Photography

Valsdarkroom: Exploring the Unexplored

Valerie is a photographer and explorer based out of Belgium. She is the queen of taking pictures of abandoned places.

The following is an interview with Valerie where she discusses her photography techniques, working process, and inspiration. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Thank you, Val, for taking the time to join us at eTalks. We are thrilled to have you.

Val: Thank you for having me!

Niaz: You’re a photographer and explorer from Belgium. For the people who don’t know about you, can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Val: I’m Valerie, but most people outside my close group of friends call me Val. I live alone in a small flat in Liège, Belgium and I love it there.

Niaz:  You do some complicated and amazing photography works. Before I dig into it, I would like to know how did you get started with photography?

Val: It started at a very young age, my dad is a hobby photographer and we used to have a dark room at our house. I learned to shoot with manual cameras and to develop my own black and white photos. When I was about 20 years old I hung out with a lot of skateboarders and I would take pictures of them. Photography has always been something I loved but it turned into a real passion once I started exploring abandoned places.

Niaz: As far as I guess your favourite subjects of shooting are abandoned places. On one side, it’s very hard to find those places. On the other side, it’s very hard to get access to them. But you have been exploring a lot of abandoned places. I understand it’s very challenging but that’s what you probably love to do. Can you please share us your inspiration of shooting abandoned places?

Val: Before I even thought of taking pictures in abandoned places like I do now, my friends and I loved finding abandoned places and checking them out, exploring without really seeing it from a photographer’s point of view. It is thrilling to find places and walk inside, find things and wonder why they were not used anymore. Abandoned places have something very peaceful about them for me. I don’t like crowded places much, they make me feel uncomfortable. While in a forgotten place you hardly see anyone there, I love that feeling. And I love wondering what happened and why things are left the way they are.

Niaz: Is there any specific book, movie, music, or something else that has been also instrumental for you to shoot abandoned places?

Val: Not really anything in particular to shoot abandoned places. It all came naturally, a next step in my life. I’m constantly inspired by life though, and with this also by music and movies, I used to make music myself, but that’s another passion I’m not gonna get into now :)

Niaz: Share us the stories of finding those epic location as well as getting access to them.

Val: In the beginning it was very hard, it’s sort of a closed off scene, hence why I started doing it alone. I looked at pictures from other people and tried to find clues as to where places were, that’s how I quickly found some classic places everyone gets to shoot when they start. Getting access is always a thrill, you never know what to expect, someone might give you advice, but by the time you get there the access has changed, or you have no info at all and you need to find your way in. Bottom line though: I never break anything to be able to get into a place, if there is no door unlocked, no window open, no basement access, etc. I walk away. As to finding places now, I have a good group of friends with the same passion from not only Belgium, also UK, Holland and France, and we sort of work together, help each other out.

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens set-up?

Val: I shoot with a Nikon D700, and my all round lens is the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G, I also use a Nikkor 35mm f/2G for my detail shots. The bokeh on that one is just amazing. I would love to get a lense that is still a bit wider than my 16-35mm. I also have a little Sony nex5 camera that I always have with me. And I recently got an Instax camera that I have a little project with, a couple of those pictures are on my Instagram.

Niaz: Do you use any additional equipment, accessory or technology that helps for your composition?

Val: I use my tripod, Manfrotto MT190XPRO4, a very sturdy one. Sometimes I’m annoyed with it because I have to carry it and it’s heavy, but my camera is pretty heavy so I don’t have to worry it will fall over.

Niaz:  When did you join Instagram? Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Val: I don’t remember when I joined Instagram to be honest, but I remember when I started my @valsdarkroom account, that was september 2013. I had been on instagram for a little while, but decided to make an account where I wouldn’t post any phone pictures, and it turned out to be pretty much only abandoned places.

Niaz: What are your favorite hashtags on Instagram?

Val: I check the #abandoned hashtag mostly, I used to be part of the whole group thing on instagram, but I stepped away from that, it is nice those groups are out there, but I don’t have enough time as it is, so I leave it to the people that have the passion for it. I did start my own hashtag #valexplores, at some point I might ask people to tag to it if they see something that they think I would like.

Niaz: Can you list some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Val: Definitely @jamiebettsphoto, he’s a big inspiration, I especially love his post-processing skills. Some others I love are: @trashhand, @black_soap, @_soliveyourlife_, @le_blanc, @hannes_becker. You will notice that these don’t all shoot abandoned places, but pretty much all the people I follow are an inspiration to me on some level.

Niaz: You are very skilled in terms of using post-processing softwares. Your final output is very impressive. Tell us about the software and tools do you use for post-processing?

Val: Thank you. My main tool is Photoshop, I’m a real addict. And I also use the Nik collection and Topaz plugins. I used to process mostly HDR, this is several bracketed pictures combined into one. But nowadays I don’t do HDR anymore, I take several pictures with different exposure time and I mix them with layers in photoshop, until I get the good lighting for the overall picture. Then I start the real process of coloring and adding character to the picture. I spend a lot of time on my post-processing, it can go from 30min to several hours for one picture.

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs?

Val: I’m not really sure, I would have to say: make sure to check your settings on your camera at all times. Sometimes you get carried away in the moment, and the excitement of being in these crazy places make you forget things. I once shot a whole day with my iso turned up way too high, I was just too excited and my pictures turned out like crap. Must have been one of those days…

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what words of wisdom would you share?

Val: Keep your eyes open, your eyes are the biggest tool you have, if you don’t see it, you won’t be able to take a good picture of it.

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about you and your works? (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)

Val: I have my own website (that I’m not being active enough on I have to admit) valsdarkroom.com. You can find me on Flickr as valsdarkroom. And I am @valdilda13 on Twitter.

Niaz: What does photography mean to you?

Val: That’s a tough question, it’s always been a part of my life and now it’s become the biggest part. If I could only take pictures and explore for the rest of my life, that would be a dream come true.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Val: Thank you so much for having me here! I thought it was gonna be hard to answer all these questions, but everything just flew out. Thanks again!

Niaz: Val, thank you so much for sharing incredible ideas with us. We would like to wish you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Ending Note: You can follow Valerie on Instagram at  @valsdarkroom. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Previous Interviews:

01. Nois7 on Limitless Imagination

02. Abel Perez on Capturing the Future

03. iamcued on Unbound Imagination

04. Puji Faisal Nawawi on Behind the Beauty of Beautiful Art

05. Dominic Liam on Capturing the Shadows

06. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

07. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

08. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

09. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

10. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

11. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

Nois7: Limitless Imagination

Robert Jahns, known as nois7, is a photographer, digital artist and art director based out of Germany. His wild imagination, jaw dropping creativity and immense skills have made him a legend on Instagram where he shares his art works with over 752,000 fans and followers.

The following is an interview with Robert Jahns where he discusses about photography, inspiration, compositing, post processing and future plans. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Thank you, Robert, for taking the time to join us at eTalks. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

Robert: Thanks for the interest Niaz, my pleasure.

Niaz: You’re a photographer, digital artist and art director based in Germany. You’re known as nois7 on Instagram and run a popular account boasting more than 752,000 followers. With your unbound imagination, genuine talent and profound skills, you have become an Instagram Sensation. Before we dig into your art and creation, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Robert: You almost said everything haha. Yes my passion is to create images which inspire the people, to create images which make the people wonder. It’s fun to let the imagination run wild and to exalt someone elses imagination with my work. To reach so many people from all over the world is amazing! I’m lucky to have that chance and I really appreciate that.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: How did you get started with photography and art? 

Robert: I took my first photo when I was 15, that was because my dad bought a new camera and I wanted to test it out. With editing I started even 2 or 3 years earlier. I loved using photoshop and as a teenager I often used it 4-5 hours a day just to see what I can do with it.

Niaz: You have rare kind of imagination and you use it as like as a magician. How do you stay creative? What are the sources of your imagination?

Robert: Thanks man! I always try to challenge myself by creating a new artwork everyday. I see thousands of images a day, listen to hours of music a day and to collaborate with other photographers is a great way to stay creative as well. I also love traveling as often as I can and to meet new people from other countries is so interesting.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Each of the your surreal images are the results of compositing different images by using a number of image editing apps on your iPhone. Sometimes the editing takes two hours and sometimes it takes several days to complete. Hundreds of thousands of people actually do compositing. Most of the time they just do it wrong. Can you please tell us about the rules and laws of compositing images?

Robert: Great to see you’re good informed. Honestly speaking it’s a very long process to get there where I am and it’s a never ending process. There are a bunch of things to keep in mind while editing and taking the pictures. Most important is the right lightning, shadows, perspective, temperature and depth of field. That all has to work together to look realistic what makes it difficult and a lot of planning.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Your concepts are wildly ambitious. And you finish them flawlessly. What are the very instrumental things that make you a perfectionist?

Robert: Glad you think so. I think I just am a perfectionist that’s why my work looks like it does. I put a lot of time into details and always overthink the concept once or twice to see if it’s really a good one. Often I don’t post a new artwork for months until I think it really is a good one.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: The thing that fascinate me most about your arts is your composition. There are a lot of things that go into it. Can you please share us a behind the scene story of creating one of these arts? Like from initiation to finalization?

Robert: Well in the beginning I used to even do some scribbles of my ideas. Nowadays I just write new ideas down or add them to the notes. I got a big image archive from all my travels so if I need any specific image of a city I’ve been to I can use those. If I got an idea in mind which I don’t have an image to I get in touch with other photographers to see if they are keen to collaborate with me. Then it’s about editing. That part happens on my phone with different apps. When that’s done I often overthink the final image again, show it to my wife to have her feedback and then I post it up to Instagram and see how the people like it. Community, so the fans are very important to me!

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: If you were advising a young artist today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Robert: Always dream big. That is what I always do. Always think positive about your ideas and try your best to reach your goals.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Who are some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Robert: Always @RaviVora, he is a very creative dude and his image quality is on another level. Always a pleasure to meet and talk to him. Then there is @Wrongrob, he captures NYC in a very unique look. I always feel like in a movie scene while looking through his work. Honored to have met him in person as well, so great to see his passion for photography. Last but not least @chrisburkard who’s life can’t be more adventurous. To follow his journey is such a pleasure and you should all check out his TED talk, so inspiring that it gives you goosebumps.

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs and creating art?

Robert: I still learn from my faults, as said it’s an endless process and I’m glad it is. It’s important to be true to yourself, just do what you wanna do. I often have to struggle with people who just post or copy my work without any credit which sucks. But many of my images go viral and I can’t get in touch with all of them so I learned to live with it most of the time.

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Last but not least, what are your current focuses and priorities are?

Robert: My current focus is on my all around the world trip I will start with my wife @galina90 soon. We created a new account on Instagram @Lifeofnois7 to share the adventures so be sure to follow along!

There are many things in line right now, I plan my art gallery in several cities and next year we wanna move to NYC, can’t wait!

Niaz: Any last comment?

Robert: I always appreciate everyone’s feedback and the constant support on Instagram or other platforms. If you got a dream, whatever how big it is, try to make it a reality!

A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

Niaz: Robert, thank you so much for sharing incredible ideas with us. We would like to wish you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Editor’s Note: You can follow Robert on Instagram at  @nois7. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Previous Interviews:

01. Abel Perez on Capturing the Future

02. iamcued on Unbound Imagination

03. Puji Faisal Nawawi on Behind the Beauty of Beautiful Art

04. Dominic Liam on Capturing the Shadows

05. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

06. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

07. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

08. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

09. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

10. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

Abel Perez: Capturing the Future

Abel Perez is an entrepreneur, computer programmer, world traveler and a maniac photographer. He bends reality with pixels to create futuristic elements and arts.

The following is an interview with Abel Perez where he discusses about photography, gears, inspiration, composition, post processing and Instagram. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: Thank you, Abel, for taking the time to join us at eTalks. We are thrilled to have you.

Abel: You’re very welcome and thank you for having me!

Niaz: You’re a photographer based out of LA. But you have been traveling all around the world.  For the people who don’t know about you, can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Abel: It’s interesting you mention traveling and photography, I think I should probably explain how that came about. I’m actually a technology entrepreneur and mostly spend my work time running a tech company I co-founded. I work 100% remote and it’s because of this that I travel so much. The fact that I’ve managed to divorce myself from the office is what has set the stage for my passion in photography. Before I got into technology I was exclusively making Art in various mediums and genres (Ink, Aerosol, Tattoos, Murals) but quickly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to pay the bills. So I basically parked my artist life in favor of a career in technology. I always held onto the idea of resuming my core passion for being an Artist. When I came across photography, I realized that this was it, a quick way to be an artist and a non-intrusive activity to my career. So to answer your question, I’m a tech dude who loves photography and travel.

Niaz: That’s wonderful. So how did you get started with photography? Did you study it in school?

Abel: I actually have no formal education in photography but I have put a significant amount of time in educating myself. I’ve spent many hours researching different photography techniques across many genres and have definitely taken learning Photoshop very seriously. I’ve also attended several workshops with some very talented professional photographers.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: You have been making science fiction and futuristic arts. I really admire your futuristic approach to photography. How did you ended up with this concept?

Abel: I rarely ever plan to create futuristic concepts and imagery but for whatever reasons my brain seems to gravitate towards a futuristic feel. Perhaps it has something to do with me implicitly always being on a constant move forward.

Niaz: How and where do you find your inspiration?

Abel: Inspiration is a tricky thing and very ephemeral. I feel very fortunate to have figured out a way to stay inspired more often than not. Inspiration is random, it comes when you least expect it and disappears at a blink of an eye so the challenge is how to stay inspired. When I run out of inspiration I’ll simply move on to a genre or style of photographer I’ve never seen or executed before. I’ll research it and find the photographers who are really good in that space. That usually takes to me to a place where I’m exposed to new techniques and ways to take reality into the digital. Like a kid in a candy store, I get very excited and run off with tons of inspiration for my next creation. You can actually see this in my Instagram feed, there is zero consistency in my style, clearly a reflection of me chasing inspiration instead of waiting for it.

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens set-up?

Abel: I shoot with a Nikon D600 and occasionally the Sony A7S but I’m not culturally divided by let’s say Nikon and Canon. If you give me a Canon, I’ll run with it. Even though camera technology has come a long way, I think at the end of the day it’s more about the creative process than the technology. I have several favorite lenses simply because I shoot various styles of photography. I love the 14-24mm f2.8 for cityscape, aerial, landscapes and the 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f.14 for portraiture, minimal and abstract shots.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: Your compositions are really complex, thoughtful, and innovative. How do you approach composition? How much work goes into it?

Abel: My compositions are usually derived from multiple sources of inspiration. For example, I might come across a photographer who does amazing innovative surreal minimalism and shortly after find myself walking down some alley in Budapest with interesting and unique architecture. Then before you know it, I’m in a coffee shop sketching a surreal minimal style concept of an alley in Budapest. I don’t spend too much time sketching the concept, it’s usually a super rough idea but enough to get me going. Often times all the magic happens when I’m sitting at my computer in Photoshop. My compositions evolve with every element I bring into the frame and often times end up being completely different than the original concept. I’d say not too much work goes into the complete process but then again that’s relative to what I’ve been doing for a pretty long time now. The complexity in the end result is just a reflection of integrating multiple unrelated elements into one cohesive picture that makes fantasy look like reality.

Niaz: How much post processing helps to bring your ideas from composition to final reality? Which software, tools, and apps do you use for post processing?

Abel: Post processing is a big part of my process mainly because I aim to create artistic results instead of pure photography. I know many photographers frown at post processing or should I say “photoshopping” and pride themselves in making all the necessary decisions in camera to yield the perfect shot and that’s a beautiful thing but for me it’s quite the opposite. I’m satisfied with capturing a not so ideal shot because I know once I jump behind the photoshop wheel the image will arrive at an acceptable state. So I would say post processing is a huge part of my workflow.

I mainly use Photoshop, actually almost exclusively Photoshop.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: Now there are so many sites and apps to share photographs. Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Abel: I think at the moment Instagram is probably one of the best platforms if not the best to reach massive international exposure in a very simple way. And I say at the moment because we all now how social media sites/apps come and go. If I think back, I don’t even think I made a conscious decision to use Instagram as a platform for delivering my Art. I think like most of us, I just came aboard through curiosity and over time in turned into an extremely useful channel for exposure and connectivity with like minded individuals.

Niaz: How long did it take you to create your own community on Instagram?

Abel: It’s taken me a while even though I’m pretty serious about maintaining constant interaction with my followers and consistent delivery of Art. There’s many variables that go into building a solid community on Instagram. To better answer your question, it didn’t happen overnight and it definitely took at least a year of solid dedication. And of course I’m only speaking for myself here, I’ve seen others have instant fame and others struggle to get recognition despite their hard efforts.

Niaz: What are your tips for beginners on building a community on Instagram?

Abel: There’s a lot of competition on Instagram these days, so many talented photographers, so I would say to focus on being unique and capturing things and places in ways that have not been seen before. This will help set you apart and get peoples attention. Once your photography is on point then I’d say equally important is being interactive. Instagram definitely supports the phrase “you get what you give” so go out there and give people love by liking and commenting on their photos. I would also suggest targeting the aggregators and hubs, they’re a great way to get exposure across many communities of photographers. And lastly, keep your delivery consistent, try to post at least once a day and avoid the occasional selfie and drinking beer at the bar shot.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: What is your most favorite hashtag?

Abel: I can’t say I’m partial to any specific hashtags these days. Once in a while I’ll chase a few hashtags related to cities I’m traveling through mainly for discovery of locations and photographers to connect with. I do like hashtags like #TheWorldNeedsMoreSpiralStaircases simply because the majority of photos tagged are highly relevant to the tag and because I love spiral staircase of course.

Niaz: Who are some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Abel: This changes very often since it depends on what my current mood of inspiration is. I was just recently experimenting with compositing Elephants into cityscapes and abandoned locations and found myself favoriting @nois7’s account simply because he has a few really nice composites of Elephants in his feed.  I also really like @lovepaperplane she has an amazing imagination and extremely well way of expressing it.  Actually everyone I follow on Instagram in one way or another are some of my favorite instagrammers. Everyone has their own style and uniqueness in expressing what they see through the viewfinder.

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs and creating art?

Abel: Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s never too late to reinvent your self.  I look back at some of my first shots and edits and it amazes me how far I’ve come. My endeavors as a photographer have shown me that I can do and be anything I want in life.

Niaz: What does photography mean to you?

Abel: Photography is much more than the definition of the word describes. To me it’s a fabric that connects people from around the world through imagination and passion. I’ve met people of all walks from around the world and I’ve seen places that are breath taking all because of photography. Photography is and will forever be a beautiful thing.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: How do you see photography as a career?

Abel: Since I’ve established my career in technology I rarely think of photography as a career path. You hear people say all the time that you should work where your passion is but I have a different perspective on that matter. Working where your passion is can be tricky, if you’re passionate about something that doesn’t have a high return on investment then you’re bound to a set salary or compensation. If you find the career path that makes you the most money then what you should do is spend your money in the thing that you’re most passionate about. And this is exactly what I do, technology is where I grind and photography is where I play. Depending on making money where your passion is can quickly poison your passion and cripple the ability to genuinely be creative. I know this too well because I once was a starving artist but this is just my opinion and obviously there are thousands of well-established photographers who makes tons of money and love what they do.

Niaz: What’s your future plan for your photography?

Abel: The only plan is to keep going, move forward and to continue to create and explore and meet great people through the journey. Hopefully and this is very important to me but I want to be able to inspire others the way that I’ve been inspired. It brings me great joy to know and feel that I’m part of a movement, an era, where photography and art are the driving forces that yield beautiful interpretations of our times.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Abel: I would say “Freedom is the new money.” Free yourself from any constraints that prevent you from being creative. Materialize your visions, express your individuality no matter what the trends are. Keep going and be consistent, patience is truly a wisdom and mastery will come with time.

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about your and your works? (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)

Abel: You can find me on Instagram at @abelperezgram. I post daily so this is probably the best place to tune into my creative outlet.

A photo posted by Vagabond (@abelperezgram) on

Niaz: Any last comment?

Abel: I think I’ve exhausted everything I have at the moment lol.

Niaz: Abel, thank you so much for sharing us your incredible ideas. Your works have been very impressive. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors and enormous success. Cheers mate!

Abel: Thank you for asking such great questions, they’ve definitely evoked self introspecting thoughts that have perhaps helped me learned a little bit about myself. Again thanks for having me and wish eTalks the greatest success!

Editor’s Note: You can follow Abel on Instagram at @abel.psd. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity. And I am Ava Madigan at @lavatl

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

01. iamcued on Unbound Imagination

02. Puji Faisal Nawawi on Behind the Beauty of Beautiful Art

03. Dominic Liam on Capturing the Shadows

04. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

05. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

06. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

07. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

08. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

09. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

10. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

11. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

iamcued: Unbound Imagination

Roberto Cuevas, known as iamcued, is an 18 year old photographer, musician and visual artist based out of Blacksburg, Virginia.  He creates amazing 3D imagery using only an iPhone 5s.

The following is an interview with Roberto Cuevas where he discusses about creativity, innovation, smartphone technology, visual artworks, and his inspiration. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on


Niaz: Thank you, Roberto, for taking the time to join us at eTalks.  We are thrilled to have you.

Roberto: Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited to share.

Niaz:  You have an extensive background in music, DJ work, and visual art. You have been bringing creativity and art works to a different level. For the people who don’t know about you, can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Roberto: I’m an 18 year-old content creator from Atlanta, Georgia currently based in Blacksburg, Virginia. I enjoy exploring new concepts, visualizing new ideas, and pushing forward to be an innovator in various creative fields. And every now and then, I enter alternate realities.

Niaz: What’s Cued Media? How are you involved with Cued Media?

Roberto: Cued Media is the corporate title of my independently-run freelance establishment. Simply put, it’s an avenue for me to channel different styles and generate various forms of content. Everywhere else, people know me as @iamcued.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: How do you define the terms creativity and imagination?

Roberto: I think they both are relatively synonymous, directly related to the idea of innovation. Those moments when one fuses commonly known ideas with experimental notions on the verge of creating the new. It’s not something that you can really learn or study, but it can hit you when you least expect it. Sometimes you may even plan on it, but you still won’t be prepared for where creativity may take you. And that’s where the adventure kicks in.

Niaz: The late Steve Jobs once talked about connecting the dots. How do you actually connect music, photography, and design to create amazing art works?

Roberto: They balance each other out well, in some cases. In other cases, I find myself putting one thing down and picking up another, and then switching those roles as time goes on.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: How beneficial is it to have different sets of skills and backgrounds?

Roberto: It’s really useful, as it provides many chances for me to alter my perspective in the process of making material in any creative field. Whether learning a new thing about music while making a photo composite, or learning how to capture source imagery more efficiently while editing a video, there’s a lot to learn from cross-processing among multiple mediums.

Niaz:  The thing that fascinates me most about your work is the use of the smart phone. Professional designers and photographers have been investing thousands of dollars on cameras, lenses, computers, and processing softwares, but you have been doing remarkable things by using smart phones. Can you tell us about the uses of cutting edge smart phone technology in creating your art?

Roberto: It is definitely something I’ve put a lot of work into. Creating scenes with my phone has provided many challenges for me to learn more about making visual material. With the convenience and accessibility of my phone, it is so close to being my photographic eye, allowing me to capture so much on the fly. It’s provided solid opportunities for me to switch it up and try new stuff.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: Over time you have developed a unique concept for your art works. How did you end up with this 3D imagery concept?

Roberto: In my visual portfolio, there is a progression from posterized graphic material to photo hyperrealism. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up with my current style, but I think it stemmed from my interest in exploring the magic in everyday life. I found myself visualizing concepts based around things that we see from a distance but might not get to experience up close on a normal basis. The atmosphere, outer space, other worlds, and magical fantasy settings instantly became my backdrop, and I have been having so much fun with it all.

Niaz: Sometimes it is very hard for photographers to stick to one concept, but you bring an enormous amount of diversity to your concept and push yourself constantly to make great art. What’s your source of inspiration?

Roberto: It’s a big challenge to be simultaneously consistent and diverse. I particularly enjoy looking to old concepts, stories, films, books, and other content for inspiration. It’s always fun to reimagine old ideas and create something new. The occasional trips to other worlds helps, too.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: It appears to be a complex process from building the idea to finding the location to making the composition to doing the final processing. Will you please describe the process of making these arts?

Roberto: It usually starts with a crazy idea of something I want to try, and then I go out and look for a location that can accommodate the concept. While shooting, I play around with various angles and orientations to capture the source material. Then I move on to the editing stage, bringing the image to a new level. The process is immediately followed by an exclamatory “woo boost!” upon finishing the artwork.

Niaz: Which tools do you use for post productions (hardware, software … )?

Roberto: For Instagram, I shoot with my iPhone 5S and edit with iPhone apps like ArtStudio, Matter, and VSCO Cam.

Niaz: When did you join Instagram? Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Roberto: Over the past year, it’s been incredible to engage with so many creative individuals through Instagram. I joined several years ago, but I didn’t start actively creating stylistic work until last year. The community surrounding Instagram is incredibly connective and inspirational. It’s so awesome to instantly immerse yourself in visual content, and then turn right around to share content of your own. With this, it’s so fun to connect with others and learn collectively.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: What are your favorite hashtags on Instagram?

Roberto: #socality #STUNTitFORtheGRAM

Niaz: Would you list some of your favorite Instagrammers?

Roberto: @huseyintaskin is my biggest inspiration on Instagram, as he’s a massive influence on my work.

Some current favorites of mine are @max_ross @aroyalday & @gouldjosh

Niaz: You have built an amazing community on Instagram. What are your tips for someone who is just starting out?

Roberto: Engage with people. Build a community. Give people a voice, and share your own! Be sure to have fun, and remember to woo boost!

Niaz: What does photography mean to you now?

Roberto: It is something that fuels my passion to explore and embark on new adventures, all being opportunities that I’m beyond grateful to have.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started creating these arts?

Roberto: That’s a hard one. One of the most important has been to always keep it fresh and never be afraid to try new things.

Niaz: If you were advising a young artist today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Roberto: Something I’m still learning is that I’m still learning. And learning..and learning! It’s always good to remember that there’s more to learn and discover. Sharing your unique creativity with the world can be scary. But never let that stop you from pushing forward and doing what you love. Be sure to encourage others along the way, too.

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about your and your works (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)?

Roberto: You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook as @iamcued. To see more, visit cuedmedia.com

Niaz: What is your vision for your art works as well as for Cued Media?

Roberto: To change the game, be an innovator, and create to inspire.

A photo posted by Cued (@iamcued) on

Niaz: Any last comment?

Roberto: If you’d like to see more about what I do, check out my livestreams on the Periscope app, available for free on iPhone and Android. Follow me there to see free tutorials, live art sessions, giveaways, and more. Because awesome.

Niaz: Roberto, thank you so much for sharing with us your incredible ideas. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Roberto: It has been my pleasure! Cheers, & woo boost!

Editor’s Note: You can follow Roberto on Instagram at @iamcued. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity. And I am Ava Madigan at @lavatl

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Previous Interviews:

01. Puji Faisal Nawawi on Behind the Beauty of Beautiful Art

02. Dominic Liam on Capturing the Shadows

03. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

04. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

05. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

06. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

07. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

08. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

09. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

10. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

Puji Faisal Nawawi: Behind the Beauty of Beautiful Art

Puji Faisal Nawawi is a photographer based out of Garut, Indonesia. He is only 20 years old though he has been doing tremendous amount of great works. His works will inspire you to dream, will give you the courage to love, and will push you to imagine in different ways.

The following is an interview with Puji Faisal Nawawi where he discusses his photography techniques, working process, and inspiration. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Thank you, Faisal, for taking the time to join us at eTalks. It has been great watching your amazing works on Instagram. For the people who don’t know about you, can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Faisal: I was born on February 16, 1995 to a very modest family, but that doesn’t mean I had modest dreams. I am from Garut, Indonesia, a small city with millions of stories and experiences. My parents worked as farmers who managed their own rice fields and I have four brothers. Through modesty of life I started to make my dreams come true and I built those dreams.

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Faisal: I have been very independent from around the time I started school. I didn’t have experience playing with the other kids because I spent a lot of my time working in an internet cafe. I didn’t go to school to study photography. I sought out learning without having a special course or without going to school; instead I learned from many ways and sources, especially people’s experiences, books, internet, etc.

A photo posted by Puji Faisal Nawawi (@pfaisaln) on

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens set-up?

Faisal:  I just have Canon EOS 600D and 135mm f/2 lens. My favorite lens is 85mm f/1.2. This is an outstanding lens. I rent this sometimes.

Niaz: What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?

Faisal: I use natural light and reflectors.

Niaz: It appears as though there is a tremendous amount of work behind every single one of your images. From selecting the model to picking the location to applying make-up to making the composition to shooting to retouching…. it’s definitely a lot of work. Could you tell us about the whole process of finding an idea to making it into an amazing art?

Faisal: There’s no special idea or model audition. Actually, everything happens spontaneously. However, I tend to set up a model whose character is really strong and charismatic as an object. Since the strength of the concept of the photo is related to the place, I rarely make a complete concept; as long as there is a good place with a background that’s appropriate with what I need, I don’t have to think too much about taking photographs.

A photo posted by Puji Faisal Nawawi (@pfaisaln) on

Niaz: You are very skilled in terms of using post-processing software. Your final output is very impressive. Tell us about the software and tools you use for post-processing.

Faisal: I don’t have a special software for editing or retouching my works. I only use Adobe Photoshop CS 6 edition and a pen mouse (Wacom). Everything depends on the object in the photo; if the object is good because of the very sharp focus of the photo, my work needs little editing. I am so sure those combination of works will create good results.

Niaz: How long did it take you to become a master of using this software? Are you self-taught?

Faisal: I love to learn everything related to my work wholeheartedly. I take good lessons from other people’s experiences and my own way of learning.

A photo posted by Puji Faisal Nawawi (@pfaisaln) on

Niaz: Your Instagram feed is stunning. You have also created an amazing community. When did you join Instagram? Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Faisal: I have been using Instagram for two years to share photographs and experiences. The platform makes it easy to share with people I know as well as strangers. It is also great for promotion, because my works can be seen by many well- known brand owners directly. Besides, Instagram is the right place to learn new things, especially about photography.

Niaz: How long did it take you to create your own community on Instagram?

Faisal: One year, more or less.

Niaz: What tips would you share for building a community on Instagram?

Faisal: There are no special tricks or strategies; the most important thing is if I stay true to myself and give my best, certainly people will accept me and give positive responses.

A photo posted by Puji Faisal Nawawi (@pfaisaln) on

Niaz: What are your favorite hashtags?

Faisal: #2instagoodportraitlove #instagood #ftwotw …There you will find the works of extraordinary people from various parts of the world.

Niaz: Who are some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Faisal: @dimitryroulland @irenerudnykphoto @jenniferilene @emilysoto @bwaworga @arinabphotog @landonwiles and @robertcorneliusphotography inspire me alot.

Niaz: Where do you draw inspiration?

Faisal: Books, films, other photos, etc.

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs?

Faisal: Have a peaceful mind and soul; that’s the most important thing.

Niaz: What does photography mean to you now?

Faisal: I think the world of photography is my railway to start my future, and I am the train on it. God willing, if the railway is available and stretches for miles away, it depends on me to build and shape the train so it can keep running on that railway and arrive at the destination.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Faisal: Life is not about the seeking-process, but rather the creation-process. Thus, create yourself and be yourself, be unique, never try to imitate other people’s work, and create your own style!!

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about you and your works? (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)

Faisal: My official website is www.pujifaisalnawawi.com. I am on Instagram at @pfaisaln & @pfaisalns. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Faisal: Always remember and thank God’s grace in your life. Never try to account for things that you do not have. That’s it, thanks.

Niaz: Faisal, thank you so much for sharing with us your incredible ideas and works. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Faisal: You are welcome. I appreciate you doing this interview. Hopefully you are doing great. Good luck to you too.

Editor’s Note: You can follow Faisal on Instagram at @pfaisaln . The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity. And I am Ava Madigan at @lavatl

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Previous Interviews:

01. Dominic Liam on Capturing the Shadows

02. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

03. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

04. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

05. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

06. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

07. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

08. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

09. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

10. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Dominic Liam: Capturing the Shadows

Dominic Liam is a photographer based out of Athens, Greece. He has been setting the new standard of Silhouette Photography.

The following is an interview with Dominic Liam where he discusses his photography techniques, working process, and inspiration. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by @dominicliam on

Niaz: Dominic, thank you for taking the time to join us at eTalks. For the people who don’t know about you, would you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Dominic: My pleasure, thank you for the invitation. I was born and bred in the UK and moved to Greece 8 years ago to study Theology. I never left and now live and work at the college I studied at.

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Dominic: I found it impossible not to own a camera living in such a beautiful country as Greece. It all started here, live and learn (self-taught)… There is so much you can learn these days with a simple Google Search…

A photo posted by @dominicliam on

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens set-up?

Dominic: I use a Nikon D5200 with an assortment of lenses, 18-105mm being the most frequently used. The most important part for me is the flip screen on the D5200, almost all my work is done via low angle. Simply couldn’t manage without it……

Niaz:  When did you join Instagram? Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Dominic: 2 years ago, I kind of fell into it. I was really disappointed with Facebook and just wanted to share photos of places I’d been. Then I gave Instagram a go and I started to see some really nice images and thought, I could manage that… And so it began…

A photo posted by @dominicliam on

Niaz: Over time you have developed a unique concept of photography. Would you please tell us how you found this concept?

Dominic: I always wanted to shoot a sunrise but just couldn’t drag myself out of bed at such a time. in the end it was students who dragged me to the beach for an early morning swim… I took my camera and saw one of, if not the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. I learnt two things that day. The best time to shoot and never rely on a stranger to take the correct stance…. Always take your subject with you…..

Niaz: Sometimes it’s very hard for most photographers to stick to one concept, but you bring an enormous amount of diversity to your concept and constantly push yourself to make great art. What’s your source of inspiration? What does push you to go out and shoot?

Dominic: Sticking to one concept is a sacrifice, but i found it to be worth it. I wanted to build a gallery that people would stop and take a look at, not just the most recent post. By posting only one image a week it allows me the time to think about what really needs to go in next… In doing this I’ve found that 45% of my likes come in over the following months… Images don’t get buried, they get seen and this is the whole point of what I do.

A photo posted by @dominicliam on

Niaz: As far as I guess, it’s a complex process from building the idea to finding the location to finding the right models to making the composition to doing the final processing. Will you please enlighten us on the total process of making these arts?

Dominic: I already have the location and more often a model. It’s about the creative process, do I want an unedited image or do I want to get more creative and edit the final shot by adding an image? You really just have to brainstorm and be sure to write your idea down as soon as you have it. Instagram is a really good source of inspiration as well, just be sure to follow the correct people…

Niaz: What are your favorite hashtags on Instagram?

Dominic: #freedomthinkers @freedomthinkers have been very supportive over the two years I’ve been on instagram and the nice thing is I have no idea who’s behind it…

Niaz: Can you list some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Dominic: That’s easy, just look at who and what groups I follow. To be honest I’m driven by images…

A photo posted by @dominicliam on

Niaz: You have built an amazing community on Instagram. What are your tips for someone who is just starting out?

Dominic: It’s not so easy these days, Instagram keeps on moving the goalposts concerning the #hashtag and that has made it very difficult for newcomers to get their work seen. I would say just have fun and see where it leads you…

Niaz: What does photography mean to you now?

Dominic: It’s a never ending story, you just keep learning, and it’s given me a wonderful window to express my creativity. Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs?

Dominic: Get to know your camera better than you know yourself…

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Dominic: Don’t invest in equipment until you really know what you like to shoot best, it’s going to save you money…

A photo posted by @dominicliam on

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about you and your works? (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)

Dominic: My website: www.dominicliam.com. Facebook: dominicliam. And: Instagram @dominicliam

Niaz: Any last comment?

Dominic: Have fun, this is the single and most important factor for me as an artist…

Niaz: Dominic, thank you so much for sharing with us your incredible ideas. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Editor’s Note: You can follow Dominic on Instagram at @dominicliam. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity. And I am Ava Madigan at @lavatl

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Previous Interviews:

01. Sloppystick on Photographing Abandoned Buildings

02. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

03. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

04. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

05. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

10. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

Sloppystick: Photographing Abandoned Buildings

Jeff Hagerman is a photographer based out of Atlanta. He is a king of taking pictures of abandoned buildings and has brought High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography to a new level.

The following is an interview with Jeff Hagerman where he discusses his photography techniques, working process, and inspiration. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Thank you Jeff for taking the time to join us at eTalks. We are thrilled to have you.

Jeff: Glad to be here.

Niaz: For the people who don’t know about you, can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Jeff: My name is Jeff Hagerman. I’m 34 years old. In my spare time, I explore and photograph abandoned buildings.  

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: You are sloppystick on Instagram. What is the story behind sloppystick? How did you come up with this name?

Jeff: It’s just an old nickname that sounded funny. My old roommate had a pool table, so I used to play a ton of pool. I usually started sloppy, using a cue stick, so my buddy Alex called me sloppystick. We laughed about it, I used it as an email address, and it stuck. Had I known I’d ever have more than 10 followers, I would’ve chosen something a little better for social media! I have so many people that call me “sloppy” or “slops” now, it’s way too late to change it.

Niaz: What does photography mean to you?

Jeff: Photography means a lot to me. It’s opened a lot of doors for me and has really changed my life. It’s led me to my girlfriend of almost 3 years and has introduced me to a bunch of great people, some that have become close friends. I can only imagine what will happen in the future. I have so many more places to see.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Jeff: I’ve always had a camera, but I only started to try to be artistic with photography since joining Instagram a few years ago. I’ve never gone to school for photography. I’ve basically learned everything I know from friends and YouTube. A lot of trial and error.

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens set-up?

Jeff: I shoot with a Canon 70D and sometimes Canon T2i. I don’t have a ton of money, so no full frame body or L lenses in my bag. Every once in a while I rent lenses, and really enjoyed shooting with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lately. I sometimes shoot with my Canon 50mm f/1.4, but my favorite lens is my Sigma 8-16mm. It’s unbelievably wide and very sharp in the center. It’s a little soft on the edges, but the Instagram crop takes care of most of that. I’m going to Colorado in a few weeks to watch the Pikes Peak Hill Climb (auto race), so I think I’ll try out the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. I guess since I’m still learning and trying new lenses, I can’t say what my ideal setup is. Definitely looking to upgrade when possible.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Tell us about your favorites subjects of shooting?

Jeff: My favorite subject would definitely be abandoned buildings, particularly hospitals/asylums.

“Death has always been something that kinda freaks me out, so going somewhere where there’ve undoubtedly been a number of deaths really gives it a heavy feelin.”

Some of the stuff that went on at some of these asylums is just mind-blowing. I also love shooting abandoned churches, schools, and factories. The bigger, the better.

Lately, I’ve really been interested in shooting portraits of homeless people. I guess I just like to go where not many other people want to go, and I find beauty in it.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Where do you find the inspiration? Is there any specific book, movie, music, or something else that has been an inspiration for you to shoot abandoned places?

Jeff: That’s a tough question. I get inspiration from all over the place. Instagram is a great start. There’s endless photographic inspiration there. I also have a bunch of talented friends. Whether they’re a photographer, an artist, or a musician, they all inspire me in different ways.

Niaz: As far as I guess, it’s a complex process from finding those locations to composition to final processing. Will you mind sharing a behind the scene story?

Jeff: Well, finding the locations can sometimes be difficult. People aren’t very fast to give away locations that they worked hard to find, so you have to rely on google and do your research. Knowing the right people certainly helps as well. Finding a way inside without being detected is another challenge. Once you’re in, you can usually kind of just relax and settle in. I can normally see the way I want the final photograph to look as I’m taking it. Because of that, I’m pretty fast and don’t take as many alternate photos (angles, etc) as I should, but if I can get 5-7 decent photos out of 30-50 total, I’m pretty happy.

Niaz: When did you join Instagram? Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Jeff: I joined Instagram in December of 2011. I didn’t exactly choose it to share my art as much as I was just using it to share a few vacation photos. The filters made them a bit more interesting and I started getting compliments. I didn’t realize I had naturally picked up on the use of the rule of thirds and it made me curious as to what other techniques I could learn. Before I knew it, I was obsessed.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: What are your favorite hashtags on Instagram?

Jeff: The only hashtags I regularly look at are #abandoned and #urbex, but I use several hashtags to support groups that have featured my photos in the past.

Niaz: Can you list some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Jeff: I follow over 900 people, so to narrow it down is very difficult. I have many favorites for many different reasons. I mainly post abandoned places, but I love and appreciate portraits, nature, and landscapes just as much.

Just a few favorites are @evidence, @tonydetroit, @jamiebettsphoto, @valsdarkroom, @asteryx, @nevasatisfied, @jsun217, @_bokat_, @vanityandvinyl_, @novess, @cole_younger_, @richkern, @sendingstache, and many more.

The people I explore with in Atlanta are great as well – @rita_josephine, @bahamontes, @tripp_the_light_fantastic, @shannonwantsto, @foocow, @kathryn_nee, @wire_atl, @_sig_, @terminus_jk, @swsix.

Niaz: You are very skilled in terms of using post-processing softwares. Your final output is very impressive. Tell us about the software and tools do you use for post-processing?

Jeff: I shoot in 3 to 7-shot brackets, meaning I take (usually) 7 different exposures of the exact same picture. I merge them using HDR software called Photomatix. Photomatix is a very powerful application and it’s easy to get really wild with the edits. I try to tone my shots down a bit to keep it more realistic. I save the merged photo as a TIFF file to retain as much data as possible and open it in Lightroom. I do minimal touching-up, spot removals, and perspective corrections, then export it to my phone. For Instagram, I’ll usually edit it a bit more in the Snapseed app on my phone before posting.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs?

Jeff: Do/see what you can while you still have the chance. It’s pretty amazing how many places I have been that have since been torn down. I feel like I’m in a race against time to get to as many places as possible before they disappear. If they don’t get destroyed, they can become completely inaccessible or as I’ve been reminded recently, I’m not getting any younger.

“I’m not sure what I’ll have the ability to do in the coming years. The back of my left leg is completely black and blue as we speak. So that’s the most important thing I’ve learned, if you procrastinate, you may never get another chance to get that shot. I guess that kinda goes for anything in life though – you have to take your opportunities. I struggle with that myself.”

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what words of wisdom would you share?

Jeff: Take a ton of photos. There’s no better way to improve than practice. Take what you think are too many photos, then take more. Try different editing techniques and find what works best for you.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about you and your works? (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)

Jeff: My website sloppystick.com is the best place besides Instagram. I post stories there to go with uncropped photos, many of which won’t be posted to IG.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Jeff: I just want to thank you for the opportunity to share a little bit about what I do!

Niaz: Jeff, thank you so much for sharing incredible ideas with us. We would like to wish you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Editor’s Note: You can follow Jeff on Instagram at @sloppystick. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity. And I am Ava Madigan at @lavatl

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Previous Interviews:

01. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

02. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

03. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

04. Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

10. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

Daria Khoroshavina: The Art of Metaphoric Photography

Daria Khoroshavina is portrait & fashion photographer based in Moscow, Russia. AdobeMax Creative Conference has featured her photography works on October 2014 and she has become a part of Adobe Creative Cloud Mosaic Collaborative project. Her works have been recognized and featured by online magazines and blogs such as Cat In Water, Practical Photography, Mehron blog, Designskilz, FGIdeas, NaldzGraphics, PHlearn, The Magnified Life, Total Photoshop and others.

To learn more about her works, visit her Official Website. You can also find her on Behance, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Instagram.

The following is an interview with Daria Khoroshavina where she discusses about her art, creation and photography works. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Daria, I really appreciate you taking time to join us at eTalks. It’s going to be an exciting interview.

Daria: I’m glad to be doing this. Ask anything you wish, I’ve got no secrets!

04We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: I would like to congratulate you on being a part of Adobe Creative Cloud Mosaic collaborative project. It’s also great seeing your photograph getting presented by AdobeMax creative conference on October 2014. Please tell us more about yourself and your background.

Daria: Thank you! It’s been a great experience, I really enjoyed working for the mosaic. I’m actually a portrait and fashion photographer based in Moscow/Ryazan, I’ve been doing it for a couple years now. I had a major career switch from an English teacher to photographer!

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Daria: I followed my passion as simple as it sounds. Just one day I quit my day job and focused on photography to make a living from what I truly enjoy. I did not go to any photography school but I did study a lot of internet resources, watched workshops and tutorials.

Niaz: How long have you been taking photos?

Daria: It became my hobby for about 5 years ago, and for about last 2 years it has been my job

03We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: You have cited, “I want my style to be subtle and metaphoric, a mesh from the simplest preciousness of human body and infinite universe of mind.” What do you mean by that? Why do you want your style to be subtle and metaphoric? Please tell us more about your style.

Daria: It’s about seeing a world in a grain of sand, telling much in one word, one image, expression or color. It’s fascinating how you can tell different stories by slightly repositioning a model’s shoulder or hand for example, that’s what I love about photography.

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, tripod ….. ) do you use?

Daria: I shoot with a canon 6d, with a 50 prime lens, right now consider getting an 85. I don’t ever use flash outside the studio.

Niaz: I think you are very skilled in terms of using post-processing softwares. Your final output is very impressive. What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing?

Daria: I’m not any different from any other photographer out there, I use Lightroom and Photoshop and retouch with a Wacom tablet.

Niaz: How long did it take you to become a master of using these softwares? Are you self-taught?

Daria: I’m definitely not a master yet! I’m self-taught and I’m still learning

Niaz: What are the best practices of learning new post processing techniques? What are your sources of inspiration and knowledge for post processing works? Please list some of your favorite online sources.

Daria: I’m more about creating something with your hands and taking picture of it than painting it on afterwards. If I’m having trouble with post-processing I search YouTube, it really has it all.

Niaz: What are your advices for the beginners at mastering Photoshop and some other post processing softwares?

Daria: Never stop learning and searching. If you feel that you know enough – watch some professional work and that feeling will go away. Don’t overdo the retouching! and don’t blindly follow the post-processing trends, we all know them, not cool.

06We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs and creating art?

Daria: If any time something went wrong I jumped out of the window – I’d spent my life flying. So I try to not give up when I’m not pleased with the result and just start all over. It’s the hardest, but it’s all worth it.

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Daria: AdobeMAX and CreativeLive are the best places to learn.

Niaz: How do you get inspiration to keep doing all these great works?

Daria: I personally get inspired by art in any form, when I need to find an idea – I explore art, lots of it in different styles, so I don’t accidentally steal.

Niaz: Can you please tell us how do you stay creative?

Daria: I don’t! I can’t be creative all the time, there are days when I feel like dishwashing is the dream job for me. But then I look at the most boring thing in the world and think “I want to take a picture of that!” and it sort of unfolds.

02We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: Please tell us about five of your favorite photographers?

Daria: Mario Sorrenti – for his body language, Tim walker – for the wonderland on Earth, Jake Garn taught me to see beautiful textures in everyday objects. There’s also a girl named Ezgi Polat – I love her film, it even ceases to inspire. Oh and Neil Craver’s underwater magic!

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography and post processing books?

Daria: I read everything online, can’t name any books, sorry!

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Daria: Keep yourself inspired and create as much as you can!

01We are all made of stars By Daria Khoroshavina

Niaz: Daria, thank you so much for sharing us your incredible ideas. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Daria: Thank you, Niaz! It’s been a pleasure.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Cole Thompson on The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

02. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

03. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

10. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

Cole Thompson: The Ultimate Photography Manifesto

Cole Thompson is an award-winning black and white photographer who has been creating some of the most amazing and brilliant BW images that I know over the years. His art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous leading publications and has received many international awards.

To learn more about his works, visit his Official Website and read his blog Black and White Photography. You can also purchase his Prints, Posters, Booklets and Folios (click to purchase).

The following is an interview with Cole Thompson where he shares the journey of a photographer who became an artist by gaining his own internal success, which inspires me most.

Niaz: Dear Cole, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you.

Cole: I am more thrilled than you Niaz, and honored that you would invite me!

Niaz: You are a “Fine Art: photographer. Year after year, you have been creating amazing art with the integration of photography, creativity, concept and authentic attitude. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us more about “Fine Art” photography?

Cole: Well this will be a funny and ironic discussion Niaz, because I really don’t really know what “fine art” photography means! And is there a difference between “art” and “fine art” photography?

Honestly, I only ask myself two questions:

  1. Do I like the image?
  2. Would I hang it in my home?

So why do I call myself a “fine art” photographer? Because people generally know what I’m talking about when I use that title and the term also tells people what type of photographer I am not:

  • I am not a documentary photographer
  • I am not a portrait photographer
  • I am not a wedding photographer

The term “fine art photographer” implies that I am creating something that I consider art and it’s something they may want to hang in their home.

What is fine art? Who cares!

Niaz: You’ve once stated that there’s a difference between a photographer and an artist and you strive to be an artist. I think you’re absolutely right but I would like to hear your explanation of that statement.

Cole: I do think there is a difference and it’s a huge one.

I think of a photographer as someone who documents or “takes pictures” and an artist is one who “creates images” according to their Vision.

For many years I thought of myself as a photographer and felt it was wrong to manipulate an image or to change it in any way.

I grew up believing that I lacked creative skills, and so as a photographer I tried to make up for that by excelling in my technical skills. It seems preposterous now to think that technical skills could compensate for creative skills, but that’s what I thought.

But as I matured with the help of an artist mentor, I started seeing images in my head and found myself wanting to manipulate my photographs to bring them into conformance with that Vision.

“The Angel Gabriel” is the first time that I purposefully “created an image.”

The Angel GabrielThe Angel Gabriel by Cole Thompson

I’d like to tell the story of this image, because I cannot separate the story from the Vision I had of it:

This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. 

He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph, and in return I would buy him lunch.

The pier was very crowded and used a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. 

We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those who lingered long enough for the camera to record their “ghosts.” 

Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands.

I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.

I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; for he had everything that he needed. 

Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.

“Creating” this image was a breakthrough for me and marked the beginning of my transition from photographer to artist. No longer would I document and record, but rather create.

I don’t think it’s wrong to be a photographer, but there were images in my head that wanted to get out!

Niaz: So how and when did you get started in photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Cole: I discovered photography as a 14 year old boy living in Rochester, NY and I’ve never taken a photography class in my life.

I was out hiking one day when I stumbled upon the ruins of a home that was once owned by George Eastman. That piqued my interest and so I read the biography of George Eastman.

Before I had finished that book and before I had ever taken a picture or seen a print come up in the darkroom, I knew I was destined to be a photographer. I know how silly and pretentious that might sound, but that is how I felt then, and it’s how I still feel to this day.

I am self taught, from the age of 14 and until I was 20, I lived and breathed photography. Photography was my entire life and I spent every waking moment photographing, working in the darkroom, reading how-to books or studying the works of the great masters. Photography so dominated my life that I rarely attended classes and almost didn’t graduate High School.

Gull and MoonGull and Moon by Cole Thompson (created when he was 16 years old)

Learning on my own was good for me, it reinforced a life view that I could do anything I set my mind to and was willing to work hard for. I believe it also helped me avoid “group think” and thankfully I avoided learning the “rules of photography.”

At age 17 I briefly considered going to school for photography, it seemed the natural course for me, but then had this premonition that earning a living through photography would eventually dilute my passion for it.

Instead I earned a business degree and that’s how I’ve earned my living for all of these years. I’ve never regretted that decision, for I still love photography as much today as I did when I was 14 years old.

Niaz: As a photographer what is the most complicated issue you experienced & how have you overcome?

Cole: Overcoming the desire to please others and to receive external validation.

For most of my photographic career I created to please others, to earn accolades and to become famous. As I started achieving some success, I noticed that it felt great for 15 minutes, but the next day I was left feeling hollow and empty.

I realized that no matter the accolades, in the morning it was still just me, my work and what I thought of it. If I was not creating for myself and did not love my images, then no external praise could make me feel good about my work or myself.

And so I began to question my motives and asked myself some hard questions:

  • Why am I creating?
  • Who am I trying to please?
  • What do I want from my photography?
  • How do I define success?

I found it curious that it was very difficult to be completely honest with myself. But it was only by answering these questions with brutal honestly, that I was able to stop chasing transitory praise and focus on the things that would result in personal satisfaction.

From these answers I was able to define what success meant to me and that’s what I now pursue.

In the past I considered those accolades as the evidence of my success, but I now think differently. My success is no longer measured by what others think about my work, but rather by how I feel about it.

While I do enjoy exhibiting, seeing my work published and meeting people who appreciate my art…this is an extra benefit of creating but not success itself.

I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally.

Niaz: You’ve citedMy art has appeared in hundreds of exhibitions, numerous publications and has received many awards. And yet my resume does not list those accomplishments.” Why? Can you expand on coming to these perspectives?

Cole: It all goes back to my motivations for creating. For too long I found myself working to create a long resume just to impress: look at all the wonderful places I have exhibited and the awards I’ve won! I must be a good photographer.

But when I found my Vision and defined success for myself, I saw how silly all of that was. My goal is not to impress others, but to please myself by creating images that I love and am proud of.

I’m also against judging a person’s art by their resume. I feel that my images are my resume and that’s all anyone needs to decide if they like my work or not. It should not matter where it has exhibited or what awards it has won.

All I want a viewer to ask themselves is: do I like it? The resume should be irrelevant.

I recently had an experience where a venue wanted to exhibit my work but first wanted to see my resume. I told them that I didn’t keep one and they made it clear that they needed the resume before they could make a final decision.

I think it’s sad that someone cannot judge art unless they know who else has exhibited it, what awards it has won or what critics think of it.

Niaz: What is “Photographic Celibacy”? How has it become your good practice?

Cole: Photographic Celibacy means that I do not look at or study other photographers work.

Why? Simply to keep my focus on my Vision and to not be tempted, either consciously or subconsciously, to copy others.

I’ve spent much of my life copying others; their look, their style and sometimes I’d even try to recreate a specific image by going to exactly where they created it! (Sorry Ansel)

Here’s the story on how I came to practice Photographic Celibacy: Several years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field.

Review-Santa-Fe

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like your trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better. What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but over the next two years the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

It was then that I committed to find my Vision and one of the first steps that I took, was to stop looking at other photographer’s work. I figured that if I immersed myself in the Vision of others, I was likely to copy their work, either consciously or subconsciously.

I’ve been practicing Photographic Celibacy for about 6 years now and I’m often asked how long I’ll continue it. The truth is, I still find the practice useful and needed.

Let me give an example of why I still practice it: I had an image published in the book “Why Photographs Work” by George Barr. The publisher sent me a copy and I eagerly flipped through the book looking for my image. Along the way, I saw an image by Brian Kosoff that I just fell in love with:

kosoffThreeCrossesThree Crosses by Brian Kosoff

I contacted Brian, purchased the print and would look at it enviously. And for the next several weeks I found myself driving around looking for telephone poles that I could arrange like Brian’s Three Crosses! I’d stop and chastise myself, but then later I’d find myself doing it again subconsciously.

I’m clearly still prone to be influenced by the Vision of others and so Photographic Celibacy is something I continue practice. Most people who read about it disagree with the practice and its usefulness and recently I had someone write to me to boast that they practiced Photographic Promiscuity!

Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not for everyone, or perhaps it’s a practice that should only be considered at a certain point in ones creative development. I don’t know.

What I do know is that it has helped me a great deal to both find and follow my Vision, and to feel good about the work that I create, knowing that it was created honestly and not copied.

Niaz: You’ve formulated your rule of thirds and I have to fully agree with you. Can you tell us more about your rule of thirds?

Cole: I am self taught and was fortunate to have never learned the “rules of photography.”

Just a few years ago someone came up to me during an exhibition and criticized one of my images for not following the rule of thirds. I was amazed that instead of seeing the beauty of the composition, she could see only rules.

If she would have said to me: I don’t think this composition works or I don’t like this image, I would have respected her opinion even if I disagreed with her. But when someone ignores the image and focuses on some imaginary rule, I have no respect for that opinion.

I think it is foolhardy to think that you can distill great composition down into to a few rules, that if followed, will create great images. It reminds me of the “Paint by Numbers” kits that I loved as a kid.

Paint by NumbersPaint by Numbers – Follow the rules and create a masterpiece!

We were promised that if we followed the rules, we would produce a masterpiece.

Mona-Lisa-Paint-by-Numbers-ComparisonCompetent…maybe…but no masterpiece!

Well, as children we were proud of what we created, but it was certainly no masterpiece!

I have no doubt that if you follow these supposed rules of photography, that you will create “competent” images. But they will be just like thousands of other competent images created by thousands of other photographers who are all following the same silly rules.

If you want to create great images, then forget the rules and create according to your Vision.

So in response to this experience, I created my own rule of thirds:

Cole’s Rule of Thirds

A great image is comprised of 1/3 vision, 1/3 the shot and 1/3 processing

A great image begins and ends with your vision. Vision is a tough concept to describe, but I think each of us instinctively know how we want our image to look and our job as an artist is to bring that image into compliance with our Vision.

When we pursue an image with Vision, then equipment and process becomes the servant and the creative process the master. It’s only then that great images can occur.

Vision is everything.

Niaz: I think the shot – basically technical skills – can be taught and learned, the same applies to the editing. But what about vision? Can you learn vision? Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Cole: I don’t believe Vision is learned, but rather discovered.

I grew up in a modest home where there was no money for art, music or creative pursuits. Perhaps because of this, I grew up believing that I lacked creative abilities. I came to believe that you were either born with it or you were not…and I was not.

But several years ago I was challenged to find out if I had a Vision. Part of me was very afraid to go down this path: what would happen if I discovered that I didn’t have “it?” Perhaps I would be better off never knowing?

No, I had to let the genie out of the bottle, even thought I knew that I could never put him back in. I decided that I must know the truth and off I went. I was unable to find a “how to guide” on finding your Vision and so I just made things up as I went along, creating a 10 step plan that I followed. (You can read about it here: finding vision)

It took two years of hard work and honest soul searching, but I did find my Vision and learned a lot more in the process. Here is what I learned:

  1.  Vision is simply the sum total of our life experiences that make us see the world in our own unique way.
  2.  Everyone has a Vision.
  3.  Vision is not developed, but rather discovered.
  4.  Finding your Vision is hard, following your Vision is even be harder.
  5.  Vision is what makes great images, not equipment, techniques, styles or gimmicks.
  6.  Finding and following your Vision gives you and your work strength, confidence and independence.
  7.  Vision has less to do with photography or art and has more to do with being a well-adjusted, confident and independent person.

Why do I say that Vision needs to be discovered or found? Because I believe we all have a Vision, but many like myself have buried it under so much “stuff” that we forget that we ever had one.

What is this “stuff” that we bury our Vision under? It’s things like caring what others think, fearing that our work will not be liked, wanting to fit in, trying to please, creating for attention, fearing failure and a whole host of other insecurities.

Once I started to address these issues, I was able to uncover my creativity and find my Vision.

The second part of your questions was: Or is a skillful photographer without any vision doomed to be just a skillful photographer whose work will have no artistic value?

Yes, basically they are doomed. If a person relies on technical skills alone, then they are doomed to create technically perfect but soulless images, with the exception of the occasional accidental great image.

I really believe that Vision is everything!

Niaz: What kind of equipment (camera body, lens, filters, flash, and tripod, cleaning equipment other) do you use? Do you use any special equipment for long exposure?

Cole: For the past several years I have been on a mission to simplify everything that I do, which includes my equipment.

I have a very small and simple kit: my camera (Canon), three lenses that cover from 24 to 400, a tripod and an assortment of neutral density filters including my important tool, the Singh-Ray Vari ND filter.

I find that more equipment does not mean a better image, and in fact I could argue that it gets in the way more often than it helps. I say master the basics and only add equipment when there is a specific need to fulfill your Vision.

Keeping it simple also helps me stay focused on what’s really important: the image.

Niaz: What kind of hardware, software and tools do you use for post-processing, if any?

Cole: As with my camera equipment, I try to use the simplest equipment, processes and software that will get the job done. These things are merely tools and while I want the best tools for the job, I also want the simplest.

I use a PC, Photoshop, a pen and tablet and an Epson printer. That’s it.

I think it’s important to mention what I don’t use: I don’t use special b&w conversion programs, plug-ins, curves, layers, RIPs, monitor calibrators, special paper profiles or inksets.

My workflow is so simple and unsophisticated, that for years I would not let anyone watch me work because I was afraid that they would lose all respect for me. Now I realize that it’s not about the equipment or process, but about the image. Nothing else matters.

I like to show people my before and after images and emphasize that I create them with only six tools in Photoshop. I like to expose the myth that great images require extensive and complex procedures or special plug-ins and programs.

Here is my image Iceland No. 4, before and after:

Before  After

I am not suggesting that others need to process their images using the six tools that I use. But I do want people to know that you can create great images using only simple equipment and processes.

Before AfterThis is “Skelton” and the image on the left is how my eyes saw the scene, and on the right how I envisioned it.

When I show people my before-and-after images, sometimes they come away with the impression that they must improve their Photoshop skills. Unfortunately that is the exact opposite message that I want to convey!

My Vision is what created this image. My equipment and technical skills are mere tools and I use the simplest tools that will get the job done.

There is a great little story told by Sam Haskins that illustrates the role of equipment in the creative process:

“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’

Camera

He said nothing until dinner was finished, then:

“That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific Stove.”

StoveSam Haskins

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Cole: I don’t read any photo magazines, subscribe to newsletters or visit photo websites.

I am self taught and I learn by trying things, experimenting, sometimes failing and many times succeeding.

Instead of mastering a wide range of technical skills that I might someday need, I have approached learning in the opposite way. First I gain a Vision of the image and then I learn the skills necessary to express that Vision.

For example, when I created the series “The Fountainhead” I first envisioned the images in my head, and then learned the skills and techniques to put that Vision on paper.

Cole Thompson 01 Cole Thompson 02 Cole Thompson 03 Cole Thompson 04
The Fountainhead Series by Cole Thompson

I knew that I wanted to portray skyscrapers in a distorted and futuristic way, but didn’t know how to do that. With time and determination, I finally came upon the idea of photographing the buildings reflection off of a bent ferrotype plate (think funhouse mirror).

Cole ThompsonCole photographing the reflection of skyscrapers from a bent ferrotype plate

I do believe that “necessity is the mother of invention.” When I have a need, I will find the technical solution.

Many believe the opposite, that you must have a myriad of skills before Vision can be expressed. I disagree and believe that this puts the emphasis on processes as being the key to the image.

Anyone can be a great technician but it’s hard to be creative.

Niaz: Do you have any photographers/ artists who inspire you consistently? Please share few of your favorite artist/photographer whose work could encourage for creating an art.

Cole: I do not follow any other photographers or artists.

Being celibate, I do not look at others work. The heroes I did follow (Adams, Weston, Caponigro, Cunningham, Strand, Bullock) are all gone now, but they are still influential on my work because those images are forever burned into my memory.

The photographer who has been most influential on my work is Edward Weston, I love his philosophies and the way he lived. In Ansel Adam’s biography he recounts the first time he met Weston and it illustrates one of the qualities I love about him:

“After dinner, Albert (Bender) asked Edward to show his prints. They were the first work of such serious quality I had ever seen, but surprisingly I did not immediately understand or even like them; I thought them hard and mannered.

Edward never gave the impression that he expected anyone to like his work. His prints were what they were. He gave no explanations; in creating them his obligation to the viewer was completed.”

I love Weston’s images, but I love his attitudes even more; he created for himself and he did not care what others thought.

Another artist that has similarly influenced me is the author Ayn Rand. I first read her novel The Fountainhead at age 17 and like Weston, she taught creative independence. These ideas were mere seeds for much of my life, until several years ago when they germinated and have grown into my current philosophy.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Cole: These are books from my past that I still treasure:

  •  Edward Weston’s Day Books
  • Ansel Adams’ Biography
  • The Family of Man

And while it is not a book, I am very inspired by the movie “Finding Vivian Maier.” Her work is amazing but even more inspiring to me is the mystery of why she never showed her work to others. I’d like to think it was because she created for herself and did not need external approval.

Niaz: What is your inspiration to do what you do? How do you stay focused and keep making impressive art?

Cole: I can’t explain why I’m compelled to create, I just am. It brings me pleasure and so I do it.

How to I inspire myself? Well, first of all, there are times I feel inspired and there are times I don’t! Those “down times” used to trouble me, but not anymore. I have come to appreciate the down times as much as my up times. Like a farmer who leaves a field fallow for a season to rejuvenate it, so those down times serve a purpose.

In the past I would fret over those dry periods and try to hasten them along, but now I just enjoy them knowing that a creative season will return as certainly as the winter gives way to the spring. And with each returning creative season, a renewed enthusiasm will result.

So, what do I do to find inspiration? First, I have to get away by myself and create alone. I cannot create with others around, even other photographers.

I’ll spend 2-3 days just looking until my eyes start to see, as I call it. I think it takes me a couple of days just to clear the mundane routines and worries of life out of my consciousness.

I’ll read the Weston’s Day Books and for whatever reason, those really make me want to get out and create.

I’ll listen to the Beatles. Why the Beatles? Because they remind me to keep growing and evolving, even at the risk of offending current fans or upsetting a winning formula.

Many people ask how I go about choosing the subject for a new portfolio. I tell them that whenever I get an idea I write it down, and right now that list is about 50 ideas long. Then I tell them that I’ve never yet used one of these ideas.

The truth is that every idea for one of my portfolios has come spontaneously, in a moment of inspiration. The best example is “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau” which was conceived and executed in under two hours. Here is the story behind the images:

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 14 - Final 2-1-2009 500The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

My wife and I were visiting my son who was serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and while there we decided to visit Poland and took a train to Krakow. Upon arriving discussions began on what to see and of course Auschwitz-Birkenau was high on everyone’s list, but secretly I hoped we wouldn’t visit the camps because I did not want visit a place of such sadness.

However the family voted to go and so I agreed.

We took a bus tour that would spend about 1 hour at Auschwitz and 45 minutes at Birkenau. Even though I had my equipment with me, I had not planned on photographing the camps because it seemed that this might be disrespectful.

The tour began indoors and we saw the meticulous records the German’s kept of their victims and then the iconic piles of personal effects: glasses, shoes and hair.

This was just all too overwhelming and I felt like I was suffocating, so I signaled to my family that I was going outdoors. Breathing in the open air I began to feel a bit better and I began to slowly walk, looking down at my feet.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 1 - Final 2-1-2009 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Then I began to wonder: how many had walked in these exact footsteps and now were dead? How many had taken this same path and then had been murdered? And I began to wonder if the spirits of those who were murdered still lingered?

And then it suddenly struck me that I must photograph the spirits of those who had died here. I instinctively knew how I would do that, I would use long exposures of the other visitors at the camps, who would stand in proxy for the dead.

The enormity of this task hit me as I realized that the bus was leaving in 45 minutes and so I ran from location to location, working incredibly fast. Each location had its own challenges, I had to photograph people without their knowing it, because if they thought I was photographing they would politely move out of my way.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 3 - Final 8-11-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

I quickly developed a technique to fool people into thinking I was not photographing, I would set up my equipment and then talk on the phone or look in my camera bag, and then trigger the camera with a remote shutter release.

I do feel that I was inspired, both in concept and execution. As I looked at each scene I knew in my mind exactly how the finished image would look. However if you were to see the original shots and compare them to the final images, you would be surprised to see the extensive Photoshop work it took to bring the “shot” into compliance with my vision.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a depressing place, but I am glad that I went. I hope my images have portrayed the camps not just as a historical location, but as a place where real people lived and died.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 8 - Final 6-24-2008 750The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Cole Thompson

Niaz: There are so many photographers working with long exposure photography techniques in black and white that sometimes it is hard to be original. Yet your work is very original. Can you give our readers any tips for finding an original approach to long exposure photography?

Cole: My suggestion will be predictable: find and follow your Vision.

Do not set out to pursue long exposures or any other style or technique, but rather set about to follow your Vision and go wherever that takes you. I honestly don’t know if my long exposure work is unique or not, I only know that it is original and honest for me.

Sometimes my Vision takes me somewhere that is not so original. For example I created a series called “Grain Silos” several years ago and submitted them to LensWork.

2007-5-25 Silos - Final 6-11-2007 750Grain Silos by Cole Thompson

The editor Brooks Jensen replied that he’d love to publish the work but that they were featuring almost identical images in the current issue by a photographer named Larry Blackwood.

Larry and I are friends and we created an almost identical series without each other knowing it! My point is that my work was unique to me, but not necessarily unique in the world of photography.

I’m okay with that as long as my work came about honestly.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Cole: Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about being a fine art photographer:

Carefully decide if you want to try to earn your living from your art (please note the emphasis). Will you enjoy it if it is your job? From my experience, you will need to focus on what sells and what the market demands, not on what you truly love. Some people can live with that, and for others this takes the joy out of the work.

Early on you should define success for yourself and not just pursue the standard definition that society sells: limited editions and high prices, big name gallery representation, long resumes and book publishing. Perhaps you do want some of that, but be sure to examine that question carefully before you go down that path.

Focus more on finding and following your vision and less on technical skills.

Only create images that you love, not those images that bring praise or sales. You may think you’re winning in the short term, but that that type of success will sour with time.

Be a good person. Success in any field is affected by the kind of person you are. Be sincere, honest, helpful and just plain nice. Those qualities will help you no matter what you do in life.

Niaz: I can see from your portfolio that you are widely traveled, especially within the United States. How important is the contribution of travel to developing your portfolio from an artistic point of view? How has travel helped you develop as a person?

Cole: Travel is not as important as I thought it would be when I was starting off. I initially thought a great location would produce a great image. I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

I have been to unique locations and have not created anything unique and I have been to mundane and pedestrian locations and have created something wonderful. Much more important than location is your ability to see and imagine.

I once wrote an article about this, how with the right eye your backyard is enough. I assembled all of the images I had created within a few miles of my home and to illustrate the point.

Best of Cole ThompsonCole Thompson Photography

But yes, I am well traveled. I’m fortunate that my full time job took me all over the US and my children have lived all over the world, so I’m often able to combine work and family with my photography.

Niaz: What defines a good photograph in your view and what prevails: aesthetics or mood/a deeper message? What will last longer or is the phrase ‘mood’ just overrated?

Cole: What defines a good photograph, in my opinion, is simply how I feel about it. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s as deep as my thinking goes.

I am terrible when it comes to using words to describe images and the feelings they evoke. I think that’s why I became a photographer, so I wouldn’t have to use words.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and so I say let it speak for itself!

Everyone’s definition of “good” will be different and that’s why I don’t believe I can define a good or bad image, I can only say which ones I like and don’t like.

Niaz: And what defines a good photographer in your view? Does s/he have to be a celibate, just like you are or does s/he need to absorb all art, all influences and then try to pick out the best of all these influences and combine and integrate it into his then newly created art?

Cole: In my view, a good photographer is one that creates images true to their Vision and which they love. Achieving that does not guarantee commercial or critical success and it doesn’t mean that others will love your work as much as you do. But I do think that it guarantees personal satisfaction, which I think is worth more than money or fame.

As strongly as I feel about the principles and ideas that I espouse, I am not so naive to think that my way is the only or best way. People learn differently and have different experiences, so I have to believe there are many paths that work.

Niaz: With the arrival of digital tools, the Internet, sites like Flickr, apps like Instagram and other social media, photography has changed in many ways: not only in the way we shoot, the way we post-process them but also in the way we share them with the outside world. We’re flooded with photos on the Internet by people who are self proclaimed photographers and artists, and not only are we now confronted with a lot of bad work that I wouldn’t call art but at the same time I see so many artists who are just fantastic and who would never be discovered if they would’ve lived 30 years earlier. How do you look at this and how do you personally see the future of photography? Is this digital era a curse or a blessing for photographic art?

Cole: I think these new digital tools are wonderful for many reasons.

First, more great artists are being revealed. The technical threshold of digital is much lower so that more people can express themselves more easily. This is a good thing, even though at times it seems that there are so many new and great photographers in the digital world that there is no room left for me!

I also think that digital helps people stay more focused on the image and less on the technical process. In the film world, a photographer had to invest such an enormous amount of time, money and knowledge before they could produce a decent print. Back then photographers became such technicians that many neglected the creative element of photography.

And for me personally, digital allows me to do so much more with my images. My work has never looked so good since I switched to digital. It’s so much easier to manipulate my images to match my Vision. I have many, many fond memories of working in the darkroom, but I’d never want to go back!

And then there is the issue of exposure, in the old days my work would be seen by the few who entered the galleries who carried my work, or those who saw my work in a photography magazine. This meant a relative few people in the world ever would see my work.

Now, I have people contacting me from almost every country in the world. I am now more in control of my destiny, not having to rely on the gallery system. There are of course some downsides and challenges, but all in all, I love the opportunities made available in this new world.

Niaz: How can an artist remain fresh, unique, and on the cutting edge (whatever that actually even means)?

Cole: I never seek to be different, but to simply illustrate what I see through my mind’s eye. Sometimes that means my work will not be very different as in the case of my Grain Silo portfolio resembling my friends work. And sometimes it will be very different as in my Auschwitz images.

But I never worry about that, I simply follow my Vision and create for myself. That’s the best way to stay fresh, unique and most importantly: satisfied.

Niaz: How do you define the term success? What and who comes first when you hear the term success? And why?

Cole: One large mistake I made in my photographic career was to not stop and question what success meant to me. I wasted so much time chasing things that didn’t bring about personal satisfaction.

It was late in life that I defined success for myself, and it’s a very simple definition:

To do what I want.

To create what I love.

For me success has nothing to do with sales, resumes, exhibitions, how popular my images are or any other external measure.

Niaz: I believe you earn a living, or at least a part-time living, as a fine art photographer. Do you have any advice for our readers on how they can work towards achieving the same goal? What can they do from an artistic viewpoint to improve their work and a practical viewpoint to selling their work?

Cole: I do not earn my living from my art, but rather support myself through a full time job in business.

You cannot imagine the freedom that gives me, I am free to pursue any idea, any project and to take as long I need to produce my work. I do not depend on sales and so I don’t care if my work sells or not. I am completely free, aside from my vanities of course!

I am glad that I never chose to earn my living from my “fine art” photography and would advise your readers to seriously consider the impact of that decision on their freedom and independence as an artist. I personally think money and art do not mix well.

If you choose to earn your living by selling your work, then be prepared to create images that the market demands, which is rarely the type of work that you love. Selling to earn your living always means compromising and I have chosen not to make that tradeoff.

Now that doesn’t mean that you cannot do both, create one type of image to sell and then also create your personal work on the side. But I have to be honest, many people write me who have tried to do that and complain that they don’t have the time and energy to do both.

And in that situation, guess which one languishes? Maslow taught us that eating always comes before art.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Cole: Niaz, I consider myself to be the luckiest person in the world. I have a job that pays the bills and I create art that I love. How could life be any better?

I have my honest views based on my experiences, but I do not suggest that they are right for everyone. Perhaps Photographic Celibacy is not the best for you, perhaps earning your living from photography is something you really want and your definition of success is different than mine!

But if any of my ideas resonate with you, then maybe there is something to consider. If anyone would like to ask me further questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Niaz: Thanks a lot for joining and sharing us your great ideas, insights and knowledge. We are wishing you good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Cole: Thank you Niaz, I appreciated your questions, they cause me to think and to analyze my beliefs. Thank you for your website and this opportunity!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Debra Harder on The Art of Photography

02. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership

09. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Debra Harder: The Art of Photography

Debra Harder is a Portrait and Landscape photographer. She is well respected in photography community for her wonderful works.

As an art student in college, she developed an interest in photography. Originally, inspired by the works of Ansel Adams, she focused entirely on black and white images.

In December of 2006, she was in a position to return to serious photography. She became forever inspired when she purchased her first digital SLR. Her passion for the Photographic Arts has been very steadfast and serious since that time.

You can learn more about her works from 500px and her Official Website.

The following is an interview with Debra Harder about photography, camera, lighting, art and creativity. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Niaz: Dear Debra, thank you so much for finding time to join us at eTalks in the midst of your busy schedule. We are thrilled and honored to have you. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Debra: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. I married in 1986 and we moved to Medford, Oregon in 1992 to open up a Veterinary hospital (my husband is veterinarian). We sold the business in 2006, which has allowed my husband and me the opportunity to travel more, and for me to pursue photography fulltime. As you can imagine, we love animals. My “children” consist of two Boston Terriers, one American Pit bull, and three cats.

Niaz: How did you get started? Did you go to school to study photography?

Debra: In the late 1980’s, I decided to take a black and white film photography class at Solano Community College in Fairfield, CA. I was inspired by Ansel Adams’ landscapes and focused solely on black and white film photography. I experimented with exposures and the zone system, and the art of printing in the dark room using old-fashioned dodge and burn tools, e.g., a piece of cardboard attached to a wire hanger. Since that class, photography became my passion.

Niaz: How would you describe your style?

Debra: I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to landscape photography, so I don’t go overboard on effects. For example, I have a problem with over-saturation in landscapes. There are a lot of images on-line that really push color for the “wow” factor with some to the point of being garish and losing the rich, realistic tonalities of the scene. Years ago, I took an on-line class from the great landscape photographer, William Neill, and our assignment was to hand in a portfolio of 5-6 landscapes. His honest and valuable criticism of over-saturation has always stuck with me and I do my best to stay within the guidelines he espoused. I’d rather have an image that conveys a mysterious mood than a candy store.

With respect to portraits, I do gravitate towards a ‘Hollywood’ style. I also love Rembrandt lighting to convey an “Old Masters” feel.

Debra Harder - 05Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with?

Debra: I currently shoot with a Nikon D4 for portraits and a Nikon D800E for landscapes. I just purchased the Nikon D810, and am ready to try it out!

Niaz: What is your favorite lens set-up?

Debra: For landscapes, there is no doubt my favorite is my Nikon 14-24mm. I’m always looking to shoot wide before anything else. I’m not suggesting this is always a good thing. I would suggest, however, considering other lenses for a closer perspective. For portraits, I most often use my Nikon 85mm, and with my current studio project, I’ve been using the Nikon 24-70mm so I have the ability to zoom in and out.

Niaz: What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?

Debra: It really depends on where I am. With respect to landscapes, I rely on natural light, and depending on the contrast, I bracket my exposures to cover the entire dynamic range. With respect to studio portraits, I use Elinchrom strobes and Westcott Spiderlite Td6s (continuous lighting).

Niaz: What are your favorite editing software and application? How important are they for the final works?

Debra: My favorite is Adobe Photoshop CS6. The processing is very critical in my final works. As Ansel Adams once said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.” The negative being the digital RAW file, and the performance being the digital processing of the print.

Debra Harder - 02Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Can you please name some of your favorite online resources/websites for our readers?

Debra: There are so many great on-line photography sites (e.g., 1x, 500px, Photo.net, BetterPhoto) that I constantly refer to for inspiration. I continue to take on-line classes and refer to other instructional media to improve my photographic techniques. Most importantly, I’m out there doing it. I learn more from my failures than my successes. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn something. It’s what makes the photographic journey so interesting and exciting to me!

Niaz: What is your greatest fear? What do you do to overcome your fear?

Debra: I hate heights…lol. I wish I could overcome this fear, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better…lol. I had previously hiked the Eagle Creek trail to photograph Punchbowl Falls in Oregon. I became panicked on a precarious stretch of the trail. There was a cable to hold onto, but I had a 25 pound backpack, a tripod in one hand, and rain falling from above…not to mention the 100 foot drop just inches away! Someday I would like to photograph this waterfall in the dead of winter, but only if I can muster the courage…lol.

Debra Harder - 03Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: How do you get inspiration to keep doing all these great works?

Debra: Thank you for the generous compliment! As to what inspires me? I would have to say my passion for photography and the desire to excel at it. Honestly, I never feel that I’m “there,” i.e., peaked, and I never will. I work very hard to learn as much as I can so that I can produce my best work.

Niaz: Can you please tell us how do you stay creative?

Debra: Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” As much as one would like to think he or she has an original idea, it is difficult to fathom that outside sources have no influence. My creativity is a byproduct of my life experiences. I’d be disingenuous to say that other photographers’ work doesn’t inspire me to go in a certain direction. For example, I was intrigued by photographer Mark Seliger’s recent Academy Award images for Vanity Fair magazine. His concept was to take a platform and capture the stars’ personalities in portraits utilizing just that small space. I decided to use this inspiration for my own portrait series. I similarly created a small two-walled platform structure in my garage and am currently photographing a wide diversity of portrait subjects highlighted by a splash of their own individuality. Not only has it been a great learning experience, but I am able to inject my own style and creativity from both sides of the camera.

Niaz: Please tell us five of your favorite photographers?

Debra: That’s a tough one. There are so many great photographers. It’s hard to nail it down to five, but if I had to say off the top of my head: 1) Ansel Adams; 2) Nick Brandt; 3) Annie Leibovitz; 4) Art Wolfe; and 5) Joel Grimes.

Niaz: And five of your favorite photography books?

Debra: I don’t have many “coffee table” books. Most of my photography books are instructional. I’m a big fan of Scott Kelby’s books. When I began my photographic journey, his books and video tutorials were instrumental and still are today. I also subscribe to most photography magazines in order to keep up with the latest, e.g., up and coming photographers, products, etc.

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what would your words of wisdom be?

Debra: I would advise a young photographer that if he or she chooses to display their work on an online community photography site, they should take the feedback with a grain of salt, whether it positive or negative. Stay true to your aesthetic regardless of the pressures driven by a selected few in photographic circles. I have personally got caught up in this trying to mimic other landscaper’s work in hopes of receiving the same amount of praise. Receiving the accolades is intoxicating, but in the end it doesn’t distinguish you from the rest of the sheep.

Debra Harder - 04Copyright © Debra Harder, 2014

Niaz: Any last comment?

Debra: Thank you very much Niaz for giving me this opportunity. Happy Shooting!

Niaz:  You’re welcome.  We really appreciate your time. Keep up doing great works and all the best wishes for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

01. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

02. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

03. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

04. Naeem Zafar on Entrepreneurship for the Better World

05. Derek Sivers on  Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

06. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

07. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

08. Gautam Mukunda on Leadership