Art comes in all shapes and sizes and played an important role in my life growing up. Although I still hold my passion for art, I don’t practice it nearly as much as I did as a kid. My professional career became a priority and I quickly abandoned my own artistic abilities to focus on my job. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours online envying other artists’ work; specifically amateur artists.
Instagram is the perfect outlet for individuals to display their work and have it seen by the world. There is one Instagrammer, @cocoreid87 or Colin, that I follow and can’t help but envy his photography skills; I especially love Colin’s work because he captures beautiful images of my home state that make me miss it … a little 😛 Lucky for me, Colin and I are friends who met in college so he almost immediately agreed to participate in this collab! And now, without further ado, I present Colin and his mad skills.
When did you first become interested in photography?
Growing up I was very left-brained. Whenever I was asked to be creative or to think outside the box, it was a total disaster. My mom recently showed me a book from 4th grade that we were supposed to create and illustrate as part of an art class, and it looked like it was created by a 3 year old! Just imagine poorly drawn stick figures with disproportionate body parts. This is likely why I became an engineer.
My parents threw me in all sorts of right-brained activities growing up, trying to develop my creative self. Drawing, piano lessons, music class, etc. Of these, I think there is one creative activity that did stick with me and that was photography. My first foray into photography was when my when my dad got me my first camera as a birthday present – an Agfa ePhoto 780c. This baby produced 0.3 Megapixel images. I was in heaven. I would take hundreds of pictures of our two dogs ‘Mac’ and ‘Tosh’ (Can you tell our family was obsessed with Apple products?).
Since then I’ve always loved to take pictures with whatever camera I had with me. However, I think within the last few years I’ve started to take photography a little more seriously. The positive feedback from my family and friends has also really gotten me excited about taking and sharing pictures.
Is photography a hobby or do you work professionally?
Since I’ve graduated college, I’ve started working a full-time 9-5 job where I can put my analytical mind to work. Because photography ain’t payin’ the bills, I would consider myself a hobbyist. Though, I’ve done some professional work in a couple different areas. I do event photography for some non-profits and I do occasionally like to take headshots and portraits of people. Mostly I’ve been doing these activities pro bono, because I have this fear sometimes that if I start charging people money for photography, that I would somehow enjoy it less. I could be wrong. But for the time being, I like the hobbyist lifestyle with a sprinkle of professional work here and there.
Your Instagram is filled with fantastic photos of cityscapes, is this your primary focus? What are some other subjects you enjoy photographing?
You can see from my photos that I have two main type of scenes that I like to capture: City and Nature. If you scroll through my instagram / flickr feed you’ll likely see an abrupt transition from a photo of a crisp metallic skyline to a photo of an inviting meadow. I believe this is a product of both where I live (Chicago) and my wanderlust / obsession with travel. I do think I have a common theme between the photos I take despite their contradictory nature, and that is to convey a sense of place. I want viewers to be struck by the scene and be able to escape from reality temporarily to experience the world as I saw it in that single moment. I want to capture the essence of a location.
Chicago is a beautiful city, and I do think we have the best skyline in the world (I probably offended someone by saying this). I’m always inspired by it. No matter where we live though, I think we all get into this routine of going to all the same places and seeing the same things, especially working full-time. Point A to Point B, rinse and repeat. What photography has allowed me to do though is to step out into areas of the city that I don’t normally go. It gives me a reason to explore and to wander. It’s almost become an obsession trying to capture a new or unique perspective of something that may seem common. I think the same is true when I travel. I love the thrill of being able to explore some place new and the sense of uncertainty that a new location brings.
Another type of photography that I enjoy is macro. Macro photography is taking images of things that are extremely small and making them life size. It’s almost like using a microscope. Mostly with this type of photography I’m capturing plants and flowers, or even snowflakes. Creating these types of photos are always a challenge and I think the payoff for these photos is pretty big, because you get to see everyday objects in a perspective that is not attainable by the human eye itself.
What are your go-to tools for capturing these beautiful images?
Before I start talking about camera gear, computer, and electronics that help me get the job done, I think the most important tool for creating and capturing images is the attitude and thought-process you have going into photo-taking. It may sound a bit contradictory to say, but I think you have to balance careful planning with an ability to improvise. I would say the majority of my photos are a direct result of balancing the two ideas. I’ll give you an example of this. One night i decided I wanted to try out some time lapse photography at a spot that I had seen someone shoot on instagram. There was a hole that someone had cut into a fence that gave a really great glimpse of the Chicago skyline with traffic in the foreground. I planned out the trip to the location using google maps (on Chicago avenue above I-90) and set up shop. I had finished capturing my set of images to merge into a timelapse and was ready to go home. Right before leaving, I had an idea to move my camera back away from the hole to get a different look. I moved my tripod around until I found a sweet spot where the hole I had stuck my camera through had framed the Sears tower perfectly center, and allowed me to capture the motion of the cars beneath. Here is the picture below.
I wasn’t planning to capture this image, but it turned out to be one of my favorite ones from last year. It goes to show that sometimes the image you originally set out to capture isn’t necessarily the one you end up getting. I think the time we live in affords us the opportunity to experiment and to try new things, because digital storage is practically free. I’m not saying to shoot aimlessly until you capture something unique (spray and pray as I call it), but rather to balance the plan you set out for, with the courage to try something new. When I say try something new, the possibilities are really endless – try a different location, move around to a new spot, duck down, tilt the camera sideways, increase your shutter speed, etc.. Experiment with different approaches – you’ll find what works and what doesn’t.
So, what are the actual physical tools I use to capture pictures? I am a Canon man currently. I use a Canon 6D as my main camera, and I have a few lenses. A 50mm f1.8 prime lens, a 16-35mm f4 zoom lens, a 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 zoom lens (my main walkaround lens), and finally a 100mm f2.8 macro lens. I also take a compact sony camera when I want to travel light (sony a5000 with just a basic kit lens). For my longer exposure pictures, I will typically bring along my trusty tripod.
I wouldn’t say I have an exact workflow for editing my photos, but the majority of them I will pull into Adobe Lightroom on my computer to basic adjustments (brightness, contrast, clarity, white-point, black-point, vignetting, etc.). I rarely touch Photoshop, but sometimes I will to do merging of panoramas or if there’s a really distracting object in one of my pictures I will usually clone it out.
My iPhone has played a big role in my editing work-process recently. Sometimes i’ll forgo editing my photos on my computer and use some photo editing apps to do it all. I personally love the VSCOcam app, and I usually recommend everyone downloads it. It has great film-like simulation that gives your photos a vintage look, along with the basic editing adjustments you’d find in any photo editing app. I do like to use Snapseed if I want to do some more advanced things like dodging and burning, or micro-contrast adjustments. When I’m ready post them on instagram, i’ll typically do very minor touch ups (since I’ve do most of the editing in the other apps). There’s so many apps out there and I love finding new ones to try out!
What gets your creative juices flowing?
I think one of the my main sources of inspiration is the vast array of talent on picture sharing sites like Instagram and Flickr. Flickr has a section on their website called ‘Explore’ where they use an algorithm to compile 100 interesting photos every day from the pool millions of photos. I’ll find myself scrolling through that section every day one by one and admiring the beauty that is captured all over the world. The same goes for instagram. I follow a number of photographers and accounts that post insanely awesome pictures. A couple accounts I like to follow are @starvingphotographer, @evanbrightfield, @greg_dubois, @flippinchi, @natgeo. Instagram is dripping with talent and I’m always inspired by what I’m scrolling through to see.
One thing that get’s me inspired for a shoot is to put subtle limitations on myself before I go. For example I may only take a specific lens, which in one way limits the types of shots I get, but in another will open up possibilities that I would not have noticed at that focal length. Or i’ll pick a single topic or keyword to photograph.
While I’ve mentioned that planning is an important part of capturing photos, sometimes not having a plan is a great way to open up the creative process. Just wandering to a new area without any preconceived notions or expectations can force new ideas on me.
What are some tips and favorite resources for your peer photographers on capturing the perfect photo?
The internet has been the primary way I’ve learned how to take pictures. The one photographic resource I recommend to people is Tony Northrup. He has an excellent youtube channel that I watch all the time. He and his wife have a weekly video where they critique people’s photos and portfolios. People submit their photos and they review them one-by-one and offer constructive critiques. The two of them are quite funny, while being informative at the same time. They’ll also slip in little tips that you can add to your growing repertoire of photo knowledge.
Good old-fashioned books are another great resource for learning photography. I’ll plug Tony Northrup again here – his book Stunning Digital Photography is a must-have for a person wanting to dive into the technical details of photography. Another book I recommend is “The Art of Photography” by Bruce Barnum. This book takes a different approach to learning photography. He delves in the philosophy of what makes a great photograph and talks in detail about the creative approaches to documenting a compelling subject. It’s a great read.
And finally, what do you wish to accomplish with your work and displaying it on social media?
For the most part, I think my photographs have been for myself. They’ve served as a record of the places I’ve been and things that I’ve seen. I will look at one of my photographs, and instantly be transported to that exact moment when I hit the shutter button. I absolutely love looking through my photos and being reminded of these points in my life. Though, I’d say within the last year, I’ve really started to share these moments with other people, whether that be social media or showing people physical prints that I’ve made. By doing this I’ve been able to see what intrigues others. The ‘likes’ or comments give me positive confirmation that what I’m photographing is interesting to others. Doing this has been pretty enlightening because a photograph that I really enjoy may not necessarily be that popular with others. In this way, I think posting on social media gives me some constructive feedback, and in this way, i think it improves my photography. I think that’s what I’m ultimately after – to continue to learn and grow as a photographer.