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Interview with Haje Jan Kamps of Photocritic.org


Haje Jan Kamps is the blogger behind Photocritic.org

PP: Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

HJK: Sure thing. I was born in the Netherlands, and moved to Norway when I was about 5 or so. I started taking photos when I was about 14, but the art of photography didn’t really click with me until I got my paws on my first digital camera – a Casio SX-2000, I think it was.

When I was doing research into my first digital camera, I was apalked by how little info there was about them in Norwegian – and decided to rectify that by starting a website. Not long after, it was bought off me, and it changed name to digitalkamera.no – now akam.no. It was sn exciting time to be writing about digital photography, and I guess I was writing about photography as much as I was taking photos, right from the start.

I moved to the UK when I was about 19, and went to university in Liverpool, studying journalism. A bit of a waste of time, the course was, but I did have s lot of time to spend on my own projects – one of which was Photocritic.org, my photo blog.

Long story short, I’m currently working as a writer full-time, and am working on several books about photography.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

HJK: My interest for photography sprang from my interest in computers and technology, I think. Only much later did I realise (mostly through seeing the amazing things other people were doing with photography, over on deviantart and Flickr) that I was a reasonably competent photographer. I’m still learning every day; as a writer and a photographer – long may that continue!!

PP: What was your first camera?

HJK: I had an Olympus compact for a while, but the first camera I actually remember using to a more advanced level was my dad’s Canon A1, which I still have today.

PP: What equipment do you use these days?

HJK: I’m a strong believer in the idea that photography is about the photographer rather than the equipment, and I’ve made a point of using relatively inexpensive kit. Give me any digital camera body with a 50mm prime lens, and I’m a happy bunny.

More specifically, I currently use a Canon 550D, with a Canon 50mm f /1.4 most of the time (I have a load of other lenses too; a 70-200 I use for concert photography, etc) and a bag full of lighting equipment: 580ex II strobes, light stands, brollies, all that lovely stuff.

PP: What is Photocritic?

HJK: Photocritic used to be the name of my freelance photography business – that’s when I discovered photocritic.org was actually free – but it slowly evolved into just being my photography blog. The blog covers anything I care about, really, but tends to not be very equipment-oriented. I don’t have all the time in the world to write about things, and I would rather write about things that are still current a long time from now. I could write reviews of all cameras as they come out, of course, but I would be constantly reviewing new camereas – that’s not what photography is about, for me. Compare that to my popular article on how to make your own macro extension tube out of a pringles can – that post was written in 2005, but is still as relevant today as it was back then. I don’t think many people still care about equipment posts from 2005.

PP: How much time do you spend writing about photography versus doing photography?

HJK: These days, I only pick up a camera when I’m properly in the mood to take photos – so some weeks I’ll spend 20 hours with a camera in my hands, and some times there’s weeks without taking a single photo. Having said that, I do write about photography one way or another every day, whether it’s for a customer, a publisher, or for one of my own projects.

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

HJK: I’m an explorer – both in terms of technique and subject matter. I think I’ve had a brush with most types of photography throughout my career; I don’t really have a distinct ‘type’ of photography, and my style is constantly evolving… But I guess my Flickr stream documents the photographic journey I’m on, for better or for worse. I guess ‘exploratory’ is a good way to describe my photography, in a word.

PP: What are the pros and cons of writing a blog?

HJK: I honestly don’t think there are any downsides – it takes a bit of time, but it’s fantastic to be able to interact with your readers in various ways. It’s amazing what people will search for on the internet, so if you just write away, you’ll eventually find that people who are excited about exactly the same thing as you are doing will stumble across your blog and start following it.

I think blogging is a great complement to keeping your photos on a site like Flickr; it tracks your progress, and it’s a great way to get an outlet for the things that keeps you busy throughout your photographic career. If you’re not much of a writer, you could always run a photo blog — or just post photos to DeviantArt or Flickr, with the occasional longer caption about elements of your photography that are currently challenging, exciting, or just keeping your mind busy.

It’s a great idea to keep thinking actively about photography: I often find that challenges go away as soon as I formulate them in words – that’s true for photography as much as for life in general, I suppose. Yet another good reason to blog, then!

PP: What is a common mistake you see people making with regard to photography?

HJK: There’s a few. Worrying too much about equipment is one of them. And stagnating is another. At some point, you feel as if you reach a ‘plateau’, as if you can’t make any further progress. That’s complete hogwash: people continue learning all the time. It’s not hard, all it takes is a bit of persistence and insight into how you learn. I think learning to take critique from others, and being self-critical of your own photography work are two very rare features.

PP: How much email do you receive from readers?

HJK: Absolute tonnes. Around 10 per day at least, but whenever I get a post into Reddit, Digg, or similar, that goes up to 20-30 easily. Often, the reply is a link to a post I’ve done before, but some times, they give me ideas for new posts, so I have a little list on my whiteboard (yeah, I have a whiteboard. Is that corporate and sad?) of articles that I’d like to do at some point.

PP: What is the most common question you’re asked, and what’s the answer to that question?

HJK: What camera should I buy’. My answer became a post: “Why I don’t need an expensive camera“.

PP: What’s on your gear wish list?

HJK: I’m currently drooling over a Canon 100mm 2.8 L Macro lens, and a Canon MP-E65 macro lens. In addition, I really would like a few more 580EX flashes, and my 70-200 lens is looking a bit worse for wear, so I’m planning to send that off for service to get it revamped as soon as I can.

PP: Where do you buy gear from?

HJK: Amazon, mostly – I like the customer service and their no-hassle approach to when things go wrong.

PP: What advice do you have for rekindling a passion for photography that’s dwindling?

HJK: Set yourself some serious challenges – learn something new. I did do a post a while ago, 10 ways to break photographer’s block, which should keep you busy for a while.

PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

HJK: Honestly, I have a lot of respect for people who post their stuff to Flickr day in day out. It’s a very public platform for posting your as-you-are-learning shots. Check out my favourites on Flickr – people who can take photos like that are all close to my heart.

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

HJK: Just always keep taking photos. It’s the best way to learn.