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Interview with Faisal Sultan of friskyPics


Faisal Sultan is the photoblogger behind friskyPics.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Faisal Sultan: I’m 33. Male. Born in Karachi Pakistan. Sort of lived all over in cities like London, St Louis, MO (where I went to university), San Francisco where I moved to right after college to join the dot-com boom… They were apparently just handing out jobs back then in the late 90s and I joined this startup that had no business plan nor idea what they wanted to do – but hey, it was San Francisco and I was living history! I’m a techie / geek / nerd at heart and profession. Currently working in a business / product role for a huge media / Internet company in New York City. Besides photography, I also enjoy running my own Internet radio station and record label… So with all that stuff going on, I have no “free time” nor do I get much sleep. I anxiously await the day they invent cloning technology so I can clone myself into 3 Faisals.


PP: How did you get started in photography?

FS: I’ve always been sorta into photography. Growing up we used to take loads of vacations as a family and my father used to take our pictures so I used to play around with his Yashica. When I bought my first digital camera about 8 years ago: a canon SD 100 or something, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I only really got into “photography” until only about 5 years ago, when I bought Canon Powershot G4. After that I bought my first SLR the Nikon D70 and the rest is history I guess.

It was mostly me looking at photoblogs via photoblogs.org, looking at some of the amazing pictures people were posting back then and thinking to myself, “hey I wanna get as good as those people are one day”. Or, thinking, “I would have taken that shot differently”. That’s really how I got into photography as an “art.” I still don’t think I am an any good tho – and I still get really humbled when people say that they like my work. I feel like I haven’t even learned 20% of what photography is.

PP: Why do you take pictures?

FS: I take pictures for purely selfish reasons: for myself. I like to take a moment in time, frame it, and make it my own. I know that once I have taken that shot, it’s like taking a moment in time and history all for yourself. This might come across as overly dramatic but that’s really how I feel. Bottom line: I take pictures for myself. All those folks looking at and appreciating my work is a huge added bonus!


PP: When did you start friskypics, and how many photos have you posted since then?

FS: I’m actually coming up on friskyPics’ 5 year anniversary in October. Before Oct 2004, I used to post images on a ghetto picture gallery script I wrote myself on my blog site. On friskyPics, I must have posted about 800 images thus far. I had an HD crash about 3 years ago and had to reboot the photoBlog and lost most of the older shots – which is fine by me, as some of my earlier work was horrible.

PP: So you lost hundreds of photographs permanently in the crash?

FS: Unfortunately, most of them yes. That thought me the valuable lesson of backing up the HD! Some of them are still on my HD, which I might or might not publish in the archives. I’m actually working on a redesign of the photoblog, so I might post all of the old photos then.

PP: Have you taken additional steps since then to make sure you don’t lose photos again?

FS: Yep. I have an external HD which I backup weekly, in addition to MAC’s Time Machine backups. I also have all my RAW images backed up on Amazon’s S3 cloud. So I think my work is safe now.


PP: What equipment do you use these days?

FS: Nikon D700 with a 24-70 2.8 lens most of the time. 50mm 1.8 when I don’t feel like lugging around the huge lens. I also love the 85mm 1.4 lens for some street photography. For those point-n-shoot moments I have a Leica D-LUX 3 that goes with me everywhere. Besides those two cameras, I also love my Holga! There’s nothing like shooting with that thing! So much fun!

PP: What’s on your wish list?

FS: Aaah don’t get me started! I’ve been lusting after a Leica M6 rangefinder for ages. I really want to get into film and I feel M6 would suit me and my style best. Besides that, I really really really want a good solid medium format camera. If money was no object, I’m get a Hasselblad 503 tomorrow! But realistically, I’m say a Leica M6 is what I’m probably gonna buy in the very near future.

PP: Why did you go with Nikon over Canon?

FS: You know, I’m not one of those people that think one is better than the other. They are simply brands. I don’t really get all the “canon fanboys” doing all the promotions for Canon by always talking about how Canon is the next baby Jesus. In the end, the camera doesn’t matter. I always get a little bit ticked off when people focus too much on the equipment and not the person behind it. That’s why I never ask other photographers what they used to take a shot. What really matters is the person behind it and how you chose the subject and frame your shot. But why did I personally go for Nikon? Well, I got a great deal on the Nikon D70 when I was shopping for an SLR. That’s how I ended up as a Nikon user. Sorry – went on a little tangent there. :-)


PP: Could you briefly tell me about your workflow?

FS: You know – I’m aware that my workflow sucks. I’m a little bit of a disorganized person so anyone reading this should copy this workflow at their peril: I download all shots from the memory card into Lightroom. I organize them either by day, event, or if I went to a particular place to shoot (eg: Empire State Building) I will name the folder that way. From there, I will usually work on the curves and contrast a little, nothing more than you would normally do in a dark room really. Once I’m happy with it, I will import into PhotoShop CS4 to work on Levels some more. I don’t usually do any other post processing other than Levels and Curves. Sometimes, when I’m feeling adventurous, I use masks to do custom levels and curves on particular areas of the image. Other than that, I don’t manipulate images too much. I usually take a shot knowing how I’m going to process it. If you start off with that one image in your mind’s eye, processing seems almost natural.

PP: What’s the one thing you’ve learned since starting out that has had the biggest positive impact on your photography?

FS: Good question. Nailing it down to just one thing is gonna be next to impossible so I will say this… I’ll say the most important thing I’ve learned is that I really don’t know anything. Looking at all the other photographers that I follow everyday, looking at their work makes me realize how much I still have to learn. And that really is a good thing – because I know for a fact that I can learn so much more from these folks and push myself in my work. I’ve always learned that in the end – I do this for myself. It’s easy to get seduced by popularity and trying to get more and more people to look at your work – and that might lead you to start posting images that you think your “audience” might like. I post images first and foremost for myself, as a way for me to keep track of my photography. It just so happens that since it’s on the Internet, others can enjoy it too… or not enjoy it and tell me that I suck. Entire way – it really doesn’t bother me. However, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it when people email me and tell me that they enjoy my work. It’s the best feeling in the world.


PP: What is your favorite type of photography?

FS: I’m say the photography I most enjoy shooting is abstract and urban landscapes. I love shooting buildings and other city structures. I also like taking a normal subject like a building, and challenging myself to find a new, unique way to photograph it. Lately though, I’ve been getting more and more into shooting humans. If you look at my archives, you’d think that I live in a world with no humans – I almost never shoot any pictures of people or with people in the frame. The reason is two fold: I like desolate, vast open and empty spaces. Another reason is that I know my limitation, I know that I’m not that good at photographing people. And that’s something I’ve been pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone and shoot more portraits etc. I have a series that I’m working on at the moment that I’m pretty excited about. It involves people! I hope to post it to celebrate the 5-Year anniversary of my photoblog.

PP: How often do you shoot, where do you go, and how much do you shoot at a time?

FS: Not enough. But lately I’ve become “that guy.” The guy that cannot step outside the house even for a minute without his camera in tow. So now, wherever I go I take my camera with me. But besides that, I will normally go out to shoot something specific once every 2 weeks or so. I wish I could shoot more, but I simply don’t have enough time with my job and my “other job” running the station and record label… It’s exhausting… Photography is strangely relaxing for me though – so when I’m feeling stressed or burnt out, I will go out with my camera and try to shoot. Usually on an outing I will take about 120+ shots – most of them end up as crap but there’s always that one shot that I end up liking…


PP: Do you get a lot of comments through your blog? What are some common things you’re told or asked?

FS: There’s a bug in my photoblog code that makes it impossible for people to comment using IE that I need to fix. But yea usually I get a few comments per shot – which is nice. But I’m thinking of getting rid of commenting altogether in the redesigned blog site that I’m working on. I’m also working on a “portfolio” site where I want to showcase some of what I feel is my best work. But yea besides the “nice shot” and “nice perspective” comments, which are nice to get BTW, I also get comments from people asking me about how I processed the shot, or what lens I used. I also got an email from a photography student, asking me for my feedback on their work, which I thought was mind boggling… I mean I was very honored, but I really don’t think I’m any good – there are sooo many other better photographers out there.

PP: What advice do you have for people looking to improve in their photography?

FS: I know its cliché, but I’m say the best advice I can say is shoot shoot shoot. You can’t really learn this in a classroom. Starting out, people used to ask me if I have taken any classes and I used to tell them I don’t believe in taking classes to learn photography. Confession: Even a year into my photoblog, I had no idea what the “rule of thirds” meant. The point is, the technical side doesn’t matter – it will come thru practice. And once you go out and shoot, you will start to learn things like the right settings and exposure controls for a particular shot or subject. So yea, shoot shoot shoot. Then go out and shoot some more. Push yourself into being creative and out of your comfort zone – be bold.

Also: try not to get sucked into trends or what’s “popular”. Case in point: HDR. It’s popular, but is it photography? No it isn’t. Please, be a friend, don’t do HDR.” There, I HAD to say something about how much I hate HDR.


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

FS: I follow these folks daily – or whenever they have a new post up: Jessyel (dailysnap), Miles Storey (MUTE), Andy Bell (Deceptive Media), Daniel Cuthbert (Hmmm), Fredrik Olssen (Smudo), Bob (No Traces), and Your Waitress. I also love Daily Dose of Imagery, and Orbit 1 (although I don’t visit it everyday). Gosh so many people that inspire me every day!

PP: If you could have one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would you choose?

FS: I’ll say Daniel Cuthbert. He’s not only a good fashion photographer, but a great photojournalist as well.

PP: Is there anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

FS: Well, you’re still reading this interview so I guess you are interested in what I have to say so I will take this opportunity to say thanks for reading and checking out my work. Now go out there and do it too. Push yourself to take better pictures and remember that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” photograph – like art, photography is subjective. That’s you should why remember this: if you’re not doing this first and foremost for your own self, you should probably take up another hobby. Also: don’t just use one camera to shoot pictures. Some of the best shots I’ve seen have been taken by toy cameras or even iPhones. So try to get out of that “camera makes the shot” mentality.