – Confessions of a Photography Addict

On this special interview episode of TWiP, Frederick catches up with photographer Thomas Hawk to discuss his latest projects, Flickr, censorship, photographers rights, workflow, gear, and HDR photography.

Host: Frederick Van Johnson and special guest Thomas Hawk.


Since he was last on, Thomas has been busy on a bunch of projects including photographing America's large cities and the new Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas. He's also been busy printing stuff and continuing to post to Flickr everyday.

Frederick: Let me ask you about these projects – are they self-assignments or are people hiring you for these shoots?

Thomas: Most of these things are personal projects. I have another source of income in addition to my photography income so most of it is self underwritten. My goal is to hit the hundred largest cities in America and once that's done I intend to hit the next hundred. There is also a group on Flickr that I'm active with called DMU (Delete Me Uncensored) and many members of that group have traveled with me on these trips. It's great hooking up with local photographers who know the lay of the land in these cities and can help us get some great shots. We worked with a photographer in Toronto for example who took us up on some amazing rooftops to get some spectacular views of the city so the Internet is really great for bringing people together. We use tools like Flickr, Google Buzz, and Twitter to get together and share information.


Frederick: Let's talk about Flickr and this Delete Me Uncensored group. You are one of the more active members on Flickr and have been for awhile now.

Thomas:  Delete Me was a group I was a part of a few years ago but the admins of the group would censor the group. The idea of Delete Me Uncensored was that you could put a photo into the group and people are meant to be harsh and critical of your images to help you grow as a photographer. Flickr actually completely destroyed the group a few times but it's back up and running and anyone is free to join and contribute. It is a different Flickr experience from most of the groups out there so it's not for everyone.

Frederick: That sounds like a great group and I'll have to link to the feed on my Apple TV and check out the photos in the group. I find that what I like to call the Flickr affect often happens, where it seems like the ‘if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all' rule applies and you get all kinds of nice compliments on images that aren't really all that great.


Frederick: Let's talk about censorship. For awhile there, you were the poster child for photographer's rights and were waving the flag for being able to take photographs wherever it was legal to do so. Recently we've discussed photography at places like the airport and what seems to be a recent clampdown on photographers being able to take photographs in certain places. What's your opinion of the TSA and the general tolerance of photographers taking shots.

Thomas: I think that it's bad in the US right now but not quite as bad as in other places such as the UK. I think in some instances it's getting better but it's incumbent upon all of us as photographers to stand up for our rights. I've blogged several instances that I've had and I'm constantly running into situations, particularly with private security guards, who for whatever reason feel what you are doing is a threat and if you try to buck up against that it results in conflict. Part of doing that is to help build awareness and help people understand that photography is not a crime.

Frederick: So you've bucked up against that. What's the most egregious situation that you go into?

Thomas: I haven't had anything where it's gotten to the point of me going to jail. I used to blog about it a lot more than I do now although I do still run into situations such as a couple of weeks ago when I was photographing the new Aria Hotel in Las Vegas and security asked me to delete some photographs I had taken. When I refused they asked me to leave which I did since it's private property so if the Aria wants to be known as the hotel that doesn't allow photography then more power to them I guess. I was shooting the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston and actually had two police officers approach me. I try to talk with these people and rationalize with them but I draw the line if they ask me to delete photographs or threaten to take my camera. The most publicized incident was probably a few years ago with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The SF MOMA has a beautiful atrium and I was shooting with a 14mm Fisheye and one of their workers freaked out and said I couldn't take pictures even though photography is allowed in the museum. The basically accused me of being pervert and trying to take pictures down someone's blouse so I got into with him and wound up having two security guards throw me out of the museum. I blogged about it and it got picked up and became a very popular story and quickly took on a life of it's own. I actually canceled my family membership with the SF Moma but I still go regularly on the first Tuesday of the month when it's free. Ironically enough the current exhibit is on Voyeurism.


Frederick: On TWiP #178 we talked about the incident involving a passenger who was detained for taking photographs of the security line at the airport which according to TSA regulations is legal. Faced with the same situation, knowing that photography at the airport is legal, and assuming you're just trying to get home for the holidays, what would you do?

Thomas: First thing is that I never delete a photograph. I think you need to look at each situation as a one by one. One time I was photographing at Newark airport in New Jersey and a police officer came up and told me I couldn't take photographs there and I just said okay and moved on.

Frederick: That's the thing, it's a different nuance in the airport with all the terrorism threats and you don't want to get put on the no-fly list.

Thomas: I actually think I did get put on the no-fly list. I was photographing some stuff down on Long Beach at the port and we had some police officers that told us we couldn't photograph the BP refinery at the port. We tried to explain to them that it was public property, we were on a public sidewalk, and that we we're allowed to take pictures there. We argued with this guy for about an hour and continued shooting until we got the shots we needed. After that happened, I had an FBI agent show up at my door and leave his card. I called him and he informed me that he was following up on the incident at Long Beach and wanted to make sure I didn't harbor any ill-will towards the government. After that incident, the next time I was flying and tried to check-in online, I was informed that I couldn't and that I had to check-in at the airport because my name was on this list. It seems to have lightened off now.


Frederick: I want to open up an old wound. Let's talk about Heather Champ who seems to be your nemesis on Flickr.

Thomas: Heather Champ was a community manager at the time and basically nuked our DMU photo group on Flickr. There are thousands of people who put thousands of hours into this group and rather than dealing with a couple of people who had conflict, she just nuked the entire group. Then within 5 minutes she posted on her Twitter account “I hate your freedom”. Whether that was related or not I don't know but many of the admins of the group also had their entire Flickr accounts deleted. I wrote a blog post about it and had some back and forth conversations with people at Flickr. Don't get me wrong, I love Flickr and I've made a lot of great relationships through Flickr but sometimes the administration of it could be better. The Flickr community police seem to have this shoot first and ask questions later mentality and the problem is that there is no way to recover an account once it's deleted. Even if it's done by mistake, there is no mechanism to recover the account. It's a wonderful site, and a wonderful community but I think the community management could be done better and I've been a critic of that over the years.


Frederick: You mentioned that you are still very active on Flickr with close to 50,000 photos on there. What's your workflow and what program to you use to process all of your photos?

Thomas: I have close to 50,000 and hope to be there by the end of the year. I shoot a lot and upload 50-100 photographs a day to Flickr. I use Lightroom and I absolutely love it. I used to use Photoshop and Bridge but for the past couple of years I've been hooked on Lightroom. There are so many great features in that program combined with advances in technology that there are photographs you can make today that I don't think you could have made 10 years ago. I keep every day's shots in a separate folder organized by date.  I have 6 Drobos and I also use Mozy to backup everything to the cloud. On the Drobos I have archived photos and to-be processed photos. I go quite quickly but it's a running treadmill. I'm caught up on processing up to about July 0f 2009. I start on my local drive and dump photos into folders. Once, I've imported my photos, I'll flag the shots I like and run them through the Develop module applying some presets and making other adjustments. I then add keywords and other meta data and title my photos. Then I color code them all green and export all of those finished photos to jpeg files for publishing. Then everything goes to a to-be uploaded to Flickr which I draw from when I'm updating Flickr each day. Then each individual day is saved as a catalog in Lightroom which is stored with the original RAW files and I move that folder off the main hard drive to the Drobo to be archived.

Frederick: Do you use the new Flickr integration that is built into Lightroom 3?

Thomas: I think it works great for those people who use Lightroom as a catalog tool. Myself, I tend to use Lightroom more as a develop tool and prefer to manage my files and uploads independent of Lightroom so I don't use it. I also like to Geotag all of my images using Geotagger for the Mac.


Frederick: A while back, Flickr entered into a partnership with Getty images. Are you participating in that and if so can you tell us more about it?

Thomas: Getty approached myself and number of other photographers to contribute images to the Getty Flickr pool. I decided to participate so that I could blog about it and get to understand the process. There are a couple of conditions that you have to be aware of going into it. The first is that Getty has an exclusive license to the images for 2 years which means you can't sell them to someone else during that time. I've had a few situations where someone has approached me to buy a photograph and I've had to tell them that Getty owns the license. The other thing I don't like is that they only pay us 20% on most of the images which I feel is a little on the low side. Having said that, many of the photos I've sold I probably wouldn't have sold otherwise so there is definitely a good reason to participate.

Frederick: Why not contribute those images to a site like iStock Photo?

Thomas: You don't make that much at a $1 an image but who knows. I haven't really pursued that option. Right now I think I do a lot better by just directly interacting with my audience. I have also used Clustershot and they pay photographers 90%. They actually have a way to import all of your Flickr photos automatically which makes it very easy to sell your photos.


Frederick: What sort of gear are you packing these days?

Thomas: I have a Lowepro backpack that goes with me everyday. Inside is a Canon 5D Mark II, a 50mm f1.2, a 24mm f1.4, the 14mm f2.8 ultra-wide L lens, a 135mm f2, and a 100mm macro. All that gear plus a tripod and my 17″ MacBook Pro go with me everywhere I go. If I'm traveling I will also bring some 1TB hard drives with me.

Frederick: All that gear and I didn't hear anything about a strobe?

Thomas: I don't do much with flash. I need to do more with flash and get to understand it better.

Frederick:  You should check out Syl Aren's new book called the Speedliter's Handbook. What about printing?

Thomas: I actually just bought an Epson 9900. I sold some images to a company and I decided that I wanted to do the printing myself and was making more than enough to justify the purchase. You can do prints up to 44″ on this thing and they are so fast. I have to figure out a strategy for printing and selling my images. I've given prints to charity auctions and stuff but I haven't sold a lot of prints before so I have to figure out how to do it and get more into it.


Frederick: HDR photography. Are you into that and what's your stand on it?

Thomas: I've done some HDR and the new features in CS5 make it easier. I think most of the HDR that I see out there feels overdone to me. There are some people out there like Trey Ratcliffe who do a great job at it but I think it's a lot like spices and it should be used sparingly. My favorite HDR photographs are the ones where you don't know that it's HDR. I don't do a lot of it but I do think there are some situations where it does work. When I do use it I think that most people don't know. I'm all about doing whatever you need to do to make your picture look better so if HDR works then go for it.


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Frederick Van and

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Producer: Suzanne Llewellyn

Show notes by Bruce Clarke at or

Bandwidth provided by Cachefly. Intro Music by Scott Cannizzaro


  1. Really great episode. I have been a flickr member for around a year and am a little tired of all the nice comments. I have joined the DeleteMe Uncensored group and hope to get some critiques.

    Keep up the good work Frederick and TWiP gang!

  2. Great piece Bruce. You will never meet a more passionate guy about photography then Mr. Hawk.

    Thomas, thanks for the shout out

  3. I tried to join the flickr-group, but I get the message, that this group is not available for me?! Any idea, why?
    BTW – great show, love to listen to you, Frederick.

  4. Hey surfvienna. The DMU group is set to be a public, 18+ group. Perhaps it’s an age restriction that’s not allowing you to join the group?

  5. Great interview, Isn’t it funny that The George Eastman House in Rochester does not allow cameras inside!!! They even have a huge camera collection! Is George E. rolling in his grave?

  6. I’ve joined the group too – very addictive.Great interview.

    One question – how do you view a group pool from flickr on the Apple TV 2? May just have been a throw away line from Frederick. I’ve googled to no avail…

  7. Really interesting interview with Thomas Hawk, and specially interested in the stock agency he mentioned “Clustershot”. Had a look, liked it, signed up! only $20 for the year. Uploaded 100 shots, then noticed the site blog has not been updated in months! – twitter updates on the site – not updated in months. Their Facebook page – not updated in months. All photographers on the site can be e-mailed. I e-mailed a few, all were not very impressed and didn’t think the site was being maintained. My e-mails to them have not been answered. Could you guys at TWIP get any answers for us? Clustershot is mentioned in the show notes, and its likely that others may join up.

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