Hear It!

Francesco Perre a.k.a. Keko64 shares with us in this issue of Hear It! what it takes for him to switch from conventional photography to being tech-savvy and eventually making his debut in the stock imaging world today. He has with him 28 years of solid assignment-based experience and an unmatchable portfolio, but he somehow believes he has just begun his quest for greater artwork and possibilities. This is the ultimate interview. Let's Hear It! from him.

Photographer: keko64 / Francesco Perre
Country of Origin: Italy

1. Production Equipment: Please list the production equipment that you use on a regular basis (eg. Cameras, lenses, flash & lighting, photo editing software).
  • Digital SLR - Nikon D70s with lenses 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 80mm
  • Medium Format Camera - Hasselblad 500cm with lenses 60mm, 150mm, 180mm
  • Large Format Camera - Sinar P with lenses 65mm, 90mm, 135mm, 210mm, 300mm
  • Digital Back (an attachment on medium and large format camera) - Phase One H5 36mm x 24mm (3120x2060 pixel CCD)
  • Flash and lightings - Various brands strobepack and monolight ring light (12000 w)
  • Photo Editing Software - Nikon Capture, Phase One Capture One, Adobe Photoshop

2. What do you think of photography these days?
Well, I still see photography the same way I did before when I started approximately 28 years ago - it is beautiful. It doesn't feel like a job to me. Instead, I felt the fun and enjoyment. I have lots of friends who are working in the office and they are already worn-out and looking forward to retirement. Retirement however, has never crossed my mind before. On the contrary, I hope I can spend the rest of my days with my camera until my very last breath.

3. What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be a doctor in the beginning but I changed my plans and studied mechanical engineering instead. Funny thing is, I never got the chance to work in that field because I found photography before I finished my studies.

4. Tell us about the time when you first got started in photography.
Actually, I started photography by pure chance at the age of 15 when my father died and I was forced by circumstances to find a job. I had a good friend then and his father was a photographer. He offered me the opportunity to earn some extra income by being one of his assistants. I knew nothing about photography then and had no special interest in it. To be honest, I even hated the job at the very beginning because I needed to carry all the heavy equipment around and I was always blamed for no apparent reason. But as I got more and more involved, I learned and started to like it. I feel lucky to have stumbled upon photography at that point of time.

5. In your opinion, what does it take to become successful in this industry?
I don't know for sure. Take fine art for example, what makes a painter, a sculptor or any other artist successful? Is it his personality, creativity, luck, sensitivity or is it having the right connection and doing the right thing at the right time? I won't know for sure. But speaking of commercial photography, I think you are considered successful when your client is happy. Such things doesn't happen to me all the time during my first few attempts. However, I like what I'm doing now and I'm able to pay my rent. That, is considered a big success for me!

6. What was your biggest challenge coming into this industry?
No doubt it's the time I need to enter digital photography (about 7 years ago). It was a shock for me. Besides the money I need to invest in buying a digital back, sliding adapter for my sinar, and all the accessories, I need to forget about film and take up digital as well. I'm not a computer savvy person (I'll probably never be) but I'm slowly getting better. I still find myself shooting and spending extra time setting the shoot, trying to get things right on the camera rather than acknowledging the advantages of Photoshop. If I want to stay in the market, I know I need to improve my skills and update my equipment. But I'm happy with what I'm doing now.

7. What are the best perks as a Photographer?
One of the biggest advantage is that I can arrange my schedule and organize my time to whichever way I feel comfortable. I don't see photography as a job. It's more like leisure time - a paid one to be exact! I don't know what more could I ask for?

8. How do you plan for your shooting sessions?
This is a difficult question to answer but I guess I would be making my plans according to, but not limited to:
  • lighting (artificial, natural or mixed)
  • location - outdoor or studio
  • size of the subject
  • size of enlargement
  • clients' requirements

I think these 5 points are the most crucial aspects that you should take into consideration when planning your shoot. From my experience, a new assignment is more difficult than the previous one but all shooting sessions do need to be planned ex novo based on all the variables and considerations. This is what makes my job special - it never feels like a routine, which could be kind of boring if it is!

9. How would you describe your work to first time viewers?
I don't describe my job...I don't like doing that. Instead, I'm happy to let the “first time viewers” do the task...the same way as I let my clients do.

10. Do you shoot to what your heart tells you or do you go through a complex check list in your mind when you produce your work? Describe the feeling/check list.
I don't have any special check list except for the materials and equipment I need to carry to the locations. Once I'm there, I'll just focus on getting the final results. Keep in mind the scope, the use of the final shots, clients' requirements and most importantly, what is needed to get me there. Most of the time it's improvisation. Of course you'll need to know what you are doing, your equipment and all the limits related to that. I don't mean that you don't need any techniques, thinking or planning. What I'm trying to say is to think more of the final results and clients' feedbacks rather than on the technical skills. I'm not sure if this is wrong but that's what I'm doing.

11. From your experience, what subjects gives you the greatest satisfaction? Any examples?
Subjects that can contribute to my rent often gives me the greatest satisfaction! :D Well, I had a couple of chance to work with kids and children, and I had a great feeling about it. It's hard to explain but it was a nice and satisfactory experience. Children have their own special way of posing or how "not" to pose in front of the camera. That alone makes the shot. I'd love to experience it again if I ever get the chance.

12. From your experience, what subjects are the hardest to work with? Any examples?
I have to confess. A few years ago, I had an assignment that involved a car and a model. Because the car just couldn't fit into my studio, we rented an indoor studio elsewhere. I brought all my equipments there but I totally underestimated the task. Well, enough to say that after setting up the light - diffusion panels, Polaroid gel and the camera, I only managed to take about 10 to 15 shots before I start to panic. It seemed to me that I wouldn't be getting even one single acceptable shot out of them. And worst of all, as I started to move and adjust the lights around, things got worse (luckily my client wasn't around then). Even the model gave me a look that suggested I needed a break. So I made an excuse about having some PC problems and managed to send everyone out to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

I spent that time trying to find the best light set-up possible to shoot the car. However, the main problem is that the car is a vintage, shining red Italian Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider with lots of chrome finishing (remember the movie "The Graduated”? Well, that's the car!). When everyone came back, I managed to prepare a new light set-up which worked out O.K. After a couple of hours, I did manage the 50 required shots but to be honest, none of them was spectacular. The client was happy and satisfied, the model stopped looking at me the way she used to and I got a couple of smiles in return. But I knew I didn't do the job well. I could have blamed my equipment, especially the lights for not being adequate (which is partly true) but I also knew the underlying problem is my lack of skills and experience, and myself for underestimating the task so badly.

Anyway, this experience taught me a lesson not to underestimate any assignments. After that day, I started refusing jobs where cars are involved. I know I can do much better compared to the last time but somehow, I think I could never accomplish the job at my best because of my lack of skills, experience and also equipments. In my opinion therefore, car photography has got to be one of the hardest subject to work with!

13. What is your philosophy when it comes to your work?
I'm not a philosopher but I do stick to some simple rules when it comes to my work.

a) If the client is not happy with my work, even after several attempts, I will not charge anything and would suggest a substitute (fortunately, that only happened 2 times thus far).
b) Try to listen and understand client's requests and even if I propose something, I'll try not to be pushy. I do understand that even if my idea is the best in the world, it might not work for the client.
c) Try to judge my final job impartially and in an objective manner before submitting the job to the client (which I think is the hardest thing to do).

I find these rules helpful so far in terms of helping me see the big picture.

14. Describe who/what inspires you, tell us why?
It's hard to say for sure. There are many things, situations and people who inspire me. For example; who can resist experiencing sunset after a stormy one, or kids smiling or a woman's body. I get my inspiration mostly from looking at other photographers' work. Those who are more skilled than me. It gives me a chance to learn or to please my eyes. Certain pictures I see, I feel as if I'll never be able to get to that level. Sometimes, it's not about the skills, it's those little things that you either have or not have. There is nothing I could possibly learn about that, or at least, not in this life.

15. What do you do when those creative juices just seems to evade you. How do you "get creative"?
I never push myself to be creative because if I do, things will only get worse. Instead, I'll just switch off everything, do something else and hope to have a better day tomorrow. It's obviously different when I have assignments with tight deadlines. In such cases, I'll just stick to my clients' requirements but try my best to put in some level of creativity. Sometimes it's satisfactory, sometimes it's less, sometimes it's not at all. Whatever it is, the results must please me and the clients.

16. Tell us about a time when inspiration just hits you, and you felt the insatiable urge to create. What did you do with that energy?
Funny thing is, whenever I think I have a good idea, I'm not working with my camera. So I can't put it to work immediately. When I've finally get the chance to apply that idea, I'll realize it isn't that great anyway. So I'll just wait for another inspiration to hit me.

17. What have you discovered about yourself through photography?
I've discovered that I can produce good work with my hands, brain and my little skills and experience. Above all, I've discovered that I can be independent. I've also discovered my limits and my lack of knowledge, especially when I have to go into digital as I mentioned before. My lack of computer and post-processing skills make me think a lot. Sometimes, I'm tempted to hire a graphic designer to process my pictures for some important assignment but I know that would compromise my independence, which is one of the best parts of my job now. So I'm balancing between keeping the independence and finding a way to get better results out of my camera. I'm slowly getting better and that's somehow encouraging.

18. Whose work do you admire the most? Why?
If I have to name someone among the thousands, I would say Brett Weston. No offense. I bumped into a website a few years ago showcasing some of his work. The more I look at it, the more attracted I get. It's a kind of magic as I said before - that little magic that you have it or not. Well, in my opinion, he has got it all. I hope I'll be able to see his live print one day though.

19. Do you have any advice for those who are just getting in to stock photography?
I started stock photography a few months ago so I'm not sure if I could give any advice on that. What I can say is that it is a totally different world to me. I'm still trying to understand the key points since it's so different from assignment works. I think stock photography is more difficult as it requires more skills. You need to have some sort of marketing skills to understand what sells and what can't if you do not want to waste your time on something that would never sell.

Another aspect in stock photography is that you are on your own. You receive no feedback, no guideline, no feelings from your client. You either sell or don't and that's a kind of cold feeling for me which I'm not used to yet. I still don't understand why I sell more in some site and less in others even when the prices are about the same.

But I guess what's most important now is that I enjoy being in stock. It's exciting to think that there are millions, or even billions of people who could potentially see your work. This is a nice feeling for me. Also, I think it's kind of difficult to make a living out of stock but I'm sure some has already reached that level. I see a lot of good and skilled photographers out there in stock sites. What I'm going to do now is to use some of my spare time to build a decent sized portfolio online and see where it takes me from there. Meanwhile, I'll still take on assignments to help me pay the rent. Well, good luck!

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