Interview with Flickr's VelvetG

Christopherd6: Velvet G, I'm always interested in how people come up with such unique usernames. Give us your real name and tell how you came up with "Velvet G"

VelvetG: My real name is Adrian Gibbs. Velvet G was a name that was given to me way back in the days of Quake I. An old coworker gave me a player model called Velvet Jackson. He was a pimp and he thought he looked like me. He started calling me "Velvet G" and I never could shake the name so I embraced it.

Christopherd6: hilarious

VelvetG: I have silly friends

Christopherd6: So, Adrian, how did you get your start in photography?

VelvetG: I've always had a fascination with pictures, but never really did anything with it. I was more into drawing, but was given a Canon AE-1 as a gift when I went to college. Even then I didn't really do much with it, just the occasional event shots.
I really didn't actually get serious about it until last year when I bought my Canon Powershot S1 IS.

Christopherd6: wow, that camera was a milestone in photography, do you still have it? AE-1 was a '78 model Canon that featured several advancements in automatic shooting, a classic among SLRs

VelvetG: I don't. I had all of my camera gear stolen a few months ago. Everything, even my filters. It's pretty much the only reason I now have my 20D. I had to replace everything.
It was a dark time for me because I really wanted to do more with it. (The film aspect that is).

Christopherd6: Ouch! So why upgrade from S1 to a 20D, had photography become more important to offset such a purchase or did you have a couple grand just lying around you need to do something with?

VelvetG: A big motivating factor for the types of photos I did with the S1 IS was the fact that people kept telling me that a point and shoot camera couldn't produce memorable pictures. I added filters, macro lenses, you name it to that camera and along with a lot of determination, and I think I proved a lot of people wrong. Along the way, I learned a lot about photography and did feel that some of the styles I wanted to try would be better suited to a DSLR. Easier manual focusing was a must because I hated missing photos because the AF wouldn't lock.

Christopherd6: What tipped the scale in favor of this model?

VelvetG: Research. I just read a lot and liked what I saw, it was also one of the few DSLRs that would allow me to also shoot in BW and toned modes in camera, something that was mainly for the PS crowd

Christopherd6: any accessories that have proven essential?

VelvetG: so far? My circular polarizer, a few 1GB FAST CF cards and multiple batteries. That's about it so far.
I'm working on getting a good zoom lens to compliment my 50mm 1.4.
Oh, and I forgot, my Hoya 72 infrared filter, that was something I fell in love with from my S1 IS days

Christopherd6: looking at your extensive flickr gallery, it seems you have an eye for all types and themes of photography. Is there a particular subject or theme you prefer to shoot?
How have you used the infrared filter?

VelvetG: I'm a pretty random guy. I do have a lot of fun with street life, but I seem to also gravitate towards the dogs and my nephews. I'll shoot anything that comes in front of my lens for the most part though. Oh, as for the infrared on the 20D, most of it has been at either Shaw's Bridge Park or Marsh Creek. Mostly nature stuff.

Christopherd6: how does that assist with the photo?

VelvetG: I would love to get a hi res shot of my photo Furious Sky, but I think that was just a right place/right time photo IR gives photos an otherworldly feel. I'm more comfortable with visualizing it because most of my drawings and designs were in BW and overblown, kind of the same feeling IR gives. I'm still learning to see the world in color because I was in a BW mode for so long.

Christopherd6: okay, I think I'll link a few examples of that

VelvetG: I think I have an IR set. I really need to do a better job of organizing my photos

Christopherd6: What do you feel black and white lends to a photo?

VelvetG: Black and white photos are much more emotional IMHO. Especially true in portraits as the background colors can sometimes be a distraction. They also often have a timeless feel to them that I love.

Christopherd6: Thinking man is my favorite photo in your gallery. That was black and white and very contrasted.

VelvetG: I think it just makes your eyes focus on the details alone. It's funny that you like that. My father hates every photo I have ever taken of him. Go figure. That particular shot was just me seeing how much light my then new 50mm 1.4 would gather. I was impressed because he was actually sitting in a dark room watching a movie

Christopherd6: It’s a powerful image. Its funny how those who may not know what was going on there read more into it than perhaps the subject and photographer ever intend. I find it hilarious that this image that I have always viewed with such curiosity was taken while he watched TV? Was it CSI at least?

VelvetG: Assault on Precinct 13, the original version

Christopherd6: ahhh, so its intrigue on his face

VelvetG: You got it
I think that's the awesome thing about photography. Everyone takes from it what they relate to. My father rarely takes a break and is always working or doing things for other people. It was nice to actually get a shot of him sitting down, doing something only for himself for a change.

Christopherd6: So, you've done some Pro work (pro as in paid) how did that come about?

VelvetG: actually just through word of mouth. The first photo I ever sold was called "The Old Bootman's Place". The old bootman's place is an unofficial landmark in West Chester so a lot of people who have live in WC or passed through it recognized it. My friend Amy's mom was homesick and recognized it in my stream. She sent a check and that got the ball rolling. Everything else has been through referral so far which is pretty nice. I've also done work for a few websites, but since I didn't have creative control, I'm not too happy with the way they turned out.

Christopherd6: that is fantastic. Ever consider letting it take over as a career. Maybe replace what pays the bills currently? What do you do currently by the way?

VelvetG: I work in Information Technology and it's been a pretty good career to me. My only concern with trying to let the photography pay the bills is that I may lose the love for it. It happened with computers and I'm afraid I'll fall out of love with shooting if it becomes 'the job". Irrational, but I really don't want to lose it. It helped me work through a rough year. It's been my way of disconnecting, being creative and getting the pictures in my head out there for other people to see. The other thing I think I may need is time. I'm not as comfortable or confident about my work as others think I should be. I guess that will come in time.

Christopherd6: I experienced something similar with computers as well but producing art is different. I definitely witness the therapeutic effects of photographing on a daily. my question is this (blog regulars will recognize from earlier post) If you have lost the love of computers that put you in the position you are in, is it more important to be half way up a ladder you'd rather not climb or the bottom of one you do? Ignore if you are at the top of your ladder!

VelvetG: definitely at the bottom of one I do. It gives me a goal to shoot for, something to aspire too. As for IT, I'm a senior member of my company and know my craft well, but it's just a job at this point. There was a time that I'd stay up and study until 4AM just because I was so fascinated and needed to learn something new, now it's just something I'm good at and the passion is gone. I probably shouldn't say that, but I don't know if my bosses check out Flickr. I think as long as I produce the numbers they need, they'll be fine with the attitude though. It all comes down to the almighty dollar in that field

Christopherd6: what would motivate you to pursue a photographic career wholly?

VelvetG: wow. Good question. I honestly never really thought about that, but I'll give a response a try. I think if I could make a difference with my photos the way Katya (Slight Clutter) or Gteans' photos do, I might make a career of it. They really bring out the human side of the 'news' and they are what I would consider to be difference makers. The only other way, and it's something I have been looking into, is possibly mentoring. I don't have enough photographic knowledge to really do that yet though. There's still so much I need to learn before I could teach someone else without feeling like I'm cheating them.

Christopherd6: so what would define a successful professional photographer for you?

VelvetG: key word being 'professional'... someone who really embodies the subject they are shooting, whether it's covering a world tragedy, or a small town farm show. That person really has to connect with the subject they are shooting. I think respect is a big thing. I cringe when I hear about paparazzi. They may get paid a lot, but IMHO, I don't consider them professional. They seem more like stalkers to me. The other thing that would make them a success is retaining a love for what they do. I think that's the most important thing. I think it shows when someone is just going through the motions when taking pictures and who is sharing moments and memories.

Christopherd6: excellent response

VelvetG: I'm still in the honeymoon period when it comes to shooting, so the pro aspect of this is still not really something I've really considered. Not yet anyway. I think when I can actually afford a zoom lens that will work in anything other than bright sunlight, then maybe... LOL

Christopherd6: After viewing nearly 1000 photos in your photostream, I have noticed an evolution in your style. Is your connection with your subject changing? Do you see improvement? What steps do you take to better your photography?

VelvetG: In the beginning, I was just really happy just to be able to take pictures! As time went on and I got my feet wet, I started figuring out what worked for me and what didn't. In the beginning, I think most of my photos were at the really long end of the zoom, but as time went on and I got a little more confident, I moved closer to my subjects and my photos got a little more 'intimate'. Also, I've had a really good friend go above and beyond to help me learn how to shoot people photos and it's really helped me out a lot. I do see myself improving, but there is still so much room for improvement. It's an internal thing, not really one where I'm competing with others. I just want to be the best I can be. I sound like a commercial for the Army.
As for the steps I take, I read a lot and shooting digital with a lot of CF cards affords me the ability to make mistake after mistake at no cost, read EXIF data and compare results, I also watch quite a few of you on Flickr and learn from your successes. It helps me learn how to do the things that I couldn't work out on my own. I'm still trying to meet other photographers and shoot with them so I can learn. Right now, the only person I shoot with occasionally is Mikaella Gorelik. She's just starting out, but is really passionate about learning and it's infectious.

Christopherd6: I think that is often times the best way. I watch others progress as well, Not for sake of wanting to compete or measure myself but for sheer love of the art form. I believe in the idea that excellence promotes excellence so whether it is photos, other fine art, music; it enriches my ability to produce. I think working with a beginner is a great idea, if only to bask in their infectious ambition

VelvetG: Exactly. I still shoot mainly for me.

Christopherd6: Any Flickr comrades in the area?

VelvetG: I tried to convince her to join Team Canon, but she went with Team Nikon. Still love shooting with her though

Christopherd6: (forgive her, we must sometimes learn from our mistakes)

VelvetG: Nardell is the only one I've run into, but I know that helveticaneue and lil' erna are nearby. We’re trying to get together

Christopherd6: Do you make designated times to shoot or do you pack everywhere?

VelvetG: I can't hate on Mika for getting the D70. It was a much better value $$$ wise.
I shoot when I walk my dog, so I usually have it on me. There are times that I make plans, like the Marsh Creek photos with Deana or the Shaw's Bridge work. There are also times that a theme comes to me and I just plan for it. I know that I'll be shooting at Longwood Gardens soon,
I'm looking forward to the winter show as well.

Christopherd6: I myself have to adjust to the stares and wonders of family and strangers as to why I carry a large bag with me constantly. I am looking forward to more photos from you, it has been a while!

VelvetG: I think my day to day people are getting comfortable with it. They used to stare before, but now they ask when my trademark Canon backpack isn't with me.
I know. It's completely my fault for letting someone steal my steam. I'm working on fixing that and it'll start this weekend. I can use the excuse that it's rained for the last week or so here, but I definitely have ideas going into this weekend. I also have a birthday coming up, so hopefully everyone listened and just got me $10 B & H Photo gift cards. They add up!

Christopherd6: I need to think harder to deal with unsavory conditions with fall coming around and all; I have been rained out a few times too.
My birthday is on its way too, 30th

VelvetG: The funny thing is my S1 IS was out in the rain and snow constantly. Hopefully I'll be that brave now with a larger investment in gear.
Happy early birthday, mine is the 23rd

Christopherd6: SO everyone pick up 2 $10 B&H gift cards

VelvetG: I like the way you think!

Christopherd6: technique talk

VelvetG: fire away

Christopherd6: what do the different filters you have invested in give you? Is there an advantage that can't be reproduced in Photoshop?

VelvetG: I only own three filters now, a HMC UV filter, a good circular polarizer and my IR filter. The UV one is just for when I work around water, and the circular polarizer is a blessing, it really gives me the deep blue skies and no, I don't think you can easily reproduce removing reflections from windows and water easily in Photoshop.

Christopherd6: oh, you mean the polarizing effect?

VelvetG: exactly, most of the other filters I used to own can be done in camera on the 20D so there was no need to buy a yellow, red, green or orange filter

Christopherd6: the colors filter for BW shooting?

VelvetG: exactly, the 20D does them digitally so there were 4 I didn't need to replace

Christopherd6: How was this shot? http://flickr.com/photos/adrian/4934124/

VelvetG: That was with my trusty S1 IS. The room was dark and I actually just had a lamp with the shade off, lying on its side on the coffee table, it gave me the overblown effect I wanted and the yellow filter helped with the skin tones. I hate my own portraits. This was shot because I lost a bet. Most of my self portraits are because of lost bets.

Christopherd6: the title, indestructible soul" what should this tell the viewer?

VelvetG: Looking at that photo now, I didn't get my arm out of the way. I should have used the timer

Christopherd6: lol

VelvetG: The last few years have been challenging personally for me. I know a lot of people counted me out and I'm still here. A little bruised, a little battered but definitely wiser and more aware. It's funny, I was listening to Stevie Wonder and thinking of Public Enemy. Contrasting music, but both speak to me.

Christopherd6: Furious sky one of the most popular shots I have seen on Flickr. Detail the creative process for capturing this stunning photo

VelvetG: Ah. Furious sky. It's one of the few photos of mine that had to grow on me. I wasn't sure people would react to it the way I did. This was one of my first infrared shots. It had just stormed and was still a little wet outside so I decided to chance it. I just liked the way the building looked and composed the shot. I noticed in the first shot (no IR filter) that I could see clouds and decided to try it with the IR filter. I changed the mode to sepia and shot it. I shot 4 of them with the filter on and this was the only one that came out sort of clear because of the time you have to hold it still.

Christopherd6: any additional processing?

VelvetG: It's not something I would post in the stream for it, but people with eagle eyes will see where the piece of dust was on the lens. It drives me crazy, but I don't have the heart to delete the photo, fix the spot in Photoshop and repost it.
contrast +1, I try not to do too much if I can help it, but I'm definitely not a purist. All I really care about is the end result. I'm pretty sure it had been sharpened, but that's the nature of digital photography at least to me
Believe me, I've tried to reproduce this shot many times now that I have an 8MP camera, but the stars won't align. It's never going to happen again like this

Christopherd6: since it was an earlier work for you, do you ever get discouraged to have nothing current achieve that popularity? For me it has been hard as my most popular shot came very very early in my photo career (5 months)

VelvetG: not at all. I don't really worry about popularity or "interestestingness" I just shoot what I like. Some people will connect with it. Some people won't, you also have to keep in mind that at the time this photo was out there, Flickr was pretty new, the pools were smaller and the people a little more intimate with each other
I met Fubuki and Special early on and because we all connected on some level and each of us have enjoyed our own 'popularity', the popularity of photos like this just multiply because of their contacts. Rinse repeat, popular photos that are favorited are then favorited exponentially.

Christopherd6: What is your motivation? When you shoot what are you trying to bring across or display?

VelvetG: I'm a visual person and unfortunately, being in the computer field I live in a world of 1's and 0's. There is no creativity there. In my heart I was meant to create and this whole photography thing affords me that in real time with instant gratification. Nowadays, I'm still trying to photograph everyday things the way I see them, hopefully, people will get a little more insight into how I view the world through my photos. I'm not sure a lot of people actually get me, but maybe through what I shoot and how I shoot it, they will.

Christopherd6: indeed, like the admiration and deep respect for your father you convey so well

VelvetG: My father and I didn't really see eye to eye for most of my life. He was hard on me and I never really understood it until I became a man. I think my photos today show a different respect I have for him. He always pushed me as half assing things wasn't good enough. If I got a 3.9, I could have made a 4.0. I hated it then, but it's actually helped me get better at the things I want to excel at.

Christopherd6: Adrian, as we start to wind down here, is there anything else you'd like to discuss? Questions for me? Closing words?

VelvetG: I get to hold the mic? cool
If you could improve one aspect of your photos, what would it be and why?

Christopherd6: whoa!

VelvetG: like that, huh?

Christopherd6: I'd hope to learn how to obtain the humble proclivity cognitive of capturing such personality and emotion in portraits. My subjects tend to be close to my heart and I never feel like I have conveyed that sentiment with my photos and that is a bridge that is hard to cross, as it can’t be taught in books really

VelvetG: hmm. The problems in that may be that you are too close to your subjects and therefore don't feel you can do them justice.
The love in your photos is evident, at least from the outside looking in

Christopherd6: If I could truly convey the absolute joy and utter pleasure it is to be the father of my daughter or the husband of my wife with my photos of them I would consider my training complete

VelvetG: My advice, my friend, is to just keep shooting. I see it, but it may take time before you do. It may come down to something as simple as a closer crop to show the intimate relationship you have with them.

Christopherd6: hmm, good point. Great question!

VelvetG: thanks!
You have something that many of us are hoping to someday find. I think it comes across well in your photos, but we are our own worst critics.
My parting thought... I think people worry too much about views and favorites. Maybe it's easy for me to say because I've been fortunate and blessed with them, but I would love to see more people just shoot what they like and not what they think will be a hit on Flickr. I also think that people need to remember, especially when they are being rude or extremely critical when commenting, that there are real people feeling the sting of those words, and just have fun, that’s the most important thing (at least to me anyway)

Christopherd6: thank you Adrian, it has been a pleasure

VelvetG: for me as well. I wish you much success with every challenge you take on

Christopherd6: you are a gentleman and a scholar and your generosity is only exceeded by your great looks.
I've always wanted to use that

VelvetG: you had me at gentleman LOL


Blogger Shavar said...

This was an excellent interview. Very thorough and great questions! Glad I got to know a bit more on VG! Great work Christopher!

Wed Oct 12, 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Mika said...

wonderful interview! very in depth and thought out!! I was just introduced by Velvet G to this site and will definitely be back for more!

Thu Oct 13, 07:01:00 AM  
Anonymous ash said...

since raya wouldnt let me finish the first time i came back
great interview!
chris, love the range of questions
you do such a great job apealing to everyone
even people who dont know about all the technical stuff (like me)
velvetg, i cant believe all your equipment got stolen that really sucks but like they say everything happens for a reason you seem like a very positive and likable person i checked out your photos and enjoyed them as well
chris you did it again!
your site looks wonderful
(okay ya'll if theres typos forgive me i gotta toddler on my lap, lol)

Sat Oct 15, 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you all and I have to agree, I think Chris does a great job with his interviews. Very natural and unforced and definitely easy to talk to.

Ashley, believe me, I wasn't this calm about the gear for a long time. I'm just at the point where there's nothing I can do but move forward because living in the past will make me a prisoner to the anger (and give me ulcers).

Life's too short.

BTW - I hope you enjoyed your birthday!

Take care,
Adrian (I really should sign up, but I think everyone figured out who Anonymous is)

Wed Oct 19, 08:26:00 AM  

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