With a Little Help From My Friends


by Tony L Corbell

In thinking back on my forty- two years in photography, I recall a conversation I had one afternoon that had an unexpected result and realization for me. I was having lunch with my sister and a good friend of hers and this friend asked if I was some kind of famous photographer. My sister’s response was interesting. She said, “No, I don’t think so, but he is good friends with many of the famous ones out there working today…” That afternoon I came to understand that while I often may not feel that I have any true “greatness” in me, I have done a decent job of surrounding myself with “greatness” and it has proven to have mattered more than anything I could have possibly done in my career.

“Connections!” That is the name of the game and it can be vital to ensure your success.

In my personal quest for finding my photographic voice, I have come to realize that my voice did not come from me entirely. Rather it was the result of years and years of paying attention to and studying from those photographers that I admired and respected, regardless of their genre of work. Comments and critiques from National Geographic documentary photographers to sports shooters, landscape, fashion, editorial, even my being very close friends with the top food photographer in the land, all had a hand in my development as a simple working photographer. My voice, or in my case, my lack of a defined voice, came largely from them and their subtle input in my life. I never felt that I fit into a niche or genre. I always felt I am just a photographer who understands light pretty well and will take on just about any photographic job or project if it is interesting and most importantly, challenging.


At a commencement graduation speech for one of the major photographic schools several years ago, I delivered a message that went through a discourse on the importance of making connections. The students from that school, and for that matter all kinds of schools, make life-long connections and friendships and these kinds of relationships made in these conditions will almost always stand the test of time. They will shoot each other’s weddings, family portraits and children, they will assist each other on commercial shoots, and act as sounding boards for each other throughout much of their professional careers. I don’t know of any established working professional photographers who don’t have colleagues or friends that they can call on anywhere at any time for advice, tips, techniques, or any other kinds of help that might be needed. “Connections!” That is the name of the game and it can be vital to ensure your success.

I don’t know when it was that I started recognizing the importance of my photographic connections but about the time my career started doing well is about the time that I noticed. It was then I knew the importance of these connections. As a result, I would always try to be as good at helping others as they were at helping me. But do understand that it is not about keeping score. You help from the heart and it will come back to you. I remember a great photographer and friend from Oregon said that we cannot “work in a vacuum, all alone, or our work will simply suck.” Pretty funny but also pretty true.

Tony Corbell’s photographic works have been featured in publications throughout the world. Along with co-instructor, Rob Hull, he will be teaching a class at Texas School 2022 titled “Between Light & Shadow” which explores the three key elements that comprise light. Students will learn how to find the right ambient light and how to use lighting tools to create the light that will set the mood for your photo. Learn more about their class at www.TexasSchool.org.