Gillian Woods is a 25 year old photographer from England who has been living in Ontario, Canada for the last 3 years. Gillian went to college in England and studied Psychology, English Literature, Media and Art, as a prelude to a University course in Creative Writing and Media, however, Gillian decided to turn down her University placement offer and spend a year in Canada instead – pursuing the arts within her photography.
As her time as a photographer, the once clueless Gillian or as some people online know her – Gillyface, started her 365 days project with the intent of learning how to use a DSLR camera. Before this project Gillian had no idea how to work her way around a camera, but was interested in the medium nonetheless through getting to know it by taking close-ups of flowers and bugs. She then moved onto working with Photoshop and digital illustration when she was hired to make advertisements for a local coffee shop.
Through learning about what she liked, Gillian started her “365 days” photo project, where she learned her way around a camera, and learned her way around Photoshop as well. Gillian is a Photoshop Genius (no really, look at the time-lapse videos) and she is willing to share her knowledge with others, so they can learn too. She has been featured in numerous magazines and online articles for her quirky sense of humour and astonishing images (and before and afters!)
So have a look at this extended interview with Gillian Woods as she shares with us befores and afters of some of her most edited photos, time-lapse videos showing how much work she really puts into some of these images, and she also explains to us what the “Brenzier Method” is and when is an appropriate time to use it — and much more. Enjoy.
How did you become interested in photography?
The first year I came to Canada in 2009, I was given a point and shoot camera for my birthday, and I began taking photos of bugs and flowers that I had never seen before. After getting positive feedback from friends and family, I looked for a place to post them online and found Flickr. My interest grew from there as I discovered other likeminded individuals and types of photography.
What’s on your gear list? (camera, lenses, software etc)
My camera is an Olympus e420, it’s the only SLR I have owned and is beginning to show its age, but I haven’t quite given up on it yet. I have a 50mm 1.4 Sigma lens, an off-brand remote shutter, a nice sturdy Velbon Sherpa tripod and I edit with Photoshop CS5.
You are known for your ability to completely and entirely transform an image in Photoshop.
Where did you begin to learn your Photoshop skills? And what kept your passion high enough to continue working through it?
I began learning how to use Photoshop when I started making advertisements for a local coffee shop. When I was putting together posters, I had all these different photo elements to combine into a single congruent image, which is a just a basic version of how I create a lot of my images now. (Puppets of War, Break Free, Fire inside and Earth inside are good examples of this as they are entirely created by compositing many images together.)
But my 365 project really pushed my editing skills further. I think what kept me aiming higher was the knowledge that what I wanted to achieve could be achieved. I wasn’t aiming for anything impossible, just for the skills to create the images I wanted.
Do you have any formal training in photography or are you self-taught for the most part?
I’ve never had any formal training, though over the years I’ve found YouTube tutorials very helpful, and Phlearn is always bringing useful editing tricks to my attention.
When showing before and afters of photographs on your Facebook page there has been a couple of times where you’ve said “I’m not a photographer I know…” because your editing is so overwhelming compared to the original image. Is this something you just say as a joke, or do you ever receive flack for being so Photoshop based?
I have received a couple of comments saying I’m not a “real photographer” as I edit too much. But it’s fine if people don’t think the label of Photographer suits me; I’m not limiting myself to that label either. I’m only trying to be me.
On average, how long does it take you to complete a conceptual photograph? (conceptualizing, shooting & editing)
My conceptualizing time is years long as I’ve slowly accumulated hundreds of ideas for photos that I’ve written down, or sketched out, but haven’t gotten around to photographing yet. Shooting takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and editing takes anywhere from 5 to 15 hours.
Also do you ever sketch your ideas before executing them?
Yes I have a sketchbook full of drawings, and I sometimes sketch ideas out in Photoshop, which tend to look a lot better than my hand drawn ones.
Is there one piece of equipment or a certain prop that you just can’t live without?
My tripod! It’s the only one I’ve found that can hold the weight of my heavy lens. Before purchasing it, I managed to break 3 cheap tripods and resorted to using rocks and books to hold my camera level. I’m a professional… Haha it’s a Velbon Sherpa 200r
What inspires you?
Good people, pretty skies, the sound of storms, lyrics, idioms, and other peoples’ art.
Your editing skills are absolutely unreal (so yes, we’re going to talk about this more!!). When I’m personally looking at your before and afters I’m absolutely mystified. In some of your work, you create a photograph using the “brenzier method”. Would you mind explaining to us what this is, and telling us when you feel the method applies and when it doesn’t?
The reason I use the Brenzier method is to create a larger image overall. Say your camera takes photos that are 2736px by 3648px, (which mine does) if you take a single photo of the entire scene, then the size of your finished image is still 2736px by 3648px. Now if you go closer to your subject and shoot many photos of the scene, each of those photos is 2536px by 2648px, stitch them together and then you’ve got a much bigger image overall. Now you have the option to print in much bigger sizes.
Another reason to use the Brenzier method is to create an extremely shallow depth of field, which I love in portraits, but as a lot of my work relies on compositing foreground and background together, this applies less to me in particular.
What is your favourite photograph you’ve ever taken?
The one that comes to mind instantly is “Remember your Roots”, though I think it’s more for sentimental value. After I immigrated to Canada I realised I didn’t have a photo of all of my siblings together. So I returned to England, concept in tow, and made sure I got one. Of course, it’s not your average family photo; it’s a photo of all my siblings pulling me from the ground. The imagery is based on a children’s book called “The enormous Turnip”, which we all read growing up, and the concept is about them reminding me where I’m from.
Another of my favourites is “Puppets of War”, as I created it from outtakes from other shoots. I like to call it my my “rags to riches” photo. I had no concept or idea of what it would turn into; I just had an urge to create, and 5 hours of Photoshop later it turned into something I liked.
Before & after:
How has your “365 days” project helped shape you as a photographer?
I learned how to use a camera… so that’s probably important to being a photographer. When I started my 365 I was using a point and shoot, I actually owned my DSLR, but had shunned it due to not understanding a thing about how to use it. The 365 project catapulted me into learning; composition, aperture, iso, shutter speed, and especially editing. It really became my passion to create what wasn’t there, rather than capture what was, so editing really shaped my style as an artist.
The 365 project also opened up the doors to the Flickr community, who are some of the most encouraging and inspiring people I’ve ever met. (And I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of them). I think without the community aspect of Flickr I may have given up on my 365 project; that kind of support early on in your photography journey is really useful.
What would you consider to be some of the key elements to the development of your photography style?
I think learning what you like and dislike in your work is key to any artist’s development. By reviewing my older images, I can pick out things that bother me and avoid it in the future, or find things I love and keep doing that. I now have go-to colours and textures and horizon lines that make me happy, and I guess that’s my style.
In general, with your photographs do you tend to use mostly natural light or do you also use strobes, reflectors, etc?
I once made a soft-box out of an old Minecraft Halloween costume and some wax paper, popped it over a light stand and voila, ghetto lighting. But other than that, I’ve only used natural light. Though I’m always looking to learn more and would love to explore the world of strobes.
What is something you wish you were better at?
I wish I was better at everything, always. But I think making decisions on images is a big issue for me. I find it’s a big hold up deciding what crop, or what transparency to use on a layer. If I could make those decisions quicker, I could really churn out those money makers…
How do you handle a creative block?
I find that my “creative blocks” are just motivation issues. So I look for inspiration in other peoples’ work and my surroundings, which in turn motivates me to create.
How important is staying social and using social media to your practice?
I think it’s pretty important to stay social if you want to be seen in the sea of other photographers out there, but it’s not important to the practice itself. I believe it can adversely affect an artist, as much as it can benefit them. If likes, shares and comments become your main goal, then your passion is placed elsewhere, and the quality of your art becomes secondary.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not behind the camera or editing?
I play piano, paint, bake like crazy and drink ridiculous amounts of tea.
What is your proudest moment as a photographer?
Completing my 365 project was a great moment. Even on day one I didn’t believe I could take a photo every day for a whole year, so completing it without missing a day was an amazing feeling.
Where would you like to see yourself and your photography go in the future?
I would love to sell more of my images for book covers and as prints. And also create more YouTube videos showing my editing process so others can learn a little.
Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers?
Never stop learning.