Interview with Adrian Sommeling

Based in the Netherlands, Adrian Sommeling is a conceptual portrait artist who really knows how to tell a story with his images. Now working within advertising and commercial work, you probably recognize Adrian’s portfolio for the masterfully taken photographs of his sons.

Not only is he an incredibly gifted photographer and artist, he is a father, and he integrates these two aspects when capturing his son and his friends taking part in one of the many artistic ideas or scenes that Adrian has come up with in his head.

Adrian has found a very creative style of visual storytelling. Inspired by the style of American Advertising photographer Dave Hill, Adrian describes his whole style as “the American style.” With a post-processing style that feels so cinematic, you can’t help but stare at his portfolio of images in awe.

Join us for this fantastically quirky, funny and informative interview with Adrian as he’s here to talk with us about inspiration, light, post-processing and more.

Tell us, how did you become interested in photography?

For my whole life I was always busy with creating images. My mother is an artist who painted a lot. I used to sit next to her and draw images on paper. Later on I used oil on canvas, or the airbrush. I painted many portraits and in high school I shot portraits with a camera. I didn’t do this for a very long time because I didn’t like the post processing part in the dark room. Too much chemicals and stuff to handle 😉 I stopped for quite a long time, but when my friends started again with digital photography my interest picked up again. I got instant results and didn’t have to go to the darkroom again. My darkroom was now Photoshop, and with my past as a painter it was a perfect darkroom for me 😉

Were you ever interested in any other types of art? (drawing, painting, music, etc.)

Yes, like I said before, drawing, painting, air brushing. Never in music. I wish that I had any talent for that, but I am really not good in it. Same with writing. I wish I could be better with that as well.

What inspires you?

Everything inspires me. Everything that has a bit of humour in it. But as you can see in my images, most of the time it is my son. He inspires me in a way that, when I see him growing up I see myself, and remember the things that I liked or wanted to do as a child. But like I often tell people at my workshops, in almost every situation where you can laugh, you can create a photo. You only have to see it in front of you and visualize, and make it catchy 🙂

Who are some of your favourite photographers and/or artists?

Lately I hardly see any other photographers, but the one that inspired me most was Dave Hill, an American advertising photographer. My whole style is the Amercan style I guess. I also get inspired by many Facebook friends that I met in ‘real life’ or hope to meet. Like Glyn Dewis, Renee Robyn, etc. So many good photographers and digital artists are around at Facebook.

Tell us about the workshops you offer with Ronald Koster! What are these workshops about and what are participants expected to learn?

With Ronald we’re gonna do a little bit of the same things like I already did, but with more extras. We hope to give a two day workshop, so I can tell and explain more to students about how to make your photo as real as possible. How to look at shadows. How to look at Light. How is light reflecting? But also some essential techniques. Many people get the misunderstanding that it is all about Photoshop, but it is not. If you start wrong, you will never be able to get it right in Photoshop. So I will also tell you what you have to keep in mind when shooting.

Where are the upcoming workshops? Also, are there any other places that you plan to teach in the future?

I hope to travel the whole world actually. Really love to meet artists from different cultures. Also that inspires me.

For the coming season I haven’t planned much yet, but some are sure or pretty sure. There will be workshops in London and Rome. Also in Dubai. Probably again in Denmark, France and Germany. I really hope to visit the US and give some workshops there, but need to a lot of arranging and planning for that first. But I will fly everywhere as soon as there are enough people that want to follow the workshop 😉

What is the biggest thing that you personally get out of teaching workshops?

The personal contact with artists and sometimes new friends.

What’s on your gear list?

Well… actually not so much 🙂 I shoot almost only with my Olympus OMD e-m1 and the 12-40 mm M.Zuiko lens. Sometimes I use a speedlight or a tripod, but only sometimes.

Do you have a favourite lens or tool in your camera bag that you can’t live without? (Besides your camera.)

Yes, the 12-40 mm M.Zuiko. Incredible quality that is good enough for everything that I do.

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

I guess there are a few. One was the first time my photo was on the cover of a magazine. Another one was when a Dutch magazine announced me as a ‘new talent’ a few years ago, and the last one was lately, when I was shooting a background for one of my photos. My son accompanied me and shot his own photos. When I saw him sitting on the ground to check what he shot it really made me feel proud 😉

How important is Photoshop and/or post-processing to your works?

It is 100% important. Without it I can’t get the style that I like to have in my photos, but like I said before, don’t underestimate the part of taking the photos. I think it is 60/70% photography and 40/30 % post processing is what makes the pictures.

I haven’t asked this question in a while, as it’s a little bit of a silly one. But I have to know, what is the highest amount of layers (on average) that you’ve had on a PSD file?

hahaha well I never count the layers and if it gets too much I group them, but I think around 70 layers 😉

How important is lighting to your work? Before a shoot do you often experiment with lighting until you received the result you were wanting to achieve?

Lighting is one of the most important parts of my style. I don’t need to experiment a lot anymore because I almost always use the same light. It isn’t so hard anymore to achieve what I want. Only occasionally I have more lights in a scene and then I practice a bit.

What I do like however is trying lighting set-ups. This isn’t for my portfolio, it’s more for fun. For example last week I wanted to create the light that emulated the light of the pin-ups from the sixties. That is really new to me, and I like to see what light shapers are doing and how it works on the skin of the model. And I think I managed to recreate a pin up like photo 😉

What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken? (Why?)

I have a few. One of them is my son in the Museum, but also the one with the man at night opening his raincoat to show his gear to a few ladies that are obviously not impressed 😉

And another one that I will publish soon.. Me and some friend photographers at night. The reason why I like all these photos is because there was more of a challenge involved to create it. Often I work with one main light and one fill light. For these photos I needed more lights and it went well. I also like the deep colours in these pictures.

Tell us about your creative process. On average how long would it take you to conceptualize a shoot, plan, book models, location scout, shoot, edit, etc?

Well, often it starts with an image in my head. When talking with a client or friends all kinds of images start to pop up in my mind. Often I am able to work with the image that I have in my mind but sometimes I have to draw it roughly for myself to see, and also to show the clients and models what the idea is.

After that, I am gonna search for the background that I need for the image. When I work for myself I don’t work with a budget, so I don’t build a background, but really I have to find one, and this can take a while. A background on its own should already look good, even if there is nothing happening yet. Depending on if the photo is for myself or for a client I am going to search for the models that fit best with what I have in mind. Particular people for my private images. Clients, advertising agencies, often select their own models. I find my models often at Facebook, between my friends, or I ask friends if they know somebody that fits with my description. When I find the models I will go with them to the studio. I am in the lucky position, that a friend of mine has a huge studio in Almere, Studio34x. Here is everything a photographer can wish. I shoot the models and that often takes half a day, or more if we shoot more concepts at the same time. That evening or the next day I put all the images together into one composite. The time that I work on an image in the post process varies from one evening to one or two days.

Also when coming up with ideas, what are your methods? Do you ever sketch out photos before creating them? Perhaps write out notes, daydreaming?

Always daydreaming ;), but like I said before, sometimes also a sketch.

What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not shooting and photo editing?

Sometimes I go out with my wife and son, but to be honest…. I work almost 24/7 so hardly have time. So I try to combine working and family time, for example, when we go out I always take my camera just in case I see a background I need.

What are you currently working on?

At this moment on four different pictures. Two images for a advertising agency in Belgium. One image for the cover of Discovery Magazine and one image for myself.

What is some of the best advice that you were ever given?

The best advice I ever got was, don’t expect anything, so you won’t be disappointed.

Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers and artists about photography, art, and/or life?

Yes… look around you and analyze. Why do you like certain photos so much? What is it that you like about it? Is it the light? Is it the angle? Is it the DOF? Where is the light coming from? Analyze that, and try to put that in your own work. It isn’t all that difficult. Light is light.

Keep up with Adrian and his work on his website, 500PX, Facebook Page and Twitter.

Angela Butler

Freelance photographer and freelance model. Located in Calgary, AB. Happy to travel. M A K E A R T and (try to) love life.

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