Interview. Silvia Colombo

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Today I am interviewing the amazing Silvia Colombo. Every single one of her photos is beyond amazing and goes beyond capturing just a snapshot. She evokes emotion and mood and her work just blows me away every time I see it. I’m very pleased to be able to interview her as she is a great role model and friend as well.

All of these photographs are copyrighted and have been used with full permission of the photographer Silvia Colombo

© 2006-2014 . Silvia Colombo

 

4cc5f687e2d00eb68e7bc1aea588dbde-d5dvy42Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I’m a 25-year old girl from Italy. I’ve studied foreign languages and have a degree in Cultural-Linguistic Mediation (CLM) but am unemployed despite my best efforts. I live with my family and pets – lots of pets, because I deeply love animals. I like nature and since I’m unemployed I have quite a lot of time to be outdoors and take photos during my walks.

Aw that’s so nice, I adore animals too. What first promoted your interest in photography and how old were you? 
I think I was 13 or 14. Digital cameras were becoming a popular, and more or less affordable, tool and I received my first one as a birthday present. I was a nature and animal lover already, and it felt kind of natural for me to want to take photos of the animal kingdom and plant life. It was nothing or no one in particular that promoted my interest at first, I just followed my heart and did what felt like fun as a hobby. And I had no idea when I started that photography would become such an important part of my life.
The digital revolution that hit photography was extremely positive for me: I suffer from some complicated sight issues that would have severely limited me in my activity as a photographer, as I can’t use the viewfinder properly, so cool digital gadgets such as built-in LCD camera monitors were a much welcome novelty and a blessing for me.

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That’s really great that digital technology is able to help you like that. It’s wonderful how photography is something that almost anyone can enjoy, having m.e some days it is incredibly hard to even lift the camera but those days when I can mean so much to me, it’s just magic.   Where did you learn your craft, was it instinctive, progressive or did you take a photography course?

I’m a self-taught photographer. I didn’t take any photography courses and have been learning through attempts and mistakes and by looking at other photographers’ work and advice. In addition to that, I’ve only recently started reading photography books and manuals about theory, practice, techniques, and digital post-production.
It certainly was instinctive, because when I shoot I constantly strive to capture something that instinctively looks beautiful, and it was progressive as well, because I’ve been improving over the years through practice, attempts and mistakes, pushed by my inner perfectionist, who is never satisfied and always demands for more and better. I’m confident that there’s always space for improvement and that I’ll never be done learning.

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Your answers are so good, I can really see how much photography means to you and I love watching all the work you create. Would you, or have you, made photography your career?

No. I wish that were within my reach, but no. Photography is simply my number one hobby.

At least with a hobby there is no pressure and you are free to capture what you want 🙂 Do you have a favourite subject to shoot such as landscape, macro eg?
Nature in all its forms: animals, plants and flowers, water drops, the sky, etc. Be it a macro or tele photo, my favourite subject is nature.

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What was your first camera and your camera now? 
My first camera was a Canon Digital IXUS V2 and my camera now is a Canon EOS 600D. I’ve had two compact, one bridge, and one dSLR camera in my hands, and I can light-heartedly say that I sold my soul to Canon.

What are your tools of the trade? Do you have a favourite lens? 
My tools of the trade at the moment are my Canon EOS 600D and the following lenses:
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro

I’ve only recently started working with this equipment, so I don’t have a favourite lens yet. I like to start my outdoor photo walks with the 50mm f/1.8 mounted because I’m fond of its wide aperture, but each of my lenses has a different purpose, so I just pick the one that I think is the most suitable for each of my photos. For example, if I’m taking photos of autumn leaves and want a lot of nice bokeh behind my subject I’ll use the 50mm f/1.8, if I want to photograph the high blooming branches of a plum tree or a wasp from a safety distance, I’ll use the 70-300mm.

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I have that first lens, it’s so good being able to shoot all types of subject without swapping lenses constantly. What camera accessories do you use, filters, tripod etc?
occasionally use the Raynox DCR-250 Super Macro Snap-On Lens for macros, and I’m looking to buy a battery grip pack as soon as possible.

How do you cope with the conglomeration of equipment?
“Conglomeration of equipment” is somewhat a novelty for me, as I’ve used a bridge camera till last October. I have an awesome camera bag that allows me to carry all of my tools with me whenever I go out for a photoshoot, and I believe that by purchasing this functional Lowepro bag I solved the problem brilliantly.
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That’s great. What’s you dream piece of camera equipment?
There could be many, I suppose. A sort of approachable dream would be the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM or an alike macro lens, but for now I think I’m fine with my “cheap tricks” to get fairly decent macros.

In your opinion what do you think is the best camera? 
I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. I’ve read enough about cameras and tested enough cameras myself to know that any camera has it pros and cons. There’s no such thing as a “best camera”, there are several types and models of cameras that are manufactured to excel in different tasks and features, and each photographer should pick the one that best suits his or her needs. Let’s not forget that the most important piece of equipment is the photographer himself or herself, who should always try to get the best out of the tools that are available to him or her.
Debating about what camera is best is just pointless, what matters are the photos a photographer can take with the one in his or her hands.

A brilliant answer and  you’re right, it’s like that quote that says ‘Don’t buy loads of equipment, master what you have now.” Or something along those lines.   Apart from your camera what do you always take with you?

Other than the bag where I stash my camera and lenses? A pair of comfortable fitness shoes.

Good idea 🙂 What settings do you use? I love wide apertures. Do you shoot on auto, manual, programme, av, tv etc? 
I love wide apertures, too. I’m on Av most of the time and will use Manual when I deem it necessary. I like to keep my f-values and ISO low, and I don’t even know that the Auto mode exists. Besides, I like to shoot with Manual focus rather than AF, and avoid built-in flash carefully.
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I used to use auto all the time when I first got my Pentax K200D but soon learned that if you didn’t take that step into the av/manual unknown you wouldn’t even be on your way to reaching your full ability as a photography. What photography would you like to try? 
I’d love to try landscape photography, but I’m afraid I lack the raw material where I live, as all sorts of buildings and roads have been and are still being built everywhere, so it’s almost impossible to find a decent spot around the area. I came across a nice blossoming rape field just the other day, but there were houses all around and no perspective available for a decent landscape view.


Oh that’s a shame. It’s so upsetting seeing how buildings are swallowing up the landscape, destroying habitats and animal lives 😦 There again, photography comes into its own documenting this.

How does your photography stand out, what’s your personal style and how have you developed this? 
It’s hard to tell when there’s still so much to shoot and learn. Some say my photos have a “dream-effect lighting” and many tell me about how much they love my use of light, colours, and shallow depth of field, but I wouldn’t know if my images possess a style that can be put into words. It’s up to others to judge, I suppose. I just try my best and hope that my effort and commitment is evident.

I have developed through attempts and mistakes: I tried my skills and talent and I keep trying every day actually. Sometimes I failed, sometimes I succeeded, in either case I kept working until I was satisfied with the result. But I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I doubt I’ll ever be fully satisfied with my work, which I consider more as a quality rather than as a flaw, because it’s what pushes me to do better next time and improve over time.

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That’s what I always see in your photos, the ‘dream lighting.’ How do you achieve that?

I’m mostly an outdoor photographer, so the lighting in my photos usually depends on what time of the day I choose to go out shooting. I try to avoid the central hours of the day whenever possible because the sun rays are too strong and direct, while I like soft lighting better: my favourite shooting time is between one and two hours before sunset when the natural sunlight tends to become somewhat “warmer”. Once the photo has been taken, the editing I do with my post-production software of choice affects the lighting, as well: the editing may range from very light to radical and the final result usually depends on the photo itself, my mood and inspiration. But no software, no matter how expensive or powerful, will do miracles when you got the exposure of your shot awfully wrong, so I always pay careful attention to the light conditions when I take my photos and if nothing works because the sun is just too strong, I decide to come back at a different hour, either earlier in the morning or later in the evening.

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Thank you. How do you go about shooting? Talk me through composition, lighting set up etc (if appropriate.)
I walk around almost aimlessly, when something, anything really, catches my eye I get my camera ready, focus, frame, and shoot. I occasionally adjust the camera settings if needed and usually take at least two identical shots of the same subject, just in case something goes wrong with the first shot and I don’t notice until I’m home downloading raw files onto my pc.

I shoot mostly nature, so I hardly have anything to set up before taking my shots. I’m deeply fascinated by light – the natural light of the sun – and I try to play with it and obtain interesting effects whenever I can, keeping in mind that stray light can occasionally be a photographer’s friend, as well. As for composition, due to the sight issues that I mentioned earlier, I always compose my images using the built-in LCD monitor, although most times I obtain the final composition by cropping the image in my post-processing software of choice.

How do you use colour? 
I love colour. Most of my photos are in colour, and I’m always hesitant to convert my work to black&white, because I’m aware of the endless possibilities a colour photo can offer.
I use colour differently depending on the photo. Sometimes I exploit it to convey a certain mood or emotion, sometimes I simply want the colours that the camera’s sensor captured to look more vibrant and saturated, sometimes I play with the colour balance until I obtain hues that look good together. I believe colour is an essential element of photography and I use it to make my photos stand out.

Very well said. What is your goal to achieve when you take a photo? 
Beauty is my goal. I wish I could say ‘perfection’ but we human beings are imperfect creatures and I doubt any of my photos could ever be perfect. When I take a photo, I want to achieve a beautiful photo, that is, a photo I like, a photo I’m satisfied with, a photo I can be proud of even, a photo I feel is worth publishing, a photo that I hope other people will appreciate, too.

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Do you try and achieve a story or a mood?
I don’t think I’ve ever tried to achieve a story, at least not consciously, but I often try to obtain a desired mood, both during the shooting and post-processing phase. I believe moods and emotions are very important in photography. The photographer can use an image as a medium to express himself and to convey a certain feeling straight to the viewer. Photos with a certain mood or feeling in them or behind their creation are also likelier to be remembered because they hit the viewer’s imagination in a stronger way and last longer in the viewer’s memory.

What you’re saying in this interview could be used in book of photography quotes 🙂 What would be your ultimate dream shoot, money and place no object? 
There are too many to list just one. Money wouldn’t matter if I could be in the right place at the right time to take the ultimate photo of my life. 

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What unusual photos do you like, abstract etc?
I’m certainly fascinated by abstract and surreal photography and I admire the photographers that are good at it. Abstract photography might look simple at first sight, but it is actually quite complicated to obtain a successful abstract photo, because you need an uncommon, imaginative vision to see things that most people wouldn’t notice, and accuracy when creating the composition.
I also like photos where what would normally be considered a mistake has been successfully turned into an artistic effect by the photographer, for example the use of stray light, motion blur, or intentional over- and underexposure.

How do you think photography affects us? Do you feel it can change or help our world? 

I don’t think photography could ever be enough to change the world or make it a better place, not alone anyway, especially in a post-modern society saturated by tv.
Still, photography is the sharing of vision, ideas and cultures in a language that is comprehensible to everyone. Being very popular, it allows people from any part of the world to meet and learn from each other. The internet wouldn’t be so popular without photos: try imagining how empty the world would be without images! So yes, photography affects us. “A picture is worth a thousand words” and photography represents a powerful medium to carry a message or an emotion in an immediate way. A photo can make us stop and think over both the beautiful and ugly aspects of our life and world. Photography can make us more self-confident and change our vision of the reality surrounding us through the creative process we follow to produce our images. For example, when you observe the world through the camera, looking to take a beautiful photo, you start seeing beauty where you wouldn’t have expected to find it before.

You know it’s not only your photography that is amazing, it’s what you write as well. You capture the essence of photography through your words and it’s such a great experience reading it all.

What are your worst photography disasters? 
Definitely photos that I wanted to be tack sharp and came out blurrier than desired. That’s especially frustrating with portraits of my pets, because I know that if I miss the moment it will be gone forever, and I believe you can never have enough memories of your beloved pets.

Oh yes, I really hate that. Especially when you lie in the garden to try and get them from afar and they race over and you capture this close up face as they sniff the camera 😛  Have you ever had any funny moments shooting? 
I usually take photo walks where dog owners from the neighbourhood walk their dogs, so I’m frequently asked if I’m walking my dog. Once an old man suggested to me that my camera strap can be mistaken for a dog leash from far away.
Other than that, most times people simply walk past me, then turn halfway around and stare at me awkwardly, probably wondering what the hell is so interesting about the “weeds” I’m trying to photograph.

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Hehe I know the feeling, like when I’m lying down on the pavement photographing a leaf 😛 Do you use Photoshop, or any other editing software, extensively? 

I currently use Photoshop CS4, very extensively (and plan on upgrading to CS6 soon).

Do you have any personal tricks or tips you’d be willing to share about photography? 
I can’t remember any personal “tricks” that would distinguish me from other photographers at the moment. But as a general tip for any photographer out there, I’d like to tell them to never underestimate their equipment, to play around with it, to relax and just try to get the best out of it. Photography isn’t a matter of owning the most powerful and expensive camera. Photography is a vision, and your camera can’t teach you to “see”; it’s rather your mind and imagination that are going to make the difference.
And don’t be afraid of making mistakes, that’s how we all get better.

Which photographers have inspired you and who do you admire? 
There are so many that it’s very difficult for me to pick just a handful and leave the rest unmentioned, but the majority are from dA. One that was very inspiring and important to me in terms of new ideas and imagination is certainly lieveheersbeestje.
I admire any photographer that can create great images, no matter what kind of equipment they use, and I will always admire those who can get amazing captures out of cheap equipment the most.
Three photographers I’d like to mention are BlueColoursOfNatureOer-Wout and thrumyeye, but there would be many many more.

Do you have a favourite photography quote? 
I do: “A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart.” ~ Arnold Newman

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Can you recommend any good photography books? 
I’ve read plenty recently. I’ve started after purchasing my first dSLR camera, and I’m afraid most weren’t any helpful to me, although some were deeply inspiring, such as “The Complete Photographer” by Tom Ang, which was my favourite reading because the book explores ten different photography genres and includes the experiences of twenty “real” photographers. Their interviews offering varied points of views about photography and the world were very interesting to read.

Besides, I’d recommend any of Scott Kelby’s guides about Adobe Photoshop and how to use it effectively to get the best out of your shots with the help of digital post-production.

Oh I love Tom Ang’s books, they’re so inspiring. I think I’ll get that photoshop book, I’ve been looking for something to teach me it.   
Where do you see yourself in ten years time? 

Ten years are a long time, so I really have no idea. I hope I’ll still be taking photos.

Where do you see photography in ten years? 
The world’s first commercial digital camera – the Fuji DS-1P – was launched in 1988. In the following 26 years we have witnessed a worldwide, tremendous revolution that has changed the nature of photography itself, allowing the art of photography to expand so that more and more photographers, both amateurs and professionals, can be certain of getting good pictures, although a photo is still a photo despite the explosive innovation around digital picture-taking.

For the next decade, I expect even more innovation to be brought to us, for example through the development of mirrorless cameras that are going to be slimmer and lighter than ever. I can also foresee new gadgets and functions being implemented on cameras, such as some sort of connection that will allow you to upload your shots to your cloud storage or to publish them over the internet as soon as they are taken. I’m sure post-production software are also going to improve significantly, because I believe there’s always space for improvement. Nethertheless, I’m doubtful that any of these changes in the gear are going to make our photos better. Photography is about optics and photo-taking is about the eye and imagination of the photographer; these elements aren’t going to change and can hardly be improved through digital innovation.

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What does photography mean to you? 
Photography means a lot to me. Since I’ve started taking photography seriously, I feel I’ve grown more self-confident, and knowing that I have the skills to create something beautiful makes me feel as if I had discovered my real purpose in life: whenever I succeed in creating a beautiful image and look at it, I feel genuinely satisfied with myself. The list of things in the world that make me feel this way is very very short and photography is one of them. I suppose that if I had to quit photography or if my equipment was taken from me I’d feel lost and empty. So yes, photography means a whole lot to me.

What has photography taught you?
That you cannot know if you are talented at photography until you actually try.

That too often we fail to notice the beauty before us, and a camera can help us “see”.

That a camera is just a device, a means to an end (an image), a tool for producing photographs.

That you don’t need the latest, most expensive equipment to take a good photo.

And that the general public is rarely right about anything when it comes to photography. Take the unnecessary megapixel race: too many people believe that more megapixels in a camera mean better photo quality and focus on just that feature when the time comes to buy a camera, forgetting about other key features that are going to be much more relevant in both easy and difficult shooting conditions and that are going to make the difference between a good and a bad photo.

Thank you, it’s been such an inspiring and informing interview, I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me.

 

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