Interview for Bokéh magazine
In the beginning of this year Harris and Lewis Lim asked me for an interview for Bokéh magazine USA. I’m very into activities like this so I accepted this challenge. The complete interview with my pictures on 17 pages came out in March issue, Volume 52, 2017. Here are the questions and answers:
How did you get into photography?
My journey into photography was quite complicated and very indirect. Since elementary school I was mesmerized by film effects and visualizations. So my first steps led me into three dimensional graphics. I began to create scenes and renders in applications like 3D Studio or Lightwave. I was 14 years old when one prestigious Czech magazine published a picture of mine, which was something unbelievable for me at that time. During my years in IT high school I continued improving my creative skills and I dived more into theories about light and about how to simulate certain effects from the real life.
I then started studying at the University of Computer Graphics and Multimedia in Czech Republic but everything there was focused mainly on programming and software development. So still no photography up to that point. The study was quite hard and there was no time for improving my creative skills. It wasn’t until much later during those years that I was able to implement my own simple 3D Studio.
When I finished up with my University studies it seemed like I was destined to start working in a big software company, and that’s where I spent the next seven years, inside an office developing various applications for corporations. The experience did not fulfill my creative needs.
It was while at work though that I was able to meet several enthusiastic amateur photographers who brought me finally to photography. I bought my first compact camera and organized a trip to Asia and South America. This trip changed my perspective of what I wanted in my life around 180 degrees. I was absolutely impressed by the experience and realized that life in the office was not the life I wanted. So I left my very well paying career as a software engineer and moved to New Zealand to start a new life and focus on my greatest passion – photography.
What was the journey like transitioning from being a photography enthusiast to a photography professional?
While I was working as a software engineer I had won some local photo competitions on the side. I had also started selling some of my travel pictures to micro stock agencies like Shutterstock and iStock. Some photos were really popular and I was able to give out thousands of licenses to people from all over the world. After some time I received an invitation to be an exclusive contributor for Getty Images. They sell your photos at very high prices, but in reality it’s difficult to generate many sales from them. And in the end you only get around 20% of the profit. That didn’t seem reasonable to me so I decided to sell my pictures and prints using social media and through my website. At that time, I also set up my first exposition in Prague called, “World in Pictures”.
Were there people who didn’t believe in your passion or photography endeavors?
I don’t feel that there were people around me who didn’t believe in my decision. I was probably the biggest doubter in myself at the time, and still am a little today. Leaving the life I had, which included nine years of study and seven years of work, was not an easy thing to do. However, moving to New Zealand really helped me jump into this journey, as I had a lot of time to think and plan for the future.
Did you have mentors or any formal education in photography?
I do not have any formal education in photography and I do not think it’s necessary to have one. It’s awesome to study the history of photography and to read stories about famous photographers and artists, but photography is all about freedom. Every photographer knows what he should do. The only real rule is for the photographer to be able to share something from himself and what he’s feeling, no matter how the results turn out to be. This makes each photographer and his style unique.
What are the 3 most important areas of your business right now?
I’m focusing mainly on the photography tours. I currently run one in Prague and a few in New Zealand. In the near future I plan to increase dramatically the number of tours and to focus more in the European countries. The second area I’ve been focusing on is selling pictures and fine art prints. When I’m not on the tours I’m available for commercial shooting as well.
What makes your business unique?
I really emphasize an individual approach on my tours so that each participant gets the appropriate in-field guidance. Whether my clients are beginners, keen amateurs or professionals, they are able to get the best pictures from the intensive workshops we have. Because I know how important the post processing process is in photography, we talk a lot about editing pictures. Most of my clients also sign up for the post processing lesson. There we focus on the pictures we’ve taken during the tour and I demonstrate how I edit photos and show them what steps I take to make the photos stand out.
Were there any specific marketing strategies that have worked well for you?
I think being active on social media can be very time consuming, but it’s also very rewarding. This is one of the most important things you can do to promote your current work and to find potential clients. One necessary component of this is that I must also be contributing and commenting on the works of others in the photography community. Another strategy that has worked for me was doing an exposition. If you’re starting out, it’s not necessary to have your first exposition in some famous gallery. It’s possible to arrange one in a shopping center where your work can be seen by thousands of people every day.
Have you done any commercial work, and if so how did those opportunities come up?
One opportunity came up during one of my expositions in Prague. I was asked by a design company to shoot some interior pictures. This interested me and was a different experience for me. Another time a friend of mine had been contacted to shoot promotional material in New Zealand for both a travel agency and a luxury travel magazine. Unfortunately, there were some travel conflicts on his itinerary so he recommended me instead. Because I love New Zealand and I knew the land well I did not hesitate in taking up on the offer. It was quite difficult photographing nature, landscapes, resorts and hotels for two weeks, but the results were great. What I really enjoyed during this job was shooting from a helicopter, which I don’t usually do on my trips. Then there was another commercial shooting opportunity in New Zealand where I worked with a local travel agency to shoot trips and cruises in Fiordland.
What do you do to keep yourself inspired?
It’s not very difficult to keep myself inspired when I have opportunities to travel to very inspirational locations. Nature, wildlife and the environments I find myself in do the job. I’m also constantly in touch with various Internet communities, which are great sources of inspiration for me.
Who do you look up to?
From New Zealand it’s definitely Andris Apse. His pictures from Fiordland are just awesome. Photos from Himalayas by Anton Jankovoy are very special. I also admire the way Lars van de Goor can capture the atmosphere of the forests. Just unbelievable. There are lots of artists who I look up to but I cannot mention all of them.
Describe your photographic style and has it changed over the years?
I’m sure that my photographic style has changed over the years. I’m focusing more on simple clean compositions without distractions (one tree, one road etc.). There must always be some atmosphere and impression in the picture. I also changed my style in terms of equipment I use. In the past I used basically the whole focal range for travel photography. Now I prefer either very wide shots or long shots. I still carry in my backpack lenses like 24-105mm, but they’ve started to be a bit unpopular and I use them very rarely.
What are some of your favorite photography related websites?
I really like to visit YourShot section on National Geographic website. There are sometimes very interesting assignments where anyone can participate. I appreciate that it’s commented meaningfully and curated by Nat Geo photographers and editors. Whether you are an amateur or a professional they can select your picture and promote your work on their networks, which can be very beneficial.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being in the nature and enjoying the beauty of the moment. Sometimes I’m so emotionally affected that I stop photographing. I just sit down next to the tripod and observe the amazing atmosphere of the place.
What is the most difficult part of your job and how do you deal with it?
With photo tours there’s always bad weather that can be problematic for shooting. I worry that clients won’t be able to take the pictures they wanted. However, concerns like this shouldn’t really matter because my clients are always right with the conditions. And it’s always possible to focus on something else that the client will be satisfied with.
What are the top 5 things that you attribute to your current success?
#1: The fact that I can freely travel around the world. This is not guaranteed and I’m very grateful for that. #2: Endless support from my girlfriend and family. #3: I have been given a chance to participate on commercial projects for travel agencies and magazines. #4: My post-processing skills. #5: Reliable photo equipment.
What do you recommend to someone getting started in the photography business?
Honestly, I don’t feel confident enough to give advice, as I’m also just at the beginning of the journey. In my opinion everyone should do what really fulfills him/her. Just listen to your heart and the success will come.
What is something you wish you did differently when you started your photography journey/business?
I would have started much earlier.
What equipment do you use?
I have always been using cameras and lenses by Canon. What is important for me too is to have very durable and weather resistant camera and lenses, as I shoot often in extreme conditions. Canon equipment never disappointed me in terms of reliability but I must admit that I’m considering the switch to Sony as they offer significant better image quality and much higher dynamic range. Another friend to the rough conditions which I can recommend is carbon tripod and ball-head by Gitzo. Even if I shoot in ocean waves, rivers or in a strong wind the tripod does always an awesome job.
How do you plan and setup for a shoot?
I usually do a quick research of the place where I plan to shoot. According to my needs, I find out the tide times, how the place looks like during the sunrise and sunset or I’ll check the position of the Milky Way. Very often I have in my head a very clear idea of the scene, even before I’ve visited the place. The imagination is a very powerful tool and sometimes the final result becomes exactly how I wanted it to be.
What type of post processing do you do?
Post-processing is very important because this is how I finalize the picture according to my idea. I usually use Photoshop tools and Nik collection for detail extracting, color corrections, cropping and sharpening, but also tools for blending images, luminosity masking.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’ll keep exploring impressive locations around the world trying to find all the hidden gems. I definitely plan to come back to Himalayas and spend there more time as the pristine nature and people there are fascinating. In the very near future I’m going to expand my photography tours because being with other photographers and share the same passion is one of the goals in my journey.