as i mentioned in my last post, i’m thrilled to kick off my interview series with photographer raoul pop. i think i first saw raoul’s work when he photographed a tech cocktail event in dc, and was quickly enamored with his style. raoul can turn a seemingly mundane scene into something completely eye-catching, romantic or exciting, which is why i’ve looked to his work for my own inspiration. his photos speak for themselves, but raoul was gracious enough to answer my questions with amazing energy and detail and provide some beautiful examples of his work. i hope you enjoy this interview and raoul’s gorgeous photos as much as i do.
thank you raoul!
JC: Do you have a mission as a photographer? If yes, what is it?
RP: I love to photograph beautiful and uplifting scenes. There’s a lot of pain and nastiness everywhere, and I try not to focus on those things. We each have to bear our share, but why go through life always thinking about our troubles? That’s not to say I’ll point my camera away when I see something bad that needs to be pointed out, but generally speaking, I prefer to stick to the good stuff.
JC: Describe your photographic style or philosophy
RP: I strive for a dreamy or nostalgic element in my photographs. I want each of them to provoke a reaction in the viewer, and given what I’ve said above, I generally want it to be something warm and fuzzy. If you look at any of my photos, you’ll find at least one such element in each of them. Whether it’s a photo of a quiet nature scene, with rich green colors, or of a craggy river bed with vibrant beiges and silvers, or a castle in ruins, where you try to imagine how things used to look when it still stood proud, or something comical, like the photo of the cow with her tongue sticking out you liked so much, I want my photos to speak a little (or a lot) to someone who takes the time to look at them.
JC: What are you working on these days (with regard to photography)? Where is your focus?
RP: These days my wife and I are living in Romania (the country where we were born). In late 2008, we decided to take a sabbatical from our work in the States, to focus on my passion for photography. We had to make certain sacrifices. My wife sacrificed her small business in the US for my sake. She had a piano lessons studio which was going quite well. I quit my lucrative IT job. I wanted to focus on photography and on writing for my website, and that’s what I do right now, including a few IT projects on the side. On New Year’s Eve, January 1st, 2009, we were on a plane bound for Romania, and we’ve since shared our time between Romania and the US, spending most of our time here.
I’m currently photographing the medieval churches and castles of Southern Transilvania. That’s one of my projects. I haven’t yet published many photos from this series, because I’m so backed up with my post-processing (I’m still trying to process photos from 2007), but I do publish as many photos as I can, when I can. Here’s one such example. It’s a castle found in Maramures, in northern Romania, so it’s out of my project’s self-designated area, but how could I resist photographing such a beautiful place?
Or how about these photos from an old Greek and Roman settlement called Histria? It’s on the shores of what used to be a gulf on the Black Sea. Over time, silt carried by the Danube River blocked the gulf’s entrance, forming a lake, and the city went into the decline, turning into a fishing outpost from one of the busiest ports of its time, and finally dying, as more and more people moved away from it.
My overarching project is to capture the beauty of Romania, because it is an incredibly beautiful country. To that end, I am visiting every one of its provinces and publishing photos from my travels. Here is what I’ve published so far:
You can find all of my photos from Romania here . I still need to visit Oltenia, Crisana and Banat.
JC: What do you love most about today’s technology? How have or haven’t you taken advantage of it?
RP: Oh, things are wonderful today! The technology has advanced to the point where you can get photos in situations that just didn’t work before unless you had highly specialized equipment (low light situations, high shutter speeds, image stabilization). Sure, there’s a price to pay for all these things — a good DSLR will likely cost you thousands of dollars, and the lenses plus additional equipment will cost a lot more — but it’s so much easier to get wonderful photographs and share them with the world. When I started to photograph, I shot on film and I still do at times, but I’m so glad to be free from the drudgery of scanning every negative, blowing off the dust and static, then doing a lot of image correct to get rid of more dust, etc. My DSLR gives me clean, crisp, beautiful images, and I can see how they look right away instead of waiting to develop the film. Sensor cleaning technologies also make it easier to get dust-free (relatively dust-free, anyway) images.
The software has also made remarkable advances. Just a few short years ago, we still had to work in Photoshop with every image, if we wanted to get it looking the way we wanted it. Now Lightroom and Aperture make it possible to work directly on RAW images, non-destructively, and get gorgeous results without needing to import the image into an external program. This makes for a faster workflow, and when you have to process tens of thousands of images, even a minute or two of time gained per image translates into huge savings overall.
Especially in Lightroom 3, I’m blown away by how far noise suppression technology has come. I can take a noisy image shot at high ISO that looks terrible as an undeveloped RAW file, and turn it into a smooth, gorgeously colored photograph. Every time I do this, it makes me giddy, because it means I can be more fearless when it comes to the scenes and light conditions I photograph.
I’ve tried to take advantage of every social media tool that came my way. I started using Flickr years ago. I started using Twitter as soon as I found out about it. I kept looking for a platform that would allow me to sell my images directly and automatically, making it super easy for someone to license them or purchase prints, and I found that with SmugMug. I’m using Facebook and FriendFeed and Google Buzz as well. You can find me and my photos on each of these sites.
What I haven’t done, and I readily admit to this, is that I haven’t tried to get myself in front of as many people as I should have, on
those social networks, and as a result, not many people know about my photography. It’s something that’s difficult for me to do — to make new contacts, to get to know new people — but it’s something I need to learn. I’ve already started to be more approachable on social media networks, and I think that over time, that’s going to work well.
JC: What do you dislike most about today’s technology? Has it presented you with any challenges?
RP: I do wish there was less fragmentation. It’s neat that there’s a social network for just about everyone and everything, but it’s also terrible. Everyone’s spread quite thin, trying to pay attention everywhere, and in the end, they don’t really participate anywhere. Everyone’s subscribed to a gazillion RSS feeds, but ends up reading very few of those feeds regularly. Online content has become a
self-serve, all-you-can-eat buffet for chronic ADD patients. We end up jumping around from food to food, tasting here and there, but never sit down to have a full meal.
That makes it difficult to get one’s message across, or to find a good audience. It’s easy to subscribe, but it’s also easy to unsubscribe. And it’s even easier to jump to another blog or another website without staying much. It’s very easy to be fickle and unsatisfied. I suppose that comes with having a lot of choice, but I think it’s also a matter of active vs. passive online behavior.
You can flit aimlessly from flower to flower like a butterfly, or you can sit down with yourself and make a list of what you want to read or learn online, then go down the list and accomplish each of those goals. It only takes 10-15 extra minutes per week, but it translates into a much more meaningful online experience.
JC: Who are your inspirations (past/present)?
RP: Let me first say that I’m terrible with names. It’s easy for me to recall an image, or the way something made me feel, or the general atmosphere of a scene, but names take a while to register with me. I’ve seen a lot of images that have inspired me over the years, and although I’ve tried to remember the names of the photographers who took them, I can’t. Sure, I could appeal to the classics, like Adams, Lange, Hine, Bresson or Eggleston, but even though they’ve inspired me, I’ve been inspired just as much by more recent (or older) photographs taken by others whose names I can’t recall.
Want to know who inspires me right now? Have a look at my contact list on Flickr. I’m quite ruthless when it comes to my contacts there. I add those who inspire me, and remove them when they no longer do so. I’ve probably driven a few people away from me by doing that, but in order to keep growing as a photographer, I need constant inspiration. I need to be able to look at a photo and find something new to strive toward. If I can’t find something that will challenge me to do something new and interesting, then why keep looking at those photos?
The notable thing about this (re: my answer to the previous question) is there’s always been a group of photographers who’ve stayed on my contact list as long as I’ve been on Flickr. I’ve always been able to draw inspiration from their work.
JC: Of all the gear you’ve ever used, what’s your favorite?
RP: I can’t pick any specific piece of equipment. I’ve always been able to find something interesting or useful in the gear I used.
I’d say my Minolta Hi-Matic 9 is a pretty interesting film camera, and I like the three-dimensional atmosphere I get when I shoot with it. When it comes to digital cameras, my Canon 5D, with its full-frame sensor and wonderful colors, is definitely my favorite. I’ve just purchased the Canon 7D, which has a smaller sensor but better low light performance and can shoot HD video, and I look forward to using it as well.
When it comes to lenses, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens is a dream. I plan to get the 2nd gen version of that lens in the near future.
When it comes to these new hybrid, mirrorless cameras, which are a cross between DSLRs and point-and-shoots, like the Olympus E-P2 or the Sony NEX-5, I’m intrigued by their capabilities. I’ve used the E-P2 for a month while I reviewed it, and I appreciated its DSLR-like picture quality, wrapped in a diminutive body that’s easy to carry just about everywhere. The Sony NEX-5 holds even more promise, because it has a bigger sensor and better low light performance. I haven’t used it yet, but would like to use it and perhaps review it at some point.
JC: What are your aspirations? Are there things, with regard to photography, that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to?
RP: I’d like to get better at portraiture. So far, I’ve focused on nature and architecture. I’ve done little people photography. Sure, I’ve photographed events, like Tech Cocktail DC, and I’ve done a few weddings, and I’ve taken plenty of photos of people, but I’ve always felt a bit uneasy. Perhaps that comes from my more reserved nature, who knows… I’m much more open here, in front of my computer, typing my answers to you, than sitting in front of you and answering your questions in person. But I do know that I want to improve and grow when it comes to photographing people, and I’m working on it.
I’ve also started to do studio work, and I’ve found out that I love it. I needed to get into food photography for a book of raw food recipes that my wife has written. She’s built up quite a following here in Romania by writing about raw food on her website. She’s appeared in newspapers, on radio and on television, and the book was a natural extension of all those activities.
The more I worked in the studio trying to light her recipes and photograph them, the more I loved what I did. So I plan to do a lot more studio work in the future, with people, too.
JC: Please share any other thoughts, new projects, advice, people to watch, etc.
RP: I’m starting to shoot videos as well, but I’m taking it slowly, as I already have my hands full with my photography. I know you liked this video of mine a while back. I want to make videos along the same vein, but in HD. And I’d also like to tell stories through my videos, perhaps of notable people or companies. There’s also a possibility I might shoot a cooking show with my wife and get it on TV here in Romania. We’ll see.
That’s why I’m excited about getting the Canon 7D. Until HD video became a feature on DSLRs, it meant I had to carry a separate video camera and its equipment with me, and when I already had to lug around 20-25 lbs. of photo equipment, that just wasn’t an option. I was stuck shooting video with my mobile phone or with a digicam. Now that I can record quality HD video with the same camera I use for photography, it opens up a world of possibilities for me.
JC: Finally, why do you love photography?
RP: Great photos are time capsules. They preserve an instant of time in such a way that they move people decades or even centuries after they were taken. In that sense, they are timeless, immortal. They manage to do something none of us can do: to live forever, meaningfully. Even if we as people manage to leave a legacy that speaks of us after we’re gone, it’s usually tainted by our mistakes or the lies of others. A great photo stands on its own. No lies, no compromises, no gossip, no mistakes. It is perfection, preserved for eternity, ready to be tasted and felt by generations to come.
I’d like to leave a few great photos behind me as I pass through this woefully short life. – Raoul Pop
You can view more of Raoul’s work at:
Raoul’s work also appears in my upcoming book, “Love Your Photos” along with other inspiring photographers. Sign up for my mailing list so you see all future interviews and announcements about the book. Don’t be scared – there will be no spam – we’ll just have some fun!