The work of a good photographer will make you think, “Oh, that’s nice. I wonder if I could do something like that?” The work of an brilliant photographer will make you think, “Holy heck, how on earth did they do that?!” Award-winning photographer Ron Azevedo is one of the latter: with his use of rich colors and sharp details, every image transports you into another world, making you question the story behind the photo. Many of his pictures manage to take even the most heartbreaking scenes – like the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster or a discarded sanatorium in Berlin – and turn them into almost whimsical and fairytale-esque settings that beg viewers to visit the areas for themselves to learn more.
Heading into his exhibition preparation for his 7th consecutive year at the Laguana Beach Festival of Arts, with a recent National Geographic award under his belt, Ron talks to us about the emotional aspect of his art, how his work has evolved throughout the years, and where he believes the future of photography is headed.
Natasha Ganes: According to your website, your love of photography started at a very young age. What initially attracted you to the art?
Ron Azevedo: Growing up I always had a camera available to me and close by. My father and uncle loved to take photographs. My uncle actually built his own darkroom and developed his own negatives. I recall loving that unique odor of developers and fixers at a very young age. I began developing my own negatives and printing images by my early teens in a make-shift darkroom in my home.
NG: Have you always focused on landscapes?
RA: No, not really…I don’t consider myself a ‘Landscape Photographer’ per se, though shooting landscapes are a large part of my portfolio. The focus of a new series depends on the location I’ve chosen to travel to and the subject matter of that location. I love to travel the world in search of unique images that capture the beauty and diversity of our world, it’s people and it’s cultures…from images of beautiful snowy landscapes of Arctic Norway, portraits of local Romanian farmers, detailed images of the art nouveau architecture of Prague, to the abandonment of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine and Berlin’s Sanatorium of Beelitz-Heilstätten, I love to find those unique images and angles that draw an emotional response from my viewers and that tell a story from my own fresh perspective.
NG: How has your work grown and developed over the years?
RA: My work keeps evolving. As an artist I need to constantly push and explore…get out of my comfort zone. I’m always in search of a new angle…a new perspective…finding ways to use the light to my advantage to create an image that touches the heart and soul of a viewer. I’ve learned that the emotions that are stirred in a viewer of my work are a large part of where art happens. My photography finds fulfillment when there is a positive triangular connection between the art, the viewer and myself. One aspect of my work that I began developing the last few years is texturized overlays. I began learning about the post processing technique after returning from my first trip to Chernobyl in 2012. Adding subtle textures to certain images gave them a vintage/retro/painting-like look that brought another dimension to my work and took it to another artistic level. My use of textures is to enhance my photographs by adding emotion or invoking nostalgic feelings to the image by the subtle use of textured layers. Working with textures is a lot of fun and I enjoy experimenting with various textures to see if I can enhance a particular image. It doesn’t work all the time… the failures are part of the learning curve making a successful image that much more pleasurable.
NG: Have you taken many photography courses or are you more self-taught?
RA: The only photography classes I ever took were in high school. I took every photography course offered and was part of the yearbook and newspaper staff at Big Bear High. I work with digital cameras now and have been self-taught as far as editing programs and techniques go.
NG: Have you taught any classes yourself or ever taken on an apprentice?
RA: No, not as yet.
NG: You started out in the industry when being a photographer usually meant developing your own images in a dark room. The introduction of digital cameras would have been a transition for you – can you tell us about your experience with that change?
RA: It was a difficult change that took me several years to grasp. I’m constantly learning about new technologies in equipment and software…technologies that are constantly changing. I’m not a very computer literate person so learning digital photography and editing was a bit of a challenge at first.
NG: Do you have a preference?
RA: I prefer the ease and low cost of digital shooting versus film…and also the diversity of editing options I have for the final image. I love shooting with film too and hope to do more in the near future.
NG: What does the future of photography look like to you – any thoughts on where it’s headed?
RA: I believe camera sensors will be getting stronger and stronger and camera sizes will be getting smaller and smaller in the future. Pixels have gotten so small that 50MP point-and-shoots are common, and there are pro cameras in the gigapixel range. I think there are well over 300 million cellphones in America, all of them with increasingly sophisticated cameras. As a result I believe there will be a rise in photojournalism…more cameras will result in more storytelling.
NG: Tell us a bit about the equipment you use: does it change based on what and where you will be shooting?
RA: I carry the same camera equipment for all my photography. I use varying protective equipment based on the conditions of a particular location. Rain and snow gear/protection as well as an extra supply of back-up batteries (they deplete a lot quicker in cold temps) are what probably changes the most in my packing for a photo trip.
NG: Are there specific cameras and lenses that work best for your type of work?
RA: I work with a Canon 5D Mark III camera, which has been my digital workhouse, and also a Canon A1 for film. I also carry a backup camera in case of a breakdown in a remote location. I accidentally broke an expensive L-Series lens on day one of two days photographing inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and had to have a replacement delivered to me in the middle of the night from Kiev…I learned the hard way to always have back-ups of everything. I carry mostly two lenses for the majority of my work…a Canon L-16-35mm 2.8 and a Canon L-70 -200mm 2.8. I always sport a Lensbaby Composer Pro for selective focusing and creative in-camera effects that I enjoy with some of my images.
NG: Take us through your process, start to finish: how many photos do you capture of any one scene?
RA: It depends on the time I have available to me for a particular scene. I normally take a lot of photographs though…shooting a scene from the obvious initial vantage point and then searching around the scene for a new perspective. It’s usually never the first images that I select as favorites, but ones that I take after spending more time and moving around the scene that capture my interest. To give you an idea of how many images I take during one of my trips abroad, I just returned this month from a 10 day trip to Munich, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; and a third visit back to Kiev, Ukraine and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and I came back with just over 10,000 images. Granted, only a very small percentage of those I would consider to be high quality images for printing and exhibition, as the majority are just so-so or deletable. I plan to spend the next 2-3 months working my way through the photos editing my favorites. I have been juried back into the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts in 2018 for my 7th consecutive year…my new work taken in Chernobyl will be the focus of my exhibit at next summer’s Festival of Arts.
NG: How long do you spend framing your shots?
RA: I don’t spend a great deal of time framing in-camera as I’m visualizing compositions as I look around a scene and I have an idea of what I want before I set up my camera. Composing a scene is something I find that comes quick and natural to me. I try to exhaust every possible composition of a scene before moving on. I also keep a sharp eye out for detail shots. I’ll mount my 70-200mm lens and look for tight compositions, colors, textures, and details.
NG: How big of a part does editing play in your work?
RA: Editing is one of the biggest parts of my job in creating my final images…it’s the most time consuming, but also the most fun! As I mentioned above, I’ll be spending the next 2-3 months working on the photos from my recent trip and will be posting them to Facebook and Instagram as I work my way through the editing process.
NG: How do you decide on framing choices for gallery exhibits?
RA: I have kept my framing consistent, but simple throughout my last 6 years exhibiting at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach, California. I print on archival watercolor paper, with each image signed and numbered in limited editions, then mounted on foam core backing cut at a 45 degree angle to create a ’shadow-box’ framed finished piece. Gorman’s framing in Costa Mesa does superb work framing all my work.
NG: Being a landscape photographer must mean that weather plays a big role in your ability to capture your ideal image, especially in parts of the world more prone to dramatic seasonal changes. Tell us a bit about how you prepare for that – do you allot for extra time and check the weather channel in advance?
RA: Weather plays a huge role in my ability to get either a so-so image or a great one. My favorite season to photograph is autumn for the brilliant colors, with winter and spring followed closely behind. With fall weather, especially in Western and Eastern Europe, you can expect lots of rain. Checking the forecasts is always part of my preparation and planning when I’m shooting. Having proper protection readily available when the weatherman predicts for sunny conditions and it begins to pour down rain is a must. I love shooting early mornings and catching the fog rolling in as well as the drama that autumn rain clouds bring to the skyline. Winter is even more challenging, especially above the Arctic Circle where the sun never breaks the horizon and there are only 4-5 hours of daylight available. But that daylight that I encountered in Norway was some of the most beautiful light I had ever seen…4-5 hours of constant sunrise/sunset color and light, it was quite otherworldly.
NG: How susceptible is your equipment to extreme temperatures?
RA: My Canon 5D Mark iii holds up very well and is able to withstand temperatures as low as -30 degrees…well below any temperatures I plan to encounter. Fogging of equipment can be a problem if going out into cold temps and quickly into a warm car. I learned to transition my equipment gradually between hot and cold temperatures to prevent fogging of lenses and sensors. Battery life is always a problem in cold weather as well. I keep the batteries warmed against my body to help them maintain their full charge when shooting for long periods out in cold climates.
NG: Do you have any advice that you can share for the novice photographers out there?
RA: My best advice is to practice, practice, practice! It’s critical to understand the technical side of photography to develop one’s own ‘style.’ Patience and consistency will help develop that style. Study all the great photographers and learn about their style and techniques that made them great artists. Immersing oneself in all the arts is great way to becoming a better photographer. I learned a lot about light and composition by studying the great painting masters throughout history. Larry Wilder once said: “Photography is all about light, compositions, and most importantly, emotion.” Developing an ‘eye’ for composition…utilizing the light to create an image that draws an emotional response from the viewer… that, in my book, is what it’s all about!
CBS-LA named Ron Azevedo as one of the ‘Most Artistic Photographers in Orange County’ for his worldwide approach to photography in. In 2015 Ron was named to CBS-LA list of top five “Best OC Photographers To Follow On Instagram.” From the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine, to an abandoned sanatorium in Berlin, to the castles of Romania, to the frozen terrain of the Arctic Circle, Ron strives to waken viewers to the beauty, history and diversity of the world and to cultures so different from our own. Born in Southern California, Ron spent his youth in the mountains of Big Bear Lake before moving to the San Clemente beach community where he and his family have resided for the past 32 years.
Taking up photography at the age of 9, Ron pursued his passion for photography throughout his youth before delving into the world of cinematography at Columbia College of Motion Pictures & Television Arts & Sciences. Ron worked for an NBC affiliate as a video tape editor and cameraman. Ron has been published numerous times and he received recognition from National Geographic for his Aspen, Colorado work as well as from his recent Norway series.
Having been juried for a seventh consecutive year, Ron will exhibit his work at the prestigious Laguna Beach Festival of Arts in the Summer of 2018. Ron’s collectors are worldwide, and they include Silvaris Capital Management of London, England, CBS’s Criminal Minds’ actors, A.J.Cook and Joe Mantegna, and Academy Award winning actress, Mira Sorvino.
Natasha Ganes is the co-founding editor of TreeHouse Arts. She is a graduate of Chapman University in Southern California, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English Literature. She received her BA in English/Journalism from Madonna University in Michigan. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Muddy River Poetry Review, Pyrokinection, quarter after, Elephant Tree, Poetry Pacific, No Strings Attached, and Every Writer’s Resource. Her nonfiction has appeared all over the place. Visit her Amazon Author Page at: www.amazon.com/author/natashaganes.