Today, I have a very special treat for you guys! In my last article about lighting with on-camera flash, I mentioned that I use most frequently use Neil van Niekerk’s ‘black foamie thing’ as my choice of on-camera flash modifier. He was one of the first photographers I’ve stumbled upon when I first began my forays into on-camera flash. I have to say, Neil’s blog is one of the best flash resources out there for the modern photographer. There is a ton of information on that website, ranging from content like ‘new to flash photography’, little tips and tricks to make your image pop, and various articles pertaining to all sorts of helpful topics. As he has a special place in my heart as my flash guru, I’m proud to present a short feature on Neil van Niekerk!
Give us a brief introduction about yourself.
I’m a photographer residing and working in New Jersey. I don’t like to think of myself as a wedding photographer, but rather a photographer that also shoots weddings. With the pressure of wedding photography, I’ve had an incredible curve in having to learn a wide range of disciplines within photography – lighting, portraiture, shooting-from-the-hip, working with people, adapting-on-the-fly. Stuff you can only learn while doing it and having to work within the tight schedules and demands of wedding photography. But I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed as being just a wedding photographer.
Aside from the work as a photographer, I also maintain a blog, Tangents, with a lot of information for photographers, http://neilvn.com/tangents/.
In a way it shows the continued arc as I develop and grow as a photographer.
What’s going on in your life at the moment?
The biggest event so far this year, has been the release of my 2nd book, Off-Camera Flash. Feedback so far about the book has been very positive. Right now, before the wedding season really kicks in, I am presenting various seminars and workshops on photography. As always, busy busy busy.
Tell us a little more about what makes you shoot?
This is a tough one to answer. The thrill of hearing the shutter click? That rare quiet moment when you look at an image you shot, thinkin, “dammitt, I wish I had shot this!”, and then the realization that it actually is one of your own images? When a client loves your work so much they will pay you for it? When a bride writes to tell you that she and her mom where in tears when they first looked at the images after the wedding? All of these things.
In a way, I think we are all driven as artists, whether photographers, musicians, dancers, painters, movie-makers. We’re all driven to create and share with others.
Where do you see yourself heading in the next 5 years?
I’d love to do more Fashion oriented work. My latest entries on my Tangents site definitely show this sensibility being nurtured.
But I am also not following any path here with persistence. Much of where I am finding myself today, is a combination of relentlessly working at it … but also a good measure of serendipity. So I’ll just have to see where I find myself 5 years from now. 10 years ago, when I was a recently-immigrated stay-at-home-dad without a work permit, I could not have imagined that I’d be where I am now as a photographer, with a successful business, and two books on photography, and maintaining a popular website on photography.
If I had had a fixed plan then, I would’ve been elsewhere. So we’ll just have to see what the future holds.
You’ve mentioned that music plays a large part in influencing you. How does music inspire you as a person?
I live my life to a soundtrack, whether the music on Pandora or my iTunes or on my iPhone. One way or another there is usually music around. I’m not sure music directly inspires me as a photographer – although music videos are an influence. But music does create a mindset. A feeling. The mind flows …
What’s your all-time favourite band & “Flavour of the week”?
My favorite genre is Trip-Hop, with Massive Attack, Portishead and Waldeck being the stand-out artists for me. I love that cool blissed-out sound which still has an edge and beat to it. I’d also rate Massive Attack as the best live act I’ve experienced.
That said, my all-time favorite band is a fairly unknown band from the UK, who had their heyday in the 70′s – Van Der Graaf Generator. Their sound is very unusual, and over-the-top dramatic, led by the song-writing and singing of Peter Hammill. What set them apart for me, aside from sounding nothing like anything you’ve heard before in Rock, is their lyrics. Peter Hammill is a lyric-writer without peer. Peter Hammill’s music (with and without Van Der Graaf), has been a constant companion over the decades.
Flavor of the Week? That’s a tough one. Flavor of the Year – Silversun Pickups. Their last album, Swoon, was without a doubt the best thing I heard all of last year.
I guess the logical progression is for you to move into music video production. Do your fans have anything to look forward to in the near future ?
I’ve started to investigate HD video, as recorded via a stills camera. In this case the Canon 5D mk2. I doubt we will ever see a digital stills camera from here-on that only features stills, and without a video option. Stills and video are converging technologies. It opens up possibilities to every photographer, having video easily accessible. Although, I will be first to say that doing video properly isn’t easy. The catch is that sound plays half the part in creating effective video. And that is another field altogether with its own challenges.
So I am definitely working towards incorporating video into the work I do. Music video production? I don’t think that is in my future at all. It is too specialized and for me; too reliant on an entire team creating the work. Besides, I do prefer stills photography.
To a photographer seeking inspiration, what is one piece of advice you would impart?
Never stop learning and soaking up everything there is to know about photography. It is a never-ending learning curve, but that is part of the adventure.
Lastly, what is a word or phrase you would use to describe yourself?
Ok, there you have it! A little sharing from Neil. In addition to checking out his blog, Tangents, which I highly suggest you do, feel free to check out another interview he did with clickinmoms. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this short write-up! I’ll be doing a short Q&A regarding some questions I’ve received about lighting with on-camera flash. Check it out, leave some comments and hope to catch you guys soon!