Thursday, July 25, 2013

From the Empirical Archives: A Moment with Francisco Diez

A Moment with Francisco Diez
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Empirical

We start the new year with January photographer Francisco Diez, a mechanical engineer by training, who also excels at capturing familiar places in unique ways.

Empirical: Hi Francisco. I first discovered your photography when I was looking for a shot of Wall Street for an article we were doing in August. And then I ran across your work again when we were publishing an article on the Mexican elections. You have a phenomenal talent, and you seem to get around. I see that you’re in Canada now. Is that where you were born?

Francisco: I was born in Mexico. My father was from Spain (from the Catalonia region, which many consider to be an independent nation within Spain). My mother is from Mexico (Guanajuato, a lovely state). I moved to Canada in my teens where I finished my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. After finishing university, I moved to Liechtenstein (a small country nestled between Switzerland and Austria) where I lived and worked for a few years. I then decided to return to Toronto in pursuit of a master’s degree. The program included a study term in Barcelona as well as a study/work term in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Following my graduate studies, I worked for a number of years in Toronto. More recently, I spent three years living in New Jersey while based out of New York City. My wonderful wife is Canadian, of German background, with whom I have four beautiful daughters. So, I am originally from Mexico (which gives me immense pride), but I have also been greatly influenced by places where I have lived and people that I have met in my travels.

Empirical: So, you went to Canada to go to school? What made you want to return? Are you enjoying it there?

Francisco: I have been based out of Toronto for about a year now, and I think for the next while, it will be home for myself and my family. I was drawn to Canada primarily for the quality of life. Canada is truly a fantastic place to live and raise a family. I have traveled the world, and I believe one would be hard pressed to find a place with a better work/life balance. Toronto is a world-class city that is characterized by its unique diversity and tolerance. Canadians are also extraordinarily polite and friendly.

Empirical: It’s a very nice city. You remind me of how much I enjoyed my visit to Toronto. How did you get started in photography?

Francisco: I took a course back in high school, an optional photography course. It was on both how to take pictures and how to develop them in black and white in a dark room. I found the process fascinating and I was immediately hooked. Photography became more than a hobby, it was a passion that I felt compelled to follow. As it turned out, it was an expensive hobby, and considering that I grew up in crisis-ridden Mexico, the cost factor proved to be limiting. Although I had considered it, from an economic standpoint, photography was not practical as a career. I decided to go for a degree in mechanical engineering.

Empirical: Did you take any further courses, or are you mostly self-taught?

Francisco: I was never enrolled in a proper post-secondary program. In this age of technology, there is such a wealth of knowledge both in the print media and via the internet that can be easily accessed and that can provide the information and the fundamentals needed to become proficient in basic photography skills. I find old-fashioned print magazines very helpful, especially those from the UK.

Empirical: Do you find that you learn from other photographers?

Francisco: I find it incredibly helpful to look at the work of other photographers. Some of my favorites are (in no particular order): Jay Maisel, Bill Fortney, Ian Plant, David DuChemin, Joe McNally, Vincent Versace, and Scott Kelby. Most of these photographers have blogs and on-line galleries. Photographers as a group are also very generous in sharing their experiences. Scott’s website is particularly good if you are interested in entry-level courses. Social networking can also be a good information source. I particularly like Google+. It seems to be designed for photographers. One can learn a lot about composition, exposure, framing, etc., by just looking at the work other photographers do.

Empirical: When did you realize this was more than a hobby, and that you had, in fact, become a photographer?

Francisco: That is a difficult question to answer. I don’t think there is a particular point in time when I realized I had become a photographer. It’s been an gradual process–incremental steps taken over a long period of time. However, photography has really developed into a primary passion over the past five years when I began to post my work online. Feedback was just phenomenal, which really encouraged me to explore and experiment with photography in ways that were new and exciting for me. Getty Images contacted me about two years ago asking to copyright some of my images. Being commercially successful is not of primary importance to me at this point in my life; however, the fact that one of the largest stock vendors was interested in my work made me realize that my work had the potential to appeal to a large audience.

Empirical: Are you a full-time photographer at this time?

Francisco: I have a day job in the financial services industry. My current position is challenging and fulfilling and I enjoy what I do. However, change is always a good thing and it is my dream to eventually transition to full-time photography. I do look forward to the time when photography will be a full-time pursuit.

Empirical: What equipment are you using?

Francisco: I am a big believer that it is not the tool that makes a good photographer, but how it is used. Granted, most professional photographers use high-end cameras and you do need one to produce high quality pictures that end up in exhibits or magazines, but I think there needs to be less emphasis on the type of gear you use. I try to travel light, I shoot with a Nikon D300s and I use basically four main lenses (a prime lens, zoom, wide angle, and a fisheye). Because I tend to shoot at dawn and at dusk (at the day’s edges, when light generates wonderful colors), a tripod is essential. Filters are also needed in some circumstances. Recently, I have been shooting with neutral density (ND) filters to be able to capture long-exposure shots. I have more equipment, that I use depending on the situation at hand, but most of my work can be done with the D300s, these four lenses, and a tripod. I will, however, upgrade my equipment soon–professional full- frame cameras are more accessible now. I will probably get either the Nikon D600 or the D800E.

Empirical: What types of projects do you like working on?

Francisco: I love urban and landscape photography. To capture images that relay what men and God can create is truly inspirational. I find as much beauty in a pristine autumn landscape in Canada as in a busy street in Barcelona. I have traveled around the globe, and no matter where I go, there is always that scene, if captured properly, that will portray the essence of the place and its people. One can think of photographers as history’s stewards, documenting people and places for posterity. As for near-term projects, I will be travelling to Scotland next month.

Empirical: Do you like any particular kinds of shots over others?

Francisco: Perhaps not surprisingly, my work, and by default my taste, has evolved over time. I do not prefer a particular kind of shot, and in fact, my interests are constantly changing For a period of time, I was drawn primarily to black and white photography. Black and white images have this artistry, a timeless feel. Then I moved to highly saturated, high-contrast color shots, which work well in landscape photography. Then I became curious about HDR (high dynamic range) for a while, but I found the final product not to be natural looking. Recently, I have been experimenting with long-exposure shots which make water look silky when shooting seascapes. Long-exposure pictures in black and white look phenomenal. My next area of interest is likely to be portraits, not in a studio, but urban portraits. One’s challenge as a photographer is to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. It is a moving target, but most definitely one worth pursuing.

Empirical: Well, you have done that with remarkable success so far. Thanks for sharing with us, Francisco, and we look forward to following your photography career.

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