Your work is very versatile. What have been some of your favorite subjects over the years?
Your work is very versatile. What have been some of your favorite subjects over the years?
There's a lot of places that surprised me, it's kind of hard to choose to be honest. I was really surprised by the Big Island in Hawaii. Everyone told me how awesome it was, and how quickly the landscape changes. Being from Alberta, that's kind of hard to envision, how an ecosystem can completely and consistently change every 20 minutes. But it did, and it was amazing! I got some of my favourite backgrounds there and I use them a lot almost weekly. I'll have to go back at some point.
I was also really surprised by Switzerland. When my Norwegian friends were calling it expensive, I started to get concerned. It was definitely 3x more expensive than I thought it would be, but the surrounding area of Lucerne just blew my mind. I didn't get enough photographs of there as it was a quick trip and I was burned out, but I can't wait to go back.
Luxembourg also was a surprise. I didn't know much about the country, but I went to this little restaurant that had the best salmon and alfredo pasta I've ever had. Big fan! Also those huge defensive walls around the old city totally lit my mind up.
Dieppe and Mont St. Michel, France were also incredible surprises. Canadian war history teaches a lot about Dieppe, so it was really something to see it in person, although still very sad. The surrounding town though, really is just incredible. The reconstruction, when you compare before and after, is hard to put into words. I was impressed by the human spirit and also very, very sad.
Mont. St. Michel is like walking into a fantasy story. It's so cool. I understand that it's been rebuilt a lot over the years, but regardless, it's hard to go there and not be impressed.
Lots, so many options! I could just keep going for hours. The world is so beautiful and yet, a little terrifying and heartbreaking. It's hard to not see all of it if you look long enough, and I think that's what is so intriguing.
Photo below: My sister and my friend Jay at Mont. St. Michel.
When you set up a photograph with someone, how do you incorporate their personal style into it ?
Again! Super hard to pick. There's just so much. I have to keep myself diversified to keep myself from losing interest or feeling stagnant. Digital art has always been an escape from the drudgery and disappointment with real life (people dress like slobs and we don't have flying cars yet, how lame). But, ultimately it's always extremely satisfying to take someone from what they are day to day and transform them into something new, whether that's a saucy photo set or some grim and dark barbarian series, or whatever. I like being able to show people potential in themselves, beyond what they look like every day. It's so satisfying to see them look in the mirror for the first time, or look at the final images and watch them freak out, in a good way! We are all so much more capable beyond what we get to do every day, because family, work, bills, etc etc etc. So it's nice to settle in to the studio and bring out their inner selves that sometimes, they never even knew existed.
Sometimes I completely ignore their personal style, and sometimes I incorporate a lot of it. I can't decide until I'm in the same room with the person, I have to feel them. There has to be some small part of them that's capable of expressing what I think is in them though. Some people, how they look is extremely wrapped up in their identity, so I would use the parts of them that they are most proud of as features in the transformation. For example, a person may have extremely long hair that they are very proud of. I would find ways to make that a statement in their next character. Sometimes, it's fun to hide those things that they are most proud of. Examples, someone may have beautiful tattoo art that they have spent hundreds of hours on and are highly visible in their daily lives. Maybe it would be fun to hide that? It's hard to know exactly what can be pushed and pulled until I'm staring into their personality.
Below is an example of hiding their entire daily self, which I turned into a lengthy blog post over at https://www.reneerobynphotography.com/Blog/The-DIY-Barbarian-Transformation
Colour theory is something that’s clearly important to you. What principles are guiding ones for you that you can share?
I think the most important principle I try to stick to is trying everything, and often. I've experimented with just making photographs that play with only analogous colors, so everything basically different shades of one color, like red for example. That one is one of my favourites, but can be extremely hard for me to pull off. It's why not much of that work gets shared, cause I've definitely failed more than succeeded.
Other times I like to keep it simple and play with complimentary colors, so opposite colors on the color wheel. Easy example, red and green. I like to keep in mind that warm colors can appear closer, and cooler colors, further back. However, it's also fun to experiment with switching them and trying to make it work. Once you know the rules, you can learn how to break them effectively.
Playing and experimenting are the only way to really master anything. Do lots of it, fail more than succeed, and just keep at it. I look at the things I'm afraid of and I run at them instead of away from them. I can't help it, I think I blame growing up on horses and being bucked off and having to get right back on the horse. You can't let your fear or discomfort win, so you just learn to be comfortable in both.
Below and example of loosely trying to play with analogous colors. Everything is some shade of yellow. I wouldn't call it a success yet, but I enjoyed making it.
Photographers often see their work in random places that surprise them. Do you ever get messages from friends with images of yours around the world?
I do, and that's always fun! I've done a bunch of book covers and billboards over the years, and it's super cool when I get tagged in something that someone recognizes. The most often is at photography shows around the world and I'll get tagged in someone standing next to one of my prints bigger than life. For example, this banner was at a show, and the woman on the far right in black latex and eye patch is Lara Aimee. We photographed that image together in the Netherlands :)
You’ve gotten to work with such exciting projects over the years. What’s on your wish list for the future?
This one will always be a favourite though! I showed up to PhotoPlus Expo, I think it was my first year speaking there, and my artwork was EVERYWHERE. It was really, really cool to see my images along people I considered legendary in the industry.
For aspiring photographers or models, any words of advice?
Admittedly some of my favourite work doesn't always involve doing photography directly. I'm really interested in tech and I love helping make technology better. I was heavily involved with a plug in that Corel made for Photoshop, called Corel Particleshop. A lot of the suggestions I made in a boardroom and in emails, are part of a users daily interaction with the plug in, and that makes me feel really good. I currently work very closely with Capture One as one of their ambassadors, and have consulted with Adobe and other hardware and software companies around the world. If I could keep consulting a few months a year for different tech companies, I'd be really excited! Being creative is admittedly a pretty selfish experience, so finding ways to put that experience to use to help others helps make things feel less shallow.
Otherwise, on the photo front, I like a mix! I really enjoy the higher profile stuff, celebrity and big commercial gigs, as well as the smaller, intimate portraits, or even the very, very rare pet or family session. Diversity is key for me, I have to keep changing things up.
I'd love to get out and shoot Titans of Mavericks again. I'm super afraid of deep water and the ocean in general, but it was so fun and I love the images so much, to get another swing at that again one day would just be totally rad. You can read more about my experience here, if you'd like! https://www.reneerobynphotography.com/Blog/Shooting-Mavericks
I'm working on become a better matte painter and character designer, I'm a few years off from being any commercial use to anyone, but I would love to experiment with that in the future. I enjoy it, but I need to get faster and get my rules of color, composition, leading lines, and perspective locked in better. Long way to go yet, but I suppose if there's no short, middle, or long term goals, what's the point??
What does evolution look like?
Hmm, how to not be generic here. There's the easy stuff like "keep your chin up!", "stay true to yourself", "try lots of things", and "don't compare yourself to others!" but usually those answers kinda raise a little bile in my throat. They're not wrong, but I see them on almost every interview from anyone ever, and it's very easy exit on advice.
I think dissolving the illusion that doing it for a living means you're running through the daisies every day, loving every second of your career making only what you really like to. That's the unicorn we all chase, but very few actually get it. It's not impossible! But, like everything, you're going to learn compromise. Being a professional doesn't solve your life problems, it means you're an entrepreneur if you're freelance, so becoming a great business person is hand in hand with being a functional, useful artist with a product that has a use to others.
Being creative, as I stated above, is a pretty selfish experience, and it's awesome for that. But choosing to make it a profession, means you have to get out of the way and you become a water or waitress of pixels. You have a product that you want others to pay for.
I've had a lot of people in my workshops that are amaaaaazing artists. They're phenomenal, far better than I am, but they can't make it work professionally because they lack the skills to run a business. If you're in that camp, then get your butt into some courses that will teach you book keeping, how to make a rate that feels fair to you and your clients, how to streamline your systems because time = money.
If your goals are to create for yourself because you absolutely love it and nothing else, I think that's the best, and most honest way to be a creative. Chase that unicorn, some of us get it, most of us don't. That's ok :) But if you know early on that you want to learn to do this for a living, then while you're taking classes on retouching, composition, or posing, you should also be educating your business brain. They're hand in hand in this world, one is not better than the other.
Get your ego out of the way. We make pixels. We aren't evolving science to save the lives of newborn babies, or finding life on other planets. The most successful people I've met on the planet (and there have been a lot) are more often than not extremely humble and very, very hard working.
Remember: The more you know, the more you understand how little you actually know. It's a good thing.
What’s the reality vs what’s projected online?
I started out like everyone else. 2 years in I thought I knew so much, I actually told a photographer I looked up to once (I apologized for my ignorance later), "How can I learn from this person, when I probably know everything that they do?" I think back on my younger self, and I want to throw her stupid ass through a wall. However, I run into this a lot on the forums, and it gives me empathy for when people say those words to me. I don't take it personally, that's just their level of experience. They'll get through it, and if they don't, they're only holding themselves back.
Evolution is learning to grow with some form of grace and grit, and everyone's story is unique. My evolution was that I shot up in my career very quickly, and much faster than I was prepared to handle early on. It took me a lot of years to grow the skills to catch up. Luckily, I survived my ignorance, but I easily could have not.
I started out taking pictures of flowers, and grew through the digital art realms, and now I find myself interested in photography with minimal retouching again. It feels like just a big circular process, that very gradually grows wider and wider. I revisit all the old themes and try them again, just to see how things have changed.
I recently went through my entire website and re-edited 300+ images. Not all of them made the cut, but it was a great way to see how my taste and skill had evolved with retouching. It was amazingly therapeutic, to revisit old work and give it fresh paint. I recommend this to anyone who has been doing it a long time. I found it to be a nice way to honour the person who was, and who the person is now as a creative.
How do you deal with doubt and insecurities?
I've always tried to be honest about what it's actually like vs online projection, and everyone's Behind the Scenes footage looks different from everyone else's. Travelling 10 months a year is brutal. It's a test of mental and physical endurance all year long, but it's what is required for me to do the work that I do for now. I have a gigantic personal stock library that I use daily, and as a result of constant use, I'm also perpetually running out. I like to shoot my own work so it's exactly what I need, and I don't have to try and cipher out what the stock photographers settings or focal points were. I know them because I shot it for a very specific look.
But reality is, most of my life I'm sitting in a country that I may or may not understand the language, running a business from my computer. As I mentioned above, it's the difference between being an artist, just making what I want, and running a business and having clients to serve. I like it. I like making artwork for people, it gives me challenges.
Finding balance is always an ever evolving thing. I know some days I have to be awake for 3 days to complete a project, and I know on the flip side of that I'll have to schedule 3 days where I can just sleep and go outside. Younger me sucked at that, older me is starting to figure it out.
I like to share the image below with people, because that's kinda what it feels like day to day. Some days my reality is amazing, but most days it's just the grind, like everyone else on the planet. :)
I used to have a huge case of imposter syndrome. I almost shut down my business over it, a few times. I say used to, because through a mix of therapy and a lot of effort to self awareness, I finally broke through it. It took a long time though.
What had to be realized was what I really wanted. Did I want to keep holding myself back because it felt comfortable? Feeling like I was undeserving, that everyone was better than I was, that people only said nice to things to me because they were my friends. Worse yet, was the incredible fear of having a personality that others thought was egotistical. It was putting my self validation in everyone else around me, but me. In the world of social media, that's easy to do.
Having a business actually helped that shift in my head. I realized that I'm here to help other people, and I've spent the last 20+ years working my butt off every day. This self doubt stuff was just childish and tearing me down, in a world that does plenty of that on it's own. Trying to keep a business afloat in a world that is really evolving to expire me in a few years, I needed a cheerleader, and it had to come from within me. I couldn't rely on anyone else to make me feel good, because people can sometimes let you down. How I feel about myself can't come from the outside, and that's really, really hard to do for some of us.
I still get doubts, I still have my insecurities, but I also know that I have my back, when the rest of the world has to look after their own. The crippling fear and isolation isn't what it once was, and I know I can get through it.
I'm on borrowed time, and life has taught me first hand how quickly things can change. When the lights go out, I want to make sure that I didn't waste too much time making me feel bad because it felt like the right thing to do. I owe myself honesty, not lies of grandeur or despicable failure.