Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography? How did you develop your style in photography?
I’m from Belgium and recently when I turned forty, I realised I’ve been a professional photographer for ten years now. I shoot quite a wide range of subjects but it’s almost always about people. Although I’m a one man band, I feel my company has three divisions: The biggest division is my commercial photography in which I usually employ documentary techniques to capture real images for companies and agencies. Teaching is my second division. I really enjoy teaching and encouraging other photographers during workshops and video lectures. The smallest division is the one that caters to individuals, capturing weddings, family portraits, … It’s what I started my career with and it still gives me a lot of satisfaction.
As a kid, I was intrigued by the buttons and dials on my great-aunt’s camera but I didn’t give it much thought then. When I was seventeen I discovered some Time/Life books in the library. I got so intrigued by documentary and particularly war photography that I asked for an SLR for my 18th birthday. I played around with photography and developing my own film but soon photography had to make place for filmschool and writing. I rediscovered photography ten years later while I was following a Photoshop course in order to learn how to make nice DVD menus for my video work. I can still remember the moment I held my neighbour’s first DSLR and decided I wanted one too. Only a couple of months later, I decided that I wanted to become a professional photographer.
I spent all my free time (and some of the company’s time I was working for back then) to understand the world of f-stops, shutterspeeds and focal lengths to learn the craft. When bad weather and short days in the winter, forced me to learn about lighting, I discovered a whole new dimension and developed an ongoing passion for light. But after a couple of years I had become a photographer’s photographer. My work had become about the techniques, the gear and the fashion of the moment, while the pictures I really cared about where the simple, timeless, often imperfect shots of my friends and family. That was the moment that I went back to what I’ve been doing all my life: simply telling stories.
Why did you choose Fujifilm cameras?
Very early on in my career, I already realised that a big camera can get in the way of photography and a friend recently reminded me that I once told him: “I wish someone would find a way to put a big sensor in a small camera with a compact fast prime lens”. So I guess I pre-invented the X100 back then ;-). But it would take a couple more years before mirrorless cameras became a reality and a usable option for professional photographers. I used a number of Panasonic and Olympus mirrorless cameras for family pictures and started thinking about using a small camera for part of my professional work. Although the prospect of reducing the weight and size of my kit, got my back and neck excited, it wasn’t the main reason to consider mirrorless cameras. Much more important to me is the fact that I can shoot without attracting attention and that a smaller camera removes the barrier between me and my subjects.
My X-story started out with the X-Pro1 and just a 35mm lens, but I have to admit that we got off to a pretty stormy start the first few months. Coming from a well established high-end DSLR, it took a while to get used to the X-Pro1 in it’s first firmware version days. Although I had my share of frustrating experiences, I had to conclude that the X-Pro1 made me a better photographer and I just fell in love with the files it produced when I worked hard for my shots. I kept my DSLR within range for a while until I realised I hardly ever used it anymore. That’s when I sold all my DSLR gear and went all Fuji. As an early adopter I have seen the X-system going through it’s growing pains but I’ve been very impressed with the way Fuji has responded by spectacular firmware updates, listening to its customers and developing a complete system in such a short time. There are a lot of technical reasons why I choose to work with Fujifilm cameras but the main reason, is that I just love to shoot with them.
Do you have a photographic philosophy you live by?
Most of the time, I would say: “keep it real”. But every now and then, I want to create something larger than life, surreal or whatever. So ultimately … no
Key inspirations – What & who inspires you?
My inspirations comes from everywhere and sometimes I can’t find anything at all. I follow young emerging Instagram photographers but I’m also hugely inspired my masters like Sally Mann, Jeanloup Sieff, Elliott Erwitt, … There are also photographers who’s pictures may not blow me away, but who inspire me by how they approach their work. In the last few years, I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in reading about the history of photography. And then that’s just photography. Music is also a great source of ideas. When I listen to good music and close my eyes, I see images. I’m often jealous about how musicians can convey emotions. When I’m stuck I sometimes ask myself the question: “How would Pearl Jam or Sinead O’Connor tell this story?”.
Life in general is my biggest inspiration, just take the time to really look around and you’ll see so many inspiring things.
Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us?
Like with a good meal, a good picture starts with quality ingredients. For me, a photo always has to tell a story or convey an emotion. So let the story/emotion be the starting point of the photographic process. That’s not an excuse not to worry about technique, equipment, experience and skill. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to translate that story into a picture.
I see myself as a fat athlete that wants to become a top player in the sports of photography. In order to get there, just playing streetball with my buddies every Saturday, won’t cut it. It’s about recognising your weak points and target a lot of practice towards them. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and working hard to become comfortable in new zones.
Instagram in combination with a small camera like the X30 or X100T has been an important training tool for me lately. I try to post a nice picture every day with mixed success. But the journey is more important than the goal. I’m training my eye, get my shots right in-camera, try out new things (like long exposures or landscapes), I learn how to get the most out of my small camera, … I can see the things that I learned that way slowly enriching my paid work and I love the interaction resulting from my Instagram activity.
What’s next for you?
I’m not entirely sure what’s next but I should. The last couple of years have been a crazy rollercoaster that gave me amazing moments but also left me with a bit too much chaos. Life threw me some curveballs that I didn’t see coming and I was forced into a kind of short-term survival mode. I didn’t have much time and energy to spare to look at the big picture and think ahead. It’s time to change that, make some big decisions and move forwards.
Commercial website and blog: www.bertstephani.com
I’m a proud member of the KAGE Collective: www.kagecollective.com
Private commissions and weddings: www.lifelovebybert.com
Facebook page for workshops: https://www.facebook.com/bertstephaniworkshops