When do you turn from a person who takes photos into a photographer? When you start seeing the world as a series of photographs; continuously framing the reality around you. Meet Aaron Hooper, a constant photographer.
Aaron Hooper: Photography is an extension of how I see the world. Along with writing, it is the easiest way to express myself and a much truer form of expression than struggling with spoken language. When I’m out in the world, I am constantly seeing things in my own unique perspective and in my mind I’m framing scenes as photos, composing shots and seeing the light and how it will look when shot. I do all this in my head and to be able to use a camera to share the way I see the world is extremely satisfying.
If not photography, then what?
This is an easy one, as I have been a working Executive Chef for most of my adult life. I am still an owner of Joe’s Downstairs restaurant here in Phuket and I continue to develop my menu there. I have opened countless restaurants and developed countless menus. For me, cooking is also a form of expression. Using learned techniques to present an ingredient in the most inventive way, all the while remaining true to its natural flavour. But there are so many other things I could see myself doing. I plan on continuing to find ways to express myself. I sure wish there was a job that compensated me for walking in the mountains, now that would be my ultimate dream.
What makes a great picture?
I tend to be a perfectionist, so I like to see a photo that is framed perfectly. Aesthetically I have a feeling of how I like things framed, I can see it in my head and when I am able to capture this vision and then see it in a photo, especially a print (the larger the better) it is ‘great’ to me. Light and shadows are equally important and can create interest in the most mundane of subjects. Which of course brings me to the ‘subject’ of a photo, sometimes the simplest of objects can be shown in such a light that greatness is found. I find all of these factors once in a while combine in one great moment and when captured, they conspire together to make a GREAT photo.
I’d like to people to get lost in my photos, to be transported to that moment and to that place that has been captured. If I can make a viewer feel and experience the moment as if they were seeing it themselves, that I feel is greatness. Conveying a moment clearly to a viewer and evoking emotions, whether that’s the energy of a moment or the stillness of a landscape, that to me is great.
The best photo you didn’t take and why?
In my mind, I am constantly framing photos, so I am faced with literally endless amounts of missed photos each and every day. I have a lingering sense of ‘missing’ a photo. The worst is when I’m out driving or taking transportation of some sort and unable to stop to capture a scene. It’s quite maddening actually, but I am learning to let this go. I try to make up for it by taking large amounts of time alone with my camera to walk and capture things at my own pace. There are millions of ‘best photos’ that I have missed and there will be millions more I’m afraid. I just hope that I get to capture enough great shots to keep me satiated and to compensate for those that get away.
What was your first camera?
I can remember playing around with my mother’s Polaroid Instamatic at the age of 6. It was truly a magic box, capturing time on a piece of photographic paper with a press of a button. And it was INSTANT! That magic may have sparked my endless fascination with capturing what I see in my mind and presenting it as photography. But the first camera that was truly mine, was a gift from my parents, a Canon AE-1 35 mm SRL. I learned to shoot on film and I think this serves me well in the age of digital photography. The measured, methodical approach to shooting film gives me a great perspective to approach the very different aspects of digital photography.
What’s your current or favorite camera?
I own quite a few cameras, but the one I am using predominately at the moment is Sony a7R II. It is an absolute marvel of technology. I shoot in RAW format which gives me massive 42 MP files with detail like I’ve never seen before. What that means to a layperson is incredible sharpness, details and amazing resolution. Capturing details in photos that you are not even seeing with the naked eye. It’s really incredible to see what is captured each and every time I open up the files to edit what I’ve shot. I really love this camera.
Digital or film and why?
They both have obvious advantages and drawbacks. You can see by my choice of cameras that I’m a big fan of the digital technology in photography. It is a much faster, some might say easier medium. I think any camera in the hands of someone with a vision and patience is going to create great photos. In university, I studied film photography and spent hours in a darkroom working with chemicals developing my own prints, so I do have a fondness for the film that will always remain.
DSRL or Smartphone and why?
I personally don’t classify my smartphone as a camera at this point, well certainly not one in the same breath as my DSLR. I naturally separate the two completely. I do snap away with my iPhone, but these aren’t images I normally share online or with others. They are powerful little tools though and if one day they catch up with the depth of a DSLR, then wow…it will be an interesting time in the world of photography. There are many pluses of having a camera in your pocket, it has also given the form of expression that is photography to the masses and that’s great! Once one sees a raw file from a proper DSLR though… it really is quite a different beast.
The most difficult shot you’ve ever taken?
There have been SO many difficult shots. Difficult in many different ways as well. I find it difficult photographing human suffering and poverty, but I also feel it should be seen, so I do take these shots. Many, many shots that I wouldn’t want to even divulge here, as they may or may not include trespassing, sneaking cameras past security, slight illegalities of sorts etc.… haha! Some of my most difficult shots might have been those of the active volcano of Kawah Ijen in East Java, Indonesia. The conditions were hellish. It began with a grueling climb of the volcano in the dark of night with only a headlamp to light the way. The air was so thick with acrid Sulphur smoke from the volcano that I had to wear a gas mask the entire climb which made breathing quite difficult. The temperatures at the top were near freezing and I had to wait for nearly two hours for the sunrise to get the shots. But as always, with risk, there is a reward and I was very happy with the shots I captured that morning.
Is photography careful planning or sudden inspiration?
I think most photographers will answer this similarly. For me, it is a combination of both. With proper preparation, you put yourself in the position to allow yourself to capture the sudden inspiration that happens in almost every location. You need the proper gear, it must be in good condition, you may need technical equipment to get you to a specific location, you must plan for weather conditions etc. And when all is set, you are free to relax into the moment and experience your surroundings. This for me is when inspiration ensues.
What is your goal as a photographer?
I’d like to put together some exhibitions of my fine art photography at chosen galleries. I’d love to put together a coffee table book and it’s something I will be working on soon. I’m also contributing to magazines that I respect a lot and looking forward to these relationships growing. And I’m really digging into the process of large format printing as it fascinates me to see my work on a large scale, it’s intensely satisfying. I’d like to see my work on the walls of some close friends this year. I’m in the process of developing my website and will have some limited edition prints for purchase there. And then there are the more general goals of fulfilling my desire to create and follow my passion for photography, it is something that brings me more joy than anything else and I’m happy I have the ability to strap on my camera and take off on wild adventures. It keeps me excited about life.
Beginning with the next issue of RL Phuket Aaron’s photographs will be regularly featured on our pages.
Follow Aaron’s work on @ahooperphotography on Instagram and on @AaronHooperPhotography on Facebook. Contact Aaron for sale of limited edition prints or for private or business photography shoots bookings on email@example.com or on 0845506142