Today I have the great pleasure of introducing the talent that is Nick Sparks, a freelance photographer from Denver, Colorado. Although he does shoot some colour it is easy to see his passion lies with black and white. Check it out share it around and don’t forget to head over to his website to see some more of Nick’s work.
Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m based out of Denver Colorado and I love shooting here. There are a ton of different things to shoot! I can go from shooting sand dunes one day to shooting mountain-scapes at an elevation of 11,000 ft. the next. I dabble in landscape photography as well as portrait photography. I have yet to release any landscapes to the world yet, but someday, when or if, I ever get good at landscapes I will release a landscape portfolio. My portfolio I have released to the world right now is purely people. People photography comes a lot more naturally to me. I love meeting someone for the first time and trying to capture who they are through a photo. A lot of times it can be a struggle to get people to stop putting on a show and project some sort of realness. Honestly, I think sometimes the best mode of action is to not say much at all and let them naturally slide into their comfort zone. Right now, I would consider myself an editorial and art photographer with a love for other types of photography. My goal with my 2012 portfolio was to create emotionally charged portraits, that draw the viewer in with intense, sometimes dark imagery.
What inspired you to get started in photography?
I wish I could say that I started at 13 and have always had a passion for photography, but that would be a blatant lie. At age 20, I took a photography class in college as a filler credit in order get full time enrolment. I thought it would be an easy credit, but much to my surprise there was much more to photography than pointing and shooting. I lacked the proper skill set, but I immediately became “shutter bug.” I feel like photography gets a reputation for being an easy medium, but I would argue the opposite. It took me close to one and a half years of working on kodak tri-x and a cheap canon film camera to finally feel like I would benefit from upgrading my equipment. As soon as I moved over to digital photography I hit another road block with editing. I had to pretty much relearn everything I knew about editing and soak up as much information about photoshop as I could from reading books, viewing tutorials on youtube, and experimenting. For the next 6 or 8 months I shot landscape photography in the city and practiced different techniques. I shot everything from night city-scapes to birds in ponds. I also started dappling in people photography. I had some friends in local bands and shot promotional pictures for them. Right away I grew interested in people photography. Once I felt like I had a grip on my new format, I took to flickr and started a 365 project, and set a few rules for myself. I said that I would not miss a day and that I would shoot a person everyday for the next year, even if that person was myself — I hate pictures of myself. Although this project was complete torture, it help me progress greatly as a photographer. Living up to all my other obligations and also mustering up enough energy to get a photo I did not completely despise everyday was very, very draining. It is very easy to take a crappy photo everyday, but very hard to take a good one. All the scheduling that went into it and being forced to post something everyday was a gift and a curse. I made it to 190 days and then I had an epiphyte. The 365 project that helped me progress and develop so much as a photographer and person was now becoming a big disruption in my efforts to get better. I realized that if I wanted to do better work I would have to put great thought and time into photographs, not just shoot everyday and rush my editing. Although I liked the exposure I was getting from the project, I decided to delete all the photos and work on new pieces. I find that editing comes more naturally if I do the work and hold on to it for a while. There is a big advantage in having a project set in front of you. That is now where I’m at. I still shot about 3-4 times a week and am currently try to get good at landscape photographer and shooting a project over the next 6-8 months that I won’t release until it is completely done.
What gear do you take to each shoot and what lens can you not live without?
I take a Canon 5d mark ii and a few lens with me. My favourite lens is my 50mm f1.4. I love shooting on primes and 50 mm is pretty close to what the human eye actually sees. There’s also something about actually moving around to frame pictures at different distances that I like. I think it keeps me more aware of my surroundings. I have shot on my 50mm so much that I can look at a scene and see exactly what it will look like through my lens. I do carry 16-35mm and 70-200mm lenses with me, but those aren’t really used that much.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken and does it have any significance?
I don’t know if it’s my best photo, but I absolutely love this self portrait I did. I was feeling very lost at the time and sort of just set out up a mountain on a foggy day to to clear my mind while taking some pictures. I was actually shooting out towards the city when I started surveying he road and noticed the way the fog was laying. The image came to be and I grabbed my tripod and remote and shot this. I nailed it on the first try. The photo has this sort of lost, nostalgic feeling, which is what I was feeling that day. It relates to me on a lot of levels.
Select a photo you have taken, explain how it was taken and how did you edit it?
Joshua and I were shooting in a park and he had the brilliant idea of hoping the fence of a closed pool. It took me about 15 minutes of shooting to see this pictures. He knew exactly what to do once I told him the general idea I had. He would make a great actor. Editing this was pretty straight forward. I like to get the photo as technically sound as I can before I start doing complex editing. After I had the color balance, exposure, and contrast correct , I did a few adjustment layers in photoshop including curves and selected color. It’s hard for me to tell if a picture is going to look good in black and white until I have a proper color edit to compare it to. I ended up using a black and white adjustment layer with a green filter and did a little bit of fine tweaking to get the tones exactly where I wanted them.
What processing tool do you use and do you believe in the camera doing all the work or in post?
I mostly use Photoshop CS6, but sometimes I’ll use Lightroom if I have a heavy load of editing. I’ve had some shoots where people have required me to produce a lot of fully edited photos. I believe that you are not going to make a bad picture good no matter what you do in editing. Nailing exposure and paying attention to every single detail is more important to me than editing. I have ruined pictures by not noticing something I do not like in the picture. There’s only so much that you can do in Photoshop.
What’s your favourite photography accessory other than your camera?
I have an app on my iPhone called MapAPic and it is great for documenting possible locations. I don’t have my camera with me all the time, so it’s geo tagging feature is something I love. It give’s me the exact coordinates of the spot I found, so I can get back to the location later.
Where do you prefer to post your photos online and why there?
500px. I like the layout and how easy it is to find other people’s work on there.
Do you ever get photographers block and if so what do you do to get inspired again?
All. The. Time. Sometimes it’s a matter of just going out, exploring locations, and picking up the camera no matter how uninspired I am. Usually getting out into the world and snapping whatever I’m inclined to shot (no matter how boring the subject matter is) can generate creativity.
Is there anything you wish you had done when you first started in photography that would of made a difference?
I wish I didn’t try so hard. A lot of my early work was gimmicky. For example, I had a picture where I took an apple and made that apple into 50 apples falling onto someone from a tree by using a tripod and a remote. Did all the time I spent throwing apples in the air and the countless hours in photoshop editing the apples into picture make for something great? I would say no. The more I looked at it, the more I realized how contrived and gimmicky the photo was. The photo may have a “wow” factor to people who don’t know much about photography, but that was really all it had. That photo had a lot of likes on Facebook, but the more I looked at it, the more I hated it.
Any advice for new photographers wanting to go pro?
Shoot a lot. Never settle. Have the confidence to take your ideas and make them a reality. Get as much feedback as you possibly can. No matter how hard it is to take, in the end it will make you better. Also, HDR does not instantly make a bad picture good