Sam Gray Master Photographer; Classic Style And Technique

The first time I met Sam Gray was probably about 1975. I was a young photographer attending one of my first Maine state conferences and Gray was one of the program speakers. I can still remember how elegant and beautiful his images were. I also remember how he struck me as a quintessential southern gentleman. He was soft spoken yet exuded confidence. You couldn’t help but admire the guy.

Fast forward to 2007, when I was one of the jurors for the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) print exhibit. As I was waiting for some images to critique, I thumbed through a pile of prints. The first image I saw was awesome. I peeked at the back of the print to see the maker’s name—Sam Gray! I didn’t know he still entered competitions. Then I looked at the next three prints—all wonderful, all by Sam Gray, and all accepted into the Loan Collection, a feat accomplished by perhaps 10 photographers worldwide each year. In ’08 and ’09, 11 of 12 images he submitted were selected for the Loan Collection, another amazing achievement. He was also awarded the Fellowship Degree by the American Society of Photographers in ’09.

Stormy Walk
This little lady with the umbrella was taken in a small village hill town in Umbria, Italy. It was 2pm and lightly raining. Sam Gray loved the composition but made it more dramatic with dark clouds and by turning it into a night scene. This is a PPA Loan Collection winner.
All Photos © 2010, Sam Gray, All Rights Reserved

Of his Loan Collection images 75 percent were heavily manipulated or “painted,” so Gray’s work has certainly evolved with the times. What has not changed is his classic style, beautiful composition and lighting, and respect for his subjects. I decided to catch up with the Raleigh, North Carolina, photographer and ask him about his current work.

Lady In Red
Taken with window light with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and painted in Corel’s Painter X. Sam Gray admires the work of the European painter Pino and this is his rendition of the painter’s style. This is a PPA Loan Collection print. The final is a 30x40” canvas with mixed media in pigment and oil.

Shutterbug: Your career spans a few decades, so are you still having fun?

Sam Gray: I have never had more fun. There is always something new to learn and I enjoy the variety of artistic talents that I can express.

SB: Many of your portraits are painted. Is it just from software or do you actually touch brush to canvas?

SG: I do a variety of techniques that involve brush to canvas. In our gallery we display samples to help clients make their final decision. Often I am given the liberty to express myself more artistically. When I do, I enjoy the heavier impasto oils as well as chalk and pastels. I can do free hand or mixed media.

SB: Your image quality is very impressive. What format are you using? What is your favorite camera/lens combo?

SG: I have worked with the Fuji FinePix S2, Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, and now the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Lenses are a 24-105mm, a 35-70mm f/2.8, and a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom.

SB: Much of your work appears to have a European influence. Is that intentional or am I misreading it?

SG: I have been greatly influenced by European artists past and present. It is a pleasure to blend in some of the Old Masters’ techniques into today’s art. I have traveled to Europe several times and love the rich, natural settings there.

A Long Journey Home
This image is part of the PPA Loan Collection and was taken with the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n. The rays of light are all real except for the two on the left. There had to be a lot of enhancing to bring up the original luster in Photoshop CS4.

SB: You have some wonderful art pieces that you offer. Have you had sales success with them?

SG: I have been building an extensive collection of art for our gallery. They are being shown in other galleries and in the homes of collectors. Now designers and decorators are buying them. Most of my time is spent on portraits, but I’m now enjoying other art pieces.