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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.

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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