What do you do when you get bored with photography? How do you funnel your creative energy when photography leaves your creative soul empty? Do you move on to something new or do you combine photography with something else?
About seven years ago John Wilhelm of John Wilhelm is a Photoholic was facing a creative crisis and asking those very same questions. He was tired of shooting the same standard photographs. Wilhelm was thinking the same thing many of us think to ourselves, “I’m shooting the same thing that has been shot billion of times.” So he started photographing more interesting subjects from different perspectives, which highlighted different details of the subjects. Wilhelm then packaged his photos in a Polaroid format, called them “ipolas” and marketed them at Polarize.
While Polrize gave Wilhelm a new outlet for his creative drive it was his next endeavor that caught my attention a few weeks ago. I was instantly attracted to Wilhelm’s latest work since there’s a dark corner of my mind that imagines similar types of images, especially around Christmas time when my wife says we need a family photo for the Christmas card. Wilhelm takes photos of his lovely family and turns them into an image that is rooted in everyday life but injected with several doses of humor. When asked where the humor comes from he says “Well humor in any form, comics, movies, books are always important in my life and is part of me.” I noticed his humor when I asked him what type of photography he might have done seven years ago and he responded “For example doing weddings (or funerals),” and include an emoji indicating wedding and funerals could be considered one in the same.
So seven years ago with a dying interest in straight-up photography, a sense of humor, and being a self-proclaimed nerd, Wilhelm started off on his journey to learn Photoshop as a creative outlet. With only a very basic understanding of Photoshop, he needed to expand his knowledge of the program so he could create the images he envisioned. I’m always interested in how people learn Photoshop and the numerous approaches to achieving the final image. With some many formal training and informal videos available one can quickly become overwhelmed and give up in frustration.
I wondered if he concentrated on one particular skill until he mastered that skill or if it was more of a “learn what you need now” type of approach. “I could never learn something just for the plain reason to have that in my ‘skill library.' If I play around with a new technique I try to come up with an idea where I can use this new technic.” To me, that means just have fun and experiment. Play with the different tools and learn like a child would instead of a formal approach.
Wilhelm mentioned that he uses several programs now to create his images such as Photoshop, but also Lightroom, Cinema4D with Octane Render, and ZBruzh. Of course, he didn’t start off with all these programs. In the early years he mostly focused on Photoshop and would watch tutorials from Uli Staiger to learn compositing technics, painting shadows, making selections, and how to seamlessly bring elements together. He also followed Calvin Hollywood for retouching skills. The skills didn’t come overnight. Wilhelm told me “I guess it took three to four years to reach a somewhat higher level.”
He also stretched his skills during the early stages by experimenting with 3D tools but, as expected this skill set took a lot longer to master than Photoshop. “3D became more and more interesting. I watched lots of tutorials about sculpting, modeling, rendering, texturing, etc. but it took so much longer to become a little better.” With the inclusion of 3D in Wilhelm’s work it takes his images to a higher level. “The combination of photography, 3D, and Photoshop retouching is what I love today. To bring this all together is such a wonderful way of living my creativity and there are just no limits but your own fantasy and four children and a full-time job.” Wilhelm again shows his humor.
Wilhelm’s comment about four children is very important and probably noticeable in his images. His images tend to focus on his four beautiful children. He says the children are excited about the images and come up with their own ideas for him to create. However, with age comes a little less willingness to participate he says. With the recent addition of his son, I think he will have subjects for years to come.
Now that he is proficient with the various programs I wondered if he had developed his own actions and presets for the various programs. “I’m sure I could be much more effective with customized actions, but I compensate this with [very] high click-speed.” Again with the humor.
As for the future, Wilhelm says that his focus is on his family. He is still interested in learning and experimenting with new stuff but at a slow pace. He says he’s fine with creating an image every one to two weeks and isn’t interested in accelerating the growth of his social media channels. I think he has found the cure for his boredom of straight up photography and does want to overdose on the cure. That sounds like some good wisdom to me.
So after interviewing Wilhelm, I started to think about the various ways we learn not only Photoshop skills but all photography and imaging skills. Are you the type of person who enjoys learning in a more structured approach where you learn and master one skill? Or do you prefer to learn by jumping in and seeing what happens next? Is your approach different when it comes to camera skills versus skills related to Lightroom and Photoshop? I think I’m going to learn some new photoshop skills by playing around with some family photos for this year’s Christmas card. It won’t be a John Wilhelm level Christmas card but neither were his seven years ago.