PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?
Rachel James: I’m a thirty-two year old American who has been living in the Netherlands for 11-years. My husband and I run a new media company in which I am a User Experience Designer. I also make a living as a wedding and portrait photographer. Two of my most successful websites have been brownglasses.com and 28mm.org. I now sporadically photoblog at aandedijk.com.
PP: Why did you move to the Netherlands?
RJ: I met my husband in 1997 via his online journal (the predecessor to what we now know as weblogs). After e-mailing and chatting via ICQ, I realized that he was my soulmate, the one, and flew to the Netherlands to meet him. I’ve been here ever since.
PP: How did you first get into photography?
RJ: My father is an avid photographer. I can’t remember a time when there weren’t rolls and rolls of 120 film in the vegetable crisper. Photography was important in our family as I was growing up. We, my sister… my mom… all had cameras and used them often. That I eventually became a photographer is really no surprise.
What was your first camera, and what do you use now?
My first camera was a 110 camera from K-Mart. I used it for years, until the camera was lost during one of our many moves. My current work cameras are a Nikon F100 and Nikon D300. Nothing extravagant, but at the end of the day, they help me get the job done. For play I use primarily a Polaroid 680 SLR, Holga, Lomo-CA, and Leica M6. I was recently given a Norita 66 that I’ve fallen completely in love with.
PP: Do you find yourself shooting more with film or more with digital? If you had to stick with one, which would it be and why?
RJ: Commissioned work is done digitally. The work I do for exhibitions and for myself is shoot on film. I’m a film lover and will always be. Take a Polaroid for example. There is no DNG… no negative. I can’t manipulate the EXIF data. It’s an unique original. There is trust and honesty in that. As long as there is film to be bought, I will be shooting with it.
PP: Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite pieces of gear and why you like them?
RJ: That would be, hands down, my Polaroid SLR 680 and SX-70. Ansel Adams said, “It is unfortunate that so many photographers have thought of the Land (Polaroid) camera as a ‘toy’…The process has revolutionized the art and craft of photography”. I couldn’t agree with more. I look at the Polaroids I’ve taken over the years, over and over again. I’m slightly obsessed. I realize this.
PP: Is there any gear on your wishlist?
RJ: NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and a Hasselblad 500C/M chrome. I forsee the Hasselblad being added sooner to my gear collection than the lens though.
PP: What type of photography are you most interested in?
RJ: Portraiture. Meeting new and interesting people is what inspires me to photograph, and my photography is a way for me to keep meeting new, interesting people. It’s a cycle that helps keep my work fresh. In a way, a lot of what I do is self-portraiture, as I tend photograph people who interest me, people I see myself in, or at the very least, like me, stick out from the crowd.
PP: What is your goal in photography?
RJ: I have a number of business goals (profits, clients, projects, exhibitions, etc), but ultimately, I want create photographs that serve as a documentation of the life I live and the people I meet.
PP: What does Aan de dijk mean?
RJ: Aan de dijk is a prepositional phrase in Dutch. Translated into English it would mean something along the lines of “Along the dike”. You pronounce it phonetically as on duh dike. In a sentence, you would use it to refer to where something is located. I live in the historical city center of Ravenstein, an old fortified city built along a dike and the river Meuse/Maas. My domain name refers to that.
PP: What is street photography like in the Netherlands? Are people friendly and open to having their photographs taken by a stranger?
RJ: It’s quite relaxed if your respect peoples privacy and abide by the law. People and law enforcement tend to let you do your thing. Occasionally someone will do a double take when I’m bent over photographing what they assume to be trash. In Amsterdam, where I learned the art of street photography, occasionally someone running a market stand would make a fuss if I photographed their wares. Moroccan and Turkish women don’t tend to like to be photographed. They give a clear signal which I respect. There’s a difference between someone who is photographing on a professional level and someone who’s doing it just for fun or as a casual hobby. And people see that, I think.
PP: How do you go about photographing strangers?
RJ: When I first started photographing strangers, I did it from a far. Kind of stealth like. An instructor at the Photo Academy in Amsterdam urged me to stop using my zoom lenses and move closer to my subject. While he wasn’t referring solely to street portraits, it was advice I’ve did take to heart. I don’t own a single lens over 85mm. So these days when I photograph strangers, I’m open about it and shoot from only a couple of meters away. You have to be confident, friendly, and professional. I’ll take a shot ,and then smile really big. The person in question usually awkwardly smiles back and keeps on walking. If the someone turns away when I aim the camera, I’ll walk up closer and ask if I can photograph them. Usually they’ll what to know why and why them. There have been only a handful of strangers that I haven’t been able to photograph. Flattery really works wonders. Oh yeah and smiling. You can get away with almost anything as long as you smile while doing it.
PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences while doing street photography?
RJ: I suppose one of the most memorable experiences happened while I was in Paris a few years back. Two children kept pestering me about giving them money. When I sat down to reload my Polaroid they hovered around me, begging. I aimed the Polaroid at them and took a shot. When the boys tried to grab the Polaroid from me, a friend stepped in between. I quickly took two more shots while my friend scolded the boys and gave the two extra Polaroids to them.
PP: What would you consider to be the most important things you’ve learned since starting out in photography? How have they impacted your work?
RJ: To properly set-up and use Photoshop actions and Lightroom Presets. Batch editing saves not only time, but in the end money.
PP: Would you recommend a new photographer start out with film or digital? Why?
RJ: Think about what kind of photographer (fashion, sport, documentary, fine art) you want to be and choose the camera accordingly. To me it’s shouldn’t be about film -or- digital, but about the tool that best fits the job. This idea that it should be one or the other, or that film has no more place in the digital age is just silly. Far too much emphasis is put on the camera. In the end, it all boils down to the print. How you get there is your own business.
PP: What personal advice could you give an aspiring photographer who is looking to improve their photographs?
Learn to look critically at your work. Many beginning photographers tend to not know how to edit properly. And I don’t mean just in Photoshop. I mean knowing how to pick that “it” shot. By understanding what’s not working in a particular photograph, helps you in turn to photograph the same situation better.
Could you tell me a little about how to take photographs? (your mindset, your technique, your process, how many rolls you shoot in one sitting, etc…)
RJ: Hmm.. well… I tend to have a clear idea of what I want to photograph and how I’m going to go about doing it. Whether it’s a commissioned assignment of whether I’m just shooting for my own personal pleasure. I don’t really have any special techniques. I love shallow depth of field and try to always do everything with available light. The most difficult choice is what camera to use. For a commission, it will almost always be digital, but when I’m shooting for my own personal pleasure, I always seem leave the camera I should have brought with me at home. Murphy’s Law, I suppose.
PP: What is the hardest thing about shooting weddings?
RJ: Getting started. If you haven’t been a shooting assistant for an already established wedding photographer or if you haven’t been lucky enough to successfully shoot a wedding or two from a friend, building up your portfolio will be the hardest thing about shooting weddings.
PP: What is something about wedding photography that most people don’t know?
RJ: While wedding photography is a serious business, it’s also just a lot of fun, especially if you love being photographing people. How could you NOT have fun when everyone is enjoying such a festive event.
PP: Can you briefly walk us through your workflow?
RJ: My workflow for digital and film is essentially the same, except for the fact that the film goes off to a lab where it’s developed and immediately scanned to disc. So basically it all begins with importing files into Lightroom. Files are arranged into folders according to their shooting date. I keyword and I apply a preset I created that adjusts the white balance, saturation, calibration, lens vignetting, and exposure. Then I quickly sort out all the duds and duplicate shots. After some further adjustments made on a per photo basis. Lastly, I export JPG’s in the working color space appropriate for the final result (sRGB for internet use, Adobe RGB for print).
PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?
RJ: Heather Champ, Lorissa Shepstone, Fredrick Olssen, Jim Green, Sophie Thouvenin, Valerie Cochran, Brigitte Heinsch, Andrew Newson, Rion Nakaya, Matt Armendariz, Justin Ouellette, Alison Garnett, Andrew Kopietz, and many of the people found here and here continually inspire me.
PP: Who is one person you would choose to see interviewed by PetaPixel?
RJ: Lorissa Shepstone.
PP: Anything else you would like to say to PetaPixel readers?
RJ: There will always be those with “better” gear than you. Learn to work with what you’ve got. Develop your own style and forget the rules.