It was by chance, that we discovered photographer Michel Keppens on 500px about two weeks ago. After we've seen his portfolio of amazing pictures, we immediately asked him for an interview. And here we are to introduce you to this talented photographer from Belgium with an interview.
I was born almost 50 years ago in Nieuwpoort at the Belgian coast. I joined the army at age 15 and have lived on different locations since. I even lived in Germany near the great city of Cologne for 4 years, back in the early nineties. Now I live in Zoutleeuw, a small village some 50km east of Brussels. I am still in the army, but I also started a photography business a couple of years ago and now I’m combining both jobs
Have you been involved in the arts in some form other than photography?
I am not actively involved in any other artform but photography. I do like to watch, listen and emotionally feel the work of all kinds of artists. I love music, in all its varieties, I also can enjoy an afternoon in an art museum, but most of all I like to watch what is going on around me, be it the wonders of nature or the unpredictable behaviour of people.
Seeing your remarkable work, I am curious where your creativity comes from?
I am a self-taught photographer. That means I had to learn everything from books, from the internet and from what I saw from other photographers. I still read a lot and I watch the work of other photographers. All those images I see create a melting pot of ideas in my head and then all of a sudden, there is this one thing that gives me an urge to do something with it. That thing could be a location, a colour, a type of lighting, a person (I love redheads), almost anything really. Lately, I have been working a lot in my new studio to search for its boundaries and limitations and see how far I can push things there and in there I often let the model be my inspiration. I have to admit that the better your work gets, the better the models get that would like to work with you and a lot of the momentary inspiration comes from the interaction with a good model.
I have always been interested in photography. When I was younger, I mostly took photos, on film of course, during trips and holidays. I wasn’t very interested in having people on the photos and I even avoided it if I could. The subjects then were landscapes, nature, architecture, special buildings, etc. Anything without people on it. From every trip, I chose an image which I would then print in a 20x30cm format and hang on this one wall at home, creating a kind of wall of memories. And then my cameras broke and I didn’t have a lot of time and slowly the passion for photography shrunk to a little flame… Some 5 or 6 years ago I bought a digital camera and started taking photo’s again. I joined a local photo club and discovered the joys of working with people as a subject. Since then, I have been on a steep learning curve and with every model I photographed, I learned something new that I had to try as soon as possible with yet another model.
What equipment are you using now and with what did you get started?
I can’t really remember the exact cameras I had when I started, but I do remember I had an Olympus and a Minolta at the time. When I rebooted my photography some years ago, I started with a Nikon D60 with a kit lens and soon after I bought a Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 50mm 1.4G lens. It is incredible what you can do with a fast prime lens. Then came the speedlights and triggers for off-camera flash, modifiers, etc. Now I have a Nikon D750 and a D600 in my bag with some zoom lenses and some primes and I use Profoto lighting gear.
What is your favourite lens?
Without hesitation I would say my favourite lens is my Nikkor 85mm 1.4G. It is an incredibly sharp lens with a magnificent bokeh. I use it for almost all my portrait sessions. It is fast, it is relatively light (if you compare it to the Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8) and you can still zoom it… with your legs.
Can you tell us about your work flow from the point until you showcase the developed picture?
It all depends on the type of work and the requirements of the client. The following is more or less my workflow for a TFP shoot. A lot of time goes into the preparation of the shoot. Setting a date and a time. Discussing the theme with the model. Choosing a location (if it is not my studio) and contacting the location owners. Deciding on whether a MUA, hairstylist or stylist will be necessary for the shoot. Then moodboards and more discussions on the theme, so all parties involved agree on what we are going to do. For my part of the teamwork, I think about lighting. What do I want it to look like? What do I need for that? During preparation I make a couple of lighting schemes in my head. That is a starting point and during the actual shoot it naturally evolves from there. The RAWs then go into LR where the best images are chosen and where I do some basic adjustments (WB, highlights and shadows, color correction, …). Those images then go to PS for a detailed retouching process and back to LR when finished.
I see myself influenced by many photographers. I try to keep an open mind for all kinds of people photography. It is amazing what you can learn from simply watching a photo. What colour combinations work, poses, shooting angles, choice of light and the feeling it creates… But if I have to mention some photographers by name, I would say Lindsay Adler had a big influence on me, but also Annie Leibovitz, Sean Archer, Emily Soto and so many more.
I try to use different styles, but in the end, I think my photos are mostly sensual and soft and in colour, although I do like some black and white from time to time.
Among your works, which is your favourite and why?
I use to say that my best shot is the one I am going to take on my next shoot. Being a perfectionist, I always try to improve, to do better than before. Nevertheless, there is this one portrait of Laura Palmans in a brown coat and with a hat on, taken in only natural light that will always be one of my favourites.
Tell us your funniest or most awkward photography story.
There was this one time I was shooting on location. When on location, I often tether wirelessly to my laptop. The way I work is that the RAW image goes on one SD card in slot 1 and on the other SD card in slot 2, a small jpg is created that is then transferred through a Wi-Fi connection. I tested the tether and all worked fine. Images showed up on the laptop as they should. So I started to shoot the first sequence and only after maybe 20 minutes I realised that my first SD-slot did not have a SD card… So I only had the small jpg’s, not the RAW’s. I was deeply embarrassed when I told the rest of the crew what had happened, but luckily we were still at the beginning of the shoot so not too much damage was done.
To people that start out with photography, I would say that all photographers at one point started with a first camera and a first photo they took and had to learn from there. Nobody is born a legend. What I mean is, you don’t get anything for free. If you want to be a good photographer, you will have to put in a lot of time and effort as is the case with everything. Better, more expensive gear will not make you a better photographer. Learning from your mistakes and being passionate about photography will.