8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed

Here's a round up of just some of the top talent we have in digital artistry on the site.

| Interviews


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: Michael Bilotta Photography
'The Workforce' by MichaelBilottaPhotography
How did you get into this style of photography?
As a young boy I was always drawn to cinematic art. Wanting to be a filmmaker, I was drawn to any special effect, any fantasy film that was out at the time. I would try to figure out how the effects were created. This being a time before digital technology, I was unable to afford that type of hobby, so it never happened for me. I then got the “music bug” and started down that road, going to music college, becoming a songwriter, all that.

In 2001, I got my first digital point and shoot, and immediately picked up where my 15 year-old self left off. I learned some basics; blue or green screen, compositing, creating light effects…in other words, from the start of my renewed interest in visual arts, it was never about documentary, never about reality, and never about landscapes. It was always: 'how can I combine these elements into something visually surreal or heightened?' The day I got Photoshop for the first time, I called in sick to my job for two days and just sat there – I was hooked.

Talk us through how you set up and take a shot.
Lately my process has settled into just that, a process. While it’s probably a good idea to go outside the comfort zone eventually, right now, I have a process that took some time to get into a workflow, and now that it’s established, it works for me and I am enjoying it. I work with people/models, and work in my little home studio.

I always shoot against neutral gray seamless, a large roll, from ceiling to floor, giving me a blank background to cover the entire model. I shoot with off-camera Canon speedlites, fired using cheap cowboy studio triggers, and that means I have to guess a bit in terms of exposure since ETTL is disabled when shooting off-camera with the flashes. I generally stick to ISO of 200 or less, and since I am going for a painterly aesthetic, I tend to shoot around f/11 or so, since shallow depth of field is a very photographic aesthetic. I use large diffusers, one is a 60 inch octabox with a Canon 580exII through it.

I tend to side light the models: a key light to one side and slightly in front of the subject, and a fill light on the opposing side. The large diffuser used for the key light is big enough to scatter enough light to illuminate my background paper, and even give me some nice falloff. The key is placed as close to the subject as possible – the closer and larger the light source, the softer the falloff. Usually the model is interacting with a prop or two, but some composites require me to shoot props separately, and I do this after the model is shot, using the same light set-up to ensure the composite is as natural as possible.

What draws you to digital photography?
Digital Photography allows anything to be possible. Anything you can think of can be achieved – the options are what’s attractive to me, the possibilities. The ability to take an average shot and make it special, the ability to augment an element in a shot. Say you have a shot of a beautiful farmland vista, and the one thing that ruins the shot is the ugly car driving through it, you can remove it. You can add drama to the sky, you can alter the mood with just a few tweaks. A lot of these things were pioneered by the film masters: Ansel Adams, for example, dodging and burning his landscapes, but with digital, it is fast, it’s clean, and it’s certainly more user-friendly.

What software do you use and why?
I use only Photoshop. I shoot RAW only, and do a lot of pre-editing in Camera Raw, and then open the pre-treated photos in Photoshop and go to work. I don’t even use any special plug-ins, just the basic toolset. A lot of what I do is masking and layering, with transfer modes playing a really crucial part. I have been using Photoshop for 12 years, almost daily, and there are still new things to discover in it. The possibilities are almost endless. My approach has evolved over all that time, and it will likely still evolve further, and Photoshop is now just part of the process of making images, and really, more than shooting, it is my favourite part.


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: Days Between by Scaramanga
'Days Between' by Scaramanga
How did you get into this style of photography?

I got into digital photography before I actually got into it, I had just got a new job teaching and the charity had a number of spaces to fill on the timetable, so I suggested digital photography which was agreed to and I was chosen as the tutor. I didn't even have a camera, in fact I had never had a camera in my life! So it was a steep learning curve and I have to thank my Mum (MickyMc on here) and Dad (cormy on here) for their help. I bought some cameras for work and was fortunate enough to get one for Christmas. That was probably about 5 years ago now.

Thinking back I guess the first time I thought about digital artist photography was after looking through an old Practical Photography magazine and saw some amazing images of leaves and feathers I think, and maybe ferns. They had really wonderful detail to them which I was struggling to get out of my images. I read the article and it turned out that instead of using a camera the artist had used a scanner, looking to my left slightly I saw a scanner and was obsessed for a few months with this form of imagery, adding a variety of other items and textures to my own images and my Mother's images of the ovens at Auchwitz etc. I was trying to build up a story within an image. It was probably about then that my dog pulled my little finger off so I was sat at home for a number of weeks literally twiddling my thumbs.

Talk us through how you create a shot.
I always start off with a blank white canvas 100cm by 100cm (unless I forget which doesn't happen very often and I would generally just start again.) I have no idea why to be honest! I then insert a sky either from stock sites or my own images. My holiday snaps don't go down well with my wife, hundreds of images of clouds, skies and wheat/poppy fields.

Then I add the ground area and blend the two together using an eraser tool set at 75% with a very soft brush. I'm not too worried about getting this 100% perfect as there are always methods to cover this, it's great when it goes perfectly to plan though. This generally takes about 5 minutes. I've normally got something or someone or both in mind to put into the image. Again I have a number of stock images from various place as well as my own images of people, animals, objects etc. to insert. I try not to go down the png route but it is great for trees. To extract an object or person from a background I always use the magnetic lasso tool and tidy it up a little with the polygonal once I have resized it and positioned it on the canvas.

Once everything is sort of in place I may add a few (sometimes upwards of 20) texture layers and blend them, generally using multiply or soft light, but I have one that works really well with the screen option. I also use a variety of brushes either ones that I have made myself (it's really not that hard to do) or downloaded them.

What draws you to digital photography?
I always loved art but wasn't very good at it and this method provides me with the opportunity to create what I want to a level that, occasionally, I am pleased with.

What software do you use and why?
The only thing I have is CS3 and have done so since the start, I did once have Lightroom but didn't really understand it or need it. I do sometimes run the images through Niksoftware but I'm not always keen on the final effect.


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: wish in the wind'Wish in the Wind' by K_T

How did you get into this style of photography?
My daughter was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and needed several major operations to reconstruct both hips. I had to give up my career as a full-time web developer for a company to be at home for the next two years while she recovered. Editing photos was something I could apply my Photoshop skills to without being taxing on my stress levels while we got through that bleak time. It was also something I could vent my emotions into and became an outlet for my grief and sadness as I watched her pain and anguish.

Talk us through how you visualise and take a shot.
The shot requires emotion, you could be the best composite worker in the world, but if your subjects do not evoke emotion or story then the processing is a waste of time. Some images I visualise when I see something or someone interesting, other times I preplan what I am looking for using a notebook and pencil. I tend to observe my potential subjects discretely, they are mostly strangers on the street. I don't even know their names.

It is all about waiting for the right moment to press the shutter, that moment when time slows down and eventually stops as you press the shutter, then in a split second the world continues around you and everything continues as it was before. In that brief moment the person's expression was perfect, but it only lasted briefly, once it is over it is gone. The overall image needs space and simplicity, finding the right scene elements can often be more difficult than finding the subjects or people. Even more difficult is completely designing a surreal image, it has to be believable.

What draws you to digital art photography?
Emotion and light. Many photos you take have some excellent emotion, but unless the viewer's attention is drawn to it, it is lost. My composite images work around making the emotion of the image the main focus using light to draw the eye.

What software do you use and why?
Adobe all the way. Lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom is excellent for organising your images, after-all it is just one big database. It has the added bonus of containing the Camera RAW engine in its develop module as well as many other interesting features. For example, I update my website gallery straight from Lightroom which allows me to keep my gallery current with very minimal effort.

I have used Photoshop for over 10 years and it has been an industry standard for over 20 years. Over the years I have seen it become more and more usable to the home user and the current version is amazing.

Visit K_T's website and Facebook page for more information about her work.


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed:
'The Disguise' by polly470
How did you get into this type of photography?

I am a sculptor in the film business, and about 4 years ago had a sort of 'crisis of faith' in what I was doing - I have been doing it a long time! So I decided to buy a Digital SLR camera and see if I could revitalise my enthusiasm for something. After a year of blaming the camera something clicked, and I started to see that I could actually create what I saw in my mind on the computer. I've done it ever since! And the more I do, the more I learn and the more I have the confidence to produce the images.

Talk us through how you set up and create a shot.
Because I mainly take photographs of animals, with occasionally a human thrown in, and I always take my pictures outside in natural light, I can't actually lay claim to setting up a shot! It is totally dependent on the mood of the animal, the surrounding environment and the weather. The most important thing to me is to get that little look or that tiny expression that goes towards capturing the essence of the animal and the mood of the moment, around which I can create the environment.

What software do you use and why?
I use Aperture 3 for fine tuning and finishing and Photoshop layers for layering and blending - that's it. I never cut and paste, if I can't get the right background photographs to layer, such as mist, early morning sunrise etc., then I often do a watercolour wash on paper, photograph that and use that as a textural enhancement. Very occasionally I will run something through Topaz Adjust to see if something interesting occurs, but I mainly just do blended layers - using sometimes as many as 20 other photographs layer after layer.


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: Strange days 'Strange Days' by AnthonyH

How did you get into this type of photography?
I have been interested in photography for over 40 years now, initially as a hobby, but then professionally when I became an art teacher and taught photography at 'A' level. Unfortunately I had to take early retirement due to ill health. Going from the lively teaching environment to being at home alone, I found I was still full of all the ideas I had previously given away to the students and felt a real need to express them. I invested in an Apple Mac and dedicated time to learning Photoshop in depth and was able to put my ideas into my own work. It was a natural transition from pure photography to digital art for me at this time.

Talk us through how you set up and create a shot.
I am not a methodical worker, images tend to evolve slowly, usually by going through loads of my own images and combining some or many to produce the final image. I find the process almost magical as generally I do not have preconceived idea about the look of the final image. Overall the final image is a combination of many (usually). Sometimes, if I have an idea in my head, I do take specific photographs in order to realise that idea, such as the gutters, drains and yellow lines that end up in my 'street art'.

What draws you to this type of photography?
I did find it frustrating in the dark room as I coldn't express my ideas fully. With the advent of software like Photoshop, I was in heaven as I could give full rein to my imagination. I loved the surrealism art movement which 'spoke' to me and my offbeat way of looking at the world. The only drawback was having to learn how to use Photoshop effectively. But I found that learning it in depth enabled me to create surreal images that had credibility in that you couldn't tell how they were done (there are no visible joins, I hope). I take into account the lighting, the focal length of the lens, and perspective so that there is a reality to the images even though they are unreal.

What software do you use and why?
I use Photoshop, as mentioned above. I use it because it has a tremendous depth, in fact I would be very surprised if any one person has ever investigated every area of Photoshop. Although Photoshop is a brilliant tool it doesn't give you the ideas - they have to come from the person. It has always amused me when I have heard the comment: 'aren't computers clever'. They are sophisticated tools, but it's the human who needs to know how to use them to translate their own ideas.


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: forbidden fruit
'Forbidden Fruit' by paulcookphotography

How did you get into this type of photography?
The digital art side of my work came about after I had a serious injury to my arm. During recovery I didn't have the strength to use my camera, so I started playing around with old images in Photoshop to create something new. I used to draw and paint, and found this new approach quite an interesting way to work. Once a few folk saw what I was creating, I got a lot of requests from people to either be put in to one of the scenes, or asked to create something specific. I now work with a lot of up and coming bands, film makers and writers creating artwork and illustrations.

Talk us through how you set up and create a shot.
Most of my ideas come from lyrics or lines from a book that capture my imagination. I usually sketch these ideas out on paper or on the computer long before I begin to create the digital artwork. I then shoot the images required to make up the image (or in some cases use stock images), being very careful to make sure the lighting for each section blends naturally. These are then merged in Photoshop, with various textures and re-lighting techniques added to give the finished effect. In some works I have also added some hand drawn elements, where needed. Depending on the image, it could be made up of around 8 separate images, several textures and filter layers, often taking several hours to complete. Although I always have a certain image in mind at the start of the process, I normally end up with a couple of different versions towards the end, and make a final decision on which route to take to complete the image.

What draws you to this type of photography?
I had always loved photography, but over the years I had always tried to find new techniques and genres to keep my interest alive. Photography is such a competitive industry and with so many great photographers around it was getting harder to stand out. Digital art gave me the opportunity to do something a bit different than those around me, and allowed my creative and imaginative side to come through. It gives me the chance to combine my love for photography with my passion for art, and at the same time gives me the freedom to express much more than I could in 'standard' photography.

What software do you use and why?
The main tool for my work is Adobe Photoshop CS6. I have been working with Photoshop for the last 11 years and I really couldn't see myself using any other similar editing software now. I also use several plug-ins including the likes of OnOne Perfect Photo Suite, NikSoft's Silver Efex Pro, Alien Skin and Red Giant (Knoll Light Factory). These allow me to create (or recreate) the moods and lighting required in the images, as well as merging the various layers, bringing them to 'life'. Any drawn or painted elements are created in Corel Painter..


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: Victor Habbick

How did you get into this type of photography?
Having worked within the creative industry since leaving college in the early 80's, from advertising to print production, I have always been involved in photography and art. When I set up my own business in 1995 it was due in part to technology been at a level where I could control nearly every aspect of my profession. From design to print, scanning, retouching and photo manipulation, my Mac computer had become my tool for just about everything. I made a conscious effort to get into the stock photography market and over the following years when digital cameras became acceptable from a commercial quality point of view my digital workflow became complete.

Talk us through how you set up and create a shot.
I never set out with the intention of finding something to shoot as this, from a commercial point of view, is a pull on resources and wastes so much valuable time. Everything I do is researched and ideas are sketched out on endless notepads that are never far from my side. Once I know what I want I will arrange to shoot on location or in the studio. I also have a very extensive stock library of my own images on DVDs which are catalogued so I will spend time finding the various bits and pieces I know I have on file to begin with. I keep Photoshop layered versions of most of my work so I can fall back on them when perhaps it's out of season to shoot a particular place or theme.

Once I have all my component parts together they will be opened up in Lightroom or Photoshop for colour correction etc. A lot of my imagery contains a combination of art and photography so I wil,l if required, render out in 3D any parts of the composition that I need to match up lighting direction so when they are all montaged together they seamlessly blend.

When finished I will save them as a flat Tiff file and a safe layered Photoshop file. If it's for web I will add a little sharpening and save as a JPG.

Where do you find inspiration for your pictures?
Everywhere. I love the movies and they remain a big influence on my work. Great cinematography can teach you so much about lighting and composition as much as looking and studying the old masters in galleries.

I have always had a love of the surreal and artists such as Dali and Magritte are an endless source of inspiration. As much as I continue to follow the work of new artists and photographers, too many people get lost in the search for the next big thing or are slaves to fashion. I have generally followed my own little path, yes I try to keep my ideas fresh and continue to learn new techniques but I never lose sight of my own particular style and what inspires me to remain in this profession. It's the only way I can keep some kind of stability in my work in light of ever changing styles and technological changes.

What draws you to this type of photography?
For me, I have never known anything else or wanted to do anything else. It's my job, it's my hobby, and it's what has remained with me throughout life. It's what I have always turned to in the dark times and what has inspired me in the good times.

The digital age gave me the tools to do it myself. It has enabled me to produce work beyond what was traditionally possible but at the heart of it all I am still an image maker first and foremost.  I don't care for the digital tag, I am drawing to great imagery regardless. It's my hope that sooner rather than later that people stop looking at the term 'digital' and just appreciate the abundance of great work out there for what it is. Photography and art can inspire so much. It remains one of the most emotive ways to express yourself. Its beauty and darkness can impact on your life more than any word can.


8 Top Digital Artists Interviewed: clintnewsham
'Freedom' by clintnewsham

How did you get into this type of photography?
From my early days on ePHOTOzine I was inspired by the works of people like Man In Black. Since then, I've come across many good digital artists and have taken inspiration from each of them. Some of my early works were pretty bad and I must admit that some of my recent work is not that good either.

Talk us through how you set up and create a shot.
Setting up and creating a shot can be easier than you think but first you must have a vision. It can be hard at times coming up with ideas but once you have that idea you can bounce off that and create other images.

The light bulb and fish images are quite easy to create. I place the bulbs on a large piece of white paper and take the shot or a few shots to get the lighting correct. Once happy with the shot i'ts all down to Photoshop. I clone out the fillamant in the bulb, add the fish /bubbles and water line, tweak it all until happy and job done, all in all a couple of hours work!

What draws you to this type of photography?
I like the freedom to create something different. As you've seen I like animals and digital art allows me to create images with animals in situations that you would not encounter in real life. As I've said before, you have to have a vision to get started. The hard part is you can go for months where nothing works out.

What software do you use and why?
The main software I use is Photoshop CS5, it's taken a bit of getting used to, but offers everything I need. Alongside Photoshop I use Nik PRO Efex Filters as I like the results they give.

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