Earlier in the year while surfing through a list of photographers on Google Plus I came across a photograph that grabbed my attention. A young girl with rosy cheeks, big wide eyes and a serious look on her face stood against a green wallpapered wall dressed in a bright red jacket while holding a bowl of cherries.
The image was striking on many levels – the subject, the colour, the pose, the style of the image and what it evoked on an emotional level all caused me to look twice.
The photographer was Bill Gekas and a quick look through the rest of his work revealed some beautiful images with a distinct style and attention to detail.
Today I’m excited to present an interview with Bill Gekas as well as some of his beautiful images. Bill lives in Melbourne Australia. Check out more of his work on his website and blog. Connect with him on Twitter and Google+.
Bill – can you tell us a little about your switch from film to digital photography? When and Why did you make the switch?
My transition from film to digital happened in 2005. Up until then I was primarily shooting both positive and negative 35mm colour and doing my own developing and darkroom printing from 35mm negative b&w film. As good as what traditional processes may have been at the time the switch to digital capture and post processing just opened up a whole new world which really simplified the process by a large degree.
What impact did this switch have upon your work?
This had the most positive impact on my work where I discovered I could finally create the images in my mind’s eye without spending the time and money using traditional processes! Digital capture simplified the workflow to the point where the tools and workflow were now a transparent part of the creative process and not getting in the way, it felt really liberating in that sense and it was very much welcomed!
Has portraiture always been a major focus of your photography? If not – why is it something you seem to focus upon so much today?
Portraiture came into becoming my main genre about the same time in 2005. Up until then I really was shooting a bit of everything but after discovering some amazing portrait works by the great past photographers I realized that the subjects in these well known photographs although were complete strangers had connected with me, the portraits were eerie, almost surreal and that’s when I knew it was going to be portraiture, portraiture with a fine art aesthetic and a creative flair where I could fuse historical references be it light, props or atmosphere with a more modern contemporary expression from the subject.
Your most recent work has a very distinct style. I hesitate to label another photographers work but how do you describe it?
This style is usually defined as fine art portraiture and you’ll find it lacks the more candid, high key, usual smiling expressions by subjects of modern portraiture that is in current vogue at the moment by many portrait studios. This is a more emotive and creative style of portraiture which a certain type of audience finds appealing.
Can you talk to us a little about what has drawn you to this style of photography?
The emotive, atmospheric, almost surreal nature of it! It’s the type of expression that your subject will give you and sort of remain with you long after you’ve viewed the image. I believe that portraiture can reach a level where we’re no longer seeing the image but actually feeling it, and this essentially comes down to the strength of the connection between subject and photographer/viewer.
Your work strikes me as being quite meticulously planned. How much work goes into the preparation of your photography? Where do the ideas come from and what steps do you find yourself moving through to bring the idea to fruition?
With this type of set-up photography I usually take the photo before I execute the shot! What this means is that the photo has already been taken in my mind’s eye usually days before and then it’s just a matter of pre-prep work. This method enables me to have every aspect of the shoot and post processing worked out to the point where the research and prep time may be 90% of the time that goes into it and the remainder 10% of the actual time is in the shoot itself.
The key to executing a shoot like this is to have it all planned before the subject enters the scene, the lighting, props, composition etc. From thought to finished post processed shot ready for display a typical shot can average a total of 8 hours.
Many of the ideas come from my appreciation of the works by the old master painters. Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Velazquez etc. But I also find I get a lot of inspiration from watching foreign films where the cinematic scenes play a prominent role. Fusing these worlds together help create an atmospheric portrait.
Of course any film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet also raises inspiration to create, and I always keep a notebook with rough sketches and ideas by me.
What camera and lighting gear do you use for a typical shoot?
Currently I shoot with a Pentax K5 dslr camera and an assortments of Pentax prime lenses and a 16-45/4 zoom. No particular reason for using this brand other than having some old lenses from the past which I can still use on their latest dslr bodies.
My camera bag is actually quite modest in comparison to my lighting bag. The lighting is key to many of my works and I own many speedlights, an einstein studio strobe, light modifiers, reflectors, rf triggers etc. Most of my indoor studio work is usually lit with a 28″ softbox as a key light, sometimes a second speedlight with a gridspot attached pointing to the background to light it and a white reflector on the opposite side of the subject to fill some shadow areas.
In an outdoor shoot i’ll typically only use one light modified by a circular type modifier being a medium sized octabox or shoot thru umbrella. I try to get away with it by using speedlights due to their versatility and will only really use the einstein strobe if I need to overpower midday sun.
Could you share with us an image that you’ve taken recently and talk us through the idea and how you shot it?
Red Scarf (above) – This photo was taken recently in an outdoor environment not too far from where I live. Actually it’s a small gravel bicycle track that runs next to a creek. The idea from this shoot came from a similar type scene I saw not long before in a film, it was different of course but being late Autumn early Winter here in the southern hemisphere I wanted to portray the season and this was going to be achieved using the background and selection of costume.
The grey jacket and beret had to connect with an element in the scene being the gravel path, the warm coloured foliage was to portray the season and the most important element in the scene is the red scarf which draws our eyes to the point of interest which is the subject. Sometimes it’s important to use strong colours in order to draw and anchor our eyes to the key point of interest, the proviso of course is that it works in the scene and complements the other tones without looking out of place.
Technically this is a simple shot at f4.0, 1/60s mid afternoon in full shade. Focal length was 28mm aps-c which is about 42mm on a full frame sensor. The light was just a single speedlight at 1/4 power fired through a white shoot thru umbrella camera right.