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A Photographer's Journey

You don’t wake up one day fully turned out as an expert, as a professional photographer. It is a journey many experts and professionals in their fields are familiar with. It’s a journey involving wonder, magic, missteps, pain and adventure that binds us to our professions and creates a bond only an expert in their field would truly understand.

On this episode we talk to Joel Rodriguez who gives us a candid insight into his journey; talking to us about his adventure.

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at A Photographer’s Journey.

Muaz

On this episode of Blazon, I’m talking to Joel, a photographer from Venezuela who is based in London. He uses arts, lighting and colours for inspiration and enjoys creating images with meaning. He uses a dark, colourful and cinematic style to create his imagery. 

Joel

My name is Joel Rodriguez. I’m the director and photographer of JOLRO, which is basically a combination between my name and also my surname. So my name you know Jol-Ro. So it will be without the E. So yeah, it’s something I came up with when I literally started photography several years ago and it kind of stuck with me. I mean, to this point, like some people actually know me as Jolro and I’m like, well, my name is actually Joel, but this like business, which is called Jolro. So let’s just say it’s just an artistic name.

Muaz

Oh no, it makes sense. It just rolls off the tongue.

Joel

Yeah, exactly. It does actually. It does. So I was born in Venezuela, which is South America. But I’ve been living in England for quite a while now. And it was something that happened naturally moving here. And also, um, well, my passion for photography was something that I started at a very young age. I was really curious. I remember it like the first time I used a camera, I was with my dad and that literally, that device just caught my attention. I remember my dad telling me to be really careful how to use it or  how to take that first snap, because it was back then it was an analog camera so it was film photography.

JOLRO

So you can imagine that you have to be very detailed and very like thorough with before you take a snap. Yeah. So I was really, really curious about cameras after that. After my first encounter and, how they created images to say, I think for me, uh, to me, it’s like a magical process. Well, it still is, but at the time was like, oh my gosh, you know, how does it happen?

Like, Yeah, I didn’t know anything. So it was, it was really cool. But that’s something that got me started, that curiosity and how interest in the process was. Then after that, you know, I had my own camera, I took the jump to digital photography a few years later, and I remember that camera was an Olympus actually, my first compact camera.

And I used it so much, you know, nowadays it’s just literally like a really low resolution camera. If, if you, if you think about it, um, other time was like magnificent. The quality was like, oh, this is amazing. And I remember this is one of the vivid, most vivid stories for me actually. Um, I remember going to the Amazon actually when I was probably 15, something like that.

And we spent, my family and I and a few friends we spent about maybe one or two weeks there just literally, um, knowing the place, going to different tribes, I was taking pictures. I was in charge of the camera the whole time. It was incredible. And then after that amazing experience in the Amazons and just having this great time with different tribes and culture, like it was incredible.

We went back home. It was a really long ride home. And then after we made it back, I was looking through the camera and the pictures, um, you know, being a 15 year old and not knowing much, I accidentally deleted all the pictures. Like all of them and you know, it’s ridiculous. I told my dad at the time, what I was so scared actually.

And it was like, oh my gosh, I cannot tell anyone. I think I told my best friend. Yeah. I mean, imagine like two weeks of like hard work, and just deleted to one point, but you know, that actually initiated or ignited , you know, like my, my passion even more. 

Muaz

The importance of making sure that everything works out well. 

Joel

Yeah, you know, like, Technology. Yeah. With analog cameras, you can not delete what you’ve taken away, unless you, I dunno, do show the film, you know, shine a light on it. Digital cameras just can just easily delete my memories like that and yeah, at the time, I just, I didn’t know how to recover stuff in any way from, from SD cards or anything like that. My pain was massive, well, my dad was so disappointed, but you know, it is what it is. Had to carry on. 

Muaz

A learning experience. 

Joel

Yeah, it was definitely a massive learning experience and it definitely initiated the massive passion. And I think just that curiosity to learn even more. But yeah. Uh, just to give you more, a little bit more about me as well, then after that I went to university not right after 15 years old, I was a little bit older than that, but, um, a few years later I went to university and I took a Degree in Journalism and Media.

So yeah, you know, I was. It was a little bit into the photography world, but not too much because I also did some other bits, uh, the funny thing was a university actually did some dark room developing. So, yeah, I mean, there was not just a very interesting process that I never actually got to do before, but also it showed me the different, a different side to photography.

Muaz

And I guess that would be quite alien for anyone thinking about that now being in a dark room with a red light and submersing these things in this liquid chemical to see what the photo looks like. 

Joel

Yeah. It’s so difficult as what, you know, like I have to wear glasses all the time. So for me, um, um, well it’s ironic because I literally take pictures using my eyes, but my eyes are like, screwed… if that makes sense. I don’t know, like, but anyway, so I was in that dark room with with the red light on all the time. It was very hard to see. And because it was in university, you have about 10 or 15 other people. It was a massive room, actually. I have to say, uh, with you in there, and you have to be so careful with the developing and the chemicals and but it is a beautiful process at the same time. I think it actually taught me how valuable just one picture can be and how much time you have to put into it before, you know, before the outcome as well, because it’s just not only taking the picture. But then after that I, to developing the, the film as well, and just doing all the very detailed processes. So you’d never think of,.

Muaz

I think that’s a lost art because a lot of people back then, you know, and, and it wasn’t very, very long ago when each photo was so valuable because you needed to make sure that. Because you only had, like each film only had so many exposures, you didn’t have like gigabytes and gigabytes of memory that you could reuse. So you needed to make sure that you got it right. And it’s all this effort you needed to make just to make sure that it came out right as well. So it makes you value the entire process and I completely get it. It’s almost like that’s a fundamental part that I feel that is sometimes missing these days with people entering the industry.

Joel

Yeah. I definitely, I agree with, uh, and you know why, even though I’m not shooting at the moment on film or analog cameras, um, I have quite a few friends that do and here in England it is quite popular. Uh, believe it or not. Mostly for editorial stuff. There is a lot, lot of photographers that are shooting on film. And I’ve done a few bits here and there, but I’m still mostly shooting on digital. But like you say, um, like when you don’t have that, there is no space for you to have that margin of error, like continuously, you know, because when you have digital, you can definitely shoot away. Even though the camera, may, you know, eventually get broken or whatever. But it’s not like it’s not the same as just putting your thoughts and your, or your thinking, everything into it. And to just one image that you know, it’s going to look good. So, yeah, it is interesting in a very, very, beautiful process.

Muaz

I guess, from a training point of view as well, training when you don’t have a digital camera can start to get a lot more expensive as well. Because you need to keep on buying more, more film, uh, you can’t go and reuse the same film again and again.

Joel

It’s true. Um, yeah, it’s a very expensive process because I actually bought a few films, uh, not long ago actually. And I have an analog camera and I used to every now and then, but I’m trying to get to know, uh, into medium format as well. I’m trying to just use that a little bit more, but I bought some of them. Kind of like manifested that I’m going to own one very soon. I bought them. Really expensive, you know, like for like, I think five is like, I’m not sure if I can say a number here, but it’s about like 50 pounds, like 60 pounds is quite it’s quite. And you have to keep doing that. You say you have to just keep buying new one because you cannot reuse it. 

Muaz

And I guess, because back then more people used to use it. So the cost of manufacture is probably lower back then because fewer people use it now. So that probably makes it even more expensive.

Joel

Definitely. It’s more, it’s definitely something more niche now than, than it used to be before. Again, it’s quite popular at the moment, but still doesn’t mean there is no enough demand, I think, for, for it to be quite cheap. 

Muaz

Perfect. How do you go about approaching a commission. So like, what is your process? What are the particular stages involved when you approach something? 

Joel

When I get commissioned, uh, I’m mostly get commissioned because of my style and my unique vision, I’d say.  So when I work with a brand or work with a client, they, most of the time tell me, oh, I want to work with you because I think you can showcase our product or a service or whatever they want me to showcase, uh, in a way that I can, but it shows my visions as well.

I mean, I have to say the most clients understand that in order for me to deliver something that I feel passionate about. I think they understand that I have to let my vision come through. However, it really is down to the project, sometimes you have to compromise. And this is something I was talking about the other day on Clubhouse. I spent some time there and you have to compromise your, your, your vision just a tiny bit, because sometimes even though the client likes your style and your uniqueness, they still have to know that they have a message or something to come across. So you have to just probably understand their vision as well and compromise your aesthetics, maybe just a tiny bit.

So just to walk you through the processes, the first thing I do is I ask very general information. Like for example, what’s the commission for. Oh, what’s the brand about, if it’s a brand involved or if it’s an organization or business what they’re about. A thing that helps a lot in terms of, um, you know, getting as much information as you can, and then using that towards the pre-production process of, of, of the commission.

So after I asked them about what their business and organization is about, I normally then ask how many deliverables or assets they need in total. Yeah, so that helps me, uh, not only to know how much time I can spend on the commission on the shoot, but also for example, if it’s a fashion brand, then we can know how many looks they need, or if it’s for a magazine, then you know, that’ll help us just tell a story and know how many hours we can get that done. 

But let’s say is just one hero image they need then, you know, it is very, very important just to pin down how many images or deliverables they need, because depending on that, you will spend more, more time or not.  Yeah. And then after that as well, I try to find all their self information.

I go through a process or something, I call it, visualization stage. So yeah, here’s what I normally allow my client and myself to share ideas and inspirational… It could be inspirational images or just concepts that they have or information in regards to the project that, you know, it gives me more of a visual sense of what’s expected. Yeah, because even though they hired me for my vision and for my style, they, and sometimes you can compromise that a tiny bit. Like I said before, you still need to have that image or inspiration, something that you know, what the client wants. That helps a lot. Yeah. That literally helps a lot. And I would recommend that to anyone, to just try and get your client to tell you what inspires them.

But. Well, what the commission is for you know. Like just show me some thing. Yeah. Because they will be here for a reason. Yeah, exactly. I think words can translate into, into images, but you need some help because you can imagine something completely different with those words than your client is. And yeah. You know, to me, I’m a very creative person and my style is a bit more like cinematic and a bit moody. Sometimes I add a little bit of color there, but yeah.

But, uh, you know, they might want something airy and bright. I don’t know. I mean, it changes quite a lot. Yeah. So I do that. That’s my, so like my processes or my stages. However, I think for me, the hardest part is when a client doesn’t really know what they want, so they don’t give you much information or they don’t show you what they they’re expecting or so you need to find a way to get to, or to always get to that stage of what I say is called visualisation stage. So then you will know that you and the client are happy. Um, and, and, and they know what’s going to be delivered. So, yeah, I think definitely. I recommend doing that. 

Muaz

No, that makes sense. I guess it gives you both a firm grounding from where to proceed from. So, so once you have that common understanding of what the image is going to be like or what the look is going to be like, and when you actually approach the actual day of the shoot.

So say for example, a fashion shoot. So from a photographer’s point of view, what happens on the actual day of the shoot? How do you work with the other creatives at the shoot? For example, if you’re shooting, uh, with a product of a particular designer.  Who else would be at the shoot and what sort of interaction would you be having with them? 

Joel

So yeah, let’s say that we have an idea. We have a concept, like you say, like we have everything ready set and we know what we’re going to do. So I normally, um, depending on the client, they would either get their own team or they would make up the team for that commission. Or I would also recommend a few people that I’ve worked with, uh, I know that, you know, will bring something good to the shoot. So for example, if I’m working with a makeup artist then because we have done that visualization stage, then I would say, look, we’re looking for this sort of look on the makeup, you know, so if you can recreate something like this or just get inspired. I normally try to give some sort of freedom as well. Like I don’t try to limit them or just put them in a box and do, and say like, you have to do this only. No, I think when you do a commission or as well collaboration projects with other creatives, you have to be open to, to give a voice to each individual because you know, it’s something that we’re all working together.

So I think it’s really important for them to have that sort of like freedom in terms of creativity and to be able to express themselves as well. There is a few things that you have to keep in mind when working with a team. I think it’s not only that freedom as well, but like I say, as a photographer’s point of view, I think you are expected to, to be on top of everything or like, you know, keep an eye on everything, but it’s not possible.

It’s not. And it’s not ideal either because you’re going to miss something eventually. And if you have an assistant that helps a lot, but if you have a makeup artist, like you know, oh my gosh, can you stop the shoot for a second? I’m just gonna fix this. That is really helpful. Or if you have a stylist. The ice on top of everything, you know, the creases or looking how the garment is, is coming across on the camera, or like, you know, maybe, maybe we should this angle a little bit, you know, it’ll show the top a little bit better. Definitely helps a lot I think. You have to work as a team. You have to be open to, to listen to others, you have to be willing to take criticism as well. It might be a little bit painful, you know, because you are on set and you think, you know, you control everything, but I have to be honest, like there were a few times when I was starting my career and, and had those encounters, and it was a bit, you know, a bit difficult to take on board, but, um, the more I’ve learned in the years I’ve worked, I’ve learned that it’s important. And sometimes, you know, some people know better in terms of what, because that, that, that that’s their career. You know, like as a stylist, they know better than me, even though I have knowledge because I’ve done quite a few things, but it’s never going to be the same.

So you have to be open. I think you have to collaborate and work as a team as much as you can. And don’t let that ego or that process to overtake the rest of, of the creative process. I think you have to, you’re, you’re there to have fun as well to create something for our clients, which is important. And it’s always, you know, it’s always good to just take on board criticisms.

Muaz

Yeah. And I guess you take that knowledge with you to the next shoots that, that you know, that you do. 

Joel

It’s definitely something that is,  it’s a learning curve and it’s, it’s ongoing. Like there’s always something new in each shoot that you can improve on, on the next one. Like I have this shoot tomorrow and is a little bit out of my comfort zone because I have to do different things, but, um, I’m getting ready for it. So I’m open to just, you know, do it, maybe fail in a few things, but then I’m going to get better after that. 

Muaz

How does that interaction actually work on the day? So you mentioned taking, you know, like taking on board what the stylist is saying, what the makeup artist is saying, so that dynamic on the day, is it structured or is it quite fluid where you’re just, as you’re progressing through a shoot, you’re constantly having these discussions with the rest of the people on the shoot, just to show them what the images are looking like, how they’re progressing and then taking everyone’s input, or is it just quite structured as you progress through the shoot?

Joel

So I think for, personally, it starts, most of my shoots, it starts a bit more structured. Like there is more pre-production to it. Um, and I’m not going to say every single one of them, because that will be a lie, but, most of it I do start with a pre-production process or like we have vision. We have, we know the lighting, we know the frame and we know the style, the style that we’re gonna go for, we know every single thing we need for the shoot.

However, on the day there’s so many things that could, that can happen. You can have as much control as you, as you want. As in like, you can have, this is what you do. Like, you know, what’s going to happen. But then on the day, maybe something that, um, depending on the project, obviously, and the commission, or if it’s a collaboration, then on the something may go or somewhere else as in visually or like lighting wise, and then I’m open to those things.

I’m open to just show the pictures to the team and see and ask for, for their feedback. Do you like this? Do you think this is going well? What do you think? So, yeah, it really depends on the project, but I think I normally try to be both, but like I said, it starts with the structure and then it kind of flows depending on the project on the day. And, uh, yeah, I work with a team and yeah, it’s just, it’s just good to be open. I think it’s always good to be open and just have that creative process always flowing even on the day. 

Muaz

Yeah. That sounds like a good approach to have, because I guess if you’re too mechanical about these things, you can miss opportunities for getting a better shot.

Joel

Yeah, I agree. And you know, there are some times there are things that you don’t even think of on the pre-production that might happen on the day. And then. Uh, you miss it, as you say you can be too mechanical and then you’re just gonna miss it. And I think, yeah, it’s not good. And you have to sometimes let them, if you’re working with models, just let them… Most of the time. What I tell them is like, this is a character I’m going to give you. Um, just believe it. And then when you believe that character. I mean, just give me your hundred percent and, uh, and by then they might think, you know, I, if I give you this, if I give you this,  like another sort of posing or, let’s say personality, then that would show better. And then I was like, yeah, of course. Just do it and see how it goes. So I’m open. Yeah. I’m open to it too to that as well. So yeah, I think it’s good. 

Muaz

Perfect. So when it comes to these kind of shoots, are there any particular differences when it, uh, when it comes to both the approach and to the actual day when it comes to an editorial versus a commercial shoot?

Joel

Yeah, so yeah, definitely. There is a few differences. I think this is a great question, by the way, I’m going to try and focus on more of like product production side of it. Because I think it’s really important. So when I work in an editorial shoot, I think there is more room for you to be creative. Um, and when I mean editorial, I mean, like, uh, working for a magazine for, for like, you know, just something that they commissioned you for, not as in like newspapers. So there is more room for you to be creative. I think you can, you can get to work with people that, uh, or like-minded people or a team, uh, that probably will have, or are after the same goal that you are. When, when you work in a commercial shoot, it’s a bit more different in that sense because there is a, I think there is that there is an actual structure and you have to follow, note, an agenda or something that the, the company or the brand wants you to, to portray their service or the product ask.

So you have to be, you’re a little bit more limited. And again, you can be, you can still show  your style and your vision in the commercial shoot. However, you’re still going to have the structure boundaries that the commercial shoot has, even though an editorial, you still have to meet certain criteria. You can start, you can tell a story, you know what I mean? Like you can tell a story. It’s not like just, oh, I want you to take a picture of this product while the model is holding it. Which is a commercial shoot, but then when there a editorial, you can actually create a whole story behind it and create a series of pictures that will tell the story.

And you can be more open about that. You can be a little bit more cinematic about it. I’d say so. You still need to communicate within both shoots. With the right people quite a lot, but I think it definitely depends on the structure, I think that’s the main difference. How you, how you, uh, pre produced those shoots as well. And what is the aim. As well, like the final result for each shoot. So I feel like those are the main difference. I hope that makes sense. 

Muaz

Oh yeah. It definitely does. Uh, so when it comes to like timelines for like these kinds of shoots, are they comparable? So when it comes to a commercial shoot versus an editorial shoot. So things like preparation times. Are those comparable as well, or are those quite different? 

Joel

I think it’s really hard to say the point. Yeah, it really depends on the project. I think for example, I just finished a commercial shoot probably about three weeks ago, but, um, we’re still in the process of post production. Whereas within editorial, for example, it really depends on let’s say what we cannot launch this campaign or whatever, or editorial story until next, say winter. So yeah, I think you have similarities in, on time frame, but at the same time there can be quite opposite. So yeah, I think. You can see something from probably two weeks to three, four months to be released.

Sometimes it can take up to a year. Yeah. It really depends on the project. Sometimes they just. Well, you know, that due to what’s going on in the world as well. So that kind of sets up so many things back…

Muaz

There’s a Christmas photo shoot in March. 

Joel

Exactly. Well, this is a thing though, like I used to do some shoots for a TV channels as well, and they normally do their Christmas shoots or their promos around probably June.

Muaz

All right. Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. 

Joel

Yeah. So they normally do that. So yeah, they can definitely say like, there’s some massive difference, but at the same time, there are some similarities. So you have to, it depends on the project and on the commission and on the editorial commercial shoots, it just really is really specific.

You can find Joel online at:

  • Website: www.jolro.com
  • Instagram: @JOLRO

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at A Photographer’s Journey.

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