Phlearn Interview John Wilhelm
John Wilhelm was born in 1970, and was raised in Winterthur, a town in Switzerland (with over 100,000 citizens), close to Zurich.
After high school John went for an apprenticeship as a Radio/Tv-Electrician and after 2 years of working on the job he started studying at the Higher School of Applied Sciences and gained a degree in 1994 as an engineer of electrical sciences. Since then he’s been working in the IT, for 10 years he has held the position of the CIO at the Higher School of Education in Zurich.
When John isn’t working at school, he’s working at home or on location (or behind the computer). John is a photographer and digital artist in his free time, or as he calls himself, a “photoholic”. He creates spectacular composites from ideas formed in his head, whether it’s turning his daughter into “Luigi” from the Mario Brothers, turning himself into the Pope, or giving a camel a cigarette, John can create it.
Join us in this fantastic interview where John opens up about his life and his work. He tells us what he considers to be the key elements to making a great composite (and they’re all very helpful!), and there are side by side comparisons throughout the interview of his photos before and after an edit. So, what are you waiting for? See what you can learn from John Wilhelm.
I was born in a photographer-family. My dad was a passionate hobbyist and founder of several photography-clubs. So photography was always an important element in my whole life so far (and I guess it will always be).
But what really sparked my passion was an App on the iPhone called Polarize. During the first pregnancy of my wife (meanwhile we’re awaiting daughter no. 3) I started to shoot like crazy with this funny program and I even set up a little business (www.polarize.ch). To be a little more independent from the iPhone I developed a way to generate artificial iPolas (images created with the app Polarize are called “iPolas”) with shots from high quality cameras (for example a Leica M9) with the help of Adobe Photoshop. So I got in touch with Adobe Photoshop and decided to enter the composing and retouching genre a little bit more intensively approx. 2 1/2 years ago.
It was a little frustrating at the beginning but with the acquisition of a Wacom Cintiq 21 it became something absolutely magic.
I call myself a photoholic because I love this workflow (Cam > Lightroom > Wacom-Photoshop-works > Final Image) so much, I honestly have to fight withdrawal symptoms if I can not do any photo work for more than 2 or 3 days.
- • Nikon D600 & D800E, Sony RX1
- • Nikkors 14-24, 24-70 (my fav lens), 70-200, 105 macro
- • 3 SB 900, 4 Yongnuo remote triggers
- • 3 Elinchrom Studio flashes with div. softboxes
- • Gitzo Traveler tripod with Manrotto 498RC4 ballhead
- • Wacom Cintiq 24 HD
- • MacPro 32 GB Memory
- • Adobe Photoshop CC (It seems I’m alone with the opinion but I love the cloud approach)
- • Adobe Lightroom
- • Nik filtersuite (new by Google)
Nik HDR Effex 2 for HDRs
- • Filterforge
- • Terragen 2 (landscape generator)
- • ZBrush 4.6
- • ZereneStacker (great focus-stacking software)
My children, talking to my girlfriend (she’s a very creative costume designer), looking at other works on all these great platforms like Béhance, 500px, Flickr etc.
Ideas often pop up while exercising contemplative work (household, garden etc.)… so my recommendation is: Don’t outsource too much of these jobs, you could also give away great ideas with it!
I’m just not able to answer that clearly. I love portraits, landscapes, insects, animals etc.. equally; As long as the IQ is high, and the scene is inspiring, funny or special.
I’m sure: Obtaining a really great composite or retouched photo requires a top quality photograph to begin with.
That happens often. If a specific idea will not come to my mind I just wander through my Lightroom Library and in most cases, I can get spontaneous inspiration from a photo. Perhaps even a shot taken a long time ago which I saw already many times and nothing happened can suddenly trigger an emotion or an idea.
My photo with the two seagulls titled “Health Check”, with which I’ve won the special prize of the annual DOCMA award, has been created this way.
The fundamental basis of my work is still photography. Unless you’re a well educated and trained digital painter you should really know what you’re doing with your camera before you enter Photoshop. For composites I would recommend the following:
- If you can afford it buy a good camera (the best I’ve ever had is my Nikon D800E) and even better lenses (my favourites are my Nikkor 24-70 and Nikkor 14-24).
- Know, at which aperture your lenses bring top notch sharpness and use it.
- Stick with ISO 100-160. The slightest noise can be pretty annoying in postproduction.
- Take a tripod with you if you’re shooting with a small aperture and ISO 100 can’t be held steadily anymore.
- Take several shots with different apertures and exposure settings (you don’t have to generate HDRs to gain top notch results, but sometimes certain over- or underexposed elements can easily be taken from a differently exposed shot).
- Do focus stacks (especially if you have to shoot with open aperture). Unsharpness can easily be applied later but not sharpness.
- Be careful with different lighting settings. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to bring elements neatly together, if they were shot in different light situations.
- Do not use stock photos. You will not be able to be as proud of your final work as you could be.
Your work plays off humour quite a bit, and that’s hard to accomplish, but you flawlessly pull it off every time.
What advice would you give to someone who is wanting to go the same route with their photography? I ask because humour can sometimes be very difficult to pull off.
This is very very difficult to tell. I’ve grown up in a family where humour was always present and very important. I had my troubles in school for always being a class clown and joking around during lessons, and I still do this today during meetings sometimes
My tip: Just be funny!
I’m not sure. I think a lot about it, but always end up with the same result: As long as I can do what I’m doing right now I’m happy. I earn enough money with the IT to keep my family and my hobby running and I don’t have angry customers who tell me to put a different colour here and another light there
And finally if I made my hobby my job what would my new hobby be? I haven’t the slightest idea… so better leave it as it is, although it would be so good to work on a cool project for a few nights AND days.