Photocrowd winner José María Ocaña Rizo on communicating the feeling of flight in photography, the influence of Renoir on his work, and why he loves using a fisheye lens.
José won the Crowd Vote in our Portraits contest with his striking image called The Office of an airplane pilot in a cockpit.
Here, as part of our weekly interviews with Photocrowd members, we ask José some questions about his photography history, habits and inspirations.
How did you get into photography?
I got into photography with the digital era. I never liked to wait for the reel to be completed and then wait again to develop it. The digital camera was the solution. My first serious camera was the Nikon D70. After that I had a D700 and the D800, which is my current camera.
I work as a pilot, and I wanted to capture some of the views I enjoy from the cockpit. That was probably the main reason to start taking pictures. After that, with the camera in my hands, I discovered a new world of possibilities and I begun to read anything I could about photography.
How often and when do you take photographs?
I always have a camera with me when I am travelling. I try to photograph anything that calls my attention: a beautiful light, a different point of view, etc. I love challenges, and Photocrowd contests provide ideas to defy my photographic skills. Sometimes I upload old pictures I took months ago, but other times I go out shooting to find the right image for the contest.
Lately I have been making a lot of Photoshop compositions. I have the image in my mind and I have to look for the ingredients to create it.
What is your technical set-up?
I am a Nikon shooter. I started with Nikon and continue with them. I have two cameras. The main one is a Nikon D800. I have a smaller Canon G11, which is the camera I have in my bag when I am working everyday, just in case I find something interesting. I take the D800 with me on holidays or for planed projects - when I have an image in mind that requires a special lens or the maximum quality.
I shoot in Aperture priority as a default and switch to Speed mode for long time exposures or action shots. When shooting with strobes I use the Manual mode, because it allows me to control the background light independently from the light on the main subject.
I always shoot in RAW because I make a lot of editing in Photoshop, which gives me more options to adjust the images.
I do not have a favourite lens. For me a lens is like a golf club - I use the lens I need to get the right shot. Nevertheless, I use the Sigma 15mm fisheye lens a lot. One of the things that captures the viewer’s attention is a different point of view, and this lens allows different perspectives and provides an original look. It is also great for taking pictures in small spaces, like an aircraft cockpit.
My photo lab is Photoshop and Camera Raw. This program has expanded my tools to create original images. The range of options is unbelievable. I have a lot of things to learn about this program yet. I prefer Photoshop to Lightroom because it has more tools to manipulate the images with. I just use Lightroom when I shoot tethered to see the images on the computer screen.
I also use some Photoshop plugins, like Nik Color Effect Pro. It saves me a lot of time when I try to get a specific look.
For HDR photography my program is Photomatix Pro and I use PTGui and Adobe Stitcher for panoramic photography.
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
I am a self-taught photographer. I have tried to read as much as possible from books and magazines. Another great source of knowledge are online videos from great photographers. I have learned a lot about flash from Joe McNally’s books and videos.
Nevertheless, the best way to improve is to take as much pictures as possible. With digital technology it is easy to repeat a shot until the picture looks the way you want. This process makes you correct errors for the next shot.
Interaction with other photographers with more experience is also a great way to correct errors and share points of view. The same picture can be seen with a different perspective and provide you with a different approach or suggest a new image. Internet forums are great to share experiences and see other photographers' work.
Whose work has influenced you most?
I do not see much influence of any photographer. I follow the work of several photographers like Joe McNally, Frank Doorhof or Moose Peterson, but I consider them teachers. I try to follow their advice so maybe that can be considered an influence. I also love Mario Testino’s portraits.
Also, even though it's not a photographer, Renoir’s paintings always impress me. They have a sensibility I have not seen in other painters. They are a reference for my portraits.
Among your works, which one is your favourite? Why?
It is hard to say which is my favourite, but the Pitts Special image is one of them because it marked an inflexion-point in my images. I think I was able to transmit the feeling of a flight to the viewer. The image is composed from two images: the aircraft belongs to the Fundacion Infante de Orleans and was shot in the hangar. The background was shot from the cockpit of the aircraft right after takeoff from Madrid Barajas airport.
What do you get out of being a photographer?
I have developed a photographic eye. I can see details I was not able to see before I started shooting. For me it’s a way of expression. I can create images that express feelings better than words. I can virtually create anything I can imagine and that is great.
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