I'm Cole Thompson, ask me anything!

Hello NPN, I am excited to answer your questions today!

I am uniquely unqualified to speak about photography:

  • “I’ve never taken a photography class or a workshop.
  • I don’t have a degree in art.
  • I’ve never worked as a photographer.
  • I don’t have gallery representation.
  • I’m not a Canon Explorer of Light.
  • I have only three lenses and none of them are primes.
  • Do I have any qualifications?
  • Just one…my images. Nothing else matters.”

You can view more of my work at https://colethompsonphotography.com

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In looking at your body of work, which is stunning, I am interested in knowing your approach to processing your images. Thanks!

When you are in “the pits” of non-creative energy, how do you pull yourself out and recreate your “mojo?”


Hello Ken!

My processing philosophy is to keep things as simple as possible. I want the least amount of technology between me and the image. I do this for two reasons: first, simple is always easier and second, simple means there’s less to go wrong.

I use six steps in Photoshop. Nothing else.

No plug-ins, no extra programs, no anything. I don’t even use layers! (don’t know how).

You can read and see a video about my six step process here:


Lee! Nice to see you here.

First, everyone sometimes finds themselves feeling like they’ve lost “it” and that it will never come back. I feel that way all the time.

I used to fight it or try and find ways to dig myself out of that creative black hole.

But over time I have learned to not fight it and simply let it run its course. I think of it this way:

Just as a farmer lets a field lay fallow for a season, to rejuvenate it, so we occasionally must take a break and rejuvenate our creativity.

After spell, I start feeling the need to create and I go back at it with a renewed natural enthusiasm.

So my philosophy is: relax and enjoy the downtime!

“It” will return.

Hi Cole!

I’ve been meaning to ask, what is a good (and accurate) way to map colors to gray tones? I think I’ve seen a color wheel in gray scale in some of your presentations, but I cannot find anything like that. Any recommendations for those of us still learning to “see” in black and white? Hope you are well and really regretting not going on that trip to DV now. :confused:

Hello from Aurora, IL.

Admit the truth: Harbinger #1 is your favorite photo (of that delightful series AND of all your photos…or, maybe I am confusing my viewpoint with yours?!). Care to comment?

Adam Burke

Hi Roxanne, my fellow donkey lover!

I do use that grayscale color wheel in my presentation to show how different colors translate into shades of gray, but I only use it to illustrate that point. I never did use that in practice.

In practice, I simply use the back of the camera to see what the captured image looks like in black-and-white, and then in Photoshop I use the color sliders in the black and white conversion program to change the gray value if needed.

Or put more simply: I just shoot it and then tweak it to how I like it!


Hello Cole,
Nature is Art in itself, so when photographing a particular subject do you have a theme that you are looking for or while photographing do you see the image and build the theme or topic around that image?

When you set up to do a shot, do you aim to create precisely what you envision, or do you take a chance and experiment?

Hello Adam from Aurora! (my mother’s birthplace)

Certainly Harbinger No. 1 is my favorite from that series. It also happens to be my first Harbinger.

However, I don’t think I would say that it’s my favorite of all my images. But the truth is that if you pressed me, I’m not sure I could say what my favorite is from all my images.

It would be like asking me which of my five children is my favorite.

But I might say that The Angel Gabriel is my favorite image, or at least my most meaningful image.

Why? Because it was the first time that I had consciously used my Vision to “create an image“ rather than “take a picture.“

It was also a tremendous personal experience, interacting with Gabriel. You can read that story here:


Hi Jeff!

I generally see something that triggers an idea, excitement and Passion, and that causes me to pursue a series.

We were just talking about the Harbinger series, and it all started when I saw that first single cloud. After I photographed it the first word that popped into my mind was Harbinger: an omen of things to come.

That kicked off the series and sent me looking for single Harbinger clouds.

Never have I had an idea at home, thought about it, planned it out and then went out and executed it. I need to have a spark that lights a fire and gets me excited.

That’s how I got started on the Ceiling Lamp portfolio.

I was standing in the lobby of a hotel in Akron Ohio, waiting to check out, when I happened look up and saw thIs ceiling lamp that just fascinated me. I pushed the table out of the center of the lobby and laid on the floor and just looked at that lamp. I got excited and that was the beginning of the ceiling lamp series.

I must feel the Passion which propels me to do a series.

But that’s just me. Others work in the exact opposite way.

The best way to work is the way that works for you.

Do you still believe in and follow “photographic celibacy”?

Hi Cole. I got myself in a bit of a rut with what to photograph. Went weeks without any inspiration then saw your Lone Man series and loved it. I would like to do something similar but slightly different in my local area. Is it acceptable to do this or should I just try and come up with a totally new project.

Of all of the people you co-lead workshops with, who is your favorite?


Hi Cole, long time follower. I’d like your recommendation for a Canon full frame camera, with a 24-105 lens. Economy is important this time around. I use to have a Mark II, which I loved. But alas, it’s out of my price range now.


Michael, I would say that 99% of the time when I am standing at a scene, I have a Vision of what I want to create. That Vision is my roadmap and everything I do after that, taking the shot and the post processing, is driven by that Vision. My goal is to produce an image that matches my Vision.

Do I ever experiment and just play around, Hoping to stumble upon something?


But I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those images “work“ for me.

Hi Don, thanks for visiting NPN and asking a question!

I’m not really an equipment guy, but here’s what I would recommend: Why not find a used one?

I loved my Mark II, and created some great images with it.

I’d rather have a used Mark II than one of the new smaller sensor cameras.

Have you price them out, maybe through B&H used or KEH.com?

What are your thoughts on trying to make living as a photographer?