Insights and ideas from Erik Almas
Playing with Light
Erik Almas is equal parts photographer and artist. Based in San Francisco, California, he originally hails from Norway and credits his upbringing for influencing his romantic, surrealistic style. Almas took some time to discover his signature look, but it was worth the wait. His creative image compositions fuel the imagination and keep clients coming back for more. In this interview with Photoshop.com, Almas shares his thoughts on photography, light, and creating visually appealing images.
Photoshop.com: Which piece of equipment couldn’t you live without and why?
Erik Almas: I find there are different tools for different images, so I’m not sure if there’s one specific thing I couldn’t live without. As long as there’s a camera I can use I’m happy.
Photoshop.com: What role does Adobe® Photoshop® software play in your photography process?
Erik Almas: For me, Photoshop has become a true extension of my image making and how I take pictures, so it plays a big role in the whole process. Before Photoshop, one would pick a film with the characteristics appropriate for the job and add filters to the lens to enhance it before heading to the darkroom. Today, Photoshop has all the characteristics of the film, the filters, and the darkroom. For me, it’s the gateway for compositing different elements into one picture, which allows for truly making images rather than just taking them.
Photoshop.com: How did you create the result in the image of the woman hailing a taxi?
Erik Almas: This image was shot in Barcelona for Spanish Tourism with McCann Erickson, Madrid. It seems quite simple, but there were a lot of subtle details involved. Standing between buildings with no room to pull back I had to do a pan of several exposures to capture the complete background. We also wanted to give the image some visual depth so we shot a separate camera angle down the avenue around the corner from where we were standing. These exposures were several seconds long in order to get the depth of field we wanted. Our model was lit by four strobes and photographed separately and then combined with the longer background exposures. We later added smaller elements like the taxi sign, cars and their taillights, and the sky. We also did several color explorations but decided to stay with the cool blue evening color.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite photo you’ve shot and what grabs you about it.
Erik Almas: The image of the woman wading in the water is a signature piece of mine and in some ways it has defined me as a photographer. I shot this about nine years ago and at the time I was scratching the surface of what would be my style of photography. After getting the film from the lab and working with the scans in Photoshop I realized that this was it. This picture embodied all the things I wanted to capture in my imagery. The landscape and its light quality, the color palette and its painterly feeling, and the emotion and the subtle metaphors evoked by the girl wading in the water. What I wanted to capture had been brewing in me for some time and the atmosphere and light in this picture sort of came to the surface. I became conscious of the light and emotion that attracted me, and all the pictures I have taken since have in many ways been based on this one photograph.
Photoshop.com: How do you know that a photo is really good?
Erik Almas: An image is really good when it evokes some kind of emotional response from the viewer. A photograph can be great to me in many ways, without meaning much to other people who look at it. I can love an image for the cool way it was lit or some new technical achievement. Facebook is great because you get instant feedback on what images people respond to and I have found it so fascinating that many of my favorite images are rarely the ones people like the most.
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in the latest release of Photoshop? Why?
Erik Almas: The enhancements to the selection technology in Photoshop CS5 are great. It wasn’t that long ago that I used to cut up Polaroids and tape parts of them together to show ideas to clients. Now, I can do rough comps on set in just minutes and give clients confidence that a shoot is headed in the right direction. I still do the final compositing pixel by pixel. It might take five minutes to make things fit visually, but it can take five hours to make them pixel perfect.
Photoshop.com: Was there a defining moment when you knew that it was time to take pictures professionally or was it a gradual transition?
Erik Almas: I didn’t set out to become a photographer. I started skiing, took some pictures, and got some published. Joining the National Defense in Norway was mandatory, and during that time I took a darkroom course. Next I spent some time as a DJ, but got tired of it. At 22, I thought photography sounded like fun. The idea of studying in the U.S. came up randomly, and three months later I was there. I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for four years. Halfway through the program I became addicted to photography. In the beginning I focused on sports photography, but at some point what I was doing changed from taking pictures to making pictures and I started shooting people and places. I went through all of the normal struggles of a young photographer and almost gave it up, but after a few smaller articles and one big article in Communication Arts, I was on my way.
Photoshop.com: How have you evolved as a photographer/artist?
Erik Almas: When starting out, I approached my picture taking very intuitively. It was very much a reaction to things I saw. As I built a body of work, the same themes and subject matter, textures and light started to surface and this made me aware of what I was responding to and attracted to visually. This has allowed me to be more proactive and put myself in situations I knew I would like and that would have good outcomes. This awareness of what I’m seeking in my pictures and what I want them to contain truly lets me explore my vision and who I am as a photographer.
Photoshop.com: Describe what gives your photos a recognizable style.
Erik Almas: There is a softness and quietness and romanticism to my work. I didn’t develop it on purpose; it is more of a reflection of who I am and my upbringing. I try to create a quiet sense of beauty and a sense of bigness and forward motion. I want images to feel photo-real even though they are composited. This style is applicable to lots of industries, including travel, healthcare, and more.
Photoshop.com: How do you apply your point of view to shoots for various clients?
Erik Almas: I always try to find a standpoint that I can relate to myself. I try to understand the client goals and then say something more with pictures. For example, I worked on a campaign for Union Pacific where the brand message was building America. I’m from Norway, so whenever I took a picture I thought about how I was building that dream myself. For my healthcare clients, I try to find out what a specific drug does that is useful to myself or someone close to me and focus on that so I can offer a viewpoint that is solid and honest. As I’ve matured as a photographer and an image maker I think it’s very important to include my voice in every picture I take.
Photoshop.com: What artist(s)/photographer(s) do you admire?
Erik Almas: There are so many amazing photographers out there and I get inspired by images created by different people every single day. It’s hard to name a few but a shortlist of five would right now include Paolo Roversi, Annie Leibovitz, Bruno Aveillan, Eugenio Recuenco, and Irving Penn.
Photoshop.com: What’s next for you and your photography career?
Erik Almas: There are so many things I’d like to accomplish and achieve visually. I want to continue to explore myself and make my images even more personal than they are today. I also want to create images that tell a story, making the moment of capture a part of the unseen moments taking place before and after. In making my still photography more cinematic I have also started shooting video with my DSLR cameras. It’s a fascinating process to go from crafting one defining moment in time to many visual moments that combine to tell a story.