Tim Tadder has just finished Water Wigs, a photoshoot where water balloons are captured exploding on the heads of balding men. This is a follow-up project to Fish Heads – which if you are yet to see it, is an engaging and inspirational underwater portrait project.

This is how I first discovered the talents of Tim – the photographs not only look fantastic, they are simply too intriguing to ignore – and I decided that the evidently creative mind behind the series needed to be tapped for inspirational answers; and I was certainly not disappointed.

View more of Tim's projects

Based in California, Tim and his team work on projects that are born out of a need to create something visually different, just the type of thing that sets his style of photography apart from others. Ideas definitely do not come from inside the box and stunning images are sometimes the result of wondering how new technology can be used to create an aesthetic that has not been seen before.

Fish Heads and Water Wigs

Intrigued by his striking photography, I decided to find out more about his latest projects: "With Fish Heads, we are just trying to do something new, something people haven’t seen before – everything else has been done, been repeated. I thought that maybe we could try to do something visually different, whether it is perfect or not, at least it is visually different, it is unique and inspires people to think about visuals in a new way."

"I do a lot of underwater photography, and I am always super enamoured by the surface tension of the water, and the way it picks up reflection, whether it is calm underwater and it looks like a mirror or if it is turbulent and it is a kaleidoscope of reflections and textures… But part of the problem with shooting underwater is you’re floating, the subject can be moving, it is difficult to be consistent - so I wanted to make a controlled use of this environment."

The idea of using a 60 gallon fish tank conveniently set up in the studio where everything could be controlled from timing to turbulence and lighting was the seed for a revolutionary new photo shoot. However, the simplicity behind the inspiration belies the complexity of the actual task at hand and Tim was soon to find out that maintaining clarity in the controlled aquatic environment was going to be a hard task indeed.

Luckily, Tim and his team are no strangers to brainstorming and soon had those taking part scrubbing themselves free of soaps, oil and grease; and with the help of an aquarium cleaning company who built a special filtration system and provided special water (as well slosh out dirty water and chuck in new) kept the water clear enough to make the project a success. "They made it all possible, without them it would have been impossible – maybe that’s why no one has ever done it before," he laughed, "It was really difficult – much more difficult than I thought it would be."

So – how did he get to where he is now?

Good honest hard work – that all-important ‘doing’. His talents in post-production stem form his (very early) days in a darkroom. Tim was just 13 when he started taking photos and developing them himself too. His father was a professional photographer, which allowed Tim to access a wealth of equipment, which he then used to capture images of people he was hanging out with at the time in the skate community.

Tim’s father was adamant that if the budding young photographer was going to be using up the film, he was also responsible for developing it, and printing it – and it turned out to be a passion "when I first started photography I was so enamoured by the visualization of a print coming to life, when you see the first print – you are like ‘wow’ that’s like magic, and you’re hooked." Despite these great experiences, Tim admits that he had no idea how this would impact on his life in the future.

As far as a hobby went, the interest in photography was taken over by an interest in girls, about the time he went to high school. It wasn’t until the age of 27, after 5 years of teaching that Tim decided that teaching wasn’t for him and wondered if he could ‘make a go of photography’.

He started as he puts it, ‘at the bottom’, by taking pictures for a local paper - $50 per assignment. Then this went up to $75 per assignment. Next – it was associated press level who paid $300 per assignment; and the good times rolled in with a number of impressive freelance assignments. Although he enjoyed the documentary aesthetic, he also felt a need to share his vision – he wanted to "make the picture, not just paint the picture."

He wondered what it would be like to control a moment and get the shot you are looking for, rather than reacting to a moment. It was this inquisitive thought that led to creating a portfolio of moment controlled shots – a collection of images that were incredibly well received and resulted in being hired for commercial work by 2005.

Tim Tadder Top Tip
"You can’t wish you are a photographer, you have to be a photographer, and being a photographer means creating. At a basic level creating means doing, and doing is the hard part for most people."

Originality and Inspiration

To keep pushing his photography forward, Tim works hard at creating imagery that isn’t out there – it is in his opinion the only way to get noticed – mostly due to the huge number of "unbelievably talented individuals out there making so much unbelievably talented incredible inspiring art. If you are not on that edge – you get lost in the noise."

Creating a different image when every picture has seemingly been done requires a creative approach – and Tim tells us how: "whether that is in the proposition, post production technique, physical approach – we try to do that… I don’t feel like it is enough to go execute something that has been done before. So, for a running shoot we ask ourselves ‘how do we shoot running differently? What is different about what we are going to do and why are people going to want to look at it? Why is it going to stronger than what is out there?’"

This approach is also a good way to make sure that other people don’t rip off your work – a very real hazard in this industry. By creating such unique imagery and pushing boundaries, you make a mark that others would be foolish to copy.

On the subject of originality, Tim makes a poignant remark that people don’t just ‘fall out of a car and into a fish tank’, and anyone seeking to steal his idea would be seen as foolish indeed. That is not to say that inspiration cannot be found in other people’s work. Tim himself was inspired by the underwater images of dogs jumping for a ball in pools by a pet photographer. The inspiration caused him to consider how that could work with his own style, and his own subjects – namely portraits of people and his fascination with surface tension in water.

Tim Tadder Top Tip
Computer software should be seen as a less cumbersome and less laborious way to create an image compared to the days in a darkroom. "A computer is an unlimited potential device, but it is up to the image maker to be discerning and disciplined – just because you can do something in Photoshop doesn’t mean you should do something in Photoshop."

His latest work Water Wigs, was in turn partly inspired by a photo project where a water balloon was thrown in someone’s face – and the moment before impact was caught on camera. Tim states that "It looked really cool." This inspiration was combined with the fact that he had bought a sound trigger 6 months before and he never had a chance to work with it. Thoughts about how he could use that technology to create something bizarre and unbelievable, couple with an idea that it might be possible to create wigs on bald heads with exploding water balloons, and hey presto. A project that people certainty haven’t seen before.

Both the Fish Heads and Water Wigs projects were regarded by Tim as a foray into a new experience – both with steep learning curves. "…maybe it is not perfect… but I learned a lot and I am going to do it better." An outlook that at first seems at odds when you consider the high production values of his commercial work, but totally fits in with his sense of fun and experimentation.

The aesthetic that Tim Tadder’s reputation may be based on lies mostly in the grand style, a polished look, primarily because that is the market he works in, but he does capture images on a variety of cameras that are not necessarily high end photography gear. He experiments with various bodies of work and is also a fan of alternative processes, and ultimately this has led him to conclude that "It is the image maker who makes the image – not the camera."

Tim Tadder Top Tip
As long as people are picking up a camera, it is a good thing. "I am all for any type of image capturing methodology as long as the image you are capturing is powerful and speaks, that it communicates, it can be taken with an iphone, or million dollars of post production equipment – if it’s not powerful, it’s not powerful"

When I enquired about how he keeps inspired, Tim said that "if you can’t find inspiration, then you are just not looking", but this does not mean that he does not face the occasional time when you just feel a bit stuck.

"The fact that I have client base, or a business doesn’t mean anything because if I stop creating, I will disappear amongst the talent that is out there very fast…You have to constantly say I am still here, I am still creating and I will inspire you with something new; whether you use that to hire me or you use that to create something, you are going to remember me. That is invaluable, and that’s how I started, and that is what I always go back to when I am stuck."

"At the end of the day – that is what we always aim to do – we aim to inspire people."

If I was to sum Tim up, I would say he is all about experimentation, having fun and thinking creatively. He is also has a desire to take the things that inspire him and use them to inspire others. And he is most certainly about doing. Above all though, in his own words, he is about making the world a better place with cool images.

Knowing this, I was keen to find out what Tim thought of the 365 Project..

Tim Tadder on the 365 Project

Q: So Tim, what are your thoughts on the 365 Project?
"You guys are inspiring people to ‘do’ – and that is tremendous!"

Q: Do you have any advice for anyone involved in the project?
"The main thing is that you have to create – you can’t wish it – you have to make it…. So just do it – take your iphone out and take a million pictures, I bet you by the time you finish, you have figured out what you wanted to say, and how you wanted to say it."

Fish Heads 2 is already planned, albeit much more elaborate – and depending on the reception of water wigs, Tim will decide if it is something he will return to, to explore further. You can see more of Tim’s photography at timtadder.com

Many thanks to Tim for his time – I really hope you have all found his words as inspirational as I did.

November 18th, 2021
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