The good people at SmartPress asked me for an interview and it is now up at their website. As it contains some of my thoughts about photography and ideas for starting photographers, I thought it would be a good idea to post it here as well.
Thanks to Sean for his friendly words in the introduction:
Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing the very talented and seasoned photographer, Harry Kikstra. Harry has a very good eye when it comes to taking pictures, and all of his photos make me want to get away and explore other continents and the beauty that is contained within them. I absolutely love images of other cultures, with their vibrant colors, textured skin tones, and most of all, to see how other cultures live. Harry’s photography is very close to something you would see right out of the National Geographic magazine, such beauty and depth captured along with strong human emotions! Check out the interview below which contains a TON of Harry’s work. Thank you again for your time Harry, and your valuable input for our readers! Keep up the great work!
*All images are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission from the photographer*
Who am I?
Harry Kikstra, a climber/expedition leader/ photographer/ filmmaker/ producer/ writer/ public speaker/ cyclist and many other things that have to do with sharing the beauty of the outdoors. I just turned 40, have climbed the 7 continental highpoints, cycled 25,000km across the Americas and have travelled a lot and will not stop soon, though originally I was based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
I have started it not just to show my portfolio and sell my art, but also to share the wonders of the world, both nature and culture, to counter the fear-culture and xenophobia. See http://exposedplanet.com/about/ for more backgrounds and reasoning for the site.
I also run BikeTravellers (http://BikeTravellers.com), a free community for travelling cyclists. One of the blogs on the network is my own journal, http://WorldOnaBike.com, which contains thousands of photos from my recent bicycle trip through the Americas.
My main project/income however is 7summits.com (http://7summits.com): my website about the highest peaks of the 7 continents. You can book trips, find info and much more. I also just co-started a new and huge initiative to replace costly and dangerous kerosene lamps by solar-powered LED lamps, see http://illuminationhq.com.
What kind of photography do you do? Do you enjoy it?
I am mostly a travel photographer, with a sharp focus on Nature and culture. As I am a climber, I have specialized in mountains and love to share the beauty of nature, but I also really enjoy capturing culture and portraits, especially of children around the world.
What’s your gear? (type of camera and most used lens)
I currently use the Canon 5D Mark II ever since it came out, before that the original 5D. When travelling I take my 3 most used lenses: 16-35mm L 2.8, 50mm fixed 1.4 & the 135mm 2.0 fixed. Even though the latter one is likely the least flexible and often not very practical, it is my favourite because of the sharpness, 2.0 speed and wonderful bokeh.
We travel with a small Lumix F35 20x zoom as well, for shots where large zoom is more important than quality (though it shoots in RAW which is great) or where it is safer not to show an expensive camera. I use no separate flash and as the 5D has none included, I need to make do with available light. I never carry a tripod. Though it would improve picture quality, climbing/cycling/travelling makes it impossible.
Can you offer any advice on how to go about building up a portfolio / ‘getting your foot in the door’ for our readers wishing to start a career in photography?
Maybe the most important thing is to discover what you like to do. If photography is something you really like, then you should check with aspect you like of it and which subjects: people/portraits, children, nature, urban, wildlife, photojournalism, sharing the stories behind the photos or maybe more the post processing?
Also do not only check what you like, but also what friends and customers like, which might be very different as your opinion is clouded by experiences while shooting that a viewer will not feel.
If you want to share or even sell your photography, then you should have find your ‘voice’. That does not mean shooting square blue buildings or kittens only, I shoot many different subjects myself. But a general theme would be great, and it will show what you like best as you will do more efforts for shots you love.
Don’t start selling micro-stock if you feel your photos should be enlarged, printed and enjoyed by your clients, but if you see no problem with shooting only things that you know sell well in that market, you should of course do it. You have to make artistic as well as business choices. And don’t even think about becoming a real travel photographer if you are afraid of strange food and people, nor bugs, dirt, heat or cold…
What computer program do you find yourself in most? (lightroom, photoshop, etc.)
LightRoom only. Since LightRoom 2 and even more version 3 came out, I do not think I have ever opened up PhotoShop for photo editing again! LR is wonderful, not just in organising the 45000 photos I am carrying with me currently, but the editing capabilities are great and all I need as I try not to change the scenes I shoot, just enhance them where needed and export for specific uses.
Do you shoot with film or digital? Have you ever shot in film? Which do you prefer?
I used to shoot slide film on my Canon EOS 3, and still love the colours, sharpness and saturation of Provia and Kodachrome. After using the 20D -and later the 5D- I learned the joys and ease (and lower costs!) of digital, but only after the 5D Mark II came out I have been converted completely: the photographic quality is just simply much better than 35mm film/slide.
I have attached a shot taken on ISO3200, only very slightly edited with LightRoom (Maria in kitchen, Bolivia). Try to catch that with an older digital or film camera!
What advice would you give to our readers who are looking to ‘go pro’ and turn a hobby into a profitable business?
I would say: don’t give up your day job yet! It is extremely difficult and you need at least as many business and marketing skills as photography ones. It takes hard work and only a fraction of that will be photography in the artistic sense.
Maybe you need to decide if you really want to ‘go pro’. Why would you do that? Realize that it will take a large part of the fun out of what you love to do. There might be easier ways to make money which you can then use to shoot what and how you want, without commercial pressure.
Either a regular day job, some temp jobs, another business you can start (like I did), that gives you opportunity to travel and shoot, or just lower standards of living: sell your car and cook your own food; you’ll be healthier and will save enough money to invest in good cameras and lenses.
That last part is very important as well. I am not saying you need a 20,000 digital HasselBlad, but you do need a good camera and especially good lenses if you want to sell your work in whatever way. Loose the included lens that came with your body and replace them with fixed (primes) as soon as possible. If you use a tripod, get a very good one, it will save you from a room of old discarded tripods which in total would be more expensive anyway. And most of all: use all of it, so you know the possibilities and limitations!
Photographers are often told that they need to develop a personal style to set them apart. What would you say sets you apart?
I think the adventure and cultural aspect combined with my frank comments. I show people places they will likely never visit, like the view from 8000m on Everest or a sunset on the salt lake in Bolivia. I also give them a glimpse into the lives of normal people in other cultures, places like Tibet, Guatemala, Tanzania. Many of these places are considered to be dangerous (I agree on Everest by the way) and I sort of take people with me on my travels.
But nowadays with social networking and blogging it is not just the imagery, but also the story behind the picture which is interesting. I think I lost some followers, but gained a lot more by being very frank about my thoughts and world views resulting from my travels and photography. Be yourself, both in words and vision.
When not looking through the lens of a camera, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t watch television and try to minimise my sleep as I want to do so many things! Besides editing and organizing photos, which roughly takes much, much more time than taking them, I spend a lot of time building and maintaining my websites, starting new projects etc.
I write a lot and have published 4 books (about climbing) and am working on new ones (about cycling & photography). I also publish on my new photography blogs and will start a new blog about minimalist living soon.
But I especially love to be outside, especially climbing and cycling and visiting new places, of course always carrying my camera. I just cycled 25,000km (15,500 Miles) Across 20 countries in the Americas, which has been a highlight in my busy life and not just for the photographic opportunities. Next year I will finalize that trip by cycling the remaining 5000 miles South.
Who are your influences?
I love the internet in the way that bloggers can make posts about their 25 favourite images, often from as many photographers. I do not have specific photographers I enjoy more, but am happy to see so much diversity al around and get inspired by all types of images. Just check http://1x.com and you will see what I mean.
That said I have always been an admirer of Galen Rowell. He used a lot of natural light, showed that you get better images by working for them (i.e. climbing a mountain if needed) and taught me another very simple but important lesson: “If it is good, shoot it. If it gets better, shoot it again”.