North London based photographer Galen Driver took the Petzval 58 lens out for a test drive and talked to us about his experiences in making it as a professional photographer in an ever-increasing competitive industry.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
My name is Galen Driver and I am a content creator and brand marketer born and raised in Seattle, WA now residing in North London. I’ve always had an eye for photography but could never take myself seriously enough to call my self a photographer. I love shooting film and I’ve built up quite a collection of old film cameras starting with my Grandpa Otto’s old cameras. My favorite is a little Olympus Pen-EE half-frame 35mm I bought on ebay that has a horrible light leak in the back door when you advance the film but can create, or ruin the most beautiful photos if you get lucky. I think that really sparked my interest in the whole Lomography world actually, and now the amount of specialised films and cameras and even techniques, has got very, very cool and inspiring. I also love shooting concerts which I’ve been doing more of the last year or so. I work with musicians in the marketing and branding space and have attended so many amazing concerts/festivals and have been around some legends back stage and in green rooms and none of it was documented. I think that is what really pushed me to finally learn how to use a camera and keep one on me. My father was also a pretty amazing hobby photographer which may be where my eye for it comes from. He also tried to model at one point in the 80’s, I wish I could show you the head shots without him disowning me, haha!
How was it shooting with the Petzval 58 lens?
I had a hard time with it at first honestly as it is such a specific lens. There was definitely a learning curve. I immediately went out and shot portraits against trees with the swirl which are like none other and I think, for me, that’s the biggest appeal to this lens. But I also wanted to push it and carry it around like a normal lens and see how I could crack the functionality of it to work for me outside of portraits in everyday travel or life. I did not have the aperture ring inserts so was very limited even there, but feel like I finally got a good sense how to make the lens work outside of portraits- both abstractly and applied. The controlled swirled bokeh is obviously the coolest part, but I also love the hyper focus you can get/create with it- almost macro photography but on life-sized subjects. The movement you can create with it as well is very cool.
In your opinion, what makes the perfect portrait?
The subject. You can take the most beautifully lit, composed, focused, and edit portrait of all time-but if the subject looks annoyed or uncomfortable it can totally ruin the shot. I think of old oil painted portraits and the brush technique and photo-realism is insane for the times-but the subject ruins the whole piece for me in a lot of cases with the looks on their face. Granted they had to sit there completely still for days, but still. If your subject has no chill, your portrait will not turn out. Look at Terry Richardson for instance; world famous for his portraits and they are often blown out high contrast breaking so many “golden rules” of photography, but he can bring out and capture magic in subjects which makes it all ok. I think this is the appeal with instant photography as well is it’s in the moment and you tend to capture people less staged and more real which makes for the best photos. It’s less intimidating for the subject and almost lighthearted as there is a nostalgic piece to instant cameras and it also levels the playing field between the subject and the shooter. I always joke with my wife she has no chill because she looks super awkward whenever I try to pose her for photos, but then we take a selfie in front of a dumpster and she looks like a damn supermodel. The struggle is real.
Have you had any difficult or challenging situations throughout your photography career?
I think my biggest has been getting the confidence to put myself out there as a photographer, or taking myself seriously. If I get introduced as a photographer it bugs me out as I don’t think of myself as that immediately. I know I am, and there are all different levels, but there are just such good photographers out there I feel like a toy. But it’s all in perspective I guess. And my mom is proud of me which is more valuable than Instagram followers to me. It is annoying though because once a week someone on Facebook buys a DSLR box kit from Costco and start a “So-and-So Photography” Facebook and/or Instagram page with unedited and un-color corrected photos taken on auto mode with the kit lens of their dog and friend and a million hashtags pushing to “inquire about booking today!” Like they know nothing about photography and have the balls to put themselves out there like that, but I’ve been studying it and have improved my photography immensely over the years, getting asked unsolicited to shoot more and more and can’t get myself to do that. Those people want to be #photographers. I just enjoy taking photos whatever it’s called. I work with a musician who stays up for days making music, hundred songs a week maybe, that go onto hard drives never heard by a soul despite only releasing an album every 5 years or so and I always gave him hassle about that as it didn’t make sense to me. But then I go shoot 30GB of photos in the West Fjords of Iceland where only 6% of people that visit there actually make it to, and I only shared 2-3 of the photos. Doing what inspires you doesn’t always need a title I guess is my point, but if anybody reading this wants to shoot, “Inquire about booking today!”
What’s coming up in the future?
Hopefully getting to play with more of Lomography’s amazing range of products. Lots of concerts and lots of travel. South Africa for the holidays is sure to make for some great photo opportunities. I’m really excited to try and shoot some surfers down there as well, I’m going to be a surf photographer in my next life I decided. And I’m shark diving, so the waterproof cam will be in full effect. I’ve also taken my photography into video recently and actually just wrapped up a big video campaign for a start-up App called Wisher for the Holidays and more on the books, so maybe I’ll be introduced as a “videographer” next time instead of photographer and awkwardly oblige and stare at the floor. I’m also going to redo my website in the new year and add a ton of photos from the vaults since my good friend HonoluluChris keeps redoing his site raising the bar higher and higher so I have to keep up.