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Interview with Pierre Pallez of hotpixel


Pierre Pallez is the photoblogger behind hotpixel.


PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Pierre Pallez: I live in Switzerland, 40 yrs old, 2 kids 7 and 11, my day job is IT analyst. I have a passion for images, since I was a kid. I think I somehow went into photography through amateur astronomy. I built my own digital CCD camera, and the programs to read images from it myself first, then moved on to digital photography because that was too much work. I find “normal” photography much more rewarding.

Apart from that, I like cooking, reading, listening to music, spend time with my family and friends, etc.


PP: How did you build your own digital camera?

PP: That was back in 1998 or so. I built a CCD camera designed specially for astronomy, out of a kit that was popular amongst amateur CCD photographers back then. To give you and idea, this thing was 0.4 megapixels, and it took 20s to read a frame over the parallel port of a PC at the time. It was cooled 40 degrees Celsius below ambient temp and used a humongous power supply. When I switched over to a DSLR that was over 6MP and could write an color image to disk within tenths of a second it just blew my socks off.


PP: You took that photo with the camera?

PP: No, but with a more elaborated CCD camera. Digital imaging in astronomy is still not easy today, but 10 years ago it was even harder. A good thing about it is it teaches you a lot about technology and, maybe most importantly you get to learn to be patient. The image I sent to you was shot through an H-alpha filter, which lets through only a tiny amount of light, it’s like a big ND filter. I think the combined exposure time was 3 hours for this image, and it’s far from perfect.


PP: How did you first get started in photography?

PP: I had a film camera when I was a kid, then I got myself a used Nikon SLR with a 50mm lens. I loved it but the cost of film processing was too high for me, so I was not using it too much. Then in 2003, I went into a shop and got myself an EOS300D. That was one of the 1st DSLRs, and really it got me back into the hobby.

I had a blog at the time, and I started posting pictures. Some people went oooh-aaah, and I thought they were just being nice. But then, I started to get feedback from some artists, and they were encouraging me. So I continued.

I was lucky enough to have nice people around me to help me out, whether internet friends or real people. My wife kept encouraging me. I also had a lot of support from a colleague and from some artists friends of mine; they helped me a lot getting forward. Some of them were very helpful in providing critique of my images.

So I created a separate website and posted some images on it. I wanted to find out whether all those people were right about my pictures when they were saying some of them were quite good, or were just being nice. So I started participating in photo contests, and put some images to the test. And I scored a few wins. I know it doesn’t mean much at all, but it was encouraging at the time. All it proved is that some other people I didn’t know liked my pictures, not just my friends. So I kept working on it, read piles of books, stalked every photographer I could meet, etc.

Photography is a virus. Once you get the bug, you’re toast :)

And then I wanted to learn lighting techniques. I attended some courses and workshops, including at the broncolor factory. When I enrolled for a one -week lighting course there, I didn’t know those guys were actually manufacturing the rolls-royce of lighting gear, I picked them up because that was the only lighting course that was close to where I live.

Many people in the course I attended traveled as far as from Dubai or Chicago, and I was the only amateur guy in there :) So I felt really like a privileged man to have this type of course close to where I live….


PP: What equipment do you currently use?

PP: Canon 5d mark II and a bunch of lenses. Hasselbald x-pan panoramic camera 45mm and 90mm lenses. Holga. Elichrom studio strobes. Vivitar and canon hotshoe flashes triggered by pocket wizards. And many doo-dads.

Equipment is secondary. The guy behind the camera makes the image and is supposed to be in control. What gear you use to create the image does not matter, you can make incredible stuff with inexpensive gear if you want to. A camera is a tool, so for me the best tool I have found so far is this, and it varies all the time. I also had a used hasselblad 500c/m, but the cost of film processing and the time scanning rolls of it were too much for me, so I sold it recently.

PP: Could you tell us about some of your favorite lenses and why you like them?

PP: Canon 24-70 L, Canon 70-200mm L 2.8 IS, Canon 105mm macro f2.8, Canon TS-E 90mm f 2.8, and Canon 50mm f1.4.

The 24-70 is a great all-around lens and is always in my bag. I always take either the 50mm f1.4 or the 85mm f1.2 with me. I take the other ones out for specific situations. The 70-200mm is very sharp and contrasty, the 85 can be really soft when you want it to be, great for portraits and at f1.2 it’s really a light bucket. The ts-e is a killer for panorama shots that I stitch together. I’ve done one in Paris that is over 150 megapixels with it, and it’s really really crisp. This ts-e is a normal manual focus lens if you don’t use its tilt-shift controls, it works also great for portraits. I dig portraits that are shot at either 85, 90, or 105mm focal length. There must be some law of optics that make portraits especially pleasing at this focal range and that I don’t know about :)

I just looked in my archive, and it seems 70% of my shots went through the 24-70 lens. I just love it, but it’s heavy.


PP: What is your favorite type of photography?

PP: I dunno. I’d say in this order: portrait, landscape, macro, studio. I dig studio lighting quite a bit at the moment. And I like to use flashes to explore lighting possibilities. I have no preference, really, but it seems I like either pure uncluttered landscapes, or human interaction.

I also like to capture what is usually unseen. hi-speed photography, long exposures at night, double exposures, 2nd curtain sync, etc. or extremely long exposures of the night sky. I like challenges :)

PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

PP: All images end up into lightroom2, they’re tagged, selected. The keepers are flagged as such, and then I do minor adjustments to them. Crop, or adjust levels etc. Nothing much. I’m not that good with post-processing in Photoshop, so it’s usually levels adjustments and a tad of sharpening if it helps, but not much. I wouldn’t know how to more with it to save my life, so one thing I don’t do is shoot something and say “I’ll fix it in Photoshop later” .


PP: What do you look for and focus on when photographing? What makes a good photograph in your opinion?

PP: I was asked exactly this a while ago, and it’s hard to answer. Sometimes, you know you’ve snapped a great photo the moment you click the shutter. Maybe more so when you’re kind of doing some photo-journalism, and captured some action. But, for the images that you invent, design, create, or think through, whatever you want to call the process, it’s different. In my case, if I can think of a title for an image I am in the process of shooting, then I know it might end up as a keeper.

If I shoot something with no particular intention, then I know when I press the shutter it has a good chance of being thrashed when I get home. You can get some nice surprises from time to time, but my personal ratio is darn weak. If I have time, what I try to do is watch, think, then maybe shoot or maybe not if I don’t think it would end up as a good pic. Sometimes I go out for hours and don’t shoot one frame. If I don’t see something I feel like photographing, I don’t do it. We get to decide what we want to show in our pictures, no ?


PP: What is your goal in photography?

PP: Wow. There’s a lot of debate about what photography is. I think cartier-bresson said that photography was about freezing a moment in time, which he surely did. I guess that’s what a lot of people tend to go for. Whether it’s capturing some fleeting expression in a portrait, or freezing motion with a hi-speed photo, you want to show something compelling. My hunch is that a good photo is one that I shoot and I can say to myself: I don’t know how to do better that this.

I try to be a perfectionist, and it’s hard not to settle for what I think is good enough. But in the end all we guys can do is do our best with the tools and the knowledge we have at the time we shoot. So that’s not easy to set a goal.

The events we cross, the people we meet, the conditions we live in, the tools we have all determine up to an extent what our goal is, not us. I think I like photos with a content. If I can make a picture that touches people’s minds, then I’d be happy with it.


PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

PP: I lived in France for 30 years, so I’ve been influenced by cartier-bresson, doisneau, dieuzaide and many many others. I like the work of robert capa, raymond depardon, james nachtwey and other war photographers too. Salgado, berengo-gardin, ansel adams, eisenstaedt, weston, and so many others I can’t quote.

I like BW photography quite a bit. There’s a quote I like a lot “if you want to take a photo of someone take it in color. If you want to take a pic of their soul, shoot them in black and white”. Don’t know if that’s why I like BW photographers a lot, but there you go. I’d shoot more BW if my kids were not asking for color. :)

PP: Do you follow any modern photographers online?

PP: Of course, there are shmuzillions of them out there. I like diane varner, kat from durhamtownship, round-here was a great inspiration, chromasia, sam javanrouh, notraces, kea, etc, moodaholic, and about a million more.

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

PP: Diane varner.

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

PP: Have fun, take it easy and enjoy clickin’

By the way – a plug to joe macnally, one of my favs at the moment. I recommend his book, the moment it clicks. A great read.

Also in the plug department : strobist.com – a gold mine for anyone out there trying to understand lighting without getting bankrupt. Get your flash off-camera, guys, it will really change the way you see and photograph things.