“My personal goal when doing photography is to create something fascinating. Subject has to be rather interesting, composition should always please the eye, and hopefully the lighting will complement the previous two points.” tells Dhison Padma. It’s all about creating something eye-pleasing. We had a chat with the talented photographer about the passion for his work, the different feeling when shooting landscape, architecture or portraits and his favourite photo spots in Florida.
Where does your passion for photography come from?
My grandfather started a photo/printing company way back from the 60s through the late 90s, so we had a bunch of vintage cameras hanging in my garage. My father is a huge digital camerahead so I have a couple of Nikons here and there to play with ever since I was little; or even was born. I’ve always liked playing around those pocket cameras, taking pictures of people and cars mostly, during my adolescence years. After then, I didn’t care about photography at all until I had my first smartphone. Cliché, I know, but I started out shooting street on my Huawei Mate 9 just because it has a “Leica” stamp on it.
I only started taking photography seriously when I studied abroad to Guangzhou, China in 2018. China has a huge Instagram community for street, urban and architecture photography, and you could say I got sucked into it. When I return to Jakarta, some of my friends asked me out for a photoshoot. Shot some portraits here and there, sneaker stuff, cafés, cars, fashion brands. It builds up over time and before realizing it people started calling me photographer. I never label myself as one; I’ve always shot for fun. This goes all the way until mid-late 2019 where I got my first few bigger clients. Only then I start calling myself an actual photographer.
Browsing your images you have a very wide range, from lifestyle, city & architecture to portraits. Is the approach always the same, or is each category something completely different for you?
It definitely feels different, to the point I feel like doing an entirely different activity. Starting out doing street and architectural photography, I used to think doing portraits are boring and pointless for years before I finally gave it a try. It felt like an entirely different experience. There are so many things to pay attention to when doing portraits. Your interaction with the model, their outfits, the setting, the lighting, how it gets to their face, the angle, their good angle, etc. I got addicted instantly. I love interacting with people and working with them to create something together. I think that’s what makes it feel so much different. Doing architecture or landscape, you are capturing something. Doing portraits or cars (or any subject-oriented shoots), you work together with other artists to create something that is fascinating. This is why it takes time for street photographers to master portraiture or wedding photographers to master architecture photography. The experience and thought process itself is different, and it is really apparent for me.
In the end, however, it is still photography. My personal goal when doing photography is to create something fascinating. Subject has to be rather interesting, composition should always please the eye, and hopefully the lighting will complement the previous two points. I try to make my shots look good, simply speaking. The experience might feel entirely different, but ultimately the aim is to create something eye-pleasing. Just easy to look at; photography ain’t no mathematics.
“I personally admire “cleaner” shots with less distractions from the subject.”
What is the essence of a good picture?
I find most photos I’ve most admired have one or two common attributes. For one, the subject must be interesting. Be it a really cool building in the middle of the ocean, a kid skateboarding in front of an antique cinema, two old men having a cigarette, a Porsche 911; anything interesting. I’d say an amazing photograph evokes feeling. Be it sadness, feeling of awe, anger or even laughter. A good subject will definitely evoke some sort of feeling. But how photographers approach capturing that subject is the second most important; composition sets professionals and amateurs apart. I personally admire “cleaner” shots with less distractions from the subject. Setting, lighting and in digital photography editing will also play a major role on how photographers emphasize what they’re trying to deliver when creating a photograph.
That being said, I don’t consider myself THAT good of an artist to just be able to define what a good picture is. I am still learning and still trying to grasp why some of the best photographs out there are as good as they are. Some photographs are subjectively better than others, no matter how you put it. But towards the upper echelon of photographers and artists, they all have their own visions and methods on how to make their pictures “look good”.
How would you describe your own work?
As you noticed, I shoot everything ranging from landscapes, cars, portraits, street, and everything in between. I was always fascinated by how photography captures a snapshot of reality. It’s like frozen time carved into a square piece of paper (..or a .jpeg). You could capture a beautiful sunset, a really cool 1995 Carrera you spotted on the street, your really cute friend, your really drip Air Jordan 1s, or your family’s Thanksgiving shenanigans. I consider my work exactly this. I am sharing to other people what I think is cool. No big brain physics or fancy vocabulary. I want to record how beautiful that sunset was by the cliff in Bali, how cool that building is near my campus in China. It doesn’t have to be personal. I could show off this really cool vintage Ford Thunderbird my friend has, how awesome my friends are nailing these photoshoots and of course the work we created together. We aim to create an artwork. I try to capture these moments in the best possible way both technically and non-technically.
“I hate waiting for the scans to come out, I hate that I have to finish my rolls before I can scan them. But those are setbacks that I’m willing to go through because I just love the colors so much.”
You also started an account for your film work. Film photography is something exciting. What fascinates you about it and how do you try to get as many good images out of a roll as possible?
I won’t try to be all hippie on how film development is therapeutic; I find it inconvenient and mildly annoying. I hate waiting for the scans to come out, I hate that I have to finish my rolls before I can scan them. But those are setbacks that I’m willing to go through because I just love the colors so much. I shot with my friend Oscar and I just can’t believe how good the colors turn out to be. That’s it. I just like the colors that much. The feeling of nostalgia that it evokes is just irreplaceable.
I try to imagine how the shots will turn out after scan. By doing that, I’d have to consider the lighting, composition, subject and everything else in between before I press the shutter button. Will it look good? Is it worth $2, or risking running out your roll too early? This forces me to think and actually make use of my vision. Doing this for my first 3-4 rolls, I realize just how much I wasted shots on digital. This subsequently gave me better shots when doing analog as I put more thought to each photograph rather than just destroying the hell out of the shutter button on my Sony.
Planned vs spontaneous?
I’d say a combination of both. Have some plans ready but be ready when spontaneous moments arise. Most of my proudest shots came from impromptu moments, but those moments happen due to good planning in the first place. Different kinds of photoshoots require different degrees of balance of both.
Photoshoots like automotive and portraiture definitely needs a certain amount of planning, however. Having a good set and concept is essential. Without it, even spontaneous shots will end up underwhelming. Street photography will force you to take once-in-a-lifetime moments. Not being alert or aware enough will just make that moment slip away.
“Don’t think too much and just act; actions that actually will change or create something.”
Your favorite photo spots in Florida?
This one is hard! I’ve only moved to Florida since March 2020, right when the lockdowns started happening. I know much more spots over in California. But as far as the places I’ve visited, Saint Petersburg or Pinellas County area is definitely my favorite. The beaches are the best I’ve ever had in my life, the bars and restaurants are bustling, there are many cool classic cars and the overall vibe of the area is just artsy. They don’t call it the art city of Florida for no reason.
What advice would you give a younger you?
Bias towards action. Don’t think too much and just act; actions that actually will change or create something. This applies to photography as well as any other areas in life.
The world is changing faster and faster. Sometimes too fast. What would you like to undo if you could?
Honestly, nothing big comes to mind. If I could undo time, it would be all the little things I refuse to do instead of the things I wish I do. Just being more disciplined and on track with my goals, basically. I have no big regrets and all the shortcomings and tough times I went through definitely shaped how I think, what I do and who I am today and I will never change that.
The most important thing in life?
Getting deep, aren’t we? To be quite honest, I don’t know. For now, however, just being able to do the things I love, being around people I admire and becoming someone that you’re proud of are just the three basic luxuries I’m willing to fight for at any point of my life.