Master of light: Photographer specializes in landscapes, interiors
From celebrity rockers to luxury hotels, San Rafael photographer Dennis Anderson has circled the globe, shooting the ultimate in man-made and natural beauty for more than three decades. At 57, the graying freelancer exhibits a tangible exuberance for life, which informs his photographs.
"I still get excited about photography," Anderson said at his cozy studio, a few paces from the Loch Lomond Marina, where he lives on a boat. "A photo is sometimes our only chance at perfection."
"Every once in a while, you find the perfect composition in the natural world, and you want to share that with people," Anderson said. "The same in the interior world. You can light it up in harmonious ways and make people feel good."
By mastering the manipulation of light, Anderson has straddled two seemingly paradoxical photography disciplines - interior and landscape photography. At the moment, he balances his time between capturing natural wildlife, usually at dawn and dusk to capture the best light, as well as hotels, restaurants, and other buildings, enhanced with special lights set just so. He has about 15 regular clients, comprised largely of architects and designers, who dispatch him to Asia, South America and elsewhere to photograph their work for magazines ranging from "Design for Living" to "Architectural Digest."
But he is most proud of his first book, "Hidden Treasures of San Francisco Bay," published in 2004, with writer Jerry George. A coffee tablebook showcasing local landscapes and wildlife, it sold 6,000 copies. "It is a great living ecosystem," Anderson said. "It is wonderful to be a part of that. My way to hook in to that is through photography."
Anderson, born and raised in New Jersey, was introduced to photography by a friend at Antioch College in Ohio. He was hooked.
After graduating in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in art, Anderson moved west to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. There, he was taught by the late Imogen Cunningham, the renowned photographer whose style greatly influenced Anderson.
She emphasized an editorial approach to photography, meaning preserving the integrity of various images by avoiding techniques such as cropping. Today, even in his composed images of interiors at Starwood Resorts or McCormick and Schmick restaurants, Anderson uses soft, "natural" looking light to make his photographs seem inviting, rather than sterile.
In the 1970s, Anderson apprenticed with several photographers, including a commercial advertising photographer, and learned specialized technical skills. He went on to string together successful freelance gigs, ranging from the San Francisco Opera to portraits of rock musicians for "Rolling Stone" and other magazines. His versatility extended to custom motorcycles, and earned him a three-month road trip photographing the Hells Angels for magazines such as "Big Bike."
Anderson's foray into more corporate work, and in turn, financial security, came when designer Pat Kuleto asked him to photograph his restaurants, including Farallon in San Francisco. He then went on to photograph McCormick & Schmick restaurants.
That led Anderson to photography assignments around the world for hotel companies like Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Hyatt and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. During the 1990s, Anderson took on more work for architects and designers who wanted him to capture their buildings, interiors or landscapes to use in their marketing materials and portfolios.
Anderson has photographed pools in Hawaii and the Caribbean for a local landscape architect, and worked on a several issues of the magazine "Resorts & Great Hotels," which required him to travel to destinations in South America.
"They need the skills of an architectural photographer because when they complete a project, home or hotel they want to show it to the world," Anderson said. "They can only get a very few people to walk through the actual space so 99 percent of the people who see it will see it through a photograph. So that image must be evocative of what it's like to be there in the space, not just a cold recording of the details."
Anderson also traveled to Asia to photograph Asian carpets, featured in five separate books for collectors. Most recently, Anderson began teaching courses for members of the American Society of Interior Designers, on ways to communicate with photographers about architectural photography, and how to ensure those photographs are published.
Anderson has used photography as a "means of exploration," both for himself and others.
Reflecting on his corporate photography, Anderson said: "It was wonderful to get into other countries if I could do something to promote travel, I felt that was important."
Commercial photography assignments have helped Anderson invest in camera and lighting equipment, including digital technology. Anderson has one employee, a digital assistant who helps him prepare photographs for publication. Anderson said he has earned more than six figures some years, although this year was not one of them. He declined to provide specific salary figures, other than to say he makes a "comfortable" living. He says he is always open to more business.
Anderson's daily rates range from $1,500 to $2,000, depending on the number times his photographs are used and the type of publication that publishes them.
Anderson expanded his palette last year by buying a home in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He has taken to photographing waterfowl in the marshes of Klamath Basin. An enlarged photograph of white geese hangs near his studio entrance.
Anderson's trademark lies in his highly creative approach, said a longtime client, Chuck Thompson, who owns Thompson Planning & Design, an architectural firm based in Larkspur.
"It is hard work, what he does," Thompson said. "He basically has done what we have asked him to do, he is a consummate listener."
Anderson also offers clients his artistic vision of the object or structure to be photographed, and the kind of photographs that will translate to magazine covers or layouts.
As a result, Thompson said, Anderson's work has brought in "good, steady work that has enabled me to show people what I do with his fine photography, and that has helped put me together with clients who like my visions."