Interview with photographer Richard Sylvester

Hello again and welcome to a new interview with another photographer. This passion for photography is flowing strong within many of us, but it’s mostly hidden behind the daily tasks we all need to do. But beyond the engineer, doctor, driver, mechanic, director, manager assistant and whatever job we might have during the working week, there is a passionate photographer – that’s the person we want to discover. Today, we will hear from Richard Sylvester, one of the “pillars” of the VIEWFINDERS – The Photography Club of Brussels, a good friend and truly a key committee member of this international club of photography. It is he who invited me to join this club and I could say he is the first person I knew from Brussels, even before moving to Belgium, a few years ago.

I wanted to find out more about him, about his interests in photography and this is a great opportunity to share with you his story and tips related to this beautiful, creative passion – photography. I have prepared a set of questions for Richard and I know that people who know him, colleagues, friends and club members would like to know him better, through his approaches to photography. Richard, please meet the audience and dear readers, please meet Richard! Let’s begin!

Sebi: For how long have you had this passion for photography?

Richard: I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. I took my first photography course at Florida State University in early 1974 at which time I also learned how to develop black and white film and make my own prints. When I came to Belgium in late 1974, my father in-law had a dark room which maintained my interest in photography for a number of years. Although I did some occasional color tourist style photography when travelling, my interest in photography was renewed again in 1999 when I bought my first digital camera, the Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD83, which saved images on 3.5-inch 1.44 MB floppy disks. I started taking online photography courses in 2008 and joined Viewfinders in 2009 so that I could enter a photo in their Challenge. After having used Canon compact digital cameras and Nikon DSLR cameras for many years, the purchase of a Fuji mirrorless camera in early 2013, the X-E1, ignited my current passion for Fuji cameras. Goodbye Nikon, hello Fuji.

Sebi: Digital vs Analog: did you use film cameras? Would you recommend a film camera to someone passionate about photography?

Richard: I used several different film cameras before I switched to digital, however with film I always felt somewhat frustrated because I had to wait, sometimes several weeks, to see the results. I especially enjoyed using the Canon AE-1 and was sad when it was stolen.

Once you understand the basics of photography and have tried your hand at digital photography, then I believe that most people would find it to be an interesting learning experience to use a film camera, especially if you have access to a darkroom.

Sebi: Landscape, Street, Travel, Portrait – what type of photography do you enjoy and in what order?

Richard: I believe that you shouldn’t originally limit yourself to just one or two types of photography, but rather try several different types to gain experience with your camera and find out what really interests you.

I enjoy most types of photography. Landscape and travel photography have always held my interest during trips, however I wouldn’t want to be a wedding or a portrait photographer due to the stress that is involved. But I had to try them to find this out.

My main passion is macro and closeup photography, especially of my wife’s minerals and gem stones. With macro photography, you can bring out amazing details that aren’t always visible to the naked eye. It is very challenging, especially due to the very small depth of field, but the rewards can be worth it.

More recently I have become interested in action photography due to my daughter’s synchronized swimming activities and street photography where I am still learning how to look for light, patterns and reflections.

Sebi: What are your favorite lenses?

Richard: With my Fuji X-T2, the choice of lens depends on the subject matter:

  • closeups and macros: XF 80mm F2.8 macro lens
  • sports photography: XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 lens
  • street photography: XF 23mm F2.0 lens
  • general all-purpose travel photography: the XF 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 or the XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 lenses

If I had to pick just one lens, my overall favorite and most used lens is the Fuji XF 23mm F2.0.

Sebi: Black & White or Color, for you and why?

Richard: They both have their places in my photography, from colorful macros of minerals to high contrast black and white street scenes. It really depends on what I am shooting, but I can have the best of both worlds by shooting RAW + JPG where the JPG is in black and white and the contrast and color filter are set to taste in camera.

By converting my Fuji X-E1 to infrared, I have also been experimenting with super color infrared landscape photography which can provide completely different looks to the colors in your photos based on your post-processing.

Sebi: What would be the difficulties / challenges in your photography?

Richard: My main challenge is to find the time that I would like to devote to photography and when I do have the time, to find new and interesting ways to approach my subject. It is important to learn by varying your photography and not to fall into the trap of always shooting the same scenes in the same way.

Sebi: How much do you value post-processing for your work?

Richard: Post processing is quite important even though I do try to get it right in the camera. Often a photo can be enhanced by changes related to the composition (cropping), exposure or contrast. I find that Capture One Pro does a good job on Fuji RAW files and after an initial steep learning curve, it has replaced Lightroom as my software of choice.

Sebi: Could you tell us 3 great photographers who inspire you?

Richard: The photographer that I have the most respect for is Sebastiao Salgado, a Brazilian photographer with a deep love and respect for nature and humanity. His absolutely stunning black and white photos in the Genesis project show the beauty of our planet in its natural state across various animal species and tribes.

Learning and education inspires me as much as or even more than seeing the works of great photographers. One lesser known photographer who I admire is Michael Erlewine, whose photos, videos and ebooks at http://spiritgrooves.net/Photography.aspx and http://spiritgrooves.net/e-Books.aspx have taught me the intricacies of shooting macros, focus bracketing and focus stacking. Another is Olaf Sztaba, an educator who describes himself as a visual poet and creative street photographer, and whose emphasis is on teaching us how to see, as exemplified in his new book Seeing Simplified: how to see and craft great imagery. His work can be found at www.olafphoto.com , www.olafphotoblog.com , and www.simplicityinseeing.com .

Sebi: Where do you find your inspiration?

Richard: Inspiration comes through continuous learning and setting for yourself new challenges, projects, activities and goals.

Sebi: Based on your experience, could you tell us some of your essential tips for a growing photographer?

Richard: There are several aspects in photography, including both the technical and the creative/artistic sides, and you need to learn them both. For the technical, you need to be familiar with all the different settings on your camera and learn how to quickly change them so that you don’t lose time and shots while changing the settings. As a training exercise, force yourself to shoot in manual exposure mode. Experiment with the different options for focusing. While it might be boring, read the instruction manual that came with the camera! On the creative/artistic side, spend time learning the elements of effective composition and the creative use of natural light. I have found Andrew Gibson and his Creative Photographer website to be an excellent source of educational material that I can highly recommend: https://www.creative-photographer.com/.

You will also need to choose and learn how to use a program to organize and edit your photos on computer. Read reviews that have been published, download and try freeware and 30-day demos. At the beginning, don’t choose a complicated program with a steep learning curve that can do (almost) everything, but rather start with a simpler program and learn how to use this one program really well. If, after you have more experience, you find that it doesn’t meet your needs, then you have the knowledge that you need to look elsewhere.

And finally, join your local photography club, in my case Viewfinders, www.viewfinders.be , in order to learn from and interact with like-minded people with an interest in photography.

Never stop learning and never stop seeking the light.

Richard Sylvester

I think you’ll enjoy reading this interview as much as I did. Now, I would like to thank Richard Sylvester for accepting my invitation to this interview, wishing him inspiration and the best light!

All photos – © Richard Sylvester 2018 / Twitter @rsyphoto. Featured image –  © Sheila Sylvester 2018. Used with permission. Interview questions & introduction – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / www.sebastianboatca.com

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