Posts Tagged ‘photobloggers’

Interview with Anne Archambault of wideangle.ca

Anne Archambault is the photoblogger behind wideangle.ca.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Anne Archambault: My name is Anne Archambault and I’m a French-speaking Québécoise. After living in most provinces in Canada, Indonesia, India and Belize, I now reside in Seattle, WA. I love the outdoors and mostly pursue my photography on climbing and backpacking escapades in the Cascade and Olympic ranges. When my limited vacation time allows for it, I also like to travel to more exotic and far flung venues. My last trip was to the Italian Dolomites and I’ll travel to Ecuador later this year.

I retouch all of my pictures – from mere cropping and tonal adjustments to more radical perspective shift or artifact removal. My goal is to create compelling images and I’m not attached to the ideal of accurate representation – at least not in my own work. I also like to dabble with infrared and panoramic photography. Next on my list is kite aerial photography!

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PP: Why have you lived in so many different places around the world?

AA: I’ve always had a fascination for other cultures, places and languages. I discovered quickly that I much prefer to live in the same small community for months on end than to do a whirlwind tour of the tourist sights. I was lucky enough to be able to line up volunteer work overseas on a few different occasions. My projects ranged from planting trees in the Himalayas to setting up an environmental education program for a nature reserve in Belize. Living and working in a foreign country has afforded me access to unique situations and experiences — which I truly relished as a photographer.

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

AA: I showed an interest for photography and started shooting at a young age. My father was a film director and we had a darkroom at home. I remember borrowing my mom’s Kodak instamatic camera in grade 1 on a school trip to the zoo!

But my passion for photography didn’t really take off until the digital era. In the mid-nineties, I worked for the Banff Centre for the Arts (http://www.banffcentre.ca) where I had access to a digital camera for the first time. The possibilities that having an instant preview opened up were instantly clear to me and sparked my renewed experimentations with photography.

Most recently, I worked for Microsoft’s Rich Media photography group where I had the privilege of working alongside world-renowned photographers Art Wolfe, Bambi Cantrell, John Shaw, Matthew Jordan Smith and many others. Their tremendous talent has been a great source of inspiration and motivation for me.

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PP: What is your goal in photography?

AA: I shoot and process my photos for the sheer love of creating what I consider compelling images. The very act of framing an image forces you to look at your surroundings and to uncover a unique element or moment in what could otherwise be a very mundane situation. The most satisfying images are not the obvious sweeping views that anyone with a point and shoot could equally capture (who cannot make a half-decent shot of the Grand Canyon at sunrise?). Rather, they are the ones that even surprise you as the photographer as you release the shutter. As Ernst Haas said: “Don’t take pictures, be taken by pictures.”

PP: What was your first camera?

AA: I honestly cannot remember – it’s been too long!

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PP: What equipment do you use now?

AA: I currently shoot with a Canon EOS 40D and an IR-converted Canon EOS Rebel XT. I also typically carry around a pocket Panasonic DMC-LX3 — which I love for its size, its wide and fast lens, and its ability to shoot RAW. It’s a great little camera for climbing and mountaineering trips where a DSLR would be too heavy or cumbersome. I also use a Gitzo 1540T Traveler tripod, a Canon Speedlite 580EX and an array of lenses (10-22mm, 18-200mm, 70-200mm, 50mm, 1.4 extender, LensBaby) and filters. I carry all this equipment in a LowePro Vertex 200AW backpack.

I import, tag and develop all my photos through Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.0. I enjoy working in Lightroom so much that I now only use Adobe Photoshop CS4 when absolutely necessary! Finally, I print on an Epson Stylus Photo R2400 with Ilford Gallerie Gold Fibre Silk paper.

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PP: Can you briefly explain what it means for a camera to be IR-converted?

AA: A camera that has been converted to infrared is sensitive to infrared light but blocks most of the visible light spectrum. In practice, this translates into dreamy images with very dark skies and bright foliage. You can get an overview of the process on Wikipedia. Several outfits can permanently convert digital camera sensors to only shoot infrared images. Based on conversations with Reed Hoffman at Blue Pixel, I chose to use LifePixel to convert my Canon Rebel XT and have been very happy with my choice. Although landscape photography lends itself particularly well to infrared photography, I have also found myself experimenting with portraiture and wedding photography.

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PP: What’s on your wish list?

AA: A new Canon EOS 5D Mark II has been on my wish list since before it was even on the market – though the newly announced Canon EOS 7D sounds like a great option with its improved focus system, HD video, wireless flash system and electronic level. The extra reach that comes with the cropped sensor is also useful in many shooting situations (wildlife photography, sports photography, etc…). I’m still curious to see how it behaves at higher ISOs and might be willing to wait a bit longer before moving to a full frame sensor…

Some sharper and faster glass including the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II and the 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses are on my list – especially once I move to a full frame sensor. I also want some neutral density filters to slow down the shutter in bright conditions and the Singh Ray Vari-ND filter (http://www.singh-ray.com/varind.html) would be a sweet choice. Finally, I’m on an elusive quest for the perfect backcountry shooting bag. I had thought that the F-Stop Tilopa was going to be a great choice – but unfortunately, it doesn’t fit my smaller frame…

PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

AA: My photography is a combination of nature, landscape and travel photography. I like to look for the incongruous and odd juxtapositions. And as my blog’s name suggest – I am partial to wide focal lengths!

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PP: Do you have any personal tips or tricks for landscape photography?

AA: A lot has been said and written on this subject! At the risk of stating the obvious — be prepared and be patient! Do your research up front to understand when is the best time to shoot your subject and what kind of equipment you’ll be needing (lenses, tripod, filters, etc…). Scout ahead of time or at least arrive early enough to setup ahead of the best light, tide or feeding time. And then, just be ready to frame the shot and wait out the perfect moment: whether it’d be the human silhouette that crosses the frame and gives perspective to the surroundings, the sudden gust that creates a dreamy effect as flowers swirl in the wind, the spectacular colours and cloud formation, or the mountain goat that timidly approaches you.

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PP: How long do you spent post-processing your photographs?

AA: That varies wildly from one image to the other. Adobe Lightroom, especially version 2.0 with its local adjustments, really has revolutionized the way I process my pictures. I now spend less time than ever on post-processing. I typically do a quick pass in Lightroom to scan the images from a shoot and delete any clear rejects. I batch meta-tag everything with copyright information, location and keywords. I then do a quick edit and rate my favourite images. I may tweak them in the Development module as I go as a way of assessing the potential of an image. For instance I may quickly convert an image to black and white or change the aspect ratio to 16:9. I tag blogging candidates and process them more thoroughly in the Development module before exporting them as JPG’s. I occasionally open up the image in Photoshop CS4 for some effects I can’t reproduce in Lightroom. My best images get posted on wideangle.ca and I tweet about new entries (@wide_angle). I typically only post a single image from a given shoot – it forces me to be highly selective and keeps the blog fresh.

PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

AA: Surprisingly, given my own photographic style and choice of subjects, my favourite photographers mostly fall within the photojournalist tradition. Folks who documented the events of their time like Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Sam Abell and Jay Maisel. Their ability to capture truly ephemeral and often poignant moments is captivating…

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PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

AA: I would love to see an interview with Jimmy Chin. He’s an extremely talented adventure photographer who has achieved recognition as both a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and a sponsored North Face athlete. His work combines my personal passions for travel, mountaineering and photography. It’d be fascinating to read more about the behind the scenes of his photo shoots…

Chase Jarvis would also offer an insightful perspective for Petapixel readers. He’s been a tremendous supporter of the Seattle amateur photographer community and is a pioneer in bringing together photography and social media. And of course he’s now the iPhone photography guru!

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

AA: Close the browser and go shooting! And thanks Michael for this great opportunity to share my work with the PetaPixel readers!

Interview with Manuel Guerzoni of San Francisco Daily Photography

Manuel Guerzoni is the photoblogger behind San Francisco Daily Photography.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Manuel Guerzoni: I’m in my thirties, born and raised in France, currently residing in San Francisco. I have lived in Germany for a few years before moving to the US.

I have spent many years in University studying Science trying to satisfy my curiosity for all things.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

MG: I am a very curious person. I have a hard time dealing with the unknown: I must open the box and know what’s inside. As such, I have been observing people and things for a very long time. In 2001, a photographer friend put a camera in my hands and it’s only then that I realized that a camera could become a tool for me to record those things I was so curious about, so that

I could “study” them later inspecting their picture.

PP: What was your first camera?

MG: My very first camera was a Polaroid I was given in the late 70s. I didn’t use it much because I couldn’t afford the film.

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PP: What gear do you use now?

MG: I use a Leica M8 with a 35mm lens. All my gear, including filters, a spare battery, cleaning tools and a tripod fit in a small camera bag that I have with me at all times. That’s luxury. Another set of eyes with better recording capability.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

MG: I sometimes wish I had a wider angle lens which would suit street photography better. When I had reflex cameras, I would exclusively use ultra-wide angle lenses. But I’m very happy with my current gear, I really don’t need anything else right now.

PP: What do you do for a living?

MG: Photography is my only source of income right now.

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PP: Tell me about photographing in San Francisco. How is it similar to or different from other places you’ve photographed?

MG: San Francisco is a complex blend of cultures. It is very different from other places to photograph because no single picture can accurately depict the city. People are typically very tolerant and open-minded here which, in my opinion, makes taking pictures of people easier here than in other cities. Also, because the city enjoys lots of visitors, it makes it harder to take unique pictures. Everyone seems to be walking around with a camera here. If you’re looking to do something unique, it’s not a bad idea to get “uninspired” using sites like flickr before going to shoot to see what other people are doing and try to do something different.

PP: How would you describe your photography for someone who has never seen it?

MG: Each photo I publish on my San Francisco photoblog is a piece of the complex San Francisco puzzle. I strive for the images to be narrative, and hard to be placed in time.

PP: How often and how much do you shoot?

MG: I use my camera pretty much every day, I shoot about 50 pictures a week in average.

Can you tell us very briefly how you make a living through photography? (is it through exhibitions? prints? commercial photography? editorial? etc…)

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I make a living with it, or maybe I should stay hopeful and say “not yet”. But I make money taking commercial assignments and selling prints.

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PP: What are some questions you hear the most from your fans?

MG: Most questions I get are related to the equipment I use. With the introduction of “affordable” DSLRs, lots of folks have started buying new equipment or are considering it. There’s so much choice out there, that people will ask for advice. I tend to think that the equipment doesn’t make a big difference. If you’re a good photographer, you will be a good photographer with any camera in your hand. If you made an analogy to musical instruments, everyone would agree that Jimi Hendrix would have been an amazing guitarist even he had played a guitar other than a Fender Stratocaster. My advice would be to figure out which focal length you want based on what you want to photograph. Then, you can just let your budget dictate the rest.

I also often get the question “did your subjects know you were photographing them?”. My answer to that is that I don’t talk to my subjects prior to taking their picture in order to keep the scene candid and honest, but I often do talk to them afterwards. My experience is that folks usually know you’re there with your camera. But if you act in an honest way, without hiding or trying to be sneaky, they will act normally and will also respond better to your taking their picture.

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PP: Do you have any formal training in photography, or are you entirely self-taught?

MG: I did read some books to understand the basic techniques, and learned a lot by doing things wrong. I found that if you spend as much time looking at your “bad” photos as you spend on your “good” ones, you learn quickly. I find that the hardest part is not learning the technique, it’s figuring out what you want to do especially if you’re trying to be relevant.

PP: Where do you get your film developed?

MG: I use digital exlusively now. I use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.

PP: Can you tell us about your workflow?

MG: I have to admit that there’s room for improvement in my workflow. I don’t keyword my images very consistently and I often go straight from raw to jpg, bypassing the tif format. I’m also horrible at doing backups… But my typical workflow consists of transfering my files to my computer, then keywording them, then going through a review assigning from 0 to 5 stars. When processing, I may make some light exposure adjustments in Camera Raw, and then will go to Photoshop for doing work like black&white conversion, resizing, noise reduction or perspective adjustments. I am lucky to own a camera whose exposure meter is very accurate and the dynamic range is great. So I don’t need to do much in post-processing. But in general, if the original image is less than 95% of what I want the final image to be, I don’t bother trying to salvage it. If I had more time or better photoshop skills, maybe I would. As far as copyright information, licensing information and other metadata, I only populate the file once I sell the image.

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PP: Do you have any personal tricks for doing street photography?

MG: My trick is being as obvious as possible and making eye contact. The faster people acknowledge you, the faster they’ll forget you’re there and will go back to whatever they’re doing. Making eye contact also tells you whether the person is ok being photographed or not. Another trick is to make eye contact again, after taking the photo, and staying cool. That has proved to avoid some negative reactions. I try to always talk to people after I took their photo, to tell them what I’m doing and ask for a model release when needed.

PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences from shooting on the street?

MG: I’ve had a number of unsuccessful attempts at explaining candid street photography to people I have photographed. I have perfected my pitch over time. I remember one interaction with a gentleman who asked me to delete his photo right on the spot. I didn’t mind doing it but as soon as I did, he started calling me names. I guess that for him, my deleting the photo was an acknowledgement that I should not have taken it without his prior consent. I won’t do that again.

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PP: What are some common mistakes you think people make when doing street photography?

MG: It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking pictures from the distance with a long lens. It feels safe because you’re far away. But street photography is meant to be taken very close to the subject, with a wide-angle lens. A wide-angle lens mimics the angle of human eyesight. That’s the only way you can involve your viewer in the scene photographed.

PP: How should one go about talking to strangers after taking their photograph?

MG: I suggest to do it as honestly and directly as possible. Personally, I usually start with something along the lines of: “Hi, I just took your picture, hope that’s ok with you, I phototograph people in the street.” See how they respond and go from there. I usually also offer to send a copy of the photo by e-mail. On another note, an e-mail exchange seems to be a more effective way of obtaining a model release than trying to get one signed on location.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers, both historical and contemporary?

MG: My favorite photographers are Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Roy DeCarava and James Nachtwey.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

MG: I’d love to see an interview of Sally Mann on petapixel…

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

MG: A big thank you to all the folks that follow my photography online.


Manuel’s work will be on display in an exhibit titled “Caught in the Spotlight” at BridgeHead Studios in Alameda, California from October 9 through November 11, 2009.

Interview with Miklos Bacso of miklos.ca

Miklos Bacso is the photoblogger behind miklos.ca.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Miklos Bacso: I was born and raised in a small town called Apagy, Hungary and moved to Canada in 1992 because my parents figured we (my younger brother, sister and myself) would have a better future here than there… After going back to visit in the summer of 2008 for the first time in 16 years, I would have to say that they were right! I am a programmer / website designer for a company called Bosch Rexroth, I also do product photography for them when they need… I live in Welland Ontario, about 25 minutes from Niagara Falls.

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PP: Did you take a lot of photographs when you visited?

MB: When we visited, I decided only to shoot film, and only in black and white.. I had no particular reason to do so and I kind of regret it because Budapest is beautiful in colour. However I like a lot of the photos that turned out in black and white as well. The photos of Budapest are here: http://miklos.ca/photos/tags/budapest … A couple of photos from my hometown (Apagy) are here: http://miklos.ca/photos/tags/apagy

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

MB: It was back in 2003 or 2004 when photoblogs were starting to be popular and although I had been taking photos with a little Canon S400 beforehand, that’s when I started taking photos more seriously. Since then I’ve done portraits, weddings, abstract work.. Now I mainly focus on documenting life around me.

PP: What was your first camera?

MB: My first camera was the Canon S400 but then I got a Sony F828 and bought my first film camera, a Canon A1. After that when I got more serious, I bought a Nikon D2X.

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PP: What equipment do you use now?

MB: Now I mainly use the Nikon D700 but I try to use film at least monthly. When I do, I mainly use a Nikon F5 or an F55 and a Rolleiflex 35C that I got from Bob at notraces.com.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

MB: Some nice Nikon glass would be nice. I covet the 14-24mm Nikkor, and a decent telephoto lens.

PP: Where do you get your film developed?

MB: A lot of the black and white film that I shoot I develop at home, unless it is in bigger batches, such as the trip to Hungary, in which case I usually get it developed at a store called The Camera Place located in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I also go there for printing majority of my film shots. The owner lets me use his darkroom at the back of the store to do some black and white prints manually which is kind of nice.

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PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

MB: Very laid back, documentary style (with minimal postprocessing.) I am simply documenting life around me now so that we can look back years and years down the road. Sometimes I try to take photos that “look nice” but more often times than not, I fail :)

PP: How has photoblogging changed since 2003 or 2004?

MB: I fell out of the photoblogging loop back in 2006 or so and as such, I cannot answer that question in a general sense… For me, however, I know that I’ve redone my site a million times since then and also I’ve shifted focus from “let’s try to see how many visitors I can get” to “let’s take that shot so we can remember it later”. My photoblog changed in terms of the content I publish. 99% of the photos I put up now hold some sort of meaning to me, or the people around me. Of course there are the odd photos that I take just for fun which usually get tagged as “random“. I still visit a few photoblogs from the days when I started and I’m happy to see that they’re still going but I don’t know much about the thousands of new ones that probably surfaced since then. I think people generally just use Flickr now. I have a Flickr account but I prefer to have all my stuff in one spot on a personal site so uploads to my Flickr stream are very rare these days.

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PP: When, where, and how much do you shoot?

MB: Back in the beginning I used to upload one a day, much like most of the other photobloggers out there. These days I tend to upload batches of photos, about 15-30 at a time, only a handful of times per month. I don’t shoot as much as I used to anymore but I don’t have any plans of shutting my site down anytime soon either. Most of my photos are around the Niagara Region (Canada) unless we go up north for vacation.

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PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

MB: My workflow for digital photos is very simple. I shoot RAW, I try to get the framing and the exposure right in camera, and do 99% of the processing in the raw converter which usually just includes white balance, contrast and saturation adjustments. Because I work with batches of photos at a time, I don’t tend to spend too much time on individual photos unless I plan to print one or two. For the film shots, my preferred method is getting the photos printed at the lab, then scanning the print with the cheap little flatbed scanner I have which is more than enough for the purposes of posting to web. I hate scanning negatives and dealing with dust etc, so if anyone wants a print of any of my film shots, I take the negative to the lab. Film shots that I post I don’t usually work on at all, other than removing dust spots from scanning.

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PP: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in photography?

MB: I’d have to say that exposure is one of the most valuable things you could learn if you’re just starting out.. Get that under control right off the bat, and you’re laughing.. Learn shutter speeds, apertures, ISO settings… Don’t always on “Aperture priority” or “P” modes… I mean they are handy sometimes for quick snaps but I think it’s important to understand what’s going on… Also if you have a digital SLR, most of the new ones are pretty decent these days so don’t be afraid to use higher ISO settings either… Keep in mind that even if it looks a bit grainy on screen, when you print it, it will probably look fine.

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PP: Who are some photographers you keep up with?

MB: To name a few, I keep in touch with Bob from NoTraces.com, Kathleen from DurhamTownship.com, John from Orbit1.com, Jessyel from Dailysnap.com, my friend Dave from Farmfive.com (although he doesn’t post as often anymore)…

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

MB: Bob from NoTraces, definitely. He’s quite a character. :)

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PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

MB: In the words of Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod from those old Body Break commercials … Until next time, keep fit and have fun! (And keep taking lots and lots of pictures!)

Interview with Miles Storey of MUTE

Miles Storey is the photographer behind MUTE, an award-winning photoblog.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Miles Storey: I was born in England and spent a few years growing up abroad which was an eye opening experience for a kid. After leaving school I spent the next decade or so avoiding 9-5 and traveling as much as possible. At the time I was running a backpackers’ hostel in Brighton, England which allowed me to take months off work at a time, and even when I wasn’t traveling I was surrounded by travelers. Towards the end of the 90s I started doing some design work and a few years later I made an attempt to settle down and focus on work. Now I do web development and miss traveling.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

MS: I’ve always loved photography. Some of my earliest memories are of gathering on the beach every night with my family to watch the sun set over the ocean. My dad had a Praktica SLR and captured lots of beautiful sunsets on slide film. I remember the magic of sitting around a projector watching a slide show, enhanced no doubt by living in a country where the only media entertainment was the BBC World Service! But for whatever reasons I didn’t pick up a camera with any intent until after I started designing in earnest, about six years ago, and then only to build a digital library of everyday elements (like phone boxes, sign posts) I could use in graphic design. It was only when I discovered photoblogs that the light above my head clicked on and I realised I could do something creative that I knew I loved.

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PP: What was your first camera?

MS: The first camera I really tried to figure out how to use was my Dad’s Pentax Super ME. I had borrowed it on a few occasions and could never get my head around how exposures worked, so ended up shooting in auto all the time. At that point I was taking photos as reference for a school art class and thought of the photographs as nothing more than a step between reality and painted canvas. Years later I bought an SLR of my own before a trip to Italy with friends. It was a Canon EOS, the 500 model I think. I was in full auto mode then too but started trying to take pictures that actually looked nice.

It was the ease and accessibility of digital photography that eventually got me thinking about photography in a different way, that I could take pictures just for the sake of taking pictures. I bought a Canon G1 compact digital when I moved on from my hostel job and into design. The idea, as I mentioned above, was to use it to snap away at everyday elements and build up a digital directory of things, cut out from their background, that I could use in graphic design. That was the camera that really got me into photography. I wish it had been an old rangefinder or TLR that I found in the garage but there’s nothing so romantic about my story!

PP: What equipment do you use now?

MS: Now I have a Canon 5d and a 40d along with a variety of lenses, all primes except for a wide angle zoom. I do have some film cameras, a Yashica rangefinder, a Rolleicord TLR, a broken lomo LCA, a Holga, and that Canon 500. I wish I could say I used them more.

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PP: What’s on your wishlist in terms of gear?

MS: I’m pretty happy with the gear I have. My 50mm lens just broke so I need to replace that. I absolutely love fast primes and would love to try Canon’s top of the range 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. I would also like to get my hands on a medium format SLR, a Bronica Sqi for example.

One camera I would love to see is a rangefinder style DSLR-quality digital camera. Several companies have tried, notably Sigma with the DP1 and DP2, but there have always been serious drawbacks. Leica’s M8 is supposed to be a good effort, but at $4,500 I can’t even bring myself to think about it.

PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

MS: Hmm, that’s pretty tricky. I have yet to settle on a particular style and more than once someone has mistaken my photoblog for the output of several different people. A photography agent once told me that I was “all over the place.” I shoot just about anything, people, landscapes, urban, country, event, etc and, although I’ve gotten better recently, there’s not a lot of consistency on view. 

I do know what I want to shoot and how I want to shoot it, I’m just not there yet.

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PP: Where are some of the places you’ve traveled to?

MS: I’ve traveled through Europe and North America, spent quite a bit of time in New York and San Francisco over the years, and visited Australia several times, once living for almost a year in Sydney, which is a great city. But the places that really interest me are ones that provide a big contrast from my normal life. When I was 18 years old I headed to Africa, traveling down from Egypt to east Africa. My original idea was that I could get down to Mombasa in Kenya and find a ship heading to the Seychelles, which is where I spent several years as a kid. That didn’t happen of course, and I ran into more than one dangerous situation, but I was hooked. Throughout my 20s I was lucky enough to be able to travel pretty widely but India has to be my favourite place, I’ve spent almost a year there over three different trips. It’s an amazing country of contrasts and colour, never the same twice. 

Almost all of this traveling was done before I picked up a camera in earnest and there are so many places I would love to visit again with camera in hand. India is top of that list of course, every time I think about being there with a camera I get giddy!

PP: What kind of dangerous situations did you run into during your trip to Africa?

MS: Hmm, well, some things I’d rather not talk about! Let’s just say that the docks in Mombasa might not be the best place to walk around looking for a “ride”. And, if your friend gets ill make sure the doctor you take him to is not the one that services the local prostitutes. And, if the manager of a game park tells you there’s a killer buffalo on the loose it’s best to listen and not keep hiking only to end up running for your life through thorn trees. And, if you’re camping in a game reserve you shouldn’t placate the Maasai warriors, who are keeping elephants and lions at bay during the night, by giving them a crate of beer after bursting their football during a friendly game, only for them to fall asleep after consuming said beverages, leaving you and your friends to rather uselessly stand around all night peering into the pitch darkness for things that might eat you. And so on.

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PP: How did you finance your travels?

MS: After leaving school I took a year off and worked in a factory that produced picture frames. After working many overtime shifts and saving up money for several months I drove a car under the back of a truck, slicing half the roof off and forcing the gearbox upwards and the engine backwards into the passenger compartment. After several weeks spent recuperating and feeling sorry for myself I found that I was back at square one. Desperate not to waste my year off I ended up putting a classified ad in the back of the London magazine Time Out asking for someone to fund my travels. Surprisingly someone, who wanted to remain anonymous, did. So off I went.

PP: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting to post their photos online? 

MS: Don’t be discouraged if people aren’t visiting, the internet is nothing if not fickle and it has nothing to do with how good your photographs are. Keep at it, focus on what you want to do with your images, and embrace the on- and off- line community. I’ve seen so many photoblogs where the images seem to take second place to how popular the photographer wants to be.

I think I was lucky to start when I did, in 2004. There was already an established photoblogging community.  photoblogs.org had been around for a couple of years, but it was friendly and relatively small. My first posts were my first attempts at ‘serious’ photography but I was getting visitors from day one. These days, with so many photoblogs out there and Flickr and the like dominating the online photo world, I’m not sure I would be noticed.

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PP: What would you do differently if you could start your photoblog over?

MS: Nothing, as a personal site I’ve always done just what I wanted with it. It’s a blog, not a portfolio, it’s meant to be somewhat messy and contradictory.

PP: How does one get involved in the online and offline photoblogging communities? How did you?

MS: There’s no barrier to entry, if you want to be a part of the community you simply step in, start commenting on other photoblogs (not spamming and self-promoting!), join the available communities on sites like photoblogs.org and photos.vfxy.com, and take part in the various challenges and memes out there. Flickr provides you with numerous opportunities to join local groups where you can get to know like-minded people and attend the meetups, whether it’s for a photo-walk or a few drinks. Photographers are such a varied group that  anyone fits in. I was lucky enough to get to know the founding father of photoblogs.org, Brandon Stone, who made it very easy to become a part of the community that he did so much to build up. In Toronto there are more photobloggers and Flickrites than you can shake a stick at. It’s rare that I walk through downtown or the lakeside without bumping into one and many of the cool and interesting special events that go on in the city are marked by a surfeit of photographers, sometimes outnumbering participants! Events like these are a great place to meet photogs.

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PP: Is there any one thing you learned that caused the biggest improvement in your work?

MS: I think the one thing that helped me more than anything was realising that it wasn’t enough to simply take a photograph, that there has to be more to an image than the sum of a photograph’s parts. In practical terms that means always being aware of what you’re looking at. Not just thinking in terms of the mechanics of taking using the camera to capture a scene, but also understanding why you’re taking that photograph, realising that you had a reaction to what you saw through the viewfinder that made you want to click the shutter.

With regard to post-processing an image, I think the biggest improvement came when I realised that I can create adjustment layers and use layer masks to build up changes and selectively apply them, all without effecting the original image layer. As an example, I use the channel mixer adjustment layer for converting an image to black and white. I used to spend ages playing with the sliders to get the best tones. I’m sure film purists will hate me for saying this but It was always a little frustrating only having one pass at a conversion. So I started stacking up different channel mixer adjustment layers, each with a layer mask applying that particular balance of tones to a selected area of the original image. This means that if you have people in your image you can retain skin detail by using a blue/green bias on one layer targeting the skin tones while having another layer with a red bias that brings out the contrast in your blue sky in the background. Once you start doing this the possible variations are endless. Combining various adjustment layers with layer masks, opacity variation and blending modes allows you to do almost anything. Another quick example; a lot of people use the levels or curves adjustment layer with an “auto” adjustment. This adjusts the contrast and colour in your image. However, I find that while the auto contrast adjustment can be quite useful the resulting colour shift rarely is. To fix that use a “luminosity” blend on the adjustment layer, this will remove any effect the layer has on the colour of the underlying layers while retaining the tonal changes. This is why I think it’s important to always have an image in your head of how you want the finished image to look, without that as a guide you will be stumbling around in the dark.

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PP: What is your goal with photography?

MS: Shortly after starting my photoblog I realised what it was I was missing in my photographs, they were dishonest. I was playing at being a photographer; thinking that because I knew how to take a photograph, the basics of exposure and composition, because I was making decisions about the process, picking an aperture, kneeling down to change the angle, that I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t. I was just going through the motions. It’s all too easy to convince yourself things are going swimmingly, especially when other people are being positive about what you’re putting up. But you have to take photographs for yourself, photographing scenes that you have a genuine reaction to, even if you don’t understand that reaction, you just have to be able to feel it, there’s a purity to this that I think is what elevates a photograph to something so much more.

What brought me to this realisation was a late night of lazily browsing photoblogs. I was looking at several popular sites and trying to think about what made them different. What hit me instead was one particular site where the images were just… different. Perhaps it was the late hour, or perhaps because I had been looking at so many sites that night, but suddenly I saw it, the connection between these images and the photographer. Not literally of course, I didn’t even know the person, but there it was, honest and pure photography, day after day. I was so taken aback with this revelation that I wrote the photographer an anonymous email trying to explain what I had realised, thanking them for making clear the real task I had ahead of me if I wanted to be a photographer. I won’t mention what that site was, partly because I don’t think it matters but also because it was my reaction, something about those images spoke to me in a whole new way and I’m not sure that’s something that can be passed on.

Of course, I have only rarely come close to seeing that same honesty and clarity of purpose in my own images, having a genuine connection with them. But just being aware that this is what is required to be a photographer helps me think more clearly about what I’m doing, allows me to see the image in front of me before I click the shutter. With enough practice I think I will be able to truly connect with the images I create but it will be a lifetime’s work. That’s the goal. Right now 99% of the images I post on my site are disposable. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I do for the most part, and at least they’re not deceiving me into thinking I know what I’m doing anymore.

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PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

MS: I’m not the most organised person in the world to be honest. I have a two drives, one for RAW files and the other for finished files, plus backups of course.  Beyond that I don’t really have much of a structure to my filing. When I saw Sam’s video demonstrating his workflow I almost cried it was so organised.

The one thing my process has going for it is simplicity I suppose. I upload photos to my RAW drive and label the folder appropriately, with subject and date. Then I use Irfanview, which is a superb free image viewer, to browse through the images and make quick keep-or-delete decisions. Once I’ve pared the folder down I open a selected shot in Adobe Camera Raw. Now that CS4 has introduced selective tools in ACR I can usually do about 80% of the tweaks before opening an image in Photoshop itself. I’m not a big fan of batch processes using presets and filters. It seems to me that each image is pretty much a unique blend of colour and tone and deserves more than a generic process.

Since I started taking photos for a Toronto news and culture website, Torontoist, I’ve been trying to keep post-processing to a minimum. When you’re dealing with 30-40 images spending even 5 minutes a shot in Photoshop really adds up. Given more time I do have the tendency to fiddle too much, especially with landscapes, but I find that the more experience I have the less manipulation I do. It also depends on the subject of the shot. If it’s a portrait I really want the subject to speak for itself, but sometimes I want the image to reflect my vision of the scene, and then I will do whatever it takes to reach that point.

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PP: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

MS: I’m a big fan of photojournalism and documentary photography, modern photographers like James Nachtwey, David Burnett – who shot the 2004 US election with a Speed Graphic, John Moore, and Bruce Haley; as well as the greats of the past like Robert Capa and Margaret Bourke-White. I love exploring and discovering interesting photographers and photographs, this series, shots by George Caddy on Beachobatics in Sydney, is a fantastic example of the kind of thing that’s out there. The New York Times series One in 8 Million contains some excellent work.

Early images that capture a time and a place when capturing a time and a place was still a rare thing, are fascinating. The Library of Congress has an amazing collection of early images online, many of which can be accessed through their Flickr account. Check out their set of Photochrom travel images. Paris has always been well served by photographers, have a look for photographers like like Brassai and Eugene Atget. There’s an amazing amount of beautiful old photography out there to discover.

My favourite ‘fine art’ photographer at the moment is Gregory Crewdson, who creates these meticulous Hopperesque images of American life using a team of people as extensive as you would find on a film set. I’m also fascinated by Alexey Titarenko’s long exposures and Greg Miller’s wonderful series, like Primo Amore.

There are so many photobloggers and Flickrers I follow it’s hard to keep up with them all. Toronto alone is bursting at the seams with talent, people like Matt O’Sullivan and Sam Javanrouh have helped define this city for me. Other highlights on my blogroll include the stunning abstracts of Andy Bell, Andy Newson‘s immaculate urban compositions, Shannon Richardson‘s wonderful b&w squares, Kathleen Connally‘s beautiful journey through her home, and of course Bob Smith‘s absolute love of cameras and all things created on film. Too many of my favourites have called it quits though, sites like Outafocus, Making Happy and Out of Contxt.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

MS: I think it would be interesting to read what Matt of The Narrative has to say.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

MS: Please don’t judge me, I can’t help myself.

Interview with Justin van Leeuwen of JVL’s specs

Justin van Leeuwen is the photoblogger behind JVL’s specs.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Justin van Leeuwen: Sure, the whole thing? This is where I get to be a self-centred narcissist; so if you’re not interested in a biography or serendipitous romance I suggest you skip to the second question:

I grew up in Toronto Ontario reading comics and playing video games. While I always admired art, I was never able to produce it. I ended up working at a Comic Book store for several years [read: eleven!] called the Silver Snail where I was able to interact with some VERY talented storytellers working in the medium. From there I was able to travel to New York, L.A., and San Diego to various conventions and really get a feel for that industry and know some of the major players in Comic from the past, and a few leading the way to the future. Sadly, eventually, I had to move on from that career and ended up Fundraising at Sunnybrook Hospital, also in Toronto.

Here’s where the story gets a little interesting (to me at least). I got the job at Sunnybrook through a reference by my then room-mate Kari – she and I were high school friends – ALSO through her I got to meet and really enjoy the company of her fantastic group of friends from University. Two of the guys in particular I became pretty good friends with, Aaron and Attila; and they both had digital SLRs.

Like everyone else I had a digital P&S that came out at parties but nothing more thoughtful than that, but after seeing the work Attila was doing, I was blown away, and thought that if I could do a fraction of that maybe I could find my own creative outlet.

Attila and Aaron both blogged, still do, sorta. Attila’s much better known for his remarkable photo-blog thinsite.net, and Aaron’s is aaron.stasis.org. Naturally I wanted to join the group (just a wanna-be) so Aaron helped set me up a photoblog on his server and we were off!

Eventually, almost solely through Thinsite, I picked up some traffic and came to know a few other bloggers, some of them from Canada too. One who we struck up a number of conversations with was Xtina from onvertigo.ca, another gifted photographer. She was out in Ottawa at the time and I was kind of eager to spread my wings a bit, go “somewhere,” so Aaron and I booked a roadtrip to visit Xtina and see what Ottawa had to offer. Apparently what it had to offer, both Aaron and I, was women.

To sum all of this up, because I’m sure your readers aren’t nearly as interested in me as I’m interested in myself; Xtina ended up moving to Toronto and is now engaged to Aaron, I met Xtina’s friend Mel that weekend, who I then knocked up (after months of dating of course) and ended up living with in Ottawa, now we’re engaged too, with our CRAZY CUTE son Quinn, a second boy is on his way for December or so.

While photography has encompassed a small portion of my life, it has certainly influenced the direction I’ve taken it over the past 4 years.

The moral of my story? Photo-blogging makes babies, always keep your lens-hood on!

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

JVL: For years it was just based on this point and shoot film camera my mom got me in kindergarten. I took a lot of photos with that and I suppose that’s where my affinity to take photos in general came from. Later I enjoyed composing shots on field trips and making sure to include people in architectural shots (because I couldn’t figure out how to make them interesting on their own). But I never seriously thought about it as a means of expression until I got my first Digital SLR.

Attila at Thinsite.net really was my inspiration to take better photos. He also was my tutor since I knew bunk about it – of course he could never teach me to be artistic, he certainly helped me figure out the groundwork of aperture, shutter speed, exposure and how all those things tie together… I think it got to a point where he wanted me to figure the rest out on my own. But that first bit of help he gave me really propelled me forward and probably helped keep me from giving up on it too fast.

I tend to return that favor now to anyone I meet starting up – reciprocation and teaching others is part of the experience.

After that I basically carried my camera around until some people asked me to take pictures for them (at events or cheque presentations)… once I found out that they liked and used my photos I asked if they’d pay me. I’ve been slowly progressing with this working amateur photography career ever since (better than a non-working pro right?).

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PP: What was your first camera?

JVL: My first REAL camera, where I had some control over the photos I took? The Canon Digital Rebel XT. Though right away I opted to stay away from the “kit” lens, on recommendation from friends I had heard the quality doesn’t compare. Since the whole REASON of getting a SLR was for quality, the first lens I got with that camera was the Canon 17-40 f/4L.

Everything before that I can hardly remember; there was this 1 or 2MP Sony camera I used at work – it took floppy disks which I thought was so convenient because everyone had floppy drives! I own 3 computers right now, none of them take floppies!

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PP: What equipment do you use now?

JVL: This, my friend, is a slippery slope.

Bodies:
· Canon 1DMKII that I got used off the Fred Miranda forums (probably the best buy-and-sell community I’ve found) a year or so after I got the Rebel XT and felt I had outgrown it’s controls. A huge difference was the ability to change ISO on the fly. With the rebel xt setting ISO was in a menu, so you’d always try to push the one you had selected, often to the detriment of the final image.
· Panasonic DMC-LX3 – a great wide-angle, fast, high-end point and shoot that I’m not convinced I should own (but have gotten some great images with!)
Lenses:
· Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye (a very fun, if limited use, lens)
· Canon 50mm f/1.4 (Always. always-always-always happy with the shots I get with this lens)
· Canon 100mm (got this one at Christmas – slow focusing, eats light, but CRAZY sharp)
· Canon 17-40 f/4 L (my first, now underused and under-appreciated, lens)
· Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L (this is my go-to lens, it’s on my camera first and last – usually. Looking at my Lightroom catalogue, about 60% of all the photos I’ve ever taken have now been with this lens.
· Canon 70-200 f/4.0 L (also a very sharp lens, affordable too since Canon has 4 70-200′s to choose from. Despite it’s weight, I plan on upgrading to the 70-200 f/2.8 L someday)
· Lensbaby 3G (another one of those fun lenses – one that I don’t put on enough – tricky to figure out at first but the results are usually quite rewarding)

Then I got into lights with this whole strobist thing, though the strobist thing is just people wanting to take better photos by learning light really:
· Canon 430ex (first flash, the 430 line is perfect for those wanting to start out)
· 2 Canon 580EXII’s (much more versatile and multi-featured, one can act as command units to fire other speedlights remotely – but within the limitations of Canon’s flash system)
· And before I get into anything else I have sto-fen diffusers for all of these. I basically don’t buy a flash without sticking one of these on top anymore – it’s like there’s no point (since we all know direct flash usually sucks right?).
· I got the Canon CT-E3 battery pack to give me a faster recycle time and help out at long events and the Canon OC-E3 off-camera shoe cord which is sometimes just too short for what I want it to do.
· 2 pocket wizard Type 2 Transceivers (for when the Canon wireless system doesn’t work… and often even if it will)
· 1 pocket wizard mini TT1 (this little guy lets me synch at higher shutter-speeds than I could remotely before, and when if I get the flex TT5′s I’ll have full E-TTL control of the light)

Then I’ve got a wack of modifiers, lots of Honl stuff, the Lumiquest SBIII which is great and portable, probably my favourite single light thing now is the Lastolite EzyBox with hot-shoe adapter; gives me studio quality light wherever I go.

I carry it all in a Pelican 1510 Case or a Think Tank photo Streetwalker Pro HD and a Hakuba PSTC 100 Tripod Case – for a more casual shoot I pop what I can into a Crumpler 6-Million dollar home. I also just got the Think-Tank Skin Belt system and look forward to trying that out at some events and weddings.

Rounding it off I’ve got a Blackrapid R-strap – which totally rocks if you want something to roam around with but keep your camera out ready to shoot – makes me feel like a gunslinger. A lastolite trigrip diffuser for bounce and controlling the harsh sun. For support I have a Manfrotto 190CL and an Acratech GV2 ballhead which is smooth and sweet and, as David DuChemin of PixelatedImage.com told me “makes me hate my tripod less.”

Since it’s digital, of course, there’s my trusty computer. Which is a PC – hate me how you will – it’s what I’ve got running Adobe Photoshop CS3, Lightroom 2.4, Nik Software plugin suite for lightroom (that I’m just starting to use). I have a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet which I don’t work on much anymore; it’s great for Photoshop, I just stay in Lightroom most of the time nowadays except for portrait touch-ups and the like. For locations with some time I bring my Asus V6V which has been a workhorse over the years – for anyone looking for a PC laptop Asus customer service ROCKS and their hardware is rock-solid. I’d buy one again in a heartbeat.

You have a pretty monstrous list of gear… is there anything on your wishlist?
Yeah, there’s always something, different classifications too (I’m very organized). For lenses I dream about getting the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II – but that thing’s like two mortgage payments for me so forget about it, like I said, someday I’d like to “upgrade” my 70-200 to something faster with IS but there are also advantages to having the one I have (weight… don’t have to spend more cash). A lot of people want the latest camera, but the 1D MKII is still a major player, and there’s no way I could afford a modern equivalent – your money’s usually better spent on glass anyways.

I’ve been focusing a lot on my lighting, so I look to different mods and other gear that’s both effective and portable. I usually shoot solo so I have to be able to carry it, set it up myself, and put it on a light stand for want of an assistant. There’s some really cool “big light” stuff that I’m interested in like the Elinchrome Ranger Quadra – but realistically I have a long way to go with what I got now.

Right now I’m pretty happy, as well I should be, I’ve got more stuff and am doing less good work than MANY people out there. I have the tools, now I need to find the talent.

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PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

JVL: For the most part it’s “found” stuff. If you visit my blog you’ll see more photos that I’ve taken while walking around. I’m pretty Sure Attila put me in my place once when I started calling it art and he said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Art? I’m pretty sure we just walk around and take pictures of shit we find.” Very true. I remind myself of that often to keep me humble.

Lately I’ve been spending more time with portraits, location shoots and environmental portraiture – basically taking a picture of a person, in a place, and trying to do a good job of showcasing both. It seems that’s what I’m better at, and what I’m most interested in – the result of years of retail I suppose – I just really like interacting with people and telling their story through a, or a series of, photos.

What are some tips and/or tricks you’ve learned from buying used gear online?
If it feels like a scam it probably is. I’ve never been burned but I do a bit of due diligence on Fred Miranda there’s a bit of a ranking system so you can see if they’ve done some trades before, and how active they are in the forums (see if they’re real) if I’m getting something shipped from the US or meeting someone in person – no MO’s to Nigeria or anything. The later is always best for any transaction – it’s a lot of cash and if you can see and handle the gear before you pick it up you’re less likely to lose out. Come to think of it, all my used gear I’ve picked up on FM or directly through friends…

I definitely know what I want before I go out and get it though, doing the research on how a piece of equipment is supposed to perform. You usually stand to save at least 20% on what you’re buying when it comes to glass, bodies drop like a rock since they’re usually out-dated in 6-12 months (which is a great way to get your first or better SLR cheap!) First party (Nikon, Canon) lenses usually retain their value more than 3rd party (Sigma, Tamron) so while you may expect to pay more for them, you can also hope to get more back for them should you choose to move along.

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PP: What advice do you have for someone just starting to publish his or her photographs on the web?

JVL: Set an obtainable goal for yourself, make it easy, and don’t expect anything in return. I’m not talking a 365 project goal – but those work too – I’m just saying make it your goal to post every weekday for a while, or post your best photo every week, or do a theme, just something to keep you focused, motivated and shooting. The best way to become a better photographer is taking more photos, so if posting online is your “product” then go out there and take photos until you have the best shot you can make at that time. I’d also suggest looking around at other blogs and other people’s photos – what do you like about them? Randomness? their Photoshop technique? the quality of their colours? the flare of their site?

I never worried too much about the look of my site, pixelpost is free and does a good job, I don’t know HTML CSS or all the other stuff so I stick with the templates at hand – that’s what works for me. Some people custom make their sites like Brad from Wastedphotos.com he knows how so, y’know, good for him. Also make sure your blog is RSS friendly, I don’t’ use bookmarks anymore so if I can’t subscribe to your feed I likely won’t ever see you again.

You can’t expect anything from the internet; viewers, comments, nice-ness, praise, scorn – nothing. I think I’ve had some posts practically begging for comments and got nothing, then I say something “controversial” in my own comments and I get a stream of stuff. I find that mostly, people look at your photo, like it or don’t, and move on. In the end I’m taking photos for me – hopefully someone comes across and likes one and I’ll just have to assume that happens sometimes.

There is a great social element to it though, and you can get valuable feedback – know that ANYONE can leave a shitty comment – so don’t take 1 person’s vocal decent as the definitive answer to your creation. If they offer some critique, listen, but you’re free to disagree. I ‘met’ most of my readers through other blogs, my leaving comments (constructive at times, sarcastic and pointless on others) on their photos, and people clicked through to my site. Recently, though, I’ve been getting a lot of site traffic through Twitter and the #photo hashtag.

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PP: How often and how much do you shoot?

JVL: Every single day. from 1 – 1,000 photos.

PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

JVL: For me it all starts at the camera – it’s a cycle – after a shoot my Camera is reset, zeroed out, with my 24-70, ISO to 200, WB to Auto and usually a battery into the charger. This way, I’m ready to shoot whenever I have to, if it’s last minute, unexpected, or if I’ve just forgotten to properly prep before a shoot. Oh, and I shoot in RAW, almost always… sometimes there’s a reason to not, but I will attribute those times to laziness.

So then when I get home I pop my CF card into a card-reader (this is faster and less prone to screwing up than using the USB cable from your camera), turn on Lightroom (which will prompt me to backup my catalogue from the last time I used it, which I do, onto a separate HD in my computer) and then when that’s done I import the card into Lightroom. I have a copyright metadata template so that’s usually set, and I do some basic key wording here like the location of the shoot or the content if it’s consistent throughout. I tend to have them sampled to 1:1 right there because my PC can’t render large previews on the fly (if you have a decent speced computer you can probably just render standard previews up-front and you’ll be good). I then follow, basically, the proofing and editing method I learned from Scot Kelby’s “Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers” which I won’t go into detail here because, well, it was his idea and you should really just get his book to help you out.

After I’ve done my selects in LR I go through them again and rate them with 1 to 5 stars, I then sort for the 4+ stars and hopefully I’ve got enough there for my client or personal uses… if I don’t I’ll go to the 3 stars and maybe lessen my harsh judgment. Of those photos I’ll finely tweak settings for each one, and maybe drop one into a nik software plugin that could do it justice. I’m still learning a bit about RAW sharpening (included in Nik’s sharpener software) – I’m pretty comfortable with Lightroom’s sharpening.

Lightroom has really spoiled me, I hardly ever go into Photoshop anymore, though when I do my photos get that extra edge that I’m really looking for. Basically I’d say Lightroom can usually bring me 90% of the way there, and then that bit of polish needed to get to your own personal 100% Photoshop supplies.

Once a week I plug in my external Hard-drive and back up all of my music and photo files. I’ve also been using a software program called Backblaze to backup my computer to “the cloud” it takes a looooong time depending on how much you have to backup and how fast your connection is… I’m a little over 50% done (in 6 months!) but once it’s done I’ll know that my stuff is fireproof. It actually just caught up to photos of the day my son was born so that’s huge for me – that peace of mind is worth the cost of the service.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

JVL: Sadly I’m not very well educated on the “photography greats” I never went to school for this and have learned through, basically, doing, and the internet! But boy, are there some great guys out there who take some killer photos and just make being a photographer so approachable.

In the category of “people I know” I love Attila at Thinsite.net (can you tell I have a man-crush on him?), Brad at Wastedphotos.com – sadly they’ve both seemed to get out of the blogging game. I also like Jonathan Greenwald‘s style of carefree “snipe from the hip” photography – not what I’m personally into but I have had my fun with it.

For people I don’t know but I should because they’re Canadian (we’re all neighbours) I’ve really been into the blog of Stephen Waterfall at “Watchthisspace.ca” his images are just so clean and colourful – and his Iceland Pano’s put every shot I took on my trip to shame. Mile’s regent of “Mute.rigent.com” is an incredible photographer whose landscape evoke mood that I can barely comprehend. And I’ve recently been very impressed with the compositional elements and processing of Faisal Sultan of FriskyPics.

To round it off some staple photographers whose blogs and images should be on everyone’s list are: Joe McNally; Scott Kelby; David DuChemin; Chase Jarvis; David Nightingale; and David Hobby – what’s great about these guys is that they do take some, arguably, great photos – but what really sets them apart is that they are all teachers. So even if you don’t like their style, they might have some insight into the industry, or how to “do” something to one of YOUR photos that you think needs a bit of a push to get it to 100%.

David DuChemin recently “reviewed” one of my photos on his “within the frame” podcast and I found it a HUGELY rewarding experience. You can see his feedback on my photo here and my follow-up response to his podcast here.

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PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

JVL: Probably my buddy Attila at Thinsite.net, he inspired me so much, likely many others too, and since he’s been absent from photo blogging community I think his fans are ready for something… anything!

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

JVL: Just thanks for taking the time to read all this, hopefully you figured something useful out, if not about me, maybe about yourself. If you’re ever looking for help getting started in photography, I’m more than happy to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I’m probably better at knowing the technical answer to a photography question than figuring out how to take a good photo.

You can visit me on my blog or follow me on twitter @justinvl.

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Interview with Ilan Bresler

Ilan Bresler is the photoblogger behind Ilan Bresler Photography. You can also find him on Twitter as @ilanbr.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Ilan Bresler: Hi, Michael, and thank you so much for interviewing me.

About myself… Well, I was born in Russia, and when I was about 7-8 my family immigrated to Israel. As a young fellow, it was hard to overcome to language barrier and the lack of friends so I turned to photography using my grandpa’s old Russian camera (I don’t even remember the brand now). The camera allowed me to become an observer to life and ignore the difficulties of finding friends in an unknown country. A few years later, I’ve neglected my camera when it became awkward to hang around with, and by then I already had friends so it wasn’t too difficult. But the love for photography was already part of me, and when digital cameras became available, I rushed to ask my parents to get me one. They bought me a 3.1 mega pixel, Nikon 3100. It was a birthday present that changed my life.

I’ve enjoyed the frames I got from this little marvel, and when posted them on an Israeli photo forum, the feedback I got was like a long needed “drug”. The photographers I’ve met on that forum taught me most of what I know today and my style and approach to photography is rooted in those first years on that forum. Since then I’ve established (or was part of a group that established) two major photo forums in Israel, and even though now I took a step back from running them, I’m still very active in the online photo community.

Nowadays, I concentrate mainly on my blog and my new hobby – Twitter :)

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PP: What was the forum you posted your photos to? Is it still around?

IB: The first forum I posted my photos on was one of the largest forums systems in Israel, Tapuz.co.il. The forums are in Hebrew, so I’m not sure how much people reading this interview can enjoy it. The second forum was called Click Art, and the main goal was of that forum was to group photographers and find any community projects we, as photographers, can participate in. We helped orphan kids and arranged Bar-Mitzvah parties; we went to the northern part of Israel, to entertain the kids during the second Lebanon war. The kids were locked in bomb shelters 24 hours a day and we asked for toys donations and any entertainers who could volunteer and come with us. We ended up a full bus of toys and people who came to ease the time for those kids. Our job was to photo the whole event, print the photo and give it back to the children and their families. In our ‘peak’ we had about 60 photographers, ready to volunteer and help the society in any project available. The group fell apart at the end, and the reasons are not that important now.

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PP: What do you shoot?

IB: I enjoy street photography. Most of my photos are of people in different situations. When I was first introduced to street photography, I heard a very clever phrase – “I don’t take photos of people, I take photos of situations” – And I think that’s very true. Our lives are a puzzle of mundane moment we never stop to consider or notice. These are the moments I love the capture: While we eat, while we talk, while we pick our noses. I try to mix my love to street with two elements – I enjoy playing with light – Edward Hopper paintings, with their selective dramatic lighting are one of the inspirations, the works of Martin Parr with his strong colors and light is another. The other element is humor. I’m considered a ‘joker’ by those who know me, and in my best photos I manage to transfer that part of my personality. In the best of my photos – I use both elements.

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PP: Why do you shoot?

IB: I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question. I’m not shy, but I always put walls between me and other people in my life. I guess we all do. But camera allows me to be someone else, a kind of foreign observer, thus allowing me to feel more comfortable, more ‘open’ in my dealing with the surrounding. When asked to write a short bio on my Twitter account, I wrote – “Photography for me is a way to find my inner peace. Same with blogging. So I combine the two” – I guess it’s pretty accurate for both of these hobbies of mine.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

IB: Today I use Nikon D80 with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. Recently I sold my ‘arsenal’ of lenses, amongst them Nikon 18-200mm, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 and Nikon 70-210mm. I find that I most enjoy the wide lenses and the Tamron is wide enough and fast enough to satisfy my needs. Few months ago I also purchased the compact Ricoh GX200, which never leaves my bag. It’s not very comfortable to go around with the bulky DSLR, and the GX200 is exactly what I need (wide angle, RAW support, 2 dials, fast… ) during my daily routines.

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PP: How much do you think a photograph can be post-processed and manipulated before it is no longer considered photography?

IB: That’s a tough question. This topic, today, is a bit of a controversy. Some say, that if given the tools, photographer, as any other artist, should use any tool he can to improve and refine his work. With the possibilities we now have, no matter if you use Adobe products or free programs like Gimp, the options and the expected results are endless. Even though I’m still only close to my thirties, and I’m very open minded and enjoy technology very much, I’m pretty conservative in my views of photo art. I shoot only RAW, which gives me great flexibility, but when I work on a photo, most of the time – I will only use the tools that were available in a dark room – crop, burn and dodge tools are my most trusted companions. Very rare for me to erase something out of the frame, and I’ll do that in extreme condition only – Can’t even remember the last frame I did that. Obviously, resize and sharpen are used all the time, and in times when it fits – I’ll convert the photo to black and white. Color manipulation, heavy processing – It’s just not me. I believe that a good photo can stand by itself, without all the extra hoo-ha. Lately, I’m tempted to try Lightroom but I’m just too lazy to change my workflow.

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PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

IB: As mention earlier, I shoot only RAW. The RAW file is taken to Nikon Capture NX2 software where I refine all the RAW setting, exposure especially. The file then saved in a TIFF format, which I open in Photoshop (CS3). There I go through the little details; burning and dodge tools are used. The result is saved in a PSD format, for any future use, mostly for cases when I send photos to competition or publications. The image is resized to fit the Internet format and I save it in quality of about 7. That low resolution and quality saves me the need to use watermark/signature on my photos – Even if someone ‘steals’ my works, the low quality won’t allow them to print it. The final result is that each photo has about 4 files and all this is kept in two separate hard drives.

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PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences of shooting strangers?

IB: One of our first Click Art projects was a visit to a delinquent youth club. It wasn’t even a ‘real’ delinquent youth, but more of young fellows from broken home who are at high risk to become well… delinquents. A group of volunteers run a kind of neighborhood club, where these boys can meet, play social games and enjoy toasts and coke for few shekels. The volunteers contacted us and asked us to share a project, to follow the club during a long period of time, and see these boys grow up. When we came it became very obvious that the guys there weren’t used to be in center of a big group specially when lenses of every kind were pointed at them. Their excitement was very pronounced. After most of the food stored in the club was thrown in a mini food fight, the couch was broken, few fist fights started, and a window smashed, the volunteers asked us to leave and comeback some other time – when the idea of us being amongst them will settle. We weren’t really afraid of being hurt, but the atmosphere was pretty scary. We came back the next week.

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PP: What is one thing you learned that had the biggest positive impact on your photography?

IB: One of the best things I’ve learned and I feel lucky to learn it from my first step in digital photography is – Shoot digital but think film. Many people love to say that after coming back from a trip (for example) they have thousands of photos. Digital camera will surely allow that. But I don’t think that quantity of frames is a guarantee for quality. If you enjoy clicking the frames so much, maybe it’s better to buy an HD video camera, shoot the whole trip, and then just choose the good frames. I don’t shoot much. Even though I’m in digital world, I use my camera as I once used my film camera. I try to think before I click. That’s one of the reasons I find it hard to go out with another photographers for photo walks. I just can’t concentrate with all the pixels flying around :)

PP: When did you start your photoblog? What inspired you to start it?

IB: I started my photoblog on a whim. I had my flickr gallery for few years, and I really tried to put myself into it. I commented photos, participated in different groups… And one day I just snapped. I thought – why I do so much “work”, when the gallery is not even really my own? It belongs to flickr, and all my content is buried under millions of photos and comments uploaded to that site – every second. Moment later I was already creating my own blog on Blogger platform, never even imagining that these were my first steps to something that will change my life and my view on the virtual social side of photography.

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PP: What role does Twitter play in your life and what you do?

IB: I started my Twitter account on April, 2007. After few tweets, the account was neglected for more than a year. Can’t remember now why and when I decided to give it another try but today I can say that I’m a Twitterholic. As a tool, I think Twitter was designed to be a social platform, but as things tend to evolve by themselves, it became a very strong and solid self-promotional / marketing platform – Good platform always finds its course between what it was designed to be and what it really becomes. Personally, I think I use Twitter approximately 85% for the social aspect and about 15% for promotional benefits. My blog is updated once a week, so I don’t really have that many things to promote, specially when I don’t sell anything and just looking for comment and reviews for my work. Putting promotion aside (easy when it’s only 15%), Twitter became the best source for meeting new photographers and some of them became almost like real friends. Through my new friends I found more photoblogs to follow, and became a part of an international photo project “Around the World, Street Photography in BNW”.

Another great example for Twitter effect is this interview – It’s the platform that made it possible for us to meet.

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PP: Who are some of the photographers you follow online?

IB: There are over 150 photoblogs I follow on RSS and over 350 photographers on Twitter, so it’ll be very difficult to point only a few :)

Aldo Risolvo (@AldoRisolvo) – We met on Twitter and became (almost like real) friends – Professional photographer and great guy. Francesco Gallarotti (@gallarotti) – a very talented photographers and I always enjoy reading his posts. Sephi Bergerson (@fotowala) – Amazing wedding photographer. His tweets are something worth waiting for. One of the busiest photographers and tweeterer I know, and would warmly recommend is Wong Kin Leong (@WahliaoDotCom). He is the mastermind behind the previously mentioned “Around the World” project, and I just can’t understand when this guy find few minutes to rest. Last but not least is Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) – Just visit his blog, you’d understand why I follow him.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

IB: Apart from those mentioned above, I think it would be very interesting to read about Ron (@rtd13) .

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

IB: Stop reading (for today!), take your cameras and go outside ;) Thank you for having me, Michael, it was a pleasure!

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