It’s clear when you view Erik Almas’ photography that he is totally immersed in the process of image making. His visions are simultaneously subtle and powerful, giving places and people great depth and definition that welcome easily, but asks for thorough contemplation of the elements and emotions being evoked.
The message of his interview is the importance of developing your unique vision or voice, and then pursuing the photographic means to capture and share it, without hesitation or limitation. Erik Almas is a photographer with a voice that will guide, challenge and inspire you to be more than you ever thought possible.
What event or experience first attracted you to photography?
For me, it wasn’t one event or experience that made me want to be a
photographer. There were several smaller incidences that happened during a few years that in different ways made me curious about pictures and left me with the feeling of photography being it…I didn’t pursue or seek it. It just kept popping into my life, and, looking back, it can at times feel like photography found me more than I found it…
When did you know that you wanted to pursue a photography career?
I was a DJ at the time and was tired of the music I played, the lifestyle of working at night and in many ways of who I was.
After experiencing all the emotions that come with asking oneself, “What do I do next?,” photography was the only thing that seemed exciting.
So, I started looking at that opportunity and with one thing leading to another I was, just 3 months later, on my way to San Francisco to study at the Academy of Art University.
Did you receive any formal photography education? Where? Degree earned?
I continued at the Academy of Art University through the full Photography Program, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography, December 1998.
Were you influenced by a famous photographer’s style? Who?
Every day I’m inspired and influenced by so many amazing photographers and artists. It’s baffling at times to think of the number of great pictures that are being created everyday.
In this wealth of visual stimulation, I think the true influence is my Scandinavian heritage and aesthetic. When looking at my imagery and older Norwegian paintings, there are just so many parallels. I find this quite fascinating.
What was your first professional/commercial photography assignment?
My first photography assignment was a “hand-me-down” from the photographer I assisted at the time. It was a low-budget assignment he didn’t want to do, so I was introduced to the advertising agency as a cheaper option.
It became my first assignment and in some ways how I got my foot in the door…
Do you specialize in a specific type of photography? Why?
Even though I don’t specialize in a specific type of photography, I have a style that resonates through all my images.
I apply this sensibility to portraiture, conceptual composite work, landscape, fashion and fine art.
How many years have you been a professional in this field?
After graduating during December 1998 from the Academy of Art University, I started assisting other photographers, and did so until September 2001. Even though I was living and breathing photography for almost 7 years, it was during this time that I established my own business, and from then on I have been a professional.
What was your most memorable photography assignment/job/project?
There have been so many amazing moments throughout these past 11 years, it’s difficult to rate one over the others.
I’m just crazy grateful to photography and the advertising community for all the things they have allowed me to do.
I’ve dived in caves in Hawaii, jumped from airplanes over California, rappelled into caves in Alabama, flown over Mauritius in a micro glider, sailed in the Seychelles, swum in a crater in Iceland, been on safari in South Africa, riding elephants in Thailand, seen the sun rise over Angkor Wat, shot soccer and Samba in Rio and spent 8 weeks in Spain for its different tourism campaigns. I learned so much about these countries and places that few others are afforded the opportunity.
I have travelled all over the US leaving me with an appreciation for this amazingly diverse country equal to all other exotic places I have been.
In addition to seeing and photographing these places, I have also met some extraordinary people with whom I have shared these experiences…
I try not to rate one place or experience as better than the others, but keep an open mind to the unique in each new place I visit.
How would you describe your specific style?
It’s hard to define and describe one’s images, but I’d say there’s often a quiet sense of beauty. Both in space and the people…
There’s simplicity to the content and a balance and order to the elements within the frame. There’s not much tension, conflict or stress.
I seek moments that are inspiring, proud, humbling, stoic and contemplative. Doing so with a bent towards the romantic and sensual.
In which major publications have your images been published?
I’ve worked primarily as an advertising photographer, with my work being used in most major magazines, including Time, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Travel and Leisure to name a few.
Have you published any books: photography or instructional? Titles and years?
I have yet to publish any books, but have my first on the horizon.
As for instructional material, we published the DVD, “On Aspects of Image Making.” It’s an 8-hour tutorial covering all aspects of finding your voice as an image-maker and implementing this into the building of a solid body of work.
Which photography awards have you received?
Features and awards:
Featured in Luerzers Archive's 200 Best Advertising photographers Worldwide, 2006-2007
Featured in Luerzers Archive's 200 Best Advertising photographers Worldwide 2010-2011
Featured in Luerzers Archive's 200 Best Advertising photographers Worldwide 2012-2013
Communication Arts Photo Annual 2004
Communication Arts Photo Annual 2005
Communication Arts Photo Annual 2006
Communication Arts Photo Annual 2010
Communication Arts 2 page feature in Fresh Section 2004
Communication Arts 8 page Main feature November 2011
Photo District News – Featured as one of PDN’s 30 Emerging Artists to watch, 2004
Photo District News – Photo Annual 2003
Photo District News – Photo Annual 2004
Photo District News – Photo Annual 2005
Photo District News – Photo Annual 2006
Photo District News – Photo Annual 2007
Photo District News – Pix 2007
Photo District News – Pix 2008
Photo District News – Pix 2009
Photo District News – Pix 2010
Photo District News – Faces 2012
International Photography Award – 2010
International Photography Award – 2012
American Photography 2009
American Photography 2012
Graphis Photo Annual 2010, Image selected for Cover
Graphis Photo Annual 2011
Graphis Photo Annual 100 Best in Photography – 2011
Graphis Photo Annual 100 Best in Photography – 2012
Which photo of yours is your all-time favorite?
Probably one of the very last ones that I shot….
It’s part of being a photographer to strive to do new and better work, to explore one’s surroundings and oneself through image making. With this effort, the last pictures I took, to me, always seem to be more intriguing.
If I’m to highlight one image though, then it has to be the landscape with the woman wading in the shallow waters of a lake. Not because I think it’s the best, but because it was a defining moment in my development as a photographer.
In some ways I found my voice within this photograph…
Do you conduct photography workshops: names, future dates? Please describe for what level of photographer.
I did my first weekend workshop during 2012 in Vancouver. It was an extension of my photography lecture series, “Evolution of an Intriguing Style.” It is about how to translate your artistic passion into a recognizable and original style. It was fun to lead the attendees through a real shoot, coaching them on how to make rather than take pictures.
Currently, there are no new workshops on the horizon, but I can say that after the last couple of years enjoying the Q&A at these lectures, plus the fulfillment of interacting with the workshop participants, I’d certainly like to contemplate more of them down the road.
In some ways, the DVD, “On Aspects of Image Making,” is a workshop. It grew from liking the role of a coach and was a way for me not only to answer the many career and how-to questions I receive, but also share what I find to be the truly important aspects of photography and that taking pictures and building your own body of work is so much more than the post-production.
What is most amateur photographers’ #1 mistake?
Not to believe fully that photography can be both your hobby and profession. In this visual world, great photography has an extraordinary value in the commercial marketplace…and then to think that a better camera will make you a better photographer…
There’s an enormous interest in camera gear. I hope, now, that the playing field has been leveled with entry-level DSLRs that allow photographers to shoot pro quality images. I hope there is a shift of focus in the amateur community from gear to content.
Great imagery is all about content and the emotion it conveys. This does not occur with a better lens or better camera. One has to create it…
With what brand name equipment do you shoot: Camera, lens, etc?
For medium format, I use a Contax 645 with a Phase IQ160 Digital Back. Lenses include a Carl Zeiss 45mm, 80mm and 140mm.
For 35mm, I currently use the Canon 5D Mark III with the 35mm f/1.4, 50 mm f/1.2 and 24–70mm f/2.8.
Do you shoot video and create multimedia presentations?
As the media landscape changes, companies now advertise on many different platforms.
As commercial photographers, we must change as well and be able to deliver content for these different platforms, and motion and animated imagery is a part of that.
What is the most important lesson you learned during your career?
There have been different lessons at different times during my life and career that have been equally important…
The most important might be, Never stop pursuing your dreams. I had a chance encounter on the streets of San Francisco that gave me the determination to continue on my path. It has in some ways been the most influential on helping me reach the level of assignments I consistently shoot today.
The more practical lesson must be discovering my innate photographic DNA and tapping into this in my image making.
What advice would you share with aspiring professional photographers?
For the Educational DVD mentioned above, I created 10 informal steps to become a professional photographer.
Define to yourself what you are drawn to visually. Become aware of your identity and photographic DNA.
See and understand light. Understand your photographer tools: technical, visual and emotional.
Seek a mentor. Study the photographers before you and learn from the old masters.
Make rather than take. CREATE imagery.
Connect with the place or person you are photographing. Find an emotional as well as a visual perspective.
Set goals and pursue them with tenacity. If these goals do not intimidate you, make new ones that do.
Shoot, Shoot, Shoot! Taking pictures is like lifting weights: you won’t get better, stronger or see progress unless you go to the gym everyday. Exercise that creative muscle!
Use Photoshop to infuse personality to pixels. Convey feel and mood rather than technique.
Define the potential audience of your images and market yourself to this audience.
More important than anything: Don’t give up on your dream of becoming a photographer. It will take longer to get there than you think.
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All photos copyright Erik Almas
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