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Fstoppers Interviews Calvin Hollywood: Conceptual Photographer And Photoshop Master

Fstoppers Interviews Calvin Hollywood: Conceptual Photographer And Photoshop Master

When I hear the name, Calvin Hollywood, a few things instantly pop into my mind. Photoshop guru, Scott Kelby instructor, 'freaky, amazing details', and lastly 'Calvinize'! Calvin is a master of digital art and his standing room only sessions at Photoshop World prove so. I had the chance to catch up with the intriguing and witty Calvin for an interview for an opportunity to see a glimpse into the mind of a digital genius.

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FS: Hello Calvin. To start off would you tell us a little bit about yourself and the type of photography that you specialize in?

CH: My name is Calvin, and I’m a digital artist from Germany. Before I started my full-time and professional career in photography and retouching I was in the German AirForce for 10 years. I’m 37 years old, married and I have two beautiful kids. (Twins...a boy and a girl, 7 years old.) When it comes to my photography, most of the time I shoot sports athletes and artists from the music industry. I love to shoot people. I don’t care how old they are, what they look like: young, old, beautiful, ugly... I mean ‘not so’ beautiful...I just love to shoot people; and yeah of course, I love to retouch the images, as well.

FS: Can you tell us how you started your career in photography and the journey that you made to become one of the best Photoshop masters in the industry?

CH: Back in 2005 a friend of mine introduced me to Photoshop, and straight away I fell in love with it. The only problem though, was that I didn’t have any pictures to retouch, so the next step for me was to buy a camera. I did exactly that and just went out and started shooting everything just so I had images that I could retouch. I know it sounds crazy, but I retouched TV’s, stones, my bed, my car, my feet... (no that was a joke); but that was the best way to learn by retouching many things because Photoshop is such a huge program, and there is so much to learn.

Believe me, even though you can love something it’s also possible to hate it because I can remember some nights when I just couldn’t figure out how something worked in Photoshop or how to do a certain task. At the time Youtube hadn’t been around that long and wasn’t all that popular which meant I couldn’t just go online and search for video tutorials. Because of this I turned to forums and community sites and from them I learned a lot! One of the forums I learned a great deal from was RetouchPRO.com.

While my friends went out to have fun, meeting girls, dancing and all that kind of stuff, I was at home having fun with Photoshop, researching new techniques and was dancing in my living room when I learned something new. It became crazy because when I would look in someone’s face I didn’t really see them...I just saw parts of them that I could retouch... (no joke). I learned in the Army how to teach people, so when people asked me how I did something I was able to explain everything very clearly. I produced my first tutorial dvd by myself and it was a blast. Everybody who, like me, was addicted to Photoshop bought it.

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2006 and 2007 were my years. Many magazines wrote about my work, Adobe contacted me plus many, many other companies. I was still in the Army at the time which made it very tough to handle everything though. My two kids were born, so every day I had about 3 to 4 hours for my Photoshop passion, 3 hours for my family and 4 to 6 hours left to sleep. I would say I wasn’t better then everybody, but what I was, was more hungry for success. In 2009 I made the decision to start teaching in English, as well. I remember one time I was flying to New York City to show Katrin Eismann my skills in retouching and teaching others; and it was on the plane while on the way that I learned what all the Photoshop tools were in English. Then, 3 days later I taught in front of her and 30 students about what I could do with Photoshop.

Here's what  Katrin Eismann had to say about the experience:
"I have seen hundreds of Photoshop presentations and the great majority show the same over-used techniques with boring pictures and very bad jokes. In contrast, Calvin Hollywood is a refreshing, generous, and talented teacher…and funny too! Consider me a Calvin convert from now on!" -Katrin Eismann "Photoshop Diva"

In 2009 I met Russell Brown when he taught a class in Munich. I asked him if I could show him who I was and what I could do with Photoshop. He agreed so a few weeks later I sent him some videos where I showed some freaky retouching techniques.

"News Flash! Photoshop goes Hollywood!Or should I say Calvin Hollywood. I recently came across Calvin´s work and I was totally blown away. Not only is he a great photographer, but he knows tips and techniques about Photoshop that are almost magical.If you´re a Photoshop user, then you should stop everything and take a look at some of his tutorials. Trust me on this one…."
-Russell Brown, Sr.Creative Director Adobe Systems Inc

I think it was Russell and Katrin who recommend me to Scott Kelby. That worked out well, so I did a Guest Post for his blog in 2010. In 2011 I started teaching for KelbyTraining, at Photoshop World. I taught in Dubai, and many other countries. Now, I honestly feel like I’m living a dream and I’m very thankful to all the people out there who follow my work and what I do.

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FS: You are best known for your 'Calvinized Look' in Photoshop, can you explain a little bit more about this technique and your inspiration behind it? 

CH: I love edgy, high contrast images with many details. There are many artitsts out there who create pictures with this look. I certainly wasn’t the first one and I still get a lot of inspiration from other great photographers and artists. Calvinize is more the way that describes how I work. Everything is/looks easy and I don’t use many steps to get a result. I love keeping things simple. My techniques are not a secret and they’re easy to learn. Everybody that’s seen my tutorials would agree.

FS: What do you prefer, shooting the images or retouching them? 

CH: Kinda both. It depends on the model, the situation or the weather, but I like to do both. I’m not a retoucher for other people, and I’m not a photographer who sends his images to a retoucher either. I like to do everything myself and to give the images as much of my signature as I can.

FS:What is your preferred equipment that you shoot with and/or edit with, and why do you prefer to shoot/edit with it?)

CH: I don’t care much about the equipment. I need strobes because without strobes I can’t create my edgy style. Then of course I need a camera and Photoshop. Again, I don’t care about Canon or Nikon, lenses and all that stuff, but I know that many people do. At the moment I’m shooting with a Canon 5dmkII, most of the time with my 24-105 mm lens, and I use Hensel Studio technique lighting equipment.

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FS: You are one of eight featured instructors on KelbyTraining.com, can you tell us why you decided to share your wealth of Photoshop knowledge with the public?

CH: Because I can’t find any reason why I shouldn’t share my knowledge. *19minutes later* I love to explain the way I work and I don’t have any secrets. I can make money with my passion, and I think that’s the reason why. By the way...I needed 20 minutes to answer this question.

FS: Photoshopfreaks.com is your website for all of your online tutorials. Can you tell us a little bit more about your site?

CH: This site is for all the Photoshop freaks out there who know all the basics in retouching. It’s where people can learn my retouching workflow on all different kinds of images. It’s not all about new techniques; most of the time it’s more about bringing all the techniques together. I try to upload a new tutorial every month/two months.

FS: If you were only allowed to take one lighting modifier with you on shoots, which would you choose? 

CH: A big softbox. I can paint in the shadows later, but the most important thing for my kind of look is to have details everywhere. So, for me I think a big softbox is the best choice.

FS: What is your favorite aspect about Adobe Photoshop?

CH: What I really love to do is to use the tools for the things that the tool wasn’t designed for. It’s kind of hard to explain so maybe you guys can watch this tutorial to give you more of an idea as to what I mean

The basics are very, very important so don’t start with the freaky stuff. Learn all the basics because the freakiest techniques are all done with basic tools. Dodge and burn is what I really enjoy doing and my favourite adjustment layer is definitely selective color. I love the fact that I can use Photoshop to create something that isn’t possible with just your camera and some lighting. It gives me endless creative possibilities.

FS: If you could give any advice to an inspiring photographer, what would it be?

CH: To bring as much of your personality as you can into your work. There are so many great photographers out there and there’s always someone better. Someone with more equipment, more knowledge and more skill, BUT there is only one person like you and with your personality! So, my advice would be to be yourself and bring your own personality into your work...whatever you do.


I want to thank Calvin for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview.

If you would like to see more of Calvin's work you can go to his website: Calvin Hollywood.de
His 500px: Calvin's 500px page
Connect with him on Facebook: Calvin's Facebook page

Lastly, I really recommend checking out PhotoshopFreaks.com, where you'll find all of his tutorials.

Rebecca Britt's picture

Rebecca Britt is a South Texas based commercial, architectural and concert photographer. When she's not working Rebecca enjoys spending time with her two daughters, playing Diablo III, and shooting concerts (Electronic Dance Music). Rebecca also runs the largest collective of EDM (electronic dance music) photographers on social media.

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This is a fantastic interview. Calvin is so super talented and has a huge heart to share with others so much of his knowledge. 

Learned something new today, thanks calvin :) 

So. how does this technique differ from the frequency separation technique... and masking out the "SUBTRACT/DIFFERENCE" layer... or from the high pass filter? 

with high pass you can get halos

with his technique too. If you use a radius of 3, 5 with the HP filter you dont get any

you are right i played a little with his technique. i think his approach is good in some kind of pictures, but mostly you will enhance a lot of noise too. For sharpening pictures HP is still the best in my opinion

great interview, i am so getting his tutorials!
thank you

great work! The golden man is fantastic!

Calvin is one of my all-time photo-editing heros that I've been following for years. I've purchased all his trainings and have learned volumes.  His cost-to-knowledge ratio is easily the best in the industry.  There are a million PS tutorials out there - some guys charging a fortune for garbage.  Calvin makes it affordable and gives such easy to digest knowledge that you can follow along with. And you know what?  You get confused - you drop him an email, and he ALWAYS responds almost right away.  Have had some great critique from him. Glad FS has highlighted Calvin Hollywood!  Well deserved attention.

Taken out of context this could be a dangerous quote: " I love to shoot people. I don’t care how old they are, what they look like: young, old, beautiful, ugly… I mean ‘not so’beautiful…I just love to shoot people;" hahahaha

Most entertaining PS tutorial I've ever seen, and great techniques. 

Hey guys
First of all, its a big honor for me to be on this blog. 
Thanks a lot for this great feedback. I appreciate. 
And... it makes me very happy. 
I try to do as much as i can in english. 
Sorry if i post most of the time in german. Maybe you can use for this kind of posts a translationtool. 
Thanks also to my buddy Glyn Dewis who helphed me to bring my answers in shape (grammar). 
Thanks again Rebecca 

lg Calvin

This 21st century is special for photographers in terms of technology. THANK YOU Fstoppers for keeping photographers around the world up to date and also for the inspirations. Whenever i feel like giving up, i am always encouraged by reading posts on Fstoppers. THANK YOU guys for the great work. THANK YOU GREATLY.

This 21st century is special for photographers in terms of technology. THANK YOU Fstoppers for keeping photographers around the world up to date and also for the inspirations. Whenever i feel like giving up, i am always encouraged by reading posts on Fstoppers. THANK YOU guys for the great work. THANK YOU GREATLY.

Hi Calvin. I am inspired reading the interview. Thank you so much,.. and your English is great.

Love your work Calvin.  Learning a lot from you and your tutorials.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Been a huge fan of his workflow for years now. My only gripe is Calvin spends too much time in the EU area and not in North America. His income would triple if he would just entertain more visits here. PSW is completely over-priced and the classes or workshops... Not so much fun.

I know Calvin is a huge techno guy with blogs, video chronicles of his workshops and trips. If he checks this feature out, here's hoping he gets the HINT and considers more trips to the masses over here.

He is without a doubt my favorite "I'm not worthy" guy out there.

With high pass you can get halos

Rebecca, Great interview!  He has a great sense of humor and some fascinating work.