Public Description caught up with photographer, Roberto Vivancos to find out what inspires his work and love for photography.
Roberto: “First of all, thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure to be interviewed by you and to make a contribution to your blog.”
“I think I was just way too ahead of that time. Ha!”
When did you take interest in photography?
“At the age of 9 I received my first camera which was a Fuji Polaroid and right away, I was hooked, amazed by the wonder of it. The act of simply pressing a button to capture a moment before your eyes and watching it develop and print right there in a matter of seconds on a small piece of photographic paper was just incredible to me. And years later, while I was at University studying IT Engineering, I was quite literally the first person in my city who owned a digital camera (an HP photosmart of just 1.2 megapixels). I remember carrying it everywhere I went, taking as many photos as I could in order to learn the basics of photography and at the same time, reading as much as I could get my hands on about the art of photography.”
“I have a little anecdote about it as digital cameras were such a novelty at that time. I was stopped one time by two policemen in my hometown back in Spain while taking pictures as they apparently didn’t like the fact that I was shooting a certain something somewhere, so I was politely asked to hand over to them the film roll. When I informed them that my camera actually didn’t have a film roll but instead had a memory card, they thought I was making fun of them and consequently got fined as they simply wouldn’t believe me.”
“I think I was just way too ahead of that time. Ha!”
Whose work has influenced you the most?
“I would like to say that my style is very much inspired by cinematic visuals. As far as I remember, my work has been influenced by many facets of the entertainment industry, from manga and anime to film and movie posters to name a few. Speaking of which, I love the styling of the characters of Dragon Ball by the artist Akira Toriyama and the way lights and shadows are used to define their features and make them appear more dramatic. I would definitely say that movie posters have also been a big source of inspiration, mainly from the sci-fi genre due to the cinematic effect of contrast between rim lights and dramatic shadows. I just love that.”
“One of my latest discoveries and new found photographer guru, is Dylan Patrick, a Jedi Master of the Cinematic Headshot. I think we have several things in common in terms of our aesthetic and technical preferences and his work really inspired me to create a revamped incarnation of the Cinematic Headshot.”
“Peter Hurley is another incredibly talented headshot photographer whose style is one that I’m quite fond of. Not specifically in terms of technique but more about the way he directs the subject to utilize their features to bring out their beauty and vibrancy. Not to mention my personal favourite the infamous squint; Google Brad Pitt for reference.”
“I’d say my style is a mix of the above mentioned headshot masters – Dylan Patrick in terms of lighting, editing and framing and Peter Hurley in his direction and general attitude towards portraiture (I love an on point squinch.)”
“Movies of course have also been a big source of inspiration. Films such as Star Wars and The Matrix, to name a few, have driven me to perceive every picture I take as if it were a frame in a Movie.”
What makes your photographs stand out from the average photographer?
“What could be regarded as a particularity to my photography, or let’s say, my signature, is the contrast between light and shadows, the so called chiaroscuro. I always rely on histogram expansion to include as much information as possible by enhancing contrast to create striking and appealing images.”
“There is always something about my subjects. A message trying to get across or a secret that is hidden in an attempt to bridge the gap between the viewer and the model. It’s all in the eyes.”
What does photography mean to you?
“I am the kind of person who stops in the middle of the street, looks up and makes a square frame with his hands to a click sound. Cheesy I know! I love to live life collecting snapshots of moments frozen in time.”
“Had I to choose between words or images to express my thoughts and feelings, I’d certainly go for the latter. From my point of view as a creative, I genuinely enjoy telling stories through visually riveting and compelling images. I feel more comfortable when conveying a message involving the visual sense and I apply this philosophy to pretty much everything, from street photography, photojournalism, headshots to visual design, as well. That’s why photography has become such an essential aspect of my life as well as its pure driving force.”
Is it fair to alter reality by adjusting images in post-production?
“In my opinion and coming from my background of photography, I would say it most definitely depends on the kind of image and its purpose. You might not want to alter a headshot drastically as it is essential that the actor needs to look like his picture on the page as he does in real life when he walks in for an audition. I usually edit these types of photos by making tweaks to allow the subject to look as they would do on their best day.”
“On the other hand, there is another side of me that loves to play with reality, to alter it and bring forth new environments as well as physically impossible situations or extraordinary, out-of-this-world settings with crazy makeup and imaginary realities.”
How important is it for a photographer to connect with your subject model to bring out their true self ?
“That’s the key part of it. You might have the best equipment in your studio or outdoors, as well as the best weather conditions for that perfect shot, but if the subject is not highly engaged with every part of their body and soul, the picture won’t transmit any particular vibe nor will it tell a story. I always tell my clients to focus on the reflection of themselves in the camera instead of the very device and I also ask them to gaze out and think through the lens.”
Locations and weather conditions are critical aspects to a successful picture. How do you plan if unpredictable factors occur?
“The very nature of an unpredictable factor is exactly the impossibility to predict it. But that’s also the beauty of the essence of it. When the unexpected happens, when you catch that glimpse or that glint of sunlight on a rainy day, that’s where the magic happens.”
“Besides, logistics and gear preparation are crucial. I always make sure I get spares sorted before a shoot.”
Could you describe the process of a photo shoot set up in your studio?
“I like to study my subjects before they actually come to the studio (I carry out a bit of Facebook stalking a.k.a research to check their best side and study the shape of their face, cheekbones etc.) to direct them in the best possible way and enhance their traits.”
“I have a setup which is more suitable for guys with soft boxes and more cinematic and dramatic lights – my favourite – and a re-interpreted version of a classic clamshell-style layout for girls with a beauty dish and a reflector.”
Colour vs Black and White, which one is your favourite and why?
“I rarely shoot in black and white. I am a visual designer and I love colours. As humans, we see the world around us in colour. The same applies to headshots, by trying to capture the most veritable representation of the subject at that very moment and providing them with that special extra chance to get a part at an audition. When an actor walks in for an audition, he shows up in real life colours.”
Do you step out of your comfort zone to be creative?
“Most definitely. First of all, if you don’t do it, you might end up getting bored doing the same all over again and nobody wants that, so I constantly strive to push the boundaries. Then, by not keeping oneself up-to-date on new things and the latest techniques means becoming obsolete. That’s why I always try to experiment new things, techniques, different light setups, different environments… you name it.”
“As an artist, it’s a must to get out of your comfort zone because you aim to create magic and magic only happens when you think outside the box. I also apply that way of thinking to life itself.”
What advice would you give to an amateur photographer starting out into photography?
Actor | Jon Campling
“The first advice would be that as a visual artist, whether he be a photographer, a painter or a designer, the main objective is to tame the light. You use light to shape a scene or subject with highlights and shadows, to create something visually appealing. When someone sees your work, their brain scans shades and lights to recreate a visual representation, so understanding how light affects our subjects and learning about the quality of light, its properties, fall-off etc, is paramount. By broadening my knowledge of light, my photography and my interface design have increasingly become better.”
“Another recommendation would be, invest in your lenses rather than in your camera. I think one of the most common mistakes is to use up your budget for the body of the camera to the detriment of the lenses. For me, this spells out a big No. It’s better to save a few hundred quid on the body and get a better quality lens as you will get better quality images, at least from a technical point of view.”
“As humans, we tend to look and walk ahead but it’s always good to take a look back, to look up above and just everywhere. Let your gaze roam free.”
“Finally, I’d say: When in doubt Shoot! the only bad picture is the one you don’t take so… whether you’re shooting with your phone, DSLR or compact camera, always bring something to shoot with as you never know when the magic moment will occur.”
“Among the perks of suffering from jetlag, I’d definitely list being awake at 5am to capture this spectacular sunrise picture on the Thai island of Koh Yao Noi.”
A local paddling his way through a floating market near Bangkok.
Five Japanese girls in Shibuya subway station.
Special thanks to Roberto Vivancos for his interview with Public Description.